I failed History II, with an old faculty friend Bernard Markwell. I was assigned deep research on Saint Francis as pennance.smart kid privledged to the point of frustration
Markwell knew me well.
it wasn't hard to figure out why Saint Francis -
sickness visions absolute devotion to the ideal life of christ
wanders italy in religious ecstacy for decades
inspiring mendicant followers.I did this paper - the claim to fame is the intense research, I used two hundred year old books I found when I was in ireland. It has 67 footnotes.
Unfortuneately, the prose is verbose, unformed, contorted, obtuse. No time to rewrite this shit now, but his story is important, so I present this seventeen year old's composion.
July 1, 1992
The man we know now as St. Francis was born in a troubled age. Johannes Jorgensen described it thus: "Francis grew up in warlike times. Emperor was opposed to pope, prince to king, village was against village and burgher against noble."0 Many merchants, however, were able to reap large benefits from trade with neighboring countries, and such a man was Pietro Bernardone, Francis's father. He was able to provide Francis with the best of everything, and for the first score years of his life, Francis took full advantage of these benefits and options. He grew up a product of troubled times and then developed the strength of character to change the path of Christianity for years to come. With his devotion to poverty, his quiet, solitary prayer and his moments of religious ecstacy, his later life directly contrasted with the life he lead so fully in his youth and the lives of many of the religious personnel of his time.
In the twelfth century, when Francis lived, many of the church's workers had hidden themselves away from the needy and the sick, and were using church funds to enhance the quality of their own lives. Many in the church in Francis's time were without spiritual direction, and much of the rest of Italy and Europe was experiencing a sort of spiritual stagnation. In the midst, indeed, in the thick of this materialism and mercantilism, Francesco Bernardone was born as the first of three sons of a rich merchant, Pietro Bernardone ("Francis had two younger bothers, but these are no more than mentioned and play no part in his story"1). Pietro, though he was a man of much local status, lived in a time when it was impossible for anyone to rise above their born caste, except economically, because "...in those days there was a very clear distinction drawn between the merchant, or burgher class, no matter how rich and educated they might be, and those people who belonged to some noble house, even although they were quite poor."2
Francis's father spent much of his career trading in France, where he met his wife, Donna Pica, and it has been said that that was what inspired him to change his son's name from Giovanni to Francesco (Francis) immediately following birth. Whether it was that, or the boy's friends calling him Francesco for often singing songs in French (taught to him by his mother), the name stuck.
To say he grew up privileged would be understating the wealth of the world in which Francis grew up. Although his father was not able to join the ranks of the nobility because of his birth, Francis was almost immediately assimilated into the ranks of the aristocracy. His father afforded Francis everything, including the best education, which he pursued with little enthusiasm, "His education appears to have been of the slightest, even for those days."3 What Francis excelled at, however, was leading local ruffians in their pursuits of sordid adventure. As G.K. Chesterton said, "Francis was one of those people who are popular with everybody in any case; and his guileless swagger as a Troubadour and leader of French fashions made him a sort of romantic ringleader among the young men of the town."4 He seemed naturally suited to this role, and pursued it with a general good nature: "His youth does not seem to have been marked by serious moral lapses; nevertheless, an exuberant love of life and a general spirit of worldliness made him a recognized leader of the young men of the town."5
But there was another side of Francis, one that was not shared by his peers. In an incident that G.K. Chesterton calls "the shortest and sharpest summary that could be given of certain curious things which were a part of his character, long before it was transfigured by transcendental faith,"6 Francis's early predilection for helping the poor is borne out, along with his tendency toward extreme gestures. The incident occurred while he was in the markets, selling bolts of his father's cloth. As Francis was arranging a deal with another merchant, a beggar approached and interrupted their conversation. In the public markets of the twelfth and thirteenth century, that was an unpardonable thing for a person to do. The beggar was dispatched, the deal was concluded, and then, Francis chased after the beggar, leaving his father's cloth behind. Reaching the man, Francis showered him with money, and "swore before God that he would never in all his life refuse help to a poor man."7 We see that, "...Francis always kept a fundamental decency, the honorable behaviour of a well-bred man; he even showed considerable sympathy for the sufferings of others."8 Although "...he was the recognized leader of the young men of the town in their revels; he was ... always conspicuous for his charity to the poor."9 The 1895 Chamber's Encyclopaedia suggests that this may not have been so much intended charity as simply another extension of his desire to spend: "In his early years he was remarkable for his love of gaiety and ostentatious prodigality; but even then his bounty to the poor was one the largest channels of his wastefulness."
