does Jesus need a "movement"? (part 2)

Continuing the article on the Dominicans and Franciscans...

It seems that Dominic and Francis perceived something of this important aspect of Jesus' life in a time when much of the leadership in the church did not. They also seemed to be in tune with the hungers and hopes of their age. Many responded to their call for a new monasticism, for committed followers of Jesus who would abandon their possessions and the security of respectable monasteries and live in small, poor communities, wandering as beggars among the common people.

Francis and Dominic both envisioned Orders that would help rebuild the church. And the strong popular response they received encouraged them that this was possible. They were critics of the wealth and laxity of the clergy, but they managed to get the support of enough influential leaders of the church, and a following of people large enough to potentially achieve significant revival and change in the church of their day.

Unfortunately, this initially encouraging support was not without its costs. When Dominic's early attempts to convert the Albigensians faltered, he had to watch and attempt to work alongside the crusade that was ordered against the heretics. Much of the population of southern France was decimated. (The Waldensians were also targeted during this crusade, though in many ways they were quite similar to the Dominicans and Franciscans, differing primarily in their refusal to submit to church authority.) Within a short time, the popularity of the new monasticism brought overwhelming pressures to ease the standards of poverty that Francis and Dominic had set. And then, within the century, the size, mobility, education and discipline of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders made them the perfect tool to exercise the power of the church hierarchy. The overwhelming majority of Medieval inquisitors were chosen from among the Franciscans or Dominicans.

Which is a tragedy considering Francis' and Dominic's desire to follow Jesus in his vulnerability and lowliness. Looking back, I now wonder if they got a bit carried away by the enthusiasm of their followers and their own ambitious hopes for change in the church. Did their longing to see the church rebuilt lead them to take advantage of their popularity? Did their desire to be a part of that rebuilding lead them to gather the necessary support and numbers to effectively achieve that goal—which produced organizations terribly useful to the powers of their day?

I am reminded of the words of Jacques Ellul: "Each time the people of God becomes effective according to the world's criteria, this only implies that society has absorbed our action and is using it for its own ends and for its own profit. ...The efficacy we think we have is simply a power in the world's service, for the perfecting of its own being, for its better organization...."

And I am also reminded that Jesus sent out his disciples, not only poor, but humanly powerless, "as lambs in the midst of wolves." I recall how he squandered his popular following and fell prey to the religious authorities of his time, because he did not respect the power of the crowd or the power of rulers. Jesus did not need their power to build his kingdom. God had given the kingdom. It existed in the lives of Jesus and his disciples as a gift to them, and they announced it as a gift wherever they went: "The kingdom of God has come near to you."