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The Poverty of RichesSt. Francis of Assisi Reconsidered$

Kenneth Baxter Wolf

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195158083

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195158083.001.0001

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A Consideration of the Sources

A Consideration of the Sources

The Poverty of Riches

Kenneth Baxter Wolf

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The earliest biographies of Francis were written against a backdrop of poverty‐related controversies that had begun to tear apart the Franciscan order even before Francis's death. This appendix attempts to place the principal biographies (those of Thomas of Celano and Bonaventure as well as the anonymous Legend of the Three Companions and the Assisi Compilation) in the context of these disputes.

The thirteenth‐century sources on which this study relies were not written in a vacuum. As I noted at the outset, the authors all operated in the midst of an intense and often volatile controversy about the precise meaning of Franciscan poverty, a controversy that cannot but have affected the way they chose to depict Francis's life. The problem for historians has been how to identify and then to interpret the actual points in the texts where the controversy might have influenced the wording of the biographies. This dilemma will become clearer as I consider each of the sources in its historical context. Before doing that, however, it will be useful to consider in some detail the history of that portion of the Franciscan poverty controversy that overlapped the period within which the earliest biographers were writing.1

Even before Francis's death, differences of opinion with regard to the precise role of poverty had begun to surface among the architects of the order. For Francis the pursuit of poverty in imitatio Christi was, as I have shown, the keystone of his distinctive religiosity. But from the perspective of his papal supporters, poverty played an ancillary role to the primarily pastoral one that they envisioned for the new order. Francis's Testament, dictated only a few weeks before his death in 1226, bears witness to the saint's fear that his radical commitment to poverty would not survive him, given the growth and redirection of the Friars Minor. The specific warnings in the Testament testify to real changes that were already underway, specifically the proliferation of buildings in violation of the order's vow of poverty,2 the reliance on papally endorsed privileges that allowed friars to preach with or without episcopal approval,3 and the reinterpretation of the Rule that made these modifi‐cations possible.4 Despite Francis's deep aversion to glossing, he felt compelled to insist that the Testament be read alongside the Rule at every (p.92) chapter meeting, so that “we might observe the Rule we have promised in a more Catholic way.”5

Francis's suspicions were confirmed only four years after his death, with the publication of Gregory IX's pivotal bull, Quo elongati (1230). The pope issued the bull in response to an appeal on the part of the friars for clarification of the Rule, which Gregory—in his previous capacity as Cardinal Bishop Ugolino, the protector of the Friars Minor—had helped to craft in the first place. He took the opportunity provided by this request to modify Franciscan poverty in three important ways. First of all, Quo elongati dismissed the Testament, with its powerful endorsement of poverty, as nonbinding on the friars on the grounds that it had been issued after Francis had relinquished his leadership of the order.6 Second, the bull authorized the Friars Minor to use intermediaries to handle donations and supplies on their behalf so as not to violate the letter of their sworn commitment to poverty.7 Third, it established a crucial distinction between usus and dominium, which allowed the Franciscans to “use” the things donated to them while the actual “dominion,” or ownership, over those things remained in the hands of the benefactors.8 While this distinction provided the Franciscans with a theoretical basis for claiming that their poverty went deeper than traditional monastic poverty, insofar as the friars disavowed not only individual but collective ownership, such a focus on poverty as a function of ownership rather than consumption did little to discourage levels of material use that went well beyond what Francis had intended. Under Gregory and his immediate successors, the gap between those Franciscans who were satisfied with the dominium‐based interpretations of poverty (the so‐called Conventual Franciscans) and those who advocated adherence to the level of usus modeled by Francis himself (the Spiritual Franciscans) widened. Innocent IV's Ordinem vestrum (1245) not only amplified the role of intermediaries but reinforced the Franciscan notion of complete “dominionlessness” by declaring papal ownership of everything donated to, and used by, the Franciscan order.

Disagreements over poverty from within the order opened the door to criticism of the Franciscans from without. Beginning in 1253, the secular masters of Paris, resentful of the papal privileges enjoyed by the mendicant orders in the university, began to question their role within the church.9 One of the strategies that masters like William of St. Amour adopted with regard to the Franciscans was to challenge their claims to perfect, apostolic poverty on the grounds that Jesus and the apostles had, in fact, owned things. The “bag” mentioned twice in the Gospel of John provided all the scriptural evidence that William needed to posit communal ownership on the part of Jesus and the apostles, despite the fact that it was Judas who carried it.10 The debate that ensued ultimately led Bonaventure, the most famous and prolific of the Franciscan ministers general, to compose an extended Defense of the Poor (1269),11 which attempted to explain away the “bag” and uphold the idea that Jesus' poverty—and by extension, that of the Franciscans—was in fact a poverty based on the complete absence of ownership, both personal and communal. Ten years later, Nicholas III (1277–80) weighed in heavily on the side (p.93) of the Franciscans, confirming the Bonaventuran interpretation of their poverty with the bull Exiit qui seminat (1279).

Nicholas intended his word to be the final one on the subject of Franciscan poverty. But the growing split between the Conventual and Spiritual Franciscans in the later thirteenth century opened the door to another even more rancorous debate over the level of appropriate “use” of material goods by the order. As important as the so‐called usus pauper controversy was for the history of the Franciscan order, it began too late to exercise any influence over the sources with which I am concerned in this study, all of which date from within thirty years of Francis's death.12 At this point, it is time to introduce each of these sources, consider what is known about its author, and, insofar as is possible, correlate its depiction of Francis with the politics and chronology of the earliest phases of the Franciscan poverty controversies.

The first to write a life of Francis was Thomas of Celano, an early disciple about whom unfortunately we know very little. The contemporary Chronicle of Brother Jordan tells us that Thomas was one of twenty‐five friars sent in 1221 to establish the Friars Minor in Germany.13 Within a short time, Thomas became custos for the nascent Rhineland communities of Mainz, Worms, Speyer, and Cologne and was appointed vicar when Caesar of Speyer, the first provincial minister of Germany, returned to Rome.14 It is unclear why and when Thomas returned to Italy, but he was there in the summer of 1228 when Gregory IX commissioned him to write an official life of Francis as part of a canonization process that was, for all intents and purposes, already complete.15 There were many friars who knew Francis better than Thomas did, which suggests that the pope may have picked him precisely because he was more removed from the fissures that were already beginning to divide the young order.16 In any case, Thomas composed the Life of St. Francis over the next three years and submitted it to Gregory, who officially endorsed it in February 1229.17 The result of Thomas's efforts was an enthusiastic piece of hagiography that aimed higher than simply justifying Francis's inclusion in the canon of the saints. Thomas's Francis was to be nothing less than the saint par excellence, “the most perfect among the perfect,”18 whose unusually intense imitatio Christi was empirically verified by the miracle of the stigmata.19

