TRACING ITS ORIGINS
IDENTIFYING ITS CENTRAL
KENAN B. OSBORNE, O.F.M.
THE FRANCISCAN HERITAGE SERIES
Â© The Franciscan Institute
St. Bonaventure University
St. Bonaventure, NY 14778
This pamphlet is the first in
The Franciscan Heritage Series
sponsored by the
Commission on the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition
of the English-speaking Conference of the
Order of Friars Minor
Joseph P. Chinnici, O.F.M.
Elise Saggau, O.S.F.
Library of Congress Control Number
Printed and bound in the United States of America
TABLE OF CONTENTS
General Editorâ€™s Introduction v
Part One: Authorâ€™s Introductory Remarks 1
Part Two: Historical Overviewâ€”
30 C.E. to 1300 C.E. 5
Part Three: The Philosophical World of Aristotle 15
I. The Predicamental Categories of
Aristotelian Philosophy 17
II. The Four Types of Causality in
Aristotleâ€™s Philosophy 21
III. The Comprehensive Structure of
Aristotelian Philosophy 23
IV. Two Major Changes Made by Thirteenthcentury Catholic Theologians in Their
Acceptance of Aristotelian Philosophy 25
Part Four: The Gradual Development of the
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 31
I. The Franciscan Foundation: The Spirituality
and Vision of St. Francis and St. Clare 32
-The Humility of the Incarnation 34
-The Love of the Passion 39
II. The First Franciscan Theologians at the
Universities of Paris and Oxford 41
III. Franciscans in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries
Whose Careers Were Not Generally Associated
with the Universities of Paris and Oxford 50
Part Five: Distinctive Features of the Franciscan
Intellectual Tradition 53
I. The Triune God: a Relational God,
Who is Both Primitas and Fecunditas 55
II. The Sacred Book of Creation 63
iv Table of Contents
On behalf of the Commission for the Retrieval of the Franciscan
Intellectual Tradition (CFIT), I present to you with great pleasure this first volume of The Franciscan Heritage Seriesâ€”The
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition: Tracing Its Origins and Identifying
Its Central Components by Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M. The purpose of this first volume is to present some general and major
themes of the theological formulation of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition as these themes intersect with contemporary perspectives. It provides both a fine starting point for further reflection and a solid foundation for future expositions in this series.
Dr. Osborne, a member of the Order of Friars Minor, Province of Saint Barbara, and Emeritus Professor at the Franciscan
School of Theology, Berkeley, California, is an internationally recognized theologian who specializes in sacramental theology,
Christology, ecclesiology and the multicultural dimensions of
Christian theology. He has here presented in brief form an excellent introduction. It is our hope that readers will take this short
work and, with careful and thoughtful study, perhaps under the
guidance of a mentor, begin to plumb the spiritual depths of our
inheritance and comprehend the important uniqueness of its
intellectual expression. Through reflection, prayer, conversation
and action may we also explore these theological themes as they
might be expressed in preaching, pastoral practice, the works of
evangelization and community formation with friars, sisters and
This present work takes its place within the context of a much
larger Franciscan Heritage Series, which we hope will encompass topics such as Creation, the Iconography of the Crucified,
Christian Anthropology, Ecclesiology, Scriptural Themes, Evangelization, History, the Natural Sciences, the Arts and other areas of contemporary concern. As the volumes develop, we hope
also to include some of the many different carriers of our
Franciscan Traditionâ€”not just Francis and the cleric theologians,
but also Clare, the women penitents and the laity.
Before our readers begin to taste the â€œfirst fruitâ€ of a large
and expansive feast, however, we must briefly indicate, in this
Introduction, the origins of the Heritage Series, its relationship to a
major initiative in the English-speaking world, and its connections
with some significant trajectories in the social and ecclesial experience of the brothers and sisters of the thirteenth-century foundational period of the Franciscan family.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition Project
In March 2001, the English-speaking Conference, Order of Friars Minor, undertook an initiative for the contemporary retrieval of
the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. Composed of the leaders of
the provinces and other entities of England, Ireland, Canada and
the United States, the Conference established an inter-obediential
commission to facilitate the coordination and networking of various publications and popular initiatives that were already taking
place throughout the English-speaking world in the various countries which were represented. As one its first initiatives, this Commission for the Retrieval of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition
(CFIT) composed and published a strategic five-year plan, the purpose of which was sevenfold:
â€¢ To identify the major themes of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition;
â€¢ To provide training programs and resources for formators
and those called to serve in leadership with respect to
the nature and unique contributions of the Franciscan
â€¢ To network and foster collaboration among the current
Franciscan study centers of the English-speaking world:
The Franciscan Institute and School of Franciscan Studies, St. Bonaventure, New York; the Franciscan School of
Theology, Berkeley, California; the Franciscan Study Center, Canterbury, England; and two major theological
schools with a Franciscan presence, the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and the Washington Theological Union in Washington, DC.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition vii
â€¢ To promote and support the broader and wider articulation and communication of the Franciscan Intellectual
Tradition with respect to our evangelizing mission;
â€¢ To identify and encourage new scholars, especially
among the laity;
â€¢ To create new learning opportunities as might be needed,
for example, through the establishment of a website and
the possibility of distance learning;
â€¢ To make a greater and more conscious effort to provide
leadership training and resources to Franciscans throughout the English-speaking world.
The Commission decided very early that one of its first major
tasks would be to identify the central themes and emphases of the
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, particularly as these were embodied in key theological issues. We decided to begin on the theological
level since we felt that the tradition first took on its specific contours
in this area and that theological reflection might provide the clearest
orientation for our contemporary mission in Church and society. The
Commission also recognized, however, that the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition is rich in insights as to how the Christian message
might intersect with the fields of politics, economics, psychology,
sociology and environmental studies. Its own work would simply
be complementing many other initiatives being undertaken in the
wider Franciscan family, for example, among the many colleges and
universities working to mainstream their inherited Franciscan
After an initial overview statement that was published along
with the Strategic Plan in a booklet entitled The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition Project (June, 2001, available from the Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure, New York), two significant initiatives were
immediately undertaken. The first was the publication of the proceedings of the annual forum on Franciscan theology at the Washington Theological Union. This gathering is designed to interface, at
a high scholarly level, the major theological themes of the Tradition
with contemporary issues. Two publications represent the first efforts to make these insightful reflections available: The Franciscan
Intellectual Tradition (St. Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute,
viii Introduction .
2002); Franciscan Identity and Postmodern Culture (St. Bonaventure,
NY: The Franciscan Institute, 2003). Subsequent volumes of symposia papers will address Creation, the Church, and Biblical Foundations.
The development and publication of a series of pamphlets entitled The Franciscan Heritage Series is the second major initiative.
This Series has a different audience in mind and is pitched at a level
different from the Washington Theological Union symposia essays.
The Heritage Series is designed to make available to college teachers, preachers, formation directors, pastoral workers, and lay persons associated with the Franciscan movement some of the basic
themes dominant in our Intellectual Tradition. The character of these
offerings is less academic. While they presuppose some training in
philosophy and theology, they try, as much as possible, to keep scholarly references to a minimum and to avoid the technical language
associated with medieval scholasticism. Although each is complete
in itself, no one volume is fully expository. In the long run, we hope
that the compilation of multiple volumes will enable the lively student to grasp the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition in its totality.
The First Volume
In this context, the purpose of the first volume in the Series is
(1) To situate the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition within
the broader sweep of the Churchâ€™s own Scriptural and
Magisterial Theological Tradition;
(2) To identify some of the major themes in the Franciscan
spiritual-theological vision of Catholic Christian life;
(3) To give an overview of our Traditionâ€™s specific development and its major writers;
(4) To present readers with enough background in the categories in which our academic theological tradition was
first articulated (i.e. the philosophy of Aristotle) so that
they might be both somewhat attuned to the reading of
the primary texts of the thirteenth century and somewhat prepared to translate the major themes into the
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition ix
philosophical, psychological and sociological categories
of our own day. This first volume is thus foundational
for those that will follow.
We recognize that readers of any given pamphlet may find some
of its insights either too difficult to grasp or perhaps too generalized; hopefully some insights will be stimulating and encouraging.
We anticipate that the volumes themselves might prove most helpful in classrooms, discussion groups and formation settings. We hope
that readers might translate the basic themes presented in The
Franciscan Heritage Series into still more popular forms and make
them accessible to an ever-wider public of interested parties. We
would like to sponsor two-page summaries and updates, in printed
and web-page format, which might help form preaching, meditation and community conversation, and serve as an even more practical illustration of basic principles. Each person and each â€œcommunity of learningâ€ has a different role to play in the larger project.
May the Lord, in an ever-deeper fashion, show each of us a way to
make these profound insights and truths life-giving in our Church
and society. Dr. Osborne has here given us a fine start.
Many people associated with the Franciscan family live on a very
practical and pastoral level. We are called to engage our neighbor in
following the footprints of Our Lord and the way of Francis and
Clare. The vision, after all, begins with an encounter with a leper
and the making of mercy; in its very simplicity it reveals the â€œsweetness of God.â€ We may find intellectual formulations, particularly of
an academic nature, abstract and removed from everyday concerns,
lacking in application. Our Franciscan tradition, as it has developed
over the centuries, has tended to separate the insights of spirituality
from the insights of academic theology, the inspiration and intuition of Francis from the institutional work of Bonaventure and the
philosophical-theological vision of Scotus, the formation experience
of novitiate from the school experience of preparation for ministry.
We believe that these are lamentable divisions, ones that need particular healing in this contemporary era. We want our Franciscan
life to be wholeâ€”a comprehensive way of looking at the world that
can animate our acting, our feeling and our thinking
On the one hand, we readily recognize the fellow members of
our family whenever we gather together. In some fashion, at a very
profound and intuitive level, a common heart has shaped our lifeâ€™s
endeavors. On the other hand, when we gather together, we also
search for a common public language, in both thought and practice,
which can express our deepest communal bonds. We struggle to
share our Gospel experience among ourselves and with others, to
formulate it in common ritual, to embody it in shared institutions
and to communicate it in a communal â€œthought style.â€ When others
ask us â€œWhat does it mean to be Franciscan?â€ we can easily show
them. Can we also accompany our showing with a telling and thus
enable an action, an understanding and a bonding communication?
We would also wish for a unity of vision and practice to be established between our brothers and sisters engaged in social work,
institutional administration, education and individual ministries.
Our social locations are different, but are we that far apart? We would
want the same gospel charism and intuition to reach both the marginated and the more powerful, so that all might see themselves as
members of one family, brothers and sisters of one another. Today,
at this time in the Churchâ€™s history and in the social, cultural and
political climate of the twenty-first century, we would wish to present
a vision that can encourage and unite all of Godâ€™s creatures. Such is
the hope of the CFIT. Our Franciscan Heritage Series is a small attempt to help bridge some gaps between our Franciscan experience
of life and our intellectual formulations, between our personal
longings and our public languages, between our spirituality and
We note, in this first volume, the strong link between the spirituality and vision of Francis of Assisi, sometimes referred to as his
â€œvernacular theology,â€ and the academic expression of this theology in the early schools at Paris and Oxford. The connection exists
at a very profound level, and perhaps it will help readers to envision the unity that the CFIT is trying to foster as emerging from the
1. the challenges that Francis faced in the Church and society of his time, his social location;
2. his own gospel experience as elucidated in his Testament
in response to the social and ecclesial challenges;
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition xi
3. the different languages in which this has been communicated over time.
Let us briefly consider each of these.
1. The challenges of social location faced by Francis of Assisi are in
many ways similar to our own. Simply put, he was born into a world
that, in some respects, had forgotten what it means to be both human and Christian. Confronted with a new awareness of the presence of the poor in its own society, medieval Italy developed rituals
of exclusion to protect itself both economically and culturally from
the threatening presence of the other, symbolically identified as
â€œleperâ€ or â€œhereticâ€ or â€œcriminalâ€ or â€œinfidelâ€ or, from the perspective of the underside, â€œthe priestâ€ or â€œthe powerful.â€
There was a distinct effort to bridge the gap between the strong
and the weak, the possessors and the dispossessed, those who belonged and those who needed to be expelled. This effort became
ever more difficult as society itself experienced civil strife and a
struggle for a dominating power that could establish a peaceful public order. Alienation caused by the complicity of the Church in inherited social structures and the search to reclaim the gospel message occasioned an explosion of popular movements, a papal and
episcopal desire for ecclesial reform, the development of marginal
groups, the acceptance by some of a division between spirituality
and religion, between institutional rituals and personal ways of salvation. In the larger world, people were torn between two competing allegiances, the Church and the Empire, and between two religions confronting each other for global dominance, the Christians
and the Saracens. In the world that Francis inherited, people posed
very direct questions related to human suffering, human belonging, human peace, human integrity, human transformation and, ultimately, the
goodness of God and the goodness of being human.
2. Into this world, not away from it, the Lord led Francis of Assisi
to do penance, to work and to discover â€œsweetness.â€ And thus the journey has been for succeeding generations of Franciscans. Francis encountered God in the condition of being human, in a condition that
was most disfigured, in a condition of exclusion and poverty, in the
condition of God-with-us, Emmanuel, in the condition of a disfig-
ured but grace-filled Church, in the human condition of the â€œinfidel.â€ He began to work with his hands, as did his Master, to become
â€œsimple and subject to allâ€ (Francis, Testament 19), to imitate as a coworker a Creator who made all things, redeemed all things and
would bring all things to their transformation (cf. Francis, Earlier
Rule 23). He began to take up the cross of his own body, which came
with a human condition embedded in a disfigured world. In doing
this, Francis was called to follow the path of the Incarnate Lord,
who did not disdain to be born, labor along the way and die.
From this One, Francis drew life. Francis grew in this God-withus reality to experience all things in relationship, to develop a praxis
of fraternity and peace, to become a universal brother to brothers
and sisters and to all creatures. He began to be not repelled by this
condition of being human but inspired by its beauty, its goodness,
its creative power, its dependency on the Creator. He began to see
the presence of the Lord shining through the face of the world. Here
was his gospel answer to the worldâ€™s challenges and his gospel â€œyesâ€
to the condition of being human. His was a way of love-willing-tosuffer, a way of belonging, peace, integrity, transformation, and a proclamation of goodness at the heart of reality.
3. With the help of others, Francis found a language to express
this intuition about God-with-us in his prayers, his creed, his sermons, his letters, his Rule, his evangelizing work and preaching,
and his symbolic texts of Crib, Cross and Eucharist. He left also for
others the human and graced text of his own life. Those who followed after the first brothers inherited this intuition, received these
texts and the symbolic text of Francisâ€™s own stigmata, confronted
the problems of their times, and, in different languages (ones both
shaped by their own milieux, their own possibilities, and constrained
by their own communal disfigurements), still tried to express this
great vision of God-with-us.
The same questions needed to be answered, albeit from a different social locationâ€”questions of human suffering, human belonging,
human peace, human integrity, human transformation, and ultimately,
the goodness of God and the goodness of being human. The same world
needed anew the gospel music of â€œyesâ€ and the following of the one
who became human, labored and died for us. And herein lay a basic
continuity between Francis, Clare, Thomas of Celano, the Three
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition xiii
Companions, John of Perugia, Angela of Foligno, Elizabeth of Hungary, Bonaventure, Peter John Olivi, Scotus and so many other brothers and sisters. In the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition we find again
and again, in different languages using different genres, the same
fundamentals of our vision of the Catholic Christian life. Dr. Osborne
has given us in this first pamphlet a few indicators:
â€¢ Godâ€™s presence and universal accessibility in Christâ€”
in creation, in the poor, in the non-event, in the non-believer;
â€¢ God as a community of persons, a Trinity, sharing life
and goodsâ€”a model for fraternity, social peace,
relationality, mission and the exchange of goods between
â€¢ Godâ€™s gratuity and liberality to be with us, even in our
creaturely disfigured wayâ€”in Christâ€™s birth, life and
passion, in each unique creature, in the great gift of the
Church with its people and priests and theologians and
sacraments and doctrine and teaching magisterium;
â€¢ Godâ€™s human way of exercising authority, creating
order and â€œbeing withâ€â€”through example, humility,
courtesy, respect and love-willing-to-suffer with the
Embedded in this vision and communicated in this Franciscan
Intellectual Tradition are implications for the world of politics, economics, social relations, family life and daily human existence. Can
we speak in the midst of our own social and ecclesial location a language of God-with-us, a language of life, a language of ritual, a language of social witness, a language of the intellect that, for our own
time, will have us â€œdo what is ours to doâ€ in this Christian Catholic
Franciscan way of gospel life? Such is the CFITâ€™s purpose and hope
in seeking companions on the way. May the reader beware!
Joseph P. Chinnici, OFM
Franciscan School of Theology
Berkeley, California 94709
March 19, 2003
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition is a philosophical and
theological expression of understanding the Catholic faith.
