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Greyfriars and Blackfriars

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 10 November 2005

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the religious orders of the Dominicans and the Franciscans, known as the Blackfriars and Greyfriars. "Just as it is better to light up others than to shine alone, it is better to share the fruits of one's contemplation with others than to contemplate in solitude". Thus St Thomas Aquinas described his vocation, not only as a teacher, but also as a Dominican friar and philosopher at the University of Paris. In the 13th century, the religious orders of the Dominicans and the Franciscans were a great force for change in Catholic Europe. They thrived in the emerging towns and cities of the High Middle Ages, leading crusades and changing the way the Church dealt with heretics. They were the evangelists who transformed the Church's preaching of the Christian message to the people.

On top of all this, these two orders were also responsible for reconciling Classical and Christian philosophy; their studies of Aristotle paved the way for the Renaissance. They also managed to change the curriculum at the universities of Paris and Oxford. But the Blackfriars and the Greyfriars did not come from the great monasteries of the time; they started out as itinerant preachers surviving upon the charity of the faithful.

So how did these two orders come to dominate the spiritual and academic life of the 13th century, and how did they manage to accumulate such huge wealth while professing allegiance to lives of poverty?

With Henrietta Leyser, medieval historian and Fellow of St Peter's College, Oxford; Alexander Murray, medieval historian and Emeritus Fellow of University College, Oxford; Anthony Kenny, philosopher and former Master of Balliol College, Oxford.

  • Further Reading

    A. Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, Volume 2: Medieval Philosophy (Oxford, 2005)

    C. Esser, Origins of the Franciscan Order (Chicago, 1970)

    S. Ferruolo, The Origins of the University: The Schools of Paris and Their Critics, 1100-1215 (Stanford, California, 1985)

    W. A. Hinnebusch, A History of the Dominican Order: Intellectual and Cultural Life to 1500 (New York, 1973)

    C. H. Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (New York, 1958)

    M. D. Lambert, Franciscan Poverty: The Doctrine of the Absolute Poverty of Christ and the Apostles in the Franciscan Order 1210-1323 (London, 1961)

    C. H. Lawrence, The Friars (London, 1994)

    A. Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1978)

    M. Robson, Francis of Assisi: the Legend and the Life (London, 1997)

    N. Kretzmann and E. Stump, The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas (Cambridge, 1993)

    N. Kretzmann, A. Kenny, Jan Pinborg and E. Stump, The Cambridge History of Later Mediaeval Philosophy: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Disintegration of Scholasticism, 1100-1600 (Cambridge, 1998)

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