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Ecumenical Connections across Time: Medieval Franciscans as a Proto-Pentecostal Movement?

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Abstract In the long course of Christian history there have been many expressions of the action of the Holy Spirit in renewing the Christian Church through a variety of renewal movements. Two such movements are the twentieth-century Pentecostal movement and the thirteenth-century Franciscan movement. While there is no specific historical link one with the other, there are resources in the older movement, with its concern for direct human experience of Christ, its return to biblical poverty, a hope of renewing the church by a restoration of biblical holiness, its experience of gradually integrating its radical view of the end of time with the institutional church, and its impulsive missionary outreach, that offer many lessons for the newer movement as it serves worldwide Christianity.

1. FN11 In the sixteenth century both friends and critics of Franciscanism, including the Inquisition, suggested affinity between the evangelical renewal movements that became “Protestants” and the Franciscan renewals of the period: “If St. Francis was a heretic, then call them Lutherans. If to preach the liberty of the Spirit is a vice, when subject to the rule of the church, what will you make of the text, ‘The Spirit gives life’?” See Vittoria Colonna, cited in Roland Bainton, Women of the Reformation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1971), 204.
2. FN22 John Toland, St Francis and the Sultan: The Curious History of a Christian–Muslim Encounter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 271.
3. FN33 There are rich parallels between the extreme millennialism of Joachim of Fiore and his Franciscan followers and the variety of premillennialisms and images of the antichrist in popular evangelicalism, as noted below. However, research is only beginning to connect the dots between the Middle Ages, Luther and the reformers, and Darby, some through Jesuit anti-Protestant apologetics! See the essays in Karl A. Kottman, ed., Millenarianism and Messianism in Early Modern European Culture, vol. 2: Catholic Millenarianism from Savonarola to Abbé Grégoire (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001).
4. FN44 C. H. Lawrence, The Friars: The Impact of the Early Mendicant Movement on Western Society (Harlow, UK: Longman, 1994), 218; see also Vincent Cushing, “A Church, Evangelical, Catholic and Reformed,” in Elise Saggau, ed., “Go Rebuild My House”: Franciscans and the Church Today (St. Bonaventure, NY: St. Bonaventure University Press, 2004), 26-77.
5. FN55 Ithiel Clemmons, in David Hall, ed., Healing Ministries of the Holy Spirit (Memphis: Church of God in Christ Publishing Board, 1991), 12.
6. FN66 See Randall Stephens, The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentecostalism in the American South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 136-85.
7. FN77 Leonard Lovett, Black Holiness-Pentecostalism: Implications for Ethics and Social Transformation (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1979), 33-42.
8. FN88 Peter Althouse, email September 30, 2009; see also Peter Althouse and Robby Waddell, “The Landscape of Pentecostal and Charismatic Eschatology: An Introduction,” in Peter Althouse and Robby Waddell, eds., Perspectives in Pentecostal Eschatologies: World Without End (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010).
9. FN99 Alonzo Johnson, “How the Holy Ghost Heals Nations: Theological Perspectives,” in Hall, ed., Healing Ministries, 140.
10. FN1010 John Moorman, A History of the Franciscan Order from its Origins to the Year 1517 (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1968).
11. FN1111 David Burr, Olivi and Franciscan Poverty (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), 7.
12. FN1212 Ibid., 4.
13. FN1313 Michael Robson, The Franciscans in the Middle Ages (Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2006), 22-37, notes that the initial expansion of the order included men from all levels of society, even scholastics teachers.
14. FN1414 The traditional date of Francis’ arrival in the Holy Land is 1219. The Franciscans have been in the Holy Land ever since. Francis had two early attempts (1212 and 1213) before making it to the Holy Land. On the early history, see Michael F. Cusato, The Early Franciscan Movement (1205-1239): History, Sources, and Hermeneutics (Spoleto, Italy: Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo, 2009), 106-28; and the official Franciscan site, Custodia Terrae Sanctae: Franciscan Missionaries Serving the Holy Land, (accessed May 24, 2011).
15. FN1515 David Burr, The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001).
16. FN1616 For a useful synthesis of this development see Ralph Del Colle, “Spirit Baptism: A Catholic Perspective,” in Chad Brand, ed., Perspectives on Spirit Baptism: Five Views (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004), 241-90.
