The Testament of Francis verses 4-13

A detailed summary of

The Lord gave me such faith

A critical reading of verses 4-13 of the Testament of Francis of Assisi

by Pietro Maranesi OFM Cap

Verum, pulchrum et bonum. Miscellanea di studi offerti a Servus Gieben in occasione del suo 80° compleanno (Bibliotheca seraphico-capuccina, 81), Roma, Istituto Storico dei Cappuccini, 2006, 31-76

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

There are two reasons that lead me to choose the analysis of verses 4-13 of Testament[1] of Francis of Assisi: the desire to continue the reading of this important writing of Francis and the invitation made by a scholar of Franciscanism to discuss an interpretative hypothesis of these verses that he put forward a few years ago.

The first work that I dedicated to the Testament of Francis concerned the initial account of the conversion;[2] that investigation wanted to be the beginning of a continued reading of the Testament, developing an analysis that would approach the text in a systematic and “scientific” way, that is, strongly attentive to its textual dynamics, in the certainty that only such a reading, as correct as possible, gives life to a document of fundamental importance for the understanding of the history of the man Francis of Assisi.[3]

To this first objective is added a second reason related to the wish expressed by Felice Accrocca who invited scholars to a serious confrontation with the interpretative hypothesis he put forward in order to refute the definition given by K. Esser of the Testament as a piece of “occasional writing”[4] and support, instead, the character of “a writing well thought out and re-though, corrected and integrated”.[5] To this end, the textual analysis carried out by Accrocca on our verses represents the keystone for such an assertion; In fact, it is possible, according to the hypothesis put forward by the young scholar, to find in verses 4-13 dedicated by Francis to the faith given to him by God after his conversion “a section that presents a style and a way of proceeding very different from that which is observed in the rest of the biographical section”,[6] a diversity which, in his opinion, confirms what Manselli had asserted at the time – without giving a sufficient explanation – that we are dealing with a “wedge” inserted by Francis later in the text;[7] If then this is true, concludes Accrocca, we have the proof of a work conceived and rethought by Francis, far from being an improvised and almost unconscious occasional writing, as K. Esser “ideologically” thought. My aim will not be so much to confirm or deny Accrocca’s hypothesis, but to take advantage of his invitation to devote wider and more systematic attention to a narrative section of great interest in the Testament. Perhaps taking up again verses 4-13 will bring further clarification to their particular interpretation and their role in the overall evaluation of the Testament.


The analysis we should carry out on our verses will be of two types: the first concerns its context within the Testament to establish what role it plays in the narrative section of the text, the second concerns the formulation of verses 4-13 itself, the examination of which will allow us to establish its internal structure. The two interventions will offer subsequent opportunities for a comparison with Accrocca’s hypothesis.

1. Analysis of the context of verses 4-13 of the Testament

By intersecting the literary, chronological and thematic elements it seems possible to identify three sections in the first part of the Testament corresponding to verses 1-23 of the text.

The first striking element of this text is the obstinate repetition of God’s intervention in the narrative:

v. 1: The Lord gave me thus to begin doing penance…
v. 2: The Lord Himself led me among them…
v. 4: The Lord gave me such faith in churches…
v. 6: The Lord gave me such faith…
v. 14: The Lord gave me some brothers…
v. 14: The Most High Himself revealed to me…
v. 23: The Lord revealed a greeting to me…

Bearing in mind the themes linked to these interventions and some chronological indications offered in the text, it is possible to identify three narrative sections. The first concerns the compact account of conversion in verses 1-3 with two interventions of God in the life of Francis. The second section, corresponding to verses 4-13, is characterised by the theme of faith introduced in verse 4 and marked by a temporal indication when in verse 6 it begins by saying “afterwards”; the two interventions of God, present here, are part of the same thematic and temporal situation, as we will try to deepen in the analysis of our text. The third narrative context, to be identified with verses 14-23, is opened by yet another temporal indication present in v. 14: “And after” linked to the theme of the “brothers” and to the evangelical life revealed by God to Francis and led by him together with them. The last reference to God’s intervention is linked to the specific theme of preaching, specifying the general content as that of peace; this last piece of information, however, is closely linked to the life led by Francis with his brothers and belongs to this third section.

These brief structural observations allow us to arrive at a hypothesis of a tripartite division of the recollections proposed by Francis in the first part of the Testament:

vs. 1-3: To begin with the Lord gave me brother Francis conversion to showing mercy
vs. 4-13: and then He gave to me brother Francis the gift of faith in the Church
vs. 14-23: and then He gave me brother Francis the gift of brothers with whom I led an evangelical life.

In the subdivision proposed here, the constituent elements of the three sections are placed together: a) the two main actors: the Lord and Brother Francis; b) the themes or areas that brought them together: conversion, faith in the Church and the gift of the brothers; c) the times of succession between the three aspects that linked the two protagonists, a characteristic that refers to the unfolding of a history made up of stages. We would like to try to explore the second two elements, that is, the themes and times of this history, by comparing them with two external texts which in some way seem to confirm the thematic/historical tripartition of verses 1-23.[8]

The first parallel concerns the thematic element of the three textual blocks. In fact, it would seem possible to relate this material to what we read in the Small Testament of Siena, where Francis leaves his spiritual legacy to the brothers in three brief exhortations:

Always love one another. Always love and observe our Lady Holy Poverty, and always be faithful and submissive to the prelates and all the clerics of Holy Mother Church.[9]

In the three admonitions Francis placed the essential elements of his recollection; what the brothers should always remember about him were three attitudes of the heart towards three areas of their life: love in fraternal relations, fidelity to poverty presented as the “Lady” to which they are married, and full submission of faith to the Church. The three precious pearls bequeathed to the brothers in the Small Testament would seem to return in the three sections of the Great Testament:

Small Testament Great Testament
v. 4: Always love and observe our Lady Holy Poverty

v. 5: and always be faithful and submissive to the prelates and all the clerics of Holy Mother Church

v.3: Always love each other

vs. 1-3: To begin with the Lord gave me brother Francis conversion to showing mercy

vs. 4-13: and then He gave to me brother Francis the gift of faith in the Church

vs. 14-23: and then He gave me brother Francis the gift of brothers with whom I led an evangelical life

What he had said in the Small Testament in a concise and admonitory form, in the Great Testament acquires its historical reason: what he handed over to his brothers was born of a personal experience of Francis given to him by God. The three themes recalled to the friars and left to them as an inheritance and commitment had been the decisive passages of a history he had lived through successive interventions of God. The Great Testament shows in some way the historical pattern of what emerged synthetically in the three admonitions of the Small Testament.

Perhaps the only passage that would initially seem a little difficult to verify in this parallelism between the two texts concerns the theme of poverty in the Small Testament in relation to conversion in the Great Testament. Yet bearing in mind what has been seen in the study of the first three verses,[10] it would not seem difficult to detect their direct relationship. The love of poverty exhorted by Francis is not primarily a way of relating to an economic question, but primarily and essentially a way of seeing the world, that newness discovered by the saint in his experience with the lepers when he made “miseri-cordia” [mercy of the heart/compassion] with them, when he gave them his heart by becoming existentially and socially like them, a poor man. The poverty bequeathed by Francis is theological before being economic, it is the poverty he encountered among the lepers and which made him encounter the poverty of Christ. The conversion lived by Francis, therefore, is a turning of the heart (metanoia/poenitentia) towards the poor to meet with the heart of God made poor in Jesus Christ. The love of poverty exhorted by Francis in the Little Testament has its founding text in the account of the conversion of the Great Testament, just as the other two exhortations have their experiential origin in the two subsequent narrative sections. This foundational experience of a theological choice of poverty gives rise to precise choices of poverty, those lived with the friars and recalled in the third narrative part of the Testament[11] and those strongly admonished always in the Testament when he reminds them not to take on anything that does not conform to the holy poverty they had chosen.[12] However, these are born of that intuition given to him by God while among the lepers and are an extension of it.

These considerations on the possible relationship between the two texts of Francis seem to me to offer a confirmation of the “thought” process of the Great Testament. Perhaps struck and surprised by the request formulated by his friars in Siena to leave them “some remembrance of your will”[13], Francis, ill and almost dying,[14] had not had the strength except to remind them of the three cornerstones of his experience; but then, recovering from the strong crisis he had in May in Siena, he must have “thought” about that request, progressively elaborating a much more extensive and articulate text, a text in which first of all he reaffirmed the absolute importance of the three elements of his life, recounting their origin.[15] What he had said in haste was reiterated and expanded through a rethinking of the composition that offered the historical motivation of the preciousness of what he bequeathed to the friars.[16] Therefore the Testament in its narrative part, which then constitutes the ideal reference block of text for the development of the second part, the purely admonitory one, marked by vv. 24-33, can be considered the narrative development of the three major themes bequeathed by Francis in the Small Testament.

To the thematic element we must now add the chronological aspect of the three sections. It has already been noted that the three themes are inserted in three moments of a historical development, thus constituting three successive stages experienced by Francis and narrated as the recollection of three gifts given to him by God and bequeathed to his brothers. In fact, there are some indications of the temporal unfolding of the narrative: the adverbs “afterwards” of v. 6 and “after” of v. 14 refer to a narrative succession of events. It seems to me possible to find confirmation of this probable chronological unfolding in the narrative parallel present in the biographies that tell of the Saint’s early days. Beginning with the Vita beati Francisci (known more simply as the First Life)[17] by Celano and ending with the Major Legend of Saint Bonaventure, passing through the Anonymous of Perugia, the Legend of the Three Companions and the Memoriale (known as the Second Life) by Celano, all of them attest to a division of the initial developments into three stages in which the thematic data encountered in the three narrative sections of the Testament can be found. In fact, the biographies repropose three great initial periods of the history of Francis, the fundamental years marked by the mystery of God who guided his life making him meet first of all with the scandal of the poverty of the lepers as a reversal of the criteria of life, then with the mysterious face of the Church as the sacrament of his presence and finally with brothers with whom to live the proposal of the holy gospel. The narrative parallel between the biographies and the Testament can be seen in this way:

The three periods told by the biographies Testament
FIRST PERIOD: THE RICH FRANCIS: conversion from the dream of arms

to the solution of living at San Damiano: the “private” conversion

The turning point in Assisi before the Bishop: the “public” conversion

vs. 1-3: The Lord gave me Brother Francis to begin to do penance

And then I left the world

SECOND PERIOD: FRANCIS THE HERMIT: the choice of the Church

the return to San Damiano staying with the priest and working for the reconstruction of the Church

vs. 4-13: The Lord gave me so much faith… in the Church

Bernard of Quintavalle and the first companions

Visit to Pope Innocent III

vs. 14-23: The Lord gave me brothers

In the historical parallel between the three moments, the one that seems to be the most problematic is the second block of the Testament narrative, concerning faith in the Church. While the first and the last narrative contain limited historical information, but clear and circumstantial enough to be confirmed by the biographies, the one concerning the gift of faith is a text of only partial recollections, and they are too general and imprecise to find immediately in them what is narrated in the biographies concerning the period from the gesture before the bishop to the meeting with the brothers. However, I think it is also possible to discern in vs. 4-13 of the Testament a direct reference to what the biographers have unanimously narrated about the second period of his life. In fact, the account of the gift received by Francis of faith in the physical churches and in the poor priests – with also the addition of faith in the Eucharist, in the written “Lord’s most holy names” and in the theologians -, placed in the text of the Testament chronologically between the conversion and the gift of the brothers, would seem to refer to the two central experiences narrated by the biographers of the period lived by Francis at San Damiano, namely the reconstruction of that little church and the sharing of life with the poor priest. For now, it is sufficient to note these biographical concordances between the Testament and the biographies, postponing the analysis of the existential and spiritual dynamics underlying our text.

The conclusion to draw from the parallel between the Testament and the biographies concerning the three fundamental chronological stages that mark the beginnings, constitutes yet another verification of the “thought” process of the text. Francis had to remind himself what were the constitutive historical passages of his experience, and then he recounted them to his brothers, offering them as his precious inheritance. The biographies in fact confirm this tripartite unfolding of the beginnings, giving us, however, broader and more detailed information than what Francis said briefly and by thematic emphasis.