Regardless of intent, Francis was unusually courteous towards the poor. But like all things in his youth, he dealt with his charity in a haphazard and carefree way, not with the seriousness with which he would embrace 'Lady Poverty' later in life. So he was initially able to balance the life of an aristocrat and a philanthropist, "...every one liked the lad, for, although he might be extravagant and pleasure-loving, he was neither conceited nor insolent. And he was so kind-hearted and generous that he would empty his purse into the hand of any needy beggar quite as cheerfully as he would have emptied it in order to buy something for himself."10
But at some point, this young man underwent a conversion radical enough to bring out the man he was in later life. Unlike many other religious heroes, Francis did not have his heart set on the Lord from the beginning. Rather, "Over and above his main ambition to win fame as a French poet, he would seem to have most often thought of winning fame as a soldier."11 Pursuing the latter aspiration, in 1202, Francis, then seventeen, headed off to fight for his native Assisi against neighboring Perugia. He was soon taken prisoner, and spent more than a year in a castle dungeon fifteen miles from his hometown. The amount of time, and the date he was released, are the subject of varying opinion, but seem to lay either in 1203 or 1204.
Francis seemed impervious to his imprisonment and he managed to maintain high spirits: "...in all the gloom and misery of the dark prison he never lost his cheerful, merry ways, but was just like a sunbeam, keeping the others from losing courage, and amusing them by his light-hearted talk, and harmless jokes."12 He returned from his capture to his home city, where he lived on in much the same way he had before his capture, "Being a prisoner of war had apparently changed neither his attitude to life, nor his determination to be a famous and successful soldier."13 Indeed, Jorgensen stresses his return to a life of leisure and merry-making:
"The long intercourse with the noble prisoners seems to have affected the young merchant's heart with a greater attachment to the ways of life of the nobility than ever, which in the years following the imprisonment (1203-1206) become very evident in him. It was now that he became a disciple of the 'gay science' of Provence; it was now that he submerged himself in the whirl of festivities and enjoyments..."14
He continued this life of adolescent pleasure-seeking for a few years following his return.
Then sickness came to him. Biographers have identified this sickness as either an instance of divine intervention, a self-induced illness due to depression, or a result of his submergence in the "whirl of festivities and enjoyments." Regardless of its causes, the illness that incapacitated Francis for those months was to have a profound influence on the course of his life. John Holland Smith makes the case for the self-induced sickness:
"Francis's illness and depression thus marked his first attempts to adjust to the 'threat' to his ego from within. He withdrew from the world, to fight the interior battle for control of his own destiny. ... Celano says that God deliberately made him ill 'putting a stop to his false thinking by making his soul unhappy and his body sick': the whole man, body and mind, was involved in his struggle for survival."15
Elizabeth Grierson, on the other hand, hints at a more divine occurrence, stating that "...we see that in that quiet time [the time of his sickness] God was beginning to call him in a dim mysterious way, which at first he did not understand."16 The most likely position is simply that, "...a serious and prolonged illness fell upon him, during which he entered into himself and became dissatisfied with his way of life."17
Francis was incapacitated for several months with something probably not unlike tuberculosis. During that time, he reportedly had several dreams and visions that left him with an altered view of his former lifestyle. Many of the accounts of this illness report some sort of an intense spiritual awakening, but Jorgensen portrays something other than immediate conversion:
"For even now he was a long way from conversion. He had realized his soul's barrenness, but he had found nothing with which to fill it. As his convalescence progressed and his strength returned, in such measure did he return to his worldly life, and trod again the same paths as before his sickness. The only difference was that he had no enjoyment now in the life he led. There was a sort of unrest in him, that gave him no peace; there was a thorn in his soul that ceaselessly irritated him. More than ever he dreamed of great deeds, of strange adventures and of achievements in strange and distant lands."18
Echoes of this were to be seen later in his life when, after Francis became the esteemed leader of a new religious order, he sought to visit the East and convert the Arabs.
