FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

2. Writings of St. Francis of Assisi (1)

Basic Background

2.1. Francis of Assisi often called himself "simplex et idiota" (Testament). It is surprising, however, that Francis is considered to be the author of various writings or "opuscula", even though he had little knowledge of the art of writing or of Latin grammar, at that matter.

2.2. The manuscript tradition of the writings is quite rich. The earliest manuscript is that found in the Biblioteca Comunale of Assisi (Cod. 338), dated towards the mid-13th century. Another important manuscript was found by Paul Sabatier in the Bibliotheca Guarnacci of Volterra (Cod. 225). Another important codex is that found in the Library of the Franciscan Ognissanti friary, in Florence (Cod. Ms. F. 19).

The canonization of Saint Francis
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2.3. The first attempt at a critical edition of the writings of St. Francis was that of Luke Wadding, a Franciscan Irish scholar. It was published in 1623 in Antwerp, with the title "Beati Patris Francisci Assisiatis opuscula. Nunc primum collecta, tribus Tomis distincta, Notis et Commentariis Asceticis illustrata".

2.4. In the beginning of the 20th century two critical editions were published, one by the Franciscan scholar L. Lemmens, "Opuscula sancti patris Francisci Assisiensis" (Biblioteca Franciscana Ascetica Medii Aevi, I), Quaracchi, 1904, and another by H. Boehmer, "Analekten zur Geschichte des Franziskus von Assisi", Tübingen, 1904.

2.5. Kajetan Esser OFM dedicated his whole life to the study of the authentic writings of St. Francis. In 1976 he published the critical edition of the writings, which is still the most complete and expert study of the manuscript tradition of the various writings, "Die Opuscula des heiligen Franziskus von Assisi. Neue textkritische Edition", Editiones Collegi S. Bonaventurae ad Claras Aquas, Grottaferrata, Rome, 1976.

2.6. Esser lists a total of twenty-eight writings, plus other dictated letters and blessings. These writings are often short, and many of them were either dictated directly by Francis to some of his friar collaborators, or else were the product of an oral tradition which can be traced to admonitions or words of encouragement uttered by the "poverello", especially during meetings in which the friars took part. The thirteenth century testimonies or Franciscan Sources are often a proof relating to the authenticity of the writings, and even, in some cases, indicating the concrete historical occasions on which they were composed.

2.7. Francis found the expert help of some learned friars of his Order, such as Leo of Assisi, Caesar of Speyer, Bonizo from Bologna. In some instances, as is the case of the Rule of 1223, Francis was directly guided by prelates of the Church, such as Cardinal Hugolino.

The blessing to Friar Leo - a rare writing of St. Francis

2.8. Only two of these writings are autographs, namely The Parchment given to Brother Leo and the Letter to Brother Leo, both treasured as relics to this very day, one at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the other at the Cathedral church of Spoleto.

2.9. Normally it is fairly difficult to date a good number of the writings. An attempt at a chronological list of the writings is that accomplished by Regis J. Armstrong in the English translation of the critical edition. Esser himself preferred to list the writings simply in alphabetical order, according to the titles he gave them in Latin. A widely used classification of the writings is that regarding their style, namely, (1) Rules, Testament and Admonitions; (2) Letters; (3) Prayers. Although there is no fixed rule regarding the best classification of the writings, it is best to follow this last type of classification, because it helps best in assimilating the contents of the various "opuscula"

© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm


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