Narratives of resistance: arguments against the mendicants in the works of Matthew Paris and William of Saint-Amour
Sita Steckel (Münster)
Thirteenth-Century England: XV (2015)
The rise of the new mendicant orders, foremost the Franciscans and Dominicans, is one of the great success stories of thirteenth-century Europe. Combining apostolic poverty with sophisticated organization and university learning, they brought much needed improvements to pastoral care in the growing cities. Their preaching, especially, established a new intensity of religious communication and enabled far-reaching cultural transformations. But this success story was not without its undercurrent of resistance.
Most British readers are well aware of this. ‛Anti-fraternal’ or ‛anti-mendicant’ criticisms and satire feature prominently in the writings of Wyclif and Chaucer, to mention just the most familiar names. The many anti-fraternal themes and tropes, forerunners of later anti-clerical argument, form a well-known part of late medieval culture. Yet their very familiarity may cloud our view of them. In his 2012 study of the Making of Medieval Antifraternalism, Guy Geltner reminds readers that there are very specific teleologies attached to the topic. His book begins with the deconstruction of an anecdote in which Chaucer beats down a friar in the street, encapsulating several issues of religious and political identity. In British research at least, resistance to the influence of the mendicants is associated with ideas of religious and political progess towards an anti-papal, modern England.