At yesterday’s General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI continued his study of Christian history by focusing on the contributions of the Mendicant Orders—the Dominicans and Franciscans—to the renewal of the Church and Christian society in the Middle Ages. In his address, the Holy Father explained how the espousal of mendicant poverty and itineracy enabled the Friars Minor and the Preaching Friars to become the spiritual leaders par excellence of the medieval city. No mere relic of the past, however, the mendicant quality of religious life continues to benefit the Church’s life, especially, as Pope Benedict notes, through the Dominican and Franciscan “third orders.”
GENERAL AUDIENCE ADDRESS
January 13, 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the beginning of the new year, we look at the history of Christianity, to see how a history develops and how it can be renewed. In it we can see that it is the saints, guided by the light of God, who are the genuine reformers of the life of the Church and of society. Teachers by their word and witnesses with their example, they know how to promote a stable and profound ecclesial renewal, because they themselves are profoundly renewed, they are in contact with the true novelty: the presence of God in the world.
Such a consoling reality — that in every generation saints are born and bear the creativity of renewal — constantly accompanies the history of the Church in the midst of the sorrows and the negative aspects of her journey. We also see come forth, century by century, the forces of reform and of renewal, because the novelty of God is inexorable and always gives new strength to go forward.
This was what happened in the 13th century, with the birth and the extraordinary development of the Mendicant Orders: a model of great renewal in a new historic period. They were called thus because of their characteristic of “begging,” namely, of going to the people humbly for economic support to live the vow of poverty and to carry out their evangelizing mission. Of the Mendicant Orders that arose in that period, the most notable and most important are the Friars Minor and the Preaching Friars, known as Franciscans and Dominicans. They have these names because of their founders, Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzmán, respectively. These two great saints had the capacity to wisely read “the signs of the times,” intuiting the challenges that the Church of their time had to face.