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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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St. Francis and the Leper

St. Francis and the Leper

(p.9) 1 St. Francis and the Leper
The Poverty of Riches

Kenneth Baxter Wolf (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

One of the ways in which Francis dramatized his conversion was by kissing a leper, an act that symbolized his desire to detach himself from the worldly life of the urban elite and embrace a life apart, the life of a spiritual leper. The power of this gesture lay in the deep‐rooted disdain that people living during that time felt for the victims of leprosy. Though the biographies indicate that Francis and his brothers spent time in the company of lepers, the point for the early Franciscans seems to have been less to alleviate the suffering of the lepers through acts of charity than to draw attention to their own status as voluntary lepers.

Keywords:   charity, conversion, Francis, leper, leprosy, urban

Sometime in September 1226, only a few weeks before he died, a blind and bedridden Francis dictated his Testament, in which he recalled the circumstances that had led to his conversion some two decades before. “The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. Then the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me before was turned into a sweetness of soul and body. Afterwards I delayed a little and left the world.”1 From Francis's perspective, in other words, his change of heart with regard to leprosy was the defin‐ ing moment in his conversion process.

The earliest biographers understood the importance of leprosy in Francis's spiritual development and felt compelled to elaborate on the volte‐face described in the Testament. In his Life of St. Francis, written less than two and a half years later, Thomas of Celano reported that “the sight of lepers was so bitter to [Francis] that in the days of his vanity when he saw their houses even two miles away, he would cover his nose with his hands.” But after he had “started thinking of holy and useful matters . . . he met a leper one day. Made stronger than himself, he came up and kissed him.” As a result, “he began to consider himself less and less, until by the mercy of the Redeemer, he came to complete victory over himself.”2 From that point on, “the holy lover of profound humility moved to the lepers and stayed with them. For God's sake he served all of them with great love. He washed all the filth from them, and even cleaned out the pus from their sores.”3 The version of the same story recorded in the Legend of the Three Companions has Francis on horseback when he meets the leper.4 Dismounting, he gives the leper a coin and kisses his hand. “After a few days,” the Legend tells us, “he moved to a hospice of lepers, taking with him a large sum of money. Calling them together, he gave (p.10) them alms as he kissed the hand of each.” When Thomas of Celano revisited this episode in his Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, he borrowed details from the Legend but added one more twist: after kissing the leper and remounting his horse, Francis looks back only to find that the leper has disappeared.5

Francis was not the first Christian saint to kiss a leper. Martin of Tours (d. 397) did the same on one occasion as he was passing through the city gates of Paris.6 Not surprisingly, given the popularity of the Life of St. Martin, we find the leper‐kissing motif trickling down through Latin hagiography, with appearances, for instance, in the Lives of Sts. Radegund (d. 587), Robert the Pious (d. 1031), and Hugh of Lincoln (d. 1200).7 But Francis seems to have been the first saint whose conversion to a religious life was actually occasioned by kissing a leper. What was it about that kiss that made it possible for Francis and his biographers to invest it with such spiritual significance?8

The “bitterness” that the sight of lepers evoked in Francis before his conversion was a reaction that he shared with his culture as a whole. It was not simply the horrifying symptoms associated with the disease that made medieval Christians like Francis shudder at the very thought of it.9 At least as frightening as its physical characteristics were the moral implications that attended its contraction. For leprosy was, from a medieval Christian point of view, more than simply a disease of the body. It was a disease of the soul.10

