FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

2. Writings of St. Francis of Assisi (3)

Rules, Testament, Admonitions

a. Regula non bullata (1221)
2.15. The Earlier Rule, which did not receive papal approval, is the fruit of a long reflection on the part of the Order during the crucial period between 1209 and 1221, that is, between the oral approval of the primitive Rule or "Propositum Vitae" by Pope Innocent III (text lost) and the General Chapter of 1221 in which the Regula non bullata (RegNB) was approved. The Rule also indicates a preoccupation to adapt to the post-conciliar reform after the IV Lateran Council of 1215.

St. Francis preaching to the birds
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2.16. The formation of the RegNB can be outlined in three stages, namely (1) the oral approval of the "Propositum Vitae" in 1209/10, which was mainly composed of the Gospel texts which were instrumental in indicating Francis' evangelical calling; (2) the decisions taken by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and by the General Chapters, especially from 1217, in particular regarding the missions of the Order; (3) the final draft of the RegNB approved by the Order in 1221.

2.17. According to the analysis of David Flood OFM and Thadee Matura OFM, "The Birth of a Movement: A Study of the First Rule of Saint Francis", Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1975, the Earlier Rule can be divided into two sections. The first section (chapters 1-17) reflects the state of the Order before 1215, while the second (chapters 18-24) is an answer to the new needs of the Church and the Order after the Lateran Council, especially regarding the territorial expansion of the Order, the constitution of provinces (1217) and the missionary expeditions to northern and central Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

2.18. According to what Giordano of Giano says in his Chronicle, 15, Francis asked Caesar of Speyer to help in the final draft of the Rule, especially regarding the numerous quotations from Scripture. It is a known fact that Caesar was a biblical scholar. For a thorough analysis of Scripture texts in the RegNB, cfr. Dino Dozzi OFMCap, "Il Vangelo nella Regola non Bollata di San Francesco d'Assisi", Istituto Storico dei Cappuccini, Rome, 1989.

2.19. Some chapters are worthy of particular attention. Chapter 16 speaks about missionaries among non-believers. It is the first of its kind in the legislation of religious Orders in the Church. Chapter 21 is an example of the Franciscan style of preaching. Chapter 23 is a long prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

b. Regula bullata (1223)
2.20. The text of the Later Rule or Regula bullata (RegB) was officially approved by Pope Honorius III on 29 November 1223. The RegB is the Rule which all male Franciscans of the OFM, OFMConventual and OFMCapuchin families of the First Order profess.

2.21. The original of the RegB is treasured as a precious relic in the lower basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. The text is a proof that this Rule is included in a papal Bull, thus indicating that the Church considers the Franciscan way of life as wholly Catholic.

2.22. The circumstances which refer to the writing of this Rule are given by various sources. St. Bonaventure (Legenda Maior IV,11) says that Francis withdrew to a high place and dictated the Rule. Elias, his vicar, later said that he lost the Rule, and so Francis retreated again to this lonely spot (hermitage of Fontecolombo) to write the Rule all over again. The symbolism Moses-Christ-Francis, and Commandments-Beatitudes-Rule, is evident. Later sources went even so far as stating that the Rule was personally dictated to Francis by Christ himself.

2.23. Francis asked two friars to help him to write the Rule, namely Leo and Bonizo from Bologna, an expert in canon law. The Rule also betrays the influence of Cardinal Hugolino.

The vision of the thrones
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2.24. The RegB is divided into 12 chapters, even though this division is not found in the original version. It is altogether a concise document, in which the trend at forming a legislative code for the Order is not absent, even though we cannot accept the idea that the original intentions of Francis were betrayed. The first chapter simply states that the Rule and Life of the Friars Minor is that of living the Gospel. For Francis these words were more than enough to express his ideals.

c. Regola pro eremitoriis data
2.25. The Rule for Hermitages is a short document which aims at laying the foundations for a heremitical and contemplative experience of fraternity. The Franciscan hermitages of Italy are well known, Le Carceri, La Verna, Greccio, Fontecolombo, Speco di Narni, Celle di Cortona, and countless others. Francis presents the heremitical life as an integral part of his ideal. The Franciscan hermitage is modelled upon the Gospel episode of Martha and Mary who minister to Jesus (Luke 10,38-42). For a thorough study of the Franciscan Rule for Hermitages, cfr. "Franciscan Solitude", edited by André Cirino OFM and Josef Raischl, The Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University, New York, 1995.

d. Testament (1226)
2.26. In the Bull "Quo elongati" of 1230 Pope Gregory IX states that when Francis was approaching his last days ("circa ultimum vitae suae"), he gave a commandment ("mandatum") to his brothers, which he called Testament.

2.27. The Testament, written probably in 1226, when Francis was dying, is the most important autobiographical document of the poverello. The description of this document as a "mandatum" indicates the style of a last will given by Francis to the brothers on the model of Christ's own "mandatum" in John 13-17, and particularly in the light of Christ's commandment of love unto death.

2.28. In the Testament written in Siena in 1225 (cfr. dictated writings), Francis expressed his last will in three points, which form the basis of this later Testament, namely, fraternity, poverty and obedience to the Church.

2.29. The Testament is well documented in the manuscript tradition, and is found in the Assisi Codex. The critical edition of the Testament is that of Kajetan Esser OFM, "Das Testamentum des heiligen Franziskus von Assisi", Münster, 1949.

2.30. The Testament was always a hotly debated document in the history of the Order. It presents the evangelical ideals of Francis as he originally conceived them, and sometimes it entered in direct conflict with the interpretations of the Rule given by the authority of the Church. All reform families in the Franciscan tradition held the Testament in great esteem. However, the intentions of Francis are clear in the text of the Testament, namely that this is a spiritual document which does not bind in conscience like the RegB. Nevertheless, the Testament remains a valuable document to trace the original inspiration of Francis, and the humble beginnings of the Order.

e. Admonitions
2.31. The Admonitions are a group of 28 short phrases of exhortation, given by Francis to the brothers, probably during the celebration of General Chapters of the Order (cfr. 1 Celano, 82). All 13th century manuscripts give witness to the existence of the Admonitions.

2.32. The Admonitions are not legislative texts. Their style is spiritual, and they are modelled on the style of the "collationes" common in monastic circles. Every Admonition deals with a particular theme. We shall indicate the most important.

The recovery of the wounded man of Lerida
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2.33. The first Admonition is the longest one, and speaks about the Body of the Lord in the Eucharist. Franciscan scholars have indicated its source in the Pseudo-Bernard, "Tractatus de corpore Domini" (Patrologia Latina 184:1149-1150). This Admonition forms part of various writings in which Francis insists upon the reverence to the Eucharist (cfr. 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), 35-58). This Admonition is also a proof of the great influence exerted by Cistercian theology upon the Franciscan ideal.

2.34. Another group of Admonitions (13 to 16) are short commentaries on the evangelical beatitudes. The discourse on the mount of Matthew 5-7 forms the basis of the theology of the Admonitions, which are sometimes called the "magna charta" of the evangelical fraternity.

2.35. Francis often mentions the servant of God ("servus Dei") in the Admonitions, an expression taken from Scripture and from monastic tradition. The Admonitions also have a short praise to the virtues and a veiled reference to the Virgin Mary, who treasured the Word in her heart.

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


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