Sacred Exchange between St. Francis & Lady Poverty - 525 

as a negative view of earthly reality.13 Nevertheless, the biblical character of the work is not typical of the scholastic style of argumentation that favored the use of dialectic reasoning. There is nothing argumentative or disputatious about the text. Nor is any of the acerbic rhetoric of the later literature of the Franciscan tradition in which the rival standpoints of the Community and the Spirituals became pronounced. The Sacred Exchange seems to be more of an early encouragement to follow the spirit of Francis's love of poverty and to avoid the failings of many who had seen poverty as an ideal but had compromised their vision.14

Is there a solution that has been overlooked? Michael Cusato has examined the question in the context of the tumultuous period after Francis's death.15 Three significant events stand out: the promulgation of Pope Gregory the Ninth's Quo elongati in 1230, the election of Brother Elias of Cortona as General Minister in 1232, and the construction of the magnificent basilica in honor of Saint Francis carried out by both Pope Gregory and Brother Elias. All three points affected the Gospel vision of poverty embraced by Francis and his brothers.16

In his Reform and Division in the Franciscan Order (1226-1538), Duncan Nimmo provides insights into a papal initiative that exacerbated tensions already present among Francis's followers: Gregory IX's papal decree, Quo elongati (September 28, 1230). This was the first papal clarification of Francis's Rule undertaken by one who relied not only on his position as pope but on his friendship with Francis and his own role in helping him articulate his vision. One of the more troublesome aspects of the document was its declaration that the brothers were bound only to the evangelical counsels, poverty, chastity and obedience. In essence, the pope broke the identification of Gospel and Rule with which Francis began his Rule. Another disconcerting declaration was that Francis's Testament was commendable but not binding in nature. Nimmo sees that this became "a wedge between the friars and by itself, perhaps, made certain the fraternity's future disintegration."17 The document not only set aside Francis's dying wishes for his brothers, it unleashed a debate about the obligation to the Gospel as their "rule and life" and about the practice of poverty as its foundation. As discussions over Quo elongati emerged, they did so between those preferring a more urban way of life to those preferring one more eremitical, a discussion that originated as early as 1209 when Francis and the first brothers returned from receiving papal approbation for their way of life.18 All of these discussions were no doubt aggravated by the building of the lavish basilica in honor of Saint Francis and, in 1232, the election of Brother Elias. In his Chronicle or History of the Seven Tribulations of the Order of Minors, Angelo Clareno places in the mouth of Caesar of Speyer words that undoubtedly express the tensions felt by many friars:




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 525