General Introduction - 12 

with and giving hope to the poor. Sufficiently daunting in itself, the task of those first biographers was complicated by the images with which Pope Gregory IX portrayed his canonized friend. He used terms of the Old Testament Judges or of the New Testament Apocalypse. That Thomas, Julian, and Henri succeeded can be seen, particularly in Thomas's case, in the enduring quality of their portraits. It remains difficult to understand the development of the hagiographic tradition surrounding Francis without some knowledge of The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano.

Different perspectives soon sowed the seeds of uncertainty and subsequent discord. Within a short time after Francis's death, questions arose concerning the interpretation of his Rule. The saint seemingly foresaw that this would be the case. He wrote in his Testament:

I strictly command all my cleric and lay brothers, through obedience, not to place any gloss upon the Rule or upon these words saying: “They should be understood in this way.” But as the Lord has given me to speak and write the Rule and these words simply and purely, may you understand them simply and without gloss and observe them with a holy activity until the end.1

While he was living, that request presented no difficulties.

Four years after Francis's death, however, the brothers who gathered in Assisi for the Pentecost General Chapter of 1230 seemed unable to understand the words of the Rule simply. Francis's brotherhood was changing too rapidly. Not simply had it exploded numerically to several thousand brothers, scattered throughout Western Christendom, but perhaps more importantly, the brothers' sense of their own vocation in the church was undergoing a radical transformation. More and more of the brothers, as well as many church leaders, especially Gregory IX himself, wished the Order to focus its energies on implementing the pastoral reform agenda of the Fourth Lateran Council. They believed the Lesser Brothers should serve the church through doctrinal preaching, combating heretical movements, and hearing the confessions of the faithful.2 Such brothers were demanding greater flexibility in interpreting the provisions of the Rule to assure that they could meet these tasks effectively. Others believed that these passages should be taken literally, and Francis's Testament seemed to bolster their opinion. The very foundational document of the Order was becoming divisive. When the ministers could not resolve their questions, they turned to Pope Gregory IX. In the Fall of that year Gregory IX attempted to resolve the controversial issues with his papal decree, Quo elongati. In addition to dealing with points of poverty, the hearing of confessions, faculties for preaching, reception of postulants, participants in general chapters, and the pastoral care of the Damianites, i.e., the Sisters of Saint Clare, Gregory addressed two fundamental issues that exerted powerful influences on the life of the brothers: the authority of Francis's Testament, and the obligation to the Gospel.

Francis's Testament was the final written expression of the saint's desires for his brothers, desires that revolved around his memories of the earliest days of




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 12