19.12.02 Robson/Zutshi (eds.), Franciscan Order in the Medieval English Province and Beyond

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Andrew V. Rosato

The Medieval Review 19.12.02

Robson, Michael, and Patrick Zutshi, ed. The Franciscan Order in the Medieval English Province and Beyond. Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press, 2018. pp. 296. ISBN: 978-94-6298-647-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Andrew Rosato
Thomas Aquinas College

Several years ago I visited Loome Theological Books with a Jesuit. While browsing the shelves, I came across a copy of John Moorman's A History of the Franciscan Order. Opening the book to its title page revealed that it had previously been part of the library of St. Ignatius Church in New York City. How it got from Park Avenue to Stillwater Minnesota, I do not know. But I do know that my friend was right when he said: "You don't get rid of books like that." That book and the other publications of John Moorman have made a valuable contribution to our understanding of St. Francis and his legacy. Moorman's contributions are rightly commemorated and celebrated in the book under review.

In "Catching the Franciscan Spirit: John Moorman and St Francis in His Student Days," Petà Dunstan shows that Moorman initially became interested in Francis because he saw him as someone whose approach to Christian ministry could provide a model for addressing the social problems of Moorman's own day. Although at one point Moorman considered embracing poverty and abstinence in imitation of St. Francis, he came to believe that he could live in a Franciscan spirit through his research and pastoral ministry as an Anglican cleric.

Michael Robson's first contribution to the volume provides a portrait of Moorman as a historian. Robson outlines the contributions of Moorman's research in the three areas that occupied most of his writing: the Franciscan question, the history of the Franciscan Order, and the English Province of Franciscans. The remaining essays in this volume further our understanding of the latter two areas of Moorman's research interests.

After the introductory essays by Robson and Dunstan the remainder of the book is divided into two sections. The first section, "The Order of Friars Minor in England," begins with Patrick Zutshi's study of a manuscript of Alexander Nequam's Florilegium that later had images of Francis and Dominic inserted into it. These images are among the earliest English images of these two saints. Zutshi notes A.G. Little's opinion that the images had no connection to Nequam's text. Although Nequam himself did not show interest in the Dominicans or Franciscans, Zutshi argues that the insertion of these images is not random, even if it does not follow upon anything written by Nequam. The images are inserted into a part of the text discussing the eternal reward given to those who embrace poverty. The insertion of the images of Francis and Dominic indicate that in mid-thirteenth century England these two figures were already being considered important exemplars of Christian poverty.

The next three chapters examine specific aspects of Franciscan life in three different parts of England. In "A Biographical Register of the English Province of the Greyfriars: A Sample from the Custody of York," Michael Robson sheds light on the social background of the Friars who entered the community in York as well as on their system of priestly formation and subsequent ministry of preaching and hearing confessions. Jens Röhrkasten examines the sources of financial support for the Franciscan custody of Cambridge. As Röhrkasten notes, gifts of land and other items from nobles and kings was an important part of the economic foundations of the Cambridge Custody. Yet as Röhrkasten also points out "the urban population and the landowners in the towns' vicinity who were in regular contact with Franciscans on preaching and questing journeys played a major role in providing continuous material support for the Franciscans" (108). While much of this support is not recorded, there are wills that contain records of bequests of money or material goods made to the Franciscans. Christian Steer studies the burial practices of Franciscan in medieval London by consulting a register of burials that was completed in the mid-1520s. He shows how important Franciscans and important non-Franciscan benefactors were honored with their burial sites.

Bert Roest examines Franciscan preaching in England between 1400 and the 1530s. One of the most interesting sections of Roest's well-documented study shows that several friars preached against Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn. One of them--friar William Peto--even did so in the presence of Henry VIII himself. As Roest tells us, "The angry king summoned Peto before him, only to be told that he risked squandering his kingdom. Not long afterwards, Peto had to flee abroad" (153).

Several essays in this collection examine the relationship between the Franciscans and the English schools, especially Oxford. C.H. Lawrence considers the influence of Adam Marsh on the Franciscan school at Oxford and the academic structure of the English province. Adam's theological writings have been lost or remain unidentified, and so his influence has to be assessed primarily through his letters and what his contemporaries wrote about him. Lawrence shows that Adam desired to make the Franciscan studiaat Oxford and Cambridge important centers of study that could rival Paris. Adam also played an important role in fostering a good relationship between the Franciscan house at Oxford and the University that helps to explain why he remained in Oxford after his regency had ended. Lawrence also examines whether Adam studied theology under Robert Grosseteste. As Lawrence indicates, Adam could not have returned to Oxford as a friar before 1233, and Grosseteste left Oxford for Lincoln in the spring of 1235. Thus Lawrence concludes, "If Adam pursued the theology course at Oxford, for all but a brief part of it he must have sat at the feet of the secular masters who succeeded Grosseteste as lectors to the Franciscan school" (165-6).

