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The Poor and the Perfect

The Rise of Learning in the Franciscan Order, 1209-1310

by Neslihan Senocak

Publication Year: 2012

One of the enduring ironies of medieval history is the fact that a group of Italian lay penitents, begging in sackcloths, led by a man who called himself simple and ignorant, turned in a short time into a very popular and respectable order, featuring cardinals and university professors among its ranks. Within a century of its foundation, the Order of Friars Minor could claim hundreds of permanent houses, schools, and libraries across Europe; indeed, alongside the Dominicans, they attracted the best minds and produced many outstanding scholars who were at the forefront of Western philosophical and religious thought.

In The Poor and the Perfect, Neslihan Şenocak provides a grand narrative of this fascinating story in which the quintessential Franciscan virtue of simplicity gradually lost its place to learning, while studying came to be considered an integral part of evangelical perfection. Not surprisingly, turmoil accompanied this rise of learning in Francis's order. Şenocak shows how a constant emphasis on humility was unable to prevent the creation within the Order of a culture that increasingly saw education as a means to acquire prestige and domination. The damage to the diversity and equality among the early Franciscan community proved to be irreparable. But the consequences of this transformation went far beyond the Order: it contributed to a paradigm shift in the relationship between the clergy and the schools and eventually led to the association of learning with sanctity in the medieval world. As Şenocak demonstrates, this episode of Franciscan history is a microhistory of the rise of learning in the West.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

When a Turkish engineer in Ankara, who had never been inside a church until the age of twenty-three, decides to write a book on medieval Franciscans, the list of people deserving thanks becomes necessarily very long. On top of this list is Paul Latimer, who in the capacity as a mentor, editor and friend made an enormous contribution both to this book and to my formation as a medievalist. ...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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Prologue: The Challenges to the Historian

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pp. 1-24

Evidently, when he wrote these lines, Matthew Paris did not particularly object to friars carrying books, opening schools, and lecturing and disputing.2 For the modern scholar, this is an unexpected image when contrasted to that of Francis, who founded the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) in 1209. ...

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1. The Formative Years, 1219–1244

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pp. 25-75

In September 1219, Brother Pacifico1 arrived at the gates of Paris hoping to find a place in that city for his brothers in religion, the Friars Minor.2 This arrival marks the beginning of a history to be told in these pages, the history of the rise of learning in the Order of the Friars Minor. ...

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2. Studying as Evangelical Perfection

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pp. 76-143

The story told in the preceding chapter shows that by the time the leadership of the Order passed from Haymo of Faversham to Crescentius of Jesi in 1244, the backbone of an educational framework and the formation of an administrative culture that favored the pursuit of learning as a good and useful activity was complete. ...

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3. Beyond Preaching and Confession

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pp. 144-188

The Franciscan theologians following John of Rupella had little trouble making a case for the advantages of study within the fulfillment of Franciscan vocation. However, these men had entered the Order at a time when it had already made the commitment to education and learning. An established intellectual culture awaited Bonaventure when he put on his Franciscan habit for the first time. ...

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4. Paradise Lost

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pp. 189-214

When scholars from Paris joined the Franciscan Order and, to the best of their conviction, integrated the study of theology into the Franciscan mission, they made a genuine effort to emphasize at every stage the importance and necessity of humility and charity. This was a significant part of the discourse of the Franciscan scholars who reflected on the Order’s association with learning. ...

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5. The Educational System around 1310

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pp. 215-242

Franciscan educational organization experienced rapid change throughout the thirteenth century paralleling the Order’s spectacular expansion in both recruits and new provinces, changes in the university curricula, and the diverse roles the friars assumed in the ecclesiastical world. ...

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pp. 243-252

When Francis prohibited his brothers the ownership of individual and communal property, he did not just adopt a principle of the apostolic life as he understood it. He also tried to remove from the path of the friars one of the most common means by which people were ranked in society. ...

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pp. 253-270


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pp. 271-272


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pp. 273-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780801464249
E-ISBN-10: 0801464242
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450570
Print-ISBN-10: 0801450578

Page Count: 276
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1