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INNOVATION Report Summary

Project ID: 714427
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INNOVATION (Authority and Innovation in Early Franciscan Thought (c. 1220-56))

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-06-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The goal of the project is to illustrate the innovativeness of early Franciscan thought and its importance for the further development of intellectual history. For a long time, scholars have assumed that the first intellectuals of the Franciscan order, which was founded in 1209, were relatively unoriginal thinkers who simply rehearsed the arguments of earlier authorities. This assumption however misunderstands how thinkers at this time used authoritative sources creatively and often even unfaithfully as ‘proof texts’ to bolster their own novel theological and philosophical arguments. The Franciscans were at the cutting edge of such original work because some of their scholars also happened to be leading members of the University of Paris, the centre for theological study at the time, in the early years of its establishment. These scholars defined for the first time many of the pedagogical practices, including that of writing a doctoral thesis, which continue to be employed in the university context to this day. In order to assert their authority in the university, these scholars became the first to write a major ‘Summa’ of their perspectives, which incorporated newly translated philosophical materials into the scope of their theological inquiries.

In undertaking this collaborative work, they set the agenda for much further debate in the scholastic period and offered a prototype for the genre of literature would be a central fixture within it. Furthermore, they set the stage for the further development of the Franciscan intellectual tradition. Though these early Franciscans have often been regarded as unoriginal, later Franciscans of the middle ages have been seen as highly innovative thinkers who anticipated the development of modern modes of thought in philosophy and theology. When we study the early Franciscan Summa in light of the scholastic methodology, however, we can see that the Summa’s authors were the true innovators of distinctly Franciscan positions.

The goal of the project is not simply to shift the credit for Franciscan innovations back one generation, however. The reason the study of the first generation is important is that this highlights in a way nothing else can the sources that continued to exert an influence on the Franciscan intellectual tradition. While the Greek philosopher Aristotle was the philosopher who would dominate the interests of the next generation of scholastics, the early Franciscans and their generation did not yet have solid access to his works. Thus, the Franciscan Summists favoured the work of the Islamic philosopher Avicenna, who presented an account of the topics Aristotle treated that was wholly his own and highly original. The fundamentals of their philosophy bear the mark of Avicenna’s influence. This would often cease to be recognized in later Franciscan works, but the fundamentally Avicennian nature of many of their positions endured.

At the origins of modern philosophy, in summary, we find an intellectual tradition—the Franciscan one—which itself imbibed deeply of the Islamic philosophical tradition. When we consider certain perceived tensions today between Islam and the West, INNOVATION has resources to offer in terms of highlighting our shared heritage and values.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

At present, we have in addition to the Principal Investigator two postdocs working on the project. One focuses on the Franciscan reception of Arabic sources and has produced some preliminary research to this effect in the first ten months of research; the other focuses on the manuscript tradition of the early Franciscan school and only began work on 1 June 2018. Since the start of the project, we have held five conferences on the sources, context, content, and method of the Summa Halensis; the proceedings of these conferences will be published in 2019 with Brill in two volumes including around 40 papers. Another conference next year on the relationship between early and later Franciscan thought will result in a third edited volume. The PI has finished her first monograph for the project, on the theology of the Franciscan Summa Halensis. She has begun work on her second monograph, on the philosophy of the Summa Halensis. The PI is also preparing a selection of English translations from the Summa which can be used for teaching and to reach a wider audience.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

All of the outputs from the project will represent progress beyond the state of the art, not only because the assumptions on which we conduct our research challenge previous assumptions in ways that yield new conclusions, but also because past assumptions about the unoriginality of early Franciscan thought have led to its almost complete neglect. Indeed, the edited volumes proceeding from the conference will represent the first complete and coherent body of literature on the Summa Halensis and early Franciscan thought in general. The two monographs of the PI respectively covering the theology and philosophy of the Summa represent the first substantial and sustained treatments of the major aspects of Franciscan thought in these fields. The PI’s translation is the first English translation of any major section of texts from the early Franciscan tradition. The postdocs’ articles on the relationship between early and late Franciscan thought will be the first to contest the notion that there is a break between the two phases of the Franciscan tradition. Further articles discussing detailed aspects of the Arabic reception will be the first since a limited number of articles written in the early 20th century and will go far beyond their findings.

The work of the manuscript specialist postdoc will push forward the state of the art significantly in a number of ways. For example, the fourth volume of the Summa Halensis, on the sacraments, is not yet edited. While it would take a team of scholars many years to complete the edition, this postdoc will be able to assess early modern editions to determine whether they were usable, opening scholarly doors for work on this text which has not previously been studied in any depth. Together with the PI, he will contribute to the edition of many early Franciscan texts which have not previously been available to non-Franciscan scholars. These texts are held in the Quaracchi archives of the Franciscans in Rome, but by building a strong relationship with the archive director and librarians, the PI and INNOVATION team members are among the few to be granted entry since 2017 to access invaluable resources there. Through work in this archive, the team will be able to produce critical or scientific editions of 20 or so of the major works by one of the Summa’s main authors, John of La Rochelle. This will make it possible to answer questions which have been for many years unanswerable as to which early Franciscan authored which section of the Summa Halensis. The manuscript specialist will also conduct a study of the manuscript tradition to determine how long and to what extent the Summa Halensis continued to exert an influence on later medieval thinkers.
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