The aim of this paper is to show how preaching sermons and confessing sins were two moments strictly connected one to the other in pastoral care. The issue of popular ‘superstition’ provides a good example of how sources and approaches were shared by friars active in evangelizing urban populations. In particular, in the Observant Franciscan friary of St Angel in Milan an interesting number of pastoral texts were produced in late 15th century, that show an original approach to ‘superstition’ and witchcraft and the spread of this view by means of preaching and confession.
The Franciscans, widely popular through their preaching, held a precarious hold on the public imagination of them as the poor of Christ. Early internal dissension concerning the meaning and practice of the ‘perfect poverty’ envisaged by the founder, and the storms which accompanied their subsequent university teaching generated some of the most vitriolic polemic of the 13th century, and ensured that the Franciscan profession of poverty would be used as a touchstone of their probity. The figure of the rapacious, lustful, often stupid and always hypocritical friar became a staple of satirical literature in the late 13th and 14th centuries. Jean de Meun and Ruteboef, Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Langland are some of the better known European writers to have created such satire. In this paper I will look at the Middle English Lollard texts, Jack Upland, and Piers Plowman’s Crede as examples typical of English antifraternal satire in the mid-to-late 14th and early 15th centuries, reading them against the primitive Vitae of Celano, Bonaventure’s Vita Maior, and The Sacrum Commercium Beati Francisci cum Domina Paupertate. To trace the word ‘naked’ through the early Franciscan texts and follow them across their translation into Middle English is to follow the theme of ‘humiliation’. In this paper I want to tease out how, in the challenge of nakedness and humiliation within the early texts, the seeds of much subsequent criticism of the order, both internal and external, are to be found. I suggest that, while issues of jurisdiction, pastoral practice, doctrine, and scriptural interpretation constantly come up for scrutiny, the most vicious criticisms are levelled surrounding the practice of poverty because the interpretation of this lies at the heart of Franciscanism. In establishing ‘nakedness’ and ‘humiliation’ as the foundation of Franciscan living, Francis set up an ideal that would become impossible for many.
Recently the historian Barbara Rosenwein and others have rightly questioned the uncritical acceptance of a Freudian ‘hydraulic’ model of undifferentiated affect as a lens with which to interpret the performance and representation of emotion in medieval texts. But how do we think about the ways in which medieval theological texts themselves frequently theorize affectus in intensely physical and ‘hydraulic’ terms, as something that ‘flows’, ‘rushes’, and ‘overwhelms’ soul and body? Through a close examination of the descriptions of Francis of Assisi’s simultaneous ‘joy and grief’ in Bonaventure’s Legenda Maior) and earlier legends of his stigmatization, this paper argues that interrogating medieval representations of affective ambivalence and ‘flow’ can sharpen our understanding of the mutual implication of pleasure and pain, soul and body, in medieval devotion.