Franciscan Rule of Life

FrancisSanDamianoThe year is 1220 and Francis has just announced his decision to step down as “leader” of the Franciscan brothers.  In last week’s installment, I described Francis’ reason for stepping down.  Francis had already seen the effects of a vacuum in spiritual authority brought about by his year-long absence while in the Middle East.  It is in leaving to his “vicar” and to the Roman Church the care of making decisions of a normative or disciplinary type that he could hope to preserve a superior authority, of a spiritual type, that would only have been diminished in the heat of daily administration. Continue reading

Brothers and Sisters

church-familyIf you have been following the daily gospel readings, you have read about the growing opposition to Jesus. He has been performing miracles, casting out demons, curing the sick, and yet people are hesitant to believe. In some cases, they outright refuse, and in the most extreme, they recognize the supernatural but attribute it to being in league with Satan. The people resist, the authorities accuse, and in today’s gospel it seems as though Jesus’ family wants to see him. Unsaid, but its seems as though they want to have an intervention. Continue reading

Authority and Example

FrancisSanDamianoAfter his 1220 return from his mission/travels to Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor, Francis of Assisi resigned as “minister” of the Franciscan movement. As with most changes in the life of St. Francis, there are a host of modern commentaries that offer reasons why. Some conjecture Francis was upset that clerics, ordained priests, were starting to inject their priestly charism upon the fraternity; hence he resigned in protest. Others offer that he was protesting the increased oversight and intrusion of the Pope into the affairs of the friars and their life. Some have insisted that Francis recognized that this religious movement was becoming a religious order – something he did not intend nor desire. Continue reading

Vocations: Founder and Friars

Francis-brothersIn the early summer of 1219, Francis left Assisi and traveled to Egypt, meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, Al-Malik al-Kamil.  According to the Franciscan chronicler Jordan of Giano, informed by an eyewitness, a prophetess living in the Holy Land who was known as “the Tongue-that-Proclaims-the-Truth” declared to the friars:  “Come back, come back, for the order is troubled by the absence of Brother Francis; it is divided and in the process of destroying itself.”  Thus in May of 1220, the Poor Man of Assisi returned to Italy, where problems had been multiplying in his absence.  In a prior article we mentioned some of the problems that had arisen, which Francis addressed.  He then considered the future of the Franciscan movement.  In September, 1220, he formally resigned his role as minister of the brothers. Continue reading

After the Crusades

FrancisSanDamianoIn our previous three articles we described Francis’ part of the 5th Crusade and his meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, Al-Malik al-Kamil.  We know that Francis was away at a time when the community began to grow rapidly – and not just around Assisi, but in many other parts of Italy, Spain, France, and the Germanic nations as well.  While Francis was away, what happened to the friars he left behind?

Francis had delegated his powers to two vicars during his absence:  Matthew of Narni, who remained in Assisi, and Gregory of Naples, who visited the communities throughout Italy.  Another friar, Phillip the Tall, was entrusted with the care of St. Clare and her sisters, the Poor Ladies of San Damiano.  They were given very few orders or instructions.  This might seem odd, given that religious life in the 13th century was quite ordered and obedience was a topic often written about – even by Francis himself.  However, the friars were not technically an ordo, a religious order – they were still a “religious movement” – albeit, a quite famous and rapidly growing one that had the attention of the Pope and the Roman Curia – both in praise and concern.

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Francis and the Crusades – Part 3

francis-sultanIt is important to recognize why Francis came to Damietta during the Fifth Crusade is just one part of his life.  How the experience of the crusade and his meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, Al-Malik al-Kamil, may have changed Francis is a different part of the saint’s life.  While the early sources about the life of Francis are uniform in Francis’ zeal for evangelization and his desire for martyrdom, many modern scholars dismiss these as hagiographic (“saint making”) embellishments.  The modern desire, especially among Franciscan scholars, seems to ensure that Francis “the peacemaker” arrives on the shore of Egypt in 1201.  When one looks outside modern Franciscan scholarship, especially to the current medieval specialist, one gains a different perspective.  André Vauchez, a French medievalist noted for his recent and thorough book on Francis, thinks that “some commentators are doubtful today [re: martyrdom], fearing to attribute to their hero a suicidal attitude or irresponsible behavior.”  Vauchez goes on to write, that “Contrary to what is sometimes affirmed, the search for martyrdom was not in contradiction with his desire to follow Christ, who died on the cross to open to humanity the way to salvation.  To face tribulations and dangers, including the loss of life, in order to spread the Christian faith was, from the beginning, a constitutive element of Franciscan sensibility.” Continue reading

Francis and the Crusades – Part 2

crusaders2The previous two articles give the background for Francis of Assisi’s mission during the time of the Fifth Crusade.  The previous article introduced two key ideas that seemed to be part of a strong spiritual movement in Francis’ time: peregrination pro Christo (“wandering for the sake of Christ”) which we would now call “pilgrimage,” and the long-established idea of Christian martyrdom.  We have already seen the friars “wandering for Christ” in their trips throughout central Italy. Continue reading

Francis and the Crusades – Part 1

Crusade-battleOne of the events of Francis’ life that has received scant public attention was his meeting with the sultan of Egypt, Al-Malik al-Kamil in 1219 during the so-called “Fifth Crusade.” This meeting has loomed large in the imagination of the “Franciscan world” because of its effect on the Rule of Life and in the Franciscan charism of missions, but has only recently gained public attention because of the new era of tensions with the Islamic world.  People are surprised to learn that Francis was part of a crusade – a claim that scholars argue to no end as they argue so many other aspects of Francis’ life.  Each side has generally already taken a view of the little poor man from Assisi:  Francis the loyal churchman or Francis the radical reformer.  Those views are often revelatory of how the scholar views the Crusades.  And as with all things, history has a context.

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Francis: the First Missions

Francis-missionsAn earlier article had discussed the problems with the rapid growth of members within in the fledgling community friars.  The period from 1213 to 1216 is the most obscure period in Francis’ life and also one of the periods of explosive growth in the movement as the brotherhood spread well beyond Assisi.  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. Continue reading

Francis and the Word of God

Francis_ClareSmallSeveral weeks ago we described Francis’ love of the Eucharist.  For Francis the Eucharist is the primary way in which he sees Christ’s continuing Incarnation in the world.  It is the sign of the presence of Christ with the Church in his continuing salvific role.  That presence was respected by Francis and was shown by the directions he gave to his own brothers regarding Eucharistic reverence, and that he even directed his missionary brothers to carry pyxes, so if they encountered the Eucharist not properly cared for, they would be able to provide a suitable means to reserve the consecrated hosts.

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