General Introduction - 11 

General Introduction

Appropriately Clare of Assisi, undoubtedly Francis’s most faithful disciple, may have inspired this endeavor. At a celebration honoring the publication of Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, conversation eventually turned to the need for a new edition of St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources. Published in 1973, the Omnibus had served the Franciscan Family of the English-speaking world for two decades. In many ways it had challenged readers to re-think the Franciscan heritage, fueled the fires of renewal, and found a place of honor in many libraries. Shortly after its appearance, however, Kajetan Esser, a renowned Franciscan scholar, published his scholarly edition of the writings of Francis, the fruit of years of research into the manuscripts of Europe’s libraries. Others, such as Lorenzo di Fonzo, Théophile Desbonnets, Rosalind Brooke, and Marino Bigaroni, began to look more attentively at the tradition of Francis’s companions. And Georges Maillieux and Jean-François Godet initiated the Corpus des Sources Franciscains, a computerized reading of the texts. A revolution had taken place, one that was accessible primarily to scholars or students struggling to understand the intricacies of the “Franciscan Question.” The Omnibus was clearly outdated and needed to be re-done in light of contemporary scholarship.

The result of that informal discussion was this three-volume series, Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, a collaborative effort of English-speaking Franciscans. The editors, Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. Conv., and William J. Short, O.F.M., worked with translators, scholars, and technicians to publish new translations of texts about Francis in the early Franciscan tradition. Many of these texts had been published in critical, scholarly European editions, but were not available in English. In some instances, these texts are available for the first time in English translation; in all instances, they have been annotated in light of recent scholarship.

The texts of these volumes originate in the first one hundred and fifty years of the Franciscan tradition and are crucial for understanding not only Francis, but also the movement he initiated. His portrait changes in as many ways as do the circumstances of those trying to capture him in words. The writings of Thomas of Celano, Julian of Speyer, and Bonaventure define Francis in light of previous religious traditions into whose paradigms he clearly did not fit. They write not only to edify and encourage Francis’s admirers, but also to defend him from the skepticism of the hierarchy and the scholastics into whose images he did not blend and whose language he did not speak. As the first generation of Francis’s

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Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 11

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