DURING THE DARK AGES, Christian heresy lurked everywhere, waiting to ensnare the spiritually unwary. It was in women, anything that challenged Rome, and ironically it was probably in the Bible more than anywhere else.
Peter Waldo, a prosperous 12th century French merchant, began his descent into heresy innocently enough. Walking down the street in Lyons one day, he heard a jongleur tell the story of St. Alexius, a rich young man who renounced his bride and patrimony on his wedding day.
Deeply moved, Waldo resolved to change his life. The Biblical passage, “if thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast and give to the poor and thou shalt find treasure in heaven,” became his beacon. Giving away all his property some to strangers in the street he launched himself on a life of apostolic poverty.
His preaching quickly attracted a group of like-minded people who came to be known as the Waldenses, or Poor Men of Lyons. The group dedicated itself to works of charity and supported itself almost entirely by begging. The Waldenses would not touch gold or silver, but accepted only food and clothing to meet their basic needs.
Believing in the direct inspirational power of the gospel, Waldo engaged a priest to translate portions of the Bible from Latin into French vernacular, which he began to distribute to the common people of Lyons. This brought him into direct conflict with the Catholic Church, which claimed the right to control how the gospel was marketed.
In 1179 the Third General Lateran Council forbad the Waldenses from preaching without the approval of the local clergy. When they ignored this papal injunction, they were formally denounced as heretics by Pope Lucius III in 1184. Thereupon, the church launched an often savage campaign to suppress the sect. Hundreds of Waldenses were burned at the stake, and the Council of Toulouse decreed that no laymen could posses a Bible.
The Waldenses would not surrender their Bibles, however, and they became known for their knowledge of Scripture. Even one of their official persecutors acknowledged: “They know the Apostles' Creed excellently in the vulgar tongue, they learn by heart the Gospels of the New Testament in the vulgar tongue, and repeat them aloud to each other. . . I have seen a young cowherd who had dwelt but one year in the house of a Waldensian heretic, yet had . . . learned by heart within that year forty Sunday Gospels...”
The History of the Corporation
Astonisher.com is pleased to present The History of the Corporation, Volume One by Bruce Brown.
Here is the Table of Contents for excerpts from the entire book, which covers 1,000 years from the birth of the first modern corporation through the the First Dominion of the corporation.
About the Author: Bruce Brown is the author of eight books, including Mountain in the Clouds, an environmental classic, and The Windows 95 Bug Collection, which was put on display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
He has done investigative reporting for the New York Times (the Karen Silkwood story), foreign correspondence for Atlantic Monthly (baseball in Cuba), and book reviews for the Washington Post Book World, as well as script-writing for PBS-TV (The Miracle Planet).
He is also a successful businessman and CEO, having created BugNet and built it into the world’s largest supplier of PC bug fixes before it was acquired by a Fortune 500 company at the height of the dot com boom.
The perfecti, or holy men of the sect, were renowned for their personal asceticism, as well as the power of their preaching. They believed in the ancient Manichaean duality of good and evil, and took seriously Jesus’ commandment, “thou shall not kill.” Indeed, they were loath not only to kill their fellow men, but any living creature. A common method employed by the Catholic Church to determine if a person was an Albigensian was to see if he would kill a chicken.
Joining the Waldenses in their embarrassing rejection of the materialism of the church and secular society was an impressive array of groups which arose spontaneously in response to the message of Christ's Gospel, including the Beguines, Beghards, Bretheren of the Free Spirit, Patarines, Bogomiles, and Cathari or Albigenses as they were called in France. Despite considerable effort to destroy them by the Catholic Church, the Albigensians made steady inroads, converting even members of the Catholic clergy to their beliefs.
Unable to overcome the Albigenses by peaceful persuasion, the Catholic Church turned to the sword. In 1208 Pope Innocent III declared a Crusade against the Albigenses in southern France, offering the same indulgences offered to soldiers who crusaded against Moslems. Loot-hungry mercenaries poured in, battling orthodox Catholics and Albigensian alike. When Beziers fell to the “Crusaders” in 1209, nearly every inhabitant a total of 20,000 men, women and children were slaughtered on the orders of the papal legate. “Kill them all,” he declared, “God will know his own.”
But they couldn’t kill them all, of course. That same year, in fact, another religious group with beliefs very much like Peter Waldo’s was born in Italy. This one stands out, though, both for the charismatic power of its leader, and its innovative contribution to the history of the corporation. The man was St. Francis of Assisi and the corporation was the Franciscan Order or Friars Minor, the first of the mendicant orders that soon included the Dominicans, Augustinians and Carmelites.