What we have concluded here as confirmation of the assertion proposed by Accrocca, – which we have reached, however, by the structural analysis of the narrative part of the Testament -, leads to another final consideration on the strategic importance of the second narrative section of vs. 4-13: the text concerning the double gift of faith belongs constitutively to the initial narrative made by Francis; its absence, in fact, would lose the thematic continuity with the Small Testament and narrative continuity with the biographies. If it is a text conceived as tripartite, then the second part can never be questioned in its belonging to the original text of Francis.

And with this statement we enter a second context to evaluate the interpretative hypothesis of Manselli, taken up by Accrocca, who defined vs. 4-13 as a “wedge”, that is, “a later addition, but we do not know by how long”.[18] All the different textual observations proposed by Accrocca to establish the nature of the “wedge” – to which we will return – cannot lead us to conclude, in my opinion, that the narrative part was originally composed without our verses, that is, without the theme and the period of life linked to the gift of faith in the Church. I believe that right from the initial dictation/writing[19] there was a memory of God’s gift of faith in the Church as the second stage of a unique and progressive history. Perhaps, as Accrocca points out, it is necessary to recognise a formative history of vs. 4-13: not all of them original to the first draft; perhaps Francis returned to and expanded on an initial narrative nucleus. We will return to this immediately in the analysis of the verses. In any case, the “thought” process of the Testament is assured, in my opinion, by the thematic and chronological tripartition of the narrative: this is the real proof that our text is not an “occasional writing” as Esser thought, while this proof would be lost if one thought that vs. 4-13 were a “wedge” inserted later. It seems to me much more probative of the intentionality intended in the writing of the text with its thematic and temporal tripartition, rather than having the nature of an inserted “wedge”.

2. Analysis of the text

a. General considerations

Undoubtedly, vs. 4-13 present textual features that create, in relation to the two sections linked to them, a kind of break and discontinuity. Accrocca has already pointed them out: a) the interruption in the use of verbs in the past tense in favour of verbs in the present tense, where there is a passage from recollection to exhortation, and b) the many almost direct quotations from other texts of Francis as if there had been a deliberate reference to well-known passages, an indication of an redactional elaboration of the Testament carried out by Francis or one of his secretaries. Let us read the text, proposing an initial structure and adding a synopsis of what has already been noted by Accrocca:

Testament Reference texts
4-5: And the Lord gave me such faith in churches that I would pray with simplicity in this way and say: “We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, in all Your churches throughout the whole world and we bless You because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.”
6: Afterwards the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the holy Roman Church because of their orders that, were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them.

7: 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.

8: And I desire to respect, love and honor them and all others as my lords.

Admon. XXVI, 1: Blessed is the servant who has faith in the clergy who live uprightly according to the rite of the Roman Church.
9: And I do not want to consider any sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my lords. Admon. XXVI, 2: Woe to those who look down upon them; for even though they be sinners, no one should judge them because the Lord alone reserves judgment on them to Himself.
10: And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others. To Clergy 2nd ed., 3: For we have and see nothing corporally of the Most High in this world except [His] Body and Blood

Admon. XXVI, 3: For just as their ministry is greater in its concerns for the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they receive and they alone administer to others

11: I want to have these most holy mysteries honored and venerated above all things and I want to reserve them in precious places. To Custodians I, 2: With all that is in me and more I beg you that, when it is fitting and you judge it expedient, you humbly beg the clergy to revere above all else the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy names and the written words that sanctify His Body.

To Clergy 2nd ed. 11: placed in a precious place

12: Wherever I find our Lord’s most holy names and written words in unbecoming places, I want to gather them up and I beg that they be gathered up and placed in a becoming place. To Clergy 1st Ed. 12: wherever the names and written words of the Lord may be found in unclean places, let them be gathered up and placed in a becoming place.
13: And we must honor all theologians and those who minister the most holy divine words and respect them as those who minister to us spirit and life.

The text undoubtedly presents a complex elaboration of various arguments related to the gift of faith. And it is not difficult to assume that these verses refer to a drafting history, in which Francis took up the text and made subsequent additions. Probably the nucleus of the memory of the gift of faith existed from the beginning, that nucleus linked to the two verbs [talem/tantam – both translated as “such” in the English edition being used] in the past tense: “gave me such faith” , to which the remaining verses were added as a further elaboration of the initial memory. We can therefore hypothesise an original nucleus consisting of vs. 4-6a and a subsequent nucleus represented by vs. 6b-13. Let us try to verify this hypothesis.

To verify this possible editorial history, it is necessary to dwell on an interesting textual parallel – which seems to have escaped Accrocca – between our verses and those concerning manual work, when Francis, through a passage from verbs in the past tense to those in the present, exhorts his brothers to work with their hands:

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

There are some undoubtedly similar features between the two texts. Like the previous one, this text on work is placed in the narrative part, when, in the third section, he recounts the life he led with his brothers at the beginning. As in the text on faith, here too there is a kind of slippage between the memory of the past and the exhortation for the present. The two texts, the one on faith and the one on work, are undoubtedly deviations from the rest of the narrative fabric: two broad passages from the present inserted into a narrative plot directed towards the past. In both, the same mental/editorial mechanism occurs that led Francis to two textual exceptions. They are the signs of a kind of “editorial insecurity” on the part of the author, who, although guided by a thematic and chronological tripartite structure, does not always dominate the narrative development and lets himself be taken over, so to speak, towards an admonitory actualization addressed to the present with regard to some themes such as the gift of faith and manual work. Undoubtedly, for the author, their memory has a strong resonance on the present, so much so that it becomes, almost unconsciously, admonition and exhortation.

I do not believe that the fact that in the first one Francis speaks to himself, committing himself to precise choices of life for the present/future in his way of living the faith in the Church, and in the second one he uses a “we” that involves also his brothers, influences the editorial similarity of the two texts. The first person of vs. 4-13 refers to a period lived alone that is chosen at the very moment in which Francis writes, however, every time the expression “I want – I do not want” returns, Francis also involves his brothers: he chooses for himself and for his brothers, as he will involve them when for the manual work he will say “I still desire to work”. The commitments undertaken personally by Francis also involve his brothers.

Thus, from a redactional perspective the sliding from past to present in the two texts reveals something that Francis is passionate about. This suggests that in both cases, both for the recollection of faith and manual work, the nuclei of memory were present in the text from the beginning. Perhaps the ample and articulated elaboration of vs. 4-13, as Accrocca points out, refers to a redactional history, the possible identification of which requires a careful analysis of our text. To obtain clues that might support the above hypothesis of two redactional levels, it is necessary to analyse the structure of the passage in order to identify its component parts and compositional dynamics.

b. Structure of vs. 4-13

The repetition of a double and successive intervention of God in the gift of faith clearly marks two general parts of vs. 4-13, whose division is also confirmed by the different object of faith, in the first case Francis received “such faith in churches”, in the second case “such faith in priests”. Having established this general distinction between the two parts in vs. 4-5 for faith in the churches and vs. 6-13 for faith in the priests, it is necessary to proceed to a further structuring of the second part, where there is a complex and interesting development. In fact, in vs. 4-5 we are faced with a relatively brief and strongly compact text:

And the Lord gave me such faith in churches that I would pray with simplicity in this way and say: “We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, in all Your churches throughout the whole world and we bless You because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world”.

The text, essentially set in the past, recalls the great faith received in church buildings and the prayer recited in them. The simple and profound quality of the faith received from God is measured by the simple and profound prayer habitually recited by the saint in the churches. Therefore, the text in its structure is simple and straightforward. This is not true of the second part.

In fact, vs. 6-13 present a complex structural dynamic on which we must pause our attention to have further clues for a hypothesis of redactional history. Briefly, we can consider that vs. 6-13 are divided into two parts: the first, vs. 6-10, specifies and articulates the gift of faith in the priests; the second, vs. 11-13, by means of a compositional process that proceeds by hook words, adds subjects no longer directly connected with the priests but linked to the gift of faith.

1. The first block, that is, vs. 6-10, concerning the gift of faith in priests, seems to have three well-ordered and progressive parts, where the affirmation of the gift of faith in priests (v. 6a) is verified through a series of Francis’ decisions structured in a binary form (vs. 6b-9), and finally motivated by specifying the basis of this faith (v. 10). This tripartition of our verses 6-10 would seem to have a strong parallelism with what we read in Admonition XXVI. Let us compare the two texts again to highlight the structure that seems to unite them:

Testament 6-10 Admonition XXVI 1-3
1) The gift of faith (v. 6a)

Afterwards the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the holy Roman Church because of their orders that,

1) Blessed is the servant who has faith in the clergy who live uprightly according to the rite of the Roman Church.
2) A double verification of faith in priests (vs. 6b-9)

A: were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them.

B: 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.

A1: And I desire to respect, love and honor them and all others as my lords.

B1: And I do not want to consider any sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my lords.

2) Woe to those who look down upon them; for even though they be sinners, no one should judge them because the Lord alone reserves judgment on them to Himself.
3) Underlying motive of faith (v. 10)

And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others.

3) For just as their ministry is greater in its concerns for the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they receive and they alone administer to others…

There is a clear parallelism between the two texts both in their themes, formulation and tripartite structure, although not in the general dynamics of the text’s setting. In fact, the Admonition follows a precise tripartite evolution built on the sapiential image of the two paths:

A: Blessed is he who has faith in priests;
B: Woe to him who despises them;
C: For they administer the Eucharist.

In its essentiality, the Testament verses also follow the same path without, however, proposing the perfect parallelism of “blessed-woe”, but using the form of first person narration:

A: The account of an event: He gave me so much faith in priests (v. 6a);
B: Which occurs in a series of positive and negative decisions taken by Francis to honour the priests (vv. 6b-9);
C: And all because they administer the Eucharist (v. 10).

In comparing the two texts, apart from their structural parallelism, the great redactional novelty of the central part of vs. 6b-9 of the Testament is striking. In fact, compared with an almost perfect thematic/verbal continuity between the first and third parts of the two texts, in the central part there is a much more articulate and complex elaboration of the basic concept present in the Admonition, which warns against the danger of contempt for the priests. In the central verses of the passage from the Testament, it seems to me that we find the essential moment of a hypothetical re-elaboration and expansion by Francis of a material that he had already proposed in Admonition XXVI. The memory immediately becomes a positive commitment in order not to incur in the “woe” of the Admonition, a commitment that needs a careful and organised elaboration to make explicit what it means to have faith in priests and not to despise them. Undoubtedly vs. 6b-9 present themselves as a careful and organised elaboration of that synthetic negative nucleus present in the Admonition.

It is on these central verses that we need to pause our attention to note their demanding compositional nature.

The symmetry of the pair “I want-do not want” of vs 6b-9 allows us to identify in them a binary structure of the type A-B A1-B1, where in the first pair Francis verifies the greatness of the faith given to him by God through two concrete situations such as wanting to have recourse to them even if they persecute him and not wanting to preach without their consent, while in the second pair the Author verifies the faith by relating it to two opposing spiritual attitudes: wanting to honour them and not wanting to consider their sin. Therefore the verification of the greatness of faith given to him by God is found by Francis first of all in two concrete situations of submission to the priests (A-B) and then in two attitudes of the heart which confirm and specify the honour and respect for them (A1-B1). It seems to me that the parallel relationship between the two pairs of statements is not only verified by the verbs “I want-do not want”, but also by the relationship between the internal themes, where a possible continuity between the first pair of terms and the second is evident:

A: were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them. A1: And I desire to respect, love and honor them and all others as my lords.
B: 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. B1: And I do not want to consider any sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my lords.