Not surprisingly, given the fact that the Life had been papally commissioned, Thomas had nothing but good things to say about the popes whose careers intersected Francis's. Innocent III, “a glorious man, prolific in learning, brilliant in speech, burning with zeal for justice,” welcomed blessed Francis and sent him off “to preach penance to all.”20 Any hesitation on Innocent's part about this religious experiment is submerged in the ringing endorsement he bestows on the young order.21 But it was Gregory, who as Cardinal Ugolino had overseen the order before his own papal election, whom Thomas linked most closely to Francis.22 As Thomas described it, Ugolino's “soul was joined to the soul of the holy man” the moment he met him.23 For his part, “Francis clung to the bishop as a son does to his father and an only child to his mother, safely resting and sleeping in the lap of his kindness.”24 With this union of saint and pope in mind, Thomas reserved the third book of (p.94) his Life of St. Francis for the actual canonization ceremony. There we are presented with the dramatic spectacle of a grief‐stricken pope raising his hands to heaven and decreeing that Francis's name be added to the catalogue of the saints.25 In light of what the Testament reveals about Francis's concern over the relaxation of the Rule, and what Quo elongati reveals about Gregory IX's views on Franciscan poverty, it is hard not to see Thomas's heavy hand at work, smoothing over the substantial differences between saint and pope.

Such exaggeration of the like‐mindedness of Francis and Gregory is consistent with Thomas's portrayal of harmonious relations between the friars and the episcopacy as a whole. He never mentioned the deep suspicions that bishops throughout Christendom harbored with regard to the friars who came into their dioceses expecting to preach. He offered only a generic indictment of all those who “tried to suffocate the chosen vineyard which the Lord's hand had so kindly planted anew in the world,” applauding the fact that these “opponents” had been figuratively slain “with the sword of the venerable father and lord,” Ugolino.26 On the other hand, Thomas made a big point of highlighting the key role played by Bishop Guido II of Assisi. Faced with a standoff between the naked Francis and his angry father, the bishop did not hesitate to side with the former. “Observing [Francis's] frame of mind and admiring his fervor and determination, he got up and, gathering him in his own arms, covered him with the mantle he was wearing.”27 As far as Thomas was concerned, Guido's was the most appropriate episcopal response to Francis, even if it was by no means typical of subsequent encounters between bishops and friars.

Other aspects of the Life suggest subtle efforts on Thomas's part to defuse the potentially explosive issues that we know the order was facing at the time of its founder's death. For one thing, Thomas's references to the relaxation of Franciscan poverty are nebulous and hard to pin down. In the midst of Francis's prophecy about the future growth of the order, Thomas had him refer in an elliptical way to its growing pains. “In the beginning of our way of life together we will find fruit that is very sweet and pleasant. A little later, fruit that is less pleasant and sweet will be offered. Finally, fruit full of bitterness will be served which we will not be able to eat. Although displaying some outward beauty and fragrance, it will be too sour for anyone to eat.”28 Else‐ where Thomas recorded Francis's misgivings about brothers who “had abandoned their early deeds and, in the midst of new discoveries, had forgotten their original simplicity,”29 but without further elaboration. Thomas had the dying Francis warn the brothers to “persevere in what we have begun,” prophesying unspecified “scandals” that were to come.30 But again, specific information about these scandals is not to be found in the Life.

Nor does Thomas reveal anything about the rift that we know was beginning to develop within the order. Individuals from both camps are given their share of positive attention in the Life without Thomas tipping his hand to reveal where his sympathies lie. On the one hand, Thomas described the four brothers who took care of Francis when he was too sick to take care of himself as the “four pillars” on which the saint rested.31 Out of respect for their modesty, (p.95) he would not name them, but it is likely that they included Leo, Angelo, and Rufino, all of whom were, at the time Thomas was writing, earning reputations as rigorists in their interpretation of the Rule. Thomas even identified Rufino as the only person who had ever actually touched the wounds of the stigmata while Francis was still alive.32 On the other hand, Thomas singled out Elias, whom the saint had appointed as his vicar in 122133 and who, at the time Thomas was writing, was overseeing the construction of the colossal basilica that would soon house the saint's body. According to Thomas, Elias also “mothered” Francis when he was sick and prophesied his death two years before it happened. And it was Elias whom the dying Francis blessed and designated as a “father to the rest of the brothers.”34

Two additional biographies of Francis came to light in the years immediately following the publication of the Life of St. Francis. The first was the work of a poet, Henri d'Avranches, who, sometime between the years 1232 and 1234, was commissioned by Rome to apply his literary talents to the life of the saint. The result was the Versified Life of St. Francis.35 At the same time, the friar Julian of Speyer set his hand to writing a concise Life for the convenience of his Franciscan brothers.36 Unfortunately neither Henri nor Julian felt inclined to add any information about the saint beyond what could be found in Thomas's official Life of St. Francis.

The mid‐1230s also saw the publication of the Sacred Commerce of St. Francis with Lady Poverty. Although, as I have noted, this allegory contains no biographical information about Francis, it provides a particularly valuable window into the minds of the earliest Franciscans through which we can observe their thoughts on the subject of poverty. While some of the manuscripts explicitly assign the work to the year 1227, contextual considerations suggest that it was actually written the following decade. Such a potent endorsement of strict interpretations of Franciscan poverty makes more sense after the publication of Quo elongati in 1230, the election of Elias as minister general in 1232, and the construction of the new church at Assisi, which was largely completed by 1236. The manuscripts of the Sacred Commerce that name an author are inconsistent, some attributing it to Anthony of Padua and others to John of Parma. Current scholarship has been leaning more in the direction of a third candidate, Caesar of Speyer, known for his particularly “radical” stance on Franciscan poverty.37 Regardless of its author's actual identity, though, it is clear from the content, tone, and early appearance of the Sacred Commerce that it was intended to affirm the order's dedication to absolute poverty at a time, in the immediate wake of Francis's death, when that commitment was first beginning to fade. In particular, the extended lesson that Lady Poverty gives to Francis about the wily ways of her nemesis “Greed” seem to have been directed, at least in part, toward those responsible for undermining Francis's original commitment to poverty after he had relinquished control of the order.38

Internal evidence suggests that the next of the biographies, known today as the Anonymous of Perugia, was composed sometime between the spring of 1240 and the summer of 1241.39 Although the author deferred to Thomas (p.96) of Celano more than modern historians of Francis would have liked, what he added in the way of information sheds important new light on the early years of the order. The work as a whole represents a significant shift in focus away from Francis's life per se to the formation and character of the Friars Minor. So while the account begins and ends the way Thomas's does, with Francis's conversion and his canonization, the intervening chapters are all dedicated to the experiences of “the brothers” as a whole. Indeed the original title of the work was actually The Beginning or Founding of the Order and the Deeds of Those Lesser Brothers Who Were the First Companions of Blessed Francis in Religion. Given the time frame within which the author was writing, roughly ten years after Quo elongati, such a corporate angle may well reflect an effort on the author's part to underscore the primacy of the order at a time when the memory of the founder, kept alive by his companions, as well as by the officially discounted Testament, loomed large as a potentially dissident source of authority.

