The Mendicants

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The medieval religious reform movement culminated in the formation of the mendicant orders, best exemplified by the popular Franciscan and Dominican Orders. Their establishment coincides with Western society’s acceptance of a work theology as first articulated in Damian’s social theology. Damian’s interpretation of witness as a mandate for Christian participation in the secular world is found in abundance in Franciscan and Dominican sources and their lives. “Exalt Him by your deeds, for He has sent you into the entire world for this reason, that in word and deed you may give witness to His voice,” Francis instructed his friars.1 Mendicants were faithful to this mandate and frequently described their witness with light metaphors. Bonaventure, for example, tells us that in Francis was “a light for those who believe that, by bearing witness of the light, he might prepare a way for the Lord to the hearts of his faithful, a way of light and peace. By the glorious splendor of his life and teaching Francis shone like the day-star amid the clouds, and by the brilliance which radiated from him he guided those who live in darkness, in the shadow of death, to the light.”2 Thomas of Celano describes Francis’ witness “as a star in the black night, like early dawn spreading over the darkness; and thus it came to pass that in a short while the face of the whole province was changed.”3 Pope Gregory IX tells the Dominicans that the entire Church is “illuminated by the rays of so great a light” as their witness produces daily, adding that “it is evident that the wisdom of God has given you to be the light of [the] nation.”


Manual Labor Dominican Order Secular World Commercial Revolution Spiritual Work 
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    Bonaventure , Major Life of St. Francis, trans. Benen Faley, preface, 1, in St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies, ed. Marion A.. Habig, 4th rev. ed. (Chicago, IL: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), p. 631.Google Scholar
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© Patricia Ranft 2006

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