The Compilatio Assisiensis, or Assisi Compilation, is a hagiographic work from the 13th century, generally thought to be “difficult” because of its fragmentary nature and the particular structure of its text. But it is a document of inestimable worth, being one of the most authentic testimonies concerning St. Francis of Assisi and the origins of Franciscan life.
The main authors of the memoir recorded in the Compilatio Assisiensis are Francis’ companions, and great credit should be given to Father Emil Kumka for allowing us to revisit their witness, letting the real Man of Assisi emerge for us in the flesh.
Father Kumka, Professor of Church History and Franciscan Studies at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Saint Bonaventure, and head of the Seraphicum Library, proposes a fresh new reading of the Compilatio in this publication by the Vatican Publishing House.
In his preface, Franciscan Studies scholar Professor Felice Accrocca highlights the way Father Kumka aims to “retrace the guiding thought of the original author: the intent, above all, to leave as a legacy a portrait of real humanity and not an idealized one: Francis, with his physical and moral sufferings, with the dramatic moments of his life and his ways of overcoming them, with his joy and enthusiasm, his moments of dejection and even of anger.”
It is an operation, Accrocca continues, that “allows Francis’ pedagogy to emerge in his role as custodian of their vocation as Friars Minor and as a ‘mother’ to his brothers.”
In an equally admirable way, Father Kumka adopts a simple style that allows readers to meet, as directly as possible, the figure and personality of St. Francis, “that man who,” Accrocca concludes, “unsettled so many with his untiring desire for the Gospel and who is, even today, a man who brings ferment to evangelical life.”
Moreover, the wealth of this study consists in its going beyond a historical-critical analysis, basing itself instead on a theological method “without which,” states the author, “the figure and the reach of the Little Poor Man’s holiness would risk being molded into something dull and flat.”
The book analyzes a period that stretches from St. Francis’ renunciation of the governorship of the Order to his death or Transitus (“passing over”), delving more and more deeply into the humanity of the life of the Friars Minor, a human and spiritual standard that was fundamental for Francis.
The Word of God filled Francis’ whole universe, and his message of self-emptying and of the humility and poverty of Christ permeated his vision and his recommendations for religious life.
Linked tightly to this notion, as can be seen in many of the Compilatio’s passages, is the concept of mercy, understood in all its exacting love, emerging even at the times when Francis had to set aside his own will to preserve unity and peace in his Order.
In those circumstances, his interior struggle against his own character and temperament is particularly visible, illuminated by Divine Grace. Scholars speak of Francis’ “harshness,” especially in passages describing times when the Rule, and the friars’ call to evangelical life, were not being fully observed: in these cases, he reacted in a very forceful way, but always guided by charity, and never with the anger or presumption of one who feels superior.
The genuine qualities of the original sources examined in this book allow us, even today, to enter into the atmosphere of the time of these episodes, and to live the spiritual example of the Saint of Assisi with the same intensity.