The production of new biographical material about Francis received a real boost in 1244, when the recently appointed Franciscan minister general, Crescentius of Iesi, decided that the Life of St. Francis, for all its virtues, was incomplete, there being much in the way of additional information still circulating orally about the saint. With this in mind, he invited all who had actually known Francis to send him “whatever they could truly recall about the life, miracles, and prodigies of blessed Francis” so that these reminiscences might be edited as a supplement to the Life of St. Francis.40 The single largest contribution seems to have come from three of Francis's closest companions, Leo, Angelo, and Rufino, who worked together for a year to record what they remembered about the saint. Unfortunately the text of their reminiscences has not survived in its original form. Instead we are left with a number of works that seem to have relied on it and reproduced it to varying degrees.

One of these is known as the Legend of the Three Companions. Textual comparisons reveal that a third of the information contained in the Legend can be traced to the Life of St. Francis and another third to the Anonymous of Perugia. What is left adds primarily to our knowledge of Francis's early life and conversion. Much ink has been spilled sorting out the Legend's complicated manuscript tradition and determining the relationship between its introductory letter (which specifically claims that the Legend was written by Leo, Angelo, and Rufino in 1246 in response to Crescentius's call for information about Francis) and the contents of the Legend proper, which do not fulfill the promises made by the letter.41 Even if, as many scholars suspect, the letter was added later to give the Legend more credibility, most accept the authenticity of the information provided by the text itself, assigning the bulk of it to the period between 1241 and 1247. Though there is not a great deal of new information in the Legend that speaks directly to contemporary concerns about poverty, the anecdote describing the inspiration behind Francis's decision to beg for food rather than simply rely on the support of patrons is at least suggestive of the radical Franciscan stance on property and revenues.42

(p.97) The effects of the poverty dispute are easier to discern in the second of these composite biographical texts: the collection known as the Assisi Compilation, which, in contrast to the Legend of the Three Companions, has survived in only one manuscript.43 At one point, for instance, we find the ministers pushing Francis to relax his stand on poverty, urging him “to allow the brothers to have something at least in common.” After consulting Jesus in prayer, Francis specifically prohibits—in language that reflects Gregory's Quo elongati—“everything held individually or in common” on the grounds that Christ would provide for his family of friars “as long as it would put its hope in him.”44 In the same spirit, the Assisi Compilation repeatedly reiterates Francis's opposition to the acquisition of buildings to house the growing number of friars. It tells, for instance, of Francis's insistence on sending a basket of fish to the monastery that owned the Portiuncula, despite the fact that “the abbot and monks had freely granted that church to blessed Francis and his brothers without any payment or annual tax.” The text explains: “[Francis] did this as a sign of greater humility and poverty, so that the brothers would not have any place of their own, and would not remain in any place that was not owned by others, and thus they in no way had the power to sell it or give it away.”45 Similarly, we find Francis poised to dismantle a building that was erected adjacent to the Portiuncula in his absence, until he learns that it belongs to the commune of Assisi.46 In short, Francis “did not want the brothers to live in any place unless it had a definite owner who held the property rights.”47

The problem of books was another major sticking point for the Francis of the Assisi Compilation.48 “When a minister asked Francis for permission to keep some elegant and very expensive books, he got this reply: ‘I refuse to lose the book of the gospel . . . for these books of yours! Do as you please, but don't use my permission for a trap.’ ”49 After he had relinquished control of the order, Francis told a novice who requested a psalter, “Do as your minister tells you.” But after thinking about it, Francis called the novice back to him, apologized for his hesitation, and simply told him: “Whoever wishes to be a Lesser Brother must have nothing but the tunics, the cord, and the short trousers that the Rule allows him.”50 This attitude toward books explains why the Francis of the Assisi Compilation did not hesitate for a moment to part with the only copy of the scriptures that he and the brothers had, when they found that they had nothing else to give a poor beggar.51

Beyond the problems associated with the ownership of books, the Assisi Compilation depicts a Francis concerned about the deleterious effects of “owning” even the information that comes from books. Francis's ideal minister general was, among other things, not a “book collector,” nor was he “too intent on reading.”52 “Those brothers of mine who are led by curiosity for knowledge,” Francis warned, “will find themselves empty‐handed on the day of reckoning.”53 To drive home the point, the saint once gave a brother a handful of ashes in response to his request for a psalter.54 But it was an uphill fight. The Francis of the Assisi Compilation “could smell in the air that a time was coming, and not (p.98) too far away, when learning would be an occasion of ruin.”55 “He knew through the Holy Spirit and even repeated it many times to the brothers, that many, under the pretext of edifying others, would abandon their vocation, that is, pure and holy simplicity, prayer, and our Lady Poverty.”56

The Assisi Compilation pulls no punches when it comes to criticizing the order for compromises with regard to poverty. The text openly accuses the ministers of removing “the chapter in the Rule where it says ‘take nothing for your journey, etc.’ ”57 This was, from Francis's perspective, tantamount to deceiving God, for although the ministers might well amend the Rule, they had no authority to change the wording of the Gospels, on which Franciscan poverty was ultimately based. As Christ made clear to Francis in a vision recorded elsewhere in the Assisi Compilation: “Nothing of yours is in the Rule. Whatever is there is all mine. And I want the Rule observed in this way: to the letter, to the letter, to the letter, and without a gloss, without a gloss, without a gloss.”58

The Assisi Compilation contains a number of other direct testimonies to the relaxation of the Rule under pressure from the less rigorous friars.

