Peter John Olivi

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Peter John Olivi, also Pierre de Jean Olivi or Petrus Joannis Olivi[a] (1248 – March 14, 1298), was a Franciscan theologian who, although he died professing the faith of the Roman Catholic Church, became a controversial figure in the arguments surrounding poverty at the beginning of the 14th century. In large part, this was due to his view that the Franciscan vow of poverty also entailed usus pauper (i.e., 'poor' or 'restricted' use of goods); while contemporary Franciscans generally agreed that usus pauper was important to the Franciscan way of life, they disagreed that it was part of their vow of poverty. His support of the extreme view of ecclesiastical poverty played a part in the ideology of the groups coming to be known as the Spiritual Franciscans or Fraticelli.


A Franciscan and theological author, born at Sérignan, Diocese of Béziers, 1247–48. At twelve he entered the Friars Minor at Béziers, and later studied at Paris. He was already present there in 1268, when Bonaventure gave his Collationes de septem donis Spiritus sancti, and was probably still there in 1273, at the Collationes in Hexaemeron.[1] Returning to his native province, he taught in different places, and was probably in Narbonne around 1277–79.

During the preparation of Nicholas III's Bull Exiit qui seminat, in the summer of 1279, Olivi accompanied his provincial minister to Italy, but was not himself part of the commission that work on the Bull. He was asked to express briefly his opinion with regard to Franciscan poverty, but composed much longer questions on the evangelical perfection. Upon his return to Languedoc, he was promoted as biblical lecturer at Montpellier and produce a number of major biblical commentaries (on Matthew, Isaiah, Genesis, Job and John).[2] One opponent (described as "brother Ar.", to be identified with Arnaud Gaillard, then a formed bachelor back from Paris) voiced his opposition to Olivi's views on the vow, which prompted him to write a Treatise on poor use (De usu paupere).[3] The controversy between the two young theologians raged on many different issues,[4] which attracted the attention of the General Chapter of Strasburg in 1282. Although we know only of Olivi's fate, both were probably suspended from teaching. His doctrine was examined by seven franciscans theologians at Paris, who first drew a list of errors (Littera septem sigillorum) and then substantiated it by a roll of extracts (rotulus).[5]

Olivi defended himself in several responses (1283–85), and finally the General Chapter of Montpellier (1287) decided in his favour. The new general superior, Matthew of Aquasparta, sent him as lector in theology to the convent of Santa Croce in Florence, whence Matthew's successor, Raymond Gaufredi, sent him as lector to Montpellier. At the General Chapter of Paris in 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) on 14 March 1298.

Olivi's work On Sale, Purchase, Usury and Restitution, or more simply On Contracts (as in the latest edition by S. Piron, 2012), contains a subtle discussion of the pricing of risks and probabilities in connection with valuing compensation due for compulsory requisitioning of property.[6]

Legacy and controversyEdit

Peace 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 Lyon in 1299 ordered his writings to be collected and burnt as heretical.

The General Council of Vienne in 1312 established, in the Decretal "Fidei catholicæ fundamento" (Bull. Franc., V, 86), the Catholic doctrine against three points of Olivi's teaching, without mentioning the author; these points referred to the moment Christ's body was transfixed by the lance, the manner in which the soul is united to the body and the baptism of infants. In 1318 the friars of his order went so far as to destroy Olivi's tomb, a desecration, 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 Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian used Olivi's writings in his famous Appeal of Sachsenhausen in 1324 had again drawn attention to the author.[7] Though Olivi was never official condemned as a heretic his name included as a banned author in several editions of the Index of Prohibited Books. [8] Father Ehrle 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 works of Olivi, now edited for the most, can be divided into five classes:

1. Speculative works

  • Quaestiones in secundum librum Sententiarum. Bernhard Jansen (ed.). Quaracchi, Collegium S. Bonaventurae. 3 vols, 1922-1926 [= Summa Quaestionum, II].
  • Quaestio de angelicis influentiis, Ferdinand Delorme (ed.), in Bonaventura. Collationes in Hexaemeron et bonaventuriana quaedam selecta. Quaracchi, 1934, pp. 363–412.
  • De perlegendis philosophorum libris. Ferdinand Delorme (ed.). Antonianum 16 (1941): 31-44.
  • Quid ponat ius vel dominium. Ferdinand Delorme (ed.). Antonianum 20 (1945): 309-330.
  • Quaestiones de incarnatione et redemptione. Quaestiones de virtutibus. Aquilino Emmen, Ernst Stadter (ed.). Grottaferrata, Collegium San Bonaventurae, 1981.
  • Quaestiones logicales. Stephen Brown (ed.). Traditio 42 (1986): 337-388.
  • Quodlibeta quinque. Stefano Defraia (ed.). Grottaferrata, Frati editori di Quaracchi, 2002.
  • Quaestiones de novissimis ex Summa super IV sententiarum. Pietro Maranesi (ed.). Grottaferrata: Editiones Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 2004.
  • Quaestio de locutionibus angelorum. Sylvain Piron (ed.). Oliviana, 1, 2003.
  • Tractatus de contractibus in Sylvain Piron (ed., trad.) Traité des contrats. Paris, Les Belles-Lettres, 2012. English translation : A Treatise on Contracts, Ryan Thornton, Michael Cusato (tr.). Saint Bonaventure (NY), Franciscan Institute Publications, 2016. Portuguese translation : Tratado sobre os Contrato. Joice Beatriz da Costa, Luis Alberto de Boni (tr.). Porto, Edições Afrontamento, 2016.

