General Introduction - The Prophet - 18 


With the possible exception of Bernard of Besse's Book of Praises, the texts of this third volume have been generally categorized as "unofficial."46 For the most part these are texts that were never commissioned or formally approved by a pope or by a general chapter of the Order of Lesser Brothers. Through the prism of the post-Bonaventure period of the Order's history, they reveal the intense and multi-dimensional spirituality of Francis of Assisi, as well as the shape and ideals of his early followers. As such, these texts reflect the Order's struggle to reform itself, a struggle intensified by the tragic movements that divided it.47 From the earliest days, the brothers tended to see Francis in the image of Cardinal Thomas of Capua, the Forma Minorum, the form or paragon of their life.48 Thus it was only logical that their "form," Francis, whom Thomas of Celano had described as conforming perfectly to Christ, should become for his disillusioned, ideologically divided followers the model of reform. Papal documents had focused on the Rule as the embodiment of perfection, as had the commentaries of many of the Order's intellectuals.49 These texts directed their readers to Francis himself.

Although they do reveal Francis in a more personal rapport with his followers, the texts add little to our knowledge of Francis. They do contribute, however, to an increased awareness of the primitive fraternity in which the unique personalities and, at times, idiosyncratic behaviors of Francis's brothers come into focus. With the exceptions of Ubertino da Casale and Angelo Clareno, the rich biblical texture that is so much a part of the writings of Thomas of Celano, Julian of Speyer, and Bonaventure is missing. Biblical quotations used in the compilations seem more contrived and, in the case of Arnald of Arrant, forced. The broad theology of virtue offered by Thomas, and systematized and refined by Bonaventure, is overlooked, replaced by the repetitive descriptions of those virtues accentuated in the struggles of the fourteenth century. The powerful theology of grace implicit in Thomas's portraits and symbolically presented as the underpinning of Bonaventure's legends is set aside.50 In its place is a moralistic spirituality typical of the fourteenth century devotio moderna with its accents on asceticism, the individual, and an "other-worldly" spirituality. A significant addition to the translation of The Deeds, The Little Flowers, expresses a devotionalism that soon pervaded Franciscan literature, that is, the formula found at the conclusion of each chapter: "To the praise of Jesus Christ and the little poor man Francis." Besides underscoring the intimate bond between Jesus and Francis, the phrase placed devotion to Francis on a level with that to Christ.51

Awareness of these texts, presented in the chronological and inter-textual methodology of these volumes, raises questions about the effectiveness of the decree of the General Chapter of 1266. Were the earlier portraits of Francis as thoroughly deleantur [deleted] as modern historians suggest?52 If so, why and how did the compilers so effectively quote the works of Thomas of Celano? And if Bonaventure's Major Legend was held in such disdain, why was it ac-




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 18

Hardcopies Available for Purchase