As a philosophy and theology, this tradition is one of several major interpretations of this faith. In the history of the western Catholic Church, two other major traditions have enriched
the Catholic faith: the Dominican Intellectual Tradition, centered
on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Augustinian Intellectual Tradition, centered on the writings of St. Augustine of
Hippo. All three traditions have continually received the blessing of popes and scholars. They have also intersected with each
other, have influenced each other and have been self-consciously
aware of their differences. None of them, however, can claim to
be the â€œbetterâ€ intellectual tradition. Since they are philosophical and theological interpretations of the Catholic Faith, all three
respect the fundamental teachings of Scripture, Tradition and
The focus in the volumes of this series is on the Franciscan
Intellectual Tradition, but references to the other two major traditions will, at times, be necessary. The primary sources for the
differences held by the Franciscan tradition stem from the distinctive spiritual experience and vision of Francis and Clare of
Assisi. Francis and Clare were not theologians, in the academic
interpretation of this word, but they both attempted, in their lives
and in their writings, to speak and to exemplify the Word of
God. By their way of life, they wanted to deepen their own Catholic faith and share gospel holiness with the people they met. Their
voices echoed the gospels and Catholic tradition in a new and
convincing way. Their spiritual vision became enormously attractive, and many men and women joined their communities.
It is estimated that by the year 1221, about eleven years after
St. Francis formed a small group of followers, the number of
Franciscan friars ranged from three thousand to five thousand.
This was a phenomenal growth. In addition, after the first
Franciscan students began to attend the major universities in
Europe around 1219, their Franciscan spirituality impressed several key diocesan professors of theology, particularly at the uni1
2 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
versities of Paris and Oxford. Theological insights gradually interfaced with the distinctive Franciscan spirituality, and this development became what we today call the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition.
Theology is never the same as dogma or the solemn teachings of
the Church. Theology is a continual reflection on faith; it presupposes faith; it is not in competition with faith. However, from the
Pauline letters onwards, one finds a number of such reflections on
Catholic faith, each specifically differing both in philosophical approaches and in theological approaches. It is true that in the contemporary Catholic Church, Thomism is the more popular theological approach among Catholic writers, but popularity by itself never
creates definitive doctrine.
In the history of the Western Catholic Church, the Augustinian
Intellectual Tradition extended its own overarching popularity from
400 C.E. to 1300 C.E. Even after 1300, this Tradition remained very
influential. In the sixteenth century, both Martin Luther and John
Calvin employed citations from the writings of St. Augustine second only in number to their citations from the Scriptures. Catholic
theologians at the Council of Trent were also very competent in their
knowledge of the Augustinian Intellectual Tradition, since the Council of Trent was in many ways an â€œAugustinianâ€ council. Bishops
and theologians were arguing against the â€œAugustinianâ€ approach
of the major reformers. The Catholic bishops and theologians at Trent
were also trained in the Dominican and Franciscan intellectual traditions and these positions are also evident in the council documents.
At the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the
fourteenth century, the Dominican Friars formally selected the teachings of Thomas Aquinas as the center of their theological formation.
This formal move guaranteed a long life for the Dominican Intellectual Tradition. The Franciscans followed this pattern by selecting
both Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus as the center of their Intellectual Tradition. From 1300 C.E. to 1563 C.E. (the conclusion of the
Council of Trent), the intellectual traditions of the two mendicant
orders became far more popular than the Augustinian Tradition.
During this same period of time, the two mendicant traditions became competitive with each other, and at the Council of Trent, the
numbers of bishops and their theologians were almost divided in
halfâ€”one half leaning to the Dominican tradition and the other half
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 3
to the Franciscan. After the Council of Trent, the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition slowly lost its dominance. However, among
Franciscans themselves, this tradition was kept very much alive.
Theological writings, in all three of these traditions, were in Latin.
There were two clear foundationsâ€”God and Jesus. The first foundation, the Triune God, was very often discussed intellectually in
writings called De Deo Uno et Trino. This is often translated in English as The Theology of the One and Triune God. The second foundation, the Word made flesh, was dealt with in writings most often
called De Verbo Incarnato. In English, an abbreviated translation of
this Latin phrase is â€œchristology,â€ and â€œchristologyâ€ has become the
term most often used by theologians for presentations on Jesus. In
this volume, I will use the terms â€œTriune Godâ€ and â€œchristologyâ€ as
designations of the longer phrasesâ€”the theology of the â€œOne and
Triune Godâ€ and the theology of the â€œWord made flesh.â€
All three of the major intellectual traditions in the Western
Churchâ€”the Augustinian Tradition, the Dominican Tradition and
the Franciscan Traditionâ€”are based on the same sources for these
two foundations, namely, Scripture, Tradition and magisterial teaching. None of these intellectual traditions, however, started as a creation from nothing. All three inherited philosophical theologies of
the past on which they continued to build. In other words, the basis
for all three is identical, namely, the revealed Word of God as expressed in Scripture, Tradition and the solemn teachings of the
Church. Differences are based on the various philosophical and theological ways in which the three intellectual traditions express the
implications of the revealed Word of God and on the interfacing of
spirituality and theology, an interfacing that is most evident in the
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition.
In the Roman Catholic Church, there has never been a single
christology; hence the better term is plural: â€œchristologies.â€ Nor has
there been a single theology of the Triune God; hence the better term
is plural: â€œtheologies of God/Trinity.â€ Each theology of the Triune
God and each christology has been developed through a lengthy process. Over time, some of these theologies and christologies have become non-relevant. Others are still operative today. Most of those
still operative continue to remain in process, since they are being
further developed and more carefully honed by contemporary theologians. If one includes the Eastern churches in this overview, the
extent of the differences in these theologies of God and
christologies becomes even more dramatic, since the several
Eastern theologies on the Trinity and on Jesus are quite diverse.
The theologies of the Eastern churches are based on the same
three foundations as in the Westâ€”holy Scripture, holy Tradition
and holy Doctrine.
Over the past two thousand years, the world has never experienced a theological â€œgolden age,â€ that is, an age by which
all subsequent theological ages are to be judged. This means that
there is in the Roman Catholic Church no â€œone theologyâ€ or â€œone
christologyâ€that is definitive. Rather, there are and have been
many theologies and christologies, all of which are based on the
same foundation of Godâ€™s revealed Word. To understand and to
live the Word of God, revealed in both creation and incarnation,
has been and will be a continuing task for Christians. The schools
of theology that developed in the thirteenth century must be seen
against this background. The scholars we will examine intended
to express the Word of God, revealed in both creation and incarnation, in such a way that the people of their time might understand and incorporate into the depths of their spiritual lives this
saving Word. To some extent, the present series on the Franciscan
Intellectual Tradition is an attempt to perform the same task for
the twenty-first century, with its peculiar challenges and opportunities.
The three major intellectual traditions are philosophical and
theological interpretations of Western Catholic Faith. The following material, therefore, must be seen as a description, in widebrush strokes, of theological developments with special emphasis on the Western not Eastern Catholic Church. Because it is
merely an overview or outline, it is necessarily generalized. Its
purpose is to indicate the development of Catholic theologies,
which are fundamentally based on two foundations of Christian belief, namely, on God, who is one and triune, and on Jesus,
the Word made flesh. In what follows, the time periods are rough
generalities. They include significant events in the West that
strongly modified the efforts of theologians in forming both
christological and trinitarian thought.
4 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
30 C.E. TO 1300 C.E.
The First Period: 30 C.E. to 70 C.E.
This period begins with the Resurrection/Pentecost event
and ends with the destruction of the Second Temple in
Jerusalem. After the Resurrection, the disciples spoke
about Jesus, retelling things he had said and done. They also
shared their feelings and their perceptions of the Jesus-event in
their lives, perhaps not so much through theological language
as through the language of spirituality. God and Jesus were the
centers of their faith. These early followers of Jesus prayed together at special times, but they also continued to attend the synagogue and temple services. As practicing and pious Jews, they
explained how Jesus was the fulfillment of the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. For all Jews at that time, these texts were
reverenced as the sacred books. Through Moses, through the
prophets and through Jewish leaders, Godâ€™s love, Godâ€™s covenant and Godâ€™s commandments were revealed.
At times, these early followers of Jesus found that some of
the sacred writings did not seem to have Jesus as their fulfillment. At other times, connections were easily made. From 30 to
70, the Jesus community struggled to piece together the meaning of Jesusâ€™ life and teaching, his death and resurrection with
their Jewish belief in the God of the covenant. The writings of St.
Paul indicate this in a striking way. Paul was a well-trained Jewish scholar, perhaps a rabbi but certainly a Pharisee, who in a
dramatic way went from persecuting the followers of Jesus to
becoming one of Jesusâ€™ most important followers. In his letters
we see a learned Jew struggling to integrate the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings into the Jesus event. The Jewish God,
Yahweh, and the Jewish Jesus, in whom Godâ€™s covenant with
the Jews reached its fulfillment, are the two poles that unite the
teaching, preaching and prayer life of Paul and all other early
followers of Jesus.
6 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
These early followers considered themselves Jewish. They did
not identify themselves as â€œChristian.â€ They called themselves
â€œbrethrenâ€ (Acts 1:16), disciples (Acts 11:26), and â€œthose of the wayâ€
(Acts, 9:2; 22:4; 24:14). They did not believe that they were part of a
new religion, founded to be distinct from Judaism. Many of them
continued to follow Jewish religious practices. Nor did they see themselves as a â€œChristian church.â€ Their self-identity was Jewish. Other
Jews considered them as one of the many â€œJudaismsâ€ or Jewish sects,
which were quite active at that time. The Book of Acts (11:26 and
26:28) does make mention of â€œChristianâ€ as a name others had begun applying to the followers of Jesus. Some scholars place the first,
tenuous use of this designation at Antioch in Syria about 40 C.E.,
but not all biblical scholars accept this early date. Actually, it is not
until late in the first century that the word â€œChristianâ€ became a
general designation for the followers of Jesus as a group distinct
from the Jews. The Annals of Tacitus (15:44), written about 64 C.E.,
refer to the followers of Jesus as Christians. The designation â€œChristianâ€ is also found in 1 Pet. 4:16, in Trajanâ€™s letter to the emperor in
112 C.E., and in Pliny the Youngerâ€™s (61 C.E.-113 C.E.) letter to Trajan
The caution about the use of the term â€œChristianâ€ during the
period 30-70 C.E. is important for the following reason: current New
Testament scholarship stresses that the self-identity of the followers
of Jesus was actually Jewish. Only when the followers of Jesus were
either thrown out of the synagogue or membership became predominantly non-Jewish does the term â€œChristianâ€ begin to describe their
self-identity as distinct from Judaism. Although many scholars continue to use the term â€œChristianâ€ for the early followers of Jesus
from the time of the Resurrection to the destruction of the Temple,
this usage leads readers to regard the followers of Jesus as a group
quite distinct from the Jewish people of that time. It implies that
these early followers of Jesus already had a clear â€œChristian selfidentityâ€ and that the meaning of the term is similar if not the same
as the meaning in our own contemporary understanding. However,
what we mean by â€œChristianâ€ today cannot be simply predicated of
Jesusâ€™ early followers. â€œChristianâ€ implies today many issues and
determinations which were simply unthinkable at that time.
During this period (30-70), there apparently were some written
materials on Jesus, e.g., the Q source, the proto-Mark, accounts of
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 7
Jesusâ€™ arrest and death and accounts about his Resurrection. We have
no manuscripts of these writings. We have only reflections of them
in the four gospels, and these reflections cannot be seen as wordfor-word citations. The gospel writers adapted the original wording
to fit their respective needs. The authentic Pauline letters were written during this same period, and they contain much about the meaning of Jesus but only a few details of his life. From 30 C.E. to 70 C.E.,
then, we have only inchoative theologies on Jesus and his relationship to the One God.
The Second Period: 70 C.E. to 100 C.E.
From 70 C.E. to 100 C.E., a large part of the New Testament was
writtenâ€”the four gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the pastoral letters and the book of Revelation, all of which give us written beginnings of christology and, to some degree, of the theology of the Trinity. The Synoptic Gospels and Acts were written earlier in this period and the Johannine Gospel and Johannine Letters towards the
end, as also some of the Pseudo-Pauline Letters, the book of Revelation, and the letters of James, Peter and Jude. In these writings there
is no â€œone christologyâ€ or â€œone theologyâ€ that explains how the
humanity of Jesus is united to the One God. There are, however,
foundational beginnings of several christologies.
Basically, all the material in the four gospels is a reflection by an
author (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John), and probably these reflections
on Jesus and God also express an understanding of Jesus in their
respective communities. The evangelists are authors in their own
right, but they are also spokesmen and teachers in local communities. During this period, here and there and little by little, the process of separation from post-temple Judaism began to take place. By
120 C.E. there was a Christian self-consciousness among the followers of Jesus, but at the same time this Christian self-consciousness
included the self-identity of the followers of Jesus as the â€œtrue Israel.â€ In other words, their identity was Christian and Jewish. It was
Christian because of their acceptance of Jesus as Messiah and their
belief in the close unity of Jesus and Yahweh. One might say that
they believed in â€œYahweh-Jesus.â€ It was also Jewish, since in spite
of their separation from the Jewish people, the followers of Jesus
claimed as their own the Torah, the Covenant, the Prophets, the name
8 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
Israel and the title â€œGodâ€™s chosen people.â€ In other words, they
claimed what was essential to Judaism, believing that all had been
fulfilled in Jesus. The followers of Jesus were the â€œnew Israel,â€ and
they had a â€œnew covenant,â€ which cancelled the old covenant. This
position is very evident in the early apologetic writings.
Both the growing number of non-Jews in the Jesus communities
and the antagonism of some Jewish groups (e.g., the rabbis at Jamnia)
played major roles in the process of separation. As the process of
self-identification developed, the â€œChristian-Jewishâ€ followers of
Jesus began to be regarded as belonging to a distinct â€œreligion.â€ As
the Greek influence became more prominent, they gradually saw
themselves as a new religion, namely, Christianâ€”a Christian church
with a Christian faith. To place such a developed identity into the
years prior to 90-100 C.E., however, leads to a misreading of New
The Third Period: 100 C.E. to 325 C.E.
This period extends roughly from the time of the earliest theologians and Fathers of the Church down to the first council of the
Church at Nicaea in 325 C.E. During this time Christian theologians
began to develop a more systematic presentation of christology and
a more detailed trinitarian theology. However, in this period, there
are several christologies and trinitarian theologies and not simply
â€œone formâ€ of a philosophico-theological system. Theologians of this
period include: Ignatius of Antioch, Justin of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Melito of Sardis, Irenaeus of Lyon, Origen of Alexandria,
Tertullian of Carthage and Paul of Samosata. There were also other
minor theologians. The unorthodox theological and christological
views of Arius of Alexandria were especially important in the years
just prior to the Council of Nicaea.
Prominent movements of various scholars and their followers
also developed. These movements often brought about great disharmony among Christian churches simply because of the large
number of Christian followers of such movements. There was one
primary issue in all of themâ€”How can Jesus be at one and the same
time a human being and also God? Some authors presented Jesus as
the Messiah or as the prophet who was to come just before the end
of the world. This way of presenting Jesus did not offer any major
theological problem, for Jesus was accepted as the Messiah foretold
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 9
in the Old Testament. However, the idea of an incarnation, i.e., God
becoming human, quickly became the major issue that galvanized
this entire period. It was the focus of both christological and
trinitarian thinking. It produced a flurry of explanations that were
quite diverse. Some were considered acceptable and some not acceptable. The issue of acceptability or non-acceptability became a
further complicating factorâ€”who had the competence to judge one
view as acceptable and another as not acceptable? There was, in this
early period, no monolithic understanding of who could make authoritative judgments.
During this same period (100-325), the theology of redemption
or salvation did not receive the same attention as the christological/
trinitarian focus. In fact, there were only small beginnings of a theology of redemption. There was no clear theology of church, often
called â€œecclesiology,â€ and no clear theology of the sacraments. The
early theological formulations of christological and trinitarian belief were developed more or less on their own, that is, with no influence from a theology of church or of redemption. Today, all these
theologies, that is, christology, trinitiarian theology, theology of
church, theology of redemption and theology of sacraments, interface with one another. What theologians present in their discussions
of christology or trinity has major implications for a theology of
church, redemption and sacraments. The opposite is also trueâ€”what
one says theologically about church, redemption and sacraments
has major implications for both christology and trinitarian theology. Because of this inter-connection, there has always been a developing aspect of theology.
During this early period, there were many divisions, some small
and some large. Not only were there clashing theological positions,
but also there were clashing political positions. Different languages
(Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, Latin, etc.) complicated communication. Key words were often interpreted differently when translations were made. All of this contributed to major discussions, arguments, debates and disagreements about the meaning of Jesus
and the meaning of the relationship between the human Jesus and
the Logos. Nor was this simply a discussion among theologically
trained individuals. These issues were discussed by ordinary Christians in the market place and in restaurants. Rarely does theology
have such a wide venue of discussion.
10 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
The Fourth Period: The Councils of the Early Churchâ€”325
C.E. to 681 C.E.
This period includes the following: the first Council of Nicaea (325
C.E.), the first Council of Constantinople (381 C.E.), the Council of
Ephesus (431 C.E.), the Council of Chalcedon (451 C.E.), the second
Council of Constantinople (553 C.E.) and the third Council of
Constantinople (681 C.E.). It was during the preparation, the sessions and the immediate aftermath of these councils that the
christological faith of the Christian Church became clarified. After
the Council of Chalcedon, there were some further clarifications
made at the second and third Councils of Constantinople, (rejection
of Nestorianism, monophysitism, monothelitism and monenergism).