2. Exegetical works

  • Lectura super Lamentationum Ieremie, in Marco Bartoli. La Caduta di Gerusalemme. Il commento al Libro delle Lamentazioni di Pietro di Giovanni Olivi. Roma, ISIME, 1991.
  • Gedeon Gal, David Flood (ed.). Peter of John Olivi on the Bible. Principia quinque in Sacram Scripturam. Postilla in Isaiam et in I ad Corinthios. St Bonaventure (N. Y.), Franciscan Institute Publications, 1997.
  • Johannes Schlageter (ed.). Expositio in Canticum Canticorum. Grottaferrata, Frati editori di Quaracchi, 1999.
  • David Flood (ed.). Peter of John Olivi on the Acts of the Apostles. St Bonaventure (N. Y.), Franciscan Institute Publications, 2001.
  • Johannes Schlageter (ed.). Lectura super Proverbia, Lectura super Ecclesiasten. Grottaferrata, Frati editori di Quaracchi, 2003.
  • David Flood (ed.). Peter of John Olivi on Genesis. St Bonaventure (N. Y.), Franciscan Institute Publications, 2006.
  • Alain Boureau (ed.). Lecturae super Pauli Epistolas, Brepols (Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis, 233), 2010.
  • Fortunato Iozzelli (ed.). Lectura Super Lucam et Lectura Super Marcum, Grottaferrata, Frati Editori di Quaracchi-Fondazione Collegio San Bonaventura, 2010.
  • Sylvain Piron (ed.). Lectura super Mattheum, prologus, Oliviana 4 (2012) :
  • Warren Lewis (ed.), Lectura super Apocalypsim, Saint Bonaventure (NY), Franciscan Institute Publications, 2015.
  • Alain Boureau (ed.), Lectura super Iob, Brepols (Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis, 275), 2015.

3. Works on observance of the Rule of Saint Francis and evangelical perfection

  • David Flood, Peter Olivi's Rule Commentary. edition and presentation. Wiesbaden, F. Steiner, 1972.
  • Quaestiones de perfectione evangelica 1-4 : Aquilinus Emmen, Feliciano Simoncioli. "La dottrina dell'Olivi sulla contemplazione, la vita attiva e mista". Studi Francescani. 60 (1963) : 382-445; 61 (1964): 108-167.
  • QPE 5: Aquilinus Emmen, "La dottrina dell'Olivi sul valore religioso dei voti". Studi Francescani. 63 (1966): 88-108.
  • QPE 6 : Aquilinus Emmen. "Verginità e matrimonio nella valutazione dell'Olivi". Studi Francescani, 64 (1967): 11-57.
  • QPE 8 : Johannes Schlageter. Das Heil der Armen und das Verderben der Reichen. Petrus Johannis Olivi, OFM, Die Frage nach der höchsten Armut. Werl i. Westphalen, Dietrich-Coelde-Verlag, 1989.
  • QPE 9 : David Burr. De usu paupere. The quaestio and the Tractatus, Firenze-Perth, Leo S. Olschki-University of Western Australia Press, 1992.
  • QPE 10/15: David Flood. "Peter Olivi Quaestio de mendicitate, critical édition". Archivum Franciscanum Historicum. 87 (1994): 299-347.
  • QPE 12 : Michele Maccarone. "Una questione inedita dell'Olivi sull'infallibilità del Papa". Rivista della Chiesa in Italia. 3 (1949): 309-343.
  • QPE 13 : Livarius Oliger. "Petri Iohannis Olivi de renuntiatione papae Coelestini V quaestio et epistola". Archivum Franciscanum Historicum. 11 (1918): 340-366.
  • QPE 14 : Marco Bartoli. Quaestiones de Romano pontifice. Grottaferrata, Frati editori di Quaracchi, 2002.
  • QPE 16 : David Burr, David Flood. "Peter Olivi: On property and revenue". Franciscan Studies. 40 (1980): 18-58.
  • QPE 17 : Ferdinand Delorme. "Fr. P. J. Olivi questio de voto regulam aliquam profitentis". Antonianum. 16 (1941): 131-164.
  • Pierre Péano. "La Quaestio fr. Petri Iohannis Olivi sur l'indulgence de la Portioncule", Archivum Franciscanum Historicum. 74 (1981): 64-76.

