A term denoting a series of disputes over the nature and practice of poverty. Beside the mendicant controversy (1252–72) between the professors at the University of Paris and the friars over the issue of poverty and the sacred ministry (poverty controversy in the less strict sense), two further instances can be distinguished:
(1) First there was the practical controversy among Franciscans regarding the extent of the obligation of poverty under their vow. Whereas generally the community sought certain mitigations of the rule and adaptation to other orders, the franciscan spirituals, influenced by Joachimite doctrines (see joachim of fiore), rejected papal interpretations of the rule and declared the life and the last will of the founder to be binding and poverty to be the summit of perfection. nicholas iii (Exiit qui seminar, 1279) and clement v (Exivi de paradise, 1312) were unable to achieve unity in the matter. Thereupon john xxii (Quorundam exigit, 1317) censured the Spirituals, had four of them burned as heretics, and ordered other recalcitrants, later called fraticelli, to be prosecuted by the inquisition.
(2) There was further theoretical controversy between dominicans and franciscans over poverty and its relation to evangelical perfection. In 1321 the Dominican John of Belna rejected the opinion that Christ and the Apostles had possessed nothing, either in common or individually, and that the highest perfection consisted in extreme poverty. Against John of Belna, the Franciscans appealed to the pope. But since John XXII tended toward the Dominican opinion, the general chapter of Perugia 1322 solemnly proclaimed that Nicholas III in Exiit had defined the doctrine concerning the poverty of Christ and the Apostles as an article of faith, a teaching that was now doubted by the pope. Angered by the chapter's action, John (Ad conditorem canonum, 1322) rejected the papal title to Franciscan property and forbade the friars to elect a procurator in the future. He then declared (Cum inter nonnullos, 1323) that the opinion on the poverty of Christ was heretical. The general of the order, michael of cesena, together with Bonagratia and william of ockham, joined the excommunicated Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian, who also, in the appeal of Sachsenhausen (1324), had rejected the papal decision as heretical. Cesena's successor, Geraldus Odonis, however, personally and in the name of the order, submitted to the pope, and apparently all the Michaelists were reconciled with the Church before their death. As a result of these disputes, devotion to the ideals of the order suffered a severe temporary decline.
Bibliography: k. eubel, Bullarium Franciscarum, ed. k. eubel (Rome 1898–1904) 5. h. denifle and f. ehrle, eds., Archiv für Literarur-und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters (Freiburg 1885–1900) v.–4, passim. h. holzapfel, The History of the Franciscan Order, tr. a. tibesar and g. brinkmann (Teutopolis, Ill.1948) 32–53. k. balthasar, Geschichte des Armutsstreites im Franziskanerorden (Munich 1911). b. gratien, Histoire de la fondation et de l'évolution de l'Ordre des Frères Mineurs au XIII e siècle (Paris 1928) 200–509. e. mÜller, Das Konzil von Vienne (Münster 1934). f. de sessevalle, Histoire générale de l'Ordre des. François, 2 v. (Paris 1935–37) 1:75–143. o. englebert, St. Francis of Assisi: A Biography, tr. i. brady and r. brown (Chicago 1966). g. gal and d. flood, eds., Nicolaus Minorita: Chronica (St. Bonaventure, N.Y. 1996).