17. FN1717 William Short, Poverty and Joy: The Franciscan Tradition (London: Darton, Longman, Todd, 1999). This author speaks of the “democratization of contemplation” (95), much as other authors talk about the democratization of religion during the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Pentecostal and evangelical revivals. Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).
18. FN1818 Randolph Daniel, The Franciscan Concept of Mission in the High Middle Ages (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1975). In sixteenth century evangelism, for example, it was a restorationist understanding of the Church’s primitive mission, and eschatological urgency — with a dispensational type of periodization — that fueled the Latin American missions: “The image of the Primitive Apostolic Church was a key concept in this constellation of ideas.” See John Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1970), 46. They felt the fervor of the faith had died out in the Old World and was to be reborn in the Indies.
19. FN1919 For some methodological and theological considerations of this approach see Orlando O. Espin, “Pentecostalism and Popular Catholicism: The Poor and Traditio,” Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology 3, no. 2 (1995): 14-43; also Espin, The Faith of a People (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 1997). “The difficult task is that of extrapolating the beliefs of persons whose theology is for the most part implicit, and based on unscholarly Biblicism, or who do not take into account the data of theological research” (Lovett, Black Holiness-Pentecostalism, 10). See also Orlando Espin and Gary Macy, eds., Futuring Our Past: Explorations in the Theology of Tradition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 2006), and Thomasina Neely, Belief, Ritual, and Performance in a Black Pentecostal Church: The Musical Heritage of the Church of God in Christ (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms Incorporated, 1993).
20. FN2020 See, for example, Theophile Desbonnts, From Intuition to Institution: The Franciscans (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983).
21. FN2121 Cecil Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2006), 289-90.
22. FN2222 Shane Clifton, Pentecostal Churches in Transition: Analysing the Developing Ecclesiology of the Assemblies of God in Australia (Leiden: Brill, 2009); Robert Raymond Owens, “The Dark Years (1961-1968): Leadership Styles and Organizational Types in the Transition from the Founder to the Successors in the Church of God in Christ” (PhD dissertation, Regent University, 2000); Ithiel Clemmons, in Hall, ed., Healing Ministries, 11-12; Frans Kamsteeg, Prophetic Pentecostalism in Chile (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1998); Luis Orellana U., El Fuego y la Nieve: Historia del Moviemiento Pentecostal en Chile: 1909-1932 (Concepción, Chile: Ediciones Centro Evangélico de Estudios Pentecostales, 2006); and Mickey Crews, The Church of God: A Social History (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990).
23. FN2323 Allan Anderson, Michael Bergunder, André Drooger, and Cornelis van der Laan, eds., Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theories and Methods (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004),166-86; Allan Anderson, Spreading Fires: The Missionary Nature of Early Pentecostalism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007); Leonard Lovett, Black Holiness-Pentecostalism, 52; Ogbu Kalu, African Pentecostalism: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Bernice Martin, “Interpretations of Latin American Pentecostalism: 1960s to the Present,” in Calvin L. Smith, ed., Pentecostal Power: Expressions, Impact and Faith of Latin American Pentecostalism (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 111-36.
24. FN2424 Angel Santiago-Vendrell, “Popular Religion as a Unifying Factor in the Latino/a Religious Community: A Pentecostal Proposal in US Latino/a Ecumenical Theology,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 12, no. 1 (2003): 129-41.
25. FN2525 Gary McGee, Miracles, Missions, and American Pentecostalism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010), 4.
26. FN2626 Much work has been done among Pentecostal scholars in looking at the social ethical implications of evangelical eschatologies as they have influenced Pentecostals’ view of the world, history, and ethics; for example, Gerald Sheppard, “Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism: The Anatomy of an Uneasy Relationship,” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 6 (Fall 1984): 5-33, and Douglas Peterson, Not by Might, Nor by Power: A Pentecostal Theology of Social Concern in Latin America (Oxford: Regnum, 1996), 299.
27. FN2727 Timothy Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillenialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).
28. FN2828 Bernard McGinn, Visions of the End (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), xiv. The author, in later work on the theme, does take account of some American Protestant contributions to Christian eschatology: Bernard McGinn, AntiChrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1994). See also D. William Faupel, The Everlasting Gospel: The Significance of Eschatology in the Development of Pentecostal Thought (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), and Peter Althouse, Spirit of the Last Days: Pentecostal Eschatology in Conversation With Jurgen Moltmann (London: T. & T. Clark, 2004).
