The Testament of Francis verses 14-23

A detailed summary of

Francis and the minoritic fraternity in Rome

A critical comparison between the earliest sources on the characteristics of the minoritic fraternity

Pietro Maranesi OFM Cap

FRANCESCO E LA FRATERNITAS MINORITICA A ROMA. CONFRONTO CRITICO TRA LE FONTI PRIMTIVE SUI CARATTERI DELLA FRATERNITA’ MINORITICA in Francesco a Roma dal Signor Papa, a cura di A. Cacciotti e M. Melli, (biblioteca di Frate Francesco, 7), Milano, ed. Biblioteca francescana, 2008, 141-226

Prepared by Gary Devery OFM Cap

English translations for Franciscan sources are mainly from especially using the three volume series, Francis of Assisi: Early Documents (FA:ED), edited by Regis Armstrong, OFM Cap., Wayne Hellmann, OFM Conv., and William J Short, OFM, published between 1999-2001 and in Clare of Assisi: Early Documents (CA:ED), edited by Regis Armstrong, OFM Cap., and published in 2006.

Table of Contents

The importance of the meeting of Francis with Pope Innocent III for the confirmation of the “minoritic fraternity” is attested not only by biographical sources, but also by the Saint himself, who in his Testament, in the narrative-autobiographical part, places that event among the very few detailed memories of his life.

14And after the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I had to do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel. 15And I had this written down simply and in a few words and the Lord Pope confirmed it for me.[1]

The question we would like to ask ourselves in the face of this very brief but very important recollection concerns not the details of that meeting, but the characteristics of the group of brothers present with Francis in those days in Rome. More specifically: we do not want to deal with their number or the identification of those present,[2] but with the distinctive elements of their life that they probably presented to the pope for his approval. The basic question that guides our particular point of observation concerns the peculiar characteristics that distinguished the life and the choices of the very first minoritic community as solidifications and concretisations of the initial revelation experienced by Francis, and that probably had been fixed with simplicity and brevity in the “propositum vitae” presented then to Innocent III.

The question is as challenging as it is debated in Franciscan research.[3] Our aim is not to take up all the data provided by the sources and retrace the developments of the community experience that arose around brother Francis, but to listen to two series of sources that wanted to refer specifically and directly to the characteristics of those beginnings. Firstly, we will take in hand the Testament of brother Francis, which in vs. 14-23 gives an account of the birth and the peculiar aspects of the first fraternity; we will follow it with two series of biographical accounts: from the First Life of Celano we will read ns. 38-41, putting them side by side with what the Anonymous of Perugia writes in his De inceptione ordinis in ns. 25-30; in them we will be able to gather precise descriptions about the first group gathered around Francis. The two types of text, although different in literary genre and general historical context, can be combined for a fundamental reason: both have the immediate intention of presenting the primitive fraternity. We do not therefore aim to reconstruct the physiognomy of the original community, but to listen critically to the account of it given by two series of sources very particular both for their closeness to the facts and for their narrative intentions.

It is clear, then, that the critical method of reading them is of great value. We are dealing with two series of texts that are as important as they are different in their origin and also problematic in the evaluation of the information they provide. The information they contain has been influenced and conditioned not only by the authors’ hard work of recollection, but also – and above all – by the life situations (Sitz im Leben) they experienced when they wrote their texts. The critical examination of the information at our disposal will have to consider the context from which it originates, identifying, as far as possible, the editorial objectives that have not only guided but also conditioned/influenced their memory and the concrete modality of their narration. It is not therefore a question of arriving at a synthesis of the two sources by means of a combinatory and summarising hypothesis of the different data.[4] On the contrary, the critical examination of the two sets of texts will lead to a picture that is not entirely homogeneous and perhaps not even satisfactory: in fact, in addition to obtaining general clues for the reconstruction of a possible situation experienced by the very first fraternity of 1209, one will feel the preconceptions about it that conditioned the authors of our sources at the time of their formulation. In the final analysis, we can already anticipate what will be the first and fundamental double result of reading them: the two series of texts will bring to light a double set of historical information, the first direct – but limited and uncertain – towards the past about the life of the very first fraternity, the other indirect – but perhaps more evident and urgent – towards the present, on the existential condition experienced by the authors in relation to the situation contemporary to them. By listening to the different narratives on the life of the first beginnings, we will at the same time gain insight into the way of life of the fraternity at the time when the authors wrote their recollections.

I. Information provided by the Testament

1. The hermeneutical questions related to verses 14-23

How should the recollections left by Francis in the Testament be understood when he speaks of the life he led together with the primitive fraternity? The answer is undoubtedly linked to the intentions that animated the Saint of Assisi in dictating/writing this text.[5] Before analysing the recollections of Francis of the primitive experience lived with his first companions, it is necessary to shift our attention to the more general question of the literary genre that distinguishes this writing.

Someone has wanted to see in it the literary genre of the “farewell speeches” given by a patriarch or a master to his sons and disciples at the time of his death to give a serene and glorious farewell to his own.[6] In part, at a general glance at the “Sitz im Leben” of our text, this reading is also true: we know that the small Testament of Siena, dictated in May 1226, stems precisely from the request of the friars to Francis to have “some remembrance of your will “,[7] to which he responds with the brief series of three recollections left to his companions. It is probable that in the Great Testament the Saint prolongs this request and systematises it. We know that the text was born as a dialogue desired by Francis with his brothers, to offer them an instrument “to observe the Rule better”, that is, to help them to better understand the ideal values of their identity as lesser brothers and, consequently, to make precise choices on key points of their lives.

This part of the truth is flanked by another, which corrects the idyllic vision inherent in the genre of the “farewell discourse”.[8] The events of the last years of the Saint’s life, those linked to the drafting of the first Rule in 1221 and which lead to the second Rule in 1223 and then to the Testament, tell of a difficult situation in the relations between Francis and part of his Order.[9] It is possible to say that in these final years, in which the identity of the Order had to evolve by confronting it with new needs and demands, a form of marginalisation of Francis took place, which he himself attested and recounted parabolically in his True and Perfect Joy where the friar porter, in the name of all the others who lived in Santa Maria degli Angeli, denied him entry saying: “You are simple and stupid! Don’t come back to us again! There are many of us here like you—we don’t need you!’”.[10] Recognising the difficulties of dialogue and accepting his marginalisation, the Saint, in 1220, had also renounced the official direction of the Order. However, he did not stop representing the inspirational soul of the Order: in addition to being the one who drew up and signed the two Rules, he would intervene again with strength and determination at the end of his life with the Testament to help the friars to better observe the Rule, that is, to recognise more precisely the spirit present in it and thus make precise choices in effective fidelity to the initial revelation.[11] Precisely this “conflictual” dynamic in a man who accepts to have a superior in order to obey him, but who also forcefully and resolutely demands the obedience of the brothers on some important decisions, emerges clearly from the entire Testament. The one realized by Francis in this last writing is indeed a dialogue with his brothers, but a dialogue strongly conflictual and full of tensions in the travail of an identity that was transforming and that, instead, Francis wants to reconnect to the history of the beginnings to defend and reaffirm the primitive intuition of life.

If this is the underlying climate of the text, then it is necessary to ask ourselves, as a preliminary question, what is the value ascribed by Francis to the passages concerning the recollections of the first fraternity. We need to ask ourselves how these memories fit into the travail briefly recalled here? In order to answer this fundamental question and, thus, to be able to understand the existential presuppositions underlying the information about the very first fraternity given to us by Francis, it is necessary to proceed to a brief structural rereading of the entire text.[12] In my opinion, there are three parts to the Testament, which can be identified as follows:

1-23: Historical narrative part: the recollections.
24-33: Exhortative admonitory part: particular prescriptions.
34-41: Interpretative and conclusive part: the reason for the text.

Taking up what I observed in my study already cited several times, one can summarise the conclusions of that analysis as follows. The structural logic of the Testament shows an orderly relationship between the three textual blocks: the narrative part (1-23) constitutes for Francis the ideal presupposition to proceed to the admonitory-normative part, in which he strongly and resolutely asks for obedience on some questions of great importance for the identity of the Order; the last part arises, instead, to support the interpretation of the normative value of the text, placed on the same level as the Rule. If, therefore, the third part is essentially functional and the second constitutes the normative centre, the first is for Francis the root from which all the rest develops: the account of the beginnings is placed in some way as a general reference from which to proceed to the choices.[13] One could suppose that Francis makes this basic affirmation in the construction of the Testament: If God has revealed an identity to us at the beginning of our way of life, we cannot but assume these precise and necessary choices in order to maintain a substantial fidelity to those beginnings.[14] In short, we can consider that the first part represents the soul of the entire Testament, the root from which the present sprouts, the intuition lived at the beginnings from which we can start to respond to the new demands of the Order.[15] From all these observations we come to the conclusion that the first part of the Testament is a fundamental element in the construction of the whole.

From all these observations we come to a first conclusion about the value to be assigned to the recollections concerning the fraternity: they belong to the ideal inheritance left to the brothers to help them regulate their existence and also accept the decisions taken by Francis in the second part of the text. All this obliges, consequently, a further deepening with regard to the logical-structural position of the recollections on the fraternity within the first part of the Testament. Here too I will rely on the results of the analyses already carried out in some of my previous studies on verses 1-23 of the Testament. The development of these verses allows a first and fundamental subdivision, in which we can identify three stages of a history made by God with Francis: conversion, when God led him to the encounter and service of the lepers (vv. 1-3), then the experience of faith given to him by God in the mystery of the sacramental contradictory nature of the Church (vv. 4-13) and finally the arrival, as an unexpected gift of the Lord, of the first companions with the description of the life led with them (vv. 14-23). The three moments are chronologically successive and unforeseen events, because always wanted by the Lord, which make the young Francis meet from time to time with different and important people for the formation and discovery of his identity.

This first and fundamental subdivision of the text can be accompanied and superimposed by a second structure, starting from the subjects involved in the process of discovery-revelation of the evangelical lifestyle. If we look closely at the three stages, we can identify and distinguish two distinct but also complementary moments. Firstly, there emerges the personal and solitary one of Francis marked by a double and successive personal experience: his own conversion and his faith in the churches. In the two moments Francis receives two responses, two fundamental revelations for the construction of his unique identity. There follows a second stage, linked to the arrival of the brothers, when the young man is obliged to ask himself yet another identity question in which he confirms what he has previously discovered, in order to transmit it to the group of his brothers: this is the moment of the identity “we”. The narrative part of the Testament, then, allows us to identify two moments of a single initial intuition: the personal one of an “I, Francis” who discovers-understands by the “revelation” of God his identity as a Christian man and, then, the communitarian one of a “communitarian we” as a subsequent intuition, given to him by God, to live life with the brothers “according to the form of the holy Gospel”.[16]

The conclusions drawn so far on the structure of the narrative part of the Testament allow us to make a further general consideration on the role and strategic value of our veerses 14-23 concerning fraternity. These verses, proposed in fact by Francis as the second sphere of a double founding memory of the identity of the Order, want to remind his brothers that their spiritual self-consciousness must possess a double referenced normative ideal: firstly, the personal intuition of Francis linked to the lepers and to the faith in the Church and, then, the experience and the choices made with the first companions at the beginning of their encounter. These memories, linked to the “I of Francis” and to the “we of the first fraternity”, constitute the “difficult inheritance” left by the Saint to his brothers in the Testament, that inheritance of identity placed by Francis as the foundation not only of the second part of his text, where he makes obligatory requests to the brothers, but also of the entire future history of the Order. In those memories the brothers must find condensed their identity, connected by Francis explicitly to a founding history. Precisely within the identity travail that animated the Order from 1221, manifested and summarised in the process of rewriting the Rule, Francis offers and “imposes” on his brothers ideal and normative memories for their life. In short, the Saint does not simply give them a neutral account of the initial facts (he did not want to be either a historian or a chronicler), but not even a homely history like the one a grandfather would leave to his grandchildren in a peaceful and appeasing farewell speech. His recollections are linked to a difficult present existential experience and in close dialogue with it, so as to create a direct and consequential relationship between “memory” and “admonition”.[17]

All these remarks on the identity value given by Francis to the text and, therefore, also to those concerning the beginnings of the minoritic fraternity, lead to a fundamental hermeneutical question, on the answer of which depends, in the final analysis, the correctness of the critical reading that we will try to make on the information deducible from vs. 14-23 about the characteristics of the first fraternity that went to Rome. How much did the “polemical” preoccupation with the present influence and condition Francis’ own memories? Is it the problems of the present that guide and determine the memories of the past, or has this influence not undermined the historical veracity of the memories? It is undoubtedly necessary to bear in mind a very probable relationship of influence and conditioning between the present and the past in Francis’ memories. Nevertheless, I believe I can say that this “Sitz im Leben” did not totally invalidate the historical validity of the content of the text: Francis did not write lies. On the contrary, the tension between past and present gives the text a double historical value: on the one hand, it makes us know the Francis of 1226 at the moment in which he dictated the Testament, allowing us to enter into his ideal and spiritual world conditioned by the difficult relations with the developments of the Order, on the other hand, it allows us to know what events remained pivotal to his identity and to which he still returned with his recollections so as to propose to his brothers the ideal coordinates towards the future. In narrating the primitive community experience Francis chooses some aspects, leaving out others, and fills those memories with particular content: in this narrative operation he certainly draws from his memories conditioned, at the same time, by the dialogical-polemical situation presently at play with his brothers. This combination between memory and admonition, between past and present, instead of making both murky, offers a double and complementary opportunity: to have significant clues both on some aspects of the past actually experienced by Francis and reproposed by him as founding his initial experience, and on the situation of the present that involved and conditioned the existence of the Saint in his relationship with the friars. The double level of historical truth is intertwined and amalgamated in the recollections left to his friars. Taking note of this mixture, our objective will be to divide the two areas of historical information in order to distil the specific and objective contents of the accounts (the past historical fact) and understand how they intersected with the present to become admonition (the present situation).

2. Critical reading of the historical data present in verses 14-23 of the Testament

Before tackling the reading of the data provided by Francis on the first fraternity of lesser brothers, we need to make a double preliminary consideration. Firstly, it is necessary to establish the structure of the passage to determine which parts are the most interesting for us, and then proceed to a primary consideration of the internal logic of the text. Let us reread the entire passage of Francis’ autobiographical memory in relation to the birth of the primitive fraternity.

14And after the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I had to do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel. 15And I had this written down simply and in a few words and the Lord Pope confirmed it for me. 16And those who came to receive life gave whatever they had to the poor and were content with one tunic, patched inside and out, with a cord and short trousers. 17We desired nothing more. 18We clerical [brothers] said the Office as other clerics did; the lay brothers said the Our Father; and we quite willingly remained in churches. 19And we were simple and subject to all.

20And I worked with my hands, and I still desire to work; and I earnestly desire all brothers to give themselves to honest work. 21Let those who do not know how to work learn, not from desire to receive wages, but for example and to avoid idleness. 22And when we are not paid for our work, let us have recourse to the table of the Lord, begging alms from door to door. 23The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say: “May the Lord give you peace.”[18]

Without great difficulty it is possible to identify a structural bipartition in the text. In verses 14-15 the person of Francis is placed at the centre within a precise narrative, even if lacking in specific information of an ordered and consequential process of events: the arrival of the brothers, Francis’ travail in responding to the question of the type of life to be led with them, the revelation on the part of God, the writing of an identity text and its confirmation by the pope. What follows in verses 16-23, in addition to changing the subject (there is no longer Francis alone, but the “we” of the fraternity comes into play), departs from a narrative and chronological imprint, to take on a descriptive form of the particular characteristics of the life led by the first fraternity. I had the opportunity to deal with the reading of the opening verses (14-15), where I particularly focused on the meaning of the famous expression: “living according to the form of the holy gospel”.[19] In this context, however, our attention should be focused on the following verses (16-23) in which there seems to be a detailed description of the concrete ways in which the brothers wanted to translate the initial intuition into precise choices. In practice, from the structural comparison between the first and second part of the narrative dedicated to the primitive fraternity, it is possible to consider that there is a precise relationship of consequentiality: the Lord revealed to me a way of life according to the Gospel (vs. 14-15) which we then organised and made concrete in the reality of every day in this way (vs. 16-23). One can conclude that the characterisations of the second part of the text are nothing more than the concretisation of the general revelation. The spirit revealed to Francis by God takes flesh in the five aspects recalled by the Saint as particular articulations of living according to the form of the Holy Gospel.

To this first consideration it is necessary to add a similar observation on the possible developmental relationships between the five aspects listed by Francis. Let us briefly recall their succession:

1) the choice of radical poverty in those who embraced this life (6-17);
2) the style of liturgical prayer (18);
3) the position of the unlettered and submissive in the world (19);
4) manual work (20-22);
5) the content of preaching centred on peace (v. 23).

Looking at their succession, the question arises as to whether they possess a precise logic of development or are placed in a random relationship by Francis.

On preliminary observation it seems to me that the five characteristics can be divided into two groups, according to the two fundamental areas of the life of the fraternity. Firstly, there are two recollections concerning the internal life of the group: the choice of poverty and the style of liturgical prayer; these are followed by three outward-looking aspects, towards the relationship with the world, constituted by the choice of minoritic subjection, manual work and preaching. It does not seem that there is in any case a logical succession between the five aspects, nor is it possible to say, in a preliminary form, why only these elements of the primitive community are recalled by Francis. Undoubtedly, as mentioned above, their choice and content are also linked to the situation in which Francis found himself at the time of the writing of the text. A clue to this probable dependence between the two historical moments (the memory conditioned by the present) can be found in the continuity of content between the five areas recalled and the admonitions-exhortations of the second part of the Testament. I would like to take up a hypothesis I have already put forward: it seems possible to propose a synoptic reading between the two parts, assuming continuity between the recollections of the first community and the admonitions of the second part.

Total poverty

16And those who came to receive life gave whatever they had to the poor and were content with one tunic, patched inside and out, with a cord and short trousers. 17We desired nothing more.

Poverty in churches and places of habitations of the friars

24Let 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 RuleAs pilgrims and strangers, let them always be guests there.

Divine Office

18We clerical [brothers] said the Office as other clerics did; the lay brothers said the Our Father; and we quite willingly remained in churches.

To pray the Office according to the Rule

29And although I may be simple and infirm, I nevertheless want to have a cleric always with me who will celebrate the Office for me as it is prescribed in the Rule. 30And let all the brothers be bound to obey their guardians and to recite the Office according to the Rule31And if some might have been found who are not reciting the Office according to the Rule and want to change it in some way, or who are not Catholics, let all the brothers, wherever they may have found one of them, be bound through obedience to bring him before the custodian of that place nearest to where they found him. 32And let the custodian be strictly bound through obedience to keep him securely day and night as a man in chains, so that he cannot be taken from his hands until he can personally deliver him into the hands of his minister. 33And let the minister be bound through obedience to send him with such brothers who would guard him as a prisoner until they deliver him to the Lord of Ostia, who is the Lord, the Protector and the Corrector of this fraternity.


19And we were simple and subject to all.

The prohibition regarding privileges

25I strictly command all the brothers through obedience, wherever they may be, not to dare to ask any letter from the Roman Curia, either personally or through an intermediary, whether for a church or another place or under the pretext of preaching or the persecution of their bodies. 26But, wherever they have not been received, let them flee into another country to do penance with the blessing of God.

Obedience to Francis

27And I firmly wish to obey the general minister of this fraternity and the other guardian whom it pleases him to give me. 28And I so wish to be a captive in his hands that I cannot go anywhere or do anything beyond obedience and his will, for he is my master.

Manual work

20And I worked with my hands, and I still desire to work;

Manual work

20and I earnestly desire all brothers to give themselves to honest work. 21Let those who do not know how to work learn, not from desire to receive wages, but for example and to avoid idleness. 22And when we are not paid for our work, let us have recourse to the table of the Lord, begging alms from door to door.

The greeting of peace

23The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say: “May the Lord give you peace.”