We who were with him when he wrote the Rule and almost all his other writings bear witness that he had many things written . . . to which certain brothers, especially prelates, were opposed. . . . Because he greatly feared scandal, he gave in, although unwillingly, to the wishes of the brothers. But he often repeated this saying: “Woe to those brothers who are opposed to what I know to be the will of God for the greatest good of the religion, even if I unwillingly give in to their wishes.”59

Once Francis had abdicated responsibility for the order, the movement toward relaxation of the Rule only gathered momentum. When asked by a friar why he “renounced the care of all the brothers and turned them over into the hands of others,” Francis responded:

Son, I love the brothers to the extent that I am able, but if they would follow my footsteps, I would surely love them more, and would not make myself a stranger to them. For there are some among the prelates who draw them in a different direction, placing before them the examples of the ancients and paying little attention to my warnings. But what they are doing will be seen in the end.60

In a less sober moment, the Francis of the Assisi Compilation lashed out: “Who are these people? They have snatched out of my hands my religion and that of the brothers. If I go to the general chapter, then I'll show them what my will is!”61 At another point in the text, a brother actually asks Francis why, if lately the “purity and perfection” of the brothers have begun to “change into something different,” he does not do something to “correct them.”62 Francis's response: “As long as I held office for the brothers, and they remained faithful to their calling and profession . . . I satisfied them by my example and preaching. But afterwards I realized that the Lord multiplied the number of the brothers daily and that through tepidity and lack of spirit they began to turn away from the straight and sure way on which they used to walk.” Once his health had finally failed him, Francis continued, he could no longer (p.99) “correct them by preaching and example” and so he “entrusted the religion to the Lord and to the ministers.” Not wanting to become “an executioner, who beats and scourges, like a power of this world,” Francis chose to trust in the “Lord's police” to correct the friars and bring them back into the fold. Still, Francis vowed to continue to remind his brothers about the path they had left behind. “Thus, they will have no excuse before the Lord, and I will not be bound to render any further account about them or about myself before the Lord.”

Toward the end of the Assisi Compilation, we find Francis “moved inwardly with a sorrow of heart” at the brothers who were “turning aside from the highest summit of their profession.” But Jesus consoled him, saying:

I have placed you as a sign to them, so that the works that I work in you, they should see in you, emulate, and do them. Those who walk in my way have me and will have me more abundantly. Those who refuse to walk in my way, that which they seem to have will be taken away from them. Therefore, I tell you, don't be so sad; do what you do, work as you work, for I have planted the religion of the brothers in everlasting love. Know that I love it so much that if any brother, returning to his vomit, dies outside religion I will replace him with another in religion who will have his crown in his place.63

This revelation lifted a huge burden off of Francis's shoulders, allowing him, in a very real sense, to wash his hands of the order that he had begun, taking responsibility only for his own behavior. By extension, it also lifted a burden off of the shoulders of the more radical Franciscans whose visions of the order informed the Assisi Compilation.

The third source that can be traced directly back to Crescentius's request for information about Francis is the one produced by Thomas of Celano when he was asked to edit the collected reminiscences as a supplement to the original Life of St. Francis. The resulting text, which Thomas called the Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, was completed in 1247.64 The first part of the work covers the events leading up to the saint's conversion, relying in part on information contained in the Legend of the Three Companions and the Anonymous of Perugia. The second and larger portion is thematic, dedicated to anecdotes illustrating different aspects of Francis's way of life, and borrows liberally from the Assisi Compilation. Given the ever‐widening chasm between the Conventuals and the Spirituals at the time Thomas was writing the Remembrance, it would have been difficult for him to pretend, the way he had twenty years earlier, that there was no conflict within the order.65 But even allowing for this, it is still surprising how “radical” Thomas of Celano became over the course of the two decades separating his two main biographical contributions. In marked contrast to the Life, the Remembrance does not shy away from criticizing the order or from co‐opting the memory of Francis to voice the concerns of the rigorists, who were being left behind as the order evolved.

The differences in tone between the Life of St. Francis and the Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul are in part a function of Thomas's sources. (p.100) The memories of Francis that Crescentius had solicited from Leo and the other “companions” were shaped by their profound concerns over the relaxation of the Rule and their commitment to the Testament. And the same concerns remained attached to the new hagiographical data about Francis as it was processed and incorporated into the Remembrance. But there are clear indications, beyond Thomas's very decision to use so many of the biting Assisi Compilation anecdotes with so little modification, that Thomas shared the sentiments of the companions. On more than one occasion, Thomas gave voice to his own concerns about the order, concerns that were consistent with the rigorism reflected in the Assisi Compilation. In a prayer directed to Francis, Thomas lashed out against the idle friars of his own day: “Allow me today, holy father, to raise a complaint about those who claim to be yours! The exercise of virtue has become hateful to many who want to rest before they work, proving they are sons of Lucifer, not of Francis.”66 Elsewhere, after recounting Francis's prediction of a famine, Thomas reflected:

All of us who saw those days know well how quietly and peacefully those times passed, as long as the servant of Christ was alive, and what rich abundance there was of all good things. There was no famine of the word of God, for the word of preachers in those days was especially full of power, and the hearts of all their listeners were worthy of God's approval. Examples of holiness were shining brightly in religious life, and the hypocrisy of whitened sepulchres had not yet infected so many holy people, nor had the teaching of those who disguise themselves excited so much curiosity.67

Considering Thomas's candidness about the changes in the order since he joined it three decades before, it is perhaps less surprising that his work was ultimately superseded than that it took almost twenty years for it to happen.

In any case, when the general chapter met in Narbonne in 1260, it authorized Bonaventure, the minister general at the time, to go back to the drawing board and compose a new official Life of Francis. Though Bonaventure had never known Francis personally—he was just a child when Francis died in 1226—he nevertheless felt a special bond to the saint, to whom he attributed his miraculous recovery from a childhood disease.68 In his prologue, Bonaventure claimed to have relied on the oral testimony of Francis's closest companions. But the resulting Major Legend of St. Francis is in fact constructed largely out of information available in the Life of St. Francis and the Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul.69 Bonaventure's reliance on Celano's works was, however, a selective and creative reliance, reflecting on the one hand his background as a theologian with a personal interest in mysticism and on the other his task as minister general trying to promote unity within the order the way Thomas of Celano originally had: by focusing on the founder and ignoring the controversies that flared up in his wake.

A comparison of the Major Legend and the Remembrance reveals that Bonaventure was careful to leave out anything that might suggest that the “evolution” of the order was, in fact, a corruption of the order. Thomas's (p.101) references to Francis's own concern about the future of the order are missing from the Major Legend.70 Bonaventure also chose to leave out the passage that cautioned the brothers against provoking the jealousy of the clergy with their preaching.71 In the same spirit, he toned down the rancor of the saint's reaction to building projects and avoided any mention of the Testament.72 Not surprisingly, given Bonaventure's university training, the dire warnings about the distractions of higher education in the Remembrance are nowhere to be found in the Major Legend.73

At the same time, however, Bonaventure retained a good deal of what Thomas had to say about Francis's own extreme commitment to poverty, despite the fact that none of the Conventual friars, least of all Bonaventure himself, maintained anything like this level of asceticism. Bonaventure's logic in this regard comes across clearly in a letter that he addressed to an unnamed university master, in which he drew revealing parallels between the evolution of the Franciscan order—whose “simple and illiterate” original membership had given way to university‐trained preachers—and that of the church as a whole, “which began with simple fishermen and grew to include the most illustrious and learned doctors.”74 This evolutionary view of the Friars Minor as a microcosm of the church as a whole was easily extended from the realm of education to that of material possessions, allowing Bonaventure to retain the bulk of what Thomas had said about Francis's virtuoso asceticism without incriminating himself or his order.

