The year is 1221 and at the request of the “cardinal protector” of the friars, Cardinal Hugolino, Francis and several of his brothers have taken up the task of writing a formal rule of life. It was not clear that the Franciscans were actually a “religious order.” When Francis visited Pope Innocent III in 1209, the pope verbally approved (or did he?) a Rule of Life that was written down in few words. In 1216, the 4th Lateran Council ruled that no new religious orders could be formed: all new groups would be absorbed into existing religious orders. Hugolino recognized the uniqueness of the charism of St. Francis and his brothers and was determined that it not be lost to the church. Continue reading
The 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
If 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
After 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
In 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
The 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
Several 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.
Over the last few weeks, we described Francis of Assisi in the role in which he is most popularly recognizable: the lover of nature and animals. Interestingly, this role is not original in the Christian tradition. In a valuable book reviewing the nature stories of Franciscan literature, Edward Armstrong shows that many of Francis’ attitudes have precedents in biblical, early Christian, and medieval ideas about nature. One group of scholars place Francis in the tradition of hermits who retired to wilderness and befriended animals. Others associate him with a theological trend, unfortunately not dominant, which affirms creation as containing intrinsic value. Most see the stories about Francis as having precedents in the already-known lives of saints, although they may have been true of Francis as well. Continue reading
People are surprised to learn that the Early Rule of the friars instructed the brothers not to own pets – as well they were not to ride horses. These rules are only partly about poverty; they encouraged friars not to treat animals as objects or possessions. And, in the case of horseback riding, his rule distanced the friars from the proud world of chivalry. Later in his life when sickness compelled him to ride, Francis always preferred a donkey.
In his own writings, Francis does not adopt images from his experience of nature, rather he took those images from Scripture. In the five passages outside the Rules where he mentions animals, only once does he go beyond the imagery from Scripture, and it is to hold up animals as an example of obedience to God. Continue reading
St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of Italy, merchants, stowaways, ecology, but most famously, of animals. If one searches the internet, you can easily find all kinds of pious, ecologically insightful, and often amazingly-modern sounding quotes from St. Francis. And they are inevitably without a citation from one of Francis’ writings or at least a later Franciscan source writing about Francis. As I noted in the beginning of this series, Francis has always been reinvented and marketed as needed. Perhaps the one book most responsible for casting Francis as the lover of animals and nature is a collection of stories – many miraculous and all very saintly – that first appeared in 1390 in Tuscany: the Fioretti (The Little Flowers). It should be noted that this is about 160 years after Francis’ death.
But can we say about St. Francis, the patron saint of animals? Continue reading