Part of the association in the Christian mind between sin and leprosy was simply a product of an overly empirical conception of divine justice. To be afflicted with such a terrible malady one must have committed a truly heinous sin. Indeed there are some biblical cases of leprosy being used by God as a form of punishment. We read, for instance, that Miriam, the sister of Moses, became “leprous, white as snow,” when she offended the Lord by claiming that she and Aaron were the equals of Moses in God's eyes.11 Similarly Elisha's servant Gehazi was punished with leprosy for his greed in accepting the gifts of the Syrian Naaman, whom Elisha had just cured of the same disease.12 Finally King Azariah of Judah was stricken with leprosy for failing to put an end to the illicit sacrifices of his people.13 But such direct connections between sinfulness and leprosy are not the scriptural norm. More often than not, leprosy in the Bible is depicted simply as a kind of “uncleanness,” requiring not moral rectification but ritual purification to remove it. This is certainly the case in Leviticus 13, the principal biblical source of information about the disease and its victims. It also applies to the accounts of leper healings in the Gospels.14

More significant than the Bible as a source of linkages between leprosy and sin are the writings of Christian moralists who, in their efforts to instill in their audiences a healthy fear of moral turpitude, held up leprosy as a metaphor for sinfulness.15 Such exegetes described sinners as “moral lepers” whose souls were suffering from an invisible form of decay every bit as hideous, in its own way, as the visible effects of physical leprosy. The most detailed and graphic of these descriptions of moral leprosy is to be found in the second book of the Peristephanon, composed by the Latin poet Prudentius (d. c. 410). Here St. Lawrence, resisting the efforts of a pagan Roman prefect to subvert (p.11) his devotion to Christ, criticizes the courtiers around him, who “though strong in body” were nonetheless “corrupted by an inner leprosy.”

Here is one who takes pride in his silk, puffed up as he goes about in his chariot, while inside a watery dropsy bloats him with its invisible poison. Here is another whose greed has left him with his hands bent back, his palms folded over, unable to relax his tendons. This one's fetid lust has dragged him into the company of whores, staining him with mud and filth as he begs for their foul and disgusting services. And that one, seething with ambition and burning in his thirst for honor, is he not panting with an inner fever and raging with fire in his veins? He who lacks the self‐control to be silent, itching to betray secrets, is simply scratching at his passions and itching in his heart. What shall I say about the swelling of scrofulous tumors in their envy‐filled breasts? What of the festering black‐and‐blue sores of their malice? . . . [If you could see these same ones in the next life,] you would see their bodies covered with rags, their noses full of mucus, their chins wet with saliva, their eyes half‐blinded by matter.16

“There is nothing more foul than a sinner,” concluded St. Lawrence, “nothing more leprous or putrid. The scars of his sins keep bleeding and they stink like the pit of hell.”

That this close association between sin and leprosy was alive and well closer to Francis's own day is evidenced by Richard of St. Victor's (d. 1173) observation that there are many “within the very bosom of the church, whom the leprosy of vices has disfigured and whom the contagion of sin has stained, just like the leper.” Richard's list of such moral lepers included, among others, fornicators, concubines, adulterers, avaricious people, usurers, false witnesses, and perjurers. All, in fact, who are “separated from God by their own fault, are judged to be leprous and are to be separated spiritually from the assembly of the faithful by priests who know and observe divine law.”17 The early Franciscan preacher Anthony of Padua (d. 1231) linked each of the ten different kinds of leprosy that he was able to identify in the Old Testament to a particular type of sin: hypocrisy, ambition, lust, graft and usury, envy, impurity of thought, open iniquity, disorder of life, abandonment of the Christian faith, and discord.18 When Louis IX (d. 1270) observed that “there is no leprosy as ugly as the leprosy of being in mortal sin,”19 he, like Richard and Anthony, was simply expressing a longstanding Christian predilection for using leprosy as a “visual aid” for Christians who had difficulty imagining the spiritually disfiguring effects of their own sins.

Technically speaking, of course, none of this had anything to do with people who actually suffered from physical leprosy. But to the extent that these didactic exercises reinforced popular associations between leprosy and sinfulness, they subtly contributed to and tended to reinforce the idea that physical leprosy was an external, visible punishment for sin.