Since these councils, no other council of the Church has made any further
solemn christological declaration. Doctrinal development of
christological issues stopped at this point. Subsequent Church councils have simply restated the positions developed by these four councils. The Second Vatican Council focused on ecclesiology. Its
christological stance can only be inferred from the explicit
ecclesiology described in the conciliar documents. There is no indication that the bishops at Vatican II had a form of christology that
was different from the Logos-christology of the first four councils.
As the early Fathers and theologians of the Church tried to clarify
the meaning of the incarnation, they also kept rethinking their understanding of God as relational. The very reality of God, they argued, must be seen as relational, if the Christian community believes
that the Logos became incarnate in the human nature of Jesus. Slowly
but surely, these early Christian thinkers began to develop a theology of God in which the emphasis was not on a singularly transcendent God, but on a relationally transcendent God. They began to
envision God not as singularly immanent, but as relationally immanent. Historically, it was this theological struggle to understand that
Jesus is God (incarnation) that gave rise to a theology of a relational
God (the Trinity). Whenever one speaks about a Trinitarian God, it
is necessary to recall the intrinsic connection between the theology
of Trinity and the theology of incarnation. During this period,
Athanasius (+373), Cyril of Alexandria (375-444) and the bishops at
the Council of Chalcedon (451) built on the previous thought of
Irenaeus and Origen. They pushed for an understanding of a rela-
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 11
tional God. Basil the Great (+379), Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), Gregory of Nazianz (329-390), Evagrius of Pontus (344-399), Augustine
(354-430), Maximus the Confessor (580-622) and Dionysius the
Areopagite (sixth century) all contributed in various ways to a vision that is at one and the same time cosmic and christocentric, unifying all creation in a loving communion.
The Fifth Period: The Development of Scholastic Theologyâ€”
1000 C.E. to 1300 C.E.
In this period, the Augustinian Intellectual Tradition was renewed
and the Franciscan and Dominican Intellectual Traditions, building
on the insights of Holy Scripture and the great Fathers of the Church,
each in its own way formulated a summaâ€”a gathering of rich theological traditions, influenced in various ways by Aristotelian philosophy. From 1000 C.E. to the end of 1200 C.E., a number of intellectual issues combined to form what scholars have called â€œscholasticism.â€ Three key components of scholasticism and its method can
be identifiedâ€”the Dialectical Method, the Aristotelian Philosophical Texts, and the Four Books of Sentences.
1. The Dialectical Method. In the twelfth century the dialectical method became widespread in the various centers of
theological teaching (monastic schools and cathedral
schools). In some form or other, this method used differing
statements taken from the Fathers of the Church, early medieval theologians, and even popes and bishops. It juxtaposed
positions on particular issues, presenting those that favored
the position (sic, â€œyesâ€) and those that opposed the position
(non, â€œnoâ€). It then arrived at a conclusion. This method,
called â€œsic et non,â€ became standard for teaching theology
at the medieval universities.
2. Aristotelian Philosophical Texts. Aristotleâ€™s writings had
been translated from Greek into Latin by the Islamic scholars, Avicenna (980-1037) and AverroÃ«s (1126-1198). These two
scholars also wrote Latin commentaries on sections of Aristotelian thought. From the time of Augustine (himself included), few Western theologians, scholars and writers were
fluent in Greek or even knew any Greek. Since Avicenna and
AverroÃ«s were the first to render Aristotle into Latin, their
12 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
works provided the first opportunity for medieval Western
scholars to have any first-hand access to Aristotelian philosophy. From the time of the early Fathers, especially St.
Augustine, down to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Platonic philosophy had dominated Western Catholic thought.
Gradually, from 1000 to 1300, a change to Aristotelian philosophy took place in the Western Church. Medieval theologies both of God and of Jesus were developed using Aristotelian philosophical positions, at least in some ways. Most
often, these theological developments employed both Platonic and Aristotelian elements of philosophy.
3. The Four Books of Sentences. Peter Lombard (c. 1100-
1160) composed a theological text called The Sentences. This
volume was divided into four books. Book One examined
the Trinity; Book Two considered creation, grace and sin;
Book Three centered on the incarnation, redemption and virtue; and Book Four dealt with the sacraments and
eschatology. From the early thirteenth century to the midseventeenth century, this work became â€œthe textâ€ for theology, second only to the Bible.
In a short time, Western Catholic theological study developed a
common method, a common philosophy and a common text for all the
universities and schools where theology was taught. Lectures, formal discussions (i.e., quaestiones disputatae) and written commentaries on the Sentences by all the Masters (Magistri) of theology were
basically unified. Thus, in the thirteenth century, the renewed Augustinian Intellectual Tradition and the newly formulated Dominican and Franciscan Intellectual Traditions shared a basic similarity
in method, in philosophical framework and in lectures and commentaries on the same textual material. An understanding of the
different theological positions and the emphases of each tradition
must begin with understanding this method, this philosophical
framework, and this textbook. Major theologians within these traditions basically accepted to some degree the philosophical framework of Aristotle, but these same scholars subsequently used the
Aristotelian framework in differing ways. They each, in very distinct ways, connected Aristotelian thought to the following five theological issues:
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 13
1. The relationship of God to creation. Is the image and
vestige of God in creation an image and vestige of the
Trinity or of the One God? Is the image and vestige of
God in creation due to Godâ€™s goodness, i.e., God as the
fountain of goodness (Fons bonitatis), or to Godâ€™s omnipotence or to Godâ€™s knowledge?
2. The relationship of creation to incarnation. Is the incarnation basically a redemptive or salvific gift of God
to a sinful creation, or is the incarnation the very reason
for creation, with human sin no longer in a central place?
3. The relationship of creation, incarnation and final risen
life in God. Is the incarnation a unique moment or a
unique event, or is there an incarnational presence in creation itself and an incarnational presence in risen life?
4. The relationship of Godâ€™s freedom to creation, incarnation and risen life. Is Godâ€™s freedom limited in any
way after created things and human beings have come
into existence? In other words, does God necessarily have
to maintain his creatures? Is the incarnation of the Logos
in the human nature of Jesus a necessary event so that
sin can be forgiven? Is Godâ€™s freedom in any way limited after the formation of the Church?
5. The relationship of God and creation to the reality of
sin. How is pain, sorrow, sickness, or even violence in
nature compatible with a God who is infinitely good?
Even more pressing is the questionâ€”how has a loving
and compassionate God at least allowed human sin and
evil to be a part of creation?
Part of the task of this series will be to explore the distinctive
approach to these issues within the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. As will be seen, there is a great difference between the trinitarian
theology and the christology developed by Thomas Aquinas and
his followers and the trinitarian theology and the christology developed by Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus. There is also a great
divergence in these two traditions between the theology of redemp-
tion and the theology of sacraments. The divergences include
different theologies of creation and sin, including original sin.
Even more striking is the different way these traditions relate
theology to spirituality. This historical overview, as mentioned
above, indicates that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Western theologians already possessed a magnificent inheritance.
With the new method, philosophical structure and common text,
they moved in directions both old and new, both similar and
dissimilar. Our focus is now specifically on identifying the central components of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. To do
this, we must first re-visit the philosophy of Aristotle.
14 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL WORLD
Although the reader may find the following exposÃ© of
Aristotle a little daunting, its importance will become
apparent when our Franciscan tradition is examined in
more detail. It is also hoped that this brief exposition will help
those reading the entire series to understand the primary texts
of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, which in their academic
form use the language and categories outlined in this section.
Just as our own cultural world might take as a fundamental
framework the insights of scientists, psychologists or sociologists, so the medieval theologian presupposed categories of
thought inherited from Aristotle.
The genius of Aristotle was his ability to construct a philosophy that encompassed the entire universe. The foundational
philosophical categories, which he developed at great length,
include every reality possible. Following Parmenides and Plato,
Aristotle selected the term â€œbeingâ€ as his fundamental designation of all reality. Everything in the universe, whether in the
ontological order (actually) or in the epistemological order (mentally), is â€œbeing.â€ The entire world, for Aristotle, is a â€œbeing
world.â€ Outside the â€œbeing worldâ€ is absolute non-being. Outside of being there is absolutely nothing.
For Aristotle, this â€œbeing worldâ€ required an â€œunmoved
mover.â€ Aristotle does not identify the unmoved mover as God,
nor does he attribute any primary efficient causality (cf. p. 21 below for a definition of efficient causality) to the unmoved mover.
Beyond the unmoved mover, all other beings are moveable, but
Aristotle does not see the unmoved mover as the â€œcreatorâ€ of
these moveable beings. The Jewish-Christian understanding of
creation has been seen as the prime example of primary efficient
causality. In Greek philosophy, movability and change denote
imperfection. Immovability and unchangeability denote perfection. Plato considered the world of ideas as a world that was
immovable and unchanging, and therefore perfect. Aristotle re15
16 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
jects such a world of ideas, but the omnipresence of movable beings
in our own world demanded some unmovable being. Aristotle is
vague in his description of the â€œunmoved mover,â€ and scholars are
not in agreement as to its correct interpretation in Aristotelian philosophy.
To understand movable beings, however, Aristotle presented a
very clear, well defined and all-inclusive manner of â€œpredication.â€
These are called his predicamental categories. In the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, all the theologians used these four
predicamental categories to explain various Catholic doctrines. Their
doctrinal explanations, in which they used these four categories,
included creation itself, the incarnation, the meaning of grace, the
theological understanding of the seven sacraments and the role of
the Church. An understanding of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition requires, therefore, a basic understanding of these categories.
The Franciscan theological interpretation of some key issues of
Catholic doctrine involved the use of these four categories, and it is
precisely in the interpretation of these Aristotelian categories that
the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition differs significantly from the
Dominican Intellectual Tradition.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 17
The Predicamental Categories of
Within the â€œbeing world,â€ Aristotle establishes his four
predicamental categories. These four categories classify the distinct
ways in which â€œbeingâ€ can be predicated of all reality and of every
individual part of reality. â€œBeingâ€ can be predicated of some â€œthingâ€
or some â€œbeingâ€ in one of four ways.
To predicate means:
â€¢ to name something for what it fundamentally is;
â€¢ to classify something in a basic or fundamental way;
â€¢ to affirm something in its position within a being world.
THERE ARE FOUR PREDICAMENTAL CATEGORIES, BUT THEY
DIFFER IN IMPORTANCE. THESE FOUR CATEGORIES ARE
ALWAYS ARRANGED IN THE FOLLOWING ORDER:
1. SUBSTANCE. Substance is the basic category. To call,
name, classify or affirm that this or that â€œbeingâ€ is a substance is to call, name, classify and affirm that this or that
â€œbeingâ€ is essentially a primary entity. Aristotleâ€™s definition,
cited by many scholastic theologians, reads: Primary substance
is a being that can be defined without reference to anything else. If
you need to use a reference to another reality to explain what
this or that being is, you are not talking about a true substance.
An example: In Aristotle, the fundamental essence of a
human being is to be a â€œrational animal,â€ and one does not
need to refer to any other specific animal to understand this
classification. One does not need to refer to any other rational being to understand this classification. It is by itself the
sub-standing being upon which and to which all other references can be made regarding this rational animal, such as
existence, personal relations, health, intelligence, age, occupation, etc. All these qualities â€œresideâ€ in a substance, namely,
this particular rational animal.
18 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
The next three categories depend on substance. In describing
them, the definition of substance as that which can be defined without reference to anything else will become clearer.
2. QUANTITY. Quantity, the second most basic
predicamental category, is only understood in terms of reference, namely, two. Quantity makes sense only if you can
understand it in terms of MORE OR LESS. In some beings
there is more quantity, while in other beings there is less quantity. Without a more or less referent, quantity is meaningless.
More or less, however, needs specification, e.g., more than
â€œXâ€ but less than â€œY.â€ Quantity also needs a reference to a
â€œsubstance.â€ Quantity expresses a â€œmoreâ€ or a â€œlessâ€ OF
something. Ultimately, that OF something needs to be a substance as we explained it in number one above. Some â€œthingâ€
is more; some â€œthingâ€ is less.
The OF aspect and the MORE OR LESS aspect provide
meaning to quantity. In other words, it has meaning only in
reference to something else OF which it is a specification.
But quantity has meaning not only in reference to something
else of which it is a specification; it has meaning since it states
the MORE OR LESS of this specification. The â€œsomething
elseâ€ is the substrate for these relationships, of which quantity is descriptive in a more or less way. Quantity adheres in
something, and quantity is compared to something else in a
more or less way.
The ACTUAL QUANTITY of something is purely accidental, since it could be more or it could be less, or it might
not even be at all. Quantity does not have the â€œfoundationalâ€
aspect that substance has. However, quantity is foundational
(along with substance) for the next two predicamental categories.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 19
3. QUALITY. Quality is not about more or less; rather, it is
about an attribute, a characteristic and a trait that something
has. Quality can only have meaning when it refers to something else. Quality is an attribute or characteristic OF some
â€œthing.â€ It is a quality of some thing, however, only in an
accidental way. The thing of which it is a quality, that is, the
substance of which it is a quality, can continue to exist without this quality. However, the quality cannot exist nor have
any meaning whatsoever unless it is related to a substantial
Moreover, qualities, characteristics and traits can be
MORE OR LESS. A human person can be more or less mature. Maturity is a quality, but one can be more mature or
less mature. Qualities have primary foundation in substance,
and secondary foundation in quantity.
4. RELATION. Relation is the last and the least of the
predicamental categories in Aristotleâ€™s philosophical system.
The reason it is last and least is this: it has no being simply
by itself. A relation only has meaning when there is a situation in which â€œXâ€ is relating to â€œYâ€ and â€œYâ€ is relating to
â€œX.â€ Were one to remove either â€œXâ€ or â€œYâ€ from the equation, then â€œXâ€ is not relating to â€œYâ€ and â€œYâ€ is not relating to
â€œXâ€ with the result that there is no longer any relationship at
all. To say: â€œI am relating,â€ but there is no one nor any thing
to which you are relating is meaningless. There simply is no
relating, even though you are saying â€œI am relating.â€ In Latin,
the being of a relationship is called esse ad. It is a being (esse)
only when it is â€œof and to (ad)â€ something. Remove the â€œofâ€
and â€œtoâ€ and relation has no esse, no being, at all. In this way,
relation for Aristotle is the least and the last of the four categorical predicaments.
20 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
These are the foundational categories, the predicamental categories, by which Aristotle analyzes the entire universe of being. â€œCategoryâ€ is the English translation of a Greek word that actually means
â€œpredicate.â€ How do we predicate aspects of being to each other? This
is Aristotleâ€™s first question. The second question is what do we mean
by predicates? The first question distinguishes beings from each other by
way of their relationship. The second question focuses on the â€œwhatâ€
(the quiddity), of each predicate taken by itself.
The internal connection of the four categories is thus two-fold.
Even though substance is to be defined without a relationship to
anything else, it is the first of the categories, implying a second, third,
etc. Quality, quantity and relationship are also established as second, third and last. All four categories, however, express something
about â€œwhatâ€ each category is by itself. As we shall see, the Franciscan
Intellectual Tradition, in using all of the categories of Aristotle, emphasizes in a special way that of relationality.
THE GENIUS OF ARISTOTLE lies in his philosophical system of the four categories. Every being, whether the being is
real or only imaginary, is either substance, quantity, quality,
or relationship. Nothing exists that is not one of these four
classifications. Substance is a being that can be defined without a relationship to anything else. Quantity, quality and relation are understood only in relationship to something else.
This four-fold classification of all beings properly refers to
actual, existing beings. By extension, the four-fold classification of being also refers to the mental beings that are only in
our mind and in our imagination.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 21
The Four Types of Causality in
The basic interaction of all beings in the philosophy of Aristotle (substance, quality, quantity and relation) is through causality. Beings
relate, in a causal way, to one another through different types of
causality. The writings of Aristotle describe four basic types of causality, and through this the â€œBeing worldâ€ of Aristotle is then portrayed as a unified â€œBeing world.â€ The four types of cause can be
expressed by the following diagram:
1. EFFICIENT CAUSE. An efficient cause is a cause that
brings into existence the very being of the effect. This does
not mean that an efficient cause only creates something out
of nothing. Rather, something does not exist unless it has an
efficient cause. Mothers and fathers efficiently cause the conception of their children. Fire efficiently causes destruction.
2. MATERIAL CAUSE. A material cause is that which allows prime matter to bring something material into being.
Prime matter represents the ultimate foundation for all material things, whether existent or imagined. In its primary
state of being it has no specific form but it is the principle
that accounts for the material element in our universe.
