CHASTE LOVE IN EARLY FRANCISCAN LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THE "SACRUM COMMERCIUM"

JOHN J RATHSCHMIDT, Fordham University

Abstract

Recent scholarship suggests that courtly love literature had a profound impact on Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercian reform. Because of these developments, Franciscan scholars are now investigating how much influence courtly love had on medieval Franciscan literature, especially the Sacrum Commercium. In order to further this important question, this study, employing Jean Leclercq's research in Monks and Love in Twelfth Century France, uses courtly love literature as a tool to penetrate the role passionate affectivity played in the early Franciscan spirituality of celibacy. It then interprets the allegory, the Sacrum Commercium, in the light of this research.^ Using the critical edition of the Sacrum Commercium S. Francisci cum Domina Paupertate and Esser-Grau's seminal work, Der Bund des Heiligen Franziskus mit der Herrin Armut, the author suggests that the Sacrum Commercium reminds the reader of the romantic imagery of courtly love. Francis, the knight-lover, is willing to do anything to win the hand of Lady Poverty who resists his advances, hides from him and tries to dissuade him from pursuing her any further.^ However, the Sacrum Commercium, while using the conventions of courtly love literature, inverts its meaning in every important detail. While the lady of the courts is always beautiful, full bodied, young and rich; Lady Poverty is ugly, emaciated, old and poor. This discovery becomes the foundation for the author's analysis of chaste love in the Middle Ages. While scholars have often cited the abuses of the clergy and the negative sexual attitudes of the poverty movements as reasons for Francis' seemingly harsh warnings about contact with women, the use of courtly love language in Franciscan sources, especially the Sacrum Commercium, suggests something very different. Francis did not simply renounce marriage but rather chose celibacy as a way to integrate passionate affectivity into his spirituality.^ Furthermore, using Rosemary Haughton's The Passionate God, which calls courtly love literature a "breakthrough," this study, rather than speaking of celibacy in our day as a renunciation of marriage, suggests that celibacy can be lived positively if it mirrors the way Francis pursued Lady Poverty in the Sacrum Commercium. ^

Subject Area

Religious history|Theology

Recommended Citation

RATHSCHMIDT, JOHN J, "CHASTE LOVE IN EARLY FRANCISCAN LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THE "SACRUM COMMERCIUM"" (1987). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8714590.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8714590

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