Septimo Iam: 100 years ago

NEW PAPER ON THE 100th ANNIVERSARY OF THE PUBLICATION OF THE APOSTOLIC LETTER «SEPTIMO IAM» OF POPE ST. PIUS X REGARDING THE NAME «FRIARS MINOR OF THE LEONINE UNION»

Noel Muscat ofm

On 4th October 1897, solemnity of Saint Francis, Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) had published the Constitution Felicitate quadam, which marked the unification of the four branches of the Order of Friars Minor of the Regular Observance (Observants, Reformed, Recollects, Alcantarines) into one family, henceforth to be known simply as Ordo Fratrum Minorum, Order of Friars Minor. This unification had not been easy and was bound to find resistance from within the inner ranks of the Order, particularly by the group of ex-Reformed friars. The other Franciscan families of the First Order, namely the Friars Minor Conventuals and the Friars Minor Capuchins, were not at all happy with the turn of events, since they regarded the name Order of Friars Minor without any further additions as a usurpation by one particular religious family of the official name of the Order founded by Saint Francis.

Although the strong will of Leo XIII and of the general government of the Friars Minor succeeded in getting the unification through, problems cropped up once more during the pontificate of Saint Pius X (1903-1914). This time the protests regarding the name Order of Friars Minor arrived at the proper channels in the Roman Curia, and particularly in the Congregation for Regulars, headed by the Capuchin Cardinal José de Calasanz Vives y Tutò.

The year 1909 marked the 700th anniversary of the approval of the first Franciscan Rule by Pope Innocent III in 1209. For the occasion the German Franciscan historian Hebert Holzapfel OFM presented his Handbuch der Geschichte des Franziskanerordens, published with the permission of the Minister General Dionysius Schüler OFM on 23rd March 1909 and the imprimatur of the ecclesiastical authorities on 16th April of the same year. The volume was a milestone in presenting a comprehensive history of the Franciscan family, but it was met with criticism, probably within the framework of the turn of events at that particular moment.

In fact, it was exactly on 4th October 1909 that Pope Pius X published the Apostolic Letter Septimo iam, in order to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the approval of the Franciscan Forma Vitae, but also to state that, since it was becoming clear that there were protests regarding the name Order of Friars Minor being given to one Franciscan family, he henceforth willed that the Order would be known as Order of Friars Minor “of the Leonine Union”. This name was hardly ever used in official Church documents, but it left a legacy of bitterness and a polemical atmosphere among the three families of the First Franciscan Order.

This paper provides an overall historical view of the circumstances of composition of Septimo iam as well as a presentation of its contents, exactly 100 years after the crucial events that shaped the more recent history of the Order of Friars Minor.

Copyright 2009 – NOEL MUSCAT
Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required.

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