Given the moral dimensions of the disease, it is hardly surprising that the mode of contact imagined most likely to transmit leprosy was sexual intercourse.20 This ancient notion about leprosy was only reinforced by the Christian predilection for relegating most forms of sexual contact to the category (p.12) of mortal sin.21 The venereal nature of the disease evolved in the Christian mind to the point where its victims were actually regarded as suffering from insatiable sexual appetites, further reinforcing the moral dimensions of the disease. It was as if lepers had already been consigned to a preliminary form of hell, forced to endure a punishment that caricatured the very sins that would ultimately lead them there.

Attitudes such as these explain why, from the moment a person was diagnosed as having leprosy, he or she was immediately removed from normal social intercourse and either confined to a leprosarium (if the leper had the means to pay for admittance into one) or simply escorted out of town. From a legal perspective, these people were not simply outcasts. They were considered already to have died.22 From a social perspective, such a life bereft of normal interpersonal contact would have seemed to many to have been a fate worse than death, particularly for people—like the nobles and burghers of a city like Assisi—whose standing in their communities was built on such interaction.

This litany of negative images associated with the disease was partially offset by the traditional identification of Job and Lazarus as lepers. “Afflicted with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head,” Job provided an important counterexample of a man struck with leprosy despite an unblemished relationship with God.23 Likewise Lazarus, who ended his life as “a poor man full of sores,” nevertheless found himself elevated to the bosom of Abraham.24 Job's explicit resignation to his fate and Lazarus's implicit one25 suggested to some that, for all its physical horror, leprosy could be seen as a valuable lesson, even a gift from God, designed to drive home the importance of setting one's sights on the next world rather than on this one.

Beyond Job and Lazarus as models of sinless leprosy, medieval exegetes sometimes depicted Christ himself as a leper, in an effort to underscore his chosen earthly status as an outcast. Jerome fostered this association by his choice of language when he translated Isaiah 53:3–4 into Latin: “Truly [the Messiah] has borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, as one struck by God and humiliated.”26 Hagiographers of the thirteenth century were aware of and comfortable with this notion. In his Dialogue of Miracles, written about 1223, Caesarius of Heisterbach told of a holy bishop who ministered to a leper, only to find that he was in fact assisting Christ in disguise.27 As already mentioned, Thomas of Celano hinted at the same association when, in the Remembrance, he had the leper vanish after Francis's fateful kiss. Bonaventure, who borrowed the “disappearing leper” episode for his Major Legend, made the identification with Christ explicit by adding that Francis, who had never been able to stand the sight of lepers, ultimately tended to them “because of Christ crucified, who according to the text of the prophet appeared despised as a leper.”28

This sketch of medieval Christian ideas about leprosy allows an appreciation of the impact of Francis's kiss at a number of different levels. First of all, (p.13) the leper served as a symbolic antithesis to the lifestyle that was Francis's birthright as the son of a prosperous merchant. By embracing the leper, Francis was quite literally embracing the life of the quintessential social outcast, demonstrating to his peer group that he placed no value whatsoever on the things that were important to them—the things that used to be even more important to him. For, as Thomas of Celano observed, before his conversion Francis had distinguished himself precisely in the zeal with which he pursued such “vanities.” “He was an object of admiration to all, and he endeavored to surpass others in his flamboyant display of vain accomplishments: wit, curiosity, practical jokes and foolish talk, songs, and soft and flowing garments.”29 If Francis, in his youth, had made a point of “surpassing” his peers in conspicuous consumption and studied frivolity, it made sense that his conversion should entail the adoption of an equally extreme yet absolutely opposite lifestyle.

Second, the leper's rotting body served as a metaphor for the state of Francis's own soul prior to his conversion. Thus when Francis embraced the leper, he not only embraced an alternative, oppositional lifestyle; he also made manifest his own profound realization that his soul, infected by the worldly life that he had led as a youth, was as leprous as the body of the one he kissed. As Thomas observed early in his account of Francis's conversion process, Francis “could no longer delay, for by then a fatal disease had spread everywhere and infected the limbs of so many that, were the doctor to delay just a little, it would stifle breath and snatch life away.”30 So we find Francis taking the moralists at their word and deciding that it was in fact he, with his leprous soul, who really deserved to be ostracized.31

Finally Francis's embrace of the leper allowed him to dramatize his rejection of the corrupt world that had been prepared for him in a way that highlighted his own identification with Jesus, whose very Incarnation could be seen, with the help of Jerome's translation, as a form of leprosy.

