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  • St. Francis of Assisi’s Admonitions In New Ecclesiastical And Secular Contexts1
  • Robert J. Karris O.F.M. (bio)

In the last number of years scholars have discovered many new “parallels”2 to Francis of Assisi’s Admonitions.3 In this article I will provide more new parallels that I have uncovered not only in ecclesiastical contexts, but also in non-ecclesiastical ones.4 While almost all students of Francis’ Admonitions are acquainted with the general ecclesiastical contexts, most are unfamiliar with the non-ecclesiastical contexts evidenced by Cato’s Distichs, Daniel of Beccles’ Urbanus Magnus, Egbert of Liège’s The Well-Laden Ship, the Facetus, and a fourteen-volume collection of medieval proverbs. From these parallels I will argue that the Admonitions of Francis of Assisi belong to the literary genre of Conduct Literature, that its closest formal parallel is found in Egbert of Liège’s The Well-Laden Ship which contains short and extensive “teachings,” and that Francis and the editors of his Admonitions took deep breaths from the traditions of ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical instances of “teachings for life.”

First I provide a general introduction to both the ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical authors that supply the parallels. Second I use parallels from these works to provide insight on individual admonitions. [End Page 207]

Ecclesiastical Parallels

Defensor’s Liber Scintillarum5

This work is a compilation of instructions from Sacred Scripture and the Fathers, arranged in eighty-one chapters on religious themes such as vices and virtues, faith, eating, laughing, weeping, relationships between parents and their children, and so forth. The most frequently quoted Father is Isidore of Seville. This spiritual book was written by Defensor at the monastery of Saint-Martin de Ligugé under the Abbot Ursinus about 700 A.D. It is not original, but gives evidence of tradition at that time. It is situated in the middle between the revered and profound catecheses of the early Christian centuries and the highly sophisticated school theology and debates of the 12th and 13th centuries. The “sparks” of tradition are meant to light up the darkness of the era and to warm the hearts of the Christian pilgrims of that time as they journey back to God and their true homeland. Antonio Ciceri has detected some parallels between these sparks and the Admonitions.6 While citing his, I will produce some new parallels. One of these sparks reads: “A mild mannered secular is better than a belligerent and angry monk. A secular who serves his sick brother is better than a monk who does not care for his neighbor.”7

Rhabanus Maurus8

Rhabanus Maurus, monk and Abbot at Fulda and Archbishop of Mainz, died in 856. His De institutione clericorum contains a wealth of information about liturgies, vestments, offices, sacraments, etc. In his admonitions to clerics Rhabanus Maurus is frequently indebted to the tradition of St. Augustine’s De doctrina christiana and to St. Gregory the Great’s Regula pastoralis and Moralia in Iob. He warns clerics to practice what they preach. In dependence upon St. Augustine, who is dependent upon Cicero, he instructs the clerics to fashion sermons that delight, convince, [End Page 208] and inform.9 In Book III, ch. 37 he teaches clerics that they must vary their teaching for different audiences, e.g., they must offer different admonitions to those who deplore that they have sinned by their actions and to those who are sorry that they have sinned in thought.10 In Book III, ch. 38 contrasts virtues and vices according to their species and arrays vices and virtues as armies fighting one another under their commanders, Pride and Humility.11 In this chapter there are many formal and material parallels to Francis of Assisi’s Admonition 27. I give a sample: “The commander munificence (largitas) is arrayed against avarice; genuine loyalty against betrayal; sincerity against fraud; truth against falsehood; not swearing against perjury; tranquility against inquietude (inquietudini tranquillitas); patience (patientia) against violence; mercy against hardness of heart (duritae misericordia).”12

Hugh Of Saint-Victor13

The De institutione novitorum by Hugh of Saint-Victor (d. 1141) is tiny and emphasizes that a person’s outward conduct...


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