The vacancy left by his abandonment of his role as juvenile pariah was filled by a religious fervor brought about by his slow conversion. It was not, however, a typical conversion. As John Holland Smith said, "[The conversion of Francis] was not directly connected with any church organization, or the personality of any winning clergyman, but had a universality the importance of which cannot be overemphasized."19 Many accounts, particularly Bonaventure's official biography of the life of the Saint, emphasize the divine nature of the conversion, that is, the talking crosses, the dramatic visions, and the opportune timing of the sickness that overtook him. Thomas of Celano wrote that God forced sickness upon Francis, 'putting a stop to his false thinking by making his soul unhappy and his body sick' and 'God suddenly decided to deal with him...For some time, he was laid low by sickness, the just deserts of human perversity'. But Francis's conversion was borne from his own spirit. As John Holland Smith says, "He was 'converted' from within."20 If there were indeed voices of visions, they were manufactured by Francis's subconscious:
"The decisive period in his development had come. In the terms of Jungian psychology, his ego-consciousness was suffering an invasion from the depths of the unconscious mind, the undifferentiated self that we all share, the ground substance of our human nature and mind. Such an invasion is bound to lead, for better or worse, to apparent personality changes, at least until it is accepted. In Francis's case, the invasion was so overwhelming, so shattering, that by the time its effects were fully apparent, his ego had all but ceased to exist."21
This change, along with the visions and his own imagined "wedding" to "Lady Poverty" ("...he especially devoted himself to poverty, which, in the mystic language thenceforth familiar to him, he designated as 'his bride'..."22), are all important on their own in the study of Francis's rise to sainthood. But over-analysis of the conversion diminishes the magnitude of its significance. The sheer impossibility and totality of his conversion should be emphasized. Francis went from a lifestyle of a lustful soldier nobleman who enjoyed the prurient side of life, to a nature loving hermit who spent his time wandering from town to town talking to Jesus and caring for lepers. Whether the change occurred as a result of a revelation within his own psyche, or as a result of divine intervention, it was nonetheless a most profound transformation, and one that should be noted for its uniqueness. Few people manage to go from bourgeois revelry to a devoted following of the true principles embodied in Christ. As Leclercq, Vandenbroucke and Bouyer stated, "it has even been said that no other saint has come as close to Christ as Francis. What makes him so attractive...is that he led, uncompromisingly, the life of the Gospel..."23
Francis began his new life with a literal interpretation of a vision he had in which, while he was walking near the church of San Damian's, he felt drawn in and entered to pray. During his prayer, a heavenly voice spoke to him, "Francis, do you not see that my house is falling into ruin? Go, and repair it for me." Francis, immediately seized by the power of the voice, gave what money he had to the priest, and set out to rebuild the church. This mission was initially a great boon for Francis because "At long last Francis had something active, tangible and comparatively easy to do."24 After the initial donation, he collected some of his father's cloth and rode off to the market, sold the cloth and the horse and went back to San Damian's to offer the priest more money. The priest was suspicious of Francis's pecuniary advances, given his reputation for mischievousness, and so Francis left the money at the church for the priest.
Meanwhile, his father had heard of what he had done, and in a gesture that demonstrated his incredible temper, Pietro assembled a posse of his friends and left for San Damian's. Francis ran and hid in a cave outside of town for a month's time, during which food was brought to him by a trusted member of his family's house. Francis displayed an uncanny fear of his father and manifested none of the strength of spirit and character so characteristic of saints.
