General Introduction - The Prophet - 12 

feast,6 demonstrably influenced art and literature. Giotto's fresco cycle in Assisi's Upper Basilica of Saint Francis7 and a recast version of Henri d'Avranches's Versified Life bear witness to this.8 Still, fascination with their founder impelled his brothers to "go beyond" this compelling portrait mandated by the General Chapter of 1260 and made official six years later in the General Chapter of 1266.9 Several were interested in supplementing the information it conveyed about Francis. Shortly after Bonaventure's death, Jerome of Ascoli, his successor as General Minister, added details to the Major Legend,10 and, in a request reminiscent of that of Crescentius of lesi,11 requested the brothers in 1276 to send him information about the deeds of Francis and his companions.12 The immediate result of that request is not known, for in 1288, Jerome became Pope Nicholas IV. In his Book of The Praises of Blessed Francis, Bernard of Besse, Bonaventure's secretary and traveling companion, added new details about Francis's companions that were not found in the earlier literature.13

But by the end of the thirteenth century, tensions within the Lesser Brothers prompted an exchange of stories that accentuated the prophetic dimensions of Bonaventure's portrait of Francis – the saint's vehement defense of poverty, his outspoken, fearless call to Gospel truth, and his troubled predictions of trials.14 Bonaventure's theology of history later found a voice in the writings of his student, Peter of John Olivi (1248-1298),15 who, in turn, influenced Ubertino da Casale (+ c. 1325) and Angelo Clareno (+1337). The fourteenth century compilations in this third volume of Francis of Assisi: Early Documents reflect the Parisian-based theology of history in down-to-earth, easily comprehended stories. In the wake of Jerome of Ascoli's request for new information about Saint Francis and his companions, the phenomenon of these new compilations satisfied the brothers' eagerness to supplement Bonaventure's portrait and, at the same time, to promote their particular views of his Gospel way of life.

The crises of fourteenth century Europe

Within Franciscan literature, considerations of the years encompassed by these compilations generally focus on the internal problems of the Order of Lesser Brothers.16 The larger dramas of fourteenth century Europe are generally overlooked, yet the prophetic consciousness of the Lesser Brothers might best be understood in the larger context of the world in which those internal conflicts were unfolding. Three chains of events were symptomatic of the undercurrents moving fourteenth century European history: the Avignon Papacy (1308-73), the Great Famine (1315-17), and the Black Death (1347-50). These situations were symptomatic of a time of profound crises in church and society in which the espoused values of the Lesser Brothers were tried.17

For men bound by their Rule to promise obedience to the Roman Pontiff, the tumultuous events leading to the Avignon Papacy clearly indicated the apocalyptic crises foreshadowed by the writings of Bonaventure were upon them.18 The papacy had been increasing in both power and moral prestige




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 12