A Mirror of the Perfection (1318) - 207 


Ubertino da Casale's Tree of the Crucified Life of Jesus may have been the signal needed in 1305 for the Lesser Brothers to search their hermitages and residences for the scrolls in which he maintained the material sent by Leo and his companions could be found.1 By 1311 Ubertino joyfully announced that some of the original rotuli—in Leo's handwriting—had been found, and another copy was preserved "in the cupboard of the brothers in Assisi." What exactly had Ubertino found? Did the first piece of the rotuli contain the Intention of the Rule and the Words of Saint Francis? Was the second what is now known as The Assisi Compilation? Whatever the answers to these questions, within a short period of time, two works incorporated the texts of the rotuli into what have become important reflections on the philosophy of the Spirituals: the Mirror of the Perfection of the Status of a Lesser Brother and the Mirror of the Perfection, Rule, Profession, Life, and True Calling of a Lesser Brother.

In modern times Paul Sabatier was the first to publish an edition of the Mirror of Perfection in 1897, and entitled his discovery: Speculum perfectionis seu S. Francisci Assisiensis legenda antiquitissima, auctore frate Leone [The Mirror of Perfection or The Most Ancient Legend of Saint Francis of Assisi, by the author, Brother Leo].2 Convinced that the portraits of both Thomas of Celano and Bonaventure were inaccurate, Sabatier bolstered his position by maintaining that this was "the legenda antiquitissima [most ancient legend]," that it was written by Leo, and that the date of its composition, May 11, 1228, made it more authentic than the Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano.

Sabatier's critics arose en masse to refute his position, most especially Michele Faloci Pulignani and Édouard D'Alençon.3 Working totally independent of Sabatier, Leonard Lemmens discovered and published a shorter and different version of the Mirror in 1901.4 Although based on only one manuscript, the manuscript 1/73 of the friary library of Saint Isidore in Rome, Lemmens identified his text as an earlier redaction of the Sabatier text.5

Meanwhile Sabatier continued to defend his work and, in doing so, to fuel the fires of what had become known as "the Franciscan Question," that is, "the search for the link between the various documents that take us back to the original documents, and those that are dependent on them."6 As he studied forty-five manuscripts, eleven of which enabled him to examine the text critically, Sabatier recognized the mistake of a copyist in writing MCCXXVIII and not MCCCXVIII, the date written in the majority of the manuscripts. Shortly after his death, Sabatier's second edition was published, a thorough study of the manuscripts and a revised dating of the text, i.e., 1318.7




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 207

Hardcopies Available for Purchase