The Writings of Francis of Assisi - 38 

Boehmer, editor of the Swiss Analekten zur Geschichte des Franziskus von Assisi, followed suit, as did Goetz, editor of the German Die Quellen zur Geschichte des hl. Franziskus von Assisi.

As these editions were becoming known, however, Paul Sabatier wrote an essay calling for a serious study of Francis’s writings. In his Examen de Quelques Travaux Recents sur les Opuscules de Saint François, Sabatier was the first to call for a critical edition, that is, one based on an objective study of the existing manuscripts, established criteria, and the desire to determine the authentic text regardless of the outcome. Sabatier was far ahead of his time with this proposal. It seemed to be influenced by the Protestant biblical scholars who were calling for the same approach to the scriptures. In 1954 and again in 1965, Jacques Cambell revived Sabatier’s thought by showing how a critical edition of the writings was badly needed. Shortly thereafter, Kajetan Esser and Rémy Oliger began the tedious task of examining the manuscript tradition, a task which took them throughout Europe and more than ten years to complete.

The Fourth Stage

In 1972 Esser and Oliger published La Traditione Manuscrite des Opuscules de Saint François d’Assise: Preliminaires de l’Édition Critique. It was a work which provided a key to understanding the enormous work they had undertaken in identifying and classifying the earliest manuscripts of Francis’s writings. The following year, Esser articulated his own guidelines and criteria in Studien zu den Opuscula des hl. Franziskus von Assisi and prepared his readers for what he proposed as a critical text. Throughout the next three years, the scholarly German friar published a number of articles reflecting his research and discoveries of manuscripts and texts that had been overlooked. Since the Franciscan world continued to respond to the Second Vatican Council’s call to explore the charism of its founder, Esser’s work became pivotal.

Although Giovanni Boccali published an edition of the writings of Francis as well as a concordance of those writings, Esser’s text attracted the most attention. Boccali had consulted only eleven manuscripts, whereas Esser and Oliger had pored over one hundred and eighty-one. While Boccali provided a wider variety of biblical references, Esser offered nuanced readings and interpretations of variant texts, as well as explanations for the rejection of writings long held to be those of Francis. A major difficulty of the Esser edition, its readability, was overcome two years later when a small edition, written only in Latin, appeared. It corrected the errors and lacunae of the 1976 edition and satisfied many of Esser’s critics. Both editions, however, became the fundamental source for all future publications of the writings and the means by which they became accessible to readers throughout the world. Within a short time, translations of Esser’s




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 38