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  • Inspiration and Institution in John of Rupescissa's Liber Ostensor XI1
  • Graziana S. Ciola


The present study proposes a philosophical analysis of John of Rupescissa's Liber Ostensor [=LO], Treatise XI. John of Rupescissa (OFM, 1310 ca. – 1366)2 is a particularly interesting, eclectic and somewhat extraordinary [End Page 7] author writing around the second third of the 14th century in the wake of the Spiritual Franciscan movement in the South of France.3 In LO XI, Rupescissa theorizes and systematically articulates a complex relationship between inspired knowledge and the normative portrait of what he believes the Franciscan Order should ideally be; he does so against the background of his eschatological concerns. Per Rupescissa's style of exposition and argumentation, these different elements — i.e., inspired epistemology, eschatology, and ecclesiology — are tightly intertwined on a theoretical and foundational level that goes beyond that of mere rhetorics.

These themes are both recurrent and pivotal throughout Rupescissa's extremely prolific intellectual output, which counts numerous theological, ecclesiological, eschatological and alchemical treatises.4 LO, composed in [End Page 8] 1356 during Rupescissa's own "Avignon Captivity," is in many ways a sum of Rupescissa's prophetical and eschatological thought within the framing of the author's self-apologetic aims and of his ecclesiological views, in particular concerning the future of the Franciscan Order.5 [End Page 9]

Treatise XI is undoubtedly the most theoretical book in LO; with its 489 paragraphs, it is also the longest. While this extremely dense text broaches on a great variety of topics, it is first and foremost about and for Spiritual Franciscans. Overall, LO XI is both a great portrayal of the Franciscan order as it is and as it should be, as well as a handbook addressed to the elect among the Spirituals, in order to help them face the eschaton and the tribulations to come. Per Rupescissa's eschatological views, such trials would affect the Franciscan Order the hardest and for the longest — hence the need for a detailed guide. At its core, then, LO XI is a deeply ecclesiological treatise and as such it is complementary to the larger systematization established in the Sexdequiloquium.6 It is in this framework that LO XI offers a complex theory of prophecy and illuminative knowledge as they should be embodied in the practices of a true Franciscan.7

Given its highly abstract nature and cardinal function within one the most complex works of Rupescissa's maturity, LO XI, combining relevant insights on Rupescissa's ecclesiological, epistemological and prophetical positions, constitutes the ideal case study in order to assess Rupescissa's most refined and articulated account on inspired knowledge, particularly insofar as true and actual prophecy is concerned. This inspired knowledge, according to Rupescissa, is an indispensable tool for the elect to be able to victoriously face the imminent end of times. In the account presented in LO XI, such knowledge is possible exclusively through a form of institutional embedding: divine inspiration, culminating in true prophecy, is in service of the Franciscan Order's soteriological role within the Church as a whole, and can only be achieved by those who are faithful to the spirit of Francis's Rule.8 [End Page 10]

Here, I analyze Rupescissa's theory of evangelical poverty and its role as a necessary condition for inspired knowledge, following the internal articulation of LO XI.

Overall, in Rupescissa's view, Franciscan poverty and inspiration are two inseparable sides of the same coin. On the one hand, inspired knowledge is only achievable through a rigorous practice and thorough understanding of Franciscan poverty. On the other hand, the true institutional role of the Franciscan Order and its soteriological aims can be fulfilled exclusively by the true Spiritual Franciscans, whose moral, spiritual and epistemic perfection is divinely inspired. For Rupescissa, not only is poverty the source of all virtues both for the Franciscan Order and for the rest of the Church, but it also constitutes the ideal moral and social model, tout court. But most importantly, evangelical poverty has a genuinely epistemic role; this role is essential for Rupescissa's illuminative epistemology and for his account of prophetical exegesis — or exegetical prophecy. In turn, the...