SOME LOST, DOUBTFUL, AND SPURIOUS WRITINGS
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. 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. 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. Damian’s. 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. Celano speaks of a letter to St. Antony of Padua, different apparently from the one known to us, and of others to Cardinal Ugolino. So, too, Eccleston tells of letters written to the brothers in France and at Bologna.
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, and also in the Chron XXIV Generalium. M Sabatier, who was, I believe, the first to call the authenticity of this letter into question, now seems less inclined to reject it. Professor Goetz has decided for, and Professor Boehmer 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, 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, so to say, I think, with Mr. Carmichael, this letter might find a place among the “Doubtful Works” of St. Francis.
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 that St. 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 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 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? 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. 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, § 4, of this Regula Antiqua there is a clear allusion to a Bull of March 30, 1228, which it is difficult to regard as an interpolation. Moreover, as Fr. Ubald d’Alençon points out, 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.
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 and In foco l’amor mi misc. True, they are both attributed to St. Francis by St. Bernardine of Siena, but they are also found among the works of Jacopone da Todi, although Ozanam thinks that at most they were only retouched by the latter. The tendency nowadays is to ascribe 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 The twenty-eight Collationes are, pace Fr. Mandonnet, who regards them as genuine, rightly rejected by Professor Goetz, who points out how Wadding compiled them from various sources. Many are translated from an Italian MS. at Fano in the Marches of which we know neither the age nor the parentage. But they seem to be mere transcripts from the early legends. Thus Collatio I is an adaptation of Celano (1, 2) 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. XXIV 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 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. 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 followers, and consequently Ubertino did not pretend in citing such a work to give this prayer as the actual composition of Francis.
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, is nothing else but the letter of St. Bonaventure continens XXV memoralia.
Sbaralea mentions copies of a book of the “Sayings” of St Francis as existing at Assisi and Ferrara, 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,” 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.” The 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 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. 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.
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 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 frag mentary 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 illac, qui ea benigne recipient, benedicat eis Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus. Amen.