3. FORMAL CAUSE. A formal cause is that which allows
both non-material and material beings to have some sort of
intelligent form. Without this intelligent form, one cannot
know them. A formless being is a non-being. Plato had provided for â€œeternal formsâ€ to exist in â€œheaven.â€ These eternal
forms provide the model and the matrix for all non-eternal
forms. Aristotle rejects such eternal forms. Actual forms exist only in actual beings. Human intelligence can â€œabstractâ€
the form from its actual state of being and unite it to other
such abstracted forms in the human mind and thus know
that something is a â€œhuman being,â€ a â€œtree,â€ or an â€œanimal.â€
22 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
4. FINAL CAUSE. The final cause is operative because a
given being is moving towards its purpose. This causality is
a â€œluringâ€ or â€œenticingâ€ part of a beingâ€™s development. Final
cause has a certain future-related aspect, but Aristotle wishes
to state that the final cause is operative in the present as the
dynamism luring or enticing a being to move towards its
THE GENIUS OF ARISTOTLE continues in his careful classification of all causality. These four types of causality have
profoundly influenced Western thought from the twelfth century to the present twenty-first century. Modern science has
called into question this manner of describing causality, but
Aristotleâ€™s views are still prevalent in the Western world.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, as well as the Dominican
Intellectual Tradition, used these four ways of causality to explain
the theological meaning of creation, i.e., God is the efficient cause
par excellence, since God alone can create (efficiently cause) something to come from nothing. In the theology of the sacraments, especially in the explanation of the real presence of Jesus in the bread
and wine, one finds in both traditions some form of causality. In
both traditions, God is the main efficient cause that makes Jesus really present at the Eucharist, but there is a cooperative action by the
minister of the sacrament. For the Dominicans, the cooperative action is united to the efficient causality of God, namely, an instrumental efficient causality by the minister. The minister, in a very
secondary way, co-acts efficiently although instrumentally, with the
overriding efficient causality of God.
For the Franciscans, who wanted nothing to do with a mixture
of the divine and human in efficient causality, two approaches were
developed. Bonaventure developed a form of â€œmoral causality.â€ This
means that the minister prays that God will efficiently act. The
ministerâ€™s prayer is described as a â€œmoral influence,â€ voiced by the
minister on behalf of the community, petitioning God to act in an
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 23
efficient way. Scotus went even further, stating that all the actions of
the sacramental ministers and communities are only an â€œoccasionalâ€
cause. This means that the Christian community is celebrating Eucharist (and all other sacraments) in a basic format that God has
enjoined. When the Christian community acts together at a given
occasion in obedience to God, God gives grace and makes Jesus
present. God acts, not because we, the community and the ministers, do anything causative. By our following of Godâ€™s will, we are
simply presenting an â€œoccasionâ€ which God has asked us to do. For
Scotus, the free determination of God is absolute. We do nothing
except follow the ways that the absolutely free God has determined.
On this issue of causality, the theological understanding in the
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition and the Dominican Intellectual Tradition are miles apart, with the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition
emphasizing a very modified form of human participation in the
grace-filled action of God.
The Comprehensive Structure of
The following diagram represents the philosophical world of
Aristotle, a world based on â€œbeingâ€ with categories that compartmentalize every possible form of being. The diagram does not express the intricacies of Aristotleâ€™s philosophy; it is, rather, a generalized statement. Aristotle, in his own work Treatise on Categories, indicates that the categories themselves are not complex expressions.
All the major medieval theologians accepted these categories of being, modified them in two major areas, and then used them in their
theological presentations in various degrees of intensity. Since the
categories are an all-inclusive description of being, the categories
are both epistemological and ontological. They are an expression of
how one thinks of being and beings (epistemological); they are an expression of the â€œquiddityâ€ of what being and beings are in reality
24 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
UNMOVED MOVER = UNMOVED BEING =
THE CHANGEABLE BEINGS IN OUR UNIVERSE
The categorical definition of what an individual being
in our universe is in an unchangeable, though limited, way
The same essence considered as a principle of an action
The first and most basic of all categories
Primary substance is that essence or that nature that can
be defined without reference to any other being.
The aspect of moveable
being that is measurable in
terms of greater, less, or
equal or in terms of
The aspect of being that in
an accidental way affects a
substance or nature and
can only be or exist in a
substance. It cannot exist
or be on its own
For Aristotle this is the least of all beings.
It exists only when there is a connection
that unites two other beings.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 25
Two Major Changes Made by
Thirteenth-century Catholic Theologians
in Their Acceptance of Aristotelian Philosophy
THE FIRST MAJOR CHANGE
OF ARISTOTLEâ€™S PHILOSOPHY
made by the medieval scholastic theologians
BEING ITSELF, ESSE IPSUM, INFINITE BEING
THE CREATOR OF ALL OTHER BEINGS,
THE EFFICIENT CAUSE, THE FINAL CAUSE OF ALL
Theologians based this position on Catholic Faith,
on the Old and New Testaments and on the constant teaching
of the Church, which portrays God
as the Creator of all things.
Aristotle did not call the unmoved mover God
nor did Aristotle see the unmoved mover either as an
efficient cause or as a creator.
Finite beings, for Aristotle, had always been in existence
and would remain in existence forever.
26 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
THE SECOND MAJOR CHANGE
OF ARISTOTLEâ€™S PHILOSOPHY
made by the medieval scholastic theologians
ALL OTHER BEINGS ARE
CREATED BY GOD.
To call all other beings finite, limited, and contingent
is primarily a philosophical position.
To call the same beings â€œcreatedâ€ is a theological position,
since it is a matter of faith to believe in a Creator God.
The scholastic introduction of â€œGodâ€ into Aristotleâ€™s
philosophical framework means that
philosophy and theology
are related in scholastic theology.
The scholastic theologians based their position
in the same way as the change noted above,
namely, on Catholic Faith,
on the Old and New Testaments,
and on the constant teaching of the Church.
The philosophy of Aristotle does not include a
theology either of God or of God as Creator of all things.
All of the major theologians from the eleventh century to the
fourteenth century rejected the position of Aristotle that did not truly
include a place for a personal â€œGodâ€ and for a â€œCreator God.â€ In
this rejection of major aspects in the philosophy of Aristotle, we see
that the medieval scholars accepted his philosophy but only in a
very judicious way, changing it when the philosophical positions
contradicted a basic Christian doctrine. Catholic Faith came first;
the philosophy of Aristotle, second.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 27
Aristotleâ€™s concept of being was changed to include God as being itself. In turn, this adaptation required an altered philosophical
interpretation of Aristotleâ€™s understanding of changeable beings.
That these beings were changeable was not the issue. That these
beings were created was the issue. In Aristotleâ€™s system, there was
no beginning or ending of changeable beings. Moveable beings in
some form or another were â€œeternal.â€ If beings were durationally
infinite, which scholastic theologians found to be contradictory to
Scripture and Church doctrine, Aristotleâ€™s unmoved mover could
not be a creator. Creation is a creation from nothing, creatio ex nihilo;
but if a state of nothingness never existed and if changeable beings
in some form or another always existed, the theological belief in
creation is fundamentally excluded.
The following diagram highlights the two basic areas in
Aristotleâ€™s philosophy that these theologians changed. The diagram
essentially reprints the previous diagram (cf. p. 24) but the shaded
areas mark the precise areas of the theologiansâ€™ basic changes. These
same theologians, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, by and
large accepted the remainder of Aristotleâ€™s philosophy and used his
predicamental categories to interpret Catholic Faith. Even today we
have many indications of this use of Aristotle in Catholic theology.
The manner in which individual medieval theologians used the categories of Aristotle and extent to which they used them differ, but
they all employed Aristotleâ€™s ideas in one way or another.
28 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
GOD = INFINITE BEING and ESSE IPSUM
GOD IS UNCREATED AND ETERNAL
AND THE CREATOR OF ALL OTHER BEINGS
ALL FINITE BEINGS ARE CREATED,
CONTINGENT AND TEMPORAL
ALL MOVABLE BEINGS ARE CREATED BY GOD
AND CLASSIFIED BY ONE OF THESE CATEGORIES
The categorical definition of what an individual being
is in an unchangeable way
The essence considered as a principle of an action
The first and most basic of all categories
Primary substance is that which can be defined
without reference to any other being.
ALL FINITE SUBSTANCES ARE CREATED,
CONTINGENT AND TEMPORAL
The aspect of being that is
measurable in terms of
greater or less, equal or of
increasing or decreasing
The aspect of being that
accidentally affects a
substantial essence but not
in a quiddative way.
ALL FINITE QUANTITIES AND ALL FINITE QUALITIES
ARE CREATED, CONTINGENT AND TEMPORAL
The least of all beings,
a connection which unites two other beings
ALL FINITE RELATIONS ARE CREATED,
CONTINGENT AND TEMPORAL.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 29
A few comments on each of these two changes need to be made,
since both of them are central to Christian theology itself, and not
simply to a theological tradition.
A. GOD AS SUPREME BEING, ESSE IPSUM
Scholastic theologians described God in terms of being, but since
the manner of being in God is totally different from the manner in
which all finite things and people are beings, God is fundamentally
described as being itself, esse ipsum. No creature is or can be being
itself. All creatures are created, contingent and temporal. God alone
is infinite being; all creatures are finite beings. Thus, the predicamental categories of substance, quantity, quality and relation
do not apply to being itself, to infinite being, to God. All other beings, however, must be classified as substances or quantities or qualities or relations; and, for the scholastics, all of these categories are
created, contingent and temporal. Aristotle would not have used
these designations for unchangeable being.
B. THE ETERNITY OF THE FINITE UNIVERSE
The issue of the eternity of a universe of changeable beings did
present some hesitations. Both Thomas Aquinas and John Duns
Scotus realized that one could argue logically that finite, created and
contingent beings of themselves did not have to have either a beginning or an ending. Other major theologians of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries did not accept this position of â€œdurational infinity.â€
Thomas and Scotus saw a logical possibility for durational infinity
of changeable beings, but since revelation and Church doctrine included the creation of our universe by God, they, together with all
other major theologians of that time, rejected this aspect of Aristotleâ€™s
position on the actual eternity of the universe. In other words,
Aristotle argued that the sum of all realities, not individual realities,
was durationally without beginning or end. This kind of reality was
Since God in the Jewish-Christian sacred writings is clearly presented as a creator, all of the medieval theologians taught that there
was an actual beginning of all finite creatures. Basing themselves on
the same Scriptures, they also taught that there would be an ending
of at least some creatures. However, to angels and human beings
30 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
God has given the grace of immortality, a totally unmerited gift. Neither angels nor humans have any aspect of their being which is intrinsically incapable of death or destruction. Angels and human beings are finite, contingent and temporal by their very nature. Angels
and human beings cannot claim immortal life, everlasting life, or
eternal life on the basis that their â€œeternal soulâ€ or that their essences
by their very nature could not be annihilated. Eternal life is a gift
from God, not an inalienable right of angelic or human nature.
Given these two explanations on the changes the Christian theologians made in the philosophy of Aristotle, medieval professors at
the faculty of arts in the universities, particularly after the middle of
the thirteenth century, were very keen on teaching the philosophy
of Aristotle. Their courses were central to the philosophical curriculum. A student had to enroll in the arts program and graduate in a
successful way. Only then was a student eligible (providing he was
a cleric) to begin theological studies. Consequently, all the great theologians of the thirteenth century were well-grounded in Aristotelian philosophy before they began their studies in theology. They all
entered the theological curriculum with a competent knowledge of
Aristotleâ€™s philosophy. But, as in all fields of study, even today, some
students had learned well, while others did not have the same penetrating insights. This depth or this mediocrity can be found in the
various theological writings of scholastic theologians, whether they
were Franciscan, Dominican, Augustinian, or diocesan.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition includes theologians who
had studied Aristotelian philosophy in a penetrating way. Moreover,
some of these Franciscan theologians used their philosophy generously in their theological writings; others were more reluctant to do
this. Among Franciscan scholars, then, one finds both a generous
acceptance and a cautious acceptance of Aristotleâ€™s philosophy and
both a widespread and a selective use of it. The use and acceptance
of Aristotle is not monolithic. For example, Bonaventure, who knew
Aristotle well, is selective in his use of Aristotleâ€™s thought. Scotus,
for his part, uses Aristotle abundantly and creatively. Yet, the works
of both Bonaventure and Scotus were key to the formation of the
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. Given this background, it is now
possible for us to turn to the formation of the Franciscan Intellectual
Tradition, its foundation in Francis of Assisi and its articulation
through the Franciscan masters in their encounter with Aristotle.
THE GRADUAL DEVELOPMENT
OF THE FRANCISCAN
There were only twelve Franciscan brothers in 1208/1209.
By 1250 there were thirty thousand Franciscan friars.1
was a remarkable growth for any religious order in the
Catholic Church. Both the spiritual and intellectual training of
the applicants, novices and young friars became an immediate
necessity, given the large numbers of men entering the ranks of
the Franciscan community. From almost the very beginning,
Franciscan formation, Franciscan mission and Franciscan study
were linked in the emerging Orderâ€™s identity. How were young
friars to be trained? How were they to be intellectually formed?
How could the tools of the intellectual world of the universities
be brought to converge with the profound spiritual insights and
vision of Francis and Clare of Assisi? How could study support
evangelization? Hidden in these issues confronting the community, we can discern the outlines of the development of the
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition and its profound desire to be
faithful to the intuitions of the Saints of Assisi.
It is not surprising that the intellectual formation of
Franciscans became an issue of immediate concern. Internally,
in the decades immediately after 1208/1209, the Franciscans did
not have within their ranks a large number of men qualified to
educate and form the growing number of applicants, novices
and recently vowed Franciscans. Within a very short time, the
early friars began to live in two of the major university cities of
the eraâ€”Oxford and Paris. At first, they did not establish schools,
but simply friaries in which those in formation could live. The
cities were places where the friars could evangelize. Eventually,
especially after the entrance of some learned clerics, those in formation began to attend classes at the university itself. These students, at the beginning of their academic work, studied under
the masters in the faculty of arts (philosophy). Only after successfully matriculating through the arts program did they move
32 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
on to instruction by the faculty of theology. At that time, the study
of theology was reserved to clerics. Lay men and women could not
enroll in the theological programs of the universities. All the early
Franciscan theologians, then, were clericsâ€” seminarians at first and
then ordained priests.
Student friars at the University of Paris arrived as early as 1219.
They lived at first with the Benedictines at St. Denis, but soon after
acquired their own Franciscan residence. Student friars arrived at
the University of Oxford around 1224 and established a Franciscan
From this perspective, we will look at the gradual development
of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition by moving in the following
I. We will reflect on the very foundation for the Franciscan
Intellectual Tradition, namely, the spirituality and vision
of St. Francis and St. Clare.
II. We will consider the lineage of the first Franciscan theologians at the University of Paris and at the University of
III. We will identify other important and highly educated
Franciscans whose careers did not culminate in teaching
positions at either Oxford or Paris.
I. The Franciscan Foundation: The Spirituality and Vision
of St. Francis (1181/82-1226) and St. Clare (1193-1253)
The spirituality and vision of Francis and Clare found its theological expression in the teachings of Franciscan scholars at the Universities at Paris and Oxford. Without this spirituality and vision there
would be no Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. One of the major
Franciscan scholars in the first half of the twentieth century was
Ã‰phrem LongprÃ©, a Friar Minor from the French-speaking province
in QuÃ©bec. It was his view that one of most important core elements
of the spiritual vision of St. Francis was his astounding insight into
the depth and height, the width and length of the incarnation. In
this introductory volume, we build our synthesis around this insight. LongprÃ© writes:
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 33
The spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi can neither be described nor delineated on the one hand, or, on the other hand,
it can neither be interpreted nor thought through independent of the religious experience which was a revelation to
Francis, after he had left his more worldly ways, the mystery of Jesus Christ, especially the crucified Lord,
(Bonaventure, Legenda maior, 1:5, 13:10) for this revelation had
made of him a â€œnew evangelistâ€ (I Celano, 89) and the â€œherald of Christian perfectionâ€ (Legenda maior, prologue, 1). In
Francisâ€™ spirituality everything follows in a very unified way
and with a certain logic from this encounter with Christ. This
encounter with Christ was not a sudden situation, but a
gradual one, beginning with his entry into the army and the
â€œvision of Christâ€ in Spoleto, and peaking (initially) with his
encounter with Christ in the chapel of San Damiano (autumn
This spiritual vision of Francis encompasses two realities: the
humility of the incarnation and the love of the passion. In The Life of St.
Francis by Thomas of Celano, written in 1229, we read:
Francis used to recall with regular meditation the word of
Christ and recollect His deeds with most attentive perception. Indeed, so thoroughly did the humility of the incarnation and the love of the passion occupy his memory that he
scarcely wanted to think of anything else.3
In the introduction to Celanoâ€™s The Life of St. Francis, the editors
note â€œthat the theme of â€˜the humility of the incarnationâ€™ uniquely
identifies Book One as Thomas summarizes the conversion, life, teaching and example of Francis.â€4
Celano, in this first book, finds that the
humility of the incarnation is the key issue, which relates all aspects
of Francisâ€™s life. It is a key issue in the spiritual vision of the Poverello.
In the next paragraph, the same editors inform us: â€œIn Book Two the
love of the passion predominates.â€5
The transforming experience of
Francis on Mt. Alverno is one of burning and intimate love, a love
for God in the presence of a crucified Jesus.
An understanding of these two themes, the humility of the incarnation and the love of the passion, will help us grasp the deepest
dimensions of Francisâ€™s spiritual vision, a vision he shared with St.
34 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
A. The Humility of the Incarnation
Thousands of theological books have been written about Jesus.
