The Spirituals argued that this was meant very literally. The Friars Minor should neither have nor use as their own goods or money of any sort. The Conventuals found this highly impractical, especially given the work of preaching and teaching that the Church had given them. How could one study without having books or a space to study in? And how could one teach without having studied? How could one be an effective teacher when one had no idea where the next meal might come from?* Were they to just turn away the gifts of grateful, generous donors? A Papal Bull by Gregory IX authorized Franciscan communities to appoint a ‘spiritual friend’ who would act as a trustee for their goods and property. Thus they could maintain the fiction of owning nothing while still having the things they needed. The stricter view, it was felt, was impractical and unnecessarily harsh.
The Spirituals rejected this interpretation. They saw themselves as the only true inheritors of Francis’s vision for his Order and felt that the Conventuals had succumbed to the materiality of the world. Absolute poverty, not owning anything or having a fixed home was what St. Francis had intended for them. Many of them were also heavily influenced by the works of Joachim of Fiore, which were then considered heretical.
Conflict raged between the two groups, and many Conventual abbots complained of the disobedience of Spirituals among their communities. Various authority figures tried to mediate, with little success. In 1317, things came to a head with the election of Pope John XXII, who threw his support entirely behind the Conventuals. Spiritual Franciscans were subject to excommunication and accusations of heresy. Some were burned at the stake. Others were reconciled to the Conventual view. A few Spirituals remained, but they no longer posed a threat to the Conventual point of view. The Conventuals had won. The Order would hold property. Absolute poverty was no longer the goal.
*It’s also worth noting that many of the Order’s recruits at this point in time came from the middle and upper classes as well as from the Masters and students of the universities.