In some way one could say that the second term translates into the feelings of the heart the concrete decisions of the first part: the will to have recourse to the priests despite everything, even if persecuted by them (A), seems to be in direct relation with the will to fear them, love them and honour them as his lords (A1); the same would seem to happen in the second series of affirmations: the decision not to preach against the will of the poor priests (B), translates a fundamental choice of the heart not to want to consider sin in them, but only the presence of the son of God (B1). Therefore the concrete life choices are linked and derive from parallel attitudes of the heart obtained by Francis from the gift of faith.

These verses denote, therefore, a strong textual elaboration that in their strongly “thought out” style make them a kind of exception not only within the narrative part, but also in the rest of the Testament. In fact, in a narrative text that is very simple in form and syntactic and literary structure, these verses appear much more organised and demanding. It can be assumed that our verses are the work of an author who has taken up and reworked previous texts with great effectiveness using sophisticated compositional techniques.

Bearing in mind all that has been said so far, it is possible, in my opinion, to propose a redactional history for vs. 6-10 of this type: the recollection on faith in priests, that is v. 6a, belonged to the first level of composition from the outset; because of the importance of its content and its proximity to Admonition XXVI, it made the composer return (later?) to the text in order to apply the tripartition of the Admonition and above all to develop the centre of that text by means of a binary “I want-do not want” of extreme strength and compositional compactness by which the author succeeds with great effectiveness in offering to his friars a measure for faith consisting in that of having “much faith in priests” received as a gift from God.

2. This compact and well-structured tripartite nucleus of vs. 6-10 is followed by a second textual block composed of a series of three statements present in the following three verses 11-13, linked to the preceding ones and to each other by the compositional process of the hook words. Let us reread the text:

11: I want to have these most holy mysteries honored and venerated above all things and I want to reserve them in precious places.
12: Wherever I find our Lord’s most holy names and written words in unbecoming places, I want to gather them up and I beg that they be gathered up and placed in a becoming place.
13: And we must honor all theologians and those who minister the most holy divine words and respect them as those who minister to us spirit and life.

Our text begins in the preceding verse and in particular in the word hook “most holy Body and Blood”, which initiates the theme of the honour to be given to the “most holy mysteries”, concretised by Francis in his desire to “place” them in precious places. This last verb is the bridge to the other theme of the placing “in precious places” of the “holy names and written words”, which in turn is the hook for the last development concerning the honour to the theologians who administer the “most holy divine words”. Let us translate what we have observed with a scheme that divides the structural parts of our text:

Theme Initial hook word Hook word of the passage
10: Eucharistic role of priests His most holy Body and most holy Blood
11: honour to the Eucharistic mystery Most holy mysteries gather them
12: Attention to the most holy written words Gather them Holy names
13: honour to theologians Most holy divine words

In contrast to the strong structuring of the preceding verses, the latter are characterised by a kind of gemmation, guided by verbal relations where the formative process is not logical, but associative by means of hook words. The process was also favoured by the continuity of the underlying theme present in the three verses. In these verses, in fact, although they move away from the theme of priests, they remain within the same general context represented by the gift of faith. Although Francis does not repeat that this gift is also to be read in terms of the themes of the Eucharist, the written words and theologians, nevertheless, this thematic continuity would seem to be assured by the repetition of a decisive verb: “to honour”. It is said for the priests whom Francis wants to “love, fear and honour” as choices which originate from and verify the gift of faith; the same is repeated for the Eucharist where “venerate” is added to the verb “honour”; for ‘the written words’ our verb and those similar to it do not recur, but there is an attitude of attention and concern for them in which the verb “to honour” would seem to resonate; it is however used again for the last category: that of theologians whom Francis wishes to “honour and venerate”. It is to be concluded that, although the last three themes are distant from that of the priests, they nevertheless remain within the same dynamic of faith which gives rise in Francis to identical feelings of “honour” and “veneration”. The gift of faith extends not only to the priests but also to the other spheres: the response of the heart which honours and venerates both the priests and the Eucharist, both the written names and the theologians is the verification in different spheres of the great faith given by God to Francis.

3. Conclusion

It is not easy to arrive at a sure solution for the redactional history of verses 4-13. Analysis of the text has provided various indications that have allowed us to put forward hypotheses, but in the end, they remain hypotheses. Let us summarise them. The formal parallel of our verses with vs. 20-22, dedicated in the Testament to the theme of work, mitigates, in my opinion, the “wedge” interpretation of our verses. The shift from past to present, from memory to admonition was part of the writer’s mental dynamic. This reading, however, seems to return, but with a substantial transformation, in the analysis conducted on the structure of the text. In it, two fundamental blocks of recollections are highlighted: faith in the churches (vs. 4-5) and in the priests (vs. 6-13). In turn, this second series of verses presents a very elaborate and thought-out text, divided into two formal blocks: the well-structured one of vs. 6-10 dedicated to faith in the priests and the one derived by gemmation in vs. 11-13 containing various themes always connected to the general theme of faith. At the structural level, I think I can say that the textual elaboration that follows the recollection of the gift of faith in the priests, namely vs. 6b-13, can be formally detached, that is, it can be considered added later to develop, perhaps, a theme quite important for Francis. It is possible, in my opinion, to think that the original text of vs. 4-6a dedicated to the memory of the faith in the churches and in the priests was followed by an elaboration, favoured by the verb in the present tense used in v. 6: “he gave me, and gives me still”, of a theme dear to Francis such as respect for the priests developed in vs. 6b-10 to which vs. 11-13 are added. If we must think of a “wedge” I think it should be found not in the entire block of vs. 4-13 but only in vs. 6b-13. At the level of redactional history, I believe that vs. 4-6a belong to the original narrative (writing/dictation) of Francis of his Testament, when the Saint wants to give his friars the memory of the three fundamental stages of his existence: his conversion, the period lived alone after the events before the bishop and the arrival of the first friars. Eliminating the reference to the second stage would lose an important parallelism not only between the Testament and the biographies, but also between the small and large Testaments.

The Testament is undoubtedly a thought-out text: proof of this is both the tripartite narration of the initial history made by God with Francis, and the subsequent resumption and elaboration of a theme such as that of faith in the priests, so important and dear to Francis and strategic for his brothers. At this point it is necessary to turn to the analysis of the content of our verses because from such a reading one will most probably obtain the fundamental clarifications of the value of the text and its possible redactional history.

II. Analysis of the content of the text

In the content of our text, which focuses on the gift of faith, I believe it is possible to identify two fundamental areas: on the one hand, the object of faith, or rather the objects of faith, we could say the “fides quae”, and on the other hand, the act of faith, that is, the dynamics experienced in the adhesion of faith, we could say the “fides qua”. In our text the two spheres are not so clearly distinguished, yet they can be traced and must be analysed separately for a better understanding.

1. The object of faith

We have already seen that there are two main memories in which Francis places the gift of faith: the churches and the priests. However, it has also been noted that the gift of faith extends to three other areas: the Eucharist, written names and theologians. These are the objects on which Francis experienced the great gift of faith received from God. The analysis that we would like to conduct on these objects of faith, however, must be done in two moments, corresponding to two historical times distinguished by Francis himself in the Testament: “the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith”. The five areas on which Francis in some way exercises the gift of faith must be read and understood through a double perspective: that of the past, that is, of the historical moment of the beginnings, when the Lord gave him the experience of faith in the precise context of his conversion, and that of the present of the one who writes/dictates the text, when at the end of his life he feels it is still valid. Undoubtedly these are two different existential situations, which cast a different light on the five contents of faith proposed in the text, a diversity which is nevertheless united by the same dynamic that refers to the nucleus of the intuition of life that Francis had.[21]

a. The gift of faith in the context of the conversion of Francis

I believe that reconstructing the historical context to which Francis’ brief and imprecise recollection of the gift of faith in the churches and priests is probably connected is of great interest in order to better understand the admonitory passages of the text, which are probably aimed at the situation experienced within the Order at the time of the composition of the Testament.[22]

The existential context in which the gift of faith is to be placed is specified by Francis himself when he places this experience chronologically after the encounter with the lepers: “Afterwards the Lord gave me”. Francis in the encounter with the lepers had received from God the fundamental intuition of his existence: to go down into the valley to live a heartfelt sharing in the lot of the poor. He himself in his Testament describes this experience as a “reversal”. By the grace of God, he discovered a new logic of life, no longer aimed at reaching the centre and the summit of society, but at placing himself on the margins and at the bottom by identifying with the marginalised people who lived down in the valley. This paradoxical experience had given him a taste for life, the true and definitive meaning of his existence in a new reconquest of his own person, of the whole world and of God.[23] Therefore, the marginalisation experienced with the lepers allowed him to discover the logic of existence in tune with the mystery of Christ placing himself in the last place for love. From here are born in Francis the fundamental words of his existence such as poverty and minority.

The next question, which will have arisen in his heart after receiving the general answer about his existence, will have concerned the role that the Church should play in relation to the existential intuition given to him by God through the lepers. Francis, after the reversal that occurred with the lepers, surely experiences a kind of existential enthusiasm summed up in the sweetness of which he speaks at the end of the account of his conversion. The biographies give us a different and complementary motivation for the enthusiasm of Francis born of his conversion: for the biographers it is linked to the mystical experience he had in front of the crucifix of San Damiano, where the young man obtains a new religious awareness of closeness with God and with his love manifested in the merciful abasement of Christ crucified. In the end, one could think that the human experience of mercy lived with the lepers and the more directly religious experience in front of the crucifix are the two sides of the same coin: the encounter with the love of God manifested and realised in Christ crucified who allows himself to be reunited in the merciful embrace with the crucified of this world. In Francis, therefore, there reigned the existential and spiritual enthusiasm of the direct and overwhelming encounter with the mystery of the paradoxical love of God encountered in the poverty of the poor and lesser ones of this world.

What role was the Church to play in his life? Was not its mediation useless? Furthermore, was not its presence damaging and impeding a true and direct relationship with God? Did not the existential intuition he had with the lepers and the mystical confirmation he received from the cross of San Damiano allow Francis to do without a mediation as contradictory as that of the Church? In fact, the Church as an institution was more than ever distant and different from his God-given existential/spiritual intuition, a Church of power and glory with a moral life often contradictory to what it proclaimed. How then could it claim the right to become a sacramental mediator of the mystery of God? Hence, what relationship should the young Francis have with this distant institution, if not contrary to his intuition of life?

It is difficult to say whether the young man from Assisi had direct knowledge of the harsh criticism levelled at the Church by the heretical movements of the time. But I do not believe that the hypothetical series of questions formulated above arose from an explicit confrontation/clash between the claims of the Church and the criticisms of it made by heretical positions. Francis’ questions were strictly personal questions in which the criticisms of heretical movements were most likely absent because they were perhaps unknown. Basically, the question that stirred the young man’s heart could be formulated as follows: do I need this Church, or can I go it alone, strong in my existential and spiritual intuition given to me directly by God?

The answer comes to him from the gift of faith: “The Lord gave me such faith in churches and in priests”. To understand this, however, it is necessary to start from what is narrated in the biographies about the second stage of his conversion, the period he lived alone at San Damiano before the arrival of his brothers. In the almost two years that this period lasted, the biographies agree in reporting two news items, differently emphasised, concerning the reconstruction by Francis of the church of San Damiano and his cohabitation there with the priest who lived there.

Faith in churches

We know for certain that the small and abandoned church of San Damiano played a major role in the life of Francis, as did the Portiuncula. In contrast to their simplicity and poverty, they were the places of encounter with the presence of God and his mystery. The adoration of God and the amazement at the crucified love that redeemed the world, proclaimed in the prayer recalled by Francis in the Testament, refer to those moments lived in those places of revelation of God. Almost close to his death, Francis recalls the wonder of having encountered God and his crucified love not in the great and important church of San Nicolò, but in the poverty and simplicity of San Damiano, in that abandoned and almost forgotten church on the edge of the city. In it, as in the Portiuncula or Rivotorto,[24] Francis felt and saw in his heart the mystery of a poor and abandoned God, that God already encountered in the lepers and who did not dwell in the palaces of kings but in the poverty of the cave of Bethlehem. Having heard and seen the mystery of God in those churches on the outskirts of Assisi and not in the famous and glorious ones in the centre is recognised by Francis as a gift of God, a fruit of faith given to him by God who opened him to the astonished adoration of the redeeming cross,[25] a sign of God’s love dressed in humility and poverty.

