Michael of Cesena
Friar Minor, Minister General of the Franciscan Order, and theologian, b. in Italy 1270; d. at Munich, Nov. 29, 1342
Michael of Cesena (MICHELE FUSCHI), Friar Minor, Minister General of the Franciscan Order, and theologian, b. at Cesena, a small town in Central Italy, near Forli, about 1270; d. at Munich, November 29, 1342. Of his early life little is known. Having entered the Franciscan Order, he studied at Paris and took the doctor’s degree in theology. He taught theology at Bologna and wrote several commentaries on Holy Scripture and the “Sentences” of Peter Lombard. At the general chapter of Naples (May 31, 1316) he was elected minister general and went at once to Assisi, where he convoked a chapter to consider the revision of the Constitutions of the order. Returning to Bologna, he issued the document, “Gravi qua premor” (August 21, 1316), which, together with several other ordinances regarding the matter of poverty, induced John XXII to publish the Bull, “Quorumdam exigit” (October 7, 1317), whose purpose was to explain the decretals of Nicholas III, “Exiit qui seminat” (August 13, 1279), and of Clement V, “Exivi de paradiso” (May 6, 1312). As it concerned the principal chapter of the Franciscan Rule, this action caused no little disturbance within the order. The Bull was warmly opposed by Michael and his party, who claimed that in adopting the strict poverty upon which Michael had insisted in his letters, they were following the example and teaching of Christ and His Apostles. Thus the controversy finally shifted to a speculative theological question: whether or not it was consonant with Catholic Faith to hold that Christ and the Apostles had no property individually or in common; and while in the famous dispute at Narbonne in 1321 the inquisitor, John of Belna, claimed that it was heretical, Berengarius of Perpignan declared it a Catholic dogma in perfect accordance with the decretals of Nicholas III and Clement V. The matter having been brought before John XXII, a further attempt to settle the controversy was made by distinguishing between dominion and simple use, so that both propositions, Christ and the Apostles had no property, i.e., dominion of property, and Christ and the Apostles possessed property, i.e., the use of property, were true. In the Bull “Quia nonnunquam” (March 26, 1322) the pope declared that he intended merely to explain the decrees of his predecessors, and excommunicated anyone who attempted to misconstrue the meaning of the papal Constitution “Quorumdam exigit”. In June of the same year a general chapter of the order was convoked at Perugia and decided that to assert that Christ and His Apostles possessed no earthly goods was not only not heretical, but sound and Catholic doctrine. At the same time Bonagratia of Bergamo was commissioned to represent the chapter before the papal Curia at Avignon. The controversy continued unabated until, in 1327, Michael was summoned to appear before the pope. He feigned illness and delayed; but obeyed a subsequent summons and was forbidden by the pope under pain of grave censure to leave Avignon. He was thus unable to attend the chapter held at Bologna in May of the following year (1328); yet despite his absence and the protest of the papal legate, he was reelected minister general, the chapter deeming the charges against him insufficient to deprive him of office. Several prelates and princes wrote to the pope in Michael’s behalf; but before these letters or the result of the chapter could reach Avignon, Michael, with William of Occam and Bonagratia of Bergamo, who were also retained by the pope at Avignon, fled by night (May 25) to a galley sent them by Louis of Bavaria.
At Pisa, where they were triumphantly received by the party of Louis and were joined by a number of other schismatics, the deposed minister general published a solemn appeal from the pope to a council (December 12, 1328), posted it on the door of the cathedral, and the next day read to the assembled multitude a decree of the Emperor Louis deposing John XXII. The pope issued the Encyclical “Quia vir reprobus”, warning the faithful against Michael; and the latter answered in his “Ad perpetuam rei memoriam innotescat quod ego, Fr. Michael” (November 25, 1330) and in “Christian fidei fundamentum”, in which he accused the pope of heresy in the three Bulls, “Ad Conditorem Canonum”, “Cum inter nonnullos”, and “Quia quorumdam”. These and “Litteras plurium magistrorum”, and “Teste Solomon“, which Michael wrote in his own defense, are contained in Occam’s Dialogue. The general chapter of Paris (June 11, 1329), at which Cardinal Bertrand presided, condemned the conduct and writings of Michael and all who took part with him against John XXII; and elected Gerard Odon minister general of the order. The next year (1330) Michael and other schismatics followed Louis to Bavaria. The chapter of Perpignan (April 25, 1331) expelled Michael from the order and sentenced him to perpetual imprisonment. During the latter years of his life he was abandoned by nearly all his sympathizers, but it is probable that he died repentant. His remains, with those of his accomplices, William Occam and Bonagratia of Bergamo, lie buried in the Barftis-serkirche at Munich.
STEPHEN M. DONOVAN