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> Date sent: Thu, 23 Oct 1997 08:33:48 -0400
> Subject: Re: Friars reconsidered
> From: [log in to unmask] (Monastery Library)
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Dear Brother Anselm (or how should you like to be addressed, being a
lutheran protestant, I've allways had difficulties in addressing to
catholic clergy, I certainly do not want to be unpolite),
Perhaps I need to clarify my opinion on the urban nature of mendicant
orders. I do not deny the fact that they established most of their
convents in towns and greater cities.
What I do want to ask is whether we (the academic community) have put
too much emphasis on the urbanity. After all it seems a bit
controversial to say that the mendicants were the most important
agents in teaching and preaching the Christian basic doctrines if
they worked mainly in towns and cities. I know that someone is bound
to say that towns have a circle of influence on the surrounding
countryside. However I am not convinced that given the size of the
most towns and their relatively small number, the amount of
population within their reach would have been large enough to explain
their huge influence.
On the contrary we have loads of positive evidence of their preaching
tours on countryside, and no amount of indirect evidence. If the
friars were essentially urban and interested on urban spirituality,
why are there model sermons for the rustics, chapters in confessors
manuals that teach how to deal with peasants and their sins and so on.
What I am saying is that the Friars in most cases did built their
convents in towns, but nevertheless were concerned of the pastoral
work in both towns and countryside. Probably more in the countryside
where the huge majority of Christians still lived.
Furthermore, we may question what does the word urban actually stands
for. As I pointed out, the smaller towns in the Middle Ages did not
differ dramatically of the countryside. How urban was the life in
medieval towns in reality? Thus I want to ask what do we actually
mean when we say that mendicants were an urban movement. Do we mean
that they were urban in a modern sense of the word, or simply that
they slept in convents that were located in places that had
privileges as town.
Furthermore as I wrote earlier, the question of urbanity is only one
of the questions that bother me. Another important question are the
differences between the different mendicant orders. For instance is
it really (as it is often said) that the Dominicans recruted from the
higher levels of the society, i.e. were 'popolo grasso' order as D.R.
Lesnick writes in his 'Preaching in Medieval Florence, the Social
World of Franciscan and Dominican Spirituality' and is it true that
Franciscans were essentially order for the 'popolo' i.e. artisans and
petit bourgeoisie, and urban proletariat in case of Florence. This
view is presented not only by Lesnick.
In the sources I have been reading, i.e. Franciscan and Dominican
sermons, I have not been able see any significant differences on the
social opinions of the two orders in grass root level. This makes one
wonder whether there really were major differences in social
backround and thinking of the normal Friars. The differences can of
course be found in writings of Aquinas and Bonaventure, but howabout
the rank and file friars?
P.S. If there should be interest in such a congress, I have nothing
against York, I've never been there, but they say it is a beautiful
> I think this is a good idea. However, unless you have the conferenc
> here, I doubt if I shoall get to it.
> There is an extension to the problem. I think that there is a
> distinction, and that it actually matters, because principle does,
> and because it points directly at the life I lead. But I am talking
> about monks (and friars) now: which raises diplomatic delicacies,
> draws attention to the ignorance of most modern monks and friars (and
> are there not nuns?) in the matter of medieval history. So I am in
> danger of confusing monastic ideology and historical attention to
> I think it is correct to say that friars were mostly urban, because
> the OP and OFM gathered in cities and did a great deal to establish
> Universities (instead of just Paris), whereas most OSB (and all
> OCist) set up monasteries in the country, or rather were already
> there before the cities grew, for reasons which have a good deal to
> do with the notion of the desert (the *waste*). Places like
> Peterborough and Westminster (I understand) grew up round an Abbey.
> The process may be studied in embryo here.
> But when I say all this, as my old church history used to say, what
> about the evidence?
> How shall I know, unless some man show me? Acts 8.31
> Anselm Cramer OSB
> Ampleforth Abbey, York
> GB - YO6 4EN
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