The thirteenth century was a great century for the Church. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) and his successors in the thirteenth century saw the papacy as the guardian of Christendom.
King Philip II of France divorced his wife, Queen Ingeborg, and attempted to marry another. Innocent III put the whole kingdom of France under interdict (denial of liturgy, the sacraments, and even Christian burial) until Philip returned to his lawful wife.
King John of England tried to control the election of the Archbishop of Canterbury and refused to accept the pope’s choice of Stephen Langdon. Innocent III excommunicated John and England was placed under interdict. The pope deposed John and offered his kingdom to France. John submitted and made England as a vassal of Innocent III.
In 1215, Innocent called the Fourth Council of Lateran. The council ruled that all Christians who had reached the age of reason must go to confession and receive Holy Communion at Easter time. The word “Transubstantiation” was used to describe the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ at the Consecration.
Order of Friars Minor
St. Francis of Assisi was born in 1182. At the age of twenty-two, while praying at St. Damian’s church, Francis heard a voice saying, “Francis, go and rebuild My House”. He started to repair neglected churches.
Francis lived as a hermit. Later a merchant and a canon of the cathedral joined him, and thus began the Franciscan order. They lived by manual labor and by begging alms. They called themselves “Friars Minor” or little brothers.
Francis was ordained a deacon so that he could preach the Gospel, but out of awe for the Holy Eucharist, he did not receive priestly order.
Francis travelled to Rome to get the approval of Innocent III for his Rule. There was difficulty, for his group bore some resemblance to some heretical groups. But Innocent had a dream that Francis carried on his shoulders the great Basilica of St. John Lateran. Innocent III, therefore, approved the work of Francis.
On September, 1224 Francis received the stigmata. Francis had a great love for nature, and his enthusiasm for praising God through creation is expressed in the Canticle of Brother Sun.
Francis died in 1226 and was canonized two years later.
A faithful disciple of St. Francis was St. Clare. At the age of eighteen, she escaped by night and consecrated herself to God in the presence of St. Francis and his companions. She was soon joined by her younger sister, Agnes. Eventually her own mother and other noble ladies also put themselves under her rule. The Poor Clare nuns observed perpetual abstinence, constant silence, and perfect poverty. St. Clare died in 1253.
St. Anthony of Padua (+1231) became a Franciscan in 1220. He spent his last ten years preaching in Italy and France. He was a wonderful preacher with the gift of miracles.
The Dominicans or “The Order of Preachers” was founded by St. Dominic (+1221). In 1205, Innocent III sent him to help convert the Albigenses in southern France.
Dominic saw that those already in mission were not effective, because their life-style was too rich and soft. Dominic devoted himself to popular preaching and lived an austere life.
A few zealous priests joined Dominic, and they formed a community. The new order was approved by Pope Honorius in 1216.
Prayer, study, and preaching were the important tasks of the mendicant orders. St. Bonaventure (a Franciscan) and St. Thomas Aquinas (a Dominican) were both doctors of the Church and died in 1274. They lived in an atmosphere of prayer and study, and fostered higher studies for the friars.
“Constant fidelity in small things is great and heroic virtue” (St. Bonaventure)