The Writings Of Saint Francis Of Assisi
by Father Paschal Robinson


DOUBTLESS we should have expected every fragment of St. Francis' writings to have been preserved with loving care throughout the ages. But when we consider the conditions under which some of them were composed and the vicissitudes they afterwards passed through, we need not be surprised if all of them have not come down to us. On the contrary. For if we may believe such writers as Ubertino da Casale, serious attempts were made in certain quarters toward the close of the thirteenth century to suppress altogether part of the Saint's writings. [*1] Be this as it may, it is certain that several of these precious documents disappeared in the course of time. Among such lost treasures we must reckon the primitive Rule of the Friars in the form approved by Innocent III in 1209. [*2] Again only two fragments seem to have survived of the "many writings" which, as has been already mentioned, St. Francis addressed to the Poor Ladies at St.

[p. 180]

[paragraph continues] Damian's. [*1] Whether or not either of these fragments is to be identified with a letter written by St. Francis to console the Clares, of which we read in the Speculum and the Conformities, it is well nigh impossible to determine. [*2] Celano speaks [*3] of a letter to St. Antony of Padua, different apparently from the one known to us, and of others to Cardinal Ugolino. [*4] So, too, Eccleston [*5] tells of letters written to the brothers in France and at Bologna. [*6]

As to the famous letter of St. Francis to St. Antony commissioning the latter to teach theology, there is no small diversity of opinion. It is given for the first time in the Liber Miraculorum, [*7] and also in the Chron. XXIV Generalium. [*8] M. Sabatier, who was, I believe, the first to call the authenticity of this letter into question, [*9]

[p. 181]

now seems less inclined to reject it. [*1] Professor Goetz [*2] has decided for, and Professor Boehmer [*3] against it. The Quaracchi editors, in excluding this letter from their edition of the Opuscula, by no means intended to deny that St. Francis wrote to fratri Antonio, [*4] but they were unable to determine which if any of the three different forms of this letter now in circulation might be the genuine one. Since the matter is sub judice, [*5] so to say, I think, with Mr. Carmichael, this letter might find a place among the "Doubtful Works" of St. Francis. [*6]

Apropos of the Saint's doubtful works it seems proper to say a word as to the Rule of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. Although this Rule--like that of the Clares--is wanting in all the early MS. collections of St. Francis' writings, we know from Bernard of Besse [*7] that St.

[p. 182]

[paragraph continues] Francis, with the cooperation of Cardinal Ugolino, wrote a Rule for these Tertiaries. What became of this document? It is generally conceded that the Rule of this Third Order as it stands in the Bull Supra montem of Nicholas IV in 1289 [*1] is not the handiwork of St. Francis; and for the rest the early history of the Third Order is uncertain, as all Franciscan students are aware. [*2] But what are we to think of the much older text of this Rule published by M. Sabatier in 1901, after MS. XX of the convent at Capistran in the Abruzzi? [*3] Father Mandonnet, O.P., has tried to prove that the first twelve of the thirteen chapters comprising this document discovered by M. Sabatier, represent the Rule of 1221 in its primitive state. [*4] I would fain share the opinion of the learned Dominican on this head, but the objection raised against it by the Quaracchi editors seems to me insuperable. It amounts to this: In Chapter VI, section 4, of this Regula Antiqua there is a clear allusion to a

[p. 183]

[paragraph continues] Bull of March 30, 1228, [*1] which it is difficult to regard as an interpolation. Moreover, as Fr. Ubald d'Alencon points out, [*2] the mention of coin in circulation at Ravenna is also hard to explain in an Umbrian writer. Perhaps this document may prove to be St. Francis' Rule for Tertiaries put into legislative form, with the addition of a few minor regulations. Meanwhile, following the example of the Quaracchi editors, I have abstained from including it among the authentic writings of St. Francis. [*3]

Coming next to St. Francis' poems, although he doubtless wrote some few canticles besides the Canticle of the Sun, the two others given by Wadding can hardly be accepted as his, at least in their present form. I refer to the Amor de caritade [*4] and In foco l'amor mi mise. [*5] True, they are both attributed to St. Francis by St. Bernardine of Siena, [*6] but they are also found among the works of Jacopone da Todi, [*7] although Ozanam thinks that at most they were only retouched by the latter. [*8] The tendency nowadays is to ascribe

[p. 184]

all the early Franciscan poetry to Jacopone. When the critical edition of this extraordinary man's works is published at Quaracchi, some needed light will no doubt be thrown on this delicate question; then too, perhaps, Pacifico, the "King of Verses," and " most courtly doctor of singers," may at length come into his own. Meanwhile a number of poems found in a fifteenth century manuscript at the National Library at Naples, once at the convent of Aquila in the Abruzzi, and lately ascribed to St. Francis, are clearly apocryphal, as Professor Ildebrando della Giovanna has sufficiently demonstrated.

