Sacred Exchange between St. Francis & Lady Poverty - 527 

Caesar died.23 Its biblical idealism is far more understandable, as is its positive, exhortatory nature and a difficult period of the history when, because of death, the first generation of Francis's followers were decreasing. Emerging from a period of history in which poverty and the poor were seen differently, the Sacred Exchange is an important early expression of the self-understanding of those who, with Francis, strove to ascend the mountain of Lady Poverty.


  1. The translation of commercium as "exchange," while expressing the general meaning of the word, does not capture its full sense. Auspicius van Corstanje underscored its biblical implications by using "covenant," cf. The Covenant with God’s Poor. An Essay on the Biblical Interpretation of the Testament of Saint Francis of Assisi, translated by Gabriel Ready (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1966). In light of his interpretation, commercium might also be translated as "covenant." Yet this biblical emphasis overlooks the "commercial" or marketplace vocabulary that Lester K. Little sees in the mendicant literature of the period. Little refers to the work as "The Holy Commerce" and refers to a fourteenth-century author who called it "The Business of Poverty." Cf. Religious Poverty and The Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1978), 200.
  2. Cf. John V. Fleming, An Introduction to the Franciscan Literature of the Middle Ages (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977), 78. Kajetan Esser, "Untersuchungen zum ‘Sacrum commercium beati Francisci cum Domina Paupertate,’ " in Miscellanea Melchor de Pobladura, tom. I, (Roma, 1964), 1-33.
  3. Thirty-three of its sixty-nine numbered paragraphs are taken up with the account of Lady Poverty’s life.
  4. It is most important to view this work in light of the movements of religious poverty contemporary with the first Franciscans. Invaluable works are: Michel Mollat, The Poor in the Middle Ages, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986); and Lester K. Little, Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978).
  5. Actum est hoc opus mensae iulii post obitum beati Francisci anno millesimo ducentesimo vigesimo septimo ab incarnatione Domini Salvatoris nostri Iesu Christi.
  6. 6. Sacrum commercium sancti Francisci cum Domina Paupertate, a cura di Stefano Brufani (S. Maria degli Angeli: Edizioni Porziuncula, 1990), 59-122.
  7. Commentators have suggested names other than Saint Anthony and John of Parma: Thomas of Celano, John Parenti, Crescentius of Iesi and John Pecham.
  8. Placid Hermann, "Sacrum Commercium or Francis and His Lady Poverty," Saint Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies, English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, edited by Marion A. Habig (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1973) p. 1534.
  9. Omnibus, p. 1534.
  10. Fontes Franciscani, 1700.
  11. Stefano Brufani, Sacrum commercium sancti Francisci cum Domina Paupertate, "Introduzione," Fontes Franciscani, a cura di Enrico Menestò e Stefano Brufani (S. Maria degli Angeli: Edizioni Porziuncula, 1995), 1700.
  12. Fontes Franciscani, 1700.
  13. Brufani notes: "This conclusion seems to be at the same time a response to the alternative posed by William of Saint-Amour to the Franciscans: either be monks living apart from the world by the fruit of their own work, or clerics responsible for the cura animarum who benefit from the offerings of the faithful." Cf. Fontes Franciscani, p. 1702.
  14. Michel Mollat, The Poor of the Middle Ages: An Essay in Social History, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986) 117-157.
  15. Cf. Michael Cusato, La renonciation au pouvoir chez les Freres Mineurs au 13e siècle, Thesis (Paris: Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1991)
  16. During this same period Pope Gregory was challenging the observance of poverty undertaken by the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, that is, of Clare of Assisi and her followers. Cf. Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, 2nd revised, edited and translated by Regis J. Armstrong (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute Publications, 1986).




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 527