The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi, tr. by Paschal Robinson, , at sacred-texts.com
The tenor of this letter seems to indicate that it was written before the confirmation of the Second Rule by Pope Honorius; 1 and very likely in the early part of 1223. All the early MSS. attribute it to St. Francis and, as regards both matter and form, it closely resembles the Saint's other writings. There is, however, no small diversity of opinion as to whom it was addressed. But from the wording of the last paragraph of the letter, referring to the chapter: "thou wilt be there with thy brothers," it would appear to have been sent to some provincial minister rather than to the minister general. Moreover, as Professor Goetz rightly remarks, 2 the beginning of the letter implies that this minister had proposed some doubts or difficulties as to the manner of dealing with brothers who had fallen into sin. Hence the abrupt opening of the letter, "I speak to thee on the subject of thy soul," etc., refers to some question which the letter is intended to answer, and from the fact that patience is commended "more than a hermitage," the Quaracchi editors think we might infer that the minister in question was desirous of embracing a solitary life. Be this as it may, I am unable to
agree with M. Sabatier in so far as he finds in this letter "more objurgations and reproaches than counsels." 1
The letter exists in the Vatican MS. 7650, St. Isidore's MS. 1/25 and the Ognissanti and St. Floriano codices above described. The first part of it may also be found in the National Library at Naples (Cod. XII, F. 32). An abridgment of the Letter is given by Rodolfo; 2 a different abstract is found in the Conformities. 3 In the more complete summary furnished by Wadding, 4 it might be possible with M. Sabatier 5, and Dr. Lempp, 6 owing to the omission of a large piece of the letter, to read into St. Francis’ words the precept that a brother guilty of mortal sin should be absolved without any penance. But with the full text of the letter before us, any such attempt is, needless to say, impossible, as Mr. Carmichael has clearly shown. 7
The complete text of this important letter was first
published by Fr. Edouard d’Alençon, Archivist General of the Capuchins, in his Spicilegium Franciscanum, 1 next by M. Sabatier in his edition of Bartholi, 2 and again by Dr. Lempp in his monograph on Elias. 3 Besides these we have now the versions of Professor Boehmer and the Quaracchi edition. The latter text, which I have here rendered into English, is based on the MSS. of Ognissanti and St. Isidore's (cod. 1/25) which have been collated with the Neapolitan MS. already referred to and the editions of the letter published by Fr. Edouard d’Alençon and M. Sabatier.
Now for the text of the letter
To Brother N. . . Minister; may Me Lord bless thee.
I speak to thee as best I can on the subject of thy soul; that those things which impede thee
in loving the Lord God and whosoever may be a hindrance to thee, whether brothers or others, even though they were to strike thee,—all these things thou oughtest to reckon as a favor. And so thou shouldst desire and not otherwise. And let this be to thee for true obedience from the Lord God and from me; for this I know surely to be true obedience. And love those that do such things to thee and wish not other from them, save in so far as the Lord may grant to thee; and in this thing love them,—by wishing that they may be better Christians. 1 And let this be to thee more than a hermitage. 2 And by this I wish to know if thou lovest God and me His servant and thine, to wit: that there be no brother in the world who has sinned, how great soever his sin may be, who after he has seen thy face shall ever go away without thy mercy, if he seek mercy, 3 and, if he seek not mercy, ask
thou him if he desires mercy. And if he afterwards appears 1 before thy face a thousand times, love him more than me, to the end that thou mayest draw him to the Lord, and on such ones always have mercy. And this thou shouldst declare to the guardians, when thou canst, that thou art determined of thyself to do thus.
Concerning all the chapters that are in the Rule that speak of mortal sins 2 we shall at the chapter of Whitsuntide, God helping, with the counsel of the brothers, make such a chapter as this: If any brother, at the instigation of the enemy, sin mortally, let him be bound by obedience to have recourse to his guardian. And let all the brothers who know him to have sinned, not cause him shame or slander him, but let them have great mercy on him and keep very secret the sin of their brother, for they that are healthy need not a physician, but they that are ill. 3 And let them be likewise bound by obedience to send him to his custos with a companion. And let the custos himself care for him mercifully as he himself would wish to be cared for by others if he were in a like situation.
