FRATICELLI (plural diminutive of Ital. frate, brother), the name given during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries to a number of religious groups in Italy, differing widely from each other, but all derived more or less directly from the Franciscan movement. Fra Salimbene says in his Chronicle (Parma ed., p. 108): "All who wished to found a new rule borrowed something from the Franciscan order, the sandals or the habit." As early as 1238 Gregory IX., in his bull Quoniam abundavit iniquitas, condemned and denounced as forgers (tanquam falsarios) all who begged or preached in a habit resembling that of the mendicant orders, and this condemnation was repeated by him or his successors. The term Fraticelli was used contemptuously to denote, not any particular sect, but the members of orders formed on the fringe of the church. Thus Giovanni Villani, speaking of the heretic Dolcino, says in his Chronicle (bk. viii. ch. 84): "He is not a brother of an ordered rule, but a fraticello without an order." Similarly, John XXII., in his bull Sancta Romana et Universalis Ecclesia (28th of December 1317), condemns vaguely those "profanae multitudinis viri commonly called Fraticelli, or Brethren of the Poor Life, or Bizocchi, or Beguines, or by all manner of other names."
Some historians, in their zeal for rigid classification, have regarded the Fraticelli as a distinct sect, and have attempted to discover its dogmas and its founder. Some of the contemporaries of these religious groups fell into the same error, and in this way the vague term Fraticelli has sometimes been applied to the disciples of Armanno Pongilupo of Ferrara (d. 1269), who was undoubtedly a Cathar, and to the followers of Gerard Segarelli and Dolcino, who were always known among themselves as Apostolic Brethren (Apostolici). Furthermore, it seems absurd to classify both the Dolcinists and the Spiritual Franciscans as Fraticelli, since, as has been pointed out by Ehrle (Arch. f. Lit. u. Kirchengesch. des Mittelalters, ii. 107, etc.), Angelo of Clarino, in his De septem tribulationibus, written to the glory of the Spirituals, does not scruple to stigmatize the Dolcinists as "disciples of the devil." It is equally absurd to include in the same category the ignorant Bizocchi and Segarellists and such learned disciples of Michael of Cesena and Louis of Bavaria as William of Occam and Bonagratia of Bergamo, who have often been placed under this comprehensive rubric.
The name Fraticelli may more justly be applied to the most exalted fraction of Franciscanism. In 1322 some prisoners declared to the inquisitor Bernard Gui at Toulouse that the Franciscan order was divided into three sections - the Conventuals, who were allowed to retain their real and personal property; the Spirituals or Beguines, who were at that time the objects of persecution; and the Fraticelli of Sicily, whose leader was Henry of Ceva (see Gui's Practica Inquisitionis, v.). It is this fraction of the order which John XXII. condemned in his bull Gloriosam Ecclesiam (23rd of January 1318), but without calling them Fraticelli. Henry of Ceva had taken refuge in Sicily at the time of Pope Boniface VIII.'s persecution of the Spirituals, and thanks to the good offices of Frederick of Sicily, a little colony of Franciscans who rejected all property had soon established itself in the island. Under Pope Clement V., and more especially under Pope John XXII., fresh Spirituals joined them; and this group of exalted and isolated ascetics soon began to regard itself as the sole legitimate order of the Minorites and then as the sole Catholic Church. After being excommunicated as "schismatics and rebels, founders of a superstitious sect, and propagators of false and pestiferous doctrines," they proceeded to elect a general (for Michael of Cesena had disavowed them) and then a pope called Celestine (L. Wadding, Annales, at date 1313). The rebels continued to carry on an active propaganda. In Tuscany particularly the Inquisition made persistent efforts to suppress them; Florence afflicted them with severe laws, but failed to rouse the populace against them. The papacy dreaded their social even more than their dogmatic influence. At first in Sicily and afterwards throughout Italy the Ghibellines gave them a warm welcome; the rigorists and the malcontents who had either left the church or were on the point of leaving it, were attracted by these communities of needy rebels; and the tribune Rienzi was at one time disposed to join them. To overcome these ascetics it was necessary to have recourse to other ascetics, and from the outset the reformed Franciscans, or Franciscans of the Strict Observance, under the direction of their first leaders, Paoluccio da Trinci (d. 1390), Giovanni Stronconi (d. 1405), and St Bernardine of Siena, had been at great pains to restore the Fraticelli to orthodoxy. These early efforts, however, had little success. Alarmed by the number of the sectaries and the extent of their influence, Pope Martin V., who had encouraged the Observants, and particularly Bernardine of Siena, fulminated two bulls (1418 and 1421) against the heretics, and entrusted different legates with the task of hunting them down. These measures failing, he decided, in 1426, to appoint two Observants as inquisitors without territorial limitation to make a special crusade against the heresy of the Fraticelli. These two inquisitors, who pursued their duties under three popes (Martin V., Eugenius IV. and Nicholas V.) were Giovanni da Capistrano and Giacomo della Marca. The latter's valuable Dialogus contra Fraticellos (Baluze and Mansi, Miscellanea, iv. 595-610) gives an account of the doctrines of these heretics and of the activity of the two inquisitors, and shows that the Fraticelli not only constituted a distinct church but a distinct society. They had a pope called Rinaldo, who was elected in 1429 and was succeeded by a brother named Gabriel. This supreme head of their church they styled "bishop of Philadelphia," Philadelphia being the mystic name of their community; under him were bishops, e.g. the bishops of Florence, Venice, etc.; and, furthermore, a member of the community named Guglielmo Majoretto bore the title of "Emperor of the Christians." This organization, at least in so far as concerns the heretical church, had already been observed among the Fraticelli in Sicily, and in 1423 the general council of Siena affirmed with horror that at Peniscola there was an heretical pope surrounded with a college of cardinals who made no attempt at concealment. From 1426 to 1449 the Fraticelli were unremittingly pursued, imprisoned and burned. The sect gradually died out after losing the protection of the common people, whose sympathy was now transferred to the austere Observants and their miracle-worker Capistrano. From 1466 to 1471 there were sporadic burnings of Fraticelli, and in 1471 Tommaso di Scarlino was sent to Piombino and the littoral of Tuscany to track out some Fraticelli who had been discovered in those parts. After that date the name disappears from history.
See F. Ehrle, "Die Spiritualen, ihr Verhältnis zum Franziskanerorden und zu den Fraticellen" and "Zur Vorgeschichte des Concils von Vienne," in Archiv für Literatur- und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters, vols. i., ii., iii.; Wetzer and Welte, Kirchenlexikon, s.v. "Fraticellen"; H. C. Lea, History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, iii. 129-180 (London, 1888).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)