Without wishing to force the interpretative hypothesis too much, it is possible to consider that there is a parallel in content between the memories of the past and the exhortations for the present, as if the recollections concerning the primitive fraternity constituted the immediate preparation for proceeding then to the choices (admonitions) to be made with regard to some problems considered important by Francis at that time for his Order. A revealing text in this sense is that concerning the recollection of manual work, where the Saint performs precisely the operation of passing, almost unconsciously but also with immediate consequentiality, from the past of memory to the present of admonition.

Having made these preliminary remarks, let us pass on to the reading of the five aspects mentioned: their analysis should verify the hypothesis proposed here and offer us conclusive elements for a summary characterisation of that group that accompanied Francis to Rome to visit the pope.[20]

a) The choice of poverty (verses 16-17)

There are two elements that characterise verses 16-17: the initial choice of those who wanted to follow the Gospel and the external form taken as public visibility of their decision.

The first piece of information, therefore, concerns the preliminary decision that had to be taken by those who went to Francis to stay with him: “And those who came to receive life gave whatever they had to the poor and were content with one tunic, patched inside and out, with a cord and short trousers”. Undoubtedly, as Desbonnets points out, the recollection refers back to the initial period, linked to the arrival of the first companions, all of rich and noble origin: Bernard of Quintavalle, Peter Cattanei, Morico, Philip Longo, John of San Costanzo, Bernard of Vigilante. In the recollection of the Saint it is still possible to perceive the amazement aroused in Francis by those concerted and radical decisions: the encounter with Francis’ intuition led those young companions with obviousness to a choice with no return. For them it was like burning their bridges behind them.

However, I believe that the centre, or better, the main accent of the recollection made by Francis lies in the second part of the text: “were content with one tunic, patched inside and out, with a cord and short trousers. We desired nothing more”. In this double affirmation we can glimpse the double historical level, which I have already mentioned above. On the one hand, the Saint offers information about the early days, describing the external consequences of that choice of poverty: it was not simply the renunciation of one’s possessions in order to enter a religious structure that ensured them a dignified “quality” of life, as would have been that of the Benedictines or the Canons regular, but it was to become part of a religious group that in fact identified itself and assimilated itself, even in its clothing, with the last of society. According to Desbonnets’ analysis, the friars were dressed like peasants, with the addition of “breeches”, a clear indication of their itinerant nature.[21] The way they dressed, therefore, designated the social rank they occupied after renouncing all property: they had entered the rank of the poorest and most marginalised.

However, the decisive underlining of the text is not so much in the details of their mode of dress, as in the two considerations about the feelings nourished by the brothers in those early days, living such poverty: they were content and did not want to have more. After almost twenty years from those beginnings, the friars, on entering the friary, still renounced all their possessions and dressed more or less in the same way as their first companions. What had perhaps changed was the spirit with which they lived these choices.[22] In Francis’ double notation, in which he recalls the joy and freedom of the first friars, a kind of nostalgia for what no longer existed or was no longer so evident and strong seems to emerge. It is as if with that consideration, about the feelings of the first group, Francis is recalling or reproaching the new spirit that probably agitated the friars at the present time. Perhaps there was not great contentment with that poverty and simplicity of means that had to characterise the operative choices of the brothers; the development of the Order and the new activities to which they were called, also at the urgent invitation of the Church, demanded new means and new structures. They could no longer be content with the essentials, which were sufficient for a poor man of the time: a few clothes and a little food. They wanted and had to have more. The discussion was not so much about clothes, but about the new needs, with the relevant tools that had to enter or had already entered the life of the friars for their pastoral and cultural expansion.[23]

There are two indications of this evolution. The first comes from the synoptic comparison between the chapters of the two Rules concerning the prohibition of possession:

Rnb VII 13 Rb VI 2
Wherever the brothers may be […]

let them be careful not to make any place their own or contend with anyone for it.

Let the brothers not make anything their own, neither house, nor place, nor anything at all.

According to the opinion of D. Flood, in his important study on the Rnb, already in the text of the first Rule there is an evolution of the fraternity that is settling in the places where it lived, risking to appropriate them.[24] The evolution becomes more evident in the Rb, where there are two important innovations compared to the previous text: it no longer speaks simply of “place”, understood as a poor refuge or hermitage, but introduces the word “house”, an indication of an evolution towards closed friaries; moreover, it adds the command not to appropriate “anything at all” of the many tools that the brothers had to use for their work.[25] It is within these evolutionary dynamics, with the consequent difficult assessment of the necessary things to be used by the brothers, that is placed, in my opinion, – and we are at the second clue – what we observed about the presence of books in the primitive fraternity. While in the Rnb they were reduced to the breviary only, in the Rb the possibility of having other books is opened up, a consequence of the intellectual and pastoral evolution that was animating the life of the Order.[26]

I believe that the call made by Francis in the Testament to a primitive poverty, being content with nothing and without the need to have more, fits into this whole debate. This dialogue then, in the second part, becomes an explicit and direct admonition on the choices of poverty regarding the conventual habitations of the friars:

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 RuleAs pilgrims and strangers, let them always be guests there.[27]

In the text one has the feeling that Francis now accepts “as obvious the fact that the friars have taken up a fixed abode”,[28] that is, he recognises that the friars no longer lived as they did at the beginning, content with a single tunic and wanting nothing more; However, starting precisely from the memory of the beginnings, he wants and must remind them of the importance of the external forms of the friaries, which must be as close as possible to those primitive demands of the friars, and so, through those forms they can still manifest the primitive spirit of the beginnings when the friars lived as “pilgrims and strangers”.[29] The recollections of the poor style of life of the first community constitute, in some way, the ideal basis to face a critical rereading of the new demands of the friars, recognised also by Francis as necessary and inevitable, and yet in need of being remeasured and rethought starting from that initial way of life, proposed as an ideal reference to find the right measures for the new choices.

b) Liturgical prayer (verse 18)

In this text the overlap and perhaps even the confusion between present and past, between admonition and memory, are more evident and problematic. In the recollection of the liturgical prayer of the office, in which Francis distinguishes between the clerics and the laity, the Saint in fact makes a clear confusion or even a deliberate inversion of the initial situation.[30] The synoptic comparison between our text of the Testament and the preceding ones on this subject, proves what is stated here in a preliminary way:

Rnb III 3-5[31] Rb III 1-4[32] Testament 18[33]
For this reason let all the brothers, whether clerical or lay, recite the Divine Office, the praises and prayers, as is required of them.

Let the clerical brothers recite the Office and say it for the living and the dead according to the custom of clerics. Every day let them say the Have mercy on me, O God with the Our Father for the failings and negligence of the brothers;

Let the clerical [brothers] recite the Divine Office according to the rite of the holy Roman Church excepting the psalter, for which reason they may have breviaries. The lay [brothers], however, may say twenty-four Our Fathers for Matins, and five for Lauds; seven for each of the Hours of Prime, Terce, Sext, and None, twelve for Vespers, and seven for Compline. Let them pray for the dead. We clerical [brothers] said the Office as other clerics did; the lay brothers said the Our Father; and we quite willingly remained in churches.

Not only did the initial situation of a community composed only of lay people, or with a few priests, prevent such a division, but also the text of the early Rule denies that the initial fraternity was vertically divided between clerics and laity in the prayer of the office. The norm of the Rnb, although it reveals a multi-layered editorial history,[34] certainly reflects the liturgical lifestyle of the early fraternity, in which the division among the brothers was not the juridical one between laity and clerics, but the simpler and more necessary one between those who could read and the illiterate. Liturgical prayer was certainly lived together by all the brothers, with the only difference established by the cultural requirements for being able to use breviaries. The first community was therefore most probably characterised by common prayer, where the vertical division, typical of the medieval world, established on the basis of social belonging, above all the distinction and separation between clerics and laity, had not yet taken place. All this will develop later, when the Church will intervene to characterise also the experience developed around Francis with social categories foreign to the first community. It is this new and established situation that influences and determines the recollections of Francis in the Testament, obliging him to “transform” the memories of the early days in order to apply to them a situation that was absent at that time.

This process, in which the boundaries between past and present become insecure, was not, however, caused by an unconscious projection of the present situation into the past; I believe, instead, that Francis consciously carried out this transformation of recollections for a functional objective of solving a problem he perceived as serious and grave, connected with the recitation of the divine office. An important clue in favour of this hypothesis is found in a successive text in the Testament, placed between the exhortations:

I nevertheless want to have a cleric always with me who will celebrate the Office for me as it is prescribed in the Rule. And let all the brothers be bound to obey their guardians and to recite the Office according to the Rule. And if some might have been found who are not reciting the Office according to the Rule and want to change it in some way, or who are not Catholics, let all the brothers, wherever they may have found one of them, be bound through obedience to bring him before the custodian of that place nearest to where they found him. And let the custodian be strictly bound through obedience to keep him securely day and night as a man in chains, so that he cannot be taken from his hands until he can personally deliver him into the hands of his minister. And let the minister be bound through obedience to send him with such brothers who would guard him as a prisoner until they deliver him to the Lord of Ostia, who is the Lord, the Protector and the Corrector of this fraternity.[35]

This large passage constitutes one of the most mysterious and strange texts of Francis. It would indeed seem difficult to understand why the Saint is so harsh on an apparently marginal issue, such as the duty to recite the office according to the Rule. It is not possible to understand what the underlying issue is in this text, however it is clear that the previous recollection, concerning the recitation of the office, where Francis states that at the beginning the clerics recited it like the other clerics while the laity recited the Our Father, refers directly to the norm of the Regola bollata which prescribed that the brothers should recite the office “according to the rite of the holy Roman Church”. It is this aspect that had to be defended. What were the problems associated with this? What were the needs of the brothers regarding the divine office? Perhaps they were aiming at a more monastic prayer, abandoning the simple and abbreviated one of the Roman Curia to adopt the more solemn and famous Benedictine one? It is difficult to say! In any case for Francis there was something serious at stake, so much so that he intervened in two complementary ways: by transforming the memories on the liturgical mode of prayer of the first fraternity and by establishing that drastic procedure against those who “are not reciting the Office according to the Rule and want to change it in some way, or who are not Catholics”.

Regardless of the specific question, what is interesting in this process is the decisive value assigned by Francis to the primitive experience, whose testimony is so important as to transform the facts of the beginnings. This operation clearly confirms our hypothesis about the direct relationship between the part of the recollections and the subsequent part dedicated to the admonitions, a relationship that, in this case, is so unbalanced towards the present as to transform the very facts of the past.

c) The choice of subjection (verse 19)

The short phrase composed of very few words, where Francis recalls that “we were simple and subject to all”, constitutes yet another text in which the relationship between past and present is as close as it is uncertain or, better, in which the polemical objectives are so urgent as to transform the facts to make them functional to the solution of present issues.

In characterising the fraternity as made up of “idiotae”, that is, unlettered people, Francis is saying something that is not entirely true. We know for certain that he, Bernard of Quintavalle and most of his first companions were educated men, with a human formation far superior to the rest of the population, which was almost totally illiterate. Their culture was the result of their high social position and was the clearest proof of this. Knowing how to read and write was the first and fundamental social distinction in the Middle Ages between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the subjects, between the major and the minor, between masters and servants. By denying the ability of the first group of friars to read and write, Francis seems to be denying a historical fact. However, this apparent “lie” must be understood in relation to the second qualification: we were subject to all. They had chosen to leave their high and powerful position (we recall that Bernard of Quintavalle was a magistrate of Assisi) to join the group of the poor and marginalised, those who no longer lived within the city but had chosen to settle down in the valley. The rejection of their riches and social positions also included the rejection of their cultural skills. Bearing all these factors in mind, one could translate Francis’ statement as follows: we had chosen to be like the illiterate in order to actually become subjects and subject to all. The social displacement, understood as a new way of being in the world according to the form of the Holy Gospel, had made them choose to become effectively like the other poor, not only without anything of their own but also without culture.[36]

That the qualification of subjects in relation to the whole world constituted one of the peculiar characteristics of the initial intuition experienced by the first group is confirmed by a double presence of this term in the Rnb. In two texts the term is used for two emblematic situations, in which the question of the use of their “culture” towards the world is strong and direct. The first occurs in chapter VII when it speaks of the manual work done by the brothers in the houses of others:

None of the brothers may be treasurers or overseers in any of those places where they are staying to serve or work among others. They may not be in charge in the houses in which they serve nor accept any office which would generate scandal or be harmful to their souls. Let them, instead, be the lesser ones and be subject to all in the same house.[37]

In the text the question of the difficult but also necessary relationship between fidelity to one’s choice of subordination in work and the refusal of any commitment that requires the use of the cultural preparation possessed by the brothers emerges in the foreground; such employment would in fact have made them superior to others, forcing them to occupy positions of responsibility and power.[38] The second text deals with another area that is even more significant, because of the radicality with which the first friars thought about the application of the choice of subjection: the confrontation with the infidels. In suggesting to the brothers two attitudes to adopt in going among the Saracens, Francis establishes that the first method of evangelisation lies in the choice of subjection:

One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake and to acknowledge that they are Christians.[39]

This exhortation of Francis does not aim at a functional strategy to convince non-Christians by good example, nor does it represent an “evangelical invitation to prudence”,[40] but it is essential for the brothers themselves to remain faithful to their identity, even among the infidels. Among them, the position that the brothers must hold to is not motivated by victory over the infidels through theological and cultural disputes and contests, but by subjection and minority.[41]

The recollection made by Francis in the Testament of the initial choice of subjection, as a position of identity consciously assumed by the first fraternity, has not only a historical value in the reconstruction of the original community, but also an apologetic-polemical value with regard to the evolution of the Order concerning its “new” minoritic consciousness of being in the world. Recalling the initial style of illiterate and subject to all, through a kind of historical “lie” about their condition as uncultured men, became an appeal by Francis to return to that first identity placed in doubt, perhaps, not in principle but in fact. Not only the arrival of “learned” friars and the choice, also confirmed by the Rb, of an adequate theological preparation to be able to receive permission to preach,[42] but also the influence of the Roman curia and, in particular, of the cardinal protector Ugolino had reversed the positive evaluation of the early days of being “uneducated”. Culture, because of its important pastoral use, was a value that could not be despised and rejected. Nor had Francis ever taken a position against culture or theology on principle: his appreciation of theologians remained high[43] and he was happy that Brother Anthony taught theology to his friars.[44] Despite this, the serious question remains: was it possible for the friars to combine culture and subjection? Was it possible to have an adequate theological preparation, in order to carry out important pastoral and didactic tasks, and still remain subjects? Was it possible to possess effective cultural and theological tools for the benefit of the whole Church and be immune from the danger of becoming important and powerful? Was it possible to combine spiritual-cultural power and subservience-minority? In all this there was another serious question about the identity of the Order, with which Francis was confronting and even clashing in his dialogue with the new pastoral and cultural needs expressed by the friars and requested by the Church: was it right to have the support of Rome in order to be able to exercise one’s theological preparation for the benefit of the Church, thus overcoming possible difficulties that prevented the friars from exercising their ministry? That the recollection of having been at the beginning “unlettered and subject to all” refers back to all these questions, and in particular to the last question, is attested to by one of the most resolute passages of the Testament that became so problematic for the brothers:

I strictly command all the brothers through obedience, wherever they may be, not to dare to ask any letter from the Roman Curia, either personally or through an intermediary, whether for a church or another place or under the pretext of preaching or the persecution of their bodies. But, wherever they have not been received, let them flee into another country to do penance with the blessing of God.[45]

The text is closely related to what Francis had previously said about faith and his respect for the Church in general and even for poor priests:

And if I had as much wisdom as Solomon and found impoverished priests of this world, I would not preach in their parishes against their will. And I desire to respect, love and honor them and all others as my lords.[46]

In both texts the word “subjects” hovers in the background: the two passages speak in the present tense, through strong and decisive choices, of what the first brothers had chosen and experienced at the beginning. Referring to what I have already noted in the analysis of the historical situation hidden in these passages of the Testament, in the two passages one can clearly perceive a close continuity between the memory of the beginnings and the choices of subjection and marginalisation to which Francis called the brothers despite their high theological preparation. “In the two texts he reaffirms, in two different and complementary ways, a strong and sharp refusal of any solution of “power”: first, in a positive way, proclaiming his renewed will of radical subjection to the Church expressed in a paradoxical way through his submission even to poor and sinful priests, then, in a negative way, commanding the brothers not to use even the lawful instrument, such as recourse to Rome, but contrary to the initial intuition given to Francis by God. Every choice of power and self-assertion, even for absolutely good purposes such as the possibility of proclaiming the word of God, meant for Francis the loss of his own identity as lesser brother, the one that God had given him with the lepers and confirmed in the ecclesial sphere by standing beside the priest of San Damiano”.[47]

Therefore, even in the recollection of the “illiterate and submissive” choice of life of the primitive experience of the friars, we find the same tension between past and present, in which the memory of Francis refers back to a way of life of the first fraternity which, although it was not entirely faithful to the facts, became the ideal and normative reference for choices in which to help his brothers to remain faithful to their primitive minoritic ideality: between the value of proclaiming the word of God and subjection, choose the latter when you must exercise the former by renouncing minority.

d) Manual labour (verses 20-22)

In the text of the recollections concerning manual work, the relationship established by Francis between past and present is even clearer and more precise. In the passage we see the same shift, the one that goes from memory to commitment to the present, which can be seen in the text, cited above, dedicated by Francis to his faith in the priests,[48] where there is a kind of editorial insecurity: in both passages “Francis does not dominate the narrative development and lets himself, so to speak, take his hand towards an admonitory actualization addressed to the present with regard to certain themes such as the gift of faith and manual work. Undoubtedly their memory has a strong resonance for the present, so much so that it becomes, almost unconsciously, an admonition and exhortation”.[49]

In its redactional development, the text on manual labour is in a close relationship of continuity and development with the previous memory regarding the choice of being unlettered and submissive. Working with one’s hands to support oneself was the obvious consequence of a vocation to marginalisation and subjection: like all poor people, the first friars had to earn their bread. Let us leave aside the question of why Francis moves from the “we” of the earlier recollections to “I worked with my hands”. This transformation, which will be corrected immediately afterwards by returning to the collective “we”, does not take away the fact that the Saint is referring to the initial way of life of the first fraternity: all of them had chosen manual work as the principal form of subjection and poverty. Important and decisive information and clarifications on what Francis presupposes, stating that he and his first companions worked with their own hands, come to us from Rnb in the first part of chapter VII.

None of the brothers may be treasurers or overseers in any of those places where they are staying to serve or work among others. They may not be in charge in the houses in which they serve nor accept any office which would generate scandal or be harmful to their souls Mk 8:36; Let them, instead, be the lesser ones and be subject to all in the same house. Lk 22:26  1 Pt 2:13

Let the brothers who know how to work do so and exercise that trade they have learned, provided it is not contrary to the good of their souls and can be performed honestly. For the prophet says: You shall eat the fruit of your labors; you are blessed and it shall be well for you.

The Apostle says: Whoever does not wish to work shall not eat. 2 Thes 3:10 and Let everyone remain in that trade and office in which he has been called. 1 Cor 7:24

And for their work they can receive whatever is necessary excepting money. And when it is necessary, they may seek alms like other poor people. And it is lawful for them to have the tools and instruments suitable for their trades.[50]

An analysis of the text reveals four constituent elements of the way of working of the early friars, which we will list not according to their presence in the text, but starting from a logical relationship:

a) they carried out work as hired labourers with others,
b) and could continue to practice the trade they knew before becoming friars;
c) with the consequence of being able to possess the tools of the trade; to these positive norms were added two negative ones:
d) they were not to receive money as a reward for their work;
e) they were not to occupy positions of power or prestige.[51]

All these aspects are in some way included in the term used by Francis when he exhorts the brothers to work as honest “labourers”. In fact, as Desbonnets recalls, the term contains two meanings: “work for a daily wage” and “craftmanship”.[52]

A further element present in the above-mentioned text of the Rnb concerns the Rule, closely linked to the prohibition of not receiving money for work done, of going begging. Let us listen to the wording again: “And when it is necessary, they may seek alms like other poor people”. This choice has a double characterisation in the text of the Rnb: it is to be used only in cases of necessity, and is a gesture by which the brothers truly became “like other poor people”.[53] It is all this history that Francis in some way recalls by stating that he and his first brothers worked with their own hands.