Faith in priests

The same dynamic of faith, as the recognition of a presence of God hidden in places and persons that would seem to deny it, is reaffirmed even more strongly for priests. In this case too, reference is made to the experience of Francis at San Damiano. All the main biographies dealing with the conversion refer to the presence in Francis’ conversion of the priest of San Damiano,[26] a priest whose name is also given by the Anonymous of Perugia: Pietro.[27] What is most striking about the biographical texts is the qualification made by the Three Companions of that priest described as “impoverished”,[28] which is the same adjective used by Francis in his Testament: “impoverished priests”; the parallelism allows us to think that at that moment the Saint was thinking of the priest of San Damiano and the experience he had with him. The characterisation of “impoverished” does not only include the economic sense, but perhaps also and above all the cultural and spiritual one, otherwise he would not have been entrusted with a half-ruined and abandoned chapel outside the city, such as San Damiano, as a church at which to officiate.[29] But it was precisely his poverty that perhaps constituted for Francis the principle of the gift of faith in priests. The various biographies allow us to reconstruct the possible role played by the priest Peter with the gift of faith in the priests granted by God to Francis; among them the First Life of Celano and the Three Companions constitute the richest and most attentive texts on this experience.

The first meeting, according to the account of the Three Companions, took place immediately after the experience of the crucifix at San Damiano, when coming out of the little church Francis found him sitting at the door and gave him some money for the oil for the lamp in front of the crucifix.[30] However, this information is not confirmed by the other biographies, while they all agree on the subsequent meeting that took place immediately after the return of Francis from Foligno, where he had sold his horse and all his belongings. In the account of this important meeting between Francis and the priest Peter, the First Life of Celano and the Three Companions are the richest in details and basically agree in listing five attitudes of profound intimacy established by the young convert with the priest: the great faith manifested with the kissing of consecrated hands, the handing over of the money obtained from the sale of his riches, the telling of his story by sharing that priest’s human and spiritual journey, and finally the request to be allowed to remain with him, sharing the same simple and poor life. Faced with such openness and willingness, however, the poor priest’s fear and uncertainty in the face of gestures and requests as strange as the conversion of a young man so rich and well known in Assisi[31] are contrasted. In the other biographies these elements are lost, and the intensity and the importance of the relationship established by Francis with the priest is greatly weakened.[32]

The second important meeting between the two will take place again at San Damiano, when Francis, immediately after the sensational decision taken before the bishop to refuse all his rights to his father’s wealth, decides to return to live with the priest. The Three Companions represents the most careful biography in recording the continuation and the deepening of the relationship of familiarity and human and spiritual intimacy initiated between them prior the events before the bishop.[33] There are two passages in the Three Companions. Returning to San Damiano after the violent encounter with his father and the subsequent events, in which in some way also the poor priest will have taken part, Francis, the Three Companions notes, is concerned to hearten and comfort the priest, perhaps still afraid and upset by the events and perhaps even a little uncertain whether to welcome him so as not to risk other dangerous consequences from the rich family of the young man;[34] Immediately afterwards, when Francis, having returned to live with the priest, began the work of restoring San Damiano, it was the priest, touched by the fervour of the young man, who came to Francis’ aid with gestures of solicitude and delicacy in providing him with “special food”.[35]

The meeting with this priest and the sharing of life between the two, arriving at a form of familiarity and human and spiritual closeness that is very intense and profound, may be the historical nucleus hidden in that memory of the Testament regarding faith in poor priests. The young man enthused by the intuition given him by God when with the lepers, after having left the world, shares an important period of his existence with a priest who is perhaps humanly disappointing, a poor priest who probably could barely read and who struggles to make a living. Francis, a man full of spirit and rich in humanity, made this encounter with a poor priest. It must have been a time of great importance precisely because of the question of the role of the institutional Church in his life, an institution represented by a priest who best embodied the situation of human and religious poverty of the Church of the time. And instead of judging or despising him Francis did what he had done with the lepers: after kissing his sacred hands he went to live with him sharing his poverty. It must have been an important period because in this sharing the young man is obliged to face the difficult question about the Church to receive the gift of a strong and clear answer: “The Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests”. The God who had revealed himself to Francis amongst the lepers as poor and crucified who welcomed them with mercy, reveals himself again to Francis in the sacramental role of the poor priest. In this priest the question about the Church is shown to Francis with strong paradoxicality and in him he finds the answer: the crucified God allows himself to be encountered and mediated in history by the poverty of the priest. In this priest the law of the incarnation continues:[36] the poverty of the flesh that hides and reveals the presence of God.

Faith in the Eucharist

In this context, verse 10 of the Testament, in which Francis offers the fundamental reason for his “I want-do not want” towards priests, is of great and strategic value:

And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others.

I think we can assume that during the time he lived with the priest Francis also received the gift of the Eucharist. In the poor and perhaps undignified Eucharistic celebration of the priest of San Damiano[37] the young convert found confirmation of the solution given to the question of the value of the Church for his personal relationship with God. Not only does the divine majesty lower itself by dressing in the humility of bread and wine to make itself present and visible, but it allows itself to be mediated by the poor and perhaps unworthy hands of a priest. The humble ladder through which God’s love descends into history to let itself be touched and eaten are the hands of the priest. At the bottom of the text of verse 10 is the Eucharistic theology proposed by Francis in his famous Admonition 1.[38] Of this we recall only one passage in which the fundamental words of Francis’ Eucharistic vision are concentrated:

each day He humbles Himself as when He came from the royal throne into the Virgin’s womb; 
each day He Himself comes to us, appearing humbly;
each day He comes down from the bosom of the Father upon the altar in the hands of a priest.[39]

It is not possible to comment on the interesting structural connections present in the text:[40] it is sufficient to note the direct parallelism between the figure of Mary and the hands of the priest who share the same function of making visible and present the humility of God. There is a close continuity between the contradictory poverty of the priest of San Damiano and the humble poverty of the bread and wine because they manifest the humble and submissive lowering of God’s love. The honour and veneration of priests do not arise then only from the simple recognition of a service they perform in relation to the Eucharist, but also from the awareness that they participate in the same mystery of God’s humble manifestation. Therefore, just as their unworthiness does not prevent them from making God present in the Eucharist so it does not prevent them from being sacramental mediators of the presence of God in the life of Francis. On the contrary, the poverty of the Church is a guarantee of its effectiveness in manifesting and mediating to Francis a poor and submissive God as He shows Himself every day in the Eucharist. Just as without that poor priest of San Damiano Francis would not have had the Eucharist, so without the Church he would not have had a sure mediation of his encounter with God.

The existential and spiritual experience lived by Francis during his stay with the priest at San Damiano, a period which in some way flanks and develops the other important time lived with the lepers, can be considered the historical basis from which vs. 6b-10 are born. That experience constitutes the ideal and concrete reference for the series of commitments and admonitions for the present which characterise those verses of the Testament, where faith in the priests is confirmed and verified in successive attitudes assumed by Francis himself and marked by a double series of “I want-do not want”. Francis had turned to the priest of San Damiano to be welcomed into his home despite perhaps the difficulties and negative judgements expressed by the priest at the beginning (cf. v. 6b); although the priest was culturally impoverished and morally not very exemplary, Francis learns respect, honour and submission towards the priest (v. 8) without taking advantage of his own superior cultural preparation; Francis, even with his new and enthusiastic commitment to the moral life does not disdain the priest for his pastoral failings (v. 7); in the poor priest of San Damiano he had learned above all not to judge sin, to have mercy on human poverty (v. 9), and all this because of a fundamental awareness: every day the priest’s hands gave him the humble presence of God in the Eucharist (v. 10). The attitudes assumed by Francis in the Testament towards priests as signs and verifications of the great faith that God was still giving him, had been lived and learnt at that time spent with the poor priest of San Damiano. That priest had educated him in the faith of the Church.

Faith in theologians

Another interesting area in which the faith proclaimed by Francis in our Testament passages is exercised concerns the figure of theologians whom the Saint wishes to honour and venerate as those “who minister to us spirit and life“. As has already been noted, they, together with the “most holy names and written words”, while going beyond the great theme of faith in priests, remain within the sphere of faith in the mystery of God entering into history by the way of poverty. It is difficult to establish with certainty whether this passage has a precise historical connection with the initial period of his conversion when he was with the priest of San Damiano. Undoubtedly, in this text, Francis is re-proclaiming an act of faith that was ultimately difficult for his spiritual formation. A man who had personally encountered the mystery of God in a mystical-existential dimension, without the mediation of a theological and philosophical preparation, must surely have found it difficult at first to meet with those who perhaps, without the support of an evangelical life, spoke and reasoned about God. The immediacy of his experience of God’s love was opposed by the elaborate and perhaps somewhat proud path of reason.

I do not know if we risk forcing the text by believing that this act of faith refers to an existential dynamic lived by Francis parallel to the double and concomitant passage recounted in the Testament just ahead, in verses 14-15, on the revelation by God of the evangelical way of life and the approval given to it by the pope as verification of an authentic revelation. “I want to and must honour the theologians because they have given me spirit and life”: in this statement it seems to me possible to find that double moment described in vs. 14-15. Spirit and life, that is, the intuition of his existence is a gift that comes from God, because He is the spirit and the life of man, and Francis had made this experience with the lepers and was reliving and amplifying it with the poor priest; but the intuition and the immediate experience of God as a general way of life needed to be clarified and illustrated, that is, they needed to be “administered” by a poor and weak process such as that of theology. Personal intuition could risk becoming spiritual pride if it did not have the purification of the poor and humble process of theology. Perhaps it is within this administration of spirit and life that the figure of the poor priest of San Damiano should be placed, as well as the figure of the Bishop of Assisi with his spiritual and theological assistance to a young man who was so enthusiastic but in need of guidance, and above all Cardinal Ugolino, the great canonist and theologian of the time, chosen by Francis to be the ‘pope’ of the Order. The intuition of the spirit would have become dangerous if it had not submitted itself by faith to the poor process of theology as a definitive test of its validity and guide to its development.


Let us return to the probable question that Francis will have asked himself after his conversion, that is, after having encountered the existential response of his life through his stay among the lepers: what has this poor and contradictory Church to do with my full and radical relationship with God? The answer Francis found in living with the priest of San Damiano is extremely important. Just as he had found the meaning of life in the radical embrace of the poverty of the lepers, so in the humble and radical embrace given to the priest of San Damiano, Francis understood that the visible and certain encounter with God in history passes through the poor and contradictory flesh of that of the Church. The young Francis had understood that God allowed himself to be seen and touched in the sacramental poverty of the Church and of a leprous and perhaps “repugnant” Church. Only by remaining attached to it, in a humble and perhaps humiliating submission, like that experienced with the lepers, could he remain attached to the God incarnate in Jesus Christ. That poor Church allowed him to meet the poor and incarnate God. Only by loving and venerating that poor flesh could he love and venerate his Lord.

