A Collection of Sayings of the Companions of Blessed Francis - 109 


Toward the latter half of the thirteenth century three clusters of Lesser Brothers began to form in Italy and France: in the Italian Provinces of the Marches and Tuscany, and the French Province of Provence.1 They all shared the same ideal: to profess the Rule they inherited from Saint Francis to perfection, that is, "to the letter" and "without gloss." As the papal decrees, Quo elongati, September 28, 1230, of Gregory IX, Ordinem vestrum, November 14, 1245, of Innocent IV, and Exiit qui seminat, August 14, 1279, of Nicholas III continued to define the Rule and to influence the daily life of the Lesser Brothers, these pockets of "Zelanti," the name they received because of the zeal for pure observance, began to marshal strength. In addition to having recourse to Francis's Testament, the final expression of his vision of Gospel life, they also cherished the reminiscences of the same mentors: the first companions of Saint Francis, many of whom they knew personally. Of these Leo, who died as late as 1278, became the most articulate and most frequently cited. His recollections were passed from one group to another and, with them, his interpretations of Francis's intentions.

Two collections of writings, in particular, seem to have been circulated in the late thirteenth century: the Legenda Vetus [An Old Legend], and the Words of Blessed Conrad of Offida. A third collection, the Words of Saint Francis, may also have been passed from one group to the other.2 The influence of all three may be seen in the major compilations that emerge in the fourteenth century,3 e.g. The Assisi Compilation,4 two editions of The Mirror of Perfection,5 and the Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions.6 All three are alike in style and in subject matter. The repeated presence of the Old Legend and the Words of both Saint Francis and Brother Conrad suggests that they were shared among the Zelanti of the three Provinces of the Marches, Tuscany, and Provence.

An Old Legend

Paul Sabatier found the first of these collections, An Old Legend, in a manuscript in Avignon bearing the title Fac secundum exemplar which, he believed, was compiled by Fabianus of Hungary, a student friar in Avignon.7 The manuscript contained a variety of documents, including an abbreviated version of The Mirror of Perfection, some stories that would later appear in The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions, and seven others taken de legenda veteri [from an old legend]. John R.H. Moorman suggests that the title, Fac secundum exemplar, was taken from Exodus 25:40: "Make it according to the pattern shown to you on the mountain."8 This being the




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 109