Like Waldo, St. Francis came from a family of prosperous merchants. His father, Peter Bernadore, was a cloth merchant in Assisi near Florence. Christened John by his mother, he was nicknamed Francesco by his father when he returned from a business trip to France. Apprenticed to his father's firm at the age of 14, Francis Bernadore showed less interest in business than in gamboling with a group of friends who formed themselves into a mock compagnia, the Company of Triudiantes, or caper-cutters.
Tomaso da Celano described Francis as the ringleader, and the most outrageous of the lot, dressed in wild costumes combining rough sack cloth with the finest silks from his father's shop. “He excited them to evil and tried to outdo them in folly. He dazzled them all and tried to distinguish himself in demonstrations of vainglory games, farces, buffooneries, jokes and songs.” Ever fond of playing parts, his persona of the moment was that of the wanton youth, but he was already preparing for his ultimate role, that of imitating Christ.
The change in Francis began when he volunteered for a military expedition against the town of Apulia in 1205. Overcome by fear en route, he deserted his companions in arms and returned to Assisi, where all sorts of difficulties ensued. First Francis stole merchandise from his father and sold it to get money to repair the little ruined chapel of San Damiano. Sensing trouble, the priest would not accept the money, so Francis threw it out the window.
When Peter Bernadore learned what his son had done, he flew into a historic rage and sued his son for repayment, thus setting up one of the most famous scenes in Italian jurisprudence. On a bitterly cold day in January 1207, the court ruled in favor of Peter Bernadone, and ordered Francis to repay the money. But snatching symbolic victory from the teeth of defeat, Francis impulsively stripped off all his clothes, and threw them on the ground with the little money he had, declaring, “Now I am quits, and free! I can freely say: 'Our Father who art in heaven!' Pietro Bernadone is no longer my father!”
Driven out of Assisi by malicious youths and pranksters, Francis wandered north up the Chiascio Valley, only to be set upon by a band of brigands. When he announced to them that he was the Herald of God, they stole his clothes, flogged him and threw him in a snowy ditch, exclaiming, “lie there damned Herald of God.” A short time later, he stumbled into a nearby monastery, probably Benedictine abbey of Valfabbrica. The monks put him to work as a scullion and fed him moldy bread, which he was forbidden to dip it in the stew reserved for his religious betters.
Furious at his treatment, Francis soon left the monastery to find his own spiritual path with only the example of Christ as his guide. Unlike St. Benedict, St. Odo, St. Bernard and so many before him, he did not retreat into a solitary existence in the wilderness as the monastic tradition demanded. Instead, he sought out the company of other people especially poor lay folk, lepers and other unfortunates and dedicated himself to their care. In 1209 he began to preach and attract a band of followers, who supported themselves by working as common laborers and begging alms.
Francis patterned the rules for his band after Christ's instructions to his own disciples. Paramount was the passage from the Gospel of Matthew which had similarly inspired Peter Waldo: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast and give to the poor and thou shalt find treasure in heaven.” Francis also laid great stress on another passage from Matthew: “Preach as you go, saying, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand'. . . Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff for the labourer is worthy of his food.”
On this basis, Francis insisted that his followers carry no purse, wear no shoes, and use a length of triple-knotted rope instead of a belt. Indeed, he and his followers eschewed physical possessions of every sort. Humility was a cornerstone of his professed creed, and so he was at pains to avoid any privileges that might elevate his Friars Minor, or little brothers. He wanted to blaze a new path to be a “new fool in the world” as he put it and explicitly rejected the rules of St. Benedict, St. Augustine, St. Bernard and all who had come before. Like the Waldenses, he wanted nothing to come between the individual and the message of Christ's gospel.
During the Umbrian spring of the Franciscan Order, the Friars Minor built themselves rude huts of branches around Assisi, but they had no settled home. Wandering freely on foot in pairs, “one before and one behind,” as Dante described, they ministered to the poor and sick who were increasingly ignored by the rich corporations of the church. Like the Waldenses, they made no provision for the morrow, laid by no store, accumulated no money, and possessed no land. Their aim was to imitate the life of Christ as completely as possible, especially His charity and His poverty.
Although none of Francis's sermons survives, it is apparent from first-hand accounts of his preaching and writings like Canticle of the Sun that he had an exceptional ability to touch people with his words. Among those he reached was Pope Innocent III, and Cardinal Ugolino of Ostia, the most powerful member of the Curia. According to da Celano, Innocent III had a dream the night after he met St. Francis. In it he saw the Roman basilica, the mother church of Catholicism, tottering on the edge of collapse when a small figure in a sackcloth habit and knotted rope belt crossed the piazza and saved it by taking the weight of the great edifice squarely on his back.
It had been almost 700 years since St. Benedict’s gave Catholicism its first great corporate innovation. Now St. Francis provided its last...
"The History of the Corporation, Volume One" © Copyright 2003 Bruce Brown
Jacket illustration and design by Running Dog.