At the same time this lifestyle of the beginnings immediately becomes in the Testament an admonition addressed to the present. If one compares the above text of the Rnb on work with the formulation of chapter IV of the Rb one sees that in the latter the work situation of the friars has changed a great deal.[54] It was perhaps necessary to leave open and somewhat indeterminate the problem of the concrete way of working of the brothers because certainly the activities had become multiform and especially because the brothers were moving from manual work outside the friary to more cultural and pastoral activities inside the friary.[55]

The same happens with the norms on almsgiving established in chapter VI of Rb, where, by detaching almsgiving from work, contrary to what is reported instead in Rnb, it is placed within the chapter on the prohibition of possession, establishing the following:

As pilgrims and strangers in this world, 1 Pt 2:11 serving the Lord in poverty and humility, let them go seeking alms with confidence…[56]

Almsgiving is no longer, as it was in the Rnb, the extreme solution in case of need, but it seems to have become the stable form used by the friars to support themselves. They were without estates of gardens and vineyards, they had abandoned being hired labourers and were now mainly occupied in cultural and pastoral activities, consequently, daily questing had become the solution for daily sustenance; and they progressively went from being lesser brothers to becoming mendicant brothers.[57]

It is with all these problems in the evolution of a vocation as a lesser brother that Francis discusses and confronts them in the extensive admonitory text added immediately after the brief reminder of the manual work of the first friars. For the convenience of the reader it will be appropriate to quote it once again:

20And I worked with my hands, and I still desire to work; and I earnestly desire all brothers to give themselves to honest work. 21Let those who do not know how to work learn, not from desire to receive wages, but for example and to avoid idleness. 22And when we are not paid for our work, let us have recourse to the table of the Lord, begging alms from door to door.

Three elements are recalled and proposed by the Saint to his brothers. Firstly, the duty to work manually, that is, to remain in contact with the common condition of the people. The matter was certainly serious if we bear in mind that the absence of manual labour among the friars was one of the three problems submitted by the anonymous Parisian master around 1254 to Bonaventure to help him overcome them in order to decide to enter the Minorite Order. The Holy Doctor responds by quoting the Regola bollata in chapter V and pointing out that there Francis “addresses himself to ‘those brothers to whom the Lord has granted the grace of working’, which, in addition to the possibility, also includes the will [to work]”;[58] according to Bonaventure this distinction makes it possible to exclude that Francis ordered everyone to work manually. It is clear that the Saint of Bagnoregio is careful not to examine our passage in the Testament, which would not have allowed him such a conclusion; but the whole text was no longer a normative or even an ideal point of reference for the Order at Bonaventure’s time.

The second area of Francis’ exhortation concerns the moral and preventive function of work: with it the brothers not only set a good example but also avoid idleness. The conventual development of the large number of brothers was producing a serious danger: idleness, an issue that was certainly unknown in the first fraternity.

The last element of the text concerns a central aspect in the development of the economic life of the brothers: almsgiving. What had been forgotten in the Rb is re-proposed here, linking back to the text of the Rnb and, implicitly, to the ways of the early days. In practice, the Saint invites his brothers to a form of insecurity linked to work as a primary and direct source of sustenance, a call that would have prevented any form of idleness and would have reduced begging to cases of necessity and extreme need only. By placing manual work at the centre of the daily life of his brothers, Francis calls into question the whole process of conventualisation and intellectualisation assumed by the Order to carry out its essentially pastoral and cultural function for the Church. Without wanting to affirm that with those recollections linked to manual work the Saint wants to reject the entire evolutionary process, however one can feel in them the concern to reconnect the present to the past, through a reference to a style of presence in the world in which the similarity with the poor forced to manual work is more evident and remains, in any case, the ideal term of comparison to evaluate the choices made by the Order.

f) The announcement of peace (verse 23)

In the final verse of the series of recollections linked to the early fraternity, Francis states for the second time in the Testament that the Lord intervened in his life with a “revelation”. At the beginning the Most High Himself had revealed to Francis to live with his brothers “according to the form of the Holy Gospel”; then He had revealed to him a precise formula of greeting/announcement: “The Lord give you peace”. Therefore, Francis gives to this discovery a value equal to the revelation he had about the form of life to be led with his first companions.

Having made this preliminary observation, it is necessary once again to ask the twofold question that guided the reading of the previous recollections of Francis and to ask, first of all, what is the historical background to which the memory refers and then to shift the attention to the present, to whom the memory of the greeting formula is addressed.

Regarding the first question, I believe that we can glimpse two directions of a possible answer: on the one hand it refers to an actual greeting used by the friars in their itinerant lifestyle of the beginning, and on the other hand it recalls and summarizes, perhaps, the central content of their initial admonitory preaching addressed to the people. The Rnb bears abundant and unequivocal witness to the wandering and itinerant condition of the early friars, called by their vocation to share the lot of those who lived “along the road”,[59] staying among the marginalised and the poor, assimilated with them in their daily search for work or in going begging. The greeting recalled by Francis perhaps became a form of presentation adopted by the friars as they went on their way. A direct confirmation of this hypothesis can be found in the gospel norms established by the Rnb for the friars who go about the world:

When the brothers go through the world, let them take nothing for the journey, neither knapsack, nor purse, nor bread, nor money, nor walking stick. Lk 9:3  Lk 10:4 Whatever house they enter, let them first say: Peace to this house. They may eat and drink what is placed before them Mt 10:10 for as long as they stay in that house. Lk 10:5 Let them not resist anyone evil, but whoever strikes them on one cheek, let them offer him the other as well. Lk 10:7 Whoever takes their cloak, let them not withhold their tunic. Mt 5:39  Lk 6:29  Lk 6:29 Let them give to all who ask of them and whoever takes what is theirs, let them not seek to take it back Lk 6:30. [60]

As is clear from the legislative passage, being the evangelical man that he was, Francis probably obtained the revelation of the greeting of peace from the Gospel of Luke where the disciples are invited by Jesus to wish peace as they enter the houses. This is confirmed by an important biographical source, the Compilation of Assisi, where, expressly quoting the Testament, it recalls not only the use of this greeting by Francis but also the difficulty encountered by one of the first twelve companions in greeting people in that way.[61]

This first hypothesis is accompanied by another, linked to the activity of itinerant preachers. The precise and detailed information is provided for the first time by the First Life of Celano, when he recalls that Francis, still without companions, “In all of his preaching, before he presented the word of God to the assembly, he prayed for peace saying, “May the Lord give you peace”.[62] In the continuation of the text, Celano offers two further interesting pieces of information to understand the historical background of the recollection proposed by Francis in the Testament. For the first biographer, the greeting was not only an effective homiletic incipit, but in some way constituted the fundamental content of his preaching.

He always proclaimed this to men and women, to those he met and to those who met him. Accordingly, many who hated peace Ps 120:7 [Vulgate, Ps 119:7] along with salvation, with the Lord’s help Mk 16:20 wholeheartedly embraced peace. They became themselves children of peace, Lk 10:6 now rivals for eternal salvation.[63]

The surprising novelty of Francis’ Christian proclamation was therefore not so much in the formula, “may the Lord give you peace”, which had never been heard before, but above all in the general theme placed at the centre of people’s attention. Therefore, it can be considered that, together with penance, peace constituted the central content of his preaching.[64] The proclamation of peace, as the point of arrival and the fruit of the path of penance, was the novelty that touched the hearts of the people, so much so that it drove the hearers to conversion in order to become “children of peace”. Celano, moreover, offers an even more important piece of information: it was thanks to this announcement of peace that some decided to join Francis. The following text is the account of the arrival of the first two “sons of peace”:

Among these there was a man from Assisi with a holy and simple character, who was the first to follow devoutly the man of God. After him, brother Bernard, embracing the delegation of peace, Lk 14:32 eagerly ran after the holy man of God to gain the kingdom of heaven.[65]

In Francis, the two first disciples, the anonymous citizen of Assisi and Bernard, had met a man of peace, or rather a man who had discovered the way to peace through repositioning himself in society, abandoning every medieval logic of power and therefore of violence, to place himself on the margins, in solidarity with the poor, becoming a brother of mercy. They were not therefore attracted by ascetic “penance” or by rancorous pauperism against all forms of selfish wealth, but by the peace of Francis’ heart, by that joy of being a brother and no longer a competitor or rival.

Becoming brothers with “Brother Francis” meant becoming “sons of peace”, witnessing it first of all in their relationships. The circular structure of their relationships, based on the mutual subjection desired by Francis for the first community,[66] constituted the birth of a society of peace. Men who came from very different social backgrounds, fighting each other even violently, came together to create a “fraternity” in whose relationships and laws the statute of true peace could emerge.[67] The Lord revealed to Francis that greeting in which to condense the good news of the possibility of peace, and his brothers were to become heralds of this novelty first with their fraternal life, as proof of the possibility of a society of peace, then with the courageous and humble proclamation of this news to a world so lacerated by war and violence.

Behind that memory of the greeting of peace, placed at the end of the series of his autobiographical recollections, Francis does not refer, therefore, only to a simple formula that had made an impression in those times for its novelty and strangeness, but refers to a much broader and more radical “revelation” linked to peace of heart, that which he encountered with the lepers, perceived by his first companions as the seductive element that drew them to remain with him, and which became for the whole group the theme of their announcement in preaching. The formula constituted the verbal point of arrival of an existential and Christian revelation, decisive for the first group of companions: to choose minority and poverty lived in fraternity not to announce the punishment of God from which to escape through penance, but to proclaim what is the way to peace of heart and thus become heralds of peace against all forms of violence and divisions inherent in the spirit of domination and power.[68]

The memory of this ancient greeting, used in the first fraternity, does not seem to give rise, however, in the Testament, to an exhortatory admonition addressed to the brothers for their present situation, as instead was found in the previous four recollections. In other words, there is no parallel admonitory text in the Testament, as we have seen in the synoptic overview proposed above, which is the consequence of that memory of the greeting of peace. In spite of this, I believe we can consider that the conclusion linked to the desire for peace constitutes the definitive and radical admonition, implicit but very strong, left to his brothers in the Testament. Francis did not intend by that remembrance simply to exhort his brothers to continue or resume the use of that greeting. It was probably still in vogue in their preaching or in the contacts they had with the people. Proposing perhaps a somewhat psychological-spiritual interpretation, I believe that in the final greeting centred on peace the Saint reminds his Order of the fundamental commitment of its vocation: to be a reason for peace in the world. But this mission could only be fulfilled and realised by ideally and actively returning to those constituent elements of the first fraternity mentioned above. Only a fraternity that was poor and simple in its forms of life, capable of remaining subservient and without intellectual power, sharing the lot of the poor through manual labour and the use, when necessary, of questing, could be credible in its proclamation of peace; only an Order that resembled the fundamental elements of the primitive fraternity could be an instrument of peace for the world. Thanks to the evolution towards a pastorally efficient and legally secure structure, the Order would have obtained more evident and immediate results, but it would not have been able, perhaps, to give that evangelical peace based on the inversion of values: “what seemed bitter to me was transformed into sweetness of soul and body”.

3. Conclusion

The analysis of the recollections of Francis entrusted to his brothers in the Testament confirms, it seems to me, their essential dialogical-admonitory nature in relation to the current situation of the Order. The Saint’s objective was not above all to offer a purely historical memory of the glorious beginnings, so as not to make them forgotten or to transform them into a reason for glory for posterity. The areas of life of the primitive community recalled by Francis, with the characterisations we have heard, are not simply linked to a desire to reconstruct the past, but to a desire and an urgency to dialogue with the present.[69] This explains in the first place why Francis left out many aspects that we would have liked to hear. Thus, for example, the Saint says nothing about the quality of fraternal relationships within the primitive community, nor of the external evolutionary moments of this experience, nor does he report any news about his personal life, telling, for example, about his journey to the Holy Land or the mystical experience of the stigmata, nor, finally, does he spend a single word on the story of Clare and her sisters. The memory of the experience of the primitive community is aroused and guided (influenced) by the need to confront the questions of the present, on which a discussion had long been raised among the friars. Therefore, the first piece of information that the series of recollections provides concerns the situation of the Order in the years 1220-1226, revealing a fraternity that is no longer the same as at the beginning. Its evolution and expansion, so much so that it had become an Order, had already provoked new choices to adapt the “life according to the form of the holy Gospel” to the new pastoral and intellectual needs.

It is with this situation that Francis wanted and had to dialogue in order to arrive at strong and resolute demands addressed to the brothers, so that they would make pertinent choices on some nodal points of their existence. In order to achieve this end, Francis offers the ideal reference constituted not by a written law, but by a foundational experience: the revelation made to him by the Most High Himself had become concrete in precise forms in the primitive fraternity that still represented for the Saint the yardstick and the criterion of judgement on the present.

This dialogue-admonitory operation undoubtedly limits and conditions the memory of Francis. However, the historical data provided remain valuable information, albeit in some ways vague and scarce, on the life of the primitive fraternity that gathered around him and that together with him progressively organised in concrete forms the revelation of living according to the form of the Holy Gospel. From the fleeting clues offered by Francis we can deduce the presence in the first fraternity of a spirit of openness to all those who wanted to join their life, asking them to renounce all possessions in order to enter into the joy of the heart and into solidarity and sharing with the world of the poor of the time. The fraternity recalled by Francis was a fraternity among the people, with whom he shared the humiliation of subjection to the powerful, the toil of daily work and the use of questing in times of extreme need, and to whom, however, precisely because of this sharing, he could give a word of hope such as peace. They had chosen and lived a form of marginality, outside the religious power relations of the time and found amongst the poor and the most marginalised, to implement again the path of the abasement and spoliation of Christ, making his Gospel their form of life. Francis must have spoken of all this to Pope Innocent III, so that he could confirm that this was God’s revelation to him of the way of life to be led with his companions.

II. Information from biographical sources

To ask the biographical sources for information about the primitive community gathered around Francis and with him probably went to Rome to see the Lord Pope, means entering a forest of many pieces of information that are difficult to reduce to a precise and harmonious order. Among other things, the various pieces of information that can be deduced from the texts should be constantly placed in the historical context that gave rise to that biography and understood in relation to the author’s objectives. This would be too extensive and demanding a task for an investigation that would simply sift through and complete the information offered to us by Francis himself.

To help us, to thin the wood, or rather to find a path that leads more quickly among the many textual possibilities, comes to our aid a large passage of the First Life of Celano where the biographer, in nos. 38-41, gives an accurate description of the primitive minoritic community. Before dealing with its content, it is necessary to carry out a preliminary double analysis: to establish its role and value in the context of the Celano legend and also to see what influence it had on later works, in particular the De inceptione and the Legend of the three companions.

1. First Life of Celano 38-41 a strategic text? Preliminary questions

a) The bibliographical situation

The historiographical value of the First Life of Thomas for the reconstruction of the history of Francis of Assisi and his spiritual experience is now recognised by all. It is to Raimondo Michetti’s credit that he fearlessly confronted “the historiography of suspicion”, which developed after Paul Sabatier with regard to the first biographical work of Celano, and that he recovered an almost “forgotten” text.[70] This critical operation was carried out by the scholar using a method of analysis aimed at finally overcoming the fragmented use that Celano’s text has undergone throughout history: the First Life has often been used as a quarry from which to extract material for a new placement within a previously elaborated project; Michetti, instead, wanted to put back at the centre a global reading to enucleate the entire logic of the work and thus better understand the value of the individual passages.[71]

In my opinion this is the only valid method to arrive at more effective historical data and also respectful towards a text that should always be considered as an organic whole. It is precisely this methodological premise that has guided the analysis that I have carried out on the conversion of Francis according to the narrative proposed by the seven narratives of the very first biographies on the Saint of Assisi, an analysis based on the firm conviction that only a structural and synoptic reading, despite its commitment and laboriousness, allows one to enter into the narrative dynamics that bind and differentiate the individual hagiographic works.[72]

Faced with the methodological premises enunciated by Michetti, one is then a little surprised to see this scholar almost ignore the structural and content value of nos. 38-41 of the First Life of Celano.[73] It is clear that the author could not deal with a broad and systematic reading of the entire work, but he should, in my opinion, have devoted more space to these “strategic” texts in the general dynamics of the presentation of Celano’s identity of the first group of lesser brothers. Dealing, in chapter IV of his volume, with the description made by Celano in chapters XV-XIX and entitling that chapter “A New Saint”,[74] after examining the journey to Rome with his companions[75] and before outlining their missionary activity “in the world”,[76] Michetti devotes the third paragraph to the examination of our numbers, focusing on Celano’s opening expression of nos. 38-41 and making it the title of the paragraph: “I want this fraternity to be called the Order of Lesser Brothers”.[77] The author rightly notes that, in the structural logic of the wider context, Celano in those numbers “continues and completes that representation, ideal and polemical at the same time, which he had begun to sketch during the journey to the Spoleto Valley” on his return from Rome.[78] Bearing in mind the continuous link between the information on the primitive fraternity provided by Celano and the statements of Francis present in the Testament and the Rule, Michetti comes to an important conclusion: in nos. 38-41 Celano wanted to present “a specific and peculiar minoritic spirituality”[79] and thus draw up for the whole Order a “programmatic manifesto on the essence of minority that makes the memory of the origins a warning and an exhortation for the friars of his day”.[80] The conclusions drawn by the scholar have only two flaws, related to a double shortcoming: the first is the almost total absence of careful analysis on the extensive and demanding material, limiting himself instead to a very brief and succinct scouring of information, the second is the lack of a continuous comparison with what the two subsequent hagiographers report on the same subject, a parallel that instead constitutes, in my opinion, the counterproof of the “historiographic” value of the texts of Celano in reconstructing the physiognomy of the “fraternitas” of the beginnings.

b) The structural position of nos. 38-41

Before entering into a detailed reading of nos. 38-41 it will be necessary to go back over the compositional logic in which they have been placed within the First Life.[81] Their broader context is represented by the account of the beginnings of the fraternity, an event that begins with the arrival of the first companions, attracted by the preaching of Francis (n. 23), and ends when the group takes up a fixed abode first at Rivotorto and immediately afterwards at the Portiuncula and from there begin their missionary activity (42-44). Therefore, texts 23-41 contain, in Celano’s intentions, the account of the fundamental stages of the birth and establishment of the first group. The development proposed by Celano in the block identified here seems to be able to be divided, in turn, into two sections: a) the birth and official confirmation of the fraternity (23-33) b) the search for and determination of the primitive identity of the group (34-41). For a more careful articulation of the internal contents of the two moments the following can be proposed:

Birth and official confirmation of the fraternity: 23-33
Chap. X, nn. 23-25: After listening personally to the Gospel, Francis begins an apostolic activity that attracts around him the first companions.

Chap. XI, nn. 26-28: To the first eight companions, the Saint prophetically announces a glorious growth in numbers and in their works.

Chap. XII, nn. 29-31: Heartened, they are sent out to preach and this will be followed by the arrival of another four companions.

Chapter XIII, Nos. 32-33: The group of 12 decides to go to Rome for confirmation.

Formation of the first identity of the fraternity: 34-41
Chap. XIV-XV, nn: 34-37: On the return from Rome the first questions and fundamental answers about their identity arise: the choice of poverty and preaching; Francis as model of preacher and his effectiveness (36-37).

Chap. XV, nn: 38-41: The constitutive characteristics of the primitive fraternity desired by Francis and lived with his first companions.

In the narrative process there seems to emerge a precise desire on the part of Thomas to distinguish clearly between the facts which gave rise to the first group, a process which had its point of arrival in the journey to Rome, and the questions of identity of the group itself which had to be faced later. Only after the small group had become an entity officially recognised by the Church did Thomas move on to establish the constituent identity elements of his form of life. It could be said, then, that in this process we find the same structure that emerged in the Testament, where Francis proposes a similar order of events: firstly, the saint succinctly recounts the arrival of the first companions and their recognition by the Pope, and then goes on to describe the identity and lifestyle that characterised their life together. Thus, the distinction between the two moments in the fabric of Celano highlights the great value Thomas assigned to the question of identity, an aspect he addressed and resolved after the pope’s confirmation.