4. Apologetical works and letters

  • Epistola ad regis Siciliae filios. Franz Ehrle (ed.). Archiv für Literatur- und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters, 3 (1887): 534-540.
  • De obitu fratris Petri Iohannis et quid receptis sacramentis dixit. ed. Albanus Heysse (ed.). "Descriptio codicis Bibliothecae Laurentaniae S. Crucis plut. 31 sin. cod. 3. Archivum franciscanum historicum, 11 (1918): 267-269.
  • Damase Laberge. "Fr. Petri Iohannis Olivi, O.F.M., tria scripta sui ipsius apologetica annorum 1283 et 1285", Archivum Franciscanum Historicum. 28 (1935): 115-155, 374-407, 29 (1936): 98-141, 365-395.
  • Epistola ad fratrem R.. Sylvain Piron, Elsa Marmursztejn, Cynthia Kilmer (ed.). Archivum Franciscanum Historicum. 91 (1998): 33-64.

5. Devotional works

  • Quaestiones quatuor de Domina. Dionisio Pacetti (ed.). Quaracchi, Collegium S. Bonaventurae, 1954.
  • Modus quomodo quilibet postest referre gratias Deo de beneficiis ab eo receptis, Miles armatus, Informatio Petri Iohannis, Remedia contra temptationes spirituales in Raoul Manselli. Spirituali e beghini in Provenza. Roma, ISIME, 1959, pp. 274–290.
  • Antonio Montefusco. "L’opuscolo Miles armatus di Pierre de Jean Olieu. Edizione critica e commento". Studi Francescani. 108 (2011): 50-171.


  1. ^ Several different French reconstructions of the Latin name Petrus Joannis Olivi have been proposed, including Pierre de Jean Olieu, Pierre Déjean Olieu, Pierre Janolieu, etc. He came from an Occitan-speaking region and in Occitan his name would be Peire Johan-Oliu.


  1. ^ Piron, Sylvain (2003). "The Formation of Olivi's Intellectual Project". Oliviana.
  2. ^ Burr, David (1976). "The Date of Olivi's Commentary on Matthew". Collectanea Franciscana.
  3. ^ Burr, David (1989). Olivi and Franciscan Poverty The Origins of the Usus Pauper Controversy. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  4. ^ Burr, David (1976). The Persecution of Peter Olivi. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society.
  5. ^ Piron, Sylvain (2006). "Censures et condamnation de Pierre de Jean Olivi : enquête dans les marges du Vatican". Mélanges de l'École française de Rome, Moyen Age.
  6. ^ J. Franklin, The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 265-267.
  7. ^ Piron, Sylvain (2002). Bonagrazia de Bergame, auteur des Allegationes sur les articles extraits par Jean XXII de la Lectura super Apocalipsim d’Olivi. Revirescunt chartae, codices, documenta, textus. Miscelleana investigationum medioevalium in honorem Caesaris Cenci OFM collecta. 2. Rome: Edizioni Antonianum. pp. 1065–1087.
  8. ^ Alexander VII (1664). Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Rome: Ex Typographia Reuerendae Camerae Apostolicae. p. 128.

Further readingEdit

  • David Burr, The Persecution of Peter Olivi, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 66, part 5, 1976.
  • David Burr, Olivi and Franciscan Poverty: The Origins of the Usus Pauper Controversy. (Middle Ages Series.) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.
  • David Burr, Olivi's Peaceable Kingdom. A Reading of the Apocalypse Commentary, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
  • Alain Boureau et Sylvain Piron (éd.), Pierre de Jean Olivi. Pensée scolastique, dissidence spirituelle et société, Paris: Vrin, 1999.
  • Robert J. Karris, "Peter of John Olivi: Commentary on the Gospel of Mark", St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2011. ISBN 978-1-57659-234-2.
  • Catherine König-Pralong, Olivier Ribordy, Tiziana Suarez-Nani (dir.), Pierre de Jean Olivi. Philosophe et théologien, Berlin, De Gruyter (Scrinium Friburgense, 29), 2010 ; cf. S. Piron, Le métier de théologien selon Olivi. Philosophie, théologie, exégèse et pauvreté, pp. 17–85 - available on line :
  • M. Landi, Uno dei contributi della Scolastica alla scienza economica contemporanea: la questione del giusto prezzo, o del valore delle merci, in Divus Thomas, anno 113° - 2010 - maggio/agosto, pp. 126–143.
  • Kevin Madigan, Olivi and the Interpretation of Matthew in the High Middle Ages, University of Notre Dame Press, 2003.
  • Antonio Montefusco, Per l’edizione degli opuscula di Pierre de Jean Olivi : sul corpus e la cronologia, Oliviana, 4 (2012), online :
  • Sylvain Piron, Olivi et les averroïstes, Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, 53-1 2006, pp. 251–309 - available on line :
  • Sylvain Piron, Censures et condamnation de Pierre de Jean Olivi : enquête dans les marges du Vatican, Mélanges de l'École française de Rome, Moyen Age, 118/2, 2006, pp. 313–373 - available on line :

External linksEdit