Papal Documents - The Prophet - 737 

Papal Documents

Constitution Exiit Qui Seminat of Pope Nicholas III (1279)

This apostolic constitution, intended by Pope Nicholas III as a response to developments in both the Church and the Order over the past quarter of a century, is the most famous of the papal clarifications of the Later Rule. At first glance, the body of this new bull resembles its predecessors, Gregory IX's Quo elongatia and Innocent IV's Ordinem vestrum.b It consists of a series of questions arising from passages in the Rule of 1223, to which the Pope gives a definitive interpretation. Many of these had been brought up in the two previous bulls, and although sometimes the Pope simply repeats the verdict of his predecessors, in most cases he gives a substantial elaboration of their position.

But reading the long preamble to this declaration alerts us to a much more polemical context. Whereas the two previous decrees were directed primarily to the brothers themselves, this one had the whole church for its audience. Through this declaration Nicholas intended, once and for all, to put an end to the attacks on the Franciscan way of life by disgruntled clergy and theologians. As the changing Order moved much more heavily into pastoral ministry between 1230 and 1250, complaints from the secular clergy became more vehement. The theological faculty of the University of Paris emerged as the flash point of this controversy in 1253, when the secular masters, led by William of St. Amour, questioned the biblical and canonical bases of the "novel" mendicant orders.c The Lesser Brothers thus became involved in a long and difficult public contest about their very legitimacy.d

Bonaventure's career was profoundly shaped by this controversy.e As the newly installed regent master of the Franciscan school of theology, he responded to William's attack in his Disputed Questions on Evangelical Perfection. He and other mendicants argued that they were not introducing "novelties," but returning to the very life led by Christ and His disciples. The new Pope, Alexander IV, who had been Cardinal protector of the Lesser Brothers for




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 737