Sacred Exchange between St. Francis & Lady Poverty - 526 

"I ask you for one favor. If during my days it should happen that the brothers draw distant from the pure observance of the Rule . . . and because of their opposition I cannot freely observe it in conformity to that holy and perfect intention revealed to God by you, I ask you, with your obedience and permission, can I withdraw alone or with a few brothers to observe it perfectly?"19

While admittedly Clareno's work represents the prejudices of the later Spirituals, it suggests tensions that encouraged the composition of the Sacred Exchange, tensions that grew during the decade after Francis's death.20 These same tensions may well have encouraged those desiring to observe more purely the Gospel life proposed by Francis to "withdraw alone or with a few brothers," that is, to observe the founder's Rule for Hermitages. Just as Lady Poverty fled from the cities and the plains, places where she had been spurned and then neglected, and gone to the mountain (cf. Sacred Exchange 5-10), so those desiring to live Francis's Gospel vision perfectly went to those mountain hermitages known for regular observance, LaVerna, Greccio, and Montecasale.

This may also have prompted Pope Gregory IX to re-issue on March 24, 1238, the papal decree, Cum secundum consilium. The initiative of Gregory's predecessor, Honorius III, aimed at stabilizing Francis's followers by establishing a year of probation, the novitiate, and by prohibiting them from wandering about without permission. Gregory's renewal of that decree may have been aimed at achieving these same objectives, most especially at discouraging those who chose the eremitical way of life as a means of side-stepping Quo elongati.

In light of this, could this be the more appropriate sitz-im-leben of the Sacred Exchange and could Caesar of Speyer be the author of the Sacred Exchange? Ubertino da Casale provides a clue in his Arbor vitae crucifixae Jesu, when he writes that the author of the Sacred Exchange was "a certain holy doctor, a professor and vigorous enthusiast of this poverty." Angelo Clareno describes Caesar of Speyer as "a great teacher of holy theology," one whom Jordan of Giano had portrayed as "learned in sacred scripture." (It was Caesar who, according to Jordan, assisted Francis by adding Scripture passages to the Earlier Rule.) Caesar, according to Clareno, was clearly caught in the dilemma of the authentic observance of the Rule and received Francis's blessing to retire to a hermitage.21 Having led the first successful mission to Germany in 1219, Caesar undoubtedly knew Thomas of Celano; he definitely would have known of his The Life of Saint Francis and been inspired with his concept of the "sacred exchange" that the brothers had with holy poverty.22

If Caesar of Speyer is the author of the Sacred Exchange, this would suggest an earlier context than those proposed by scholars who see it coming from the later division of Francis's followers and by Brufani who maintains that it emerges from the debates over Mendicant poverty in the University of Paris. The work would have to have been written before 1238 or early 1239 when

 Previous

Next 

 

Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 526

Hardcopies Available for Purchase