The Deeds of Blessed Francis & His Companions (1328-1337) - 432 

Regardless of its defects, both chronologically and historically, The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions and, more importantly, its Italian translation, The Little Flowers, have had an enormous impact of the shaping of the Franciscan tradition of spirituality. Part of the success of both works lies in Ugolino's ability to capture the spirit of Francis and his followers in vivid, colorful detail and the translator's genius in an Italian that is timeless. The saint emerges through stories that wonderfully capture his love for all creatures, even those that are the smallest and least attractive such as the birds of Bevagna, the doves of Siena, and the feared wolf of Gubbio. At the same time, the founder is portrayed as tough and, at times, unrelenting as he punishes disobedience, withstands the skillful attacks of the devil, and puts the Sultan to the test by walking through fire. As The Deeds unfold, Francis of Assisi appears as a man of unrelenting prayer, of humility incarnate, an untiring, passionate apostle of the Gospel, a loving brother not only of his followers, but of all humans, and of all creatures.

The Deeds is, however, a text of the fourteenth century, one in harmony with Thomas à Kempis's Imitation of Christ and so many writings of the Devotio Moderna. Its hallmark is undoubtedly a devotional attachment to the person of Francis and, in its light, The Deeds promote a moralistic spirituality that emphasizes the austerity, fuga mundi [flight from the world], and self-denigration that characterizes much of the spiritual literature of the period. Thus the saint and founder becomes a prophet of the disturbing currents of the fourteenth century and in his joyful simplicity an antidote for the pessimism that permeated it. For many, however, this fourteenth century vision originating in the Marches of Ancona is the only Francis of Assisi they have known.

The Little Flowers of Saint Francis

The Little Flowers of Saint Francis, undoubtedly one of the most popular classics of Christian spirituality, is an Italian translation of the Latin text of The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Brothers by Ugolino Boniscambi of Montegiorio.31 Attempts have been made to identify the translator. He remains anonymous. Noting differences between these texts, scholars of the past argued about the precise nature of the text: was it a translation or an original work?32 They also turned their attention to questions of its date and the location of its origin, that is, Tuscany or the Marches of Ancona.33 Contemporary scholars generally accept the linguistic arguments that maintain that The Little Flowers is a translation, and they, therefore, look for linguistic or stylistic nuances that might shed light on historical issues.34

The earliest manuscript of The Little Flowers is dated 1396.35 This fact led some scholars to maintain that The Little Flowers was written in the last decade of the fourteenth century.36 In his thorough study of the manuscripts and texts of both works, Jacques Cambell proved that The Little Flowers was for the most part a translation of The Deeds. The Considerations of the Sacred Stigmata, the second part of a later edition of The Little Flowers, was a re-editing of certain sections undertaken at a later date since it shows the influence of




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 432