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Pierre Jean Olivi

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A Spiritual Franciscan and theological author, born at Sérignan, Diocese of Béziers, 1248-9; died at Narbonne, 14 March, 1298. At twelve he entered the Friars Minor at Béziers, and later took the baccalaureate at Paris, Returning to his native province, he soon distinguished himself by his strict observance of the rule and his theological knowledge. When Nicholas III prepared his Decretal "Exiit" (1279), Olivi, then at Rome, was asked to express his opinion with regard to Franciscan poverty ( usus pauper ). Unfortunately there was then in the convents of Provence a controversy about the stricter or laxer observance of the rule. Olivi soon became the principal spokesman of the rigorists, and met with strong opposition on the part of the community. At the General Chapter of Strasburg (1282) he was accused of heresy, and henceforward almost every general chapter concerned itself with him. His doctrine was examined by seven friars, graduates of the University of Paris (see Anal. Franc., III, 374-75), and censured in thirty-four propositions, whereupon his writings were confiscated (1283). Olivi cleverly defended himself in several responses (1283-85), and finally the General Chapter of Montpellier (1287) decided in his favour, The new general, Matthew of Aquasparta , sent him as lector in theology to the convent of Sta. Croce, Florence, whence Matthew's successor, Raymond Gaufredi, sent him as lector to Montpellier. At the General Chapter of Paris (1292) Olivi again gave explanations, which were apparently satisfactory. He spent his last years in the convent of Narbonne. and died, surrounded by his friends, after an earnest profession of his Catholic Faith (published by Wadding ad a. 1297, n. 33).

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Peace, however, was not obtained by his death. His friends, friars and seculars, showed an exaggerated veneration for their leader, and honoured his tomb as that of a saint; on the other hand the General Chapter of Lyons (1299) ordered his writings to be collected and burnt as heretical. The General Council of Vienne (1312), in the Decretal "Fidei catholicæ fundamento" ( Bull. Franc., V, 86), established the Catholic doctrine against three points of Olivi's teaching, without mentioning the author; these points referred to:

  • (1) the moment Our Lord's body was transfixed by the lance,
  • (2) the manner in which the soul is united to the body,
  • (3) the baptism of infants.

In 1318 the friars went so far as to destroy Olivi's tomb, and in the next year two further steps were taken against him: his writings were absolutely forbidden by the General Chapter of Marseilles, and a special commission of theologians examined Olivi's "Postilla in Apocalypsim" and marked out sixty sentences, chiefly joachimistical extravagances (see JOACHIM OF FLORA. For text see Baluzius- Mansi, "Miscellanea", II, Lucca, 1761, 258-70; cf. also Denifle, "Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis", II, i, Paris, 1891, 238-9) . It was only in 1326 that those sentences were really condemned by John XXII, when the fact that Louis the Bavarian used Olivi's writings in his famous Appeal of Sachsenhausen (1324) had again drawn attention to the author. Olivi's fate was a hard one, but was partly deserved through his theological incorrectness. Still Father Ehrle, the most competent judge on this point, considers (Archiv, III, 440) that Olivi was not the impious heretic he is painted in some writings of the Middle Ages, and states (ibid., 448) that the denunciation of his theological doctrine was rather a tactical measure of the adversaries of the severe principles of poverty and reform professed by Olivi. For the rest, Olivi follows in many points the doctrine of St. Bonaventure. The numerous but for the most part unedited works of Olivi are appropriately divided by Ehrle into three classes:

  • (1) Speculative Works, of which the chief is his "Quæstiones" (philosophical and theological ), printed partly in an extremely rare edition (Venice, 1509), which contains also his defences against the Paris theologians of 1283-85 which were reprinted by Du Plessis d'Argentré, "Collectio judiciorum", I (Paris, 1724), 226-34; Commentary on the Book of Sentences; "De Sacramentis" etc.
  • (2) Exegetical Works: Five small treatises on principles of introduction, printed under St. Bonaventure's name by Bonelli, "Suppl. ad. op. S. Bonaventuræ" (Trent, 1772-3), I, 23-49, 282-347, 348-74; II, 1038-52, 1053-1113. In the same work (I, 52-281) is printed Olivi's "Postilla in Cant. Canticorum". (See S. Bonav. opera., VI, Quaracchi, 1893, Prolegomena, vi-ix.) The other postillœ are: Super Genesim, Job, Psalterium, Proverbia, Ecclesiasten, Lamentationes Jeremiæ, Ezechielem, Prophetas minores, on the Four Gospels , Ep. ad Romanos [see Denifle, "Die Abendl. Schriftausleger bis Luther . . . . ( Romans 1:17) und justificatio" (Mainz, 1905), 156 sq.], ad Corinthios, in epistolas Canonicas, in Apocalypsim;
  • (3) Works on observance of Franciscan Rule (see FRANCIS, RULE OF SAINT).

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