[And if he should fall into any 4 venial sin, let him confess to his brother priest, and if there be no priest there let him confess to his brother, until he shall find a priest who shall absolve him
canonically, as has been said,] 1 and let them have absolutely no power of enjoining other penance save only this: go and sin no more. 2
In order that this writing may be able to be better observed, have it by thee until Whitsuntide: thou wilt be there with thy brothers. And these and all other things which are less in the Rule, thou shalt, the Lord God helping, take care to fulfil.
119:1 It refers to "the chapters which speak of mortal sin" which are only found in the First Rule (see pp. 37, 47, 53), and speaks of proposed changes in the Rule which could not, as is clear, have been made after November, 1223. In particular the subject of the tenth chapter of the new Rule discussed in the Chapter held at Portiuncula, June 11th of that year (see Spec. Perf., ed. Sabatier, c. t), is mentioned as not yet definitely settled.
119:2 See Quellen, etc t. XXII, p. 547.
120:1 " . . . plus des objurgations et des reproches que des conseils."—Sabatier, Bartholi, p. 120.
120:2 Hist. Seraph., fol. 177 v.
120:3 Fruct. XXII, P. 11, n. 46. The part here given is that which Wadding exhibits as Epis. VI. M. Sabatier is clearly mistaken in regarding these different abstracts of the letter published separately as so many complete epistles. He says: ". . Frère Elie ne se corrigeant pas, le saint ne cessa pas de lui faire des recommendations identiques," l.c., p. 119.
120:4 See Epis. VIII. This is a different and longer version than that given in the Conformities. Wadding gives yet another abstract of the letter as Epis. VII. This he translated from the Spanish, though he confesses misgivings as to the authenticity of its form.
120:5 See his edition of Bartholi, pp. 113-131.
120:6 See Frère Elie de Cortone, p. 51, where the idea of abolishing penances is described as "so Franciscan."
120:7 See "The Writings of St. Francis," in the Month, January, 1904, pp. 161-164.
121:1 In 1899; after the Vatican MS. 7650, and the Foligno codex. See Epistola S. Francisci ad ministrum generalem in sua forma authentica cum appendice de Fr. Petro Catanii.
121:2 In 1900, after the Ognissanti MS. See his Bartholi, p. 113.
121:3 In 1900. See his Frère Elie de Cortone, p. 50 seq.
121:4 This is the superscription of the Neapolitan MS. According to the greater number of codices the letter is addressed: "To Brother N . . . Minister." The MSS. of Foligno and St. Isidore's read: "To Brother N . . . Minister General," and some Italian versions cited by M. Sabatier (see Bartholi, p. 121, note 1) add the name of Brother Elias (see also Rodolfo, l.c., fol. 177 v.). The rubric in the second family of MSS. already described (See Introd.) reads simply "Letter which St. Francis sent to the Minister General as to the way to be followed regarding brother subjects sinning mortally or venially." Wadding (Opusc., p. 25, n. 1) thinks the letter was addressed to Peter of Catana. See Speculum Minorum, fol. 218 v.
122:1 For the rendering of this doubtful passage: et in hoc dilige eos ut velis quod sint meliores Christiani, I have translated the Latin text as given in the Isidorean MS. 1/25, in the Conformities (fol. 132, v), in Wadding's edition (Epis. VIII), and in that of Quaracchi (p. 108). In the Ognissanti MS., however, this passage reads et non velis "and do not desire that they be better Christians." This reading has been followed by Fr. Edouard d’Alençon and M. Sabatier. The latter thinks St. Francis is here referring to ungrateful and recalcitrant lepers whom he was wont to call Christians. But in that hypothesis the passage might be translated "and do not desire to make them better lepers!"
122:2 Cod. O. for eremitorium reads meritorium. But may not this very improbable reading be that most common thing in early MSS.,—the slip of a copyist?
122:3 Cod. O. omits the remainder of this sentence.
123:1 The Neapolitan MS. for "appears" reads "sins."
123:2 Chaps. V, XIII, and XX of the first Rule. (See above, pp. 37, 47, and 53.)
123:3 See Matt. 9: 12.
123:4 Cod. O. reads: "another."
124:1 In chap. XX of the First Rule (see above, p. 53). The passage enclosed in brackets is the part omitted by Wadding and those who have followed him.
124:2 See John 8: 11.