The narrative intentions pursued by Thomas in the whole of the second section, that is in nos. 34-41, is revealed in the account at the very beginning of n. 34 of the return journey from Rome of the “new disciples of Christ”. By the time they had arrived in the Valley of Spoleto, the friars were obliged to face a fundamental question that was to become the thematic focus of the following numbers:

How could they carry out his advice and commands? How could they sincerely keep the rule they had accepted and steadfastly safeguard it? How could they walk before the Most High in all holiness and religion? Finally, how could their life and conduct, by growth in the holy virtues, be an example to their neighbors?[82]

It was therefore a question of combining the ideal with precise choices of life, it was a question of making the ideal real, that is, of giving flesh to the spirit given by God to Francis and his followers. As has already been shown in the structure proposed above, there are two moments offered by Celano in the search for an answer on the part of the primitive community: in nos. 34-37, in which there is a formative dynamic of the discovery of two fundamental solutions to their identity as a group, and then in nos. 38-41, in which Celano, almost in a systematic way, outlines the general characteristics of their self-awareness.

The first series of answers to these basic questions, placed at the beginning of the narrative block 34-41, concern two themes that are, so to speak, decisive: poverty and apostolic activity. In proposing the solutions adopted, Celano in nos. 34-37 wants to present and narrate the process that led the friars to particular options. The first was the unexpected gift of bread offered to them by a man in a place that “was far removed from people’s homes”,[83] while hungry and tired when returning from Rome. To this was added the help they received from the people of Orte where the friars, during the 15 days they stopped in that city on their way back to Assisi, had asked for alms from door to door.[84] With experience of poverty, in which they experienced divine providence, the friars “began to have commerce with holy poverty” deciding “to adhere to the way they were in that place always and everywhere”.[85] And so the first fundamental life choice was made:

Only divine consolation delighted them, having put aside all their cares 1 Pt 5:7 about earthly things. They decided and resolved that even if buffeted by tribulations and driven by temptations they would not withdraw from its embrace Eccl 3:5.[86]

The second area in which the brothers had to interrogate themselves on their return journey was the question of their presence in the world, that is, whether they should retire to a hermitage or dedicate themselves to preaching. Celano takes care to point out that the answer was found not by the brothers together, but by Francis himself, inspired by God:

Saint Francis did not put his trust in his own efforts, but with holy prayer coming before any decision, he chose not to live for himself Ps 88:14 [Vulgate, Ps 87:14] alone, but for the one who died for all. 2 Cor 5:15 For he knew that he was sent for this: to win for God souls which the devil was trying to snatch away.[87]

The importance of this decision emerges not only from the revelatory solemnity from which it derives, but also from the two subsequent issues centred on Francis and his activity as a proclaimer of the word. “Francis, the bravest soldier of Christ”, made firm by the authorisation of Rome after that revelation, had made the proclamation of the word the fundamental aspect of his mission. The power of his proclamation touched the hearts of all the people, bringing about a profound renewal of the consciences of those who came to him.[88] The exaltation of his preaching activity, linked to the idea of the soldier of Christ fighting against evil, reaches its peak when Celano applies to Francis important biblical images of an apocalyptic type, recognising in him an eschatological figure:

He gleamed like a shining star in the darkness of night Sir 50:6 and like the morning spread over Jl 2:2 the darkness. Thus, in a short time, the appearance of the entire region was changed and, once rid of its earlier ugliness, it revealed a happier expression everywhere.[89]

In the salvific role assigned to Francis, in favour of the regions touched by his preaching, Thomas undoubtedly takes up the figure used by Gregory IX in his bull of canonisation of 10 July 1228 entitled “Mira circa vos“, where the Saint in addition to being defined as another Samson who with the donkey’s jaw of the word overwhelmed many thousands of Philistines, was compared to the morning star, the moon and the sun for the effectiveness of his preaching for the benefit of the whole Church.[90] The biographer therefore adheres completely to the programme drawn up by Gregory IX in the bull, where Francis was presented not only to the whole Church but also to his brothers as a model of preaching for the conversion of the world. The choice revealed by God to the Saint at the beginning and his fervent activity as a preacher constituted for Thomas not only the confirmation of what the pope had said in the bull, but also the call to the brothers not to shirk this task: as well as their fidelity to their choice of poverty they had to continue this work of proclamation to the whole world. It is within this context that we must understand nos. 36-37 of Thomas, where the eschatological novelty of Francis for the whole church is presented.[91]

Nevertheless, it seems misleading to me to believe, as Michetti suggests, that Thomas in nos. 34-37 wanted above all to propose Francis as “A New Saint”, the title given, as we have seen, to the entire fourth chapter of his work. Although in nos. 36-37 the figure of the Saint is placed in the foreground, the fact remains that the entire section of nos. 34-41 is centred on fraternity and the need to find and fix its identity. Preaching was undoubtedly an important aspect and the insertion of the figure of Francis as a “strong soldier of Christ” in the proclamation of the word was not the main theme, but only the definitive proof of a choice that could not be renounced. The introduction in nos. 36-37, therefore, of the exceptional nature of Francis as a great announcer of the word is only functional in confirming the certain choice made from the beginning by the first friars on the decisive value of the proclamation of the word of God. I believe then that the whole section should not be entitled “A new saint”, but rather “A new fraternity”.

The two identity themes discovered and chosen by the primitive fraternity, presented in nos. 34-37, introduce the biographer to the systematic treatment of the constituent elements of the first group of brothers gathered around Francis and who had found in him the master of life. In addition to the alliance with poverty and the decisive choice of preaching, the fraternity had discovered and lived a pluriform awareness of which, Celano explicitly notes, the moment had come to speak as the conclusion of an itinerary of maturation of identity. The opening and closing of nos. 38-41 reveal, without a shadow of a doubt, the compositional objective of Thomas, that is, to offer the reader an all-round depiction of the nature of the minoritic fraternity. The beginning of the series of numbers is precise in revealing this aim:

But the subject at hand is primarily the Order that he accepted and retained as much out of love as out of profession.[92]

And in the texts that follow, the different characteristics of the life of the brothers are proposed in a succinct but also precise way: minority/simplicity, charity, obedience, poverty, work, patience, prayer, penance-asceticism, going out into the world. While postponing the analysis of these aspects, a general aspect that strikes one, in the description given by Thomas, is the absence of clericalization and conventualisation in the young fraternity; the elements proposed in the Celano texts reveal a group of brothers who lived “on the road” leading a life very similar to the poor of the time and not to the religious of the great orders.

The closure of nos. 38-41 confirms the editorial project that was being pursued:

These are the lessons by which the devoted father instructed his new sons not so much in words and speech but in deed and truth 1 Jn 3:18.[93]

In his treatment, Celano concludes, he had wanted to put together the “documenta“, that is, the fundamental principles pursued by Francis in “forming” his new sons. However, although Francis is introduced at the end as the formator of his brothers, it is striking to read the various texts in which his figure is in fact absent: never in the presentation of the different characteristics of life does Francis recur as a teacher who gives indications or exhortations, choosing and pointing out to his brothers the way of life to be undertaken. The verbs are never in the third person singular with the subject “Francis”, but always in the third plural with the subject represented by the whole group of friars. The narrative formula certainly refers back to the “we” used by Francis in the Testament, where there emerged a communal and shared choice of concrete forms to be taken and pursued. As in that text, also in the presentation of Thomas, the figure of the Saint seems to be diluted in the group, as an entity of an “us” that seeks and discovers its own identity in minority. I believe that one can even advance a possible redactional history between the two short opening and closing passages and the rest of the entire narrative on the fraternity: this is assumed in an autonomous form perhaps from a narration of some first companion who spoke with the “we” also used by Francis in the Testament; to this ample and ancient narrative Celano adds the two short initial and final considerations with which, making the Saint explicitly the guide and master of the group, gives those ancient memories an ideal and foundational reference value for the development of the whole Order.

c) Comparison with the Anonymous of Perugia and the Legend of the Three Companions

In my opinion, understanding Celano’s text also requires a comparative reading with the biographies that followed his work. A comparison with the two legends that followed Celano’s work by about ten years, represented by the Anonymous of Perugia’s De inceptione and the Legend of the Three Companions, will highlight the narrative peculiarities possessed by the recollections transmitted by Celano on the life of the primitive community. Such a comparison is also made possible by an important consideration, which makes the two legends directly relatable and comparable with the First Life of Celano regarding the narrative material on the beginning of the fraternity. It is possible, in fact, to glimpse even in the two subsequent legends a large passage dedicated to the description of the primitive community, a treatment that would seem to be placed, on the one hand, in structural continuity with Celano and on the other in a break with the information on the life of the first group gathered around Francis. We will return to the content in the analysis of the various aspects of identity, but now it is important to note the similar structural role, in reference to Celano, assigned by the two legends to the passages in which the community is described at its beginning. In this attempt at structural comparison, we will only examine the text of the Anonymous of Perugia, since the Legend of the Three Companions, a text datable to around 1246, that is, only a few years after the Anonymous, faithfully repeats not only the compositional logic of that work but also often the verbal formulation itself.

For the Anonymous of Perugia, the birth of the primitive fraternity has two narrative points of reference: it begins with the arrival of the first companions (n. 10) and ends with the journey to Rome where the pope confirms their life, giving them permission to preach to the people (n. 36). The stages that mark the formative journey of the primitive community are placed within the two moments and can be outlined as follows:

10-13: The arrival of the first two friars (3Comp. 27-30).

14-17: Settlement at the Portiuncula with the consequent consolidation and enlargement of the group despite the many oppositions from their fellow citizens (3Comp. 32-35).

18-24: The missionary activity, with its difficulties, but also the establishment of the reputation of the first friars in those regions (3Comp. 36-41).

25-30: The way of life of the brothers as the identity of their fraternal life (3Comp. 41-45).

31-36: The journey to Rome for the confirmation of their life with the mandate to preach (3Comp. 46-53).

The placement of the papal confirmation at the end of the organisational journey, besides constituting an important difference with Celano, determines a new logic in the historical process of the community’s identity formation. It can be said that the group going to Rome has already identified and proved its identity; the meeting with the pope will only have to confirm what has already happened. First of all, the first group, composed of brother Bernard and brother Peter,[94] needs not only a visibility through the habit, the same as that of Francis, but also a place of life, found at the Portiuncula where “they built a small dwelling where they all lived together”;[95] the stability of the dwelling constituted a first and fundamental element of the identity of the group to be fixed immediately in the place symbolic of the beginnings. In the subsequent texts dedicated to the lifestyle of the primitive community, the role of that “small dwelling” as a friary that ensured from the beginning a “conventual” life for the group of the first friars often returns.[96] It is clear that all this is in contrast to what Celano tells us, which places the choice of a fixed place, also identified for the first biographer as the Portiuncula, at the end of a formative process of the original community.[97]

The second aspect, discovered and fixed by the first group according to the Anonymous account, is the intuition of the missionary mandate of preaching. What Celano refers to as having been elaborated immediately after the return from Rome, for the Anonymous constitutes instead a revelation that took place from the beginning; however, the contents of the narrative correspond, in substance, to the revelation reported in the Celano account of the essentiality of the fraternal dimension linked to mission:

And calling together his six brothers in the woods next to the church of Saint Mary of the Portiuncula where they often went to pray, he told them: “My dear brothers, let us consider our calling because God has mercifully called us not only for our own good but also for the salvation of many. Therefore, let us go through the world, encouraging and teaching men and women by word and example to do penance for their sins and to remember the Lord’s commandments, which they have forgotten for such a long time.”[98]

This intuition of identity is immediately followed by the sending of the brothers on mission. The following numbers, that is, those from 19 to 24, are an extensive description of “the persecutions which the brothers endured as they went throughout the world”,[99] proposing it as a sure proof of how important and decisive this choice was for the primitive community. In some way, the whole question of the choice of preaching and the consequent mission is closely parallel to what we saw in Celano, who, after discovering the mandate to be among the people to proclaim the word, used the example of Francis as proof. The narrative logic is similar, except that the Anonymous, to confirm the importance of this missionary choice, takes as an example not Francis but the entire group, recounting the wonders worked by their poor and humble preaching. The conclusions reached by the two groups of texts are, however, the same: both for the preaching of Francis (according to the account of Celano), as for that of the friars (according to the account of the Anonymous) many people recognised the newness of salvation announced by them and asked to remain with them always.[100]

To this second element of the formation of the group’s identity the Anonymous adds a third aspect, linked to the quality of the internal life lived by the friars (25-30). Concluding the account of the missionary commitment and narrating the return of the brothers “to Saint Mary of the Portiuncula”,[101] the Anonymous begins a long description of the characteristics of their being together in that place, focusing on the following aspects: prayer and work (25, 1-3), mutual love (25,4 – 27,3) and poverty (27,4 – 30,14). Although much more limited than the elements treated by Celano in describing the characteristic choices of the primitive community, on the whole these texts of the Anonymous correspond, in their narrative objectives, though not in their content, to those of Thomas in specifying the internal identity of the primitive community.

Therefore, having established the peculiar characteristics of the fraternity, identified in the conventual residence at the Portiuncula, in the missionary choice and its activity and in a common life connected to precise distinctive elements, the group has a well-defined self-awareness that can be presented to Rome for ratification and definitive confirmation (n. 31).

If this interpretation of the narrative logic given by the Anonymous to a material similar to that of Celano, but placed within a different organisation and development, is true, a double conclusion can be reached, deriving from a comparison between the two legends. On the one hand it is necessary to highlight a twofold structural difference: the first one concerns the placement of the choice of residence at the Portiuncula at the end of a journey for the Celano, while for the Anonymous at the beginning, as the first stage of the identity development; the second difference is to be placed in the position assigned to the journey to Rome, seen by Celano as the initial stage of an identity process, by the Anonymous of Perugia, instead, as the arrival point of the same path.[102] On the other hand, despite these structural differences, the two legends agree in offering the reader identity texts on the primitive fraternity, to propose them as a reference for the life of the Order: the First Life of Celano 38-41 and the Anonymous of Perugia 25-30 (which is flanked by structural and textual continuity with the Three Companions 41-45). It is on this material that we must now focus our attention to listen to the distinctive features of the life led by that first group of friars gathered around Francis and who went to Rome with him to see the Lord Pope.

2. The identity characteristics of the primitive fraternity

In terms of method, we must necessarily focus on Celano’s textuality in order to compare it, where possible, with the reinterpretation made a few years later by the Anonymous legend. Anticipating one of the most important conclusions to be reached, the analysis will confirm the impression of an ancient material used by Celano, made up of memories very close to those of the Testament and probably linked to witnesses of the first beginnings; whereas on the part of the Anonymous, it would seem to witness to a transformation of the memories, much more influenced by the situation at his time, and which projects onto the initial situation a quality of life and a series of choices that are difficult to imagine and justify at the beginning of that experience.

In the structure of the two traditions, the Celano account is marked by greater articulation and richness, in contrast to that of the Anonymous, which presents a text with a simpler content and less problematic at the historical-critical level. Briefly, Celano divides the description of the primitive community into two parts, presenting first the basic principles of the experience of the first friars and then the particular aspects:

1. Founding principles
a) Minority (38,2-4)
b) Fraternal charity (38, 5 – 39, 3)
– Affection (38,6-8)
– Sharing (39:1-2)
– Obedience (39:3-4)

2. Explanatory aspects
a) Poverty (39,5-9)
b) Work (39:10-11)
c) Patience (40:1-2)
d) Prayer (40:3 – 41:1)
– Uninterrupted
– Asceticism
e) Subjects in the world (41:2-5)

The placement of the theme of minority and charity as the foundation of the next five themes emerges from the relationship Celano places between the two values, compared respectively to the foundations (minority) and to the construction of the spiritual building (charity).[103] Celano then devotes more space to charity, exploring three related aspects: the affection between the brothers, the spirit of sharing that animated them and mutual obedience. The next five themes, on the other hand, can be considered a specification of the life led in that building made by charity and founded on minority. The first element examined is poverty, an external qualification that is decisive for the visibility of the brothers; the development of the subsequent themes, on the other hand, proceeds by means of a play on word hooks. The description of poverty is concluded by Celano with the account of the difficulties encountered by the brothers in the search, at times, of a shelter for the night; the temporal notation prepares the next theme of work by moving from yet another indication of time: “During the day those who knew how worked with their own hands”.[104] The same procedure applies to the word “patience” which closes the description of the work, thus anticipating what will be developed immediately after, focusing on the “virtue of patience”.[105] The same mechanism is recorded for the subsequent theme of prayer through the term “praise”: found at the conclusion of the passage on patience, where it is said that “from their mouths came only the sound of praise and thanksgiving”, it becomes the starting point for the next passage concerning “praying and praising God”.[106] Developing the two characteristics of prayer, lived by the friars in an uninterrupted and strongly ascetic way, Celano obtains the link to move on to the last theme, that of peace and modesty in their going about the world: “In all these things, they sough peace and meekness with all. Always doing what was modest and peaceful”.[107]

In the accounts of the Anonymous of Perugia, however, it is not possible to identify a possible organisational logic of the themes. The basic principle used by the Author seems to be juxtaposition: to the initial theme, represented by manual work and prayer, two aspects that are united and briefly developed (25,2-3), are added the two themes that resolve the identity of the primitive fraternity: brotherly love (25,4 – 27,5) and poverty (28-29). The analysis and comparison of the internal content will highlight not only a reduction of the elements proposed by Celano, but also a particular transformation made by the Anonymous in the general image of the primitive community: very unstructured and itinerant according to Thomas and instead strongly conventual according to the Anonymous.

The analysis of the biographical material will, therefore, have the Celano text as a starting point as the main reference for evaluating and understanding the differences and particularities present in the Anonymous.

a) Minority: 1Cel 38,1-4

But the subject at hand is primarily the Order that he accepted and retained as much out of love as out of profession. What was that Order? He himself originally planted the Order of Lesser Brothers and on the occasion of its founding gave it this name. For when it was written in the Rule, “Let them be lesser . . . ,” at the uttering of this statement, at that same moment he said, “I want this fraternity to be called the Order of Lesser Brothers.”

They were truly lesser who, by being subject to all, always sought the position of contempt, performing duties which they foresaw would be the occasion of some affront. In this way they might merit to be grounded on the solid rock of true humility and to have the well-designed spiritual structure of all the virtues arise in them.

Celano’s positioning of minority as the first and fundamental aspect of the identity of the Order, that is, as the first value instilled in the friars by Francis in his formative work, is extremely valuable. The Saint’s intuition of the name “lesser brothers”, placed historically by Celano in the context of the drafting of chapter VII of the Rnb, where the brothers are commanded to “be the lesser ones”,[108] refers to a basic value of their vocation, to the “foundation” of their essence.[109] It is precisely because of the strength of identity contained in the title of “lesser brothers”[110] that Celano introduces the authoritative figure of Francis, making him take a strong and precise decision: “I want”, he says, “this fraternity to be called the Order of Lesser Brothers”. In this narrative operation, Celano does nothing more than attribute to Francis himself the statement found in the Rnb where we read: “Let no one be called “prior”, but let everyone in general be called a lesser brothers”.[111]

The declination of the identity value of this designation is made by Celano through two specifications: being lesser means that the brothers are “subject to all” so they can “be grounded on the solid rock of true humility”. With regard to the first aspect, that is, subjection to all, Celano continues to quote the text of Rnb in chapter VII, where to the exhortation to the brothers to be lesser, he immediately adds: and that they be “subject to all”.[112] The expression is certainly strategic for the primitive intuition. It recurred, as we have seen, in the Testament, proposed by Francis as a reminder of their initial way of being. Equally important in the primitive textuality is the other aspect, that is humility, seen as an explication and consequence of minority, and, therefore, as the essence of life according to the holy gospel in the following of the Lord.[113]

Beyond doing a detailed analysis of the two terms used by Celano at the basis of the identity of the brothers, it is necessary to conclude that minority and humility refer to a precise self-awareness of the primitive community which, indicated by the use of the two terms, chooses to place itself on the margins of society, rejecting all forms of power. The texts that follow, in which Celano describes the particular choices made at the beginning by the “lesser brothers”, are a concrete and precise articulation of these fundamental values assumed by the friars to place themselves in a new and evangelical way within medieval society.

