The discovery of the New World presented an unexpected and vast field for missionary activity, comparable to that which faced the Church in northern Europe in the late fifth century with the fall of the Roman Empire.
The opening up of the New World coincided with the rise of the first strong European states – in particular Spain and France – which not only provided the new lands with a large number of missionaries but also considerably influenced the organization of the missions and the Church in the New World.
These external elements, together with the Franciscan legislation and the undoubted idealism of the first friars who came to the Americas, had a marked effect on the organization of the friars' missions in the New World. The result was a somewhat complex body of institutions, which by the late sixteenth century were well established and to the end of the colonial period remained functioning.
”Rule of l221," ch. 16:10-11, in The Writings of Saint Francis, trans. Ignatius Brady (Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 1983) 77. Henceforth, Brady.
St. Bonaventure, Major Life of St. Francis, chap. 12: I, trans. Benen Fahy in Marion A. Habig (ed.), St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, 4lh rev. ed. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), 721. Cited henceforth as Omnibus.
Ibid., chap. 3:1, pp. 646-47.
Thomas of Celano, The First Life of St. Francis, chap. JO: 29, trans. Placid Hermann in Omnibus, 247.
Ibid., chap. I 5, p. 258.
Bonaventure, Major Life, chap. 9:5, in Omnibus, 701.
St. Francis, "Letter Addressed to the Whole Order," in Brady, 121.