Bonaventure finished the Major Legend in 1262, and it was approved as the official life of the saint the very next year at the chapter meeting in Pisa. The friars who assembled in Paris in 1266 took the endorsement of Bonaventure's work one step further, ordering all previous accounts of Francis's life burned. Their hope was to promote unity within the increasingly divided order by standardizing the image of its founder.75 But the rifts were already too deep, and the conflicting images of Francis lived on.

I have gone to some lengths to provide a sense of the historical context within which the earliest Franciscan sources were produced and, in the process, to show how the poverty controversies influenced what Francis's earliest biographers had to say about him. It is important, however, to keep in mind the limitations of this kind of contextualization. For one thing, it is difficult to locate with any precision the individual references to Franciscan poverty on the “timeline” of the poverty controversy. While it makes sense, for instance, to place textual references to the distinction between “use” and “do‐ minion” sometime after the publication of Quo elongati in 1230, there is no equally logical terminus ad quem. The dominium issue remained a bone of contention up through the period of the academic debates and was conceptually indispensable to Bonaventure as he crafted his Defense of the Poor (1269).

Second, the proponents of a strict interpretation of the Rule never cornered the market on anecdotes that either highlighted the extreme nature of Francis's poverty or identified it explicitly with the poverty of Christ and the disciples. Whether a particular biographer's intent was to criticize the order by constructing (p.102) a Francis who spoke out against the dangers of compromise (the Spiritual position) or alternatively to glory in the order's evolution by constructing a Francis who embodied the heroic, early stages of a movement that had inevitably and appropriately evolved into something quite different (the Conventual position), the saints that emerge from their texts end up looking much the same in terms of their absolute dedication to lives of voluntary poverty in imitation of Christ.

Finally, it should be noted that the poverty problems about which the various factions argued over the course of the first three decades after Francis's death are quite different from the ones with which this study is concerned. The main points at issue during this early phase of the poverty controversy were: the legitimacy of the papal interventions that had allowed for compromises of the Rule; the appropriateness of appealing to the Testament and other evidence of the founder's original intentions in response to such compromises; the utility of the distinction between usus and dominium as a way of addressing the material needs of the order without undermining its official commitment to poverty; the appropriateness of the same distinction as a basis for claiming a higher order of poverty than that practiced by the monastic orders; and, finally, the precise nature of Christ's own poverty. In the midst of all these pressing issues, questions about the relationship between Francis's poverty and the poverty of the poor rarely surfaced.

When comparisons between Francis's poverty and the poverty of the poor did enter the picture, they did so invariably in conjunction with criticisms of Franciscan begging. In the Assisi Compilation, Francis is quoted as saying to his brothers: “I have never been a thief, that is, in regard to alms, which are the inheritance of the poor. I always took less than I needed, so that other poor people would not be cheated of their share. To act otherwise would be theft.”76 Elsewhere in the same source, Francis dismisses a brother's efforts to prevent him from giving his mantle to another poor man: “I do not want to be a thief; we will be accused of theft if we do not give to someone in greater need.”77 That the Francis of the Assisi Compilation should be so wary of being perceived as a “thief” for accepting alms (unless he is able to convince himself that there is no one more needy than he) indicates that questions about the diversion of charitable goods away from the involuntary poor actually did arise for some contemporary observers of the new order. Other sources include accounts of would‐be benefactors hesitating to give alms to the friars on the separate but related grounds that their poverty was a matter of choice. According to the Anonymous of Perugia, when the brothers first “went about the city begging alms, scarcely anyone was willing to give to them; instead they would tell them: ‘you got rid of your own possessions, and now you want to eat those of others.’ ”78 The stress that many of the early sources—beginning with Francis's Testament itself—place on the value of manual labor as part of the brothers' daily regimen may itself have been a reaction to early public disdain for Franciscan mendicancy.79

One might have expected the relationship between Franciscan poverty and the poverty of the poor to have played a larger role once the academic (p.103) debates began in 1253, since one of the many prongs of the attack on the friars was precisely the appropriateness of mendicancy as a means for supporting a religious order. The fact that the Gospels never actually say that Jesus and the apostles engaged in begging was not lost on the secular academics, who figured that they could discredit the friars by tracing their mendicancy to the same vices that led ordinary poor people to beg. The twelfth book of Bonaventure's Defense of the Poor, which is devoted in large part to a defense of Franciscan begging, allows us to reconstruct these arguments.80 First of all, Bonaventure's opponents scoffed at the idea that mendicancy could ever serve as a source of “spiritual consolation” when begging had always been so closely associated with degradation and punishment. Bonaventure had to agree that most forms of mendicancy, in particular those that originated from vices such as greed or sloth, had no spiritually redeeming features. But, Bonaventure countered, the special kind of mendicancy practiced by “those who are poor of their own will” actually served an important spiritual function, insofar as it instilled the purest forms of humility.81 Though he had some trouble adducing actual biblical or patristic references to the kind of begging that is “born of righteousness,” Bonaventure found it easy enough to extrapolate from examples of holy men (including Christ himself) who were dependent on the spontaneous generosity of others for their sustenance. Second, Bonaventure's opponents questioned the appropriateness of Franciscan mendicancy on the grounds that the friars begged voluntarily without having been forced to do so by any “dire necessity or calamity.” From Bonaventure's perspective, however, it was precisely the fact that the Franciscans deliberately embraced mendicancy that set it apart from and above the begging of ordinary poor people; “for poverty is much more praiseworthy when freely chosen than when imposed by necessity,” just as the death of a martyr is to be preferred to that of a robber executed for his crimes.82 A third criticism to which Bonaventure felt obliged to respond was that the Franciscans, as beggars, found themselves at the wrong end of charitable giving. On the biblical grounds that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,”83 the critics of the Franciscans argued that the friars “would have been more blessed and perfect if they had been in the state of those who give alms, instead of the state of those who receive them.”84 Again Bonaventure disagreed, on the grounds that for those who voluntarily embraced poverty, receiving was the greater blessing, it being “more perfect to be in need with Christ and to receive alms together with him than to be a friend of the poor and to sustain them.”85