The Anonymous of Perugia, for his part, completely omits this element, removing all interest in the naming of the friars as a synthetic project of an identity to be achieved. Or perhaps this is not, for the Anonymous, the ideal of the Order to be proposed! In the identity texts offered in the De inceptione the description of the initial group of brothers as marginalised or assimilated to the lesser ones of that society never emerges. Being subordinate and humble, or at least what we read in De Inceptione, did not seem to imply that the brothers at the beginning lived like the other poor, living among them and without any rights.

b) Fraternal charity: 1Cel. 38,5-39,4

38Yes, the noble building of charity rises upon the foundation Eph 2:20 of perseverance;
and in it living stones, 1 Pt 2:5gathered from every part of the world, have been built into a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Eph 2:22
a) Affection
What a great flame of charity burned in the new disciples of Christ! What great love of devout company flourished in them! When they all gathered somewhere or met each other on the road (which frequently happened), in that place a shoot of spiritual love sprang up,
scattering over all love the seeds of real delight. What more can I say? There were chaste embraces, delightful affection, a holy kiss, sweet conversation, modest laughter, joyful looks, a clear eye, Mt 6:22 a supple spirit, a peaceable tongue, a mild answer, a single purpose, prompt obedience, and untiring hands.
b) Sharing
39 Since they looked down on all earthly things and never loved themselves selfishly, they poured out all their loving affection in common, hiring themselves out for wages to provide for their brothers’ needs. They gathered together out of desire and were delighted to stay together; but they found being apart a burden, parting bitter, and separation hard.
c) Obedience
But these obedient soldiers never dared to put anything before the orders of obedience: before the word of obedience was uttered, they prepared themselves to carry out the order. They almost ran headlong to carry out what they were asked with no thought of contradicting it, knowing nothing about distinguishing precepts.

We have already alluded to the logic underlying the close relationship between minority and fraternal charity posed by Celano: on the foundation of the first, the second is raised. Minority, before being a way of relating to society and placing oneself within it, had produced an evangelical relationship among the brothers themselves, identified in mutual charity. The verification of how the choice of minority led the primitive fraternity to build the house of charity is articulated by Thomas in three points.

The first level is placed in the feelings of affection nurtured by the brothers for each other: all the exclamations that characterise verses 6-8 of number 38 constitute the literary translation of a vision that is perhaps a little idyllic of the beginnings, characterised by the kindness and human agreeableness of the brothers, but also filled with a Christian value central to the experience of the beginnings. For the Anonymous of Perugia, too, charity was a central aspect of their identity. The opening of the two large numbers devoted by the De inceptione to this theme is very effective, as the Anonymous notes: “They loved one another from the heart and each one served and took care of the other, as a mother serves and cares for her son”.[114] The polychromatic description of the affectionate feelings of the friars proposed by Celano acquires in the image of the mother and her love for her son, introduced by the Anonymous, the most effective and decisive explication, also because it clearly takes up the strategic figure used by Francis, in particular in chapter VI of the Rb, to describe to his brothers what their fraternal relationship should be.

In the fundamental continuity of apologetic objectives, aimed at exalting the feelings of affection that bound the first friars, one glimpses, however, a first indication of a significant difference between the two narrative sources. Celano, in depicting the affection between the friars, refers to the joy they felt when they “met each other on the road, in that place a shoot of spiritual love sprang up”; this notation seems to me to be connected to a situation of strong itinerancy of the friars, highlighted precisely by the randomness of their encounters, to which Celano refers to praise the feelings of joy expressed in those moments. The Anonymous recounts something similar but changes the basic situation in which the friars move. To exalt their mutual love, the biographer states that they would have been willing to give their lives for each other. This is confirmed by the episode of two brothers who defended each other, shielding each other with their bodies, when they were stoned when “walking along a road”.[115] The friars of the Anonymous move in pairs and have a precise route, that is, they no longer seem as itinerant as those of Celano. But we will have further evidence of this in later texts.

The other aspect of the friars’ charity proposed by Celano is the spirit of sharing (vs. 39,1-2). The object shared between the brothers is for Celano well identified: “they poured out all their loving affection in common”. The only thing they possessed was affection and love, preciousness shared and given to each other without hesitation. In the Anonymous of Perugia, one senses that the sharing between the friars took place on more concrete objects:

Whatever they had, a book or a tunic, was used in common and no one called anything his own, just as it was done in the primitive church of the Apostles. Acts 4:32 Although extreme poverty abounded in them, they were always generous, and spontaneously shared the alms given them with all who asked for the love of God.[116]

The Anonymous projects onto that primitive fraternity the situation that followed, when in addition to the tunic, the brothers already possessed books, which became a small possession of individuals and were difficult to share with others. This object, which had become necessary for pastoral and cultural activity, was a real embarrassment, not only because of its monetary value, but also because of its necessary personal use; in the books were condensed two risks for the friars: the loss of poverty and the possession of goods.[117] Attributing the presence of the books among the brothers already at the time of the primitive community, while praising their total sharing, meant that the Anonymous was carrying out a double operation: on the one hand to justify their use in subsequent generations, but on the other hand to remind the brothers how important it was to share them so as not to make them a private possession that would break the vow of poverty.

Absent as a problem in Celano, in the texts of the Anonymous seeking alms seems to be a fixed presence in the life of the friars, so obvious that it had to be shared with the other poor. Lying below this recollection provided by the Anonymous there was an increasingly strong issue in the development of the Order, that of the accumulation of goods in the friaries, which on the one hand had become necessary for the sustenance of an ever-increasing number of friars but on the other hand endangered fidelity to poverty. Alms, therefore, had to be regulated and in any case shared with other poor people, so that they did not become a betrayal of their own identity. It is clear that the Anonymous, by applying to the primitive community elements that were impossible in those initial conditions, but only later became established in the Order, is dialoguing with his contemporary situation to call it back to a fidelity that mediates between radical pauperism, impossible for the new conditions of the Order, and the excessive accumulation of goods typical of the great Orders of the time: the example of the life of the primitive community was the parameter to measure fidelity to a minoritic identity. There is therefore an undoubted difference in historical perspective between Celano and the Anonymous in their accounts of the sharing of the friars: the former is linked to an ancient memory, while the latter is in dialogue with his contemporary situation.

The third aspect connected to the charity of fraternal living is represented by mutual obedience (vs. 39,3-4). The relationship, posed by Celano, between the two virtues (charity and obedience), where the first is the general environment in which to live the second, constitutes a precise confirmation of an emblematic and perhaps innovative datum of Francis’ intuition and experience. Contrary to the Benedictine tradition, which linked obedience to the virtue of humility, making humility the first step to obtain this virtue,[118] Francis instead relates obedience to charity. A decisive text in this sense is the Praises of the Virtues, where the pairs established by the Saint are: “Lady holy Charity, may the Lord protect You, with Your Sister, holy Obedience” and “Lady holy Poverty, may the Lord protect You, with Your Sister, holy Humility”.[119] This correlation, reiterated by Celano, is also confirmed by the Anonymous, who, dealing with fraternal charity, inserts the following text:

They were rooted and founded in love and humility, and one would respect the other as if he were his master. Whoever among them excelled because of a position or gifts of grace, seemed even more humble and self-effacing than the others.

They all dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to obedience: the moment the one giving an order opened his mouth, their feet were ready to go, their hands set to carry it out. Whatever they were ordered, they considered to be to the Lord’s will. Thus it was pleasant and easy for them to fulfill everything.[120]

The only aspect of the Anonymous that should be emphasised, as an indication of a relationship with a situation somewhat different from that of the primitive fraternity, but more in line with the later developments of the Order, is represented by the hierarchical division in the text: it speaks of a difference in “office” between the brothers, lived through an attitude of profound reciprocal humility. This clue does not, however, emerge in the text of Celano, in which equality among the brothers would seem to be the basic condition of a group not yet divided by hierarchical “offices”.

c) Poverty: 1Cel. 39,5-9

As followers of most holy poverty, since they had nothing, they loved nothing; so they feared losing nothing. They were satisfied with a single tunic, often patched both inside and out. Nothing about it was refined, rather it appeared lowly and rough so that in it they seemed completely crucified to the world. Gal 6:14 They wore crude trousers with a cord for a belt. They held firmly to the holy intention of remaining this way and having nothing more. So they were safe wherever they went. Disturbed by no fears, distracted by no cares, they awaited the next day without any worry. Though frequently on hazardous journeys, they were not anxious about where they might stay the next day. Often they needed a place to stay in extreme cold, and a baker’s oven would receive them; or they would hide for the night humbly in caves or crypts.

Having established the two foundations of the identity of the primitive group, Celano, as we have already noted in presenting the structure of our numbers, goes on to describe some particular aspects of this choice of life, in which the choice of minority and charity takes shape. The first element could only be poverty. Two elements present in the first verse of the text should be noted in advance. The passage opens with an explicit quotation from a passage in the fifth chapter of Rb, where the brothers are defined as “followers of most holy poverty”;[121] in his description of the primitive fraternity this is the only time Celano quotes the second Rule, while he constantly uses the first Rule and the Testament.

The second observation on the opening verse concerns the general qualification of poverty, presented essentially as freedom from and the absence in the brothers of the fear of losing something. This situation of interior freedom was expressed and made visible in the primitive community, according to Celano, in two aspects: in the way the brothers dressed and in their being without a fixed abode. Regarding the first characterisation of poverty, Celano makes ample use of the information in the Testament of Francis, taking up not only the description of the poverty of their habit but also the feelings of joy for the little they had. Celano found in the Saint’s account the essential information for the reconstruction of the fundamental elements of that primitive situation. The second particularity in which the freedom gained by the friars through poverty was expressed was the lack of a fixed abode, or rather, the condition of itinerancy, deprived of safe and fixed places. A sure sign of this “homeless” condition was the risk they often ran of not finding a shelter for the night. Celano’s description undoubtedly reconstructs, perhaps with some exaggeration, the situation of the earliest days, when the friars shared the insecurity of living with the poor and those who lived along the road: often on the move, trusting in providence and using the makeshift places of the other wretches of the time. I believe that Celano is describing here that situation of outcasts, at the mercy of events and in total insecurity of dwelling (so much so that they are sometimes assimilated and mistaken with the last of that society), to which Francis seems to be alluding in the Rnb when he encourages the friars to be joyful in those circumstances:

They must rejoice when they live among people considered of little value and looked down upon, among the poor and the powerless, the sick and the lepers, and the beggars by the wayside.[122]

It is of this initial situation, where the friars were poor among the poor and lived among the marginalised, that Celano relates with fidelity and precision, even if his account in some cases borders on epic and self-celebratory description. In any case, one cannot deny the concordance of that situation with the data coming from the Rnb.

The community reported by the Anonymous of Perugia, on the other hand, in its account of the poverty of the early days, reflects that of the friary in the following years. In the large passage he dedicates to the delicate question of poverty, we can clearly see what we have already noted in the previous texts: by applying to the primitive community the style of poverty of the later Order, the biographer wants to confirm the choices that had already been made by the Order itself, blocking, however, any exaggeration, to indicate, instead, a middle way between a radical poverty that cannot be reconciled with the new needs and a total departure from the initial dream. The Anonymous deals with two aspects in relation to the poverty of the original community. Firstly, the first brothers’ sharing of their clothes with the poor is praised.

When they went along and came upon poor people begging from them, some of the brothers would give them some of their clothing, since they had nothing else to give. One of them even tore the capuche from his tunic and gave it to a poor beggar; while another tore off a sleeve and gave it away; and still others gave away a part of their tunic to observe that Gospel passage: Give to all who ask of you Lk 6:30.[123]

It is clear that such a virtue of generous sharing could only be exercised over clothes, the only personal possession of the friars. However, the story reveals a basic inconsistency that points to a precise narrative operation pursued by the Anonymous. The friars distinguished themselves from the other poor, so much so that the latter turned to them for help; and so, although dressed in a poor tunic, the friars had become different from the poor. This appears even more clearly in the passage that follows, where the Anonymous, in order to clarify and praise that generous poverty, tells of the cloak given by Francis himself to a poor man who had knocked one day at Santa Maria degli Angeli “where the brothers were staying and asked for alms”.[124] The Order described by the Anonymous is an established and perhaps already famous Order, certainly with the economic capacity to help the poor. All this, I believe, points to the question that in the years following the death of Francis would become increasingly urgent, regarding the reversal of the situation of the friars in relation to the world, when their poverty had become conventual security and social power. The question the friars were faced with, in short, was how to deal with the poor and the marginalised who (constantly?) knocked at their door. The exhortative answer that comes from the text is sharing with the poor, a solution validated by the life of the primitive fraternity and capable of maintaining conventualisation by integrating it with the welcoming of those most in need. It is precisely within these narrative objectives, designed to legitimise the current situation of the Order through the application of these forms to the primitive fraternity, that the subsequent text proposed by the Anonymous is also placed:

When the rich of this world went out of their way to visit them, they received them quickly and kindly, and would invite them to call them back from evil, and prompt them to do penance.[125]

In addition to the embarrassment of how to respond to the poor, there was the reverse embarrassment of becoming the friars to whom the rich turned. The solution offered by the primitive community to the friars of subsequent generations was reassuring: not only should they not be surprised by the presence of the rich coming to their friaries, but they should invite them to announce penance to them; in all this they would follow the example of what the first friars had already done.

The last issue addressed by the Anonymous in relation to poverty concerns the most debated issue in early Franciscanism: the absolute prohibition of the use of money. The description of the early fraternity confirmed the absolute value of this prohibition:

They rejoiced most in their poverty, for they desired no riches except those of eternity. They never possessed gold or silver, and, although they despised all wealth of this world, it was money especially that they trampled underfoot.[126]

The confirmation of this prohibition is demonstrated by the following example, where Francis is again involved in the act of severely punishing the friar who had placed (perhaps not even hidden) on a window of Santa Maria degli Angeli some money left by someone on the altar of that church as alms. The author’s objectives in proposing this episode are summed up in the question Francis addresses to the sinful friar, on whom he then imposes a harsh penance:

“Why did you do this?”(cf. Gen 3:13) he said. “Didn’t you know that I want the brothers not only to avoid using money, but also not even to touch it?” When the brother heard this, he bowed his head, confessed his fault on his knees, and asked that a penance be given him. Francis then ordered him to carry the money out of the church in his mouth and, when he came upon some ass’s dung, to place the money upon it.[127]

The harshness with which not only the use but also the mere contact with money is prevented indirectly refers to the situation of an Order strongly torn by this problem, torn between the absolute prohibition of the Rule regarding the use of money and the need for it for the new pastoral and cultural needs assumed by the brothers.

It is clear that throughout the text the Anonymous applies to the primitive fraternity a situation that was established in the minoritic Order only decades later; the narrative elements involved show this clearly: the friary of Santa Maria degli Angeli, with the presence of a church already frequented by devotees, had become a religious centre to which both the poor turned to be helped and the rich to make their monetary offerings; all this attests to a very clear process marked by a separation and distinction now achieved by the friars in relation to society. The process of conventualisation found in the example of the primitive community was confirmation and validation for the way of life of the brothers of the following generations.

d) Manual work: 1Cel. 39,10-11

During the day those who knew how worked with their own hands, staying in the houses of lepers or in other suitable places, serving everyone humbly and devoutly. They did not want to take any job that might give rise to scandal; but rather always doing what was holy and just, honest and useful, they inspired all they dealt with to follow their example of humility and patience.

In his recollections on the way of working of the early friars Celano again uses the two sources of early Franciscan textuality that he had already drawn on in his previous texts: the Regola non bollata and the Testament. In fact, the three aspects, highlighted by Celano, correspond to what Francis exhorted in the Testament and what we read in chapter VII of the Rnb. The first Celano element concerns the type of work carried out by the friars: “worked with their own hands”; the statement corresponds to what Francis recalled for himself: “worked with my hands”. All this refers, most likely, to a type of craftsmanship that required a certain skill; otherwise one would not understand the phrase “who knew how” in the text of Celano; it is linked to what would later be established in the Rnb: “Let the brothers who know how to work do so and exercise that trade they have learned”.[128] Again referring to this style of manual work and craftsmanship, Francis seems to exhort in the Testament when, after recalling that he himself had worked and still wanted to work with his hands, he invites the brothers, “Let those who do not know how to work learn”.[129]

The second element that emerges from Celano’s account goes hand in hand with this first piece of information, confirming the kind of labour carried out by the friars that was qualified as “salaried”. Again, from verse 10 of Celano’s text we have, in fact, two specifications of the places where the friars carried out their work: in leprosariums and “in other suitable places”. Let us leave out the first indication for now, and dwell on the second. This generic expression refers, without a shadow of a doubt, once again to chapter VII of the Rnb in which we read at the beginning: “None of the brothers […] in any of those places where they are staying to serve or work…”. The link with what precedes Celano’s text also confirms the salaried nature of their work: at night they found refuge in some hovel and in the morning they dispersed to go and work in different parts. The friars, therefore, carried out their work on the move, with others, where they made their work and craft skills available. In Celano’s very brief mention of the brothers’ way of working, the situation that emerges from reading both the Testament and the Rnb in the texts about the manual work of the brothers is very evident. Celano gives the same account, that is, of a work carried out by the friars according to the form of the Holy Gospel, as subjects and subject to all: their knowledge or skills were not to lead them to dominate others or to assume positions of power.

In this specific context, a special place is given by Celano to the work done by the friars in the leprosariums. The report, in addition to clarifying and confirming the deductions of salaried manual work by the brothers with others, specifies a particular activity, which is of great interest in clarifying the spirit of the primitive fraternity in service to and to the least.[130] From the general context it can be assumed that the commitment to lepers did not represent continuous or organised work for the brothers, in other words it does not seem to be a group of brothers who chose to dedicate themselves to this specific service. Their care was one of their other daily occupations. The value of these indications, which refer to a precise lifestyle and, therefore, to a group identity, is linked to its historical veracity. The lepers in the life of the friars can be defined, to say the least, as “a strange presence”:[131] important for the personal beginnings of Francis and still present among the friars in the early years, at least according to what results from the indirect clues provided by the Rnb, the lepers then almost disappear from the sources. Celano’s, together with some important texts from the Assisi Compilation,[132] constitutes the only source that informs us precisely about the close relationship between the first friars and lepers. The uniqueness of our text in informing about the service in the leprosariums, therefore, gives Celano’s information a historical guarantee. Where does Celano get this information? What sources are available to Celano? They must surely have been first-hand sources and well-informed about the initial events. A clue to the answer may perhaps be obtained from the confirmation of this information provided by the two numbers of the Assisi Compilation, texts belonging, most probably, to the memoirs sent by the first companions to General Crescenzio da Jesi in 1246.[133]

The last aspect underlined by Celano’s account concerns the basic spirit that ideally guided the manual work of the first brothers and determined the concrete way of carrying it out: “They did not want to take any job that might give rise to scandal”. This criterion clearly echoes the principle formulated in the Rnb in chapter VII: ” They may not be in charge in the houses in which they serve nor accept any office which would generate scandal […]. Let them, instead, be the lesser ones and be subject to all in the same house”.[134] Celano does not use the two strategic words of minority and subservience, but the one previously linked, as its specification, to minority, namely humility; in the context of the work it is used twice: first as an adjective, qualifying their way of serving, and then as a noun indicating the goal to be achieved by setting an example to others. Therefore, Celano presented a way of working that anticipated what would later be fixed in the Rnb, so much so that we can say that his account represents the historical background of what would be standardised in the decisions taken by the brothers and then gathered in that first legal text.

