Elias of Cortonawas born, it is said, at Bevilia near Assisi, ca. 1180; he died at Cortona, 22 April 1253. He was among the first to join St. Francis of Assisi in his newly founded Order of Friars Minor. In 1221, Francis appointed Elias Vicar General.
According to Salimbene di Adam, who knew Elias well, his family name was Bonusbaro or Bonibarone, that his father was from the neighbourhood of Bologna, and his mother from Assisi. Before becoming a friar, Elias worked at his father's trade of mattress-making and also taught the children of Assisi to read the Psalter. Later on, according to Thomas of Eccleston, Elias was a scriptor, or notary, at Bologna, where no doubt he applied himself to study. But he was not a cleric and never became a priest, but was a lay brother with significant organizational skills.
Elias appears to have been one of the earliest companions of Francis of Assisi. The time and place of his joining the saint are uncertain; it may have been at Cortona in 1211, as Luke Wadding says. Certain it is, however, that he held a place of prominence among the friars from the first. After a short sojourn, as it seems, in Tuscany, Elias was sent in 1217 as head of a band of missionaries to the Near East, and two years later he became the first provincial of the then extensive province of Syria. It was in this capacity that he received Cæsar of Speyer into the order. Although it is unclear what the nature or extent of Elias's work in the East, it would seem that the three years he spent there made a deep impression upon him.
On his return from Acre in 1220, Francis brought Elias back with him. Francis had appointed Peter of Cataneo as vicar general, to handle the day to day administration of the order. When Peter died on 10 March 1221, Francis demonstrated his confidence in Elias by naming him to succeed Peter as vicar-general. Elias had held this office for five years when Francis died on 3 October 1226, and he then became charged with the responsibilities of the moment and superintending the temporary burial of the saint at San Giorgio.
A great patron of the Franciscans and their official Protector, Cardinal Ugolino had shortly before been elected as Pope, and taken the name of Gregory IX. The new Pope immediately declared his intention to build a splendid church to house the body of the Little Poor Man he had known and venerated. The task was entrusted to Brother Elias. Elias at once began to lay plans for the erection of a great basilica at Assisi, to enshrine the remains of the Poverello.
Elias was a lay friar, and encourage other laymen to enter the order. This brought opposition from many ordained friars and ministers provincial, who also opposed increased centralization of the Order. In order to build the basilica, he obtained a donation, with the authority of the pope, of the so-called Collis Inferni at the western extremity of the town, and proceeded to collect money in various ways to meet the expenses of the building. Elias thus also alienated the zealots in the order, who felt entirely with Francis upon the question of poverty, so that at the chapter held in May, 1227, Elias was rejected in spite of his prominence, and Giovanni Parenti, Minister Provincial of Spain, was elected Minister General of the order.
Though Elias had tried for the office of Minister General at the General Chapter of 1230, it was only at the Chapter of 1232 that he was elected. Thus he became, after the founder, the second Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. Almost immediately, his succession was a point of controversy and created a split within the Order. Some of his fiercest critics were the first companions of Saint Francis, such as the simple Brother Giles, brother Masseus, and Brother Leo, St. Francis' secretary and companion. All of these earlier followers opposed what they saw as an abandonment of St. Francis' beloved commitment to corporate poverty under Elias' initiative. An example of this was the magnificence of the new Basilica of St. Francis and Sacro Convento Elias was designing as the holy founder's resting place. Initially Elias sought the support of St. Clare of Assisi, the first and most loved female follower of St. Francis together with whom he had founded the female 'branch' of the Franciscan Order. She, however, would not receive Elias as she lived in solitude at San Damiano and did not want to be distracted from her contemplative life.
During his administration, Elias worked strenuously to promote the growth of the Order. He dispatched friars to new lands. He authorized the building of large monastic-style residences in the cities, which were to serve as centers of study. This was a departure from the wandering tradition of the Order, with its small and scattered residences or hermitages. This development was to have two consequences. Firstly, it introduced large groups of the growing number of clergy in the Order. This became a source of friction with the local clergy of the cities, as the faithful sought the spiritual services of the friars in preference to their own parish churches. Secondly, there grew a growing distinction between the friars who lived in established communities (convents, thus termed the Conventuals) as opposed to the "Spirituals" who strove to follow Francis' original lifestyle.
About 1238, Pope Gregory sent Elias as an ambassador to the excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II; apparently, as a result, Elias became a supporter of the Emperor. A General Chapter of the Order was held in Rome in 1239. From Friar Thomas of Eccleston's account of this Chapter, it appears that one of the chief spokesmen against Elias was Friar Haymo of Faversham. Elias was deposed from the office of Minister General by the Chapter.
