General Introduction - 13 

his conversion and of the primitive fraternity. His statement about understanding and interpreting the Rule, however, suggests that it was much more. The Testament was a document touching on the very essence of Francis's vision of the Gospel life, and, since it was written on his death bed, it reveals in a striking way the idealism and formula of his holiness.3 To set it aside would, in a sense, undermine the authority of these words of the Founder himself. Citing his "long-standing" friendship with Francis as the source of his judgment, Gregory IX did just that: he declared that the brothers were "not bound by the Testament." "For without the consent of the brothers, and especially of the ministers," Quo elongati maintained, "Francis could not make obligatory a matter that touches everyone."4

A fundamental point of Francis's vision, however, was the authority of the Gospel life. In both Rules, Francis expressed his vision that the life of the Gospel was for him and his brothers quite simply the Rule. Gospel life, in others words, was the equivalent of the Rule. If setting aside the Testament weakened the Gospel idealism espoused by the Founder for his brothers, compromise of this fundamental identification would do more. It also helped change the Gospel spirit and life of theRule into the realm of the juridical. Once again, Quo elongati did just that. "You are not bound by the Rule," Gregory stated, "to observe the counsels of the Gospel, other than those explicitly contained in the Rule to which you have committed yourselves." The fundamental endeavor, therefore, became focused on living "in obedience, without anything of their own, and in chastity." The broader and more Spirit-filled challenge of expressing Gospel life each day was assuaged.

Ironically, with one document aimed at reconciling the brothers, the pope furthered the tension between the idealists and the moderates. Admittedly, the pope was acting within his rights. With the seal of approval issued with Solet annuere on November 29, 1223, the Rule became a document of the Church and, as such, subject to its interpretation. Nonetheless, the pope unwittingly sowed among the brothers seeds of division. John R.H. Moorman5 and Raphael Huber6 present these early divisions within the Lesser Brothers of this period as those of the "Community" and the "Spirituals." Duncan Nimmo presents them as the "moderate" wing of the Community, the "relaxed" wing of the Community, and finally the "Spirituals."7 Perhaps more accurately, Franz Cardinal Ehrle,8 Livarius Oliger,9 Lazaro Iriarte,10 and Thaddeus MacVicar11 prefer to call the more conservative brothers during the period of this second volume "zelanti [those who were zealous]." These scholars maintain that the technical or sectarian sense of the term "Spiritual" did not arise until the last quarter of the thirteenth century. Whatever labels are applied, the tensions became more pronounced during the final years of Elias's term as General Minister (1232-1239). As a result, the Lesser Brothers began considering more seriously the heritage left by Francis, the Founder of their Order. A text in the first volume, The Sacred Exchange (1237-1239), may well be a piece that expresses this endeavor.12 Its biblical tapestry richly expresses the ideals of the poverty envisioned by Francis and adroitly avoids any juridical refinements.13




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 13