A general term applied by the people to several groups of Friars Minor (c.1250-c.1325), who, in opposition to the main body of the order, pretended to observe the Rule of Saint Francis in its primitive severity.
The origin of the spiritual tendency in opposition to the larger observance of the community appears, from Angelo da Clareno's "Chronicle," to be as old as the order itself.
It became impossible for such a large moral body as the Franciscan Order to keep aloof from the great speculative and scientific movements of the 13th century.
The majority accepted without reluctance the consequent modifications authorized by the sovereign pontiffs, but to some more zealous friars who considered their rule identical with the Gospel, every development seemed a departure from the first ideal of their founder.
The reform party thus engendered consisted of three outstanding groups, in point of time and place:
The movement of the Spirituals failed to obtain its aim; it even led, through the errors of its leaders, to schism and heresy, but stricter observance of the rule, regenerated by their zeal and shortly after combined with full submission to authority, led the order to new prosperity.
- the Spirituals of the Marches, c.1274, under the leadership first of Liberato, then of Angelo da Clareno, 1307; see also Fraticelli
- the Spirituals of Provence, France, led by Pierre Jean Olivi, to which group is due the great process between the Spirituals and the Community at the papal court at Avignon (1310 to 1312)
- the Spirituals of Tuscany, appearing in 1309, excommunicated by Pope John XXII in 1318
New Catholic Dictionary