But he was to leave the cave a different man as "Darkness and isolation worked their usual effect on a susceptible mind. He entered the cave hunted, afraid and miserable. Suddenly, after so many days alone, he was 'filled with an ineffable joy' which 'so inspired him' that he left his lair and went boldly back to the city."25
When he returned to society, Francis had taken on the look he was to have for the rest of his days. His time spent in the cave had made him "emaciated with hunger and squalid with dirt."26 He walked into town, "followed by a hooting rabble, pelted with mud and stone, and otherwise mocked as a madman."27 His father was there to greet him. In the heat of anger, Pietro grabbed Francis, dragged him to the house, beat him and threw him into a dark closet, where Francis remained until his mother released him in his father's absence. He returned to San Damian's until he was called to city consuls by his father. There, before the bishop of the district, Pietro stated his case that his son should give over all the gold he had given to the church and should relinquish all property that had been the father's.
Francis not only turned over all the gold, but removed his clothing and left it on the floor to stand naked before those assembled. Besides giving back everything he had that could have possibly belonged to his father, Francis also renounced his family ties, saying, "Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only 'Our Father who art in Heaven.'" John Holland Smith tries to persuade us to view the scene from Pietro's point of view,
"... the scene is horrifying; Francis not only totally rejects him, but also publicly sneers at him, doubly insulting him by stripping naked, both flouting convention and scornfully refusing to be further contaminated by what he had worked to earn and enjoyed giving. The action is not that of a praiseworthy man, but a self-willed child. The surprising thing is that when Francis behaved so badly, he was not fifteen but twenty-five."28
John Holland Smith's perspective seems to have been personal ("Perhaps only a father whose son had so contemptuously dropped out of his world could describe Pietro Bernardone's feelings adequately..."29). Striking a less extreme chord, Maynard calls it simply "... a sign that his renunciation was absolute."30 The truth probably lies in Chesterton's assessment:
"There was a new air about Francis. He was no longer crushed, still less crawling, so far as his father was concerned; yet his words do not, I think, indicate either just indignation or wanton insult or anything in the nature of a mere continuation of the quarrel. They are rather remotely akin to mysterious utterances of his great model, 'what have I to do with thee?' or even the terrible 'Touch me not.'"31
It was a gesture to leave his old life behind, "And that was the way Francis took leave of his family."32
Pietro, a fit of rage, gathered the clothes and stalked out of the building. The bishop covered Francis in his cloak, and Francis finally departed in a farmhand's tunic, "It was cold, and he was now, very definitely, alone."33 This was to be the start of his life as a wandering beggar priest, a life that was to last for twenty more years.
After a false start as a simple wanderer, heading north and stopping at the town of Gubbio, where he looked after lepers for some time, Francis returned home to St. Damian's. There, after the priest had agreed to put him up for a while, Francis continued his work restoring the church. He begged in the city for stones and lamp oil for the church, and then, returning to the church, he would work in exchange for food and lodging. Soon, the church was almost fully repaired and Francis no longer wished to live off the priest. So, once he had finished, Francis returned to the city to beg for stones for other churches, but this time, he was begging for scraps of food from the townspeople he had once known.
Once, after he had finished rebuilding a particular church, a group of grateful monks nearby sent over one of their brethren to celebrate mass in the church, with Francis in attendance. The gospel that day had been selected from Matthew 10:5-15, in which Christ tells his followers,
"Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You receive without paying, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, not copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the labourer deserves his food."34[Italics mine]
This changed Francis's mission, "Francis had made great spiritual progress and received much light since beginning his life of penance and charity; but this time, he felt that God had taken away the last veil and finally illuminated his path."35
After hearing and reflecting upon this passage from the gospels, Francis abandoned the cloak, shoes, pouch and staff he had been carrying, and, "As his new dress he chose a very rough tunic, worn over breeches, which he fastened around his middle with a small cord: one tunic and one only."36 This change of attire also marked a change in Francis's direction and mission, "Francis knew now that it was not to build chapels that God was calling him, but to co-operate in the restoration of the Church. So he lost no time in setting joyfully to work to preach penitence."37 Memorizing the gospel that had so inspired him, he began to walk about and preach. This can be seen as simply a reinterpretation of God's message to him in as much as "Francis [had before taken] the message literally. He did not see that it had even a greater meaning. The great house of God was threatened on all sides by the lust of power and wealth which had crept into the very sanctuaries. The crucified Christ had called Francis to build up the very walls of the universal church."38
