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The History of the Church 108 The Arrival of the Franciscans On Christmas 1223, the faithful of the Italian town of Greccio, upon arriving at their church, discovered an unprecedented scene: the prop of a cave, an ass, and an ox before a manger. And thus was born the first nativity scene, by the initiative of Saint Francis of Assisi. Shortly before the Spaniard Dominic founded his Order of Preachers, a young Italian bourgeois had created his own, under the name of “Friars Minor.” He insisted on literal fidelity to the Gospel in reaction to the intellectualism of theologians, advocating, above all, the simplicity of its message and the life of poverty. Like the founder of the Dominicans, Saint Francis introduced a new form of religious life with his noncloistered friars who, like secular priests, could administer the sacraments to the faithful. His endeavor enjoyed immediate success, while also giving rise to controversy. Through an erroneous intellectual interpretation of his approach, certain groups emerged favoring individualist mysticism, such as the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit, the Fraticelli, the followers of Gioacchino da Fiore, and the Poor Hermits. Today, the Franciscans (or some of its members) are reproached for their atheistic pantheism and their revolutionary egalitarianism. In The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco portrays the disputes that pitted the Franciscans against the Benedictines, as well as the Dominicans. The numerous paintings that celebrate Saint Francis and his miracles , therefore, are not always exempt from an underlying apologetical tone. George de La Tour (1593–1652) The Ecstasy of Saint Francis Musée de Tessé, Le Mans ...


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