Introduction to Grace and Truth
Vol. 27, No. 1, April 2010 which is entitled “The Franciscan Theological Tradition”.
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Anselm Prior, OFM
Anthony (of Lisbon/Padua) was already a Doctor of Theology when, as a young Augustinian friar, he witnessed the bodies of the first Franciscan being carried back from Morocco where they had been martyred. Anthony wished to replace these missionaries, but his attempt resulted in being washed up on the shores of Italy. He joined the Franciscan Order and immediately was prevailed upon to teach theology to his fellow friars. Their erstwhile teacher asked permission from Francis himself who wrote to Anthony: …. The friars, according to Francis, were to know their theology, never neglecting, though, their life of prayer which is, after all, the foundation of all true theology. This letter of Francis sets the scene for the development of a Franciscan theology which has continually grown and is still vibrant to this day.
Even in those early years of the 13th century the friars began to become involved in university life. Italian friars studied at the newly founded University of Paris where the English Franciscan, Alexander of Hayles, set the scene. St. Bonaventure studied there and became a firm friend of Thomas of Aquinas. From Paris other Franciscan Schools of Study were set up at the Universities of Rome, Naples and Oxford, as well as in Spain and Germany. In their formation, the Franciscan authorities always insisted on a sound theology based on Scripture and the Sentences of Peter Lombard.
Although in their day both Bonaventure and Aquinas were suspect for their “new” theologies, they both became accepted during the years of the Council of Trent. Aquinas came into prominence through the influence of Pope Pius V who, with the support of Trent, wanted a sound theology for all those preparing for priesthood in the Church. Aquinas’ influence widened with the support of Pope Leo XIII for the neo-scholasticism of the 19th century. Many would regard this movement as not a true reflection of the Dominican’s core theology. Be that as it may, this theological movement affected the thinking of the Church, particularly through the contribution of the Louvain school. The Dominican influence was furthered by Pope Pius X who re-emphasised that Aquinas was, not only a Doctor of the Church, the Master of Theology.
Throughout the centuries the Franciscan Schools continued to produced brilliant scholars, for example, the Scotsman Duns Scotus, the Irishman Luke Wadding and the Italian Lawrence of Brindisi. Their theology was based mainly on Bonaventure and Scotus.
Today there are many Franciscan Schools of theology, for example, in Italy, (the Antonianum in Rome and Grotto Ferrata where decades of research in Franciscan theologians’ original works continues unabated) and in the United States (St. Bonaventure’s University, New York). There is a strong Franciscan theological contribution coming out of Brazil. For instance, Kloppenberg, the two Boffs and Barraona studied under Ratzinger (who himself has written a thesis on St. Bonaventure) and contributed immensely to the development of Liberation Theology. Barraona has written masterly commentaries on Lumen Gentium and Sacrosanctum Concilium. As a backdrop to the above, one has to remember that the Franciscans were with the colonials in Latin America from the beginning, often stridently opposing the tactics of the conquistadores, including their imposition of slavery.
Franciscan theology, then, has been around for almost 800 years. Although not as universally known as the theology of Thomas Aquinas, to say nothing of the Jesuit contribution, it has been a strong influence within the Franciscan Order and beyond. The papers that were read at the recent Conference of the Catholic Theological Society of Southern Africa were a South African attempt at recognizing the significance of this theology. These contributions pointed particularly to the relevance of Franciscan theology for the Church and society today.
= summary of the various contributions
Perhaps a list of references to the various Franciscan sources noted in the texts.
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