The Writings of Francis of Assisi - 37 

Florence, Volterra, and the Vatican; one is in London, England. Although there are differences in many of the writings of these collections, what is missing in them is striking. The only writing that is consistently present in these collections is the Admonitions. Copies of The Earlier Rule and The Letter to a Minister do not appear until the next century.

The friars of the fourteenth century seem to have been far more zealous in preserving Francis’s writings. Three large collections of manuscripts exist. The Portiuncula collection contains manuscripts that were gathered together by friars who were neither scholars nor professional scribes, for they made many mistakes. The Avignon Collection, on the other hand, is composed of manuscripts that follow a model, thus the prefix found in many manuscripts: fac secundum exemplar [Make according to exemplar]. The consistency and accuracy of these manuscripts suggest a more professional approach in their transmission and the influence of curial officials. Finally, the Northern Low Countries Collection encompasses manuscripts found through Germany and present day Belgium, Holland, Poland, etc. These collections became the basis for those eighty-one manuscripts produced in the fifteenth century and the twenty-nine that appeared before the use of the printing press in the sixteenth.

The Third Stage

With the invention of the printing press, distribution of Francis’s writings became more common. Within eight years of the first publications in Italy and Germany, editions appeared in Spain and France. It was not until the following century, however, that the Irish friar, Luke Wadding, attempted to produce a thorough edition of Francis’s writings.

It is difficult to know what Wadding used as his criteria for publishing the writings. He divided his edition into three parts. The first contained seventeen letters and thirteen prayers; the second, four rules, twenty-eight “conferences,” forty-one sayings, and the Office of the Passion; and the third, Bonaventure’s Major Legend. Wadding may have been influenced by the monastic literature when he published what he entitled Francis’s “ascetical teachings” or “conferences” akin to those of John Cassian or other monastic writers. He freely used the words or sayings of Francis found in Bonaventure’s work; in some instances he changed them. Nonetheless, his 1623 work, Opuscula Beati Francisci Assisiensis, was a landmark and remained the standard work until the beginning of the twentieth century. Four hundred years after the first printed edition, three editions appeared in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. Leonard Lemmens’s Opuscula dramatically reduced the number of writings offered by Wadding. There were only six letters, one “conference,” two rules and one blessing. The number of prayers was significantly reduced and the forty-one sayings were completely dropped.




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 37