Obedience has always been a core aspect of religious life because of its character as a principal transcendental virtue and its role as a precondition for organisation. Different views of obedience will be presented and discussed in the paper, including those presented in parenetic and normative texts. The aim is to identify strands of tradition in the complex group of sources which were available to the early Franciscans and may have helped to form their spirituality as well as their notions of authority and obedience.
The importance of obedience in medieval religious life could hardly be overstated. The prominence of obedience in 13th-century Franciscan theology occasions a plentiful opportunity for analysis of this relatively unexplored topic. In examining Francis’ concept of obedience, one witnesses a shift from the divine origin of authority to the divine origin of obedience, which differs largely from the monastic tradition. The paper shall seek to clarify Francis´ concept of obedience and successively investigate the order´s theological attempts to absorb, accommodate, transform, or omit it. In this respect, particular voice shall be given to four authors: Francis of Assisi, Thomas of Celano, David of Augsburg and Bonaventure of Bagnoregio.
The Franciscan order developed sophisticated legal norms which defined the duties as well as the limitations of obedience. The friars were bound by an unlimited duty of obedience to the Gospel/Rule but their obligations towards their superiors could be limited in certain circumstances. The complexities of this structure were recognised by contemporary commentators but the success of their attempts to clarify the situation still needs to be studied in greater detail. The presentation will focus on practical issues related to obedientia in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.