But what about the leper in all of this? What did the leper get out of his contact with Francis? According to the Testament, he was the beneficiary of unspecified acts of mercy. In the Life of St. Francis, he had the matter washed from his sores and received a kiss. In the Legend of the Three Companions, the kiss came with a coin. In none of the accounts, however, do we hear of the leper being healed. Francis's kiss did not have the thaumaturgical effect of Martin's, which, according to his biographer, resulted in the leper at the gates of Paris being “instantly cleansed.”32 Why not? One explanation is that Francis, at the time he met the leper, had only just begun to “leave the world” and had not yet developed the power to heal. For indeed later in his life, and particularly after his death, Francis would prove himself quite capable of healing any number of different maladies, including leprosy.33 But beyond this basic question of capability it is important to realize that, from a narrative perspective, the point of Francis's initial encounter with the leper was not to provide an occasion for the exercise of supernatural power. Nor was it to counsel the leper on how he might turn his physical affliction into a spiritual advantage by reminding him of Job and Lazarus. The point was for Francis (p.14) to demonstrate a healthy disdain for the things of the world that were his birthright by acknowledging his own kind of “leprosy” and willingly assuming the life of a leper. If anyone was to be “healed” by the kiss, in other words, it was not to be the leper. It was to be Francis, whose sudden recognition that his soul was leprous was, as the Testament reveals, absolutely pivotal to his spiritual transformation.34

Opting for the company of physical lepers over the company of the moral lepers that had been his companions up to that point in his life gave Francis an enormous amount of moral clout among his peers. By interpreting his own previous lifestyle as a kind of leprosy and driving home the point by associating with physical lepers as if they were somehow safer companions, Francis struck a chord that resonated with the members of his social class. A handful of them responded to the guilt that Francis's example ignited in them by becoming “lepers” themselves. Others, less certain about how to deal with the spiritual choices that Francis seemed to be laying before them, applauded his efforts from a safe distance and supported him and his followers with their donations. It is ironic that Francis should have garnered such respect for living a life that was, at face value, indistinguishable from the life of a leper, a life for which people in Francis's day would normally have felt nothing but repugnance. The secret to this is that Francis did not actually become a leper. He simply decided to act like one. More precisely, he dramatically and voluntarily appropriated the trappings of physical leprosy (by living on the edges of society, dressing in dirty clothes, and begging for his food) in order to make his rejection and criticism of moral leprosy more obvious and pointed. The simple fact that Francis chose to live as a leper, rather than being forced to live like one, made him as attractive to his guilty Christian audience as the leper that he kissed was repugnant. Ironically then, the power that ensued from Francis's voluntarily assumed leprosy was a power that ultimately owed its very existence to the prevailing image of the leper in that society,35 yet it was a power to which no real leper, whose lifestyle was not a matter of personal choice, ever had access.36

Getting back to the question at hand—what did the leper get out of his contact with Francis?—the answer is: precious little, especially when one considers the enormous spiritual and social benefits that Francis took away from the encounter.37 We can actually push this lack of reciprocity a bit further. For if we consider how popular Francis and his followers were to become as a focus of pious donations on the part of guilty burghers,38 we might even begin to imagine some resentment brewing on the part of the leper. By letting himself be kissed by Francis, the leper was, in effect, participating in the creation of a “superleper” with whom he would henceforth have a very difficult time competing for the limited resources available to the collective beggars of Assisi.39 For if giving food to a normal leper was considered spiritually beneficial on the grounds that God had a special place in his heart for the downtrodden, giving food to Francis the “superleper” amounted to an investment in the making of a saint who could potentially exercise great powers of intercession on behalf of his benefactors.

