Week 24 Assignment – Western Civilization I
There were two mendicant orders that emerged in the 1200’s: these were the Franciscans and the Dominicans. They were called “mendicants” because members of both orders lived in poverty got their food and other necessities from people’s donations, not by buying it. Rather than working for money, they went around preaching. These orders, which still exist, have some similarities and some differences between them.
The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis of Assisi. As a young man, he gave up all his earthly possessions, and began to do acts of charity — such as rebuilding churches — and preached publicly and very simply. He and his followers became quite famous and respected, with many going to hear his teachings. One woman, named Clare, heard his preaching and decided that she also wished to follow this lifestyle of poverty and humility. Thus, Francis founded a women’s group called the Poor Clares, for women who wanted to live in the Franciscan way. His group of men was called the Order of Friars Minor. A third group, too, was founded, called the Third Order: it was for laymen and clergy who were unable to leave all their earthly possessions, but still wished to imitate Franciscan principles in their day-to-day occupations.
The Dominicans were founded by St. Dominic, who came from Spain. Dominic, a contemporary of Francis, had a different motivation in doing what he did: he wanted to counter the Albigensian heresy. Now, the Albigensians had a group of “perfect ones” who lived very ascetic lives, and this made the worldly lives of some Catholic clergymen look bad — thus, the Albigensian beliefs seemed more authentic to some than the Catholic beliefs. Dominic wanted to show that a Catholic could also live such a self-denying life. His order also differed from that of the Franciscans in that, while the Franciscans (at first) said that spiritual knowledge and the simplicity of the Gospel was all you need, avoiding much scholarly study, the Dominicans were very much involved in book learning and in education at universities. They produced some great scholars, including Thomas Aquinas, and, with time, became a very dominant group in the Church.
Thus, this was the formation and the early contributions of the Franciscan and Dominican orders. Though differing in some ways, they were also similar in other ways, and both involved self-denial and the activity of traveling friars who preached from place to place.
The Magna Carta was a contract that was signed in 1215, and would protect barons and various nobles from a tyrannical king.
Although the Magna Carta was at first mostly meant to be an agreement between the king and the upper classes, it grew in significance with time as ways of interpreting it changed. People began to look at it as a document that restrained the power of the king and formally stated that the king was under the law, and not above it. The Magna Carta became the origin, or at least the formal statement, of many important ideas about liberty that would come down through the ages in the English-speaking world. The Magna Carta is largely significant because it is the forerunner of several ideas about Western liberty that would grow in importance in the centuries to come.
King Philip IV of France (r. 1285-1314), known as Philip the Fair for his handsome appearance, is significant because his reign marks the transformation of France from a patchwork of unruly feudal lordships to a unified realm, loyal to a single, powerful, monarch. Philip was a firm proponent of the sovereignty of monarchs, and this was partly because Roman law, as codified under Justinian, was re-emerging at this time: this law supported the absolute power of the monarch and greatly downplayed the power of the people. Philip’s royal entourage was made up, then, not of the usual clergymen and nobles, but of lawyers who had been instructed in Roman law. Also, Philip demanded that all the people of France, regardless of any feudal obligations, should be directly loyal to him first, not their own lords. Furthermore, as we learned in our Wikipedia readings, he used government officials, not independent barons, to care for his land. Thus, in all these ways, we see Philip trying to unify France under one powerful ruler.
Philip is not only significant in that he got power for the monarch, but in how he used this power. Sometimes, he used it in unjust ways. For example, he oppressed the Lombards (who were often the bankers) and the Jews in order to take their possessions because he needed money for his military campaigns. Furthermore, we see Philip trying to gain even more power in how he also suppressed the rival power of the Church. He tried to tax clergymen at a very high rate, but the pope opposed this. The conflict then resulted in Philip sending an agent to arrest the pope, who managed to escape, but soon died. The papacy, with a French archbishop as the new pope, was moved to Avignon, where it was directly under French control, and it would stay there from 1309 to 1377. Thus, again, we see Philip grabbing power for France and its ruler. Lastly, Philip is also significant because it was under him that the first meeting of the representative body called the Estates General met. Although this was not as powerful or important an organization as, for example, the English Parliament, it is still an example of a representative institution, and that, in itself, is a significant thing.
In conclusion, then, Philip’s contribution is that he made France a strong nation united under a powerful monarch. Under him, a bureaucracy obedient to the king was established, as was the Estates General. Philip grabbed power for France even to the point of making France a nation that controlled the Church. So, Philip’s reign does mark a turning point: the old France, a set of lordships loosely held together under a weak monarch, became a powerful and influential nation.