Celano’s First Life of St. Francis

The earliest written account of Francis and the Leper occurs in Thomas of Celano’s The First Life (1C) written c.1229. The work was commissioned by Pope Gregory IX who asked Celano to write a vita of the newly canonized saint. Francis died in 1226, was declared a saint in rapid order and by April 1228, Gregory called for a burial church to be built for Francis. The commission to Celano was complementary to the architectural celebration. The vita was written in short order and declared official by Gregory in February 1229. Continue reading

Francis and the leper: accounts

In the previous three posts, we reviewed some historical context and background for our consideration of the accounts of St. Francis and the Leper. When Franciscans recount the story of Francis and the leper, one might presume that they are telling a story from a common core, perhaps even an official recounting of the story as approved by a Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. Yea… not so much. Every medieval source has its own goal, tone, genre and point of view. And that is especially true in the period beginning some 20 years after Francis’ death (d.1226). In the post-Francis world of Franciscan, as noted in a previous post. The intra-Franciscan factions slowly came to the fore and were readily distinguishable. There was no group that was wrong, but then again, each one emphasized one aspect of “the life” they believed Francis wanted for his religious order. One group believed poverty/destitution was Francis’ intent. Another held up obedience – after all the first vow of obedience was (and still is) to the Pope – and topic Francis most often wrote about. Chastity was not the basis of one of the factions.  What about the third group? They were more of the “can’t we all just get along” after all fraternity was paramount. It is 800+ years later and the same discussion continues on. Each group, consciously or not, promoted their own understanding of Francis in the stories they told, the traits they emphasize, their own goals for the narrative and all that makes hagiography different than history. Continue reading

Francis and the Leper: Fraternity and Factions

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

While Francis was present with them in the years before 1219, the newness and charismatic dynamism of Francis was enough to keep the small group of brothers open to the unfolding vision that God was giving Francis.  They took on no special tasks or roles, rather they committed to a certain way of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  But as seen in the vocational questions above, the world and the Church had true needs, and the Pope especially saw in Francis and his brothers a ready reserve of workers for the vineyards of the Lord. Continue reading

The Transitus of St. Francis

In Western Christianity, the Transitus (translation from Ecclesiastical Latin: crossing or passing over) refers to “the time of passage through death to life”. The Christian theologian German Martinez writes that: “The idea of death in the Latin transitus … represents a unique Christian terminology linked to the paschal mystery. It consecrates the passage of the dying to eternal life. Offering the sacrifice of his or her personal life, the believer shares in the paschal transitus of Christ himself.

Each year on the evening of October 3rd the Franciscan family throughout the world pauses to celebrate the solemnity of our Holy Father Francis’s Transitus, passing over from this life to the next. In his famous Canticle of the Creatures, the saint from Assisi wrote “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape.” That line, written near Francis’s own embrace of Sister Bodily Death, reflects the importance and natural character of death in the life of all creation. Francis was not afraid of what would come at the end of his earthly life, choosing instead to recognize in that experience, not an end, but a transition from one way of living to another. Br. Thomas of Celano recorded an account of that transition, that transitus: Continue reading

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

Francis and the Leper: the growth of the Fraternity

When Franciscans recount the story of Francis and the leper, one might presume that they are telling a story from a common core, perhaps even an official recounting of the story as approved by a Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. And even if some friars are telling the story from a source different from the “official” record, the different medieval sources used make little difference, yes? Yea… not so much. Every medieval source has its own goal, tone, genre and point of view. And that is especially true in the period beginning some 20 years after Francis’ death (d.1226). Continue reading

Francis and the Leper

There are many stories that people remember about Francis of Assisi; in my experience, most of them are from a book, the Fioretti, The Little Flowers, a collection of stories about Francis. It is the name given to the classic collection of popular legends about the life of St. Francis of Assisi and his early companions. The earliest extant copy is from 1390, some 164 years after the death of Francis. Scholars agree that it was probably written earlier, but in any case not within 120 years of Francis’ death. It is a collection of hearsay, colorful anecdotes, stories of miracles and pious examples from the life of Francis. Are the accounts in the Fioretti history? Are the pious fables? Are they just hagiography? Continue reading

The Stigmata of St. Francis

St. Francis receives the Stigmata (fresco attr...Authorized by Pope Paul V, September 17th is the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi, a feast day celebrated within the Franciscan communities.

Stigmata, from the Greek word, generically points to a “brand” or a “mark.” It is the common word to describing branding of cattle. In the Christian context it refers to the bodily marks resembling the wounds of the crucified Christ. St. Francis was the first person, historically recorded, who bore the marks of the crucified Christ in his hands, his feet, and in his side. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi and Prayer

When people think of St. Francis of Assisi and prayer, what most likely comes to mind is “The Peace Prayer of St. Francis,” with the memorable line: “Make me an instrument of peace…” It is a moving and noteworthy prayer, certainly in the Franciscan tradition, perhaps inspired by St. Francis, but it dates to 1912 and was first published as a poem in the French spiritual magazine, La Clochette. Later, during World War I, it appeared on the back of a holy card bearing an image of St. Francis and the association of the two became cemented in our minds. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi and almsgiving

prayer fasting almsgiving2There are many ideas that people hold about what it means to be Franciscan.  I was once asked, “Where do you friars keep the animals?”  I was living in the Soundview area of the Bronx at the time.  The person assumed that our way of life would always be surrounded by furry friends.  Later, another person wondered why we were not living out our vow of poverty by spending our day begging for alms? Continue reading