The Franciscan Order has been saddled with the controversy on the issue of the observance of poverty. During the lifetime of Saint Francis of Assisi, there were already factions in the Order; the faction that were in favour of living the Franciscan charism in a new dimension are called the lenient and the wise, and those who are in favour of keeping to the original way of living the Franciscan Charism, are often called the companions; “we who were with him”. After the death of Francis, the controversy became more intense between the Friars of the Community, who sought to live the Rule and poverty of the Franciscan life in towns and cities with the inspiration of the founder, and the spirituals that sought to live the literal observance of Rule with a more austere adherence. This controversy on the issue of the observance of poverty prompted so many friars from both factions to publish books in defense of the observance of poverty. Examples of books published include: Sacred Exchange between St Francis of Assisi and Lady Poverty by an unknown author, The Legend of the Three Companions by Br. Leo, Br. Rufino and Br. Angelo, The Tree of the Crucified Life of Jesus Christ by Ubertino Da Casale, The Tribulations of the Order of Lesser Ones by Angelo Clarino, the Little flowers of St Francis etc. In this essay, I will be explaining in details the information that the author is trying to pass across from some of the subthemes of the book entitled, “The Sacred Exchange between St Francis of Assisi and Lady Poverty”, that is specifically written in defense of the literal observance of poverty, indicating where the author is writing from, the year of composition and the aim of the author and the society of his time. The Sacred Exchange in other words, called the holy commerce between St Francis and Lady Poverty was written or composed between 1237 and 1239, few years after the death of St Francis of Assisi. It was written this time because there were already lapses in the observance of poverty just few years after the death of the founder. Also during these years, Pope Gregory IX, a close friend of Francis and the first Cardinal protector of the Order, issued a papal decree entitled “Quo elongati” addressed to the Friars regarding the observance of the Rule and Testament of Saint Francis. Furthermore, Br. Elias was elected as the Minister General of the Order and a massive Church was being built in honour of St Francis in the city of Assisi. All these development encourage the relaxation of the literal observance of poverty, thus creating more division within the Order. Consequently, this book was composed with rich allegory flavoured with so many scriptural references to defend, encourage and to remind the friars of the importance of the literal observance of poverty in the Order. AUTHOR
Up to this day, the author of this book is still unknown, but there are suggestions that the author could be St Anthony of Padua, Blessed John of Parma or Caesar of Speyer, because there are similarities in their writing style with that of Sacred Exchange. It is certain that this was composed by a lenient Franciscan Friar who is well versed and acquainted with what was going on in the Order at that time. His talented gift surfaced in the way he personified Poverty as a Lady, because the word “lady” means a young admirable and respectful woman that knows her worth and does not seek after men; rather men always seek after her and she responds with love and kindness to the true man who seeks her.
EXPLANATIONS ON THE SUB-THEMES
BLESSED FRANCIS ASKS ABOUT POVERTY
Here, the author presents the Lady poverty as a fine, beautiful maiden whom Francis is eagerly seeking with great enthusiasm and caution. In his quest to finding her, he came across some people on the streets of the towns and cities and enquired of...