Ken Wolf

title.none: Jones, trans., The Poverty of Christ and the Apostles (Wolf)

identifier.other: baj9928.0102.015 01.02.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Ken Wolf, Pomona College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Jones, John, trans. Hervaeus Natalis: The Poverty of Christ and the Apostles. Mediaeval Sources in Translation 37. Studies in Medieval Moral Teaching 2. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1999. Pp. 1, 172. $28.95. ISBN: 0-888-44287-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.02.15

Jones, John, trans. Hervaeus Natalis: The Poverty of Christ and the Apostles. Mediaeval Sources in Translation 37. Studies in Medieval Moral Teaching 2. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1999. Pp. 1, 172. $28.95. ISBN: 0-888-44287-4.

Reviewed by:

Ken Wolf
Pomona College

This translation of the Hervaeus Natalis's Liber de Paupertate Christi et apostolorum is a welcome addition to the growing bibliography of English-language resources related to the famous Franciscan poverty controversy. As the translator's brief introduction explains, the Order of the Friars Minor pointedly distinguished its poverty from that practiced by the monastic orders by renouncing not only personal but communal ownership of property. Innocent IV's Ordinem vestrum (1245), by which the papacy assumed dominion over all donations to the Franciscans, provided the legal basis for the friars' claim that although they made use of material goods, they owned none of them. Heated debates between Franciscans and the secular masters at the University of Paris ultimately led Bonaventure to write his Apologia pauperum (1269), in which he argued at length for the primacy of Franciscan poverty on the grounds that it most accurately reflected the "perfect poverty" of Christ and the apostles, who, Bonaventure was convinced, owned nothing either personally or communally. When Nicholas III confirmed this understanding of Franciscan poverty with the bull Exiit qui seminat (1279), he thought that he was closing the door on any future discussion of this issue. But in 1321, a Dominican inquisitor in Provence condemned as heretical the idea that Christ and the apostles owned nothing. The Franciscans were quick to challenge this ruling. John XXII took advantage of the controversy to re-open the discussion about Franciscan poverty, soliciting learned opinions about this matter from a number of university-trained scholars. One of these was the Dominican Minister General himself, Hervaeus Natalis (d. 1323).

Not surprisingly, given the fact that the Dominicans had long since parted paths with the Franciscans on the issue of "perfect poverty", Natalis's point was to undermine the theoretical bases of the Franciscan claims. He began his treatise by assessing the part played by poverty in the pursuit of Christian perfection--which he defined in terms of "charity", that is, love of God and neighbor (27)--concluding that while poverty as a "disposition of mind" is essential to perfection, poverty as an "exterior effect" is not. (28) Natalis then proceeded to point out that dominion over temporal things did not, in and of itself, necessarily detract from perfection. In fact, it would have been impossible, Natalis implied, to go through life without some level of dominion, given the fact that any legitimate use of things (especially "consumables", that is, food and drink) implied dominion. (46) Finally, Natalis addressed the question of the poverty of Christ and the apostles, predictably highlighting the gospel references (especially John 13:27-9) to the "purse" that they carried with them as proof that Christ and the apostles did indeed exercise more than the "bare use" of material goods. (96) On the grounds that "an assertion which is contrary to what is contained in Sacred Scripture is heretical" (122), Natalis ultimately concluded that to claim that Jesus and the apostles owned nothing was heretical. Based on the text of John XXII's famous Cum inter nonnullos (1323), it is clear that the pope concurred with much of Natalis's argument.

In addition to Natalis's treatise itself, the translator has included in the same volume an appendix containing summaries of Franciscan responses to the question about Christ's poverty, which were also submitted to John. (121-47) Significantly enough two of the responses were written by Franciscan cardinals: Vital du Four and Bertrand de la Tour. Natalis's treatise itself, however, is itself full of references, both direct and indirect, to the Franciscan position. One of the more interesting of these is his critique of the Franciscan ideal of complete reliance on God, a reliance that, Francis repeatedly assured his followers, would lead to God fulfilling their every need. From Natalis's perspective, however, this level of deliberate impoverishment and lack of provision for the future actually amounted to a form of "tempting" God and thus should be avoided. (72)

As the translator himself writes, "The Poverty of Christ and the Apostles offers a fine example of scholastic thought--both philosophical and theological--regarding the nature of poverty and its connection with Christian perfection and religious life." (8) The recent release of a revised and expanded version of Malcolm Lambert's Franciscan Poverty: The Doctrine of the Absolute Poverty of Christ and the Apostles in the Franciscan Order, 1210-1323 (New York: Franciscan Institute, 1998), only adds to the timeliness of Jones' translation, providing, as it does, the broader historical and conceptual context for Natalis's work.