Most significantly, for the purposes of this study, Bonaventure had to contend with the criticism that Franciscan mendicancy effectively diverted needed resources away from the truly poor. As his opponents saw it, the friars had “received alms by means of which the helpless poor, unable to work, should have been sustained.” Their critics went so far as to accuse the Franciscans of murder because they “impiously defrauded these poor of the alms that compassion owed them.”86 Bonaventure's somewhat convoluted response is worth quoting at length: (p.104)

Let us say, in defense of the mendicants, that these evangelical men, who gave up their fortune for the sake of the salvation of souls, are not men of blood, but godly men whose virtues have not been forgotten, for in the abundance of their mercy, they have lavishly furnished temporal goods for sustaining the bodies of the poor, and have continually provided spiritual goods for sustaining their souls. Therefore, these mendicants are worthy of the support of the church, for they do not burden it. Instead they relieve it of its charge much better than do those who fatten themselves on an abundance of ecclesiastical revenues, since most of these mendicants would have had the opportunity to enjoy such revenues but preferred to do without them for the sake of Christ. And so when men such as these beg for alms and receive them, they are not defrauding the poor. Through their holy examples and counsels, they are inducing impious men to perform works of mercy. None of the poor are being injured in the least, for in begging the mendicants are within their right and receive nothing but their due.87

From Bonaventure's perspective, then, the friars had a right to their share of alms not only as poor people but as members of an order that had not “burdened” the church by requesting regular revenues. His defense against the charge that the friars diverted alms from the “helpless poor” is also twofold. On the one hand, he highlighted their “lavish” provision of “temporal goods for sustaining the bodies of the poor”—presumably in reference to the Franciscan custom of “selling all one's belongings and . . . giving everything to the poor”88—and their continuous provision of unspecified “spiritual goods” once they had no more material goods to distribute. On the other hand, he pointed to the positive effect that the Franciscans had on those “impious men” who would not otherwise have considered performing “works of mercy.” The implication seems to be that the resulting increase in the pool of alms more than made up for what the Franciscans took from it.

Despite the great care with which Bonaventure countered his opponents' attacks on Franciscan mendicancy in the Defense of the Poor, the issue left no obvious mark on his biography of Francis. Granted, Bonaventure finished his life of Francis seven years before he finished the Defense of the Poor. But we know that Bonaventure had already responded to this particular criticism of Franciscan poverty in the wake of Alexander IV's condemnation of the views of William of St. Amour in 1256.89 If the Major Legend does contain traces of the author's defense of mendicancy, they are subtle ones. If, for instance, Bonaventure had already come to the conclusion that it was “more perfect to be in need with Christ . . . than to be a friend of the poor and to sustain them,” it would help explain why he condensed all of the anecdotes about Francis's charity that he found in Thomas of Celano's works into a single paragraph of the Major Legend.90 Yet without these anecdotes, it is very diffi‐cult to get any sense for the distinctions in Bonaventure's own mind between Francis and the poor people with whom he interacted. The closest we get to this is when the Francis of the Major Legend voices a very Bonaventuran distinction between “perfect poverty” and ordinary poverty when advising a would‐be friar: “If you want to join Christ's poor, distribute what you have to the poor of the world.”91

(p.105) The fact that the relationship between Francis's “holy poverty” and the poverty of the poor never became much of a lightening rod during the controversies that beset the Friars Minor after Francis relinquished control of the order means that whatever information the early sources contain on this subject comes to us more or less “untainted”—or at least not overtly influenced—by the specific political leanings of their authors vis‐à‐vis the poverty controversy. This important observation provides, I believe, sufficient justification for treating the poverty‐related information captured in any one of the early sources as a reflection of a more‐or‐less consistent idea of Francis's poverty to which the biographers as a whole would have subscribed. (p.106)


(1.) For a useful overview of the poverty disputes as a whole, see: Malcolm D. Lambert, Franciscan Poverty: The Doctrine of the Absolute Poverty of Christ and the Apostles in the Franciscan Order, 1210–1323, rev. ed. (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 1998).

(2.) “Let the brothers be careful not to receive in any way churches or poor dwellings or anything else built for them unless they are according to the holy poverty we have promised in the Rule.” “I strictly command all the brothers . . . not to dare to ask any letter from the Roman curia . . . whether for a church of another place . . . ” Francis, Testament 24–25. In 1224 Honorius III issued his Quia populares, in which he granted to the friars the right to celebrate mass using portable altars in their own oratories, rather than having to rely on parish services. This marked a step not only toward the clericalization of the order but toward the accumulation of material possessions. Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:562.


(3.) Honorius III's bulls Cum dilecti (1219) and Pro dilectis (1220) asked bishops throughout Christendom to receive the friars with respect and allow them to “sow the seed of the word of God.” Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi 1:558–60. Francis was well aware of the episcopal resistance that his order faced and did his best to forestall conflicts by submitting himself without question to the authority of bishops: “I would not preach in parishes against their will.” “Were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them.” Francis, Testament 6.

(4.) Francis, Testament 35.

(5.) Francis, Testament 34, 35.

(6.) Quo elongati 2–3. Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:571.

(7.) Quo elongati 5. Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:572–73.

(8.) Quo elongati 6. Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:573. This, as Malcolm Lambert has observed, was the beginning of a “quiet shift in emphasis away from the renunciation of actual goods . . . to the renunciation of rights.” Lambert, Franciscan Poverty, p. 107.

(9.) For background, see Decima L. Douie, The Conflict between the Seculars and the Mendicants at the University of Paris in the Thirteenth Century (London: Blackfriars, 1954); and Penn R. Szittya, The Antifraternal Tradition in Medieval Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 11–61. See also: Philippe Grand, “Gerard d'Abbeville et la pauvreté voluntaire,” in Mollat, Études sur l'histoire de la pauvreté, 1:389–409.

(10.) John 12:6 and 13:29. Szittya, Antifraternal Tradition, pp. 49–50. This interpretation was much more in line with traditional Christian commentary, which saw the bag as evidence that Christ and the apostles held property in common. It was Francis's contention that the “bag” attested to Judas's status as a false apostle that was the novelty, exegetically speaking.

(11.) Apologia pauperum. This has often been translated “Defense of the Mendicants,” but that obscures the important double‐entendre of pauperum.

(12.) As will become clear later, some of the sources resist precise dating. I have chosen to follow in the steps of Regis Armstrong and the other editors of the recent English edition of the Franciscan corpus, as far as the chronology of the sources is concerned.

(13.) Chronicle of Brother Jordan 19. For a convenient English version of this chronicle (and the two other early Franciscan chronicles by Salimbene and Thomas of Eccleston) see Thirteenth‐Century Chronicles, translated by Placid Hermann, (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1961).

(14.) Chronicle of Brother Jordan 30–31.

