The Spiritual Franciscans. from Protest to Persecution in the Century after Saint Francis

Article excerpt

The Spiritual Franciscans. From Protest to Persecution in the Century after Saint Francis. By David Burr. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2001. Pp. xi, 427. $45.00.)

The traumatic history of post-Francis Franciscanism has not lacked for scholarly attention. To fashion this latest contribution, as he himself acknowledges, David Burr has stood upon the shoulders of many scholars who have come before. He has succeeded, nonetheless, superbly in pulling together what has come before and equally in adding to it new and individual insights. He has constructed, with seamless artisanship, a work that offers the comprehension of a survey and the penetration of an analytical study. In the process he has performed a service for all those who will come after.

Who were the "Spiritual" Franciscans? Did they constitute a single, simple entity? Do they merit the distinctive appellation that has come to comprehend them all? In response to these fundamental questions Burr takes us from the earliest Franciscan generation through the crises of the 1320's. Along the way he offers appraisal and reappraisal of persons and incidents obscure and well known. Each alike receives the benefit of his scholarship.

The long, slow process that rent the Franciscan Order, a process that began in dissent and ended in heresy, commenced even before the Founder's death. Three issues wove a framework for the controversy: poverty, obedience, apocalyptic speculation. John of Parma's fall owed more to the last of these causeshis unfortunate affection for Joachism-than to the first. Nor was his successor Bonaventure inattentive to the rule of Poverty, despite his critics' protests. Yet it was essentially and consistently, as Burr emphasizes, the first cause, the definition and practice of the poor life, that forged the deepening split in the ranks of Francis' disciples. Around this issue the idea of the Spiritual crystallized.

One of Burr's triumphs is to explore the crucial role of the usus pauper dispute throughout the controversies. …


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