The information provided by Celano on the way the friars worked is only minimally confirmed by the Anonymous text, which, in its very scarce information, reveals a self-awareness of manual work that is different from that seen in Celano:

Every day they were conscientious about prayer and working with their hands to avoid all idleness, the enemy of the soul.[135]

It can be said that this text is also affected by the “conventualisation” already noted in previous passages of the Anonymous. Firstly, one cannot fail to be struck by the combination of prayer and work in the description of the brothers’ day, a not unspoken allusion to the similarity of their life to the monastic style of the Benedictines. It is this model, the Anonymous seems to say, that inspired the life they led from the beginning at Santa Maria degli Angeli and, consequently, their work was strongly residential and internal to the friary. A second element confirms this impression. Although it remains work that is qualified as “manual” and therefore physical, it has nevertheless been transformed in its essence: while for the First Life of Celano the work of the early friars was closely linked to the lot of the poor, that is, carried out primarily to earn their daily bread, in the Anonymous it also, perhaps, above all acquires a moral character: fleeing as a deterrent to the serious sin of idleness, a constant danger in large friaries.[136] The risk of idleness revealed the presence in the friaries of a situation in which sustenance was assured, with the danger that some of the friars might live an idle life.

In the way the work of the first brothers is presented by the two biographical sources we find, therefore, again two life contexts profoundly different from each other: one in relation to an itinerant community and on the road, the other in relation to a fraternity already conventualised and sedentary within Santa Maria degli Angeli.

c) Patience: 1Cel. 40,1-2

The virtue of patience so enveloped them that they sought to be where they would suffer persecution of their bodies rather than where their holiness would be known and praised, lifting them up with worldly favor. Often mocked, objects of insult, stripped naked, beaten, bound, jailed, and not defending themselves with anyone’s protection, they endured all of these abuses so bravely that from their mouths came only the sound of praise and thanksgiving. Is 51:3

As already noted, the conclusion of the preceding passage on work, where Celano praised the friars, stating that their way of working was a clear example to the people of humility and patience, gives way to the following text centred on the patience of the friars in bearing the adversities and injustices of life. It is interesting to note first of all Celano’s thematic-terminological continuity with Francis’ language. We have already noted the relationship established by the first biographer between obedience and charity, a link that undoubtedly reflects the existential-spiritual logic of the Saint. The same should be said about the close continuity in our texts by Thomas between poverty in things (39,5-9), humility in work (39,10-11) and patience in life (40,1-2); with the correlation of the three terms the biographer intercepts and places in succession concepts of great value in the textuality of Francis, where humility is placed at the centre of the two other virtues through an interchangeable relationship: humility and poverty[137] and humility and patience.[138] Leaving aside completely any attempt to analyse the relationship between the three terms in Francis, it is sufficient here to recall the close parallel established by him in two absolutely similar texts: “Lady holy Poverty, may the Lord protect You, with Your Sister, holy Humility”;[139] “Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor disturbance”.[140] The thematic continuity set by Celano between poverty, humility and patience I believe is connected, therefore, not only to a terminology of Francis, but to the great semantic fields constitutive of the identity of the first Franciscan experience.

Having recalled this terminological context, let us make a single observation on the passage proposed by Celano to praise the patience of the first friars. The text is undoubtedly characterised by an epic style in describing the great difficulties suffered by the friars at the beginning, exaggerating the suffering they endured. However, within the “exaggerated” information, there is a basic piece of information that I believe constitutes the core of the text: patience was an absolutely necessary virtue because it was directly linked to their choice of marginalisation in society; instead of placing themselves where, as Celano notes, their fame of holiness would have gratified them with the esteem and honours of men, they wanted to be in a position of marginalisation that necessarily led them to contempt.

In my opinion, the decisive phrase for understanding the “social” value of the friars’ patience is to be found in the aside in which Celano notes “not defending themselves with anyone’s protection”. Patience was linked to the choice of humility and minority, that is, it was a necessary consequence of their condition of being like all the outcasts of the time who did not have the possibility of asserting their rights by availing themselves of the support, the patronage of someone more powerful. Patience is therefore the ability to bear “manfully” any adversity arising from a situation of oppression and injustice that cannot be resisted. This is precisely the word recalled by Francis at the end of his famous parable of True and Perfect Joy: “If I had patience”.[141] At the same time the Saint, in this very text, specifies what the fruit of patience is, or the point of arrival that verifies that one has lived everything with the strength of it: “true joy, as well as true virtue and the salvation of my soul, would consist in this”. Celano comes to the same conclusion, almost as if he were following the development of Francis’ parabolic text: “they endured all of these abuses so bravely that from their mouths came only the sound of praise and thanksgiving“. Joy, which became praise and thanksgiving, was the definitive fruit to which the brothers’ patience in living their choice of marginalisation led.

f) Prayer and ascetics: 1Cel. 40,3-41,1

They never or hardly ever stopped praying and praising God. Instead, in ongoing discussion, they recalled what they had done. They gave thanks to God for the good done and, with groans and tears, paid for what they neglected or did carelessly. They would have thought themselves abandoned by God if they did not experience in their ordinary prayers that they were constantly visited by the spirit of devotion. For when they felt like dozing during prayer, they would prop themselves up with a stick, so that sleep would not overtake them. Some anchored themselves with cords, so furtive sleep would not disturb prayer. Some bound themselves with irons; and others shut themselves in wooden cells.

Whenever their moderation was upset, as normally happens, by too much food or drink, or if they went over the line of necessity because of weariness from travel, they punished themselves severely with many days of fasting. They strove to restrain the burning of the flesh by such harsh treatment that they did not hesitate to strip themselves on freezing ice, and to cover themselves in blood from gashing their bodies with sharp thorns.

They so spurned earthly things that they barely accepted the most basic necessities of life; and, as they were usually far from bodily comfort, they did not fear hardship.

With the same play on words, the conclusion of the previous passage, exalting the brothers’ spirit of praise and thanksgiving, allows Celano to introduce yet another important theme of the early life: prayer and, linked to it, asceticism. In this passage the desire to exalt the first friars is also evident: according to Celano their prayer is uninterrupted and passionate (40,3-5), their asceticism strong and hard (40,6 41,1). Specific and precise information on the two moments is not provided by the biographer. In particular, the text does not help us to understand how the brothers actually prayed, nor is a word spent on the question that instead occupied a central place in the Testament, namely the divine office where Francis, as already mentioned, recounts a liturgical prayer distinction between clerical and lay brothers. However, scrolling through the Celano account, a few numbers further on provide valuable and interesting information about the primitive prayer of the friars. The account is placed at a temporal and narrative level close to the information of the taking up residence of the friars at the Portiuncula after they had left an “abandoned hut” at Rivotorto where they had stopped for a short time.[142] Celano’s information on the style of prayer of the first friars is precise and circumstantial:

The brothers at that time begged him to teach them how to pray, Lk 11:1because, walking in simplicity Prv 20:7 of spirit, up to that time they did not know the Church’s office. Francis told them: “When you pray, say ‘Our Father Mt 6:9 and ‘We adore you, O Christ, in all your churches throughout the whole world, and we bless you, for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.'”[143]

Contradicting Francis’ recollections in the Testament of a liturgical prayer of the Office from the beginning of the fraternity, Celano also adds important and valuable information about the type of simple prayer taught by Francis to the brothers and thus used at the beginning. In addition to the desire to relate Francis to the role played by Jesus with the disciples in teaching them to pray, Celano inserts the details of the communal use desired by Francis of the prayer “We adore you Lord” which, according to the autobiographical account of the Testament, had been “invented”-“used” by the young man as early as the beginning of his minoritic life before the arrival of the first companions. In any case, this second block of information on the way of praying fills in and completes what was not said in the passages dedicated to primitive prayer: the liturgical office of the breviary was not yet used; the life was nourished by simple prayers such as the Our Father and the adoration formula of Francis. In short, it was a prayer suitable for people living on the road.

These conclusions seem to be confirmed indirectly by a series of clues in our source text, in which Celano suggests a prayer that was not at all organised and structured, suitable and necessary for a group living “along the road”. The information provided by Celano of a constant battle against sleep that the brothers had to face in their prayer, contains, it seems to me, an indirect information: the brothers, obliged to live a constant itinerancy and to support hired manual work, could not help but experience a “chronic” fatigue and physical exhaustion that made them constantly risk falling into sleep every time they stopped to pray. Moreover, another clue seems to emerge from the text: the prayer was not linked to a specific time of day, the indication of time is in fact generic and indefinite, but perhaps it was also conditioned by their irregular and itinerant rhythm, becoming a prayer lived on the road without the possibility of being always the same and uniform. I think it is legitimate to hear in these faint indications of a life of prayer as “pilgrims and strangers” the historical information that Francis himself had provided in his Testament, immediately after speaking of liturgical prayer: “and we quite willingly remained in churches”:[144] even in the memories of the Saint one hears again this condition of instability during which they interrupted their pilgrimage and willingly stopped in churches to pray together and bind their choice of minority and subjection to the mystery of God.

The asceticism praised by Celano is closely linked to prayer: in order to overcome the sleep that always lurked during prayer, the friars had invented physical methods to stay awake. So the asceticism experienced by the early friars was not aimed purely at mortification of the body, but rather was used as a means to achieve another value, that of prayer. In any case, even with regard to bodily asceticism, there emerges a watermark of a primitive community that was highly itinerant: being on the road meant that the friars had a constant need for bodily necessities, in particular food, and it could happen that they exaggerated their satisfaction; mortification, to which a friar submitted immediately, had no other purpose than to re-establish “sobriety”. It can be said that in Celano’s presentation, asceticism, like prayer, was linked and conditioned by the concrete situation of being without fixed abode, often at the mercy of the unpredictability of needs and urgencies.

The Anonymous from Perugia, in praising the friars’ prayer, clearly assumes that it was lived and regulated within a conventual life:

At night, they were equally conscientious about rising in the middle of the night according to that passage of the Prophet: At midnight I rise to give you thanks and they prayed devoutly with frequent tears.[145]

The times and places of prayer are clearer here and already fixed in some way, with a marked similarity to monastic liturgical prayer. One cannot fail to be struck by the information given in the text of a nocturnal prayer, when the friars rose “in the middle of the night”, imitating the specific element of religious linked to continuous prayer night and day. On the other hand, this liturgical style presupposes, as is evident, an already well-planned monastic life, and here we understand, once again, the importance assigned by the Anonymous from the beginning to the friary of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in which the first friars organised a monastic-type life even in prayer. This was the model that had imposed itself on the Order, and it was this that had to be attributed to the primitive community, as a guarantee of a minoritic style of prayer that reproduced monastic schemes.

g) Humble and peaceful in the world: 1Cel. 41,2-5

In all these things, they sought peace and meekness with all. Always doing what was modest and peaceful, they scrupulously avoided all scandal. For they hardly spoke even when necessary; nor did anything harmful or useless come out of their mouth, Mt 4:4 so that in all their life and action nothing immodest or unbecoming could be found. Their every act was disciplined, their bearing modest. With eyes fixed on the ground and their minds set on heaven, all their senses were so subdued that they scarcely allowed themselves to hear or see anything except what their holy purpose demanded. Among them there was no envy, no malice, no rancor, no mocking, no suspicion, no bitterness. Instead, there was great harmony, constant calm, thanksgiving, and songs of praise. Is 51:3

The conclusion of the extensive description dedicated by Celano to the lifestyle of the first friars is like a summary of what has been said, and this through the proposal of a sort of identikit of the lesser brother in his way of being and going about in the world. The first friars, who had chosen minority and reciprocal charity through a poor lifestyle in order to share the condition of the least, had two distinctive characteristics that differentiated them from the other religious of the time: they were peaceful and meek men. For Celano, this was the general attitude of these men in the way they perceived themselves and in their relationship with the world around them. The decisive and firm choice of peace and meekness was both the proof and the fruit of their minority and subjection. In the language used, Celano uses declamatory and triumphalist tones to portray a lesser brother who is perfect in his courtly manner, a man who corresponds to the model of the medieval knight: measured and totally self-possessed. However, within this literary genre, there is information about the friars that touches on an essential element of their life marked and characterised by peace and meekness. This way of being actually reversed the criteria on which the new Italian communal reality was based, tending towards constant rivalry that often led to violence.

3. Conclusion

It is not easy to draw a conclusion at the end of the double and parallel analysis conducted on the two hagiographic sources. Thomas of Celano and the Anonymous of Perugia seem to give two different accounts about the way of life of the primitive community. Celano’s community is inspired by two principles: minority in relation to the world and fraternal charity in relations between the brothers. Theirs was an essentially itinerant, marginalised life, strongly linked to the fate of the poor of the time by means of a conscious break with the hierarchical and dominating mentality of the Middle Ages. The Anonymous of Perugia, on the other hand, sketches a primitive community strongly rooted in the territory, with a stable monastic presence from the beginning and an internal life already ordered in a possibly monastic style: from such choices, serious problems about the use of money and offerings immediately arise. In the background, the De Inceptione describes the situation of an Order that was immediately famous and therefore experiencing difficulty in finding the right balance between ecclesial commitment and the choice of being lesser brothers.

In the two ways of tracing the identikit of the primitive fraternity, different criteria and narrative objectives come into play for the two biographers; without an understanding of these presuppositions, it would not be possible to explain such differences and contrasts. Let us attempt an interpretative hypothesis of the authors’ intentions that are probably at the basis of their different/divergent accounts of the primitive community.

The apologetic intention to exalt the beginnings of the primitive fraternity is a fact that constantly emerges in the narrative fabric of Celano in the issues dedicated to that founding history. The first friars lived minority, charity, poverty, manual labour, patience, prayer, asceticism and the values of peace and meekness to the highest degree, creating a marginalised fraternity, subject to all, itinerant and without any power. At the same time, we cannot forget that Celano was writing a life of Francis, sending it to an Order that had now taken on its conventual and pastoral physiognomy, and we know that, although the First Life aimed primarily to exalt the Saint of Assisi, as requested of Thomas by Pope Gregory IX,[146] it also implicitly wanted to praise and exalt the Order he had founded. This apologetic context in favour not only of Francis but also of the Order does not, however, prevent Thomas from presenting an early fraternity as different from the later one, nor was this felt as a criticism of this development. There would seem to be, on closer inspection, an apparent contradiction between this apologetic objective, “imposed” on the biographer by the situation, and the account of the beginnings at first sight contrary to the glorification of the Order in its subsequent developments. A hypothesis for an explanation of this kind of incongruity is to be found not only, as has been pointed out, in the “plurality of registers” used by Thomas in composing his life,[147] but also in his hagiographic objective of glorifying the figure of the founder. Thomas understood that, in recounting the primitive fraternity, he had to present as faithfully as possible the actual characters and lifestyle of the beginnings if he wanted to highlight the greatness of Francis: his holiness had given life to an evangelical group that was undoubtedly new and renovating. It is no coincidence, as we have seen, that Celano concludes nos. 38-41, dedicated to the particular characteristics of the primitive community, with the affirmation that they “are the lessons by which the devoted father instructed his new sons not so much in words and speech but in deed and truth”. Freedom from apologetic or polemical objectives also explains Thomas’ extensive use of ‘ancient’ sources, such as in particular the Rnb and the Testament, in reconstructing the early fraternity. The most important consequence that follows is the character of historical reliability that must be ascribed to his reconstruction.[148] Indeed, it seems to me possible to consider that, at the level of historical value, the information provided by Thomas can be considered more reliable and objective than that which Francis himself recounts in the Testament: the apologetic element that guided the pen/memory of the Saint had in part conditioned and influenced the same data, chosen and recounted primarily according to the needs of the Order, a conditioning that becomes even falsification, for example, in the memories about the liturgical prayer of the beginnings; Celano, however, seems free from these polemical purposes and, therefore, more capable of a “faithful” account of the primitive life experience of the brothers.

The Anonymous of Perugia, on the other hand, has as its central aim a dialogue with the actual situation of the Order around the 1240s, a situation that was certainly not the same. This situation was certainly influenced by the bull “Quo elongati[149] which the Order received from Pope Gregory IX in September 1230, a year after Celano’s First Life.[150] In the papal document the Pope, taking into account the real difficulty, on the part of the friars, to reconcile fidelity to the Rule and commitment to pastoral care and culture, set out a solution that legitimised the evolution of the Order towards conventualisation and clericalisation.[151] De inceptione would seem to have before its eyes the discussion that began within the Order following that bull. Through it the friars had obtained a new juridical point of reference in assessing the relationship between the Rule and the new demands and needs to which they had to respond in their new pastoral and cultural commitments. It is possible to believe that the Anonymous of Perugia is part of a probable debate in the minoritic community between fidelity to the initial ideal and the acceptance of the developments assumed by the Order and fixed by the bull.[152] In this debate the Anonymous proposes a substantial confirmation of the validity of conventualisation and clericalisation by calling as a witness the primitive fraternity settled from the beginning at the Portiuncula with a life immediately conventual.[153] The Anonymous responds to the perplexity that some may have had in front of those papal solutions, in which choices that had already been taken by the Order were legally solidified, by confirming the legitimacy of this evolution, backdating those choices to the very first community of brothers. Indeed, the operation of legitimisation carried out by the Anonymous reaches its apex when it takes Francis of Assisi as a witness and guarantor; in the episode of the money left by a benefactor in the church and had the Saint demand of the friar to place the coin by way of his mouth on the donkey dung to punish him for touching it, the figure of Francis on the one hand confirms the absolute prohibition of the handling of money, but on the other hand implicitly guarantees the validity and legitimacy of the conventualisation of the friars.

In conclusion, we should note a kind of cross-relationship between the three groups of texts used in our reconstruction of the lifestyle lived by the primitive fraternity. The first observation concerns the substantial homogeneity of their literary genre and their structural functions within the broader context to which they are inserted in the works to which they belong. Both vs. 16-23 of the Testament and nos. 38-41 of the First Life of Celano, as well as nos. 25-29 of the Anonymous, represent broad passages in which the three authors wish to offer a founding narrative of the identity of the group of friars, placing these texts within the same initial events connected with the arrival of the first friars and their journey to Rome.

This basic homogeneity is contrasted by the narrative solutions and contents assigned to those initial experiences, which are not always convergent. The authors’ pre-understandings and narrative aims are at the root of these differences. The source that probably provides the information that is most free from functional preconceptions of the contingent situation of the Order at the time of the writing of the text itself, is to be found in the account of Celano: it was not a question of dialoguing with the choices made by the fraternity of his time, but of repainting the primitive group in order to praise the Founder: narrative fidelity to that history of the beginnings represented the fundamental possibility of glorifying the Saint. The other two sources, the Testament and the De inceptione, are in some ways similar, not in the information they provide but in the dynamics that animate the authors in the writing of the account. Both want to confront the situation of their time in order to influence that reality. Francis, warning his brothers of the risks that came from the movement of conventualisation that they had taken on, recalls the primitive fraternity as a model in contrast to the choices that had been made.[154] On the contrary, for the Anonymous from Perugia, the fraternity of the beginning is invoked and remembered as a model for an Order in which conventualisation had already been assumed as necessary and legally confirmed by the papal declaration of Gregory IX.

All this history, therefore, in the final analysis, confirms that there is no such thing as a pure remembrance detached from the existential situation of the person who remembers. Every memory cannot but be influenced by and/or functional to the “here and now” of the subject who wants to refer existentially to those events that are the foundations of his personal and collective identity. And it is clear, then, that a reconstruction of the identity characteristics experienced by the primitive minoritic community, that is, those that Francis probably also presented to the pope for their initial legitimisation, can never follow the method of combining the sources. These sources start from different presuppositions and objectives distinct from the pure historical reconstruction of the facts, and, consequently, must be kept distinct. Our attempt to re-listen to those initial events must therefore necessarily take all this into account, often being content to listen only to fragments of historical truth traced with difficulty and, at times, uncertainty within those narrative fabrics that are eager and in need of establishing a functional, and at times polemical, dialogue with the actual life and needs of those for whom those texts were intended.

