Pope John XXII and the Franciscan ideal of absolute poverty
By Melanie Brunner
PhD Dissertation, University of Leeds, 2006
Abstract: My thesis offers an investigation into Pope John XXII’s view of the Franciscan poverty ideal and his reasons for rejecting the doctrine of the absolute poverty of Christ in the bull Cum inter nonnullos (1323). After establishing the state of the question in the introduction, the first two chapters situate John XXII’s discussion of Franciscan poverty in the context of his pontificate and the process of decisionmaking at the curia.
Chapter I presents a historical overview of the course of the poverty controversy and of the curial debate, while chapter II focuses on the development of the pope’s approach to some of the issues he encountered during his pontificate. This chapter examines John’s legal training, his suppression of the Franciscan Spirituals and the role of the Spiritual crisis in shaping his view of Franciscan poverty. I also compare the pope’s treatment of the Spirituals to his reform of the order of Grandmont. The Spiritual crisis can be interpreted as having focused the pope’s attention on the implications of the Franciscan poverty ideal for the structure of the church, and chapter III therefore moves to a discussion of the ecclesiological implications of Franciscan poverty and John’s reaction to this (potential) threat. It is shown, however, that the pope’s unease about the Franciscan ideal went beyond the ecclesiological problems posed by the Franciscan order, and the final two chapters turn to a discussion of John’s specifically theological and legal objections to the Franciscan poverty ideal as they are set out in his Franciscan bulls.
Chapter IV examines the theological reasons behind the pope’s condemnation of the Franciscan ideal and especially his discussion of the scriptural title of Franciscan poverty. It is demonstrated that the pope rejected the idea that evangelical and apostolic poverty could be defined as non-ownership of material goods. Chapter V then explores John’s discussion of dominium and the Franciscan ideal from a legal perspective.
John’s definition of dominium as an essential part of the human condition marks his most fundamental disagreement with the Franciscan order, and I suggest that this disagreement over the role of dominium in the history of salvation was at the heart of John XXII’s unease about the Franciscan poverty ideal.