FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

4. Sources: life of St. Francis (3)

Legend of the Three Companions

4.15. For many centuries Franciscan scholars peacefully accepted the Legend of the Three Companions as the logical result of what friars Leo, Rufino and Angelo stated in the letter written from Greccio on 11 August 1246 to Crescentius of Jesi. In other words, the L3S contained the documentary material of the "florilegium" submitted by the three companions.

The Allegory of Obedience

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4.16. Paul Sabatier in 1894 noted that there was a gap in the L3S, which abruptly passes from the early years of the history of the Order until 1221 in nos. 1-67 to Francis' death in nos. 68-73. He filled the gap by proposing the Speculum Perfectionis as the missing part of the L3S. Moreover Sabatier insisted upon 1227 as the date of the SpecPerf and upon friar Leo as its author. Later studies would show that it should be dated 1318. Van Ortroy in Analecta Bollandiana rejected Sabatier's thesis and severely criticised the L3S. The "Franciscan question" was born.

4.17. Modern scholars admit that the L3S is complete in itself, but that they still cannot explain fully why the author or authors left the lacuna between 1221 and 1226, which constituted an important part of Francis' life.

4.18. Another important question regards the letter written by Leo, Angelo and Rufino. These brothers said that they did not present their documentary material in the form of a legend. But the L3S is precisely a legend. Then, this same legend takes a lot of material from 1 Cel and Julian of Speyer. So where is the original material of the Three Companions? The manuscript tradition has nearly always united the letter of Greccio with the L3S. In his introduction to the L3S, Théophile Desbonnets sees no reason to disassociate the letter from the L3S, even though he notes the evident contradictions between the two texts. We have already noted the opinion of other scholars to unite the letter to 2 Cel, a procedure we have followed in these notes.

4.19. The authenticity of the L3S is witnessed by Bartolomeo da Pisa in his "Liber de conformitate" as well as by the "Chronica XXIV Generalium" of Arnold of Sarrant. The oldest manuscript of the L3S found so far dates from the beginning of the 14th century.

4.20. The solution proposed by Desbonnets is that the material utilised by the L3S could have been the same as that used by Thomas of Celano in his Vita Secunda, but that it was used at a later date than 1246.

4.21. The L3S has the merit of presenting a vivid picture of the first years of the Franciscan movement, especially regarding events of Francis' conversion, the founding of the Order and oral approval of the Rule by Innocent III, the role of the Cardinal Protector Ugolino. The elements relating to the direct witness of those who lived with Francis, "nos qui cum eo fuimus", which is a common element of the non-official biographies of the saint, are also worthy of note.

Allegory of Chastity

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4.22. The critical edition of the L3S is that of Théophile Desbonnets, Legenda trium sociorum. Édition critique, in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 67 (1974), pp. 38-144.

Legend of Perugia

4.23. The oral tradition handed down by various generations of friars plays a very important role in the study of Franciscan Sources. The expression "nos, qui cum eo fuimus", we, who lived with him, is a recurring theme in many of the non-official legends and biographies. The Legend of Perugia is one of them.

4.24. The witness of the first friars was always an object of intense interest on the part of Franciscan scholars. Take friar Leo, for example. He was secretary and confessor to St. Francis, who affectionately called him "pecorella di Dio", little lamb of God. So it is highly probable that Leo, being so close to Francis, might have left his memories in writing. Many of the Franciscan historians of the 14th century, especially those from the Spiritual branch of the Order, mention Leo as a direct link to Francis and as a guarantee of faithfulness to his ideals. Leo, in fact, lived until 1271, and therefore he remained a very important witness to consult by anybody who would have written a life of St. Francis. The writings of Leo, or his scrolls, have never come down to us intact. However, his memories were still vivid to any friar who attempted to produce the non-official Sources we now possess.

Allegory of Poverty

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4.25. Two of the important writings attributed to Leo are called the "Intentio Regulae" and the "Verba S. P. Francisci". These documents are fragments of what historians have considered to be writings of brother Leo. In 1922 Ferdinand Delorme published the text of the Ms. 1046 of the Biblioteca Comunale of Perugia, "Legenda antiqua S. Francisci du ms. 1046 de la bibliothèque de Pérouse", in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 15 (1922), pp. 23-70; 278-332. The scholar dated it around 1311. The document was called "Legenda antiqua sancti Francisci". The name evidently shows the intention of affirming the sources of the documentation, which were considered to be old enough to go back to Francis' own companions. The document is also known by the name Legend of Perugia, or Writings of Leo, Rufino and Angelo, Companions of St. Francis, or "Compilatio Assisiensis", because of its frequent references to the events of the primitive Franciscan fraternity in the Assisi area (see M. Bigaroni, "Compilatio Assisiensis" dagli Scritti di frate Leone e compagni su san Francesco d'Assisi, Porziuncola, 1975). The text is truly a compilation, because scholars have found in it whole paragraphs taken from 2 Cel, the "Verba S. Francisci", the "Intentio Regulae". This fact has led scholars to propose these texts of the LegPer as having perhaps been the sources for their parallel texts in 2 Cel, and, as such, as having been part of the documentary material used by Celano in 1246-1247.

4.26. The style of the LegPer is that of a memoir. Thus we cannot expect it to be chronologically correct in all its details. What is important about this Source is its insistence upon the value of the friars who lived with Francis, and who are the original source from which the documentary material of many of the Sources was transmitted. A good introduction to the Assisi Compilation can be found in "Scripta Leonis, Rufini et Angeli Sociorum Sancti Francisci". The Writings of Leo, Rufino and Angelo Companions of St. Francis, ed. and trans. Rosalind B. Brooke, Oxford, 1970.

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



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