Members of a 12th-century lay-poverty movement, known also as Berettini, so-called because of their ashgray garments of undyed (berrettine, humile ) wool. They first appeared in Lombardy in the second half of the 12th century. Their origin is obscure, but seems to be connected with the then prevalent desire to return to the state of the primitive church. The theory that associates their origin with Emperor henry iv, or with St. bernard of clairvaux and St. John Meda, is at best improbable. The Humiliati first lived as devout laymen (mostly members of the higher social levels) in the married state, or in double convents observing continence. Distinguished for their penitential austerity, they fasted frequently, spoke little, refused to bear arms, and preached publicly against heresy and abuses in the church. They observed personal and communal poverty, but as manual laborers rather than as mendicants, and became involved in the wool industry. The women cared for the sick poor, especially lepers, while the men devoted themselves to social and civic affairs, providing work for the unemployed, forming trade associations, and aiding the indigent. Though orthodox in intention, they were closely related to the patarines and other heretical penitential sects of the period. In the matter of apostolic preaching, they resembled the cathari; they also resembled the waldenses, but differed from them in their interpretation of evangelical poverty. When their attacks on the clergy became excessive, Pope alexander iii forbade them to preach in public (1179), but they refused to obey. lucius iii excommunicated them together with the Waldenses in 1184. Many submitted, however, and in 1201 innocent iii reorganized them as a three-order institute: canons and sisters in solemn religious consecration living in double monasteries; continent laymen and laywomen; and married men and women living as secular tertiaries; the last group withdrew in 1272. The order grew rapidly in power and prestige, rendering distinguished service to the Church in the struggle against heresy and against the socioeconomic problems of the times. However, their association with the wool industry brought them wealth and rapid decline. Toward the end there were only 170 members for the 94 houses. When St. Charles borromeo undertook their reform, some of the members attempted to take his life; whereupon pius v suppressed the male branch of the order (1571).
Bibliography: g. tiraboschi, Vetera humiliatorum monumenta, 3 v. (Milan 1766–68). l. zanoni, Gli umiliati nei loro rapporti con l'eresia, l'industria della lana ed i comuni nei secoli XII e XIII (Milan 1911). j. b. pierron, Die katholischen Armen (Freiburg 1911). f. van den borne, Die Anfänge des franziskanischen Dritten Ordens (Münster 1925). f. vernet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50) 7.1:311–321. p. guerrini, "Gli umiliati a Brescia," Miscellanea Pio Paschini, 2 v. (Rome 1948–49) 1:187–214. a. mens, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d. new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 5:534–535. h. grundmann, Religiöse Bewegungen im Mittelalter (2d ed. Hildesheim 1961). m. h. vicaire, Catholicisme 5:1097–98.
[m. f. laughlin]