A Book of the Praises of Saint Francis (1277-1283) - 27 

Were Francis's followers obliged to follow his Rule, which seemed difficult enough, or his example? "For who," Bernard, Bonaventure's secretary, asks, "could fully follow the footsteps of blessed Francis and of his companions who assisted him?" And he immediately proposes as a resolution of the problem the distinction between Francis, the "inspired" author of the Rule, and the Rule itself:

For this reason, even [Francis] did not impose the same kind of rigorous poverty and perfection that he himself observed. Instead, he was instructed by a divine oracle to establish a most perfect rule, that could nevertheless be observed by all at all times. In observing it, one never departs from the discipline of our holy father, although some customs change with the change of climate. On the other hand, careful examination of the perfection of the saints possesses the power to incite virtue and to direct our behavior with their light.13

Bernard's portrait, in other words, strives to find a middle path in which Francis is presented as a "formator" eagerly setting the ideals of the Rule, his Gospel vision of life, before his followers and, in all his actions, exemplifying them.

Only the first and seventh chapters of The Book of Praises provide new information: the first concerning Francis's early companions, the seventh concerning the growth of the Three Orders. The remaining six chapters, two through six and eight, are brief and, for the most part, a collage of passages from the earlier works of Thomas of Celano, Julian of Speyer, John of Perugia, and the "three companions," Leo, Angelo, and Rufino. For the most part, Bernard's recollection of Francis's miracles are greatly abbreviated and based almost entirely on those narrated by Thomas of Celano but omitted by Bonaventure. Were Bernard's purpose to respond to the request of the Chapter of 1276 for new information concerning Francis, he contributes little. Were his intention to acquaint—or reacquaint—the brothers with the insights of those earlier authors whose writings were subsumed into Bonaventure's portraits, Bernard's choice of passages is extremely limited. The chapters that consider the formation of Francis's first disciples and his self-emptying, poverty, humility, and employment, reveal little that is new and offer few insights into the developing tensions within the Order. What, then, motivated Bernard's portrait of Francis?

To answer the question, it is useful to delve into Bernard's "devotional" works, as Arnald of Sarrant describes them, in which he pays considerable attention to the cultivation of the interior spirit. Examination of these "devotional books" reveals the paradoxically lofty yet practical idealism of Bernard, someone steeped in the thought of the twelfth century Victorines and Cistercians, and of their insightful synthesizer, Bonaventure. The Mirror of Discipline, for example, begins with a quotation from the Prologue to Hugh of St. Victor's The Training of Novices:

 Previous

Next 

 

Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 27

Hardcopies Available for Purchase