The Tree of the Crucified Life of Jesus Book Five (Excerpts) - 141 


As Bernard of Besse was completing his trilogy on the history of the Fran- ciscan movement and that anonymous friar was recasting Henri d'Avranches's Versified Legend in light of Bonaventure's Major Legend, Ubertino da Casale (1259-1330) was spending time with two friars whose influence on his life would be incalculable, John of Parma (c. 1208-1289) and Peter of John Olivi (1248-1298). After a decade or more of teaching in Florence where Ubertino was known for his critical views of the papacy, he was banished to LaVerna in 1305 and, in three months and seven days, wrote an inflammatory, devotional work, the Arbor vitae crucifixae Jesu Christi [Tree of the Crucified Life of Jesus]. This outpouring of his thought and frustration has been characterized as the "chief index to the Spiritual mind,"1 exercising "an important and beneficial influence on such great masters of the fourteenth century as St. Bernardine [of Siena] (1380-1444)."2 Ubertino's "index" is indeed "a mixture of fervent mystical rapture and bitter invective against all the enemies of the followers of the 'angelic state' destined to renew the Church."3

Born in Casale, a small village near Vercelli, Italy, Ubertino was a novice when Bonaventure died in 1274. He studied for nine years in the Couvent des Cordeliers in Paris, returned to Italy, and from 1287 until 1305 taught at Santa Croce, Florence. After his banishment to LaVerna ended in 1307, Ubertino was chosen to be chaplain to Cardinal Napoleone Orsini, whom Pope Celestine V (1294) had named Cardinal Protector of his Order of Poor Hermits, in effect, the first division of the Franciscan Order. Two years later, Ubertino became embroiled in controversies concerning the future of the Order. At first Pope John XXII (1316-1334) received Ubertino's advice with deference; within a year, however, the newly elected pope had him sent to the Benedictine Abbey of Gembloux and, in 1325, excommunicated him. The remaining facts of his life are not known.

From the opening paragraphs of The Tree of the Crucified Life of Jesus to its last, Ubertino cloaks himself in the mantle of mysticism. The very place of its com- position, LaVerna, is reminiscent of Francis's own mystical experience of Christ Crucified and the seal of God's approval on his life, the stigmata. The title of the work, Arbor vitae [Tree of Life] evokes memories of Bonaventure's masterpiece of mystical theology, Lignum vitae [Tree of Life], focused entirely on the mysteries of Christ's life. Moreover, Ubertino writes in the Prologue that a certain holy woman from Città di Castello came to LaVerna to share with him revelations that would clarify his own thought. In addition to her counsel and encouragement, the unknown, mysterious woman prophesied that he would complete his work on September 28, 1304. Thus, in addition to




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 141