After the deposition of Elias, Albert of Pisa, Minister Provincial of England, was elected as Minister General. Elias went to Cortona, where he visited a house of Poor Clares without permission. Albert was prepared to absolve him, but Elias went instead to the Ghibelline city of Arezzo, and Gregory excommunicated him.
Albert died during the first year of his Generalate, and Haymo was then elected to that office in 1240.
In 1240, Elias definitively embraced the Emperor in his strife with Rome and joined the Emperor's army, riding on a magnificent charger at the siege of Faenza and at that of Ravenna. As a consequence of his behaviour, Elias himself received excommunication from Pope Gregory and was expelled from the Order.
Attribution to him of some alchemistic manuscriptsis often questioned.
Shortly before his death, Elias was reconciled with both the Holy See and, through the mediation of St. Clare, with the Franciscan Order.
In April 2016, Ave Maria Press published the first-ever popular history about the life of Elias of Cortona, The Enthusiast: How the Best Friend of Francis of Assisi Almost Destroyed What He Started,which America (Jesuit magazine), in its review said "accomplishes a rare feat. It is cautious even as it is bold and daring."
| Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor |
1232 – 1239
Albert of Pisa
Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, informally named as Francesco, was an Italian Catholic friar, deacon and preacher. He founded the men's Order of Friars Minor, the women's Order of Saint Clare, the Third Order of Saint Francis and the Custody of the Holy Land. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
The Franciscans are a group of related mendicant religious orders within the Catholic Church, founded in 1209 by Saint Francis of Assisi. These orders include the Order of Friars Minor, the Order of Saint Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis. They adhere to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of the founder and of his main associates and followers, such as Clare of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, and Elizabeth of Hungary, among many others.
The Fraticelli or Spiritual Franciscans were extreme proponents of the rule of Saint Francis of Assisi, especially with regard to poverty, and regarded the wealth of the Church as scandalous, and that of individual churchmen as invalidating their status. They thus claimed that everyone else in the Church were damned and deprived of powers and were declared heretical in 1296 by Boniface VIII.
The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor Conventual in Assisi, a town in the Umbria region in central Italy, where Saint Francis was born and died. It is a Papal minor basilica and one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. With its accompanying friary, Sacro Convento, the basilica is a distinctive landmark to those approaching Assisi. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000.
The Order of Friars Minor Conventual, commonly known as the Conventual Franciscans, or Minorites, is a Catholic branch of the Franciscans, founded by Francis of Assisi in 1209.
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Pacificus was a disciple of St. Francis of Assisi, born probably near Ascoli, Italy, in the second half of the twelfth century; died, it is thought, at Lens, France, around 1234.
As known, Saint Francis founded three orders and gave each of them a special rule. Here, only the rule of the first order is to be considered, i.e., that of the Order of Friars Minor.
Haymo of Faversham, O.F.M. was an English Franciscan scholar. His scholastic epithet was Inter Aristotelicos Aristotelicissimus, referring to his stature among the Scholastics during the Recovery of Aristotle amid the 12th- and 13th-century Renaissance. He acquired fame as a lecturer at the University of Paris and also as a preacher when he entered the Order of Friars Minor, probably in 1224 or 1225. He served as the Minister Provincial for England (1239–1240) and as the Minister General of the Order .
Porziuncola, also called Portiuncula or Porzioncula, is a small Catholic church located within the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi in the frazione of Santa Maria degli Angeli, situated about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) from Assisi, Umbria. It is the place from where the Franciscan movement started.
The Sacro Convento is a Franciscan friary in Assisi, Umbria, Italy. The friary is connected as part of three buildings to the upper and lower church of the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, where the friars custody with great reverence the body of Saint Francis. St. Francis wanted to be buried at this location outside of Assisi's city walls, called Hill of Hell, because his master Jesus of Nazareth also was killed like a criminal outside of the city of Jerusalem.
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Giovanni Parenti, O.F.M. was an Italian Friar Minor and successor of St. Francis of Assisi as head of the Order. Parenti had a legal background. He served as Minister Provincial in Spain before being chosen Minister General in 1227. Parenti held a literal interpretation of poverty as it applied to the Order; a view that was not shared by everyone. He stepped down in 1232 and was succeeded by Elias of Cortona.
Albert of Pisa, O.Min., was an Italian Franciscan friar. He served as minister provincial for Germany, Hungary, and England.
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Clemente d'Olera was an Italian Roman Catholic who became Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, cardinal and bishop.
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