Introduction to Legends and Sermons - 497 

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.8

Early Writings about Saint Francis

By the time he had begun to honor the request of the brothers assembled at the Chapter of Narbonne, Bonaventure had already written a considerable amount. Surprisingly, beyond the Soul's Journey into God, little is concerned with Francis of Assisi. Occasional references can be found in Bonaventure's commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard and the Gospel of Luke. Were these his only references, the judgment of John H.R. Moorman may be justified: Bonaventure "never really understood the Franciscan ideal."9 His letter to an unknown master, however, provides an insight into his understanding of his call to be Francis's follower.

Do not be disturbed, that the brothers were simple and illiterate men in the beginning; this should confirm your faith in the Order even more. I confess before God that it is this that made me love the life of blessed Francis above all, because it is similar in its beginning and perfection to that of the Church, which began with simple fishermen and grew to include the most illustrious and learned doctors. And so you will see in the Order of blessed Francis, as God displays, that it was not invented by human discernment but by Christ.10

While it is difficult to date this letter, this passage suggests it was written during the same period as two sermons he delivered on the Feast of Saint Francis, October 4, 1255, five years before the brothers commissioned Bonaventure to compile the new legend. All three, the letter and the morning and evening sermons of October 4, touch on aspects of the same theme: "the essence of true discipleship of Jesus Christ, which was singularly realized and shone in Saint Francis."11

The sermons of 1255 are Bonaventure's first known writings dedicated principally to Saint Francis. Although they do not have the depth that can be found in his later Franciscan works, they nevertheless reveal seminal ideas that come to fruition in the Major and Minor Legends. Bonaventure reveals in the morning sermon his struggle with the meaning of "conversion" in the Christian life of the young Francis, his cultivation, even at an early age, of solitude, and the differing shades and meanings of his embrace of poverty. In a milieu in which Francis's stigmata were being challenged,12 Bonaventure subtly crafts a theology of signs maintaining that the stigmata were "signs of consummate love." "Such is the power of love," Bonaventure reminds his listeners in the words of Hugh of St. Victor, "that it transforms the lover into the Beloved."13 Throughout, Bonaventure displays his awareness of the literary heritage left by Thomas of Celano. His use of many of Thomas's images, un-




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 497