Wadding himself regarded the seven sermons of St. Francis he gives as of doubtful authenticity. And rightly, for they are from the work of Fr. Louis Rebolledo, already mentioned. [*1] The twenty-eight Collationes are, pace Fr. Mandonnet, who regards them as genuine, [*2] rightly rejected by Professor Goetz, who points out how Wadding compiled them from various sources. [*3] Many are translated from an Italian MS. at Fano in the Marches of which we know neither the age nor the parentage. [*4] But they seem to be mere transcripts from the early legends. Thus Collatio I is an adaptation of Celano (1, 2)

[p. 185]

and Collatio XIV is taken almost verbatim from St. Bonaventure, while Collatio V is an accommodation of Celano and St. Bonaventure; XXVI and XXVIII are abridged from the Speculum; XXIV is found in the Chron. XXI V Gen., and so on. It is therefore to the authors of these works and not to St. Francis that these conferences are to be ascribed.

At the end of his edition of the Opuscula Wadding has collected several "Prayers of St. Francis" of which the text is more than doubtful. Let us see why. Take for example the prayers said to have been used by St. Francis "at the beginning of his conversion" or "in time of sickness" or "at the elevation." One searches in vain among the early MS. collections for any trace of these prayers, nor is mention of them to be found [*1] elsewhere. As regards the prayer "to obtain Poverty," it has long been known that it was not written by St. Francis himself. Wadding found it in the Arbor Vitae (l. v., cap. iii), but Ubertino da Casale is there quoting from the Sacrum Commercium B. Francisci cum Domina Paupertate. [*2] The latter work is not an historical narrative, but an exquisite allegory in which St. Francis' own tale of his mystic espousals with the Lady Poverty is most poetically expanded by one of his

[p. 186]

followers, [*1] and consequently Ubertino did not pretend in citing such a work to give this prayer as the actual composition of Francis. [*2]

In some MS. collections and library catalogues certain works may be found ascribed to St. Francis which are obviously spurious. For example, the Epistola B. Francisci ad Fr. Bernardum, found in at least two fifteenth century codices, [*3] is nothing else but the letter of St. Bonaventure continens XXV memoralia. [*4]

Sbaralea [*5] mentions copies of a book of the "Sayings" of St. Francis as existing at Assisi and Ferrara, [*6] but a careful search has failed to reveal any trace of them. He also refers to a MS. (B. 31) in the Vallicellian Library at Rome in which "the sayings of St. Francis are found with the Rule," [*7] but this codex is also missing. In this library, however, there is a codex (B. 82, fol. 141 r) which contains a "Sermon delivered by St. Francis at the end of his life." [*8] The

[p. 187]

number of patristic citations this work contains is alone sufficient to demonstrate its spuriousness.

The Francisci Collationes cum fratribus, catalogued among the Latin MSS. of the Royal Library at Munich [*1] as being contained in a fifteenth century MS. at that library (cod. 11354), are a selection from the Dicta of the Blessed Brother Giles, as is evident from the Incipit of the prologue and the text of the first collation. [*2] Their attribution to St. Francis is therefore an error of the catalogue. The Verba S. Francisci de Paupertate, mentioned in the same catalogue as contained in Cod. 5998, fol. 189, are an excerpt from Chap. VI of the Second Rule of the Friars Minor. [*3]

This attribution of writings to St. Francis which clearly do not belong to him is rarely intentional; it is often the result of error. For the rest, it was easiest for compilers and librarians unacquainted with the authorship of certain Franciscan works, and not eager to undertake deep researches as to their origin, to ascribe them to the common father of all Franciscan literature and the source of its inspiration.

Since every new revelation of St. Francis must be a priceless gain, it is devoutly to be wished that the present energetic research work among

[p. 188]

the sources of Franciscan history may happily bring to light some of St. Francis' writings not known to us save through the formal attestation of the early legends and chronicles, or at least put us in possession of complete copies of such as have come down to us only in fragmentary form.

Meanwhile I conclude this volume by wishing its readers their full share in the blessing which St. Francis himself has promised to those who receive his words kindly: Omnes illi et illae, qui ea benigne recipient, benedicat eis Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus. Amen.


^179:1 "Et toto conatu fuerunt solliciti annulare scripta beati patris nostri Francisci, in quibus sua intentio de observantia regulae declaratur."--See Archiv., III, pp. 168-169.

179:2 See above, <page 26>.

180:1 We need not despair of finding others; the Clares' archives have mostly escaped spoliation.

180:2 See Spec. Perf. (ed. Sabatier), c. 108, and ed. Lemmens, c. 18. See also the Conformities (I, fol. 185), and above, <page 75>.

180:3 See 2 Cel. 3, 99.

180:4 See 1 Cel. 82. See also Leg III Soc., 67, where the Incipit of the letters is given.

180:5 De Adventu Minorum in Angliam. See Mon. Germ. Hist., Script., t. XXVIII, p. 563, and Anal. Franc., t. I, p. 232, note 4. See also Fr. Cuthbert's translation of Eccleston, p. 64.

