Winner of the 2002 John Gilmary Shea Prize and the 2002 Howard R. Marraro Prize of the American Catholic Historical Association. When Saint Francis of Assisi died in 1226, he left behind an order already struggling to maintain its identity. As the Church called upon Franciscans to be bishops, professors, and inquisitors, their style of life began to change. Some in the order lamented this change and insisted on observing the strict poverty practiced by Francis himself. Others were more open to compromise. Over time, this division evolved into a genuine rift, as those who argued for strict poverty were marginalized within the order.
In this book, David Burr offers the first comprehensive history of the so-called Spiritual Franciscans, a protest movement within the Franciscan order. Burr shows that the movement existed more or less as a loyal opposition in the late thirteenth century, but by 1318 Pope John XXII and leaders of the order had combined to force it beyond the boundaries of legitimacy. At that point the loyal opposition turned into a heretical movement and recalcitrant friars were sent to the stake.
Although much has been written about individual Spiritual Franciscan leaders, there has been no general history of the movement since 1932. Few people are equipped to tackle the voluminous documentary record and digest the sheer mass of research generated by Franciscan scholars in the last century. Burr, one of the world's leading authorities on the Franciscans, has given us a book that will define the field for years to come.
"The need for a new history of the Spiritual Franciscans has been pressing for a long time. With its impeccable scholarship and breathtaking erudition, David Burr's book is not only a major contribution to the field but also the capstone of decades of scholarship."
-Augustine Thompson, University of Virginia "Within 100 years of St. Francis's death in the early 13th century, his ideal of apostolic poverty was condemned as heresy, and Spiritual Franciscans were all too frequently burned at the stake. Criticisms of laxity in the order spurred accusations that the popes were forerunners of the Antichrist, while papal authorities found Franciscan extremists to be heretical and disobedient to ecclesiastical authority. Burr (emeritus, Virginia Polytechnic Inst. & State Univ.) brings to this project a long acquaintance with both primary materials and secondary sources. Broader in scope than Alan Friedlander's The Hammer of the Inquisitors (Brill Academic, 2000), Burr's book recounts a century of events leading up to the persecution and suppression of the Spirituals. The passion behind the events and characters often takes a backseat to a careful analysis of what historians can (and cannot) know from extant sources, but Burr's case histories of Inquisitorial defendants are gripping. Burr writes for an informed reader well aware of the medieval context but nevertheless offers a reliable overview of the development and outcomes of the controversy. A required addition to all academic libraries."
-Steve Young, Library Journal "Burr's forte lies in the analysis of doctrinal statements. He skillfully exposes the evolution of the often subtle debates between the Spirituals and the majority of Franciscans who opposed them, taking particular note of the deeper implications of points which might have otherwise seemed academic. . . . In place of blood and thunder, he offers measured reflectiveness, a wry style and disarming wit. He has a gift for startlingly original similes, and he seems incapable of writing a trite phrase. There has long been a need for a good book on the Spiritual Franciscans; now we have one that is authoritative and beautifully written."
-Robert E. Lerner, Times Literary Supplement "Burr's narrative is a complex one involving theology, church institutions and politics, lay spirituality, and volatile apocalyptic expectations. . . . Burr is able to tie all these disparate threads together in a gripping and compelling narrative."
-Duane J. Osheim, History: Reviews of New Books "The central virtues of this book are its clarity, its comprehensiveness, its closeness to the sources, and its measured judgments. Scholars familiar with the material will find new insights and neglected sources such as a questio of Henry of Ghent on Joachim's third age, or a petition from the city government of Narbonne of 1309 in behalf of Olivi. Students coming to the material for the first time will find a treasury of instruction. Burr is one of America's finest medievalists and is here at the pinnacle of his accomplishments."
-Robert E. Lerner, The Medieval Review (TMR) "It is also a very useful contribution to our understanding of the remarkable vitality of Christian idealism among the faithful in the face of the obstacles and condemnations by the hierarchy."
-Erika Gottlieb, Utopian Studies "No other scholar has carried off so masterful an analysis of such disparate figures and movements; no other could. The fruit of a lifetime of careful study of its subject, this examination of the Spirituals will not soon be surpassed. In fact, it is done so well there may well be no need, or possibility, of surpassing it."
-Kevin Madigan, American Historical Review "He has succeeded, nonetheless, superbly in pulling together what has come before and equally in adding to it new and individual insights. He has constructed, with seamless artisanship, a work that offers the comprehension of a survey and the penetration of an analytical study. In the process he has performed a service for all those who will come after."
-Alan Friedlander, Catholic Historical Review "Burr is one of America's finest medievalists and is here at the pinnacle of his accomplishments."
-Robert E. Lerner, Northwestern University "This is a rich and thought provoking study, the product of great learning and of many years' reflection. It deserves to be widely read."
-Nicholas Vincent, Journal of the Historical Association "The present work has much to recommend it. However, readers might give greater attention to the appendix material, had it been published separately. The detailed endnotes are exquisite and provide commentary on other reputable scholars' work. The bibliography is impressive, demonstrating the use of the a treasury of sources."
-Brigid O'Shea Merriman, O.S.F., Theological Studies "This admirable study forms a bridge between the events following the deposition of Elias of Cortona at the general chapter of Rome and the emergence of separate communities approximately a century later, which contained the seeds of the Observant reform."
-Michael Roson, Journal of Ecclesiastical History "David Burr presents an important addition to the study of the Franciscans in a pivotal century."
-Gabrielle Gonzales, Journal of Church and State "Burr has produced a book that illuminates not only the spiritual Franciscans, but papal administration, lay piety, apocalyptic thought, and Occitan heterodoxy."
-Robert Finlay, Religious Studies Review "David Burr's The Spiritual Franciscans is an illuminating study of conflict within the Franciscan order during the later Middle Ages. . . . Burr has taken great care with every aspect of this study, including the definition of his topic."
-Roisin Cossar, Canadian Journal of History "Because David Burr opens new questions about this period of history, his lifetime study will open new doors for future scholars. His careful examination of primary sources and all-embracing survey of contemporary studies is liberating. It frees the reader from the oversimplification that has long determined the historiography of the early Franciscan movement."
-J. A. Wayne Hellman, Journal of Religion "What a pleasure to announce that with the publication of this latest book, Burr's sparkling, luminescent prose is now poised to reach a broader public.
The Spiritual Franciscans is a masterly book by a masterly writer and a consummate scholar. Peter Olivi and the Spirituals could not have wished for a more eloquent and faithful biographer."
-Louisa A. Burnham, Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies