Franciscan Friars History Secular Franciscan

Franciscan Theologians : High Middle Ages

Franciscan Intellectual Tradition

Brief personal Histories of those who influenced early Franciscan faith :


Alexander of Hales OFM  :  1185-1245.

Alexander as his name suggests was born in Hales which in the Middle Ages was part of Shropshire.  He studied at the University of Paris and was influential for introducing the main theological understandings of the day – The Book of Sentences by Peter Lombard.  Alexander entered the Franciscan Order age the age of 50 and was referred to as Doctor Irrefragibilis [Irrefutable Teacher] and Doctor Doctorum [Teacher of Teachers].  St Bonaventure may have been one of his pupils.

Middle Ages Publication of Alexander of Hales


St Anthony of Padua OFM: 1195-1231.

Anthony was born in Lisbon.  He was first in the Franciscan  Order to be given the title of Teacher of Theology, a title given by Francis himself.  He was a Scripture scholar, and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1946 – Doctor Evangelicus [Evangelical Doctor].

Artwork by Francisco de Zurbarán

Roger Bacon OFM: 1215-92

Roger Bacon was born in Ilchester, Somerset and studied at Oxford where he became a master lecturing on Aristotle.  Later at the University of Paris he taught arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, Latin and music.  His interest, understanding and knowledge of science was immense for the 13th Century and enabled him to write “Opus Maius” .

Roger Bacon’s book Opus Maius could be considered an encyclopaedia of seven aspects of knowledge – obstacles to real wisdom and truth, the relationship between philosophy and theology, a study of Biblical languages, mathematics, optics [light, reflection, anatomy of the eye], experimental science, and moral philosophy and ethics. His influence on thought and science at the time cannot be overstated, he is credited with formulating methods of science and for developing the earliest formula for gunpowder. Sadly in his day his work wasn’t always understood particularly that of astrology and he was accused of heresy.   It’s thought he was imprisoned or placed under house arrest, possibly for two years.

Statue of Roger Bacon at Oxford University Museum


St Bonaventure OFM : 1221 – 1274

Giovanni di Fidanza – St Bonaventure –  was born Bagnorea, Umbria in Italy and along with John Duns Scotus is one of the main scholars, philosophers and theologians of the Franciscan tradition of faith. He studied possibly under Alexander of Hales and alongside the Dominican, Thomas Aquinas. Bonaventure steered the Franciscans on a moderate and intellectual course that made them the most prominent order in the Catholic Church until the coming of the Jesuits. His theology was marked by an attempt completely to integrate faith and reason. He thought of Christ as the “one true master” who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding, and is perfected by mystical union with God. Bonaventure’s writings which were specifically about his Franciscan Spirituality and from which Franciscanism today takes its foundations are his books:

  • The Life of Francis
  • The Mind’s Road to God  – Itinerarium mentis in Deum.
  • The Tree of Life  – Lignum vitae
  • Soliloquy on the Four Spiritual Exercises  – Soliloquium de Quatuor Mentalibus Exercitiis
  • The Triple Way – De Triplici via.

Bonaventure also wrote a Commentary on the Gospel of St Luke and other smaller works. Bonaventure was elected as the seventh Minister General of the Friors Minor and became a Doctor of the Church with the title of “Seraphic Doctor” [Latin: Doctor Seraphicus].

Jacopone da Todi OFM : 1236-1306

Jacopone dei Benedetti was born in Todi, Umbria, Italy. Like many men who wish to join the Friars Jacopone was from a wealthy family, he was a lawyer and married to young noblewoman named Vanna, who according to some accounts, was a pious and generous woman. Due to his reputation as a worldly and greedy man, she took it upon herself to mortify her flesh in atonement for his behaviour which he did not discover until she died whilst attending a tournament. Benedetti gave up his legal practice, gave away all his possessions and from about 1268 lived as a wandering ascetic, joining the Third Order of St Francis. During this period, he gained a reputation as a madman, due to his eccentric behaviour, acting out his spiritual vision, earning him the nickname he was to embrace of Jacopone [Crazy Jim]. Examples of this behaviour included appearing in the public square of Todi, wearing a saddle and crawling on all fours. On another occasion, he appeared at a wedding in his brother’s house, tarred and feathered from head to toe. Jacopone dei Beneditti’s saving Grace was his great poetry. His “laudes” consisted of wonderful lyrics and expressed the spirituality of Bonaventure. It is said he wrote “Stabat Mater” which describes The Blessed Virgin Mary as “The Sorrowful Mother”. To read a collection of his poems visit our Online Library Page containing PDFs to download.

Manuscript – the first few lines of Roger Bacon’s Stabat Mater Dolorosa


Angela Da Foligno TOSF – Secular Franciscan : 1248-1309

Angela was born in 1248 in Foligno, Umbria into a wealthy family. Angela was a mystic and in her writings of her own conversion she gives us her personal testimony of how reflecting on the life of Christ leads us to be with God. [Similar to St Bonaventure’s theology]. Following time with her Spiritual Director she wrote of the 18 steps of her personal conversion.

I see the God-man. He draws my soul with great gentleness and he sometimes says to me: “You are I and I am you.” I see, then, those eyes and that face so gracious and attractive as he leans to embrace me. In short, what proceeds from those eyes and that face is what I said that I saw in that previous darkness which comes from within, and which delights me so that I can say nothing about it.

Since that time there has not been a day or a night in which I did not continually experience this joy of the humanity of Christ.

She was known not only for her spiritual writings, but also for founding a religious community which refused to accept becoming an enclosed Religious Order that it might continue her vision of caring for those in need1.


Bl John Duns Scotus (1266-1308)

John Duns Scotus along with St Bonaventure are the two main founders of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. He is considered a theologian and a philosopher.  His place of birth varies dependant upon articles written about him throughout the centuries.  Some say he was born in Scotland, whilst others Ireland.  On his sarcophagus in Köln it is written “Scotia me genuit. Anglia me suscepit. Gallia me docuit. Colonia me tenet.” Scotland brought me forth. England sustained me. France taught me. Cologne holds me.

John Duns Scotus is known especially for his theologies of the Primacy of Christ, that God created Creation for Christ to live in humanity among us and for the Immaculate Conception of Mary mother of Our God.  His writing expresses the importance of our human ability to come to know and understand God.

He also wrote articles of “Haecceitas” a concept he possibly introduced concerned with understanding what makes this thing a “this”, separate from what makes it a “that”, most usually referred to as “Thisness”.  In terms of Christianity Haecceitas or Thisness is that each of us [whether a Christian or not] is a brother or sister and deserves to be honoured and respected and that every created thing has its own unique dignity. Thisness might be telling us that the sacredness of each thing and of each human being is known unto God, that we are each unique, individual, and cannot be duplicated or cloned and that the infinite love or God radiates from all things.

A leaf from the Manuscript – John Duns Scotus on Henry of Ghent’s arguments for Divine Illumination: the statement of the case. At the top we can see John’s name “Doctor John Duns” and the imagery is perhaps about the teaching of the Holy Trinity and St Francis. Manuscript No 876 is held at the Vatican. Click image for veiw of the full page.


1 Paragraph from Wikipedia.

Elizabeth is a member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. She has had an interest in Franciscan Spirituality for over 20 years.