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