When we read them, we learn about the divinity of Jesus, the sovereignty of Jesus and the power and majesty of Jesus. Most of these
theological books deliberately stress issues of greatness. The theme
of the humility of the incarnation is briefly mentioned but does not
play a central role. The primary lens through which Jesus is presented in these volumes is not the humility of the incarnation. Rather,
these volumes exalt Jesus. For instance, a contemporary resurrection christology stresses the role of the Resurrection, Ascension (exaltation) and sending of the Holy Spirit. From the standpoint of the
Resurrection-Ascension, we are able to understand the very meaning of his life, message and death, and we also see the value of the
Church as it has lived out and is living out the Jesus-event.
For Francis, it is not the Resurrection of Jesus that offers such a
lens. In many ways, it is not the divinity of Jesus alone which centers his vision. It is certainly not the Jesus who alone offered satisfaction for all our sins (the atonement theory regarding Christâ€™s
death) that centers his focus. Nor can one say that it is simply the
incarnation which centers his view. It is the incarnation, but, more
precisely, it is the humility of the incarnation which summarizes the
life, conversion, teaching and example of Francis.
An incident from the life of Francis helps us to understand the
depth of his meditations on the humility of the incarnation.6
the Empress Constance was on her way to Sicily to join her husband
Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. She was pregnant at that time,
and she realized that her labor pains had begun in earnest. The entourage decided that she should go to the nearby town of Jesi and
there give birth to her child. The infant, a boy, was baptized in the
Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi, and he later became the Holy
Roman Emperor, Frederick II.
At the time of Empress Constanceâ€™s stay in Assisi, Francis was
about thirteen years old, a teenager. One can easily imagine the excitement that the presence of the empress caused, not only for the
teenagers of Jesi and Assisi, but for all the citizens of these towns.
Knights on horseback and in sun-reflecting armor rode into the city.
Coaches, bearing the important people of Lady Constanceâ€™s entourage, followed one after the other. Finally, the coach bearing the
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 35
empress arrived with a large escort of knights on horses. Francis,
like everyone else at that time, heard detail after detail of this visit,
including the birth of this boy in nearby Jesi and the baptism of the
child in his own hometown. The whole of Assisi was eager to hear
all the particulars. Clearly, Francis had been all ears and eyes as well.
We hear another part of this story in the well-known celebration
of Christmas at Greccio. Fifteen days before Christmas, Francis instructed a man named John in the following way:
If you desire to celebrate the coming feast of the Lord together at Greccioâ€”he said to himâ€”hurry before me and carefully make ready the things I tell you. For I wish to enact the
memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem; to see as
much as is possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort
of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with
an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay (1Celano 30:84).
When Christmas day came, Francis arrived, and what he saw made
him very glad.
Simplicity is given a place of honor, poverty is exalted, humility is commended, and out of Greccio is made a new
Bethlehem. . . . [Francis] preaches to the people standing
around him and pours forth sweet honey about the birth of
the poor King and the poor city of Bethlehem (1Celano 30:
Perhapsâ€”and only perhapsâ€”Francis thought of the Holy Roman Emperorâ€™s birth and baptism. God, the emperor of the universe,
became a human child on this earth of ours; but when Jesus-God
was born, there were no knights on horseback, no trumpets and
drums, no coaches with elegant horses and costumed drivers. In
fact, Francis realized that God entered the town called Bethlehem in
a quiet, humble, almost unknown way. What a contrast to Lady
Constance and her newborn child, Frederick.
These two instances are important for an understanding of
Francisâ€™s understanding of the humility of the incarnation. A mere
human empress and a mere future emperor had come to Assisi with
all that gold might buy at the time. People fawned over the mother
and the child. But when God became flesh in the womb of Mary and
was born in Bethlehem, no pomp and circumstance attended this
36 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
unbelievable event. The gospels relate that shepherds, who were
equivalent to the gypsies of later centuries, were the first to visit this
mother and child. Most of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus
despised and looked down on shepherds. Shepherds represented
no important Jewish person or group. In fact, no important Jewish
person or group came to Bethlehem to see God-made-flesh. The same
gospels describe the visit by the magi. These men were not Jewish;
they were goyim, i.e., pagans or infidels. In other words, the Jewish
world of Palestine continued with absolutely no official recognition
of this pregnancy and birth.
Francis realized that God loved our world and wanted to be with
us. God did not become incarnate as some mighty lord. It is the humility of the incarnation that is central to Francisâ€™s vision. Creation,
for him, was a powerful, living mural of Godâ€™s love. The sun was
not simply a large star; the sun was Francisâ€™s own brother, Brother
Sun. The moon was not simply a large asteroid; the moon for Francis
was his own sister, Sister Moon. In fact, each part of the created universe in the vision of Francis was a loving gift of God and a creature
whose very existence praised God. One could easily say that Godâ€™s
presence in and through creation itself is a mini-incarnation and that
Godâ€™s presence in the humanness of Jesus is a maxi-incarnation. Both
the presence of God in the created universe itself and the presence
of God in Jesus are incarnationally interrelated.
They are also creationally interrelated. This relationship became
one of the essential elements in Franciscan theology and philosophy, in Franciscan spirituality and in Franciscan pastoral life in the
Church. For Francis, even the Eucharist has an incarnational relationship. At each Eucharist, God becomes really present. At a given
Eucharist, God is present in a unique part of our created world with
unique, individualized human beings at a uniquely sacramental
moment. The God who is present at such a unique Eucharist is the
same God who created all things and who is present, incarnationally,
in the human nature of Jesus. One might picture the simple church
of the Portiuncula at the time of Francis and imagine the Eucharist
being celebrated there with poor people gathered around the altar.
In such a picture, one catches another glimpse of the humility of the
Francisâ€™s love for Mary is also due to Maryâ€™s example of the humility of the incarnation. She was the Mother of God, but she never
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 37
boasted about her election. Mary is an integral part of the humility
of the incarnation. The Church, with all its limitations, is truly Church
when it reflects the humility of the incarnation. Francis loved the
Church because he saw beyond the scandals and corruption of the
medieval Church. He found a Church deeply reflecting the humility of the incarnation. Francis honored lepers, since they, too, share
in the humility of the incarnation. Beggars, marginalized people and
even those shunned by the civil or ecclesiastical powers were, for
Francis, examples of the humility of the incarnation. They were his
â€œBrother and Sister Beggars,â€ his â€œBrother and Sister Marginalizedâ€
and his â€œBrother and Sister politically or ecclesiastically shunned.â€
Francis saw the presence and love of God in all of these. They might
have been robbers, but he still called them â€œBrother Robbers.â€
The breadth of the humility of the incarnation is brought out by
another moment in Francisâ€™s life. In 1219, Francis, with perhaps
twelve other brothers, sailed to Candia in Cyprus and then to Acre
(St. Jean dâ€™Acre) in Palestine.7
Sometime after the defeat of the crusaders, Francis decided to go to see the Sultan, Malik-al-Kamil. He
did this without the blessing of Cardinal Pelagius, the legate of the
pope during this crusade. Francis, with another friar, Brother
Illuminato, went on foot from Damietta to the city of Mansura in
Egypt. Both friars were apprehended by Muslim soldiers and physically abused. Francis, however, kept calling out the name of Malikal-Kamil, so the soldiers decided to take them to the sultanâ€™s headquarters, thinking they might be legates of the crusader leadership.
The two men metâ€”Malik-al-Kamil, a devout follower of Islam, and
Francis, a devout follower of Jesus. In the course of their discussions, each came to respect the other, a respect based on the religious depth which each saw in the other. The texts describing this
encounter do not say that Francis called the Sultan, my brother,
Malik-al-Kamil. The texts, however, do indicate that the two men
truly respected each other. Both perceived the presence of Godâ€™s
holiness in each other. For Francis this was an insight into the humility of the incarnation. The Word of God entered our earth. In the
humanity of Jesus, the Word lived out our own human way of life,
sharing our earth-world, breathing our air and mingling with all
sorts of people. Jesus himself experienced the presence of God in
those who were marginalized and even humiliated.
38 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
In all of this there are ramifications attached to a focus on the
humility of the incarnation. The entire earth, just as it is, is a gospel
of divine presence. What is more awesome is the humble presence
of God, in people and in things, that goes unnoticed. The humility
of the incarnation is itself an incarnation of humility. The love and
presence of the incarnate Word of God affects the whole earth, and
the widespread love and presence express the depth and height, the
breadth and length of the humility of the incarnation. In the infidel,
in the pagan and non-Christian Malik-Al-Kamil, Francis of Assisi
experienced the humble presence of God, the mystery of the humble
The meeting of Francis and Malik-Al-Kamil has had a strong
affect on the inter-religious dialogues that are taking place today.
The way in which Francis of Assisi related to a man of a different
religion offers an alternative way of facing someone who is not a
Christian. The key word in this manner of encounter is, of course,
respect, or more clearly stated: a respect for the presence of holiness in
the other. In many ways, such a respect is based on the humility of
the incarnation. Just as shepherds and magi were present at the crib
and home of Jesus, and thus shared in the humility of the incarnation itself, so, too, in Muslims, in Hindus, in Buddhists, in Daoists,
etc., one experiences the presence of the holy God, incarnated again
in a most humble a way.
As we have seen, the humility of the incarnation stretches out to
all of creation. Francis had a marvelous respect for animals of all
kinds, for the sun, the moon, and the stars, for water, wind, fire, and
for the earth itself. The environment in which he lived was an environment that praised God. For Francis, it was not only a question of
our praising God through Brother Sun and Sister Moon, for Brother
Sun and Sister Moon already are giving praise to God just by being
sun and moon. Francis merely came to understand, hear and see the
sun and the moon praising God.
In todayâ€™s world, the environmental issues are serious and severe. The earth itself has been abused and raped. Little respect has
been given to habitat and limited resources, to dying species and to
the human relationships between nature and human life. In the name
of money, natural beauty and natural resources are being absorbed
into the machinery of greed. Godâ€™s creation, however, is
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 39
incarnationally related to the presence of God in our entire world,
and yet we find these created gifts of God being squandered and
selfishly abused. In the Franciscan vision, the created world may
actually be squandered and abused, but because of God the Creatorâ€™s
presence in these created gifts, Francis and Franciscans can still address Brother Squandered Forest, Sister Squandered Ocean, etc. Even
in their squandered state, they are still our brothers and sisters, not
because of us, but because, like us, they have been created and gifted
by one and the same Holy-Father-God. The sinner is still my brother
the sinner or my sister the sinner, and both deserve my respect. So,
too, an environment that shows the ravages of abuse is still a gift of
God and merits respect. Even in an abused creation, God is present
in an incarnationally related way. When people become aware of
Godâ€™s presence in the environment, they need to think twice about
how they use it. When they see that the misuse and abuse of the
environment leaves thousands of poor people mired more deeply
in poverty, they need to think not twice but many times.
B. The Love of the Passion
A second part of this spiritual vision of Francis of Assisi is the
love of the passion. The insight here is the central and essential connection of love, on the one hand, and the suffering and death of
Jesus, on the other. Two German Franciscan scholars, Cajetan Esser
and Engelbert Grau, expressed this love for the passion as follows:
It was especially in the passion and sufferings of Christ that
Francis marveled most at the humility of God, for therein
God lowered himself to the very dregs! . . . Not only did he
sympathize in a human way with his suffering Lord by tears
and lament, but he was likewise filled with grateful joy and
jubilation at the redemption which the most holy Father had
wrought in the world through the Passion of his Son.8
In oneâ€™s daily life, there are many instances in which husbands
and wives have risked their lives for one another and in which mothers and fathers have risked their lives for their children. On many
occasions, a spouse or parent has died in order that the other spouse
or the child might live. Such a death is an expression of how much
40 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
spouses love each other, of how much parents love their children.
Even the slow death of growing old is an expression of love, since
parents grow old as they work hard to provide for their children.
We can apply this same sort of reflection to our understanding of
the love of the passion. Many Christians might meditate on the crucified Lord and even shed tears, but the reason that is often given is
that Jesus suffered so much because we have sinned. Sin is the focus
point of the arrest, conviction and death of Jesus. This view of the
â€œsacrificeâ€ of the cross dominates the Western theology of the cross.
For Francis, it is Godâ€™s love that dominates. In the humility of the
incarnation, Jesus loved us so much that he even suffered and died
to show us how much God loves us. As the Gospel of John expresses
it: He loved us unto the end, that is, the end of his life (Jn. 13:1).
In the first twelve chapters of Johnâ€™s gospel, the word â€œlifeâ€ appears again and again. From chapter thirteen to chapter twenty, the
word â€œloveâ€ dominates. Raymond Brown, a major New Testament
scholar, in his commentary on Johnâ€™s gospel, reminds us that if we
wish to understanding the meaning of the death of Jesus in Johnâ€™s
gospel, we must go first to the washing of the discipleâ€™s feet. This
washing of the feet is the symbol, for John, of the entire arrest, trial
and death of Jesus.9
The washing of the feet is clearly a symbol of
love, and love is the key to the passion and death of Jesus. It is precisely this aspect of Jesusâ€™ death that has focused the vision of St.
Francis on the love of the passion.
In the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, these two ideas, the humility of the incarnation and the love of the passion, have been central. The incarnation, as we shall see, is so central that it is related to
first creation, to ongoing creation and to the future, which we call
risen life. The love of the passion is also central. The passion or suffering extends not only to the crucifixion of Jesus but also to the
suffering of the crucified people at the margins of society. In theology, the terms â€œincarnation and redemptionâ€ are the usual centering points for all christologies. The Franciscan vision of â€œcreationincarnation-redemption-gloryâ€ as intrinsically inter-united is a vision that comes from the gospels themselves, from the early Church
Fathers and from early medieval theologians. It initially received a
systematic in-depth treatment in the thirteenth century through the
writings of the first Franciscan masters, Alexander of Hales,
Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus. Let us move then to the formu-
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 41
lation of this theological vision of Francis of Assisi in terms more
associated with our â€œacademic theological tradition.â€
II. The First Franciscan Theologians at the Universities of
Paris and Oxford
Since the end of the thirteenth century, as indicated above, there has
been a form of theology called â€œFranciscan.â€ The roots of this tradition are present in the New Testament, in the Church Fathers and in
early, pre-thirteenth-century medieval theologians. Franciscan theology did not start with the Franciscans. That this theology is now
called â€œFranciscanâ€ indicates that the early Franciscan schoolmen
did a masterful job in synthesizing many of the elements that they
inherited from previous generations. They drew upon one of the
major traditions in Christian history found in the New Testament
and the Fathers of the Church and enriched it in such a way that
history itself has given this enriched tradition a new nameâ€”
The following pages indicate the key Franciscans and their mentors at the University of Paris and at the University of Oxford. It is
obvious that the intellectual expression of the Franciscan Theological Tradition became a major expression of Christian faith in a very
short time after the first friars arrived at these centers of learning.
The very number and importance of these friar theologians indicate
that the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition began on a solid and respected foundation.
42 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
THE FRANCISCAN SCHOOL
AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PARIS
ALEXANDER of HALES
Alexander was born in Hales Owen in Gloucestershire around 1185.
He studied in the faculty of arts and of theology at the University of
Paris. In 1220 he became a regent master. When the young
Franciscans arrived for studies at Paris, it was Alexander who became their main teacher. Through him, these young friars learned
that their spirituality could be united to their theological studies. In
1236/7, Alexander became a Franciscan. At that time, he felt no need
to change his theology. The spirituality of the Franciscan students
had attracted him in a profound way, and it was he who in his classes
began to harmonize the Franciscan vision and academic theology.
Even as a diocesan priest-professor, he aided the first group of
Franciscan masters in the composition of a Summa theologiae. Even
though he was not the only author of this commentary on the Sentences, the work has gained the name of Summa Alexandri. He was
highly responsible for the introduction of Aristotle and the use of
the Sentences at the University of Paris. The scholars at Quarrachi
noted that without his work in these two areas, scholars such as
Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus might never
have appeared. All three of them were dependent on Aristotle and
Peter Lombard. The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition owes much to
the efforts of this scholarly gentleman. He died in 1245, and his funeral was celebrated by the papal legate, Odo of Chateauroux.
JOHN of LA ROCHELLE
John, who came from La Rochelle, was an avid student of Alexander
of Hales. He was born sometime around 1200. He pursued his master of theology at the University of Paris, and Alexander was one of
his main professors. When he completed his theological studies at
the University of Paris, he became an assistant to Alexander and, in
1238, succeeded him as regent master. He was the first Franciscan to
be a regent master at the Franciscan house of studies in Paris. His
principal writing is the Summa de anima (a Summa on the Soul). He
followed and developed the thought of Avicenna as regards human
knowing. He developed the position of Alexander that there are three
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 43
cognitive faculties: reason, which analyzes spiritual beings; understanding, which focuses on created beings; and intelligence, which
studies uncreated being. He emphasized the need for studies and
for culture and had no use for anti-intellectualism. He is one of the
main authors of the Summa Alexandri. His death occurred in 1245.
Odo Rigaldus (Eudes Rigaud) was born sometime around 1205 and
died in 1275. As a Franciscan student at the University of Paris, he
studied under Alexander of Hales. From 1243 to 1245, he lectured at
the University of Paris on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. From September 1245 to early 1248, he was regent master at the Franciscan
school at Paris, succeeding friar John of La Rochelle. There are some
additions to the Summa Alexandri that are attributed to Odo Rigaldus.
