General Introduction - The Prophet - 15 

by which the Plantagenet kings of England held an immense fief in southern France, the remains of the heritage of Eleanor of Aquitaine (+1122-1204).28 The Hundred Years War, however, may be seen as a war of the English and French nobility who demanded war as an answer to their economic and social difficulties. "But," as LeGoff observes, "as always, war accelerated the process and brought to birth a new economy and society by way of deaths and ruins."29 The Hundred Years War certainly fed an already frenzied apocalyptic mood and convinced much of Christian Europe that the end was at hand.

During this period the Lesser Brothers played a role of paramount importance in the religious life of Western European Christians. By this time, their ministerial efforts were concentrated in the urban centers where the effects of these social and economic crises were most acute. The preaching of the mendicant orders provided a critical perspective on both the land-based wealth of the secular church and the emerging profit economy, challenging its very foundations.30 But the economic hardships of the times also breathed life into the otherwise sterile intra-mural debates about Franciscan poverty evident in the final papal interpretation of the Rule by Clement V (1305-14).31 The usus pauper of the Lesser Brothers, defended by Peter of John Olivi in his interpretation of poverty, was seen and experienced by the poor as providing "a moral response as the courageous free choice for what the fate of the socio-economic forces [of the late thirteenth, early fourteenth centuries] had decreed."32 In light of the crop failures and famines of the time, the protests of the Spirituals against the accumulation of stores of grain by the brothers can be seen as an act of solidarity with the suffering poor. With Pope John XXII's 1323 condemnation of the ideal of apostolic poverty, Cum inter nonnullos,33 the Church was deprived of a Gospel response to the difficult challenge of the times in which it found itself.

In these last days . . .

The texts of this third volume undoubtedly reflect the internal problems of the Order of Lesser Brothers. They reveal the struggles of the brothers to understand their way of life and their role in the unfolding saga of fourteenth-century Europe. The heritage of Francis was threatened, as they perceived it, by papal interventions and their own compromising interpretations.

Ubertino da Casale's Tree of the Crucified Life of Jesus undoubtedly follows in the apocalyptic tradition highlighted by Bonaventure's portrait of Francis and Peter of John Olivi's commentary on the Apocalypse.34 Personal experience within the courts of Popes Boniface VIII and Benedict XI had already prompted Ubertino to see the Church of his day as "Babylon the Whore," the carnal Church. Its only hope, he maintained, was the "re-formation of the life of Christ," especially the poor Christ found in the life of Francis. Ubertino's Tree of the Crucified Life of Jesus is a consideration of history underscoring Francis's prophetic role. In its Fifth Book, Ubertino weaves biblical and apocalyptic images together with those of the earlier portraits of Francis into a tapestry




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 15