29. FN2929 What the most recent report of the bilateral Pentecostal/Catholic dialogue says about patristics may very well be true of medieval sources as well: “we have seen that there are patristic texts which can cast light on each of the issues we considered (conversion, faith, Christian experience in community, discipleship and formation, and Baptism in the Holy Spirit). These texts arise from the Fathers’ reflections on the Scriptures and frequently provide insight and wisdom to contemporary questions and situations. Moreover, they remain relevant to contemporary experience. The writings of the Fathers are not library treasures from centuries ago. Their words are vibrant witnesses to Christians of today, and of every time.” On Becoming a Christian, chapter 6, section D, # 269, Centre Pro Unione,, accessed May 24, 2011.
30. FN3030 McGinn, Visions, 11.
31. FN3131 Ibid., 17, 26.
32. FN3232 Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 194. He goes on to note: “Secondly, even a cursory glance at the actual reality of every century suggests that such ‘signs’ indicate a permanent condition of the world. The world has always been torn apart by wars and catastrophes, and nothing allows one to hope that, for example, ‘peace research’ will manage to erase this watermark of all humanity” (198).
33. FN3333 See “Joaquinismos, Utopías, Milenarismos y Mesianismos en la América Colonial,” in Josep Saranyana Closa, Teología en America Latína (1493-1715), vol. 1 (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 1999), 613-88. Also John Leddy Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971). When a Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue begins, in earnest, in Latin America the theology of history and eschatology will be among the central topics.
34. FN3434 An extended version of this section can be found in my essay, “Hope for Eternal Life: Perspectives for Pentecostals and Catholics,” in Althouse and Waddell, ed., Perspectives on Pentecostal Eschatologies, 149-72.
35. FN3535 Burr, The Spiritual Franciscans, 88.
36. FN3636 Ratzinger characterizes the medieval developments as hysteria, while McGinn (Visions, 8) is more moderate in his assessment.
37. FN3737 McGinn, Visions, 36. This author goes on to question whether these faith apprehensions of the mystery of time and eternity are any less worthy of consideration than the bland reductionistic scientific illusions.
38. FN3838 Bernard McGinn, The Calabrian Abbott: Joachim of Fiore in the History of Western Thought (New York: Macmillan, 1985); and McGinn, Apocalypticism in the Western Tradition (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1994).
39. FN3939 See Bernard McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1979); cf. esp Burr, The Spiritual Franciscans.
40. FN4040 George H. Tavard, The Contemplative Church: Joachim And His Adversaries (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2005).
41. FN4141 McGinn, Visions, 129.
42. FN4242 Ibid., 203-21. See also the most recent report of the Pentecostal/Catholic dialogue and its proposal to examine together the restorationist impulse in Christian history as well as the relationship between eschatology and restorationism in Pentecostalism: On Becoming a Christian, chapter 5, section section D.2, # 238-# 247.
43. FN4343 Joseph Ratzinger, Theology of History in St. Bonaventure (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1971), xvi. Some Pentecostal voices have suggested a parallel development for the transformation of dispensational eschatolgies: “There is a sense in which the Bonaventurian move of using Francis as a model for the mystical journey that culminates in union (Journey of the Mind [The Mind’s Journey to God, translated from the Latin with an introduction by Lawrence S. Cunningham (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1979)]) has its counterpart in the Holiness/Pentecostal fusion of mystical union and Christian perfection. This is eschatological in the sense that what happens at the altar in a revival is a foretaste of the end in the same way that mystical union is proleptic of the beatific vision. I think this is a counter stream that threads through holiness/Pentecostal theology and stands in tension with the dispensational eschatology.” The same author goes on to suggest that we “. . .potentially have three [Pentecostal] eschatological perspectives in tension with one another: 1) the mystical influence with its understanding of salvation as journey into union that anticipates eschatological union; 2) the dispensational framework with its premillenialism and pro-Zionist agenda; and 3) the historical framework that attempts to read Azusa [Street Revival of 1907] as the latter rain and thus an important historic event pointing to the inauguration of the eschaton” (Dale Coulter, personal email to the author, September, 2009). See also Dale M. Coulter, “Pentecostal Visions of the End: Eschatology, Ecclesiology, and Fascination of the Left Behind Series,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 14, no. 10 (2005): 81-98.
