A Letter on the Passing of Saint Francis - 487 

After the death of Blessed Francis, Brother Elias, who was his vicar, addressed a letter of consolation to the brothers throughout the Order who were dismayed over the death of so great a father. He announced to one and all, as Blessed Francis had commanded him, that he blessed them all on his behalf and absolved them from every fault. Furthermore, he made known to them the stigmata and the other miracles which the Most High God had deigned to perform through Blessed Francis after his death.13

The question remains, however: whatever happened to the manuscripts of such an important, encyclical letter? It is reasonable to expect some trace of the important letter Elias sent "to the brothers throughout the Order." None has been found.

The text produced by William Spoelberch in 1620 seems to be, in the words of Felice Accrocca, one that was "'constructed' ex novo after the time of Elias, or it is a later redaction with significant rewriting of the original text."14

The editors discussed the merits of publishing this text. Recent scholarship provides reasons justifying its omission. Nevertheless, since Spoelberch's discovery and, perhaps more influentially, Luke Wadding's publication, the text has become part of the Franciscan tradition. The editors, therefore, decided to publish the text in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents.

A second discussion centered on its place in the chronological order of the three volumes. Two arguments persuaded the editors to place the Spoelberch Letter after An Umbrian Choir Legend. The first of these is the evidence present in the letter of much later developments in the tradition, e.g. the Christological typology, the liturgical prescriptions. In light of these a date late after the Ordinationes of Haymo of Faversham, i.e., 1243, possibly after the promulgation of the Constitutions of Narbonne, i.e., 1260, seemed advisable. The pro-Elias stance of An Umbrian Choir Legend,15 however, suggested a reasonable yet undefined association of the two documents. This, of course, leaves the question of manuscript evidence unanswered. The open-ended suggestion, "After 1253," leaves determination of the date of composition unresolved. Arguments may be developed suggesting the letter's composition in the thirteenth century or in any other prior to Spoelberch's discovery in 1620.

In the final analysis, the Spoelberch Letter expresses images and sentiments rooted deeply in the soil of the Franciscan literary tradition and since the seventeenth century has become part of it.

Notes

  1. The most thorough study of this text is that of Felice Accrocca, "Is the ‘Encyclical Letter of Brother Elias on the Transitus of Saint Francis’ Apocryphal?" GR 13 (1999): 19-63.
  2. William Spoelberch, Speculum vitae b. Francisci et sociorum ejus II (Antwerp: 1620), 102, n. 2.

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Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 487

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