General Introduction - 21 

sues threatening the Order. Above all, these early writings clearly show Bonaventure's profound grasp of the mystical tradition and his sensitivity to the unique place of Francis's vision within it.45 Within the Order, therefore, Bonaventure strove to address various crises confronting the Order, to articulate the unique character of its Gospel ideals, and to re-enkindle it among the brothers. His two surviving encyclical letters to the Order, written ten years apart, show the intensity of his efforts, the depth of his comprehension, and the simplicity of his solution: a return to the rule and life of the Lesser Brothers, that is, to the Later Rule.46

Bonaventure's Portraits of Francis

Three years after his election, the Lesser Brothers gathered for the Chapter of Narbonne, France. An important item on their agenda was the codification of the decisions made at the eleven previous general chapters. The legislative activity that preceded the Chapter of Narbonne, in 1239 after the dismissal of Elias, and in 1240 and 1242, the period of Haymo, was in need of organization. The research of Rosalind Brooke, Cesare Cenci and Dominic Monti have shown that Bonaventure inserted little that was new in the Constitutions of Narbonne.47 His major contribution at that chapter was to codify the existing legislation around topical quotations from Francis'sRule.48

The Chapter of Narbonne became famous for another reason: the brothers commissioned Bonaventure to compile "one good" legend of Saint Francis based on those already in existence.49 Even a cursory glance at The Major Legend reveals how faithful Bonaventure was to his mandate to compile one good legend from all the existing ones. The largest number of episodes contained in the first fifteen chapters of The Major Legend come from The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano, refined by the writings of Julian of Speyer, and from The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul. The influence of The Legend of the Three Companions and The Assisi Compilationare evident, although it is difficult to determine whether or not these influences were transmitted by way of Thomas's Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul. For the most part, Bonaventure contributes little to the biographical data provided by his predecessors. In fact, in the second section of The Major Legend, the consideration of Francis's miracles, the texts come almost entirely from Thomas's Treatise on the Miracles of Saint Francis.50

Bonaventure crafted his portrait according to the overall structure of his theology. Francis had become for him a symbol of the workings of grace. To understand the unfolding of his life was to perceive the inner dynamics of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus Bonaventure developed the first fifteen chapters of The Major Legend, those that treat of Francis's life, virtues, death and canonization, in a carefully thought out manner, maintaining that the human mind works from the visible to the invisible. At the same time, however, each chapter has a structure of its own as Bonaventure articulates through the use of stories the theologies of different virtues. As a result Bonaventure crafts a brilliant synthesis of Thomas's trilogy, The Life of Saint Francis, The Remembrance of




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 21

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