(p.15) The idea that Francis and the Franciscan order that he created diverted charitable resources from actual victims of physical leprosy to the well‐born sons of Italian merchants who chose to live like lepers is not well represented in the vast literature that the saint has inspired. Somehow the image of Francis giving up his life of privilege and embracing the life of a social outcast has never lost its romantic appeal. But there is a dark side to this kind of religiosity. For when Francis and his imitators interacted with lepers they did so primarily for the spiritual benefits to which they could lay claim for having voluntarily abandoned the world. They did not do so to relieve the pain and suffering, whether here or in the next world, of people who had no choice but to live the very life that Francis voluntarily assumed.


(1.) Francis, Testament 1–4. Francis may have had Proverbs 27:7 in mind: “to one who is hungry, everything bitter is sweet.”

(2.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 17. Compare Legend of the Three Companions 11.

(3.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 17.

(4.) Legend of the Three Companions 11–12.

(5.) Celano, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul (hereafter Remembrance) 9. Bonaventure's version (Major Legend 1.5, 2.6) parallels that of the Remembrance. According to the Assisi Compilation, Francis continued to have a difficult time overcoming his disgust for lepers even after his conversion. On one occasion he instructed a brother not to let the lepers that he was treating leave the hospice with him, knowing how much disgust they would incite among the general population. But the more Francis thought about it, the more upset with himself he became. “Let this be my penance: I will eat together with my Christian brother from the same dish.” And this is what Francis did, despite the fact that the man's rotting fingers dripped blood into the bowl every time he reached for food. Assisi Compilation 64.


(6.) Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin 5. The Life of the holy bishop Rabbula of Edessa (d. 435) contains another early example. See Susan Ashbrook Harvey, “The Holy and the Poor: Models from Early Syriac Christianity,” in Through the Eye of the Needle: Judeo‐Christian Roots of Social Welfare, edited by Emily A. Hanawalt and Carter Lindberg (Kirksville, MO.: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1994), p. 49.

(7.) Venantius Fortunatus, Life of St. Radegund 19; Helgaud of Fleury, Life of Robert the Pious, and Gerald of Wales, Life of St. Hugh 46. The Life of St. Romain of Jura (c. 435) refers specifically to the example set by Martin as the inspiration for Romain's contact with two lepers. Françoise Bériac, Histoire des lépreux au Moyen Age: une société d'exclus (Paris: Imago, 1988), p. 108. Catherine Peyroux discusses the leper kissing episodes in the lives of Martin, Radegund, and Hugh, as well as similar incidents in Caesarius of Heisterbach's Dialogus Miraculorum and Aelred of Rievaulx's Genealogia regum anglorum. “The Leper's Kiss,” in Monks and Nuns, Saints and Outcasts: Religion in Medieval Society: Essays in Honor of Lester K. Little, edited by Barbara H. Rosenwein and Sharon Farmer (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), pp. 180–85.

(8.) The twelfth and thirteenth centuries witnessed a marked increase in evidence regarding leprosy in Europe. It is not clear whether this was a function of the disease being more widespread or simply a product of the increase in charitable activity aimed at lepers in that period. See Giuseppina de Sandre Gasparini, “Lebbrosi e lebbrosari tra misericordia e assistenza nei secoli XII–XIII,” in La conversione alla povertà nell'Italia dei secoli XII‐XIV, pp. 239–68.

(9.) For a detailed treatment of medieval notions about the disease, see Bériac, Histoire des lépreux, pp. 13–56.

(10.) Saul Nathaniel Brody, The Disease of the Soul: Leprosy in Medieval Literature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974).

(11.) Numbers 12.

(12.) 2 Kings 5:20–27.

(13.) 2 Kings 15:1‐5. For a closer look at leprosy in the Old Testament, see Bériac, Histoire des lépreux, pp. 88–91.