44. FN4444 Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).
45. FN4545 McGinn, Visions, 226, 246-52, and 263-69.
46. FN4646 Timothy P. Weber, On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).
47. FN4747 Friar Arnold, in McGinn, Visions, 175. The Friar goes on to quote 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and Revelation 13:18 to underline his claims.
48. FN4848 See ibid., 186-95.
49. FN4949 Ratzinger, Eschatology, 196-97 and 214.
50. FN5050 Ratzinger, Theology of History, xiv.
51. FN5151 Clemmons, in Hall, ed., Healing Ministries, 14. See also David Hall, Essays to the Next Generation: An Interpretation of Church of God in Christ Faith and Practice (Memphis: Church of God in Christ Publishing House, 2004).
52. FN5252 World Alliance of Reformed Churches and Some Classical Pentecostal Churches and Leaders, “Word and Spirit, Church and World: The Final Report of the International Dialogue: 1996-2000,” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 23, no. 1 (Spring, 2001): 9-96.
53. FN5353 See Angel Santiago-Vendrell, “Popular Religion as a Unifying Factor”; Jeffrey Gros, “Ecumenism in the U.S. Hispanic/Latino Community, Challenge, and Promise,” in Peter Casarella and Raul Gomez, eds., Cuerpo de Cristo: The Hispanic Presence in the U.S. Catholic Church (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), 197 ff.; Gros, “Reconciliation and Hope: The Contribution of the US Hispanic Community: Recovering a Reconciling Heritage I, Building A Common Future II,” Ecumenical Trends 35, no. 10-11 (November/ December 2006): 1-6; Thomas Rausch, “Ecumenism and America’s Hispanic Christians,” Origins 36, no. 3 (June 1, 2006): 41-45; Ricardo Ramírez, “Bringing Ecumenism to Hispanic Christians,” Origins 22, no. 3 (May 28, 1992): 40-44; Ramírez, “The Crisis in Ecumenism Among Hispanic Catholics,” Origins 24, no. 40 (March 23, 1995): 660-66; Ramírez, “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Challenge of Ecumenism,” Ecumenical Trends 25, no. 10 (November 1996): 11-15; Allan Figueroa Deck, “Fundamentalism and the Hispanic Catholic,” America (January 26, 1985): 64-68; Deck, “How Long Can We Cry Wolf?” America (December 10, 1988): 485-90; and Deck, “The Challenge of Evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity to Hispanic Catholicism,” in Jay Dolan and Allan Figueroa Deck, eds., Hispanic Catholic Culture in the US: Issues and Concerns (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), 409-39.
54. FN5454 Short, Poverty and Joy, 129. See also Elise Saggau, ed., The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition (St. Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute, 2002).
55. FN5555 Dale M. Coulter, “The Development of Ecclesiology in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN): A Forgotten Contribution?” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 29, no. 1 (2007): 76.
56. FN5656 Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., “The Holy Spirit and the Unity of the Church: The Challenge of Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Independent Movements,” in Doris Donnelly, Adelbert Denaux, and Joseph Famerée, eds., The Holy Spirit, the Church, and Christian Unity: Proceedings of the Consultation held at the Monastery of Bose, Italy, 14-20 October 2002, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, Series 3:181 (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 2005); Jeffrey Gros, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, and Thomas Rausch, “Pentecostal Responses to The Nature and Purpose of the Church,” Ecumenical Trends 33, no. 7 (July/August 2004): 1-11; Frank Macchia, Edmund Rybarczyk, and Caleb Oladipo, “A Pentecostal Response to The Nature and Purpose of the Church,” Ecumenical Trends 34, no. 7 (July/August, 2005): 1-12; Wolfgang Vondey, Dale Irvin, and Kevin Mannoia, “Pentecostal Perspectives on The Nature and Mission of the Church,” Ecumenical Trends 35, no. 8 (September 2006): 1-10. See also Cushing, “A Church, Evangelical, Catholic and Reformed”; Kathleen Warren, Franciscan Identity and Postmodern Culture (St. Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute, 2003); and Coulter, “The Development of Ecclesiology in the Church of God,” 59-85.
57. FN5757 Clifton, Pentecostal Churches in Transition, 225.

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Affiliations: 1: Lewis University Romeoville, Illinois


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