Catholic Encyclopedia – Blessed John of Parma

[Blessed John of Parma]Article

Minister General of the Friars Minor (1247-1257), born at Parma about 1209; died at Camerino 19 March 1289. His family name was probably Buralli. Educated by an uncle, chaplain of the church of Saint Lazarus at Parma, his progress in learning was such that he quickly became a teacher of philosophy (magister logicæ). When and where he entered the Order of Friars Minor, the old sources do not say. Affò assigns 1233 as the year, and Parma as the probable place. Ordained priest he taught theology at Bologna and at Naples, and finally read the “Sentences” at Paris, after having assisted at the First Council of Lyons, 1245. Through his great learning and sanctity, John gained many admirers, and at the general chapter of the order at Lyons in July, 1247, was elected minister general, which office he held till 2 February 1257. We may judge of the spirit that animated the new general, and of his purposes for the full observance of the rule, from the joy felt (as recorded by Angelus Clarenus) by the survivors of Saint Francis’s first companions at his election, though Brother Giles’s words sound somewhat pessimistic: “Welcome, Father, but you come late”. John set to work immediately. Wishing to know personally the state of the order, he began visiting the different provinces. His first visit was to England, with which he was extremely satisfied, and where he was received by Henry III. At Sens in France Saint Louis IX honoured with his presence the provincial chapter held by John. Having visited the provinces of Burgundy and of Provence, he set out in Sept., 1248, for Spain, whence Innocent IV recalled him to entrust him with an embassy to the East. Before departing, John appears to have held the General Chapter of Metz in 1249 (others put it after the embassy, 1251). It was at this chapter that John refused to draw up new statutes to avoid overburdening the friars. Only some new rubrics were promulgated, which in a later chapter were included in the official ceremonial of the order, beginning: Ad omnes horas canonicas. The object of John’s embassy to the East was the reunion of the Greek Church, whose representatives he met at Nice, and who saluted him as “angel of peace”. John’s mission bore no immediate fruit, though it may have prepared the way for the union decreed at the Council of Lyons in 1274.

In his generalate occurred also the famous dispute between the Mendicants and the University of Paris. According to Salimbene, John went to Paris (probably in 1253), and by his mild yet strenuous arguments strove to secure peace. It been in connection with this attack on the Preachers and the Minors that John of Parma and Humbert of Romans, Master General of the Dominicans, published at Milan in 1255 a letter recommending peace and harmony between the two orders. The “Introductorius in Evangelium Æternum” of Gerard of S. Donnino (1254), John’s friend, having been denounced by the professors of Paris and condemned by a commission at Anagni in 1256, John himself was in some way compromised–a circumstance which, combined with others, finally brought about the end of his generalate. He convoked a general chapter at Rome, 2 Feb., 1257. If Peregrinus of Bologna [Bulletino critico di cose francescane, I (1905), 46] be right, Alexander IV secretly intimated to John that he should resign, and decline re-election should it be offered him. On the contrary, Salimbene insists that John resigned of his own free will. The pope may have exerted some pressure on John, who was only too glad to resign, seeing himself unable to promote henceforth the good of the order. Questioned as to the choice of a successor, he proposed Saint Bonaventure, who had succeeded him as professor at Paris. John retired to the Hermitage of Greccio near Rieti, memorable for the Christmas celebrated there by Saint Francis. There he lived in voluntary exile and complete solitude; his cell near a rock is still shown. But another hard trial awaited him. Accused of Joachimism, he was submitted to a canonical process at Cittá della Pieve (Umbria), presided over by Saint Bonaventure and Cardinal John Gaetano Orsini, protector of the order. The mention of this cardinal as protector brings us to a chronological difficulty, overlooked by all modern writers, who assign the process against John to 1257; for Alexander IV (1254-61) retained the protectorship; and Cardinal Orsini became protector, at the earliest, at the end of 1261.

Angelus Clarenus tells us that the concealed motive of this process was John’s attachment to the literal observance of the rule, the accusation of Joachimism, against which he professed his Catholic Faith, being only a pretext. Other sources, however, speak of retractation. The same Clarenus relates that John would have been condemned had it not been for the powerful intervention of Innocent IV’s nephew, Cardinal Ottoboni Fioschi, later Hadrian V. John certainly did not profess the dogmatical errors of Joachimism, though he may have held some of its apocalyptic ideas. Upon his acquittal he returned to Greccio, and continued his life of prayer and work. It was there that an angel once served his Mass, and that in 1285 he received the visit of Ubertin of Casale, who has left a touching account of this meeting. Hearing that the Greeks were abandoning the union agreed upon in 1274, John, now 80 years old, desired to use his last energies in the cause of union. He obtained permission of Nicolas IV to go to Greece, but only travelled as far as Camerino (Marches of Ancona), where he died in the convent of the friars, 19 March 1289. He was beatified 1777; his feast is kept 20 March. With the exception of his letters scarcely any literary work can with surety be attributed to John.

MLA Citation

  • Livarius Oliger. “Blessed John of Parma”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Saints.SQPN.com. 18 March 2013. Web. 28 July 2014. <>