(14.) Matthew 8:2–4, Mark 1:40, and Luke 5:12 depict Jesus healing a leper (who identifies himself as “unclean”), whom he then directs to a priest in accordance with Mosaic law. In Luke 17:12 Jesus heals ten lepers. In Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3 he stays at the home of a leper named Simon. In Luke 7:22, leper healing is included among the acts performed by Jesus in fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy of “good news to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1). There is no mention of leprosy as a function of sin in these New Testament sources. For more detail, see Bériac, Histoire des lépreux, pp. 91–94.

(15.) Bériac, Histoire des lépreux, part 2, chapter 1: “La lèpre, allégorie du péché,” pp. 87–105. Jerome, for instance, saw Naaman's cure (2 Kings 5:10)—via immersion in the Jordan—as an allegory for baptism and the washing‐away of original sin (p. 97). This theme would become very popular over the course of the Middle Ages, thanks to the proliferation of legends about pagan rulers whose leprosy was cured at the font. The eighth‐century Donation of Constantine, for one, perpetuated the image of paganism as a form of leprosy that could be cured by the waters of baptism. See also Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks 2.31: “Like some new Constantine, [Clovis] stepped forward to the baptismal pool, ready to wash away the sores of his old leprosy and to be cleansed in flowing water from the sordid stains which he had borne so long.” Translated by Lewis Thorpe (London: Penguin Books, 1974). For other such (p.113) references see Hroswitha of Gandersheim, Gallicanus, part 1, scene 5; and Notker the Stammerer, De Carolo Magno 21.

(16.) Peristephanon 2.229–88; Loeb version: Prudentius, vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959).

(17.) Quoted in Bériac, Histoire des lépreux, p. 102.

(18.) Brody, Disease of the Soul, p. 139. Bériac quotes from the commentary on Luke of Hugh of St. Victor (d. c. 1141), which identifies seven kinds of moral leprosy, corresponding to the number of times that Naamon was required to immerse himself in the Jordan River. Bériac, Histoire des lépreux, p. 101.

(19.) Quoted by Brody, Disease of the Soul, p. 135.

(20.) Bériac, Histoire des lépreux, pp. 69–70.

(21.) In fact, leprosy can be transmitted sexually, but the disease typically requires a three‐year gestation period, making it virtually impossible, in the absence of modern scientific techniques, to muster convincing empirical data in support of this position. Brody, Disease of the Soul, p. 24.

(22.) Brody, Disease of the Soul, pp. 81–2.

(23.) Job 2:7.

(24.) Luke 16:20–22. Origen was the first known Christian exegete to identify Lazarus as a leper. Nicole Bériou and François‐Olivier Touati, eds., Voluntate dei leprosus: Les lépreux entre conversion et exclusion aux XIIe et XIIIe siecles, Testi, Studi, Strumenti 4 (Spoleto: Centro di studi sull'alto medioevo, 1991), p. 35, n. 3.

(25.) Hanska has observed that, despite the lack of any explicit reference in Luke to Lazarus's “patience,” Christian exegetes were quick to fill in the blank. And the Rich Man Also Died, p. 61.

(26.) See Jerome, Commentarium in Isaiam prophetam 14, 53, in Patrologiae cursus completus: series latina. Sive, Bibliotheca universalis, integra, uniformis, commoda, oeconomica, omnium SS. patrum, doctorum scriptorumque ecclesiasticorum qui ab aevo apostolico ad usuque Innocentii III tempora floruerunt (hereafter Patrologia latina), edited by J.‐P. Migne, 221 vols. (Paris: Excudebat Migne, etc., 1844–1902), 24:524–27; esp. 525, for his commentary on this passage, as well as his discussion of the sources for his “quasi leprosum” translation.

(27.) Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus Miraculorum 37. Bériac provides earlier anecdotes about Christ appearing to various saints in the guise of a leper. Histoire des lépreux, pp. 128–31.

(28.) Bonaventure, Major Legend 1.6.

