Francis and the Leper: Growing Pains

…and we continue with some historical context and background for our consideration of the accounts of St. Francis and the Leper.

By the spring of 1213, four years after the founding of the “order,” Francis’ reputation had risen to the attention of the Italian aristocracy – not just in Assisi but throughout central Italy.  The order was beginning to attract men from the higher social classes. Sons of merchants like Francis, sons of the landed wealthy, sons of ruling households, men with established careers in law, music and the arts, and also ordained priests. They joined the already formed group of men from middle and lower backgrounds and joined in on the muddling through what it meant to follow Christ in the manner of Francis. G.K. Chesterton’s later definition of the Catholic Church – “here comes everybody.” Broadly speaking, apart from their spiritual gifts, these were “company men.” How many friars joined the fraternity in those years?  It is impossible to say, but we do know this: in 1217 the annual meeting (called a “chapter”) made the decision to send out missions across the Alps into northern Europe, the Baltic states, and to the Crusader States in the eastern Mediterranean. Within Italy, six provinces were established; outside of Italy, five provinces were established: Spain, northern and southern France, Germany, and Syria. Some scholars have written that the number of brothers exceeded 700 men. Continue reading