The objects on which Francis’ faith as recounted in the Testament extends verify this dynamic of recognition of the sacramental value of the Church accepted as the unique and indispensable place to verify and realise a contact with the historical flesh of God. In this sense it is interesting to note that the object on which the faith of the young Francis is tested and verified was not God in his transcendence (faith in transcendent God), but his sacramental mystery mediated by the poor and in itself contradictory objects such as the humble churches, the poor priests, the humility of the Eucharist, the holy written names of God and the theologians in their administration of the word (faith in its historical proposition). The Church in its poverty and contradiction is the historical way of God’s proposition:[41] such is the object of faith discovered by Francis through his experience at San Damiano.

b. The gift of faith in the context of the internal tensions of the Order toward the end of the life of the Saint

The verbs in the present tense which dominate the Testament immediately after the recollection of the past (vs. 4-6a), indicate, as has already been noted, a strong link with the historical context present at the moment of Francis’ dictation/writing; the different “I want-do not want” connected to the faith in the priests and to the three following spheres are a strong and clear reference to a historical present with which the Saint is dialoguing and confronting himself. The text, as has been said, undoubtedly refers back to a personal history of the beginnings that constituted for Francis the second pivot of his experiential-spiritual intuition after that lived with the lepers; however, it is also in direct relation with his brothers of 1226 to whom he re-proposes that initial intuition as a choice of life that is still valid and normative, perhaps warning them of choices that the fraternity was making that were not in harmony with the choices that God had inspired in Francis.[42]

Faith in priests

I find myself in profound agreement with Accrocca’s opinion that the text in which Francis commits himself to absolute respect for priests should not be interpreted exclusively in an anti-heretical sense as various scholars have often thought.[43] In my opinion too, the focus of Francis’ interest was not so much the heretics with their criticism and rejection of the mediation of the Church as morally leprous,[44] as if Francis wanted to respond to them by overturning their positions. I think that at the centre of his admonitory interest there were above all some attitudes of theological and spiritual arrogance assumed by his Order towards priests who were perhaps theologically unprepared and morally very problematic. Francis’ “I want-do not want” was not primarily a dialogue with heretics, but with his brothers.

In the writings of Francis one can clearly perceive a crescendo of intensity and problematic nature regarding the relationship of the friars with the secular clergy in the pastoral activity of preaching. Without wishing to undertake a detailed analysis of this material proposed in part by Accrocca,[45] I believe it is appropriate to look at some aspects, which have escaped, in my opinion, his analysis, and which can help us to understand our Testament passages. The first text we find in chapter XVII of the Rnb dedicated precisely to the preaching activity of the brothers, where there do not seem to be any serious issues of relationship with the local clergy, and in fact there is only one norm: “Let no brother preach contrary to the rite and practice of the Church”.[46] The command in itself is very generic, refers directly to canon 3 of the Fourth Lateran Council, which, to prevent abusive preaching by heretics or incompetents, states that no one could preach “without the authority of the Apostolic See or of the Catholic bishop of the locality”, so according to the provisions of the Church the brothers could have permission either from the bishop or the apostolic see. In the Rb there seems to be a further specification: “The brothers may not preach in the diocese of any bishop when he has opposed their doing so”.[47] What is the historical background behind this text? Undoubtedly in the Rb there is only a specification of what is already stated in the Rnb, a specification that however refers, in my opinion, to a kind of tension between the two ways established by the council to obtain the licence to preach, that through the local bishop and that through the Apostolic See. Pope Honorius III in 1219 had already proclaimed to the universal Church the catholicity of the Friars Minor, asking all the bishops to accept the “Our beloved sons, Francis and his companions of the life and religion of the Lesser Brothers… as [true] Catholic faithful, showing yourselves favourable and kind to them out of reverence for God and us”.[48] In the following bull, sent to the French bishops, in addition to confirming the catholicity of the minors, the Pope exhorts the prelates to welcome them kindly in their dioceses.[49] Despite this, perhaps more than one bishop had suspicions and difficulties in entrusting them with the task of preaching. The prohibition contained in the Rb suggests that these cases of refusal by the bishops of the lesser brothers will be repeated. I do not think these norms of the Rule are directly aimed at some brothers who were preaching against the will of the bishops as I do not believe that at the beginning of the Order there were brothers who wanted to run the risk of being excommunicated for preaching: canon 3 of the Council was clear enough in this regard. In my opinion, the Rule was probably opposed to the attempt of the friars to get round the difficulties they encountered with some bishops by using the other route granted by the Council, namely, to appeal to the Roman Pontiff.[50] In some way the text of the Rule would seem to say: if the bishops do not allow you to preach, do not appeal to Rome for permission!

The temptation of the friars to bypass the bishops in order to “impose” on the local churches the advantages of their preaching, does not seem to have been overcome by the prohibition in the Rb. Our Testament text bears witness to this. The solemn commitment made by Francis not to preach against the will not only of the bishops, but even of the poor priests, is followed by vs. 25-26 where the Saint, with a legal formula of extreme harshness, commands his brothers as follows:

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.[51]

Accrocca has also pointed out the thematic continuity between these verses and the preceding vs. 6b-10, where Francis reaffirms in the present tense his firm resolve to submit to the priests and not to preach if it was against their will;[52] in a way the saint proclaims his firm intention to accept the possibility of rejection by the local churches even though the papal bulls had assured the catholicity of his movement. It was not acceptable for Francis to resort to Rome to defend himself against possible cases of refusal.

Perhaps within the Franciscan community, always more numerous and pastorally effective, the friars, in order to overcome the difficulties that they were encountering from time to time in their progressive expansion in Italy and Europe, must have aired, even after the Rb, the idea of being able to obtain a papal bull similar to that of October 1225, in which Pope Honorius III granted the Dominican friars and the Minors wide pastoral possibilities – including preaching – to be exercised, however, only in their missionary activity in the Saracen lands.[53] In the two blocks of verses, that is, vs. 6b-10 and the following 23-25 of the Testament, Francis wants to confront and respond to this probable attempt – which for him was a temptation – to overcome the difficulties that the friars encountered in their pastoral service by resorting to Rome. In the two texts he reaffirms, in two different and complementary ways, a strong and sharp refusal of any solution of “power”: first of all in a positive way by proclaiming his renewed will of radical submission to the Church expressed in a paradoxical way through his submission even to poor and sinful priests, then in a negative way by commanding the friars not to use even the lawful instrument, such as recourse to Rome, but contrary to the initial intuition given to Francis by God in the experience with the priest of San Damiano. Every choice of power and self-assertion, even for good purposes such as the possibility of proclaiming the word of God, meant for Francis the loss of identity as lesser brothers, the one that God had given him with the lepers and confirmed in the ecclesial sphere by being with the priest of San Damiano. I agree with Accrocca that the temptation of the Order to defend a strong and secure position in the fabric of the Church, even if it was for the good of souls, worried Francis more than the danger that the friars might be confused with heretics.[54] Obedient dependence on a poor and contradictory Church – which in some cases even prevented the friars from being useful and effective for the good of souls – without finding solutions of power on the part of the friars to guarantee their own space and their own pastoral and spiritual effectiveness, constituted the only way granted to them to live their faith in the Incarnation through a journey of humble and poor abasement towards the visible flesh of Christ in history which is the Church.

Faith in the Eucharist

A sure reference to an important issue related to the current life of the Order is present in the personal commitment reiterated by Francis in his Testament in relation to the Eucharist: “I want to have these most holy mysteries honored and venerated above all things and I want to reserve them in precious places”. One could say that Francis had launched a sort of “Eucharistic crusade” in which he had involved his Order extensively. Assuming with awareness and enthusiasm not only the dogmatic, but also the liturgical demands proposed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 regarding the Eucharist,[55] the Saint, starting in 1220, when he was already ill and with great difficulty in moving around the lands of Italy, sends several circular letters[56] with the focus not only on the theological aspects of the mystery hidden in the bread and wine, but above all on celebratory aspects concerning both the dignity and cleanliness of the sacred vessels used for Mass, and the safety and preciousness of the places where the Eucharist is to be kept.[57] In the Testament Francis reaffirms this last aspect: the honour of the Eucharist is not simply an act of the heart, but also requires physical attention to its presence which must be kept in precious places. In his “I want to honour and venerate and reserve” of the Testament, the Saint reiterates the double task that he had already assigned to his friars several times, to keep firm their faith and veneration in the Eucharist, and also to be spokesmen, as he had exhorted them in a letter,[58] to all clerics and bishops of the dignity with which the holy body and blood of Christ must be celebrated and preserved. The Eucharistic crusade of Francis continues until the end, and the Order is invited to carry it forward as a task bequeathed to the brothers by the Saint in his Testament.

Faith in theologians

The faith in theologians, recognised as those who can administer spirit and life, besides referring, as seen above, to an experience of the beginnings of his conversion, is certainly in connection with the historical present of the one who dictates/writes the Testament. On several occasions I have had occasion to highlight the importance of this v. 13 to rebalance a too hasty and summary judgment on Francis’ aversion to studies, an opinion that has often used as a supporting text the tenth chapter of the Rule where it says “let those who are illiterate not be anxious to learn”.[59] Beyond the difficult interpretation of the text of the Rule,[60] the passage in the Testament decisively refutes any aversion or rejection by Francis of theological reason and its slow and laborious process of approaching God. Perhaps against a risk of disembodied and haughty spiritualism that demanded a direct and immediate relationship with God, Francis reminds his brothers of the essential role of theology in mediating and administering the mystery of God.

In order to put forward a hypothesis on the historical context in which this exhortation of Francis may be inserted, it seems to me necessary to carefully analyse the formulation of verse 13 of the Testament built on the double verb “to minister/administer”, as the reason for the Saint’s decision to honour and venerate theologians. In this way our verse could be recomposed:

a) Theologians, in as much they “minister the most holy divine words”,
b) consequently they “minister to us spirit and life”.
c) Therefore we “must honour and respect them”.

This reformulation of the text allows, in my opinion, the following interpretation of Francis’ thought underlying v. 13: the theologians do not have a direct relationship with “spirit and life”, but only with the “most holy words”; however, since these are the clothing of the spirit, the flesh of the spirit, the theologians by administering the words administer “spirit and life”. For there can be no direct contact with the spirit unless mediated by words, that is, by a weak and ambiguous flesh. Therefore, theologians do not administer the Spirit but only its historical manifestation hidden and revealed in words. It is the effort of administering the words, of being servants and interpreters of the words that makes them consequently administrators and servants of the spirit. Only a few have the ability to administer the most holy words, because it takes an arduous and complex intellectual process to open the words and bring forth the spirit they contain. Such is the function of theologians. In the textual link placed by Francis between the “most holy names and written words”, which Francis wants to collect and treasure, should they be found in an unseemly place (v. 12), and the service of administering “most holy and divine words” by theologians (v. 13), one must also glimpse a certain theological relationship: finding and guarding the written words would be somewhat useless if there were not those who could administer them by opening their content. The words become holy, that is, full of spirit and life, when they are administered by theology.

The spirit, despite its intuitive immediacy and luminosity, needs to be scrutinised and verified, a role performed by modest and humble theology. The submission of the spirit to theology, it allowing itself to be administered by the “flesh” of theology, is proof, according to Francis, that it comes from God, it is spirit given by God. It has already been said that this was probably Francis’ initial experience when he subjected intuition to the scrutiny of the institution. Whether these words also refer to specific situations or attitudes of his brothers who in the last years of his life rejected the mediation of theology as the administrator of spirit and life, it is difficult to know precisely. But it is possible to think that the risk of pastoral pride could have been accompanied by the spiritual pride of their pauperistic evangelism. By association of ideas, it seems possible to me to clarify v. 13 on the theologians with a seemingly distant text. In chapter II of the Rb, Francis, after ordering all the brothers to wear vile clothing, continues with an important spiritual clarification:

I admonish and exhort them not to look down upon or judge those whom they see dressed in soft and fine clothes and enjoying the choicest food and drink, but rather let everyone judge and look down upon himself.[61]

By honouring the theologians, Francis seems to want to exhort his brothers not only not to despise the sumptuous garments of human intelligence, but to honour and venerate them, which would in fact avoid the risk of transforming spiritual experience into a much more dangerous garment because it is woven of pride and contempt. A spiritualism, Francis seems to be saying, that despises theologians, would despise words and with them the spirit.

c. Conclusion

Although the areas in which Francis’ God-given faith is exercised are diverse, the underlying object is the same: faith in the incarnation of God. At the centre of his repeated acts of faith is not the transcendent God, the glorious triune and unique God, but the humble God, incarnate and crucified in Christ. The commitment of faith does not concern the mystery of God in itself, the belief in God, an object on which Francis had never doubted, but on his historical manifestation in a flesh of weakness and poverty. It is for this reason that believing in the flesh of Christ meant for Francis adoring him in the poor and dilapidated churches, honouring and venerating him in the poor and perhaps even sinful priests, in the Eucharist as the culminating moment of the incarnation today, in the holy names of God written down and in the theologians who administer them. The honour and veneration, as the ultimate and definitive adherence of faith to the poor and contradictory showing forth of God in history, are in some way linked and in continuity with the “to show mercy” towards the lepers: in both cases there is a loving dispossession of Francis that overturns the criteria of power and supremacy to choose the poverty of marginalization and the minority of submission.

