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253 Franciscan Studies 61 (2003) An Unexplored Influence on the Epistola ad fideles of Francis of Assisi: The Epistola universis Christi fidelibus of Joachim of Fiore During the summer of 1220, shaken by news from Italy of a variety of troubles brewing within the Order of Friars Minor, Francis of Assisi left the Holy Land – where he had gone to oppose the Fifth Crusade the previous year1 – in order to return home to Italy.2 He was accompanied on this journey by most, if not all, of the friars who had been with him in the East: among them, Elias of Cortona,3 Peter of Catanio,4 Stephen of Narni,5 Illuminato6 and Caesar of Speyer.7 1 Historians have long puzzled over whether Francis actively opposed the crusade or whether his motivations for going to the Holy Land and Egypt were more spiritual in nature (e.g., in pursuit of martrydom). Scholars have almost universally tended to come down on the latter side of the question. Indeed, a reading of the hagiographical sources, notably 1 and 2 Celano and Bonaventure’s Legenda maior, can give such an impression. This is not totally unexpected since these texts, by definition, attempt to present the sainted figure as someone in full conformity with the vita Christi, even to the point of embracing the cross of his own death. Nevertheless, a case has convincingly been made, in my view, favoring the position that Francis went to Egypt to explicitly oppose the crusade most notably in a brief article by James Powell (cf. “Francesco d’Assisi e la quinta crociata. Una missione di pace,” Schedi medievali, 4 [1983]: 68-77). A similar argument has been made more recently by Jan Hoebrechts, Francis and Islam (Quincy, Illinois: Franciscan Press, 1997) who is familiar with Powell’s analysis. The importance of Francis’s opposition to the crusade for this article will become apparent later on. 2 The exact chronology of these events is difficult to determine with precision. The best guess is that at least some of the troubles in Italy were occasioned by certain actions taken at a chapter held in Assisi in May 1220 by the two vicars whom Francis had left in charge of the fraternity, Gregory of Naples and Matthew of Narni (cf. Chronica Fratris Jordani, c. 11, ed. H. Boehmer, Collection d’Études et de Documents, 6 [Paris: Fischbacher, 1908], 9-10). 3 Minister of the province of Syria since 1217. 4 By some accounts, the second companion of Francis (cf. AP 10 and 3Soc 28). Arnaldo Fortini (Nuova vita, II, 276-280) contends that the most probable identity of this friar is Peter Catanii (or Peter of Catanio) since affiliated with the family of Catanio of Guiduccio. Although Fortini – and others – have contended that Peter may have been a canon of the Church of San Rufino prior to joining the minorite movement, Jordan (c. 11, 9) claims that he had been trained in civil law. The latter datum appears more consistent with the testimony found in the other sources. 5 Bearer of the disturbing news from Italy (cf. Chronica Fratris Jordani, c. 1211-12). Jordan does not mention the name of the friar courier. Boehmer, editor of Jordan’s chronicle, states (page 12, n. 3) that the 16th century Franciscan chronicler, Jan MICHAEL F. CUSATO 254 Disembarking in the vicinity of Venice and after taking care of a number of issues en route to Assisi, Francis called an Emergency Chapter of the whole Order at the Portiuncula in late September, 1220.8 It was here at this Chapter that, burdened by increasingly painful physical maladies and discouraged at seeing the direction of the fraternity slipping from his hands, Francis resigned his position as “minister and servant of all the friars,” handing the reins of the Order to Peter of Catanio.9 Although he had resigned as minister general of the friars, giving up official authority over the movement he had fostered since 1208, Francis nonetheless retained for himself a kind of moral or charismatic authority, endeavoring, according to the literature of the companions, to remain an exemplar for and salutary influence upon the friars.10 Indeed, in the six years...


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