(15.) Francis was officially canonized on July 16, 1228.

(16.) John R. H. Moorman, A History of the Franscican Order from its Origins to the Year 1517 (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), pp. 279–80.

(17.) Thomas's Life of St. Francis is traditionally referred to as the Vita Prima or First Life. Shortly after he completed it, Thomas of Celano also prepared a set of readings about Francis's life for liturgical use by the Franciscan community. Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:172.

(18.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 92.

(19.) Thomas regarded the miracle of the stigmata as “a great sacrament and evidence of the grandeur of a special love.” For him it confirmed that Francis's holy life “revealed in even brighter light the perfection of earlier saints.” Celano, Life of St. Francis 90.

(20.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 33.

(21.) Thomas admits that the cardinal bishop of Sabina, upon meeting Francis, initially urged him to become a hermit or a monk. Likewise Innocent's initial “blessing” carried a probationary undertone: “When the almighty Lord increases you in numbers and grace, come back to me with joy and I will grant you more things than these and, with greater confidence, I will entrust you with greater things.” Celano, Life of St. Francis 33. It was by no means a foregone conclusion that Francis, as a layman, would be given permission to preach. On the contrary, the institutional church had always been suspicious of lay preachers. Valdès, the merchant from Lyons who, in 1173, gave away all of his possessions and begin an itinerate life of preaching, is a case in point. While the pope at the time (Alexander III) “applauded the vows of voluntary poverty which he had taken, he forbade him and his companions to assume the office of preaching except at the request of the priests.” R. I. Moore, Birth of Popular Heresy (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1976), p. 112. Indeed it was Valdès's irrepressible desire to preach that ultimately led to his condemnation by Lucius III in 1184. For his part, Francis benefited from the fact that the pope whom he solicited for premission to preach happened to be Innocent III, who was willing to take a chance on a new kind of order, one that might be able to contribute to his own “top‐down” program of revitalization and centralization within the church.

(22.) Elsewhere: “Blessed Francis, with the consent and approval of the Lord Pope Honorius, chose this man [Ugolino] as father and lord over the whole religion and order of his brothers because blessed poverty greatly pleased him and holy simplicity received his greatest reverence.” Celano, Life of St. Francis 99; 100.

(23.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 75.

(24.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 74.

(25.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 126.

(26.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 74. At the same time, Thomas was careful to present Francis's mission as one aimed at revitalizing the church, not challenging it: “The first work that blessed Francis undertook, after he had gained his freedom from the hands of his carnally minded father, was to build a house of God. He did not try to build a new one, but he repaired an old one, restored an ancient one. He did not tear out the foundation, but he built upon it.” (18). Throughout the Life, in fact, Francis comes across as a dutiful son of the church with an inordinate respect for clerics of all ranks. Francis's attempt to give money to the poor priest at San Damiano is the first of many instances of Francis's great deference to the clergy (9). According to Thomas, this unmitigated respect led the brothers to continue confessing their sins to a particular priest “even when his wickedness had been reported to them by many people” (46). Likewise Francis held churches in the highest esteem. “In whatever place a church had been built, even when they were not near it, but could glimpse it from a distance, they would turn toward it. Prostrate on the ground, bowing inwardly and outwardly, they would adore the Almighty saying, ‘We adore you, O Christ, in all your churches’” (45).

(27.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 15. Later, Thomas tells us, Francis ran into Guido in Rome and benefited from his support and advice in anticipation of the fateful papal audience (32).

(28.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 28.

(29.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 104.

(30.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 108.

(31.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 102.

(32.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 95.


(33.) Upon returning from his sojourn in the East, Francis relinquished his control of the order (at the chapter meeting in September 1220) to his vicar, Peter Catani. When Catani died a few months later, Francis appointed Elias to replace him.

(34.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 98, 109, 108.

(35.) Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:423–25.

(36.) Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:363–64.

(37.) This view, espoused by Michael Cusato, is summarized in Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:525–27. I first heard Cusato's ideas on this subject at the celebration of the publication of Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents, in Berkeley, California, April 6–7, 2000. Cusato's talk was titled: “Talking about Ourselves: The Shift in Franciscan Writing from Hagiography to History, 1235–1247.”

(38.) Sacred Commerce 39.

(39.) This dating is based on the fact that the text refers to the death of brother Sylvester (March 4, 1240) but does not mention the death of Gregory IX (August 22, 1241). Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 2:31–58. The traditional name of the manuscript stems from the fact that it was discovered in Perugia (in 1671).

(40.) Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 2:61.

(41.) For useful summaries of the debates regarding this source, see: Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 2:62–64; and Théophile Desbonnets' introduction to the Legend of the Three Companions in St. Francis of Assisi, Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, edited by Marion A. Habig, 3rd rev. ed. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1973), pp. 855–80.

(42.) Legend of the Three Companions 22.

(43.) Otherwise known as the Legend of Perugia and the Ancient Legend, among other aliases. Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 2:113–16. Large portions of the Assisi Compilation follow verbatim Thomas of Celano's Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul (see hereafter). For convenience sake, I have treated these passages as if they were originally part of the Remembrance and subsequently borrowed by the author(s) of the Assisi Compilation, even though it is possible that the vectors of influence pointed in the opposite direction.

(44.) Assisi Compilation 16.

(45.) Assisi Compilation 56.

(46.) Assisi Compilation 56. Francis's desire that the Portiuncula serve as a model for the rest of the Franciscan communities made him particularly unyielding when it came to requests for new buildings (56). If, as even Francis came to realize, buildings were necessary, they were to be “poor little houses . . . of mud and wood” (58).

(47.) Assisi Compilation 23.

(48.) Assisi Compilation 101–5.

(49.) Assisi Compilation 25.

(50.) Assisi Compilation 105. Earlier Rule 2.13. The anecdote leaves the distinct impression that the minister to which Francis referred the novice would not have shared Francis's determination to uphold the Rule.

(51.) Assisi Compilation 93.

(52.) Assisi Compilation 43.

(53.) Assisi Compilation 47.

(54.) Assisi Compilation 104.

(55.) Assisi Compilation 104.

(56.) Assisi Compilation 103. “There are many who willingly climb to the heights of knowledge. May that person be blessed who renounces it for the love of God.” Assisi Compilation 104.

(57.) Assisi Compilation 102.

(58.) Assisi Compilation 17.

(59.) Assisi Compilation 106.

(60.) Assisi Compilation 44. The “ancients” (as is clear from Assisi Compilation 18) are none other than Augustine, Benedict, and Bernard, founders of the three most prominent regular orders of the time: the Augustinian canons, the Cluniac Benedictine monks, and the Cistercian Benedictine monks. The point here is that the mendicant Franciscan order was being transformed into a kind of monastic order, complete with buildings and other property.

