The Legend of the Three Companions - 62 

same time that the Order was growing dramatically. In the wake of many of the reforms of his predecessor, Haymo of Faversham, he may have realized that a return to the initial ideals of the primitive fraternity could only be achieved by a re-acquaintance with the memory of the Founder's life and holiness.

Two highly disputed texts, The Legend of the Three Companions and The Assisi Compilation, reflect the contributions of the three friars who identify themselves in the first text as Brothers Leo, Angelo, and Rufino and in the second text as "we who were with him." Both texts provide facts about and insights into Francis not found in the earlier lives and, as such, are indispensable in knowing the details of his life and vision.

"In its present condition," Paul Sabatier wrote in 1894, "The Legend of the Three Companions is the finest piece of Franciscan literature, and one of the most delightful productions of the Middle Ages . . . As it has come down to us, this document is the only one worthy from the point of view of history to be placed beside the The Life of Saint Francis by Celano."7 The controversial Frenchman was merely echoing the eighteenth century Bollandists who, in 1768, incorporated The Legend of the Three Companions into the Acta Sanctorum together with Thomas's Life of Saint Francis and Bonaventure's Major Legend.8 His position as an "outsider"—Sabatier was neither a Catholic nor a friar—may have contributed to the storm that his judgment created. François Van Ortroy soon characterized The Legend of the Three Companions as "a bad parody of official legends," and questioned Sabatier's dating of the document maintaining that it came "from the last part of the thirteenth century, and even from the first quarter of the fourteenth." 9 Sabatier's defense, in 1901, served to highlight the text further and to raise what became known as the "Franciscan Question," the question regarding the authenticity of this work, the date of its composition, and the identity of its author.

A problem of manuscripts immediately complicates a simple answer to the questions surrounding the text. Two families of manuscripts emerge: the "traditional," containing nineteen examples, most of which come from the second half of the fourteenth century;10 and the "Sarnano," containing three examples, one from the early 1300's, the others from 1405, all of which, unfortunately, are incomplete.11 The relationship between these two families of manuscripts is difficult to determine. In 1939 Giuseppe Abate argued that the "traditional" family depended on that of Sarnano, an argument proposed in a similar vein by Théophile Desbonnets in his 1972 study.12 That same year, in a thorough study of theThe Legend of the Three Companions, Sophronius Clasen took a contrary position.13 Not until his 1974 critical edition of the The Legend of the Three Companions was Desbonnets able to prove his position and, at the same time, to show the close bond existing between it and The Anonymous of Perugia.14 Since that time, Maurice Causse has furthered Desbonnets's findings by meticulously examining the earlier Sarnano and later traditional versions of The Legend of the Three Companions, together with The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano, and The Anonymous of Perugia.15 Focusing on nine chapters of the Legend, Causse maintains that these chapters represent earlier texts




Fontes Franciscani, p.

Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 62