180:6 Prof. Herkless in his Francis and Dominic, p. 54, cites some passages from a letter which St. Francis "wrote to his friends at Bologna " in 1228. One searches in vain for any trace of such a letter among the early collections of St. Francis' writings.

180:7 See ed. Acta S.S., no. 20.

180:8 See Anal. Franc., t. III, p. 132.

180:9 Vie de S. Francois, p. 322.

181:1 See Opuscules, fasc. x, p. 128, note 1.

181:2 Die Quellen, etc., p. 20. He places its composition between 1222 and 1225.

181:3 Analekten, p. vii.

181:4 In the Liegnitz MS. and the Vatican Codex 4354 the present letter is addressed fratri Antonio episcopo meo, which corresponds with the direction given by Celano (2 Cel. 3, 99).

181:5 On this letter see also Papini (Storia, t. I, p. 118, n. 1), Muller (Anfange, p. 103), Lempp (Zeitschrift, t. XII, pp. 425, 438), Lepitre (S. Antoine, p. 73), and de Kerval (S. Antonii, etc., p. 259, n. 1).

181:6 Another less well known letter to St. Antony, giving him permission "to build a church near the city wall of Patti," is sometimes attributed to St. Francis. But the text is most improbable and gives rise to colossal historic difficulties. See Lepitre, S. Antoine, p. 120, note, and Fr. Edouard d'Alencon, Etudes Franc., t. XII, p. 36r.

181:7 Liber de Laudibus in Anal. Franc., t. III, p. 686.

182:1 The text of this Rule (which was the one in force for Franciscan Tertiaries until the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution Misericors Dei Filius, by Leo XIII, May 30, 1883) may be found in Seraph. Legisl., pp. 77-94. For the new Rule substituted by Leo XIII, see Acta ad Tertium Franciscalem Ordinem spectantia (Quaracchi, 901), pp. 72-87.

182:2 See Anal. Boll., t. xviii, p. 294.

182:3 Regula Antiqua Fratrum et Sororum de Poenitentia. See Opuscules, t. I, p. 17. Boehmer also gives the text in his Analekten.

182:4 "La regle donnee en 1221 . . . dans son etat primitif." See his Les Regles et le gouvernement de l'ordo de poenitentia au XIIIe Siecle in Opuscules, t. I, p. 175.

183:1 The Bull Detestanda humani generis of Gregory IX.

183:2 Opuscules de S. Francois, p. 28.

183:3 There is an English translation of it. See Third Orders, etc., by Adderley and Marson (Mowbray, 1902).

183:4 Rosetti translated part of this poem in his Dante and his Circle, attributing it to St. Francis.

183:5 See Misc. Franc., 1888, pp. 96 and 190, for two interesting texts of this poem.

183:6 Opera omnia, t. IV, sermo 16 and 4 (see Acta S.S., t. II, Oct., p. 1003).

183:7 Jacopone, lib. VI, chap. XVI, and lib. VII, chap. VI.

183:8 Les Poetes Franciscains, p. 90.

184:1 See Wadding, Opusc., p. 508 ff.

184:2 See his Les Origines de l'ordo de Poenitentia; see also the Revue Thomiste, pp. 295-314.

184:3 Quellen, etc., XXII, 362. But see above, <page 89>, n. also.

184:4 "Codiculus quidam vestustus MS. Italico idiomati exaratus mihi a Fano Piceni urbe, ad Metaurum amnem extructa, transmissus." See Wadding, Opusc., p. 285.

185:1 The text of the prayer "in time of sickness" is given by Bonav. Leg. Maj., XIV, 2.

185:2 Latin text published in 1900 by Fr. Ed. d'Alencon, and English translation by Montgomery Carmichael (The Lady Poverty) in 1901.

186:1 See Chron. XXIV Generalium in Anal. Franc., t. III, p. 283.

186:2 It is none the less a pearl of Franciscan literature. See the beautiful rendering of it which forms the appendix to Mr. Carmichael's translation of the Sacrum Commercium.

186:3 At Vicenza (Bertol. lib. cod. G. I. 10. 24, fol. 89 r), also the Capistran MS. XXI, fol. 180 r.

186:4 See Bonav. Opera omnia, t. VIII, p. 491.

186:5 Supplementum, p. 244.

186:6 Liber Dictorum cujus initium Quid faciet homo et finis Oratio semper est praemittenda.

186:7 "Dicta S. Francisci, cum regula extant," he says.

186:8 It is entitled: "Praedicatio quaedam quam fecit B. Franciscus Fratribus suis circa finem mortis sui corporis." It abounds in quotations from SS. Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine, Isidore, Gregory, and Bernard.

187:1 See Catal. codicum latinorum, t. II, P. II, p. 27, n. 214.

187:2 See Dicta B. Aegidii (Quaracchi, 1905), pp. 1-51.

187:3 As to the "Perfectiones S. Francisci, quas dedit fratri Junipero,'' found at Paris (nat. lib., cod. 18327, fol. 158 r), see Monumenta, tr. II, fol. 281 r.


Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved