sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 12

René Hernández Vera: Franciscan Books and their Readers

A Dominican friend once told me that the two mendicant communities share a lot in common, but one of the major differences is that the Franciscans have been hindered throughout its eight-hundred-year history by what is called the "personality cult" of Francis of Assisi. It is true that Franciscans have pondered and argued over what was the intentio of Francis regarding many issues such as poverty, community life, and pastoral ministry. The major issue of this book under review is the role of books and study within community life of the friars, which is one of the main differences between the Conventual and Observant branches of the Franciscan movement in the late Middle Ages.

The book is divided into four chapters: the Ideal, the Space, the Form, and the Readership. The first chapter focuses on the role of books in the early Franciscan community. The main issue is how the friars reconstructed the intentio of Francis regarding books by which they legitimized study and the use of the books for their ministry of pastoral care and preaching. Beginning with what we know about Francis' attitude toward books, Vera presents eventual transitions of the use of biblical books and devotional texts to the use of theological books. He explores the concept of the "ideal book" of the early Franciscan movement and the actual manuscripts written, studied, and collected by the friars after the time of Francis. We witness how the devotional, intellectual, and pastoral developments within the Franciscan movement influenced the change in their approach to study and books.

The second chapter looks at the issue of spatial dimension of Franciscan life, which means the libraries that emerged in the thirteenth century. This chapter is an admirable introduction to the medieval library in general - modeled by the libraries of Cassiodorus (communal library) and Boethius (private library) - and various mendicant libraries in particular. Vera presents two model libraries of Padua representing the Conventual library (Biblioteca Antoniana) and Observant library (San Francesco Grande). A major difference between these two libraries is the double library (one for consultation and the other for loan) in relation to the single library in the latter. One sees here in both libraries the reconciliation of poverty, the apostolic life, and the use of books and libraries through regulations intended to justify the life of study and the use of books in the communal life of the friars.

In the third chapter, the author presents various books that were in the libraries of Sant'Antonio (Conventuals) and San Francesco Grande (Observants). An analysis of select manuscripts reveals the differences between these libraries: the extensive books of the former were more focused on theological treatises, manuals, and collection of texts useful for learning and preaching, while the latter is more focused on books that were aids to pastoral care and preaching. Thus, this book shows how the role of learning more so than pastoral care was the main difference between the Conventuals and Observants. It presents a sample of the manuscripts to show how the friars actively interacted with the text by adding marginal commentaries, notes, and corrections to the theological works - such as Bonaventure's Sentences and the sermons of Luke of Bitonto - in the case of the Conventuals and treatises on morality, confession, and other works of pastoral care (Observants).

The fourth chapter focuses on Franciscan readership and the practice of reading in their convents. This chapter presents a review of the theories of reception, literary criticism, and historical criticism. Vera also discusses in a significant way the distinctive role of author, writer, and reader in medieval communal life. The main questions addressed: Who reads? What do they read? Where do they read? When do they read? The answers to these questions reveal that in the case of the Franciscans one has to focus on the role of the interpretative community and not just individual friars. Examples from manuscripts from both libraries reveal that the friars actively engaged with these texts and thus were "flexible readers who could perfectly well undertake different forms of reading according to the nature of the text, their particular interests and the purpose of their reading, as shown by their different approaches toward texts of devotion, spirituality, pastoral care, theology and preparation for preaching" (172).

As the book offers a unique view of the inner life of the friars rather than focusing on their pastoral activity and preaching, we see the friars in their preparatory stage as they prepare for their pastoral ministry. Its focus on the role of study and the use/ownership of books is an exceptional contribution to medieval Franciscan studies and it should be mandatory reading for those who focus on the subsequent stages of what the friars do regarding study and reading of texts. This book is an excellent presentation on the role of study and books in the writings of Francis and how the subsequent Franciscan movement moved beyond the intentio of Francis by their entrance into pastoral ministry and preaching, the education that was demanded by this ministry.

Rezension über:

René Hernández Vera: Franciscan Books and their Readers. Friars and Manuscripts in Late Medieval Italy, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2022, 238 S., ISBN 978-9-4637-2951-2, EUR 117,00

Rezension von:
Steven J. McMichael
Theology Department, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Steven J. McMichael: Rezension von: René Hernández Vera: Franciscan Books and their Readers. Friars and Manuscripts in Late Medieval Italy, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2022, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 12 [15.12.2023], URL:

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