Frans van Liere

title.none: Nold, Pope John XXII and his Franciscan Cardinal (Frans van Liere)

identifier.other: baj9928.0610.024 06.10.24

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Frans van Liere, Calvin College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Nold, Patrick. Pope John XXII and his Franciscan Cardinal: Bertrand de la Tour and the Apostolic Poverty Controversy. Series: Oxford Historical Monographs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003. Pp. xii, 212. $74.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-19-926875-4, ISBN-13: 978-0-19-926875-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.10.24

Nold, Patrick. Pope John XXII and his Franciscan Cardinal: Bertrand de la Tour and the Apostolic Poverty Controversy. Series: Oxford Historical Monographs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003. Pp. xii, 212. $74.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-19-926875-4, ISBN-13: 978-0-19-926875-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Frans van Liere
Calvin College

John XXII (r. 1316-1334) was a controversial pope, and, in general, recent historiography has not been kind to him. One of the main reasons is his involvement in the apostolic poverty conflict. As many publications on this topic sympathize with the Franciscans, the colorful John XXII often emerges as the chief villain. The image of John XXII as a fanatical persecutor of idealistic Franciscans was popularized by Eco's novel The Name of the Rose (1980), where the main voices are the spiritual Franciscans, people not naturally inclined to say anything kind about this pope. But a more subtle dependence on Franciscan sources is also discernible in more scholarly works of history, and it is this bias that Patrick Nold sets out to correct in this meticulously researched monograph.

In his brief biography of John XXII, "Un papa in un'eta di contradizione, Giovanni XXII," (Studi Romani, 22, 1974: 444-456) Raoul Manselli offers a sympathetic account of the difficulties that John had to face during his pontificate. Similarly, Noel Valois, in his biography of John XXII (Histoire litteraire de la France, vol. 34, Paris 1914, 391-630), draws a portrait of an energetic and indefatigable, wise, but at times choleric and headstrong octogenarian, whose policies on papal supremacy would be crucial for setting the tone of the Avignon papacy. But these subtleties have sometimes been lost in the scholarship on the two theological controversies that shook his pontificate: the apostolic poverty conflict (1321-1323) and the beatific vision controversy (1331-1334).

The controversy over the poverty of Christ and the Apostles started in 1321, when a beguine in Narbonne was burned at the stake for heresy. Among his capital heresies was the assertion that Christ and the apostles, following the way of evangelical perfection, had owned nothing either individually or communally. This belief, however, did not look all that heretical to a more mainstream local Franciscan lector, who defended the proposition and was asked to recant by the inquisitor who handled the case. When the lector appealed to the Holy See, the matter came before John XXII, who seized the opportunity to reopen the debate on Exiit qui seminat, the papal bull of Nicholas III (1279) that had allowed the Franciscan order the use of goods by titularly vesting them in the Holy See. This bull absolved the Franciscans from the moral burden of legal ownership, and enabled them to practice apostolic poverty without the inconvenience of actual poverty. John returned the ownership of the Franciscan Order's possessions with the bull Ad conditorem canonum in 1322. The result was a riot in the Franciscan Order; the doctrine of Christ's absolute poverty was asserted by their chapter at Perugia in June 1322, and John responded in 1323 with the bull Cum inter nonnullos, in which he condemned the propositions that the Chapter of Perugia had defended. A schism in the Franciscan order ensued; the part of the Franciscan order loyal to John deposed Michael of Cesena as General, while a large minority, including Michael himself, denounced John as a heretic and allied with John's main political rival, the German emperor- elect Louis of Bavaria.

In this monograph, originally an Oxford D.Phil. thesis, Nold draws attention to the fact that much of the historiography of the poverty conflict still relies on the account as given in the chronicle of Nicholas the Minorite, which is clearly hostile to the pope. From this source, the picture emerges of an inflexible pontiff, ill disposed towards the Franciscan order, who had already made up his mind before the controversy began, and who was probably influenced by the Franciscans' archrivals, the Dominicans. In this account, the role of Bertrand de la Tour, John's "Franciscan cardinal," who, it would seem, was caught between the opinion of the pope and that of his Franciscan confreres, was underplayed.

But after a closer examination of Bertrand's writings, the Dicta Domini Bertrandi and the Compendiosa Resumptio Dictorum Domini Bertrandi (both unedited, in MS Vat. lat. 3740, but transcribed in an appendix in this book), Nold concludes that the discussion on apostolic poverty was not divided along fixed positions, those of Franciscans and Dominicans. Some prominent Franciscans, such as Bertrand de la Tour and Ubertino de Casale, even defended ideas that were not all that far removed from what the pope eventually canonized in his bull of 1323. Nor was the pope as inflexible as Nicholas Minorita suggested; John XXII seemed genuinely concerned about achieving an acceptable compromise in the discussion, which would avoid the legal ambiguities of the 1279 bull. Nold shows that Bertrand had a major role in working out this compromise, and that John XXII played an active part in soliciting opinions from various experts, encouraging disputations, and even annotating theological reports that were submitted to him. If anyone was inflexible, it was the schismatic Franciscans such as Michael of Cesena and Bonagrazia of Bergamo. To see their opinions as already clearly defined before the conflict began, however, is an historical fiction derived from Nicholas Minorita's chronicle. This chronicle derived much of its hindsight from the politicization the conflict underwent after 1324, when the schismatic Franciscan sought the support of Louis of Bavaria.

Patrick Nold brings a welcome new angle to the scholarship on John XXII. One of the most interesting tendencies of John's pontificate was to centralize theological decision-making at the curia, and take away some of the traditional responsibilities of Church councils and the more newly defined role of the universities. Because there was no clear procedure for this, John seems to have been seeking to establish one in all these controversies. He would entertain a certain idea, compile lists of propositions, send them to various members of the curia and prominent theologians, and solicit feedback. After a thorough review of the material, and discussions and disputations at the curia, the pope would make a decision in consultation with the consistory. We see this method at work not only in various heresy processes, but also in theological controversies such as the evangelical poverty and beatific vision. Of course, this procedure generated a huge amount of manuscript documentation, which historians such as Nold have used with great benefit. Nold's book shows John as a much more able theologian and intellectual than has been assumed, and one might hope that it will lead to a wider reappreciation for the role of John XXII in the history of the medieval papacy.