Ceclia Panti's essay begins with an anecdote relating Bishop Moorman's disappointment over the influence of Robert Grosseteste's interest in mathematics and natural philosophy on medieval Franciscan theology. Yet Panti demonstrates that his influence is less pervasive than Moorman had thought. She shows this by examining how scientific examples are used in the biblical exegesis of Thomas Docking. In his biblical commentaries, Docking cites various scientific passages from Grosseteste's works, but his way of using these scientific claims is different from their use in Grosseteste. For Docking scientific claims are treated more as interesting digressions that might illuminate the theological point under discussion, whereas for Grosseteste the study of nature can in certain cases provide essential information for understanding a biblical passage. In this way, Docking treats scientific examples more as an adornment to his exegesis rather than as something central to it.

It is surprising to see that a religious order that emphasized poverty become one of the most important intellectual forces in medieval universities. Neslihan Şenocak traces the influence of English Franciscans in promoting study as an important part of Franciscan life. The English Franciscans had this influence through individual Englishmen who joined the order. Chief among these men is Haymo of Faversham, who became minister general only fourteen years after the death of St. Francis. Haymo was the first Englishman and the first theologian to become minister general. Şenocak persuasively argues that Haymo rather than Bonaventure should be considered the second founder of the Franciscan order. Haymo and other English Franciscans presented a way of promoting both poverty and study that would have much influence on the whole order. It was a view of poverty that did not see begging as important to Franciscan life, but that did promote genuine material simplicity. According to this view of poverty, however, "[t]he only valuable items that friars could keep in their convents were books" (223). Thus, there was no opposition between poverty and learning on this view. This view of their harmony was lived out in Cambridge and Oxford, which were two of the three principalstudia of the Order. It was also promoted under the leadership of Haymo through the appointment of English Franciscans to positions of prominence and influence in the Order. In these ways, the English Franciscan understanding of the harmony between poverty and learning came to have much wider influence in the order.

An early follower of Francis, Giles of Assisi, is reported to have said: "Paris, Paris, you are destroying the order of Saint Francis." This statement is also found in the writings of Jacopone da Todi, a Spiritual Franciscan, whose writings date from the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries. Michael F. Cusato argues that these authors mean to indicate different things by lamenting the influence of Paris on the Franciscan Order. For Giles, Paris has harmed the order by giving friars a set of intellectual tools to defend poverty in name, but not in practice. According to Cusato, Jacopone does not see learning as such as a direct threat to Franciscan ideals. Instead Jacopone is lamenting the effect of university culture on the Order in that the Friars trained at the universities become more comfortable with elite segments of society and more concerned to live in those circles than among the poor and marginalized. On this view, "The Franciscan Parisian educational environment has progressively distanced these friars from the world of men and women, the minors, who, [Jacopone] believes, ought to be their constant and natural companions" (248). Cusato further argues that the frescoes in the upper basilica in Assisi exemplify Jacopone's concerns since there is an almost total absence of the poor represented in these frescoes and a notable presence of aristocratic persons among those who are depicted. While the elite were a part of Francis' story, their place in that story is overstated in the frescoes of the upper basilica.

Joseph Canning tells the story of how canon law was used in the fourteenth century by the papacy and the friars in the controversy over poverty. Franciscans believed that their way of life mirrored that of prelapsarian man, who lived in a state without private property. The Franciscans began with a straightforward view of poverty that "was one of simple poverty described by no rules but expressed in straightforwardly evangelical terms" (270). Yet, as Canning emphasizes, the Franciscans accepted papal privileges and canon law solutions to questions raised about how to live out their poverty. This required Franciscans to defend their understanding of poverty with complicated legal arguments rather than using a more direct evangelical approach that would transcend the domain of human law. "By following this route they had embraced a paradox," concludes Canning (270).

In an appendix to this volume, William J. Short provides a transcription of the twelve letters that John Moorman wrote to the editors of Archivum Franciscanum Historicum. The first of these letters was sent in 1957, but the remaining letters all date from the 1970-80s. The first letter records Moorman's gratitude for the work promoted by the Archivum. Subsequent letters contain various sentiments and requests, such as Moorman's requests for volumes of the Archivum that he was missing for his library, gratitude for hospitality shown to him on visits to Grottaferrata, and updates on his research for his book, Medieval Franciscan Houses. The letters make clear that Moorman's high estimation of the Archivum began during his student days at Cambridge and continued to the end of his life.

The essays in this volume examine many facets of English medieval Franciscan history and will be of interest to anyone who studies the legacy of St. Francis, and as such they are a fitting tribute to the work of John Moorman.

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