General Introduction - 11 

General Introduction

 Celebratory: the adjective captures the mood of the writings of the first volume of Francis of Assisi: Early Documents. By providing an insight into the profound simplicity of his soul, Francis's writings, the first collection of texts in that first volume, reveal the reasons for his continual joy. Even in the midst of sufferings and difficulties that most people would find overwhelming, the optimism and hope that flow spontaneously from the thirteenth century Umbrian Italian permeate every aspect of his letters, prayers, admonitions, and rules. The ever present, always new goodness of the loving triune God that gave Francis such confidence is accessible to even the most casual reader, and makes him understandably attractive.

Francis peacefully, even joyfully, died on the evening of October 3, 1226, singing the praises of God. With the song, “Most high, all powerful, all good Lord,” he welcomed Sister Bodily Death. A short time later, those present at his passing indicate that they were immediately ready to acclaim Francis a saint. Two years later, the honor was given to Cardinal Hugolino di Segni, Francis's friend and confidant, now Pope Gregory IX. Gregory's enthusiasm is evident in his papal proclamation, Mira circa nos, issued on the occasion of his canonization. The pope's jubilation is even more obvious in the first life of the saint, Francis of Assisi, commissioned by Gregory and written by Thomas of Celano. Joy resonates throughout the liturgical pieces written by Thomas of Celano and by Julian of Speyer, and in the clever, artful verse of the papal Latinist, Henri d'Avranches. All of these texts, written within the first decade of Francis's canonization, reveal the predominantly celebratory atmosphere of the texts of The Saint, that is, the first volume of Francis of Assisi: Early Documents.

 The Saint and The Pope: New Challenges

In order to understand the texts of volume two, it is helpful to appreciate that Francis's first biographers, Thomas of Celano, Julian of Speyer, and Henri d'Avranches, had a paradoxically simple yet bewildering task. Their portraits had to show to the world that Francis was indeed a saint, an assignment that was elementary when placed in the tradition of the lives of other saints such as Martin, Benedict, and Bernard. At the same time, however, these first writers bore the responsibility of defining Francis's uniqueness, a difficult challenge to meet. Francis's writings reveal a transparently and thoroughly Gospel spirituality. Yet, as history would attest, it was difficult to define its unique qualities. While some would claim Francis's call was to poverty, others would maintain it was to penance. Some would interpret his mission in terms of preaching, others would define it as one of identifying

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Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 11

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