2. The act of faith

Adherence to a given object of faith constantly refers back to the act that enables this adherence. Although in our verses Francis is interested above all in presenting the areas in which his act of faith is exercised, valuable indications on the nature and quality of the act of faith also emerge. It seems that there are two particular characteristics highlighted by Francis in our text: a) faith is a gift of God b) it confers a capacity on man.

a. Faith is a gift of God

We have already seen that in its entirety the narrative part of the Testament constitutes the account of a history led and punctuated by successive interventions of God in the life of Francis. His is a life journey guided and accompanied by God. In two passages the decisive role assigned by Francis to the action of God emerges with great clarity, when in the account of the going among the lepers and in the revelation of the gospel life he adds “ipse/Himself” to the nouns “Dominus/Lord” and “Altissimus/Most High”. It is as if he wanted to emphasise their extraordinary nature: these events would not be comprehensible if God “himself” did not intervene, otherwise it would not be possible to explain what happened with the lepers in the overturning of the values of life and what he understood in the revelation of the Gospel life to be led together with the brothers.

With regard to faith, that is to the second moment of the three historical stages narrated by Francis, the “ipse” does not return to characterise the marvellousness of God’s intervention in the gift of faith, but it is nevertheless within this climate that the event must be placed. Twice, in connection with the two main objects of faith, namely for poor churches and for priests, it is repeated that “the Lord gave me such faith”. Such a faith – Francis affirms – is not understandable without bringing into play a direct intervention of God, in the same way, therefore, as the other two situations. The words of life heard in the ruined church of San Damiano and the richness of life experienced with the poor priest of that church would not have been possible without the ‘ipse Dominus’ having given him great faith.

To this first aspect of the gift of faith, it is necessary to add a second element present only in this passage. With regard to the faith in priests, the gift has a temporal extension that covers the whole of Francis’ existence: “the Lord gave me, and gives me still”. Perhaps also in doing the penance of conversion and for the choice of the community gospel life one can glimpse a temporal extension that reaches up to the present of Francis who writes or says: the Lord has granted me and still grants me to live in penance and in the gospel life with the brothers. These situations, in fact, are not only a memory, but become in the Testament a concrete admonition for the brothers. However, it is only through faith that Francis explicitly places the two verbs in continuity: he has given me, and he still gives me faith. Undoubtedly one can discover a form of amazement in Francis’ words: “The gaze of faith that I still have towards the Church is not understandable if I do not presuppose a gift still being given by God”. In fact, the gift of faith is not simply the discovery of an existential logic that broke into Francis’ life with the lepers or the revelation of a way of life to be led with his brothers modelled on the Gospel; that is, faith is not an event that can happen once and for all until one denies or abandons it, but it is a light that accompanies the journey, that must remain along the way, because only through it can one see and recognise the showing forth of the poor flesh of Christ in one’s own history.

b. That gives the ability to “discern”

Faith is the gift that comes directly and only from God, and, thanks to it, man can recognise in the poor and humiliated flesh of history the presence of the mystery of God. For Francis, faith is the ability to “discern”, that is, to separate, to divide the poor appearance of the flesh from its holy content. In this context, verse 9 is extremely clear: “And I do not want to consider any sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them”. In the act of faith Francis goes beyond the flesh of sin to the recognition of the presence of the Son of God in it. Faith, therefore, consists in a process of recognition that goes from the crucified flesh to the mystery hidden in it, and, therefore, is the recognition of poverty, submitting to it, as a place of manifestation and mode of encounter with the mystery of God.

In my opinion, of extreme interest for understanding this theological reading, which seems to underlie the text of Francis, is the opposing correlation in which the verbs “I do not want to consider” and “I discern” are placed. In them are hidden two levels or stages in Francis’ relationship with the object encountered, two stages made possible precisely by faith. The first level is that of seeing what is placed in front of us, taking note of the poverty and contradiction that is shown to us: what is seen is the “sin”, that is, a clear and evident weakness. But implicitly Francis asks himself if this appearance is the ultimate truth of the object encountered; and the answer is linked to an act of will: “I do not want to consider”, that is “I do not want to stop at the purely what is seen even if recognised as sin, I do not want to consider sin as the ultimate and only truth”. This not wanting to stop, not wanting to remain with sin, not considering it as the sole and final response of the flesh, is the first level of the gift of faith: it gives the courage not to stop at what one sees, but pushes forward, makes one wish to go further. This becomes is the second level, linked to “discerning” something other than what one sees. In fact, discerning is no longer an act of will, but is a gift that allows Francis to recognise more than what is seen, to divide, that is, between the flesh and what it contains, and to discover in it, glimpse, discern the presence of the Son of God. From the will not to stop at sin to the amazement of discovering in it the presence of God: such is the “hermeneutic” journey in two stages granted by the gift of faith to Francis.

We could say, therefore, that for Francis the gift of faith is a hermeneutic process that goes from seeing to recognising. If the hypothesis is correct, one can also conclude that this gift is strictly in continuity with what Francis experienced among the lepers. The existential event, as a process of encounter and renewal lived by the young man among the lepers, continues and develops in an explicit theological process, which is characterized as recognizing in the poor and contradictory sacramentality of God manifesting his presence. From the lepers Francis had received the hermeneutical principle of seeing beyond appearances: seeing lepers and recognising something else from them, seeing lepers and experiencing sweetness. From them he learnt not to stop at what he had seen, the bitter and unacceptable sight that contradicted any possibility of life. From them he learnt to go beyond and await the gift of a recognition of the Presence that is essential for human life. The existential process of seeing and recognising lived with the lepers becomes a theological process of faith applied to the poor, manifesting the mystery of God in “sacramental” places and presences that also demanded a journey of recognition.

This hermeneutical process bestowed by faith and synthetically contained in our verse 9 of the Testament is applied and verified in the five areas listed by Francis: churches, priests, written holy names, the Eucharist and theologians. In order to clarify this important process which goes from “I do not want to consider sin” to “discern the Son of God” it seems useful to briefly analyse three of the five objects in which the principle of recognition of faith resonates most strongly and clearly: namely priests, the Eucharist and theologians.

With regard to priests, we have analysed this hermeneutic process of faith by emphasising the relationship between the two verbs in verse 9. However, I would like to add a few considerations to eliminate a possible misunderstanding. Not wanting to consider sin does not mean not seeing it, nor does the honour and veneration given to the priests, to whom Francis wants to have recourse even though they persecuted him, mean the loss of his personal autonomy and responsibility before God. For the first aspect it is enough to think back to the beautiful words present in the Letter to the whole Order, where he reminds priests what holiness they should live in order to respond to their vocation to administer the holiness of God present in the Eucharist.[62] Not wanting to consider sin does not mean not wanting to confront and oppose it either; and the means to implement this for Francis are various and complementary: they range from extreme harshness, as in the case of friars who were not Catholic, foreseeing even prison for them,[63] to the tenacity of mercy to be shown to sinful friars suggested to the anonymous minister and then codified in the Rule.[64]

Above all, not considering sin and maintaining honour and veneration for priests, because in them he “discerns” the Son of God, does not mean the loss of one’s autonomy in the personal and responsible response to be given to God for one’s life. Recourse to the Church, in any case and always, for the recognition of the mystery that she contains and transmits, does not mean suspension of the responsibility and effort to respond personally to God. “no one showed me what I had to do”,[65] not even the priest of San Damiano nor the bishop of Assisi. We do not know what is hidden in this memory in which Francis recalls his loneliness and difficulty in having to understand the way of life to assume with his brothers, but it is possible to intuit the presence of difficult confrontations and inevitable clashes with those who were close to that young man in such an important and decisive moment. One could project onto those moments what would happen later in the confrontation/clash with Cardinal Ugolino during the chapter of Mats: instead of renouncing his view and giving himself up to the prelate who suggested the choice of an ancient rule for his fraternity, Francis reaffirmed his intuition and his autonomy that depended directly on God.

The act of faith in the Church therefore in no case means blindness or indifference to sin, nor loss of autonomy and responsibility on the part of Francis to respond personally to the mystery of God.

The act of faith in the Eucharist certainly constitutes the moment in which at the highest degree the twofold moment of its actualization takes place: “consider-see” and “discern-believe”. The sacramental mystery contained in the poverty of priests is truly and radically realised in the Eucharist. In the Testament Francis reproposes the fundamental nuclei of his Eucharistic theology:

I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood.

The dynamic of Eucharistic faith is therefore to see the bread and wine and discern in it the presence “of the most High Son of God”, that is, to see the poverty of matter and recognise in it the body and blood of Christ. Indeed, it must be said that in the Eucharist the two stages of the act of faith are so united that Francis identifies them: to see the bread and wine is to see/believe in the body and blood. Of extreme richness in understanding this identification is the last part of Admonition I where one finds a particular structure of a binary type like that already seen above for vv. 6-10 of the Testament:

A) As He revealed Himself to the holy apostles in true flesh.
B) so He reveals Himself to us now in sacred bread.
A1) And as they saw only His flesh by an insight of their flesh, yet believed that He was God as they contemplated Him with their spiritual eyes,
B1) let us, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, see and firmly believe that they are His most holy Body and Blood living and true.[66]

The cross-relationships between blocks A-B and A1-B1 are multiple and constant and all aim at proclaiming the total and perfect continuity between the objective showing of the Son of God in the flesh of Jesus and in the bread and wine and the subjective dynamic of seeing/believing of the apostles in contact with the flesh of Jesus and the seeing/believing of the Christian in front of the Eucharist.[67] The act of faith performed by the apostles is the same as that of the Christian. The mystery of the Eucharist shows in fullness the hermeneutic process of the act of faith called to discern/recognise and believe in the presence of the Absolute[68] in the poor and humble showing of bread and wine.

Such a distinction between container and content, divided by an excess of contradiction, where the Son of God is hidden in a sinful priest and identified in the poverty of bread and wine, was found in the separation made by Francis between “most holy divine words” and “spirit and life” in the work of theologians. The honour and veneration given to theologians by Francis stemmed from the distinction and interconnection between the two. The act of faith associated with the honour given to theologians is the recognition of this distinction and of the need for someone to make its content flow from the container: from the words to the spirit. In this context, therefore, the act of faith is not primarily directed at the relationship between words and spirit, but at the recognised role of theologians in being able to be an appropriate instrument for accomplishing this journey. Francis recognises in them a function apparently contradicted by the very process they adopt to administer words, that is, he believes that the spirit springs from the weakness and slowness of the philosophical and theological administration of words: from words to the Word.

c. Conclusion

Between the object of faith and the act of faith there is therefore an absolute continuity in the short passage of the Testament where Francis recalls the gift of faith received from God. Undoubtedly, in our verses 4-13, the Saint’s focus is on the objective areas (object of faith) in which he has experienced and verified the greatness and incredible nature of the faith given to him by God. However, we have seen that the text also allows us to develop a deeper understanding of Francis’ theological vision of the act of faith. The two moments are in absolute continuity: in the text of Francis the act of faith is adapted to the object of faith.

