Francis and Nature, Part II

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

The Promise

ascension-of-jesusWhen I was in seminary, our homiletics professor had lots of advice and pointers for the Sunday homily – I am about to ignore one of the pieces of advice. The professor was pretty adamant about not explaining theology. And I mostly agree with his point – it can make a homily really dry and fill it with language that needs its own explanation. The professor’s final point was that you are likely to give an inaccurate or heretical version of the theology in any case. Continue reading

Why the Incarnation

Duns Scotus1On November 8th, the Church and the Franciscan world celebrate the feast of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a friar and medieval theologian/philosopher.  Not a household name, Scotus is best known for his philosophical writings, but it is his theological perspective that has left the most impact.  His theological writings on Mary form the basis for how we understand the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and his writings on the preeminence of Christ are the basis for the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King. Continue reading

Admonition Eighteen

Who among us wants to be considered condescending? Merriam-Webster defines “condescending” as showing or characterized by a patronizing or superior attitude toward others. I suspect no one is soon volunteering.  In the Franciscan tradition it is a good thing to be condescending or at least condescendere.  St. Bonaventure wrote about the condescendere of God in the Incarnation of Jesus who “stepped down” from his divinity, took on our humanity, took off his cloak and put on a servant’s apron and washed our feet.  It is from that “condescending” position we are called to reach up to our neighbors and serve them.  Such is the posture of compassion.

Admonition Eighteen: Compassion for a Neighbor

1 Blessed in the person who supports his neighbor in his weakness as he would want to be supported were he in a similar situation.

2 Blessed is the servant who returns every good to the Lord God because whoever holds onto something for himself hides the money of his Lord God within himself, and what things he has will be taken away from him.

Why the Incarnation?

Duns Scotus1On November 8th the Church and the Franciscan world celebrates the feast of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a friar and medieval theologian/philosopher.  Not a household name, Scotus is best known for his philosophical writings, but it is his theological perspective that has left the most impact.  His theological writings on Mary form the basis for how we understand the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and his writings on the preeminence of Christ are the basis for the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King.

But it is also his reflection on the primacy of Christ that led to his asking about the Incarnation, or more specifically, why did the Word of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, become flesh.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory.”  (John 1:1,14)  Certainly those verses and others, e.g. Phil 2:5-7, clearly speak to Jesus taking on our humanity, becoming one with us.  But it doesn’t necessarily answer why. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi: A Sacramental View of Nature

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

Francis of Assisi: Francis and Nature, Part II

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