  1. Test. 14-15: Ff (sigla for Fontes francescani, Assisi, Ed. Porziuncola, 1995), 228.
  2. On the first companions and their recruitment in the first years cf. the conference I compagni di Francesco e la prima generazione minoritica. Atti del XIX Convegno internazione, Assisi 17-19 ottobre 1991, (SISF XIX), Spoleto 1992; c.f. also the interesting and accurate pages dedicated to “the arrival of the first companions” according to the biographical accounts proposed by M.T. Dolso, “Et sint minores”. Modelli di vocazione e reclutamento dei frati Minori nel primo secolo francescano (Fonti e ricerche, 14), Milano 2001, 121-188.
  3. The literature on this subject would be endless. Let us recall just a few reference works. K. Esser, Anfänge und ursprüngliche Zielsetzungen des Ordens der Minderbrüder, Leiden 1966 (transl. Origini e valori autentici dell’Ordine dei frati Minori, Milano 1972); F. de Beer, La genesi della fraternità primitiva (secondo alcune fonti primitive), in St. Franc. 65 (1968) 65-92; F. Flood – C.W. van Dijk – Th Matura, La naissance d’un charisme. Une lecture de la première Règle de saint François (Présence de saint François, 24), Paris 1973 (Trad.: La nascita di un carisma, Una lettura della prima Regola di San Francesco (Presenza di san Francesco, 26), Milano 1976; Stanislao da Campagnola, Le origini francescane come problema storiografico, Perugia 1979; Th. Desbonnets, De l’intuition à l’institution. Les franciscains, Paris 1983; L. Pellegrini, La prima Fraternitas francescana: una rilettura delle fonti, in Frate Francesco. Proceedings of the XXI Convengo internazionale. Assisi 14-16 October 1993, (SISF XXI), Spoleto 1994, 39-70; F. Accrocca, Francesco e la sua Fraternitas. Caratteri e sviluppi del primitivo movimento francescano, in F. Accrocca and A. Ciceri, Francesco e i suoi frati. La Regola non bollata: una regola in cammino (Tau, 6), Milan 1998, 12-124; and finally, a collaborative work: La “fraternitas” di Francesco d’Assisi. Storia, novità, attualità, edited by C. Di Nardo – G. Salonia, Giulianova, Ed. Italia Francescana, 2003 where the following articles should be kept in mind: L. Pellegrini, La fraternità minoritica, 17-34; F. Iozzelli, La vita fraterna nell’Ordine francescano primitivo, 35-130; F. Uribe, La fraternità nella forma di vita proposta da Francesco d’Assisi, 131-156.
  4. Such an attempt is always to be assigned firstly to the Testament as the basis of a grid to organise the preliminary information to which the other sources are then added. In this regard, in the general studies on the reconstruction of the early fraternity, there is a clear methodological process towards this order in the use of historical documents on Francis. In 1928, Gratien de Paris, in his excellent and still in many ways valid work on the history of the Order, when he deals with the primitive life and organisation of the lesser brothers, places at the basis of his considerations first of all the biographical sources on Francis and the juridical texts, in particular the First Rule, while only once does he use the Testament (Histoire de la fondation et de l’évolution de l’Ordre des frères mineurs au XIII e siècle, [Bibliotheca seraphico-capuccina, 29], Rome 19862 , 30-40). The situation is profoundly changed in a text 50 years later: in fact, when Desbonnets asks where to find the primitive project of the first fraternity, he responds by making our Testament verses on the fraternity the sole and decisive place of his investigation (From intuition to institution, 29-38). The acquisition is now established with Grado Merlo in his reconstruction of “The formation of the fraternity and the first minoritic generation” in which the Testament is placed in the foreground, flanking it with the first biographical testimonies (Nel nome di San Francesco. Storia dei frati minori e del francescanesimo sino agli inizi del XVI secolo, Milano 2003, 19-28).
  5. On all this cf. what I have already observed in my Facere misericordiam. La conversione di Francesco: Confronto critico tra il Testamento e le biografie (Viator, 1). Assisi, Ed. Porziuncola, 2007, 27-38.
  6. Martino Conti made this category the interpretative key of the Testament, a hypothesis elaborated first in the article Testamento di San Francesco, in Dizionario francescano, Padova 1983, coll. 1811-1815 and then reconfirmed in his volume Il discorso d’addio di S. Francesco. Introduzione e commento al Testamento (Bibliotheca Pontificii Athenaei Antoniani, 37), Rome 2000, where, among other things, at the end of the introduction we read: “In the Testament, Francis behaves like a father with his children. Having reached the end of his earthly day and before going to celebrate the eternal Easter with the Father, Francis speaks lovingly to the brothers whom the Lord has given him, exhorts them to persevere on the path they have taken, to observe faithfully what they have promised to the Lord and blesses them” (32). This key to interpretation led the scholar to see in the various recollections and exhortations in the Testament nothing but a confirmation and repetition by Francis of what was stated in the Rule: there was full continuity and total agreement between the two texts.
  7. CAss. 59,4: Ff 1550.
  8. By completely ignoring this second aspect of the text of Francis, M. Conti has produced a reading, in my opinion misleading, of the entire text to the point of affirming that “If the Testament belongs to the literary genre of the farewell discourses, one can no longer continue to classify it under the group of the legislative texts of St. Francis and even less consider it a completion of the Rule” (Il testamento di San Francesco, col. 1814). All this means disregarding the historical dynamics that gave life to the text and the internal tensions attested to, without great difficulty of interpretation, by the text itself. That of Martino Conti is clearly a preconceived reading, still guided by an ideological vision of the history of the beginnings, in which one wants to avoid any conflict in order to proclaim a harmonious and linear development of the beginnings.
  9. It seems possible to speak of “travail” in the dialectical process between intuition and its progressive juridical rewriting, which has in the Testament the last attempt to fix a difficult identity in the dialogue between Francis and his friars (cf. P. Maranesi, L’intuizione e l’istituzione. Il travaglio dell’identità di Francesco e dei suoi frati nei testi giuridici, in Misc. Franc. 108 (2008) 169-203, especially the third point entitled “Il travaglio della costante riscrittura dell’intuizione, 193-201).
  10. Per.Let., 11: Ff 242. I wanted to propose an existential commentary in La fragilità fonte di verità e di vita secondo Francesco di Assisi, in Italia Francescana 82 (2007) 119-124.
  11. On all this see the pages of G. Merlo, Nel nome di San Francesco, 43-52. Perhaps the author exaggerates the tone a little when, at the beginning of his analysis, he describes Francis as follows: “Before September 1224 [i.e. before the stigmata], Brother Francis lived long seasons on the fringes of the Order, suspicious, mistrustful, disappointed by human duplicity, in resentful solitude, with the company of a few rare associates (certainly Brother Leo), in painful dissatisfaction with what was happening in what for him continued to be his fraternitas” (ibid., 43).
  12. Here I take up what has already been proposed in Facere misericordiam, 43-51. The structuring of the text is an open question, so to speak; there is no fundamental agreement.
  13. I believe we can sense a certain continuity between what Francis ideally carried out here and what Clare suggested to her sister Agnes of Bohemia when she exhorted her not to lose sight of her starting point: ” But because one thing is necessary, I bear witness to that one thing and encourage you, for love of Him to Whom you have offered yourself as a holy and pleasing sacrifice, that you always be mindful of your commitment like another Rachel always seeing your beginning”. (Clare, 2Ep 10-11: Ff 2270).
  14. This is what Merlo also concludes: “To the friars Francis proposes himself again as a criterion of identity for the present and the future” (Intorno a Frate Francesco [Presenza San Francesco, 39], Milan 1993, 104) and therefore “In the Testament the presentation of the past is not so much reconstructive as paradigmatic” (105).
  15. Such a relationship between the narrative part and the exhortative-admonitory part has not normally been felt by scholars: see for example G. Miccoli, who somehow juxtaposes the two parts without noticing a possible derivation (cf. Francesco di Assisi, 51-52), and also M. Conti, who, while distinguishing the same three sections of the text, does not place any relationship of continuity or dependence between the first and the second (cf. Il discorso d’addio, 32-37). On the contrary, C. Paolazzi, in a note placed as a commentary on the Testament in the last Italian edition of the Franciscan sources, albeit in passing, confirms my hypothesis of a relationship between the part of the recollections and that of the admonitions: in fact, after the final description made by Francis himself of his text: “This is a memory, an admonition, an exhortation and my testament”, the Author, in note 23, observes the following: “To demonstrate how thoughtful the Testament is in structure and content, this very lucid definition is sufficient: an articulate recollection of the origins, which immediately becomes an admonition against deviance and compromise and an exhortation to persevere in the rule and evangelical life professed” (Testamento, in Fonti francescane. Nuova edizione. A cura di E. Caroli, Padua 2004, 103). Paolazzi therefore seems to propose such a hypothesis, which was not yet present in his introductory volume to the writings of the Saint, where he did not address, strangely enough, the question of the structure of the work, limiting himself to a commentary on seven themes present in it (cf. Lettura degli “Scritti” di Francesco d’Assisi [Tau 10], Milano 2002, 385-409).
  16. I have written extensively about this in the article L’intuizione e l’istituzione, where I attempt to determine the double moment of the intuition to live according to the form of the Holy Gospel (cf. ibid., 179-188).
  17. I am therefore fundamentally in agreement with what G. Merlo observed, in a general way, on the role of the Testament within the difficult relationship between Francis and his friars in the last years of his life, when the scholar affirmed that in that text there is “a precise planning” (Nel nome di San Francesco, 46).
  18. Test. 14-23: Ff 228-229.
  19. Cf. P. Maranesi, L’intuzione e l’istituzione, 179-184, where I also provide further bibliography.
  20. A work of historical analysis of verses 16-23 of the Testament has already been carried out with great acuity by Desbonnets in his famous and often cited work on the passage from intuition to institution made by the Order during the life of the Saint. The text is undoubtedly rich in effective observations in opening up the brief and concise information provided by Francis. However, it seems to me that the work of the French scholar lacks an important element: the diachronic analysis. Desbonnets’ listening to the information contained in Francis’ brief texts is only directed towards the past, but neglects the influences exerted by the present situation experienced by Francis on the formulation of his recollections. Without repeating what has already been observed by this author, I would like to take this a step further by highlighting the possible connections between the past and present of these texts.
  21. Th. Desbonnets, Dall’intuizione, 35.
  22. M.T. Dolso also examines these Testament verses recalling that in this text “the aim is not only to recall the past, but also, above all, to offer the brothers indications, teachings, valid models for their present and future”. (Et sint minores, 35). However, it seems to me that the author misses the reference to the present included in this recollection: Francis does not only want to underline “with great clarity the inescapability of this donation to the poor for the purposes of the realisation of that choice of voluntary and radical poverty that represented one of the constitutive elements of the minoritic life” (34-35), but also to remind the brothers about the feelings and the appropriate means to express this choice of poverty.
  23. Miccoli has written interesting pages on this development and the likely internal tensions: G. Miccoli, Un esperienza cristiana tra Vangelo ed istituzione, in Dalla “sequela Christi” di Francesco d’Assisi all’apologia della povertà. (SISF XVIII), Atti del XVIII convegno internazionale. Assisi 18-20 ottobre 1990 (SISF XVIII), Spoleto 1992, 26-35.
  24. Cf. D. Flood, Die Regula non bullata der Minderbrüder (Franziskanische Forschungen, 19), Werl 1967, 110.
  25. On this cf. P. Maranesi, Pellegrini e forestieri, l’itineranza nella proposta di vita di Francesco, in Coll. Franc. 70 (2000) 363-369.
  26. Let me refer again to a work of mine cf. P. Maranesi, Nescientes litteras. L’ammonizione della Regola Francescana e la questione degli studi nell’Ordine (sec. XIII-XVI) (Biblioteca seraphico-capuccina, 61), Roma, Istituto Storico dei Cappuccini, 2000, 60-63. For the sake of correctness I also cite the long and demanding article by C. Paolazzi, I frati minori e i libri: per l’esegesi di “Ad implendum eorum officium” (Rnb III,7) e “nescientes litteras” (Rb Rnb III,9; Rb X,7), in Arch. Franc. Hist. 97 (2004) 3-59, where the scholar examines my interpretation of the expression “ad implendum eorum officium/to fulfil their office” denying that it means the divine office, but the office related to the service of the priests (cf. the conclusions on p. 51-55). The evidence adduced by Paolazzi, from which it would appear that “implere officium” always and only means “to fulfil the office” due to persons or the “task” deriving from the nature of things”, does not eliminate the difficulty against this interpretation. In particular, the question remains as to the context in which the expression is used: in fact, the divine office is at the centre of the text and it would not be clear why the question of the lawful books to be used by clerics for their task would be introduced “ex abrupto”.
  27. Test. 24: Ff 229.
  28. K. Esser, Il testamento di san Francesco d’Assisi, Milano 1978, 153.
  29. For an analysis of the Testament passage and the strategic value of the formula taken by Francis from 1 Peter 2:13 see P. Maranesi, Pellegrini e forestieri, 369-374.
  30. For a detailed analysis of what is to be said, see P. Maranesi, Nescientes litteras, 57-59.
  31. Ff 187-8.
  32. Ff 174.
  33. Ff 229.
  34. Cf. P. Maranesi, Nescientes litteras, 57.
  35. Test. 29-33: Ff 230.
  36. On the double and interconnected vocation, marked in the qualification of being unlettered and subject to all see my pages Francesco e il dialogo interreligioso, in Religiosi in Italia 360 (2007) 198-201.
  37. Rnb VII 1-2: Ff 191.
  38. Cf. D. Flood, Frère François et le mouvement franciscain (collection “Peuple de Dieu”), Paris 1983, 23-24.
  39. Rnb XVI 6: Ff 199. On this, cf. what I have already noted in Francesco i suoi frati e la gente, 469-470 and then in Francesco e il dialogo interreligioso, 204-206.
  40. This is what A. Pompei states in a very reductive and misleading interpretation. He believes that in the first missionary strategy proposed to the friars in that passage of the Rnb, Francis exhorts “the Franciscan missionaries not to seek martyrdom at any cost or deliberately provoke it” (La missione nelle fonti francescane. Scritti di San Francesco e biografie, in Misc. Franc. 106-107 [2006-2007] 313); the concluding contemporary application well highlights the limits of this interpretation: “The text of Francis is always of great relevance given the many dangers, even mortal ones, to which missionaries in our time are running in increasing numbers” (314).
  41. Such is the conclusion I drew in the previously cited article: “The ‘missionary way’ of the lesser brothers can never be, according to this text of Francis, that of the confrontation-controversy between the power of Christian truth and the lies of the infidels, a dispute that aims at subjugating others by force of word or arms, but that of the dialogue that arises from the subjection of the friars, through a merciful entry into the world of the infidels without claiming any power, not even that of truth” (Francesco e il dialogo interreligioso, 206).
  42. Cf. Rb IX, 3, where every brother, in order to become a preacher, had to be “examined and approved bythe general minister of this fraternity and the office of preacher has been conferred upon him.” (Ff 178); it is interesting to note that these prescriptions, which presuppose a prior theological preparation, were absent in Rnb XVII 1, where it was simply prescribed that the brother should not preach “without the permission of his minister” (Ff 200).
  43. Cf. Test. 13: Ff 228. On the evaluation given by Francis in this text on the role of theologians see my pages Dedit mihi tantam fidem. Lettura critica dei vv. 4-13 del Testamento di Francesco d’Assisi, in Verum, pulchrum et bonum. Miscellanea di studi offerti a Servus Gieben in occasione del suo 80° compleanno (Bibliotheca seraphico-capuccina, 81), Rome, Istituto Storico dei Cappuccini, 2006, 67-69.
  44. I have written extensively on the question of studies in the Order and on the interpretation of the “intentio Francisci” regarding his attitude towards the intellectual developments assumed by the Order in the last years of its existence in Nescientes litteras, 30-66, affirming the presence in Francis of an attitude of “respect” towards the intellectual direction the Order was taking, although he reaffirms even to the end that his vocation is towards simplicity and subjection (cf. conclusion 63-66).
  45. Test. 25-26: Ff 229-230.
  46. Ibid. 7-8: Ff 227-228.
  47. P. Maranesi, Dedit mihi, 65; see, however, the entire analysis of the pastoral question underlying these texts and connected to the use of papal bulls, an instrument of defence and self-assertion that had already been used by the Order in 1218; according to the Fourth Lateran Council, the friars could use this support to obtain permission to preach against possible impediments from bishops or priests (cf. pp. 61-66).
  48. Cf. Test. 6-10: Ff 227-8.
  49. P. Maranesi, Dedit mihi, 42.
  50. Rnb VII, 1-9: Ff 191-192. F. Accrocca, points out a clue to the redactional history in this chapter when he observes that vv. 10-11, subsequent to our text, may constitute a later temporal stage, in which the question of idleness among the brothers is inserted, an indication “of a different conception of work itself now assumed by the brothers”. (Francesco e la sua Fraternitas, 38)
  51. Cf. what has already been said in my article Francesco, i suoi frati e la gente, 459-461.
  52. Cf. Dall’intuizione all’istituzione, 37.
  53. I have devoted an extensive commentary to these norms on almsgiving as a sharing in the plight of the poor cf. Francesco, i suoi frati e la gente, 462-466.
  54. Rb V: “Those brothers to whom the Lord has given the grace of working may work faithfully and devotedly so that, while avoiding idleness, the enemy of the soul, they do not extinguish the Spirit of holy prayer and devotion to which all temporal things must contribute. In payment for their work they may receive whatever is necessary for the bodily support of themselves and their brothers, excepting coin or money, and let them do this humbly as is becoming for servants of God and followers of most holy poverty” (Ff 175-6).
  55. Cf. P. Maranesi, Francesco, i suoi frati e la gente, 461.
  56. Rb VI, 3: Ff 176.
  57. Cf. P. Maranesi, Francesco, i suoi frati e la gente, 462-467.
  58. Bonaventura, Lettera su tre questioni, 9, in Opere di San Bonaventura, XIV/1, Roma 1993, 103.
  59. A text of great and decisive value in describing the situation of the first generation of brothers comes from chapter IX of Rnb: “Let all the brothers strive to follow the humility and poverty of our Lord Jesus Christ and let them remember that we should have nothing else in the whole world except, as the Apostle says: having food and clothing, we are content with these. 1 Tm 6:8 They must rejoice when they live among people considered of little value and looked down upon, among the poor and the powerless, the sick and the lepers, and the beggars by the wayside”. A commentary on this text within the examination of the whole question of passage from itinerancy to the living stability of the friars is offered in Pellegrini e forestieri, 355-357.
  60. Rnb XIV: Ff 197-8.
  61. “Likewise, the Lord also revealed to him the greeting that the brothers should use, as he had written in his Testament: “The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say ‘May the Lord give you peace.'” At the beginning of the religion, when blessed Francis would go with a brother who was one of the first twelve brothers, that brother would greet men and women along the way as well as those in their field, saying: “May the Lord give you peace.” And because people had never before heard such a greeting from any religious, they were greatly amazed. Indeed, some would say almost indignantly: “What does this greeting of yours mean?” As a result that brother began to be quite embarrassed. Then he said to blessed Francis “Let me use another greeting.” Blessed Francis told him: “Let them talk, for they do not grasp what is of God. But do not be embarrassed, for one day the nobles and princes of this world will show respect to you and the other brothers because of a greeting of this sort.” (CAss. 101, 14-22: Ff 1637-8). It is the only source that refers to the event.
  62. 1Cel. 23, 6: Ff 298. While Celano then informs us that the saint also used the greeting on the road with the people, Bonaventure takes up the same information on the use of the greeting at the beginning of each of his sermons without, however, extending it to daily life (cf. 1Bon., III, 2, 3: Ff 795).
  63. 1Cel. 23, 7-8: Ff 298.
