Introduction to Legends and Sermons - 495 


In 1260 the Lesser Brothers gathered for a General Chapter in Narbonne, France. An important item on their agenda was the codification of the decisions made at the eleven previous general chapters. This resulted in a legal document that became known as the Constitutions of Narbonne.1 The Chapter became famous, however, for another reason: the brothers mandated Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, the general minister whom they had elected three years earlier, to compile a new legend of Saint Francis based on those already in existence. Nothing in the Definitiones or decisions of the Chapter record indicates the reasons for this mandate. Only the brothers' decision to correct the liturgical antiphon Hic vir in vanitatibus nutritus indecenter suggests the need to bring uniformity to the voluminous material forming around the Founder.2

According to his own testimony, Bonaventure was hesitant. "I feel," he writes in the Prologue to the Major Legend, "that I am unworthy and unequal to the task of writing the life of a man so venerable and worthy of imitation. I would never have attempted it if the fervent desire of the brothers had not aroused me, the unanimous urging of the General Chapter had not induced me, and the devotion which I am obliged to have toward our holy father had not compelled me."3 History confirms the legitimacy of the brothers' intuition. Six years later, the decision of the brothers at the Chapter of Paris effectively recognized Bonaventure's portraits of Francis as a "hagiographical and theological masterpiece."4

Bonaventure was born Giovanni di Fidanza, in the small town of Bagnoregio about 1221. Although he never claims to have met Francis, the devotion to which he felt obligated undoubtedly came from a cure he enjoyed because of the saint's intercession. "When I was just a child," he declares in the Major Legend, "and very seriously ill, my mother made a vow on my behalf to the blessed Father Francis. I was snatched from the very jaws of death and restored to the vigor of a healthy life."5 That Francis's influence rested on the boy is verified in Bonaventure's entrance into the Order of Lesser Brothers in 1243, probably in Paris where, eight years earlier, he had gone to study.

As a young student brother in the Parisian Couvent des Cordeliers, the friary of the "Cord-bearers," as the brothers were known, established in 1231, Bonaventure's formation was strongly influenced by four great Franciscan "masters:" John de la Rochelle (+1245), Odo Rigaldus (+ 1275), William of Middleton (+1260), and, above all, Alexander of Hales (+ 1245). In 1250, now enjoying the title "Master of Arts," Bonaventure began his commentary on The Sentences of Peter Lombard, a mandatory exercise introduced by Alexan-




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 495