A Book of the Praises of Saint Francis (1277-1283) - 26 

his books, intended to instruct the novices, is called The Mirror of Discipline.6

In an autobiographical passage in A Book of the Praises of Blessed Francis, Bernard himself tells us of his journeys with the General Minister, Saint Bonaventure.7 As a result, even the devotional books he composed, which Arnald of Sarrant identifies, have been confused and regularly attributed to Bernard's mentor, Bonaventure.8 A marginal note in an early manuscript of Arnald's Chronicles indicates that Bernard wrote a biography of his confrere of the same French Custody, Christopher of Romagna (+1272), an early companion of St. Francis.9

It is difficult to know the origins of A Book of the Praises of Blessed Francis. In his Chronicle, Arnald suggests that it was part of a much larger trilogy:

Brother Bernard of Besse from the Province of Aquitaine wrote . . . a third work containing three principal parts: a life of Saint Francis with many miracles, chronicles of the General Ministers, and some miracles and divine testimony in approbation of the Three Orders of St. Francis, i.e., the Lesser Brothers, the Penitents, and the Poor Ladies.10

The incipit at the beginning of Bernard's Chronicle of Fourteen or Fifteen General Ministers seems to confirm this: Fuerunt igitur post transitum sancti Patris hi eius successores in ministerio generali . . . [After the passing of the holy father, there were, then, these, his successors, in the general ministry . . .]. Thus the first six chapters of A Book of the Praises may well have been taken from a larger work.11 This is also re-enforced by Arnald's identification of a third consideration, "some miracles and divine testimony in approbation of the Three Orders of St. Francis, i.e., the Lesser Brothers, the Penitents, and the Poor Ladies," that is the seventh chapter of A Book of the Praises. Arnald offers no insights, however, as to Bernard's reasons for undertaking such a threefold work, and the work itself offers few, if any, clues.

"In this work," Bernard states in the Introduction, "a few other and, occasionally, the same things are considered, when the occasion demands it, to the praise and honor of the saint." Curiously, a laudatory mood eludes Bernard's work. The word laus [praise] in any of its forms appears rarely and usually with God or Christ as its object.12 Bernard appears more intent on describing, in the first place, exemplary aspects of the founder's life. In doing so, he provides an insight into a difficulty he may have had with his mentor's "definitive" portrait of Francis. "First," Bernard writes, "is the example we should imitate which, if we cannot imitate it perfectly, we should revere."

In the sermon he preached on Francis's feast in 1255, Bonaventure had stated Francis was "more to be praised and wondered at than imitated." Within eight years, however, in the Prologue to his Major Legend, he taught that Francis was "worthy of love by Christ, imitation by us, and admiration by the world." The change may seem subtle, but its implications are daunting.




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 26