Meantime, while the Crusades were in progress, another great revival took place in the Church. This was the work of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), of St. Dominic, a Spaniard, and of the friars (freres or brothers) who followed them.
The son of a wealthy merchant in Italy, "little brother Francis" gave up his gay life in order that he might restore the simple life of the early Christians, and so counteract the growing luxury of the clergy and the monks. He told his followers to distribute all they might have to the poor, and to content themselves only with one tunic, patched within and without, with its cord and a pair of breeches:
"We loved to live im poor and abandoned churches, and we were ignorant and were submissive to all. I worked with my hands, and would still do so, and I firmly desire also that all the other brothers work, for this makes for goodness. Let those who know no trade learn one, but not for the purpose of receiving the price of their toil, but for their good example and to flee idleness. And when we are not given the price of our work, let us resort to the table of our Lord, begging our bread from door to door. Let the brothers take care not to accept churches or any buildings erected for them, except in accordance with the holy poverty which we have vowed in the Rule; and let them not live in buildings except as pilgrims and strangers." (from "The Will of St. Francis")
So the friars, barefooted and penniless, made their way into the wretched hovels of the unhealthy towns of Europe to relieve the sufferings of the poor and the outcast, and to preach the Word, and they spread into all the corners of the earth into Asia as well as in Europe -- to do their good work.
In course of time, however, the friars, like the monks, lost their high ideals. But St. Francis himself remains for all time one of the most lovable characters in the history of the world.
One of the most famous of friars was a boy of twelve when St. Francis died at the early age of forty-four. This was Roger Bacon, who was educated at the universities of Oxford and Paris, and became the greatest man of science since the time of the Greeks. He wrote, amongst other things, on the "hidden workings of Nature and art, and the emptiness of magic." And he prophesied that one day bridges would span rivers without supports; that carriages would move with great speed without animals to draw them; that flying machines would be made in which a man sits and turns a device by which skillfully contrived wings would strike the air as a bird does in flight!
In our own day all these miracles have actually come to pass -- and they were foreseen 700 years ago by Friar Roger Bacon, one of the most profound of all men of science.
“Let us urge forward our spirits, and make them approach the invisible world, and fix our mind upon immaterial things, till we clearly perceive that these are no dreams; nay, that all things are dreams and shadows besides them.”
–Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man