His Commentary on the Sentences is a bridge between Peter Lombardâ€™s
positions, which he drew upon, and the teachings of Bonaventure,
who was his student. In 1248, he became the archbishop of Rouen
and was active politically under Louis IX and ecclesiastically at the
Council of Lyon in 1274.
WILLIAM of MELITONA
William of Melitona (Middleton) was one of the early friars to receive a master in theology at Paris. He was a student of Alexander
of Hales. From 1248 to 1253, he was regent master at the Franciscan
house in Paris, succeeding Odo Rigaldus. Most of his academic life
centered on the University of Paris. William is often mentioned as
one of the compilers of the Summa Alexandri. He died in 1260.
BONAVENTURE of BAGNOREGIO
Bonaventure was born in Bagnoregio, near Orvieto, in Italy. Scholars are divided on the date of his birth. The range of years goes from
1217 to 1221. His earliest education took place as a child-oblate at
the Franciscan community in Bagnoregio. As a layman, he moved
to Paris and began his studies in the faculty of arts. After he received
this degree, he joined the friars. When he began his theological studies at the University of Paris, his professors were Alexander of Hales,
William of La Rochelle, Odo Rigaldus and William of Melitona. From
44 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
1248 to 1250, he was a lecturer on the Bible. He was regent master of
the Franciscan school from 1254 to 1257. In 1257, he was elected
Minister General of the Friars Minor, and he remained in this position until his death in 1274. His Commentary on the Sentences is a
major theological work of the thirteenth century, but he also published other key theological works such as: Retracing the Arts to Theology, The Itinerary of the Mind to God, Disputed Questions on the Mystery
of the Trinity and Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ. He
also wrote a Life of St. Francis and many other studies on Franciscan
He was a monumental academic leader, a powerful spiritual
writer, and a major administrator of the friars during the term of his
generalate. In 1273, he became Cardinal Archbishop of Albano and
was entrusted with many items for the Council of Lyons. He died
on July 15, 1274, while assisting at this council. Pope Sixtus IV canonized him in 1482, and, in 1588, Pope Sixtus V named him a Doctor
of the Church with the title â€œSeraphic Doctor.â€ Together with John
Duns Scotus, Bonaventure is considered a key academic theologian
of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition.
Bonaventure had many students who became well known as
Franciscan theologians. Among them are Richard Rufus of Cornwall
(+1260), Gilbert of Tournai (+1284), William de la Mare (+1298), John
of Wales (+1302), Richard of Middleton (+1308) and perhaps his most
famous student, Matthew of Aquasparta (+1308). His influence in
theological thought was strong during his lifetime and has continued to be a major factor for both Roman Catholic and Protestant
theologians down to the present time.
THE FRANCISCAN SCHOOL
AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
Robert Grosseteste was a diocesan priest and, for a short time, Chancellor at the University of Oxford. No one knows exactly where he
studied or received his degree. In 1229, he became regent master at
the Franciscan house of studies in Oxford and taught the early
Franciscans until 1235. He felt very close to the Franciscan ideals
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 45
and his teaching united Franciscan spirituality with theology. Many
of his friends thought he would become a Franciscan, since he had
taken a private vow of poverty. In 1235, he was consecrated Bishop
of Lincoln. As bishop, he continued his friendship with the friars,
especially his student and dear friend, Adam Marsh. Over the next
seventeen years, three secular priests succeeded him as regent master of the Franciscan school. He died in 1253. The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition is deeply indebted to this diocesan theologian. At
Oxford, it was he who taught the first friar students, and many of
his theological positions became a central part of the tradition.
Alexander of Hales, also a diocesan priest, was profoundly influenced by Grosseteste and brought to the first Franciscan friars at the
University of Paris theological and philosophical positions that he
had learned from Grosseteste.
Adam Marsh joined the Order in 1227 and for forty years was a
good friend and colleague of the friar, Roger Bacon. Together they
researched Greek writings, treatises on mathematics, and natural
science. Marsh assisted Robert Grosseteste, constructing chapter
divisions and titles for Grossetesteâ€™s major work, the HexaÃ«meron,
an exegesis on creation narratives in Genesis. In 1247, Marsh became the first Franciscan regent master at the University of Oxford.
He remained active until his death in 1258.
THOMAS of YORK
Thomas of York most probably was a student of Alexander of Hales.
In 1253, he became the second Franciscan to be regent master at the
Franciscan school in Oxford, succeeding Adam Marsh. By 1259 he
had almost finished his major work, Sapientiale, in which he demonstrates the depth of his knowledge regarding Maimonides, Avicenna,
AverroÃ«s, Aristotle and Plato. It is a â€œclassicâ€ in early Oxford
academia. In 1256, he succeeded William of Melitona as regent of
the Franciscan school in Cambridge. He died in 1260. From his youth
he was a brilliant scholar. However, in spite of his brilliance, his
professors at Oxford delayed his reception of the masterâ€™s degree
because of his youth.
46 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
RICHARD RUFUS of CORNWALL
Richard Rufus entered the Franciscans at Paris in 1238. He studied
at Oxford and was the second Oxford professor and the first
Franciscan professor to write a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. This embroiled him in a debate on the question of theologyâ€”is theology in Scripture or is it in Lombard? He died sometime after 1259.
John Pecham (1225-1292) was a disciple of Bonaventure at the University of Paris around 1270. He moved to Oxford in 1271 where he
completed his studies in 1275. In 1279, he became Archbishop of
Canterbury. On many theological issues he was conservative, mainly
as regards philosophical issues that went against the Augustinian
framework of his thought. For Pecham, AverroÃ«s was a pernicious
heretic. He followed Bonaventureâ€™s position that Godâ€™s existence is
a truth that we know with immediate evidence. He stressed the superiority of the will over the intellect.
Roger Bacon was born between 1210 and 1215. He studied in the
faculty of arts at the University of Oxford, focusing on Seneca and
Cicero. It seems he then went to Paris and, in 1240, received his
masterâ€™s degree. He lectured there on Aristotle until 1246. In 1247
he entered the Franciscan Order and returned to Oxford, where he
was in contact with Robert Grosseteste and Adam Marsh. His interest in science was extremely strong and his knowledge in this area
was immense, given the time in which he lived. From 1266 to 1268
he composed his most important work, Opus Maius, an encyclopedia of the various branches of knowledge; but he also found time to
compose his Opus Minus and Opus Tertium. Evidently, he was a difficult person to live with. He wrote that Richard of Cornwall was
â€œan absolute fool,â€ Alexander of Hales was â€œignorant of natural
philosophy and metaphysicsâ€ and Thomas Aquinas was full of â€œpuerile vanity and voluminous superfluity.â€ Such demeaning remarks
seem to have been one of the major reasons for his condemnation
and confinement in the Paris friary from 1277 to 1292. He died in
1292, the same year he was released from confinement.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 47
WILLIAM of WARE
William of Ware studied at the Universities of Paris and Oxford and,
from 1290 to 1300, taught as a magister in both places. He was a
great friend of Roger Bacon and a follower of Bonaventure. It seems
he was one of the main teachers of John Duns Scotus. He died in
Roger Marston studied at the University of Paris (1269-1272) and
then began teaching, first at Oxford and then at Cambridge. From
1292 to 1298, he was the provincial of the English Franciscan Province. In his theology, he followed Bonaventure and John Pecham.
For him, Augustine and Anselm were key theologians. Roger
Marston is an example of an Augustinian-Bonaventurian theologian
within the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. He died in 1303.
JOHN DUNS SCOTUS
John Duns Scotus was born in Scotland around 1266 and died in
Cologne in 1308. His uncle was a Franciscan and perhaps influenced
his nephew to join the Order. Scotus studied at the University of
Oxford and at the University of Paris, and he taught at the Universities of Oxford, Paris and Cologne. Aspects of his philosophy and
theology will be touched on later in this volume. Bonaventure and
Scotus can be considered the two main founders of the Franciscan
Peter Aureoli was born in Aquitaine around 1280. In 1304, he began
his theological studies at the University of Paris and, at that time,
came into contact with John Duns Scotus. He taught as a lecturer at
the Franciscan house of studies in Bologna and Toulouse. In 1316 he
returned to Paris and obtained a bachelorâ€™s degree and a doctorate
in theology. In 1320/21, he became provincial of the Aquitaine province. In 1321, he became the bishop of Aix. He died in 1322. R. Dreiling
notes that he is â€œnot a platonist, nor an augustinian, nor an
aristotelian, nor an averroist, nor a scotist, nor a thomist.â€ He was a
very independent thinker and an eclectic individual. He praises and
criticizes all of the above-mentioned authors. He strongly backed
48 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
the Franciscan position on individuality and on the freedom of God,
which is bound by no law.
FRANCIS of MEYRONNES
Francis of Meyronnes was provincial of the Meyronnes province.
He had studied at the University of Paris and was a strong follower
of John Duns Scotus. Though he wrote a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, he was philosophically inclined. He noted
that Aristotle was optimistic in physics and pessimistic in metaphysics. His works include: On the Univocity of Being, On the First Principle, On Relations and On Transcendentals. All of these indicate his
connection to Scotus. In his Commentary, Francis of Meyronnes states
that it is the earth that is moving, while the heavens remain unmoved. He died circa 1328.
WILLIAM of OCKHAM
William was born in the English village of Ockham around 1285
and died in Munich in 1347. He entered the Franciscans and began
his studies at the University of Oxford, completing them around
1320. At Oxford he lectured on the Sentences, and his Commentary on
the Sentences remains his most important book. Although he completed his theological studies, he was never appointed regent master of the Franciscan school. In 1323/4, John XXII summoned him to
Avignon to explain fifty-six of his positions that had been criticized
by the chancellor at Oxford, John Lutterell. William, a follower of
John Duns Scotus, was a brilliant philosopher and a major theologian. The pope never condemned any of his philosophical or theological positions, all of which were composed before his call to the
Avignon papal palace. However, some of his political positions were
condemned. William fled Avignon and sought refuge from Emperor
Louis of Bavaria. He remained in Bavaria until his death. Ockhamâ€™s
famous axiom, or as it is called â€œOckhamâ€™s razor,â€ has been quoted
down to our own timeâ€”beings should not be multiplied without
necessity. He is also known as the founder of a Franciscan Nominalist School. Nominalism is a philosophical theory that denies the existence of universal concepts and principles apart from the human
mind. Emphasis is on the individual. With no universal moral norms,
morality simply conforms to a God with absolute freedom.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 49
Francis of Assisi died in 1226. Within one hundred years of his
death, we find that the theological world was richly blessed with
Franciscan theologians of very high quality.
The Dominican Order also blessed the world with a large number of excellent theologians. C. H. Lawrence, in his book, The Friars,
has a lengthy chapter entitled â€œThe Capture of the Schools.â€ In this
chapter, he traces the first attendance by Dominicans and Franciscans
at the Universities of Paris and Oxford. It was these two groups who,
in Lawrenceâ€™s terms, â€œcaptured the schools.â€ He writes:
Compared with the schools of the seculars, the system of the
Mendicants had important advantages besides those of superior organization. In the secular schools men taught for a
few years and moved on. University teaching was not regarded as a career for life. The pressing need to acquire a
benefice, to repay debts to patrons, the expectation of a career in the higher echelons of the Church or state, constantly
drew men away from the schools in early middle-life. But
when a man became a friar, he opted out of the race for preferment. At the schools, freed from the pressures of secular
ambitions and the struggle for livelihood, he was able to
pursue scholarship with a sense of detachment. . . . If he was
successful, he might be allowed to spend his whole life in
the scholastic world.10
With so many friars, Dominican and Franciscan, attending and
teaching at the universities during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the two orders were able to fashion their theological traditions in an abundant way. Once more, let me say that theology and
philosophy cannot be equated with the Word of God, the tradition
of the Church, nor with the solemn teachings of the Church. Faith is
basic. Philosophy and theology are only ways to express and understand more deeply what our faith is and what it implies. Different
philosophical and theological traditions have existed in the Church
from its very beginning. Intellectual traditions have helped one another and have been in conflict with one another. This is the structure of all sciences, arts, philosophies and theologies. One intellectual tradition might keep the rest honest, and the others might keep
simply one of the intellectual traditions honest. It is in this arena
that differences should be discussed and judged.
50 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
III. Franciscans in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries
Whose Careers Were Not Generally Associated with the
Universities of Paris and Oxford
The listing of these Franciscan theologians is a major factor in the
understanding of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. Through these
friar theologians, the tradition was carried to places throughout the
Western world at that time. Through their teachings and writings,
the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition became influential even outside university or scholastic milieux.
ANTHONY of PADUA
Anthony of Padua (1191-1231). In the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, Anthony of Padua has always held a special place. He was the
first to be given the title of teacher of theology in the Order of Friars
Minor. It was Francis himself who gave him this title. He had studied theology in Coimbra, Portugal, where his professors were men
who had studied in Paris under Augustinian mentors. When he was
fifteen he entered the monastery of the Augustinian Canons Regular just outside of Lisbon. While he was there, the remains of the
first Franciscans who had been martyred in Morocco were transferred to Coimbra, where they were celebrated in a way that so impressed the recently ordained priest, Anthony, that in 1220 he transferred to the Friars Minor. His motive was to be a martyr, and he
wanted to go to North Africa, which he did but only for a short
time. From North Africa, he went to Sicily and then to Assisi. He
taught the friars in their study houses at Montpellier and Toulouse.
From 1229 to 1231, he was in Padua as a lector for Franciscan students. He died in 1231. His funeral was a major event, and only
eleven months after his death, he was canonized by Pope Gregory
IX. In 1946, Pope Pius XII declared Anthony a Doctor of the Church,
with the title Doctor Evangelicus. The only written work of Anthony
that we have is a book of his sermons. From these sermons, scholars
have provided an analysis of his theology.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 51
PETER JOHN OLIVI
Peter John Olivi (1247/8-1298). Peter John Olivi was born at Serignan,
just outside of BÃ©ziers in southern France. He became a Franciscan
in 1259/60 and a few years later began his studies at the University
of Paris. Although he wanted to be a master of theology at the university, he was called back to his province in the mid-1270s, where
he taught as lector for the young friars at Narbonne and, perhaps, at
Montpellier. An unknown friar, referred to as â€œBrother Ar,â€ drew up
a list of statements of Olivi that he considered untenable. This list
was sent to the proper authorities. In 1283, Olivi was censured. The
process leading up to this censure was long and complicated, but
his teaching career lay in ruins. Nonetheless, he represents a theological position to which many theologians at that time, in one way
or another, ascribed. It was a question over the basis of theology
itself. Simply statedâ€”Does theology depend on the Sentences of Peter Lombard and the many commentaries on this book? Or does
theology rest on Scripture? Is theology a scientia, that is, a scientific
study, or is theology an exegesis of Godâ€™s Word?
Many issues entered into this thirteenth- and fourteenth-century
controversy. For the Franciscans, the issue of poverty became part
of the problem. The various Franciscan interpretations of the Bull of
Pope Nicholas III, Exiit qui seminat, escalated the struggle, since papal authority itself became an issue. Oliviâ€™s biblical theology, however, was held in high esteem by some Franciscans. Olivi held certain views that he claimed to be the correct interpretation of the vision and spirituality of St. Francis. In Oliviâ€™s theology we see both
the difficulties and the values of uniting spirituality and theology,
an issue which continues down to the present.
Raymond Lull (1232-1316). Raymond Lull was born in Palma,
Majorca. His early education was not very intense. In 1257, he married Blanca Picany, and two children were born of this union. If the
details of the first thirty years of his life are basically unknown, the
details of the remainder of his life are well known. Lull wrote an
autobiography, Vita coaetanea, in 1311. He was known as a man of
action, a mystic and a literary figure. Recent scholarship adds another dimension. He was a prolific writer. Lullâ€™s writings total 265
items. He was also an artist, and it is this visual dimension that has
aroused contemporary interest. His art is seen as a key to understanding his most profound positions. Some of his deepest books
are Ars demonstrativa, Ars generalis ultima and Ars brevis.
Lull could scarcely avoid extensive praise and at the same time
serious condemnation. Whether he was a secular Franciscan or not
is still not sure. Anthony Bonner, a contemporary scholar on Lull,
leaves the door open but says very clearly: â€œThe only thing certain
is that Lull was very close to the Franciscans in thought and spirit.â€11
In the history of European thought from 1316, the year of Raymondâ€™s
death, down to the present, the influence of this Majorcan and
Franciscan scholar has been enormous. In his travels, his writings,
his lectures and his preaching, he has disseminated the vision and
spirituality of the Franciscan Intellectual Movement in a way no other
52 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF THE
Since the end of the thirteenth century, as we have indicated,
there has been a form of theology called â€œFranciscan.â€ The
first major production of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition
was the Summa of Alexander of Hales. One finds in this first Summa
several key aspects of the spiritual vision of Francis of Assisi.
â€¢ The very nature of God is love, and therefore Godâ€™s will
and freedom are more central than Godâ€™s knowledge.
Love grounds the theology of Trinity, creation, incarnation and risen life.
â€¢ The humility of the incarnation and the love of the passion are issues that begin to shape the Franciscan theology of Jesus.