(61.) Assisi Compilation 44.

(62.) Assisi Compilation 106.

(63.) Assisi Compilation 112.

(64.) The official name of the work (Memoriale in desiderio animae) is based on Isaiah 26:8: “Your name and your memory are the desire of my soul.” Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 2.241. It is more widely known today as the Vita Secunda, or Second Life. Thomas was also commissioned to prepare a book of miracles associated with Francis (the Tractatus de Miraculis or Treatise on the Miracles), which he compiled between 1250 and 1254. Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:172.

(65.) There are many ways in which the Remembrance reflects the climate of the 1240s. One of the more telling signs of the times is the fact that Elias, who had been deposed as minister general in 1239, is never mentioned by name in the Remembrance despite the frequent and positive references to him in the Life. Another is the fact that Thomas had so little to say, this time around, about Clare and her “Poor Ladies of San Damiano.” Indeed he even added a number of anecdotes about the perils of associating with women while underscoring Francis's own impeccable conduct in this area. Remembrance 112–14, 204–7. Thomas's choice of anecdotes also suggests that he was aware of the growing discord within the order. Thus the Francis of the Remembrance comes down hard on brothers who stray from the flock (32, 34, 39; 190). It is also clear from Thomas's stories that some friars were serving as private chaplains and in some cases living in palaces (119–21). Others had their eyes on prelacies, putting their humility at risk (145). Thomas is also more specific about the tensions between the friars and the secular clergy, with regard to preaching rights (146–47).

(66.) Celano, Remembrance 162. See also 177, 179, 209.

(67.) Celano, Remembrance 52.

(68.) Bonaventure, Major Legend, prologue, 3.

(69.) Not to mention Thomas's Treatise on Miracles. Moorman estimated that 85 percent of the Major Legend was taken directly from the works of Celano. Sources, p. 142. Taking his organizational cues from the Remembrance, Bonaventure opted to “maintain a more thematic order, relating to the same theme events that happened at different times.” Major Legend, prologue, 4.

(70.) Celano, Remembrance 188. On the contrary, Francis's begrudging authorship of the Rule is depicted as an untroubled act of divine revelation. Francis, like a modern‐ day Moses, withdrew to a quiet place and “dictated everything just as it had been revealed by God.” The stigmata appeared shortly thereafter as a sign of divine affir‐ mation. Bonaventure, Major Legend 4.11.


(71.) “We have been sent to help clerics for the salvation of souls so that we may make up whatever may be lacking in them. . . . Know then, brothers, that the good of souls is what pleases God the most, and this is more easily obtained through peace with the clergy than fighting with them. If they should stand in the way of people's salvation, revenge is for God, and he will repay them in due time. So, be subject to prelates so that, as much as possible on your part, no jealousy arises. If you are children of peace, you will win over both clergy and people for the Lord, and the Lord will judge that more acceptable than only winning over the people while scandalizing the clergy. Cover up their failings, make up for their many defects, and when you have done this, be even more humble.” Celano, Remembrance 146.

(72.) Bonaventure, Major Legend 7.2. Moorman, Sources, p. 145.

(73.) Celano, Remembrance 185, 194–95. Bonaventure's intellectual fascination with the mystical aspects of Francis's holy life account for a number of creative additions to the Major Legend. For example, when describing Francis's church repair efforts, Bonaventure wrote: “At the bidding of divine providence, which guided Christ's servant in everything, he built up three material churches before he preached the gospel and began the order, not only to ascend in an orderly progression from the sensible to the intelligible, from the lesser to the greater, but also to symbolize mystically in external actions perceived by the senses what he would do in the future.” Bonaventure, Major Legend 2.8. See also 3.6, 4.4.

(74.) Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 2:497.

(75.) Ibid., 1:18.

(76.) Assisi Compilation 15.

(77.) Assisi Compilation 32.

(78.) Anonymous of Perugia 16–17, 19–24. The Anonymous of Perugia is the best source for capturing the full range of criticisms that Francis and the brothers elicited from the people they encountered before they were widely accepted as holy men.

The film Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972, screenplay: Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Lina Wertmüller, Franco Zeffirelli; English version: Kenneth Ross), captures this potential conflict. Trying to justify his inclination to share his meager rations with Francis and his brothers, a poor peasant observes: “But they're poorer than we are.” “Poorer?! What poorer?” responds another. “They're the sons of landowners, sons of the rich. Go look for bread in your own home. Why do you have to come and steal from us, the real poor?”

(79.) Loosely quoting the Testament (20–22), the Assisi Compilation (48) reads: “He would often say: ‘I want all my brothers to work and keep busy, and those who have no skills to learn some so that we may be less of a burden to people, and that in idleness the heart and tongue may not stray.”

(80.) Bonaventure, Defense of the Poor 12.25–29. The quotations that follow are from José de Vinck's translation, The Works of Bonaventure, v. 4: Defense of the Mendicants (Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1966).

(81.) Bonaventure, Defense of the Poor 12.26–27.

(82.) Bonaventure, Defense of the Poor 12.29.

(83.) Acts 20:35.

(84.) Bonaventure, Defense of the Poor 12.30.

(85.) Bonaventure, Defense of the Poor 12.33.

(86.) Bonaventure, Defense of the Poor 12.36. Jean de Meun's (1277) poetic criticism of the mendicant movement closely mirrors the academic one: “But, by the letter of the law, I think / That one who eats the alms which ought to go / To people spent and feeble, naked, poor, / Covered with sores and old, unfit to earn / Their bread (p.153) because they are too weak to work, / His own damnation eats.” The Romance of the Rose, translated by Harry W. Robbins (New York: Dutton, 1962) 54, ll. 101–6.

(87.) Bonaventure, Defense of the Poor 12.37.

(88.) Francis, Earlier Rule 2.4.

(89.) Christian Wenin, “Saint Bonaventure et la travail manuel,” in Le Travail au moyen âge: une approche interdisciplinaire, edited by Jacqueline Hamesse and Collette Muraille‐Samaran (Louvain‐la‐neuve: Institute d’études médiévales, 1990) p. 148.

(90.) Bonaventure, Defense of the Poor 8.5. As Charles M. de la Ronciere has noted, the later Franciscan biographers (beginning with Bonaventure) tended to downplay the charitable activity of Francis on the grounds that the Franciscans were the only ones who were “truly poor” (pauperes Christi) and therefore the only worthy recipients of alms. La Ronciere, “Pauvres et Pauvreté a Florence au XIV siecle,” in Mollat, Études sur l'histoire de la pauvreté, 2:725–26.

(91.) Bonaventure, Major Legend 7.3 (emphasis mine).