(29.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 2. The authors of the Legend of the Three Companions (2) concurred with this assessment of Francis's “frivolity” before his conversion. He was, this source reports, “given to revelry and song with his friends. . . . He was most lavish in spending, so much that all he could possess and earn was squandered on feasting and other pursuits.” The emphasis placed on Francis's clothing as a sign of his corruption may reflect the story of the rich man, “clothed in purple and fine linen,” who ignored the “leper” Lazarus in Luke 16:19–21. Hanska's description of how later mendicants used this part of the Lazarus story to rail against the rich for sartorial extravagance is suggestive of the same linkage. Hanska, And the Rich Man also Died, pp. 46–50.

(30.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 8.

(31.) André Vauchez has used the term conversatio inter pauperes to describe the regimen of saints like Francis, who sought, for spiritual reasons, to identify with social outcasts. “Pauvreté et charité aux IXe e XIIe siècles d'après quelques textes hagiographiques,” in Mollat, Études sur l'histoire de la pauvreté, 1:156.


(32.) Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin 5.

(33.) Celano, Life of St. Francis 146. Bonaventure reports that later in his career Francis cured a leper near Spoleto by kissing him. Major Legend 2.6. According to Bonaventure, “this saint . . . had an outstanding power for curing this disease because, out of love for humility and piety, he had humbly dedicated himself to the service of lepers.” Major Legend, Miracles 8.5.

(34.) Gerald of Wales, a canon who was present when Hugh of Lincoln kissed his leper, compared Hugh's effort unfavorably with that of Martin, whose kiss had actually cured the leper at the gates of Paris. Hugh responded: “Martin, by kissing the leper, cured him in body, but this leper has, with a kiss, healed me in soul.” Gerald of Wales, The Life of St. Hugh 46, in The Life of St. Hugh of Avalon, Bishop of Lincoln 1186–1200, edited by Richard M. Loomis, Garland Library of Medieval Literature, vol. 31, series A (New York: Garland, 1985), p. 30.

(35.) As Bonaventure saw it, Francis's healing powers were a byproduct of his service to the lepers: “As a result [of his ministering to them], he received such power from the Lord that he was miraculously effective in healing spiritual and physical illnesses.” Bonaventure, Major Legend 2.6.

(36.) Geremek makes a similar point with regard to voluntary poverty: “It is clear that, in medieval Christianity, voluntary poverty commanded respect, and was even enveloped in an aura of sanctity. The very real expulsion from society which it involved was nevertheless accompanied by a high degree of prestige. In cases of genuine poverty there was a direct relation between the pauper's way of life, which infringed generally accepted norms, and the disgust, hostility and rejection of which the poor were objects. In cases of asceticism and voluntary renunciation, on the other hand, the attitudes were reversed: the deliberately ‘asocial’ condition of ascetic groups evoked the admiration, an admiration sometimes amounting almost to idolatry, of society.” Poverty: A History, p. 32.

(37.) Catherine Peyroux alludes somewhat apologetically to this irony when she observes, at the very end of her article: “Thomas' narrative redirected attention away from the agony of the many to valorize the singular and voluntary suffering of Francis. Paradoxically, and assuredly not by design, in the act of seeking to represent the power of Francis' spiritual ideal, his first biographer effectively came to displace the experience of those forlorn and desperate bodies who had inspired him.” Peyroux, “The Leper's Kiss,” p. 188 (emphasis mine).

(38.) Jacques de Vitry observed, in the Historia Occidentalis, that “people consider themselves fortunate if these servants of God [the Franciscans] do not refuse to accept alms or hospitality from them.” In Armstrong, Hellman, and Short, Francis of Assisi, 1:584.

(39.) In The Praise of Folly (1509), Erasmus notes how the “voluntarily poor” friars of his day were “doing a great deal of injury to common highway beggars by interloping in their traffic of alms.” Quoted in The Protestant Reformation, edited by Lewis W. Spitz (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice‐Hall, 1966), p. 18.