The main object of the verification of how great was the faith received from God was not the mystery itself of the divine transcendence as the ultimate and definitive desire of every heart, but His self-presentation in history through poor and humble sacramental presences. It is clear then that the act of faith will be totally adequate to this object, that is, the act of faith will consist in recognising his presence there where it would seem to be denied because of too much humility and poverty. The act of faith of which Francis speaks in his Testament is not a mystical ascent into the transcendence of God after an ascetic liberation from the flesh of history; on the contrary, the act of faith of Francis is a form of descent to the bottom of the earth, a laborious encounter, because it is contradictory, with the sin of the flesh, with its weakness and its poverty in order to find in it the very presence of the mystery of God. Nor is the act of faith of Francis a form of crossing over from the poverty of the flesh in order to be ferried, after an ascetic purification obtained precisely through this humiliating abasement, into the glorious purity and transcendence of God. The act of faith is to recognise, to discern, the very presence of the Son of God in the poor and contradictory sacramental mediations and there to adore and revere him. The act of faith is to realise that the earth we tread on is holy ground, it is his flesh through which God’s love remains incarnate in human history.

  1. Testamentum, in Fontes franciscani, a cura di E. Menestò e S. Brufani, Assisi 1995, 227-8 (in the following: Ff).
  2. P. Maranesi, Facere misericordiam. La conversione di San Francesco secondo il Testamento, in Frate Francesco 69 Nuova Serie (2003) 91-125.
  3. The strategic value of the Testament as an initial basis for a historical work on the figure of Francis is now an acquired fact; the analyses first by Manselli (see in particular San Francesco [Biblioteca di cultura, 182], Rome 1980, 43-69 and San Francesco dal dolore degli uomini al Cristo crocifisso, in Francesco e i suoi compagni [Biblioteca seraphico capuccina, 46], Rome 1995, 183-200) and then by Miccoli (in particular La proposta cristiana di Francesco d’Assisi, in Francesco d’Assisi. Realtà e memoria di un’esperienza cristiana (Einaudi Paperbacks, 217), Turin 1991, 33-97), the confirmations of Accrocca, to which we will immediately refer, and the applications of G. Merlo made in his recent volume Nel nome di San Francesco. Storia dei frati Minori e del francescanesimo sino agli inizi del XVI secolo, Milano 2003, 8-11, just to mention some of the scholars, are a demonstration of this. However, it does not seem to me that there are yet systematic and methodologically convincing studies on it. The recent commentary by M. Conti, Il discorso d’addio di san Francesco. Introduzione e commento al Testamento, Roma 2000, is proof of how much the interpretation of the Testament is still resolved in a spiritual-meditative type of reading, not too interested in a careful hermeneutic work capable of opening up the apparent simplicity of the text. I do not know whether in my first work and in this second attempt I succeeded in achieving this objective, but I hope to offer stimuli for a more probing reading of the Testament.
  4. Of the same opinion as Esser is also T. Matura, Francesco, un altro volto. Il messaggio dei suoi scritti (Tau 5), Milan 1996, where, by re-proposing the character of an “occassional piece of writing”, he contests the decisive value of the Testament for the understanding of Francis, as it offers “too narrow a grid” (p. 39) for an effective reconstruction of the theological and spiritual elements of the Saint.
  5. Cf. F. Accrocca, Il testamento di Francesco: l’eredità di un’immagine, in Francesco e le sue immagini. Momenti della evoluzione della coscienza storica dei frati Minori (Secoli XIII-XVI), (Centro studi Antoniani 27), Padova 1997, 28.
  6. Ibid, 27. The author also returns to this issue in his Francesco fratello e maestro, Padua 2002, 52.
  7. Ibid. For the reference to Raoul Manselli, see his San Francesco, 75, a text that has recently been taken up by his students and republished with the critical and bibliographical apparatus that had been omitted by the author at the time: San Francesco d’Assisi. Editio maior, Cinisello Balsamo, 2002.
  8. K. Esser in his structural analysis of the Testament and in particular of these verses makes no reference to such a possible tripartite structure linked to the history of Francis himself but thinks that the whole text proceeds by “Stichworte”, words that each time give way to the next sentence by association of ideas: “Damit schliesst die stichwortmässig miteinender verbundene erste Gedankenreihe der erste Teil des Testamentes” (Das Testament, 125). According to Esser, this process supersedes the entire formation of the text, which for our author is divided into four parts (vv. 1-13, 14-26, 27-34, 35-41) linked together only by an internal relationship of associations of ideas: “Damit dürfe klar sein, dass das Testament keine Gliederung i eigentlichen Sinne hat” (128). It seems to me that the scholar’s proposal, in particular with regard to the historical-narrative part, neglects too many textual elements, thus falling into a form of fragmentation of the text born, in his opinion, from a random process; in this context it is striking that Esser does not give any value to the repetitions of the divine interventions, repetitions that instead seem in the editorial intention of Francis events that give movement and rhythm to his history.
  9. Testamentum Senis factum, in Ff 241.
  10. Cf. P. Maranesi, Facere misericordiam, in particular 112-116.
  11. “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. We desired nothing more” (Test. 16-17).
  12. “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” (Test. 24).
  13. Comp. Ass, 59, 4: Ff 1550. This request of some companions wishing to have a written memory so as to be able to affirm: “Our father left these words to his sons and brothers at his death”, constitutes for K. Esser the proof that the Testament was favoured and wanted (extorted?) by some of the Saint’s “associates” in order to have a document to exhibit against the “adversaries” who had by now given a new and contrary direction to the Order (cf. Das Testament, 119-122). Such considerations by Esser reveal the “ideological” danger of his analyses.
  14. Comp. Ass. 59, 1: Ff 1549-50 tells us about his desperate situation due to the heartfelt plea of his companions: “During those days and in the same cell where blessed Francis spoke about these things to Lord Bonaventure, one evening he wanted to vomit because of the disease of his stomach. Because of the strain he put on himself in vomiting, he vomited up blood all night until morning”.
  15. According to R. Manselli, reading carefully some passages of the Compilatio Assisiensis, it is necessary to think that “alongside the ‘great’ Testament there were others, in which the Saint had left particular dispositions and which constituted the complex of his last will, the testamentum in the most generic sense of the word (Dal testamento ai testamenti di san Francesco, in Id., Francesco e i suoi compagni, [Biblioteca seraphico-capuccina, 46], Rome 1995, 322).
  16. The same historical hypothesis is proposed by K. Esser who suggests a long gestation period of several months and a final dictation close to death: “Den Plan, ein Testament zu schreiben, trug er also in halbes Jahr mit sich … Er wurde lange Zeit vorher von Franz und den Brüdern besprochen, aber kurz vor seinem Tode erst endgültig verwirklicht” (Das Testament, 118).
  17. On this clarification in the title of Celano’s first biographical work, see the introduction by Grado Merlo to the work by R. Paciocco and F. Accrocca, La leggenda di un santo di nome Francesco. Tommaso da Celano e la Vita beati Francisci, (Tau 9), Milan 1999, 9.
  18. F. Accrocca, Il testamento di Francesco, 27.
  19. On the nature of this text cf. K. Esser, Das Testament, 118.
  20. Test. 20-22, in Ff 229. Accrocca makes a fleeting mention of it in a note without, however, carefully elaborating on the possible relationships between the two texts (cf. Il testamento di Francesco, n. 43, p. 28).
  21. Precisely in the absence of any comparison between these passages of the Testament with the probable questions present within the Order at the time of the writing of the text constitutes one of the major perplexities regarding the effectiveness and correctness of the work proposed by Conti, Il discorso di Addio di San Francesco, where the author has not distinguished the two historical levels of the text, limiting himself instead to a purely spiritual reading. These characteristics make his commentary on the Testament unusable for a more careful study of the historical dynamics underlying the text of Francis and therefore, in my opinion, also of little significance for a correct spiritual rereading of it.
  22. In this sense in the analysis of Accrocca it would seem that the historical perspective aimed at the initial context of the gift of faith is completely absent. It is occupied with the initial context of the gift of faith, like the other studies with which it is compared, seeking to determine and understand the historical context of the moment in which Francis dictates his text.
  23. Cf. what is noted in my article Facere misericordiam, 116-125.
  24. For a recent historical and spiritual re-examination of the “hovel” of Rivotorto and the spiritual function carried out by this place for the primitive Franciscan fraternity, see the collective work San Francesco e Rivotorto. I primi passi della fraternità francesciscana, il santuario, il territorio (Il miracolo di Assisi. Collana storico-artistica della Basilica e del Sacro Convento di San Francesco in Assisi, 15), Assisi 2004.
  25. On the liturgical origin of the prayer of adoration of the cross in the Testament see V. Kybal, Über das Testament des hl. Franz von Assisi, in Mitteilung des Instituts fur österreichische Geschichtsforschung 36 (1915) 323, which identifies a strong dependence of the words of Francis on the prayer of the feast of the Cross: “Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi, quia per crucem tuam redemisti mundum”. However, K. Esser wishes to emphasise that in the prayer of the Testament one must recognise a “persönliche Frömmigkeit [personal piety]” of the Saint (Das Testament, 146).
  26. Cf. the sources: 1 Cel. 9, 2-7, in Ff 284-5; Anon. per. 7, 3-6, in Ff 1314-5; 3 Comp. 16, 2-6, in Ff 1389; 2 Cel. 11, 10, in Ff 453; Leg. Maior, II 1, 7-8, in Ff 787-8.
  27. Cf. Anon. per. 7,3.
  28. Cf. 3 Comp. 16.2, while 1 Cel. qualifies it as “poor priest”.
  29. To have an idea of the often degraded cultural, moral and spiritual situation of priests, it is sufficient to recall the first canons of the Fourth Lateran Council dedicated to the reform of the moral life of the clergy. 14: “De incontinentia clericorum punienda” [Summary: Clerics, especially those in sacred orders, shall live chastely and virtuously. Anyone suspended for incontinency who presumes to celebrate the divine mysteries shall be forever deposed.]; can. 15: “De arcenda ebreitate clericorum” [SUMMARY Clerics, who after being warned do not abstain from drunkenness, shall be suspended from their office and benefice.]; can. 17: “De comessationibus praelatorum et negligentia eorum divinis officiis” [SUMMARY. Prelates and clerics are commanded in virtue of obedience to celebrate diligently and devoutly the diurnal and nocturnal offices.]; can. 18: “De iudicio sanguinis et duelli clericiis interdicto” [SUMMARY Clerics may neither pronounce nor execute a sentence of death. Nor may they act as judges in extreme criminal cases, or take pa in matters connected with judicial tests and ordeals]. In addition to these, there are also strong warnings about the celebratory quality of the Mass in can. 19: “Ne ecclesiae mundanis suppellectilibus exponantur” [SUMMARY: Household goods must not be stored in churches unless there be an urgent necessity. Churches, church vessels, and the like must be kept clean.], where it is said about the serious situation of the liturgy: “Sunt et alii qui non solum ecclesias dimittunt incultas, verum etiam vasa ministerii et vestimenta ministrorum ac pallas altaris necnon et ipsa corporalia tam immunda relinquunt, quod interdum aliquibus sunt horror [There are also others who not only neglect to keep the churches clean but also leave the vessels, vestments, palls, and corporals so unclean that sometimes they are a source of aversion.]” (Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, Bologna 1991, 244; hereinafter COD).
  30. 3 Comp. 13.11, in Ff 1386.
  31. Compare 1 Celano 9 with the Three Companions 16.
  32. The only biography that takes up the structure of the First Life of Celano is the Major Legend of Bonaventure where almost the same elements return, described however in such a stylised way that the element of intimacy between the two characters is lost. On the other hand, in both the Anonymous and the Memoir of Thomas, Francis’ relationship with the priest is superficial and fleeting, and above all Francis’ request to stay with him does not appear. We know, however, that the absence in the two biographies of the role of the bishop is linked to the redactional intentions of the two authors: the Anonymous is not too interested in the life of Francis, insisting above all on some points in which he corrects the First Life of Thomas (cf. F. Accrocca, Un’opera preziosa e a lungo dimenticato: De inceptione vel fundamento ordinis, in Frate Francesco 71 [2005] 173-4); the Memoriale does not rewrite the life of Francis, but completes what he had not said in the previous life, without repeating what he had already recounted.