â€¢ Creation contains the Word of God and the Holy Scriptures contain the Word of God, but these are not two
Words of God. It is the same Triune God who speaks and
calls in creation and in the Scriptures.
â€¢ Spirituality and theology are put together, for theology
without spirituality is empty, and spirituality without
theology is a sham.
Other key issues of the Franciscan Theological Tradition also
emerged in this first Summa, but for now let us consider how these
four ideas, stemming from the spiritual vision of Francis of Assisi,
became part of a distinctive theological tradition, particularly under the influence of Bonaventure and Scotus. Distinctive insights
into the Catholic Faith found a resonance in peopleâ€™s experience;
controversy helped form the parameters of the distinctive elements;
institutionalization into a â€œschool of thoughtâ€ assured some
54 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
stability. In looking at the emergence of this tradition we will consider its distinctive features under two headings:
I. The Triune God: a Relational God, Who is Both
Primitas and Fecunditas
Under this heading we will consider a number of theological issues centered on uncreated being, namely the Triune
A. The Triune God in the Vision and Spirituality
of St. Francis
B. The Triune God as Developed in the Franciscan
1. Bonaventure and the Triune God
2. Scotus and the Triune God
3. Creation: The Doctrine of Emanation
4. Incarnation: The Place of Jesus in Creation
5. The Absolute Freedom of God
6. The Humility of the Incarnation
II. The Sacred Book of Creation
Under this heading we will consider a number of theological issues centered on created being.
A. The Book of Creation in the Vision and Spirituality
of St. Francis
B. The Book of Creation as Developed in the Franciscan
1. Creation as a Gift of Godâ€™s Freedom and Love
2. Haecceitas: The Doctrine of â€œThisnessâ€
3. Contingency and Grace
Under each of these topics, there will be two subheadings. First,
we will consider the vision and spirituality of St. Francis. This subheading contains a brief indication of Francisâ€™s reverence for the
theme. Second, we will look at each individual theme as it is developed
within the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. This subheading contains
a brief presentation on the major ways in which Franciscan scholars
have integrated each theme into the central and constitutive core of
their theology. In this way, both of these subheadings will indicate
and identify the central elements constituting the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 55
I. The Triune God: a Relational God, Who is Both Primitas
Theologically, the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition finds its core and
its foundation in the doctrine on the Triune God. The Triune God is
the firstness (primitas) and fecundity (fecunditas) of all that is, including the inner being of God. Within this inner divine being, there
is a firstness and fecundity that we call â€œFather.â€ The Father is not
only the â€œfirstâ€ Person of the Trinity; the Father is a fruitful, effusive
â€œfirstâ€ Person. From the Fatherâ€™s primal fecundity come the Son and
the Spirit. The Triune God can only be understood as a relational
God. There is only one God, but this is an intrinsically relational one
God. In the Franciscan view, there is not an isolated, transcendent,
utterly other oneness at the deepest depth of divinity. Rather, there
is a diffusive firstness and a primal fecundity.
A. The Triune God in the Vision and Spirituality of St. Francis
In the writings of St. Francis, we find that he used the term, God,
very often, and this does not surprise us. However, Francis is never
content to speak vaguely of God, as the Franciscan, Norbert NguyÃªnVan-Kahnh tells us.12 Rather, Francis again and again speaks of a
Trinitarian God. It is a Trinitarian God who creates the entire world.
It is a Trinitarian God who is at the center of Francisâ€™s spiritual life.
When Francis calls God â€œFather,â€ he usually mentions the Son and
the Holy Spirit as well. The Trinity is a relational God, a God whose
very being is only understood in a relational, triune way. One citation from Francis can stand as an example of many, many other citations that might also be used.
All-powerful, most holy, Almighty and Supreme God, Holy
and just Father, Lord King of heaven and earth, we thank
You for Yourself, for by Your holy will and by Your only Son
with the Holy Spirit You have created all things spiritual and
corporal (Earlier Rule 23:1).13
There was a profound spiritual relationship between God and
Francis. Francis was a â€œholyâ€ man. To be holy is to be in relation to
56 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
God. The depth of this God-Francis relation can be seen in Francisâ€™s
experience of God on Mt. Alverna. The Trinity is a relational understanding of God, and Francis was well aware of this. It is remarkable to note how many times the Trinitarian relational God is mentioned in the writings of Francis. Francis loved to meditate on the
greatness of God seen in the wonders of the created universe. â€œThese
wonders are accomplished in common by the three Persons of the
Trinity. . . . Christ is never regarded separately from the Father and
the Spirit.â€ The centrality of the Trinity is basic to the Franciscan
vision and spirituality.14
B. The Triune God as Developed in the Franciscan
1. Bonaventure on the Triune God
After a few observations on what theology is and what theology
includes, Bonaventure begins his Commentary on the Sentences with
a lengthy section on God. There is nothing distinctive about this
way of beginning. All medieval theologians writing a commentary
on the Sentences began with a first distinction/question on the meaning and scope of theology. They all then addressed the God question. They simply followed the text of Peter Lombard. However,
Lombard himself starts immediately with God as Trinity, not the One
God. Bonaventure continues Lombardâ€™s approach.
In Bonaventureâ€™s Commentary there is only one opening question, Quaestio II,15 on the one God, which he presents in two pages.
After this short statement on God as One, Bonaventure immediately
moves to the Triune God. For Bonaventure, to speak of one God at
any great length is not to talk about the reality of God, namely, the
Trinity. Zachary Hayes is emphatic on this. He states that
Bonaventure never developed an independent treatise on the One
God. â€œThe systematic treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity constitutes the whole of Bonaventureâ€™s doctrine about God.â€16 Too often
in theological literature on the One God, there is an over-emphasis
on the One as totally other, totally transcendent and totally independent of anything else. Godâ€™s oneness becomes â€œaloneness,â€ a
word in which etymologically â€œoneâ€ equals â€œallâ€ (â€œall-one-nessâ€).
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 57
The mystery of the Triune God, however, stresses God as essentially relationship. The oneness of God is a relational oneness. In the
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, a relational Triune God is consistently seen as the basis for Godâ€™s own nature, which is love and
goodness. The medieval axiom: bonum est sui diffusivum (â€œgoodness
is diffusive of its very selfâ€) lies at the heart of Franciscan theological discussion on God. Bonaventure explains all of Godâ€™s attributesâ€”
omnipotence, omniscience, freedom, etc.â€”within a Trinitarian context. Hayes goes on to say that Bonaventureâ€™s Trinitarian theology
has a genuine â€œmetaphysical status,â€ since it â€œinvolves a penetrating insight into the mystery of Being which does not negate the
metaphysical doctrine of being as known to the philosophers of antiquity but constantly holds it open to correction.â€17
Thomas Aquinas moves in a different direction. In his Summa
Theologiae, in the initial question, Quaestio I, he discusses theology
as a science. In Quaestio II, he begins his theological discussion On
Godâ€”Does God Exist? (De Deoâ€”An Deus Sit?). In this lengthy sectionâ€”from Quaestio II to Quaestio XXVIâ€”his focus is on the One
God. Only in Quaestio XXVII does he begin to discuss God as Triune
(XXVII to XLIII). In Aquinas, the main attributes of God are presented within his discussion on the oneness or unity of God. A theology that begins in a lengthy way on God as One and uses the unity
of God as a major framework for the attributes of God, will differ
considerably from a theology which begins in a lengthy way on the
Triune God and uses the Triune God as a major framework for the
attributes of God. In many ways, this difference between Thomas
and Bonaventure marks a major distinction between the Dominican
Intellectual Tradition and the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. For
Bonaventure, his discussion on the Trinity is not simply a prelude,
playing no significant role in his subsequent theological work. Hayes
stresses this: â€œEvery major theological theme is structured by
Bonaventure with reference to the mystery of the Trinity.â€18
Trinitarian thinking is a structural principle of Bonaventureâ€™s entire
Bonaventureâ€™s Trinitarian theology echoes themes from the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius (late fifth or early sixth centuries C.E.)
and Hugh of St. Victor (1090-1141), two very important theological
sources for all the late medieval scholastic writers. Bonaventure is
58 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
also richly indebted to the trinitarian thought of his Franciscan teachers at Paris, especially Alexander of Hales and Odo Rigaldus (cf. pp.
42-3), two key scholars in the early formation of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. Again, we see clearly how this tradition reaches
deep into the history of Christian thought and then refocuses this
thinking into a structure that has been called â€œFranciscan.â€
2. John Duns Scotus on the Triune God
In the Commentary on the Sentences, written by John Duns Scotus,
usually called the Reportatio, one finds a similar pattern. The first
section in Distinctio secunda is entitled De Esse Dei et eius Unitate (On
the Being of God and Godâ€™s Unity). Scotus begins with three lengthy
questions, but the material is very different from the material in the
Summa of St. Thomas. Throughout his career, Scotus was deeply
concerned about the human ability to come to a knowledge of God.
His Treatise on God as First Principle is his most penetrating work on
this issue, and we find in this Treatise a strong echo of the material in
this section of his Commentary. His very first question is not about
One God, but rather about the possibility of humans coming to know
anything about God. The second question focuses on infinity. Again,
this fits in well with his work in the Treatise, since in the Treatise he
moves in the following basic stages:
â€¢ The univocity of being, which for Scotus is the only first
step possible for any theory on the manner in which humans come to know about God. He does not call univocal being â€œGod.â€ Rather, it is called the first principle.
â€¢ Univocal being has a distinctive and exclusive
transcendentalityâ€”in itself as being, but also as one, true
and good. Scotusâ€™s presentation on the relationship of
being to one, true and good is unique. The opposite of
one is not two or three or many. It is absolute non-being.
The opposite of true is not false, but absolute non-being.
The opposite of good is not bad, but again absolute nonbeing. Of course, the opposite of being is absolute nonbeing.
â€¢ Only in the third place does Scotus discuss the polar
transcendentals; and the key polar transcendental is fi-
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 59
nite-infinite. At this third level, the opposite of one is
another or several; the opposite of true is false; and the
opposite of good is bad.
First Question: Can a human being come to some knowledge of God?
Answer: Only through univocal being and the nonpolar transcendentals.
Second Question: Is an infinite being a possibility?
Answer: Yes, and our human minds can not only
pose the question but also construct a faint
understanding of what this infinite being
Third Question: Can there only be one infinite being?
Answer: Yes, since two or more infinite beings
would be a logical impossibility.
In his Commentary, Scotusâ€™s first question is on the human possibility to know God. The second question is on the issue of infinity.
The third question is on the possibility of two infinite beings. Only
after this presentation of preliminary and epistemological issues does
Scotus truly face the question of God, and the question focuses on
the Trinitarian and relational God. Theologically, the only God Scotus
wishes to describe is a relational, Trinitarian God. At this juncture of
the Commentary, he moves in the exact same direction as Bonaventure.
Thereafter, this focus on a relational and Trinitarian God remains
central to the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition.
3. Creation and the Triune God: The Doctrine of Emanation
A theology of creation, in the Franciscan Tradition, is meaningful only on the basis of a relational Trinitarian God. In much of Catholic theology, creation is presented as a divine work ad extra (outside
of Godâ€™s own nature), while the Trinitarian relationships constitute
God ad intra (within Godâ€™s own nature). In other words, this kind of
theology presents creation as the ad extra work of the One God. It is
only the inner life of God (ad intra) that is Trinitarian. The activities
of God outside this inner life are seen as activities of the One God or
the unity of God. This is not a Franciscan view. Only a relational
60 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
Triune God offers theological meaning for the created world. In the
theology of Bonaventure, there are internal â€œemanations,â€ which we
call Father, Son and Spirit. However, from the neo-platonic tradition, Bonaventure capitalized on the axiom: â€œThe more a thing is
prior, the more fecund it is and the more it is the principle of otherness.â€ From this axiom he explains that â€œFirstness and fecundity
describe God as the fountainhead of all that is.â€19 The more profound the primitas (firstness) is, the more generous is its fecunditas
In creation itself, we experience the presence of a Triune God,
not simply of a One God. Moreover, creation itself intrinsically depends on the firstness and fecundity of the Triune God. The very
term â€œfirstnessâ€ connotes â€œsecondness, thirdness, fourthness,â€ etc.
It connotes relationship. If there is no second, there is no first. The
internal emanations of God present the Father as the most primal
level of divine fullness, power and fecundity. The Son, therefore, is
the Second Person of the Trinity and the Spirit is the Third Person of
the Trinity. Theologians consistently use â€œfirst, second and third,â€
when they discuss the Trinity. Franciscan theologians continue to
discuss creation from the context of this primal fecundity. The Triune
God is a God relating to creation, and, since creation is ongoing, the
Triune God does not create once only at some â€œmoment of creation.â€
Rather, the Trinitarian God is continually relating to creation.20 Creation is a book in which one can read about the presence of the
4. Incarnation: The Place of Jesus in Creation
In Franciscan theology, Jesus is also presented in the context of
firstness and fecundity. For Bonaventure and Scotus, to name only
two Franciscans, Jesus has a firstness and fecundity in creation itself. The incarnation is not a divine after-thought, occasioned by
human sin. Rather, the incarnation has a firstness that coincides with
the firstness of creation. A Franciscan cannot theologically explain
creation without mentioning the firstness and fecundity of Jesus.
When the Spirit of God first breathed over the abyss of meaninglessness and drew forth light, the Jesus-light was present in its
firstness and fecundity. The light of Genesis and the light of the world
can only be seen in their unity. This is why creation itself is the beginning of the incarnation.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 61
When we read in St. Johnâ€™s gospel that the â€œWord became fleshâ€
(1:14), we are drawn into a relationship of Logos or God on the one
hand and a human nature or flesh on the other. The incarnation is a
relating of creature and divine, a union in which Jesus is truly divine and truly human, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity, one in being with the Father and one in being with all human beings (Council of Chalcedon). Creation itself is also a relating
of creature and divine. In the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, these
two â€œrelatingsâ€ are intrinsically united. Creation can be called the
beginning of the incarnation, since the two are inseparable.
However, the incarnation not only begins with creation. Both
creation and incarnation are incomplete or unfinished without the
parousia. Whatever the parousia involves, it is an integral part of
the fulfillment of creation and incarnation. The resurrection of Jesus
is part of the process of creation-incarnation or incarnation-creation.
The resurrection life of Jesus, united as it is with our own resurrection life, is basically more than just a continuation of life after death.
It is a more intense continuation of life in relationship with God. Being
human on this earth is one way of being human. Being human in
risen life is quite another way of being human. The incarnation is
God entering into our way of being human, not only through a relationship to our being human on this earth, but also through a relationship to our being human in the risen life.
These three stages of finite beingâ€”creation-incarnation-risen
lifeâ€”are theologically united in the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. Creation has meaning only within its fundamental connection
to the primacy and fecundity of a relational God on the one hand,
and within its intrinsic relation to incarnation and risen life with
God on the other hand. Incarnation has meaning only within its fundamental connection to the primacy and fecundity of a relational
God on the one hand, and within its intrinsic relation to creation
and to risen life on the other hand. Risen life has meaning only within
its fundamental connection to the primacy and fecundity of a relational God on the one hand, and within its intrinsic relation to creation and to incarnation on the other hand. The following diagram
presents a visual image of this interrelationship.
62 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
THE TRINITARIAN GOD
from its beginning to its completion
from its beginning with creation to its completion
RISEN LIFE WITH GOD
from Jesusâ€™ own Resurrection
to our resurrection and
to the renewed stage
of the entire created universe
5. The Absolute Freedom of God
There is a powerful theological realism in this. As Christians, we
believe that the world we live in is a created world. We also believe
that Jesus is both divine and human. We also believe that in one
way or another the universe, ourselves included, will share in the
end-time. These are all theological â€œfactsâ€ of our belief. Given these
revealed â€œfacts,â€ the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition stresses theologizing on what is, not on what might be. Could there be a creation without incarnation? Of course. God is absolutely free to will
an incarnation or not. In actuality, God did will an incarnation. Could
God create a world without an incarnation and without an end-time?
Again, the answer is yes. The form in which God could create and
the form in which an incarnation takes place do not, in the abstract,
demand an end-time, a life after death, or a parousia. In actuality,
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 63
God did not do this. The world God created and in which the incarnation of the Logos is so central does have life with God after death.
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition does not start with what
God could do, but with what God has done. In the panorama of
what God has done, the tradition theologizes on its intrinsic unity.
The key for this intrinsic unity is, in Franciscan thought, the incarnation. The incarnation is not theologically an afterthought of God,
occasioned by human sin. The incarnation has its meaning from the
first moment of creation and from the parousial life with God. What
God has done deserves theological study. What God might have
done is left, in Franciscan thought, to the absolute freedom of God,
of which we have no clear understanding except that God is free
and is free absolutely.
6. The Humility of the Incarnation
As we have seen, Francis was overwhelmed by the humility of
the incarnation. This humility of the incarnation demands a reverence for all created beings, especially the most humble of these beings. When we read the writings of Francis and Clare, we find that
this emphasis on the humility of the incarnation is deeply connected
with the more academic theological insights into the Triune God
and on firstness and fecundity, both internal to the Triune God and
external to the Triune God in creation-incarnation. All of these insights lie at the very heart and core of the Franciscan vision and
spirituality, since creation is God-relating-to-our-world. Creation is
the beginning of the incarnation, and the incarnation means relationshipâ€”the Logos became flesh, Jesus is truly God and truly human. When we view the incarnation through the lens of its humility
and in the light of our Trinitarian theology, creation itself takes on a
new aspectâ€”the immense and sacred beauty to be discovered in
the â€œnon-event,â€ in the insignificant and in the socially rejected.
