The history of the church has various characteristic resemblances with the history of mankind; however, the church history has its inner force that influences the human progress. Church history consists of mainly with the general laws guiding the social life of human beings. There are various reasons for the emergence of the mendicants; however, the main reason was to end the struggle regarding the institution of some hatred against the church property. The mendicant movement emerged as a result of the struggle in the churches and emergence of various arguments; for example, that the monks and the clerics who possessed properties were not to allowed continuing to practice their doctrines. In this paper, we will describe the historical and theological context of the mendicant vow of poverty. The paper will also explain the relevance of mendicant vow of poverty to Christian life and their responsibility towards reducing poverty in the society.
The mendicant movement was established in the 13th century in Western Europe (Hahnenberg, 2010). Before then, the church leaders like the monks owned properties just like any other person in the society. They manage their businesses in the churches since it was the place where they resided. The priests and the monks had started getting divided attention from the wealth they owned. The church stakeholders became concerned, and they decided that it would be better to solve the problem and abide by the biblical instructions (Hahnenberg, 2010). The church had become a business place, and the church stakeholders thought that it was going in contrary to the teachings of the church from the biblical perspectives. The church went on contrary to the church principle that the church was a place of poor people and not the rich as it was before the establishment of mendicant movement in the 13th century. The movement is said to have started in France and Italy before it spread to other parts of Europe and the rest of the world (Ranft, 2009). It had started in poorer towns in Europe before it spread to other regions of the continent at the beginning of 13th century.
The movement was started by the Roman Catholic Church to reduce contradiction of the churches to the biblical perception of poverty and wealth acquisition (Hahnenberg, 2010). The church wanted to lead by the example to the rest of the society by following what the Apostles were required to do. From the Biblical perspective, the apostles or priests were expected to renounce their wealth and depend on the charitable contributions for their survival. This was not taken lightly by many disciples who thought that they also deserved having wealth like any other members of the society. When the movement began in the early 13th century, it received objections from most of the church monks and priests who felt that they were like other members of the church and should be allowed to obtain wealth (Little, 1983). Before the emergence of the mendicant movement, the church attracted many people, not for the sake of spreading the gospel but to acquire wealth and property for themselves. As a result of this behavior development in the church, the stakeholders including the church members raised their concern, and it led to the emergence of the mendicant movement that aimed at improving the church status and objectives. The proponents of mendicant movement argued that the apostles were supposed to follow the moves of the first disciples of Jesus (Lindberg, 2009). They supported their argument with the scriptures found in chapters two and four of the Acts of Apostles claiming that the first disciples of Jesus were forced to live whatever material property they had acquired in their lives and move around the world spreading the gospel. The founders of the mendicant movement include; St. Dominic of the Roman church who came up with the Dominican order that emerged in 1216. The second founder member of the movement was St. Francis of Assisi and with them they came up with Franciscan order that was established in 1210 (Ranft, 2009: 43). The two founders tried to spread their ideology such that by the time they died, their ideology had spread to the rest of Europe and people had started adopting the ideology. The founders used the social institutions like the universities to spread the ideology; for example; they held conferences of theological chairs in the universities (Hahnenberg, 2010). However, some years later after the establishment of the movement, some other proponents who felt that they also shared the same thoughts with the St. Francis and St. Dominic. Some of the groups who joined the movement later include; the Augustinians, Carmelites, Trinitarians and St. Johns of God. Amongst the two founders of the movement, the idea of poverty was initiated by the St. Francis (Ranft, 2009). Although, some arguments have been raised that the idea might have been borrowed from other core members of the movement like St. Dominic, no justification has been provided to justify the claim. Therefore, the idea remains that it was pioneered by the St. Francis. Although the movement was initially started by the Christian churches other non-Christians also joined the ideology; for example, the Buddhist and the monks also joined the movement later after it spread from Europe to other parts of the world especially Asia (Holifield, 2007). The movement faced opposition from various institutions; for example, the University where the Dominicans first established the ideology through the chairs of theology formed an alliance with other church clergy individuals who opposed the ideology. The university offered the Dominicans one professorship in the University and based on the urgency of the aims of the movement; this could not be enough to meet the objectives. The movement also faced opposition from the other members of the church, as the secular priest and Bishops who felt that the movement was taking away their rights of owning property (Omalley, 1994).
The movements ideology was relevant to Christian calling mission because the church was turning way from its primary responsibility for its establishment (Hahnenberg, 2010). The church had started losing directions and because the objective of the church would not have been met. The church was started by the first Apostles of Jesus like Paul who followed the words of Jesus strictly and in his letters to the churches of Corinth, Paul emphasized that the priests and the other religious leaders were supposed to dedicate their lives to the mission of spreading the gospel to the rest of the world. Dedication according to Paul involved leaving any material property that one has acquired in life and dedicates their lives to working in the interest of the church (OMalley, 1994). Mendicants ideology was based on the Jesus teachings especially about the sermon on the mountain. The proponents of this movement claimed that the church was a place where poverty was considered a significant part of the Christians lives. Poverty is symbolic in a Christian perspective symbolizing the humble in the heart; therefore, the church was to promote this symbolism in their mission (Pattison, 2006). The movement discouraged an acquisition of wealth and material property by the clergy members of the church. According to the proponents of Mendicant movement, possession of wealth and other material properties by the priests and monks would divide their attention and responsibility towards achieving the set church objectives. Additionally, the proponents argued that acquisition of wealth meant that the priests and the clergy members of the church would not move from where they resided; thus, obstructing the mission of the church (Pattison, 2006). Therefore, the movement emerged with the aim of enhancing the spread of the gospel to other parts of the world by discouraging factors that would influence the mission. Mendicant Movement is part of the Christians calling because they have the responsibility of moving around the world and spreading the gospel. Christians main mission is to spread the gospel that Jesus left for them and in this mission, they are required to travel and move from one place to another. Therefore, acquiring wealth would mean that they cannot move, and this would obstruct the primary aim of the church.
In conclusion, the church has the responsibility of spreading the gospel to people in other regions where the word of God has not been received. Therefore, it involves movement, and there would be no time for acquiring properties and accumulating wealth. As Christians, our lives should reflect on the teachings of Jesus and the first Apostles. Jesus during the Sermon on the Mountain said that the church is not a place for wealth acquisition, and anyone who wants to become a clergy or a follower of Christ must first renounce the worldly materials and embrace heavenly wealth. Therefore, Mendicant movement greatly assisted the spread of the gospel to the rest of the world because if everyone had acquired wealth, the gospel would not have reached other regions like Africa, Asia or even America from where the gospel started in Europe.
Hahnenberg, Edward P. Awakening vocation: A theology of Christian call. Liturgical Press, 2010.
Holifield, E. Brooks. God's ambassadors: A history of the Christian clergy in America. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.
Little, Lester K. Religious poverty and the profit economy in medieval Europe. Cornell University Press, 1983.
Lindberg, Carter. A brief history of Christianity. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.
O'Malley, John W. "Mission and the Early Jesuits." Ignatium Spirituality and Mission. The Way Supplement 79 (1994): 3-10.
Pattison, Bonnie L. Poverty in the Theology of John Calvin. Vol. 69. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006.
Ranft, Patricia. "Franciscan Work Theology in Historical Perspective."Franciscan Studies 67.1 (2009): 41-70.
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