  33. In my opinion, these passages confirm what F. Accrocca noted when speaking of the “psychological penetration and spiritual intensity” of the text of the Three Companions (cf. La leggenda trium sociorum: una peculiar attenzione all’umanità di Francesco, in Frate Francesco 71 [2005] 552-554).
  34. “Returning to the church of San Damiano, joyful and eager, he made a hermit’s habit for himself, and comforted the priest of that church with the same words with which the bishop had comforted him” (3 Comp. 21.2 in Ff 1394).
  35. “The priest judged the work to be beyond his strength, even though he was offering himself so enthusiastically to divine service. Although poor himself, he obtained special food for Francis, for he knew that, while he was in the world, he had lived rather delicately” (3 Comp. 22.1 in Ff 1394-5). The episode is taken up again in its content by the Second Life of Celano: “He continued the sweaty work of repairing that church as Christ had commanded him, and from being over-delicate he changed into a rough and work-worn man. The priest who had that church saw him worn out with constant labor and, moved to piety, began to serve him each day some of his own food, although nothing very tasty, since he was poor (2 Cel. 14.2 in Ff 456). 
  36. As notes Accrocca, Il testament di Francesco, 28.
  37. In order to imagine the celebratory situation of many priests in that period, one thinks back to the serious warnings made both by the Lateran Council IV on the poor conditions of the churches and sacred furnishings (cf. what has already been said in footnote 27), as well as by the famous letter of Honorius III Sane cum olim in which one reads among other things: “Dolemus plurimum et tristamur, quod in provinciis sacerdotes sanctiones canonicas, immo divinum iudicium contemnentes, sanctam Eucharestiam incaute custodiunt, et immunde ac indevote contrectant, quasi nec creatorem timeant vel recreatorem diligant, aut iudicem omnium expavescant, quamquam Apostolus terribiliter comminetur deteriora illum mereri supplicia, qui Filium Dei conculcaverit, vel Sanguinem testamenti pollutum duxerit, aut Spiritui gratiae contumeliam fecerit, quam transgressores legis Mosaicae, qui mortis sententia plectebantur” (Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, vol. XXII, Venice 1778, 1100 CD; hereafter Mansi).
  38. On this aspect of Francis cf. C. Vaiani, Vedere e credere. L’esperienza cristiana di Francesco d’Assisi, Milan 2000, see also the pages of N. Nguyen-van-Khanh, Gesù Cristo nel pensiero di San Francesco secondo i suoi scritti, Milan 1984, 219-232.
  39. For Nguyen, using a hypothesis of Vorreux, the text of Francis takes up a treatise attributed to “blessed Bernard” on “De corpore Domini” (PL, col. 1149-1150; cf. ibid., 223-233). on “De corpore Domini” (PL, col. 1149-1150; cf. ibid., 223-233). F. Accocca, Francesco fratello e maestro, 64, also returns to the discussion. In this text Miccoli sees the theological synthesis of “Christum sequi” as the resolving centre of the Christian proposal of Francis (Gli scritti di Francesco, in Francesco d’Assisi e il primo secolo di storia francescana, Turin 1997, 60-61).
  40. Cf. C. Vaiani, Vedere e credere, 22-44.
  41. K. Esser sees in the recollections of the Testament linked to the sacramentality of the Church in mediating the encounter of man with God the proof that Francis was not “ein religiöser Individualist” (Das Testament, 150).
  42. According to Giovanni Miccoli, the texts of Francis, and in particular the apologue of De vera laetitia and the Testament clearly show “the undoubted witness of the forming among the friars of an antagonistic attitude towards Francis, in particular with respect to the way he thought about the role of the Order and the characteristics of its presence in society” (Gli scritti di Francesco come fonti per la storia delle origini minoritiche, in Verba Domini mei. Gli Opuscula di Francesco d’ Assisi 25 anni dalla edizione di Kajetan Esser, edited by A. Cacciotti [Medioevo 6], Rome 2003, 167).
  43. Cf. Il testamento di Francesco, 29 and in particular note 45.
  44. In the esteem expressed by Francis to the priests independently of their sins, but only by virtue of their Eucharistic mission, that is, of their faculty, which “ipsi soli” have, to administer “aliis” the Eucharist, surely resonates the text of the profession of faith imposed in 1208 by the Church on the Waldensians where we read: “Sacrificium, id est panem et vinum, post consecrationem esse verum corpus et verum sanguinem Domini nostri Iesu Christi, firmiter et indubitanter corde pure credimus et simpliciter verbis fidelibus affirmamus, in quo nihil a bono maius nec a malo minus perfici credimus [perficitur] sacerdote; quia non in merito consecrantis sed in verbo efficitur Creatoris et in virtute Spiritus Sancti. Unde firmiter credimus et confitemur quod quantumcumque quilibet honestus religiosus, sanctus et prudens sit non potest nec debet Eucharistiam consecrare nec altaris Sacrificium conficere nisi sit presbyter a visibili et tangibili episcopo regulariter ordinatus. Ad quod officium [to be a priest] tria sunt ut credimus, necessaria: scilicet certa persona id est presbyter ab episcopo ut praediximus ad illud proprie officium constitutus, et illa sollemnia verba, quae a sanctis Patribus in canone sunt expressa et fidelis intentio proferentis; ideoque firmiter credimus et fatemur, quod quicumque sine praecedenti ordinatione episcopali, ut praediximus, credit et contendit se posse sacrificium Eucharistiae facere haereticus est et perditionis Core et suorum complicum est particeps atque consors et ab omni sancta Romana Ecclesia segregandus” (cf. H. Denzinger – A. Schönmetzer, Echiridion symbolorum. Definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, Rome 1976, 794).
  45. F. Accrocca proposes a first reading of the most important texts, cf. Il Testamento di Francesco, 28-31.
  46. Rnb, XVII.1, in Ff 200.
  47. Rb, IX 1, in Ff 178.
  48. Cum dilecti of Honorius III (1219).
  49. “Therefore, we want all of you to take note that we hold their Order [to be] among those approved by us, and that we regard the brothers of this Order as truly Catholic and devout men. We therefore take this occasion through these apostolic letters to warn and exhort you, indeed we prescribe and command you, to admit them into your dioceses as true believers and religious and to hold them, out of reverence for God and for us, as having been favorably recommended” (Pro dilectis).
  50. The presence of difficulties in receiving permission to preach from some bishops and the desire of some friars to turn to Rome to overcome these impediments are precisely the contents of an episode recounted in n. 20 of Comp. As., where Francis firmly rejects this solution as contrary to their vocation as Minors (cf. Ff, 1499-50). In this text, moreover, the Saint expressly refuses the “privilegia” requested by the friars (Comp. As. 20,5), a desire that could precisely confirm the hypothesis, which is being advanced, of an attempt by some friars to get round the obstacle of the bishops by resorting to Rome.
  51. Test. 25-26.
  52. Cf. F. Accrocca, Il Testamento di Francesco, 31.
  53. It reads: “Ut autem Ministerium vestrum confidentius exequamini, concedimus, ut in praedicta dumtaxat regione vobis liceat predicare, baptizare Saracenos ad fidem noviter venientes, et reconciliare apostatas, iniungere poenitentias” (Vineae Domini, in BF, I, 24a). Before the death of Francis, Pope Honorius III sends two more bulls concerning the apostolic activity of the friars in the Muslim lands, in the first, of 20 February 1226, he grants the bishop of Toledo the possibility of choosing one or two friars from among the minors and preachers to be elevated to the episcopal order to carry out the various apostolic tasks required in those difficult and extensive mission lands (cf. BF, I, 24-25); in the second, addressed instead directly to the two orders, he grants the Friars Minor and Dominicans to be exempt from the absolute prohibition of the use of money because of the needs and benefits they encounter in their missionary activity (cf. BF, I, 26). It is possible to think that these papal concessions, linked to a particular pastoral situation such as the missionary one in the Saracen lands, suggested to the friars the same solution of appealing to Rome to overcome the difficulties of settlement and pastoral care that they perhaps experienced in some dioceses from the local clergy. It is in this context that even R. Rusconi interprets the calls of Francis in the Testament against any legal support to be requested from Rome (cf. “Clerici secundum alios clericos”: Francesco d’Assisi e l’istituzione ecclesiastica, in Frate Francesco d’Assisi. Atti del XXI Convegno internazionale Assisi 14-16 ottobre 1993, Spoleto 1994, 96-99.
  54. “His concern was that his brothers, rather than being homologated to the heretics, should not be homologated to other ecclesial presences, nor, even less, should they break with the ecclesiastical structure, to affirm their own presence, undoubtedly more effective on the pastoral level” (F. Accrocca, Il Testamento di Francesco, 34).
  55. On this cf. P. Maranesi, Questioni teologiche e pastorali sull’Eucarestia nel Lateranense IV, in Negotium fidei. Miscellanea di studi a Mariano D’Alatri in occasione del suo 80° compleanno, a cura di P. Maranesi (Bibliotheca Seraphico-capuccina, 67), Roma 2002, 267-306.
  56. Cf. B. Cornet, Le “De reverentia corporis Domini”, exhortation et lettre de S. François, in Etudes Franciscaines 6 (1955) 65-91, 167-180; 7 (1956) 20-35, 155-171; 8 (1957) 33-58.
  57. “With all that is in me and more I beg you that, when it is fitting and you judge it expedient, you humbly beg the clergy to revere above all else the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy names and the written words that sanctify His Body. They should hold as precious the chalices, corporals, appointments of the altar, and everything that pertains to the sacrifice. If the most holy Body of the Lord is very poorly reserved in any place, let It be placed and locked up in a precious place according to the command of the Church. Let It be carried about with great reverence and administered to others with discernment (I Ep. cust. 2-4, in Ff 65-66). The appeal made in the letter “according to the command of the Church” on the attention of priests in keeping the Eucharist in a precious place, clearly refers back to canon 20 of Lateran IV where it was stated “We decree that in all churches the chrism and the Eucharist be kept in properly protected places provided with locks and keys, that they may not be reached by rash and indiscreet persons and used for impious and blasphemous purposes. But if he to whom such guardianship pertains should leave them unprotected, let him be suspended from office for a period of three months.” (COD, 244). But perhaps in the exhortation of Francis one also hears the words of Honorius III sent to the Spanish bishops in the famous letter Sane cum olim where among other things he orders: “quatenus a sacerdotibus Eucharestia in loco singuli, mundo etiam et signato semper honorifice collocata, devote ac fideliter conservetur” (Mansi, XXII, 754).
  58. Cf. II Ep. Cust., 4-5, in Ff 69.
  59. Rb X 8, in Ff 179. I refer you to my work: L’“intentio Francisci” sul rapporto tra minorità e studio nell’idealità francescana del primo cinquantennio dell’Ordine, in Minores et subditi omnibus. Tratti caratterizzanti dell’identità francescana, a cura di L. Padovese, Roma 2003, 273-304.
  60. An attempt to analyse the passage has been made in P. Maranesi, Nescientes litteras. L’ammonizione della Regola francescana e la questione degli studi nell’Ordine (Sec. XIII-XVI), (Bibliotheca Seraphico-capuccina, 61), Rome 2000, 30-37.
  61. Rb II 17, in Ff 173.
  62. Cf. Ep. Ord. 23-25, in Ff 101. Giovanni Miccoli rightly points out that in this text Francis is addressing in particular his “brother priests” who “more than all the other brothers” must live what they celebrate, in fact in the Eucharist they synthesise and make visible their vocation to imitate “that model of submission and humility which the Son of God offered with his incarnation and which he constantly proposes in the Eucharist” (Gli scritti di Francesco come fonti, 170).
  63. Cf. Test. 31-33.
  64. Cf. Rb VII, in Ff 177.
  65. Test. 14.
  66. Adm. I, 19-21, in Ff 26.
  67. For an analysis of the other texts in which Francis uses the relationship between seeing and believing see C. Vaiani, Vedere e credere, 7881.
  68. C. Vaiani speaks of a double seeing of the Christian who makes this journey: “from seeing to seeing and believing…. In fact, the believer is not someone who no longer sees, as if faith surpassed and eliminated seeing; the believer continues to see, just like the non-believer, but unlike the latter, he sees and believes” (ibid., 84-85).