The medieval Vitae of Francis of Assisi as presented in the Acta Sanctorum
In 1768 the bollandist Costantine Suyskens publishes in Antwerp the hagiographic dossier of Francis of Assisi within the second October volume of the Acta Sanctorum. This is a voluminous work which represents the first step in producing a scholarly approach to the sources of the hagiography of St Francis, nearly 130 years in advance of the publication of the famous Vie de S. François of Paul Sabatier (1893). The hagiographic dossier of Francis of Assisi is one of the finest products of the whole collection of the Acta Sanctorum to arise within the new demands of eighteenth-century culture. The introductory study penned by Suyskens, S.J. confirms the depth of the Bollandists’ scholarly project, and its value increases when one considers both the complexity of the documentation and the implications for the delicate relationships between the various religious orders, only few years before the suppression of Society of Jesus (1773). This present contribution (part of a larger research project) focuses on one of Suyskens’ most important and original works, namely the preliminary study he conducted on the Franciscan hagiographical sources (from Thomas of Celano to Luke Wadding). The results of this enquiry came together in the first part of Commentarius praevius aimed at providing a new biography of the saint which occupies the rest of his commentary. We highlight some features of the Bollandist’s methodology – means of gathering information, the criteria by which sources were both selected and evaluated, together with a few examples, allow one to observe the practical use of medieval vitae within this eighteenth-century reconstruction of Francis of Assisi’s biography.