  64. The two themes are always paired in Celano. Only in chapter 23 would they seem to be distant from each other: in fact, at the very beginning of the text, introducing the firm decision to begin to preach to the people, after having heard the Gospel and having taken on the new habit made in the form of a cross (cf. n. 22), the biographer proposes Francis’ missionary endeavour and his preaching theme linking it to penance: “He then began to preach penance to all with a fervent spirit and joyful attitude. He inspired his listeners with words that were simple and a heart that was heroic” (23,1: Ff 297); however in the second part of the same number, as has been said, he adds with breadth and precision the theme of peace. The connection between the two themes is, however, very precise in the programme of proclamation entrusted by Francis to his first brothers, sending them out into the world two by two: ” Then the blessed Francis called them all to himself and told them many things about the kingdom of God, Acts 1:3contempt of the world, denial of their own will, and subjection of the body. He separated them into four groups of two each. “Go, my dear brothers,” he said to them, “two by two Lk 10:1 through different parts of the world, announcing peace to the people and penance for the remission of sins. Acts 10:36 Be patient in trials, confident that the Lord will fulfill His plan and promise” (29, 2-3: Ff 302-3). The same is said about Francis himself, characterising his proclamation: ” Francis, Christ’s bravest soldier, went around the cities and villages, Mt 9:35 proclaiming the kingdom of God and preaching peace
    and penance for the remission of sins, Mk 1:4 not in the persuasive words of human wisdom but in the learning and power of the Spirit 1 Cor 2:4” (36, 1: Ff 310). Notwithstanding the substantial dependence on this Celano text, it is important to note the choice made by both the Anonymous of Perugia and the legend of the Three Companions to eliminate the theme of peace from the primitive proclamation made by Francis: APer. 15, 9-10: Ff 1320-1: “The man of God did not yet preach to the people. But while they were going through towns and villages, he would encourage men and women to fear and love the Creator of heaven and earth and to do penance for their sins”; 3Soc. 33, 6: Ff 1406: “Even though the man of God did not yet fully preach to the people, when he went through cities and towns, he encouraged everyone to fear and love God and to do penance for their sins”.
  65. 1Cel. 24, 1-2: Ff 298.
  66. On this see the fraternal norms established in the first part of Rb X 1-7, where the text takes up a textuality already expressed in several places by Rnb.
  67. I feel deeply in agreement with Desbonnets’ beautiful words in describing the “profile of the group”: “The purpose that brings the brothers together is not, therefore, a social purpose. On the other hand, in a city that has been divided by social warfare for more than ten years, a heterogeneous fraternity, built on an ideology, would not have lasted long. Certainly, at this time, concord has returned to the city, but perhaps we need to go a step further and move from the state of concord to the state of charity. The first aim of the Franciscan fraternity is the creation of a bond of charity between people of very different origins, united around a religious programme of life, identical for all. The image that the first Franciscans give of themselves is that of a small cell, in which society is reconciled. Antagonisms, even legitimate ones, have been overcome; it is a prefiguration of the heavenly society. They have achieved peace among themselves, and this means, for the men of the Middle Ages, the ideal state” (Dall’inuizione, 32-33).
  68. For Desbonnets, the formula of peace revealed to Francis by God was “probably for Francis a way of recalling that the preaching of peace was an essential part of his initial program, perhaps even more so than the preaching of penance that was to be entrusted to him by the pope” (Ibid., 37).
  69. It is this vital context that prevents me from assuming, as Desbonnets does, that the five areas mentioned by Francis constituted “in all probability the fundamental points of this writing in a few words, which Francis and his first brothers brought with them for the pope’s approval” (ibid., 38). Surely in that brief writing there must have been the series of biblical texts which they had discovered as their form of evangelical life. On this cf. P. Maranesi, L’intuzione e l’istituzione, 179-184.
  70. The author has dedicated to the “historiographical recovery” of the Vita prima of Celano a long article entitled: La “Vita beati Francisci” di Tommaso da Celano: storia di un’agiografia medievale, in Franc. 1 (1999) 123-235, where he offers a careful and precise reconstruction of the debate that opened in the last century on the text of Celano, a debate dominated by a “historiography of suspicion”, in which the hagiographic nature of Celano was often contrasted with its historicity (cf. 181-223). One should also bear in mind the final pages, in which the author recalls some historiographic areas and hermeneutical paths that should guide the work of investigation to free from suspicion a text of fundamental importance for Franciscan historiography (cf. 223-235). On these aspects, the author returns more quickly in the introduction to his fundamental work Francesco d’Assisi e il paradosso della minoritas. La Vita beati Francisci di Tommaso da Celano (Istituto storico Italiano per il Medio Evo, Nuovi studi storici, 66), Rome 2004, in particular 37-48.
  71. This is the programme that guides the systematic analysis proposed in the above-mentioned volume, where the author observes, among other things, that the life of Celano has often been subjected to a “disappearance of any diachronic perspective and a lack of interest in the contextualisation of the legend in its entirety: what has prevailed instead is the retrospective observation of the historian, who has embraced in a single glance the entire historiographical edifice represented by the set of different hagiographies in order to dismantle individual materials, to be used, appropriately reworked, in his own new reconstruction” (Francesco di Assisi, 40). There is in Michetti a fundamental methodological conviction according to which “the procedures of connection with which are knotted together both the different sections that make up, more generally, the legend of a founding saint as well as, and above all, the internal scansion of the passages, of the episodes, sometimes of the single phrases, convey the message, the ideology and the hagiographic programme of the author, in a way that could not emerge in all its evidence from the identification of single themes. In other words, only a reading of the individual episodes, which takes into account their place within the hagiographic narrative and the link with what precedes and what follows, can allow a correct evaluation of their meaning” (44).
  72. This is what I attempted to do in the second part of my recent volume Facere misericordiam, where I analysed the narrative relationships between the First Life of Celano, Giuliano da Spira, the Anonymous of Perugia, the Three Companions, the Second Life of Thomas, and the two legends of Bonaventure, according to their different accounts of events ranging from the first dream of arms to the mystical experience Francis had before the Cross of San Damiano (cf. the entire second part and in particular chapter 2: “Le dinamiche narrative della conversione secondo le sette biografie”, 147-249). In the narrative reconstruction of the different biographies, trying to note the links and differences between them and the logic that guided the pen of the biographers, we wanted to understand the reasons why those texts have shifted and in the process marginalized the conversion account involving the lepers, which constituted, instead, for Francis, the decisive event of his existential transformation.
  73. Even stranger is the forgetting of these texts by E. Pasztor who, in an article dedicated to Thomas’ presentation of the primitive fraternitas, when examining the texts following the return of the friars from Rome, completely ignores the strategic value for the narrative objectives of the biographer of our numbers (cf. La fraternità di Francesco e Tommaso da Celano, in I compagni di Francesco, 112-113).
  74. Cf. R. Michetti, Francesco di Assisi, 173-188.
  75. Existential passage dealt with in chapter III entitled “Towards Rome”, ibid. 133-171.
  76. Title of chapter V concerning the beginning of Francis’ missionary activity, ibid, 189-232.
  77. Ibid., 178-182.
  78. Ibid., 180.
  79. Ibid., 181.
  80. Ibid., 182.
  81. With regard to what will be said, I distance myself from Michetti’s proposal, who, without ever offering a synthetic scheme of the logical-narrative developments of the First Life, makes our numbers belong not to what precedes them, that is to nos. 25-37, as the conclusion of the process of identity formation of the group, but to what follows, that is to say, linking them to the missionary activity that begins with n. 42.
  82. 1Cel. 34, 3-7: Ff 308.
  83. 1Cel. 34, 9: Ff 308.
  84. Cf. 1Cel. 34, 8-15: Ff 308-9.
  85. 1Cel. 35, 2: Ff 309.
  86. 1 Cel. 35, 3.
  87. 1Cel. 35, 6: Ff 310.
  88. For Michetti, Francis, the scourger of vices, (“He did not smooth over but cut out the faults of others. He did not encourage but struck at the life of sin with a sharp blow, because he first convinced himself by action and then convinced others by words. Not fearing anyone’s rebuke, he spoke the truth boldly, so that even well-educated men, distinguished by fame and dignity, were amazed at his words and were shaken by a healthy fear in his presence” 1Cel. 36, 3: Ff 310-1), is indeed linked to a stereotypical image of the preacher lashing out at vices, yet “it is not to be considered as mystifying and deformed as the image of a meek and good-natured saint” (Francesco di Assisi, 176).
  89. 1Cel. 37, 1: Ff 311.
  90. “For when Francis heard the voice of his beloved calling within him, he rose up without delay. Like another Samson, with God’s help he broke the bonds that tied him to the seductive world. Filled with the zeal of the Holy Spirit, he took up the jawbone of an ass, preaching in simple words, not with the plausible words of human wisdom, but with the mighty strength of God, who chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. With this weapon, through the grace of the one who touches the mountains and makes them smoke, he slew, not just a thousand, but many thousands of Philistines, bringing back to spiritual servitude those who had previously been enslaved by the pleasures of the flesh” (Cf. Gregorius IX, Mira circa vos, 2, in Bullarium Franciscanum, I, Assisi 1983, 42b-43a). Like the morning star among the clouds, like the full moon in its days, like the sun shining on Phil 2:21 the Church of God, he took into his hands a lamp… (Ibid., 4).
  91. Cf. what is noted in Michetti, Francesco di Assisi, 177-8.
  92. 1Cel. 38,1: Ff 312.
  93. 1Cel. 41,6: Ff 316.
  94. On the arrival of the first two companions and the dynamics that bound them to Francis, cf. M.T. Dolso, Et sint minores, 163-180.
  95. APer. 14, 3: Ff 1319.
  96. That the element of establishing a habitation in a friary was a primary value in the life of the fraternity is also attested by what is recounted in n. 44-45, when the Anonymous tells of the friars being sent to various parts of Europe. The refusal of the friars, in some cases, to the request to build even modest houses, was answered by the cardinal protector Ugolino, who, on the orders of Honorius III, provided the friars with a letter to present to the prelates of the places “so that they would not be opposed to the brothers, but rather give them advice and assistance in preaching and living in their provinces” (APer. 45,3: Ff 1348); because of this text then the prelates ” permitted the brothers to build, live, and preach in their provinces” (ibid., 45,6).
  97. The settlement issue according to the two hagiographic narratives has recently been addressed by L. Pellegrini in the conference held last year on the Porziuncola, where the scholar highlights two narrative traditions on the primitive settlement of the friars: Rivotorto for Celano at n. 42) and the Porziuncola for the Anonymous at n. 14 (Da dimora precaria a santuario: la complesso dell’insediamento minoritico alla Porziuncola, in San Francesco e la Porziuncola. Dalla “chiesa piccola e povera” alla Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli. Atti del Convegno di studi storici Assisi, 2-3 Marzo 2007, a cura di P. Messa (Viator, 5), Assisi 2008, 64-68); however, the author does not note the different chronological location of the events of the settlement in the narrative fabric of the development of the identity of the first group of friars; the element, however, for me plays a role of great importance for the understanding of what we will read in the two sources about the characterization of the primitive experience of the lesser brothers. Less attentive to an accurate historical work of analysis of the sources is the proposal of C. Vaiani very significantly entitled La Porziuncola crocevia della Fraternitas, in San Francesco e la Porziuncola, 107-136, where the author does not seem to detect the strategic role assigned to this place not by Celano but by the Anonymous of Perugia. For Vaiani the fact that Francis, according to the account of the First Life, heard the gospel clarifying his personal vocation at the Portiuncula, has a primary value for the fraternitas of the beginnings (cf. 119-120), while he does not notice either the secondary positioning of the arrival of the friars at Santa Maria degli Angeli in the Celano’s account, or the strategic role instead assigned by the Anonymous to this place for the formation of the initial identity. In fact, when Vaiani deals with “La Portiuncola e la fraternitas” (cf. 120-125, where, with a combinatorial reading, he deals with the following aspects: “The Porziuncula as a place of Chapters”, “The daily life of the Portiuncula”, “Problems of fraternal life”, “The death of Francis”), he does not seem to perceive the importance of the different narrative role assigned by the two first biographers on the arrival of the friars in this place.
  98. APer. 18, 2-4: Ff 1323.
  99. APer. 19: Ff 1325.
  100. 1Cel. 37,4: “Many people, well-born and lowly, cleric and lay, driven by divine inspiration, began to come to Saint Francis, for they desired to serve under his constant training and leadership (FF 312). Aper 24,4: “Some asked them to receive them into their society. And they accepted many of them, for, at this time, because of the small number of the brothers, each one had received from blessed Francis authority to admit whomever he wished” (Ff1329).
  101. APer. 24,5: Ff 1329.
  102. The conclusions to be drawn from this double and parallel shift will occur at the end of our analytical journey through the biographical texts, the contents of which will explain the structural reversals implemented by the two legends regarding the location of the settlement at the Portiuncula and the journey to Rome.
  103. 1Cel. 38,4-5: “They were truly lesser who, by being subject to all, always sought the position of contempt, performing duties which they foresaw would be the occasion of some affront. In this way they might merit to be grounded on the solid rock of true humility and to have the well-designed spiritual structure of all the virtues arise in them. Yes, the noble building of charity rises upon the foundation Eph 2:20 of perseverance” (Ff 312-3). 
  104. 1Cel. 39,9-10: Ff 314.
  105. 1Cel. 40,1
  106. 1Cel. 40,2-3: Ff 315.
  107. 1Cel. 41,2.
  108. Rnb VII, 2: Ff 191.
  109. L. Pellegrini also dwells on this text, observing: “beyond the awareness and intentions of the hagiographer, the substance of the information remains: the choice of the denomination of fratres minores represents a precise step along the path of the progressive institutional definition of the fraternity” (La prima “fraternitas” francescana, 57).
  110. On the question of the name I have already made a series of reflections in Francesco, i suoi frati e la gente, 454-457 where I observed, among other things, that “the qualification of fratres minores does not indicate simply and only “a way of being”, but also and above all “a way of being in ‘relation’ with the world, in relation to which one feels an intimacy and proximity summed up by the term ‘brother’ and in a humility and service expressed in the adjective ‘minor'”. (456).
  111. Rnb VI, 3: Ff 191.
  112. Rnb VII, 2: Ff 191.
  113. “Let all the brothers strive to follow the humility and poverty of our Lord Jesus Christ and let them remember that we should have nothing else in the whole world except, as the Apostle says: having food and clothing, we are content with these” 1 Tm 6:8 (Rnb IX, 1: Ff 193).
  114. APer. 25,4: Ff 1330.
  115. APer. 26,1.
  116. APer. 27,4-5: Ff 1331.
  117. I have written extensively on the “travail” experienced by the friars in combining poverty and the use of books, a tension clearly attested in the early Franciscan constitutions (cf. La normativa degli Ordini mendicanti sui libri in frivento, in Libri, biblioteche e letture dei frati mendicanti [secoli XIIIXIV]. Atti del XXXII convengo internazionale. Assisi 7-9 ottobre 2004 [SISF, XXXII], Spoleto 2005, 226-261), where I concluded: “The texts of the Franciscan constitutions show a redactional travail that refers to a laborious and difficult answer to the question posed by the Order on its own identity. The regulation of the presence and use of books in the minoritic friaries reflects this idealistic travail: their importance for the choices of cultural and pastoral commitment made by the lesser brothers in favour of the Church had to confront and clash with the equally important vocation to evangelical poverty; the constitutions show how difficult the dialogue between the two values was. The books became the object in which the clash between the two ideals, the pastoral and the pauperistic, became visible. In the texts there was a constant struggle to find the right relationship between the two values, producing a kind of oscillation between the acceptance of books as indispensable tools and the defence of poverty as the basis of their minoritic self-consciousness” (262-3).
  118. “The first degree of humility is obedience without delay” (St Benedict, Rule V 1).
  119. SVit., 2-3: Ff 223.
  120. APer. 26,4-7: ff 1331.
  121. Rb V 5: Ff 176.
  122. Rnb IX 2: Ff 198. On this see the considerations proposed by F. Accrocca, Francesco e la sua fraternitas, 58-64.
  123. APer. 28,1-2: Ff 1332.
  124. APer. 28, 3: Ff 1333.
  125. APer. 29,1: Ff 1333.
  126. APer. 29,3-4: Ff 1333.
  127. APer. 30, 5-9: Ff 1334-5.
  128. Rnb VII 3: Ff 191.
  129. Test. 21: Ff 229.
  130. My study on Il servizio ai lebbrosi in San Francesco e nei francescani should be out by the end of the year, in the next issue of Franciscana.
  131. As is sustained in the article indicated above.
  132. CAss. 9: Ff 1480 e 64: Ff 1559-1562.
  133. On these two texts I have amplified in the above mentioned article Il servizio ai lebbrossi,…
  134. Rnb VII 1-2: Ff 191.
  135. APer. 25,2: Ff 1330.
  136. F. Accrocca, commenting on this text of the Anonymous, concludes that “in the 40’s, the work had lost, in the eyes of the biographers and of the same companions who sent their memories to Crescenzio da Jesi, that daily dimension, vocational, that it had had at the origins of the movement” (Francesco e la sua fraternitas, 35). The same author, in another work of his, returns to the work of the Anonymous to examine “Some surprising deletions”, among these precisely the “manual work” (cf. Un’opera preziosa e a lungo dimenticata: De inceptione vel fundamento Ordinis, in Fr. 71 [2005] 189-191).
  137. Cf. Rnb IX,1: Ff 193; Rb VI,3: Ff 176; XII,5: Ff 181 and SVir. 2: Ff 223.
  138. Cf. Rnb XVII,15: Ff 201; Rb X,8: Ff 179; Adm. XIII,1-2: Ff 31; Adm. XXVII,2: Ff 36; 2EFid. 44: Ff 83.
  139. SVir. 2: Ff 223.
  140. Adm. XXVII,2: Ff 36.
  141. Per.Let.14: Ff 242.
  142. Cf. 1Cel. 42,1: Ff 316, and further ahead, he recounts that they friars abandoned a hut to take up residence in the Portiuncula (ibid., 44, 5: Ff 318).
  143. 1Cel. 45, 1: Ff 319.
  144. Test. 19: Ff 229.
  145. APer. 25,3: Ff 1330.
  146. In the prologue of the text Thomas himself offers us this information: “It is my desire to explain in orderly detail the acts and life of our most blessed father Francis […] just as the illustrious lord Pope Gregory has commanded” (1Cel. Prol. 1,1: Ff 275).
  147. In this sense, I think we can confirm what F. Accrocca observed about the “different possibilities of reading” the text of Celano because of the different registers used by the author in his legend; and, taking up a statement of Miccoli, he concludes as follows: “In this multiplicity of registers lie the strength of his historical testimony and his wisdom – I would say his loyalty – as biographer and writer” (La Vita beati Francisci di Tommaso da Celano. Un’opera elevate e complessa, in Fr. Franc. 70 [2004] 500).
  148. This consideration of reliability and historical accuracy, which comes from Celano’s account, contrasts with other sections of his text where, on the other hand, one senses a definite insecurity and lack of information. Thus, as we have already verified in our work Facere misericordiam, the account of the conversion undoubtedly presents various narrative difficulties caused, most probably, by the scarce and fragmentary information that Celano had at his disposal (cf. my conclusions on the analysis of nos. 3-9 of 1Cel. on p. 158).
  149. For the text Bull. Franc. I, 68a-70b.
  150. I refer to the pages I have devoted to this papal text in Nescientes litteras, 68-77.
  151. According to G. Merlo, “with Quo elongati the orientation towards the institutionalisation of the metamorphosis of Franciscanism takes an important step” (Nel nome di San Francesco, 141).
  152. For an analysis of the role played by the papal bull of Gregory IX in the evolution of the Order’s identity, see A. Tabarroni, La regola francescana tra authenticità e autenticazione, in Dalla “sequela Christi” di Francesco d’Assisi all’apologia della povertà. Atti del XVIII convegno internazionale. Assisi 18-20 ottobre 1990 (SISF XVIII), Spoleto 1992, 93-103.
  153. It is in this, I believe, that we should find the main reason for the location of the Portiuncula at the beginning of the minoritic experience and not as L. Pellegrini thinks more simply, who, in addition to other reasons, proposes “a certain “decantation” of historical memory, which was losing the freshness still traceable in the Vita beati Francisci by Tommaso da Celano” (Da dimora precaria a santuario, 68). The operation carried out by the Anonymous is therefore not purely historical, but functional in setting the Portiuncula as the basis of the identity development of the very first group of friars.
  154. I wonder if the setting of the True and Perfect Joy at the Portiuncula, through the description of a conventual situation, that is, a place closed from the inside where it was necessary to knock and which also had fixed hours beyond which it was not decent to knock, is not a veiled reference to a condition of life to which the brothers had in fact arrived and of which Francis wants to show the serious risks.