II. The Sacred Book of Creation
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition offers a deep theological expression of Francisâ€™s vision of the universe. Bonaventure expresses
this philosophical-theological stance when he writes: â€œThis is our
whole metaphysics: emanation, exemplarity, and consummationâ€”
64 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
to be illuminated by spiritual rays and to be led to the highest reality.â€21 In the process of creation, according to Bonaventure, all things
flow out from God, manifest God, and return to God. By calling this
a â€œmetaphysical structure,â€ Bonaventure is stating that this is precisely what creation â€œisâ€ in its being. Its very being is sacramental.
In the Breviloquium, Bonaventure writes:
The created world is like a book in which its Maker, the trinity, shines forth, is represented, and can be read at three levels of expression: namely, as a vestige, as an image, and as a
similitude. The reality of the vestige is found in all creatures;
that of the image is found only in intellectual beings or rational spirits; and that of the similitude is found only in those
creatures which have become conformed to God.22
A. The Book of Creation in the Vision and Spirituality
of St. Francis
Throughout the writings of St. Francis, his love for creation appears again and again. The physical universe images God. The created abundance all around us is not simply a reminder of a gracious
God; rather, this abundance is the very house of God. God is present
in this abundant world, and God is sheltered in this same abundant
world. Clearly, one of the deepest expressions of Godâ€™s presence in
the world is Francisâ€™s Canticle of the Creatures. Already in the first
two stanzas, Francis tells us that God is the ultimate desire of our
Most High, all powerful, all good Lord, all praise is yours,
all glory, all honor and all blessing. To you alone, O Lord, do
they belong (Canticle of the Creatures 1-2).
However, the second stanza clearly states that we have no direct
way to praise, honor and bless God: â€œNo mortal lips are worthy to
pronounce your name.â€23 It is in, through and with all of creation
that we are able to praise and bless God. The presence of God in all
of creation is the way in which every person, including Francis, can
reach God. Nor can it be said that Francis calls us to praise God only
â€œthroughâ€ Brother Sun, Sister Moon, etc. Rather, he calls us to see
that Brother Sun just by being sun praises God, and Sister Moon just
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 65
by being moon praises God. Francis contemplated in creatures the
wisdom, power and goodness of God. For Francis, all created things
worship God, just as all human beings worship God. This was central to his spirituality.
B. The Book of Creation as developed in the Franciscan
1. Creation as Gift of Godâ€™s Freedom and Love
All mediaeval theologians understood creation as an act that only
God could perform. Creation meant bringing something into being
from absolute nothing. The power over finite being and absolute
nothing belongs to God alone. We saw the importance of this insight when we discussed the philosophy of Aristotle. Often, however, the emphasis is on powerâ€”God has the power to create out of
nothing. The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition does not start with
Godâ€™s power. Rather, it starts with Godâ€™s absolute freedom.
In many ways, John Duns Scotusâ€™s theology of Godâ€™s absolute
freedom is fuller and more profound than any similar theology found
in other Franciscan medieval scholars. In his De Primo Principio: A
Treatise on God as First Principle, Scotus carefully speaks of God after
a lengthy presentation on the First Principle. This comes when he
treats the polar transcendentals and, in particular, the transcendental polarity of â€œfinite-infinite.â€ Richard Cross claims that Scotus
makes infinity central to his understanding of God:
Scotus uses the idea of divine infinity to demonstrate divine
unicity and simplicity. His procedure is thus the opposite to
that of Aquinas, who takes divine simplicity as basic, and
thence infers infinity and unicity. Scotus expressly rejects
Aquinasâ€™ attempt to derive divine infinity from divine simplicity.24
Infinity is basically a negative word meaning not finite. When one
asks Scotus what is without limit in God, he is very clear. From a
philosophical point of view, it is Godâ€™s freedom that has no limit;
and from a theological point of view, it is Godâ€™s love that has no
limit. There is a clear connection between Godâ€™s absolute freedom
and Godâ€™s love. A divine act of freedom is a divine act of love; a
divine act of love is a divine act of freedom.
66 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
This position of Scotus exercises an enormous role in the
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. Every single aspect of the created
universe exists because of Godâ€™s absolute freedom and because of
Godâ€™s unlimited love. All of creation is a gift. Nothing in creation is
necessary. Everything, in this sense, is grace, an unmerited gift of
God. Francis and Clare felt themselves surrounded by gifts. In the
Testament Francis states:
The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter
for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among
them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them,
what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness
(Testament 1-3, emphasis added).
Francis of Assisi kissed the lepers and washed their wounds. This
was the way God gifted him, and this gift bore the stamp of the
humility of the incarnation. In this same Testament, Francis writes:
Afterwards the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in
priests who live according to the rite of the holy Roman
Church because of their orders that, were they to persecute
me, I would still want to have recourse to them (Testament 6,
This gift of faith included priests who were impoverished and priests
who were sinful, which indicates once more the humility of the incarnation.
Francis goes on to say that it was the Lord who gave him brothers, who gave him the ability to speak and write the Franciscan Rule.
When we have an understanding that everything is gift, given by a
loving and absolutely free God, then, and then only, do we begin to
understand the profound meaning of creation and therefore the reverence due to creation. It is precisely in this vision of creation as gift
that we see the validity and need for an ecological theology. A book
by Leonardo Boff has a very important title: Cry of the Earth, Cry of
25 The contents of this book are based on the reverence everyone should give to all people, including the poor, and give to all
nature, for nature itself is Godâ€™s gift to us. Reverence for nature guarantees that all, including the poor, have what they need, so all can
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 67
be warm, have housing, have jobs and enjoy beauty. The exploitation of nature continues the very tears of the poor. Because all is gift,
Franciscans consider the cry of the poor and cry of the earth to be a
2. Haecceitas: The Doctrine of â€œThisnessâ€
There is, however, a still deeper dimension of creation in the
Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. In this also, Scotus is a leader. Again
and again, in his writings, he treats of individuation. He coins a special term for this dimension, calling it â€œThisnessâ€ (in Latin, Haecceitas).
If one were to ask Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and others for a definition of a human being, the answer would be immediate: a human
being is a rational animal. The difficulty in this view is that God has
clearly created individual rational animals, but has never created a
single rational animal. One finds the meaning of rational animal only
in a singular individual. Perhaps, Allan Wolter has described it best:
Scotusâ€™s doctrine of haecceity applied to the human person
would seem to invest each with a unique value as one singularly wanted and loved by God, quite apart from any trait
that person shares with others or any contribution he or she
might make to society. One could even say, haecceity is our
personal gift from God.26
3. Contingency and Grace
The Triune Godâ€™s freedom and love penetrate creation in yet
another way; and once again Scotus has written on this in a deeper
way than other scholars of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. This
dimension is called â€œcontingency.â€ All creatures throughout their
own particular history (as well as all of creation in its totality) depend on the firstness and fecundity of the Triune God. This means,
for Scotus, that created, finite and temporal beings are so contingent
metaphysically that their very essence and existence require the
firstness and fecundity of the relational Triune God. If one were to
take away the presence of this divine firstness and fecundity, there
would be absolutely nothing, a total annihilation.
Aristotle had taught that an existent thing can be considered
necessary as long as it is in existence. Most medieval theologians
accepted this philosophical view. If something exists, then as long
68 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
as it exists it is necessarily in existence. They argued that once God
had created some being, then this being had an actual position in
time and space that even God could not change. In other words, an
existing creature, existing in a particular space-time, can never be
said not to have existed in such a space-time. God cannot â€œundoâ€
what God has â€œdone.â€ It is in this aspect, and only in this aspect of
created things, that theologians considered a finite, temporal being
necessary. This necessity is very relative. The relativity lies in its
relation to the Triune God but also it is a necessity that exists only as
long as a particular being exists.
Scotus, however, taught that even when a finite, temporal being
is in existence, God is still absolutely free vis-Ã -vis that existing creature. If God remains absolutely free, then nothing outside of God
can be called â€œnecessary.â€
Contingency makes us look at our world in a very different way.
Nothing in our universe has any necessity. Everything, therefore, is
relative or â€œnon-necessary.â€ The incarnation, then, is not necessary
insofar as it involves anything created such as the humanity of Jesus.
The Church and the Churchâ€™s structures are not necessary. Governments are not necessary. When one speaks of â€œimmutable truths,â€
one should think twice. No creature has a necessary claim on immutability.
Rather than shaking the foundations of our faith, contingency
calls us back to the Triune God. Primitas and fecunditas in God are
necessary; freedom and love in the Triune God are necessarily infinite. It is in the Triune God that we find the depth of necessity and
the depth of freedom. In light of the Triune God, all beings are radically contingent. Where does this take us? It takes us back to seeing
creation, in all its forms, as gift, as unmerited grace, as radical giftedness. Only with such a view can we catch some glimpse of the
height and depth, the breadth and length of the mystery we call the
Triune God. How unending is Godâ€™s primitas, how generous is Godâ€™s
This first volume of our series has attempted to identify
some central components of the Franciscan Intellectual
Tradition. From our consideration, we can conclude that this
intellectual tradition has deep roots that go back to the beginnings
of Christian theology. The central components have been, in one form
or another, present in the spiritual depths of the Church since these
same beginnings. It was the genius of the early twelfth- and thirteenth-century Franciscan theologians to gather these components
into a system. They did so in a distinctly â€œFranciscanâ€ format, which
united the spiritual vision of Francis and Clare to a comprehensive
theological vision. Thus, the tradition clearly is a spiritual-theological vision. One appreciates the theological aspect only in and through
and with the spiritual aspect, and one deepens the spiritual aspect
in and through and with the intellectual aspect.
Prayer is certainly more than â€œthinking.â€ Prayer is an acknowledgement of Godâ€™s presence that involves awe, humility, wanting
more and loving what one understands of this divine presence.
Prayer captures the human will and lures it further into the loving
presence of God. The centrality of the will dominates the Franciscan
Intellectual Tradition, and this dominance is clarified when one experiences the loving and relational presence of God as revealed to
us in the Book of Creation and in the Book of Holy Scripture. The
key to understanding these two books is not simply hearing but,
more importantly, experiencing the Word so deeply present in the
words of both books. The Incarnate Word in Franciscan spirituality
and in the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition can be seen, heard, tasted
and experienced only when this incarnation is seen, heard, tasted to
its depth as â€œthe humility of the incarnationâ€ and the â€œlove of the
passion.â€ Franciscan vernacular theology and Franciscan academic
theology are intrinsically linked. They form, in all its depth and
breadth, the major theological themes of the Franciscan Intellectual
70 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
ISSUES FOR DISCUSSION
â€¢ In a group setting, explore how the notion of relationship provides a profound insight into the mystery of the
Trinity and how understanding God as relational provides a profound insight into the very existence of creation. Trinity means relationship, and the universe as
understood today by contemporary science is an unbelievably inter-related structure. A human life is a relational life, not only with members of a family, but with
many other peoples and with physical factors and systems. Although Aristotle called relationship the least of
all being, in the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, relationship is continually center stage. How can we make
the issue of relationship clearer and more effective in our
Franciscan life and in our Franciscan spirituality?
â€¢ In a group setting, explore the implications of affirming
the centrality of Christ in Godâ€™s creative activity. This
theological view has much to offer today when we are
involved in ecumenical discussions among Christian
groups and when we are involved in inter-religious dialogues. Inculturation, even as it occurs in our Franciscan
residences and ministerial situations, is also influenced
by our belief in the centrality of Christ in all creation,
including all cultures.
â€¢ In a group setting, consider the Franciscan Intellectual
Tradition in which sinâ€”even â€œoriginal sinâ€â€”is not central to the doctrines of creation, incarnation and risen life.
The clear emphasis on grace rather than on sin challenges
a number of spiritualities that are popular in the Church.
Have we Franciscans taken this position seriously as far
as our own spirituality is concerned?
The Franciscan Intellectual Tradition 71
â€¢ In a group setting, consider the implications of â€œThisnessâ€
(Haecceitas). In the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, this
is clearly a unique element. The relationship of â€œThisnessâ€
to the life and spirituality of Francis and Clare is profound. In community life and in our ministries, how can
we allow â€œThisnessâ€ to be far more evident, far more
enriching and far more a part of our spirituality?
The following material in these paragraphs is based on Michael W. Blastic,
OFMConv., â€œIt Pleases Me that You Should Teach Sacred Theology; Franciscans
Doing Theology,â€ Franciscan Studies, 55 (1998): 1-25, and on Zachary Hayes, OFM,
â€œFranciscan Tradition as a Wisdom Tradition,â€ Spirit and Life, 7 (New York: Holy
Name Province, O.F.M., 1997): 27-40. 2
Ã‰phrem LongprÃ©, â€œFrÃ¨res mineurs,â€ Dictionnaire de spiritualitÃ©, Vol. 5 (Paris:
Beauchesne, 1964), 1271. Cf. the entire section 1268-1303, especially 1277-1279. For
a more general treatment of theological themes in Francis of Assisi, see ThaddÃ©e
Matura, OFM, Francis of Assisi: The Message in His Writings (St. Bonaventure, NY:
The Franciscan Institute, 1997). 3
Thomas of Celano, The Life of St. Francis, in Francis of Assisi: The Saint, ed. Regis
J. Armstrong, OFMCap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, OFMConv., William J. Short, OFM
(New York: New City Press, 1999), 254. All further citations from Celano are from
this same source. 4
Francis of Assisi: The Saint, 177. Emphasis added. 5
Francis of Assisi: The Saint, 177. 6
Cf. Arnaldo Fortini, Francis of Assisi, trans. Helen Moak (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 106-9. 7
Cf. Benjamin Z. Kedar, Crusade and Mission (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 119-31. Cf. also Fortini, 395-439. 8
Cajetan Esser, OFM, and Engelbert Grau, OFM, Loveâ€™s Reply (Chicago:
Franciscan Herald Press, 1963), 23-4. 9
Raymond Brown, SS, The Gospel of John, Anchor Bible Series, v. 29A (New York:
Doubleday, 1970), 558-72. 10C. H. Lawrence, The Friars (London: Longman, 1994), 136. 11Anthony Bonner, Doctor Illuminatus: a RamÃ³n Lull Reader (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1985), 26. 12Norbert NguyÃªn-Van-Kanh, OFM, The Teacher of His Heart (St. Bonaventure,
NY: The Franciscan Institute, 1994), 66. 13All references in this volume to the writings of Francis are from Francis of
Assisi: The Saint. 14NguyÃªn-Van-Kanh, 87-88. Cf. also 59-78, 202-8, 224-230.
15All the medieval commentaries are divided into sections. These sections are
called either Distinction I, Distinction II, etc., or Question I, Question II, etc. These
Distinctions or Questions are then subdivided into Articles or Chapters. In his prologue, Peter Lombard did make mention of his various divisions, but later theologians placed the names, Distinction I, Distinction II, etc., into the text itself. Not
every theologian did this in the same way. 16Zachary Hayes, OFM, â€œBonaventure: Mystery of the Triune God,â€ in Kenan
Osborne, OFM, ed., The History of Franciscan Theology (St. Bonaventure, NY: The
Franciscan Institute, 1994), 55.
74 Kenan B. Osborne, O.F.M.
17Hayes, â€œMystery of the Triune God,â€ 56. Hayes refers us to Bonaventureâ€™s
Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, V, 308-12. 18Hayes, â€œMystery of the Triune God,â€ 56.
19Hayes, â€œMystery of the Triune God,â€ 56-60. Cf. also 62-72.
20Pantheism equates God with all the forces and laws of nature. This is not
what the relational Triune Godâ€™s presence in all creation means. Some theologians have used the word, â€œpanentheism,â€ to describe the presence of God in
creation. This word comes closer to what the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition
means by the Trinitarian relationship to creation, but as an â€œismâ€ word it remains too academic for a full expression of the Triune Godâ€™s actual relationship to all of creation. The same is true of Paul Tillichâ€™s term, â€œtheonomy.â€
Neither term completely coincides with Bonaventureâ€™s term, â€œemanation.â€ 21Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexaemeron, 1, 17. 22Bonaventure, Breviloquium, 2, 12. Cf. also Hayes, â€œMystery of the Triune
God,â€ 76-7. 23In the Early Rule, Francis uses almost the same words: â€œAll of us are not
worthy to pronounce your name.â€ Francis of Assisi: The Saint, 82. Cf. also Celano,
The Life of St. Francis, ch. 29. 24Richard Cross, Duns Scotus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 26. 25Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor (New York: Orbis Books,
1997). Cf. also Prisco Cajes, OFM, Anitism and Perichoresis: Towards a Filipino
Christian Eco-Theology of Nature (Quezon City, Philippines: Mersen Graphics,
2002). 26Allan B. Wolter, Duns Scotusâ€™ Early Oxford Lecture on Individuation (Santa
Barbara, CA: Old Mission Santa Barbara, 1992), xxvii.
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