Though he had found a new medium by which to "rebuild the church," he did not have high aspirations, rather,
"He wanted to preach Christianity, and he wanted to do it in a way that would be most effective for the men of his own time. He was not a social or religious reformer in any overt sense of the term. ... There is no instance in all of the records of his life that he ever spoke as a conscious reformer. There is abundant evidence that his very life was meant to be a sermon of reform."39
He was merely a man, taken by a deep-rooted love of God, who wished to spread his happiness around. The church was not his enemy, necessarily, but he chose his style based upon the visions he had when he was sick, which were probably manufactured by his psyche as a form of rejection of his previous values. He truly believed that to face the world as a beggar was to live closer to God. As Pope John Paul XXIII said, 'Francis wanted to possess God so completely, he was willing to give up everything else in the world'. This calls to mind Paul's letter to the Philippians, in which he says:
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him..."40
The life that he chose was the most risky and harsh he could have selected. Life in Europe during the Dark Ages was often hard to bear, even for the rich. Plague and disease were sweeping the land, and feuds between petty landlords threw tiny provinces into disastrous wars. It was certainly not a pleasant time to be poor, and there is a danger of writing off the poverty Francis experienced, "There was nothing romantic about this concept of voluntary poverty. Hunger, deprivation, cold, and misery, when fully experienced, simply are the stuff not of romance but of reality."41
Though one would not suspect this demanding lifestyle and absolute devotion to God would attract many followers,
"Francis ... was an unusually attractive penitent. Although, as has been noted, he threw himself into this new role with his usual wholeheartedness and accepted not only the conventions but the spirit of the pact, his natural gaiety and high good humour would keep breaking through."42
And it was not long before he attracted a group of followers. "Bernard of Quintavalle, a magnate of the town, was the first to join Francis, and he was soon followed by Peter of Cattaneo, a well-known canon of the cathedral."43 The group soon acquired a fourth, and continued on in the same way as Francis had been preaching, this time breaking into groups of two by two.
Soon the group again multiplied, this time taking in eight more men, to bring the following to eleven. Upon reaching this plateau, Francis drafted the first rule for all his followers, which has been lost. Once this rule was drafted and the group was formed, they applied to Pope Innocent III for the approval of the Holy See. But for two circumstances, their efforts would have failed. By the first lucky stroke, the Bishop of Assisi was "in town" to recommend Francis to the pope. The second was a dream the pope had in which he envisioned Francis standing under the weakened body of the Lateran ("the church of the pope as bishop of Rome"44) and holding it up. The pope's sanction of their activities was the impetus they needed, and soon they had settled down somewhat in a church near Assisi, where "the first Franciscan convent was formed by the erection of a few small huts or cells of wattle, straw, and mud, and enclosed by a hedge."45 From this base, the Franciscans continued to cross the land in groups of two, spreading the word of the gospels.
The next few years in Francis's life are marked by a few important events. The Franciscans received many new followers (and were thus expanded beyond Francis's wildest dreams), but one stands out above the rest, a young woman named Clare, who "...came from an old, noble, and warlike stock, the Sciffi"46 who were an aristocratic family of Assisi. Clare's mother raised her and her sister "...in such a manner that the girls were early taught to spend much time in prayer, to care for the poor, and to think less of themselves than of others." Clare then was then raised to be another Francis. Despite the objections from members of her family ("...neither the Count nor his numerous male relations wished to see either of the girls enter religion."47), Clare met with to Francis and beseeched him to let her join his order. He agreed, cut her hair, gave her a tunic, and turned her over to a group of nuns until a woman's community could be formed. Eventually, after many of her relatives and friends had joined her, Clare was able to move her group into a church adjoining that of Francis, "...which thus became the first monastery of the Second Franciscan Order of Poor Ladies, now known as Poor Clares."48
E.M. Almedingen points out that Clare was the embodiment of Francis's idea of "Lady Poverty", "He had served his Lady Poverty from afar. Now her embodiment was found to walk the same earth as was trodden by his own feet."49
During this time following his sanction by the pope, Francis "... grew convinced that God required his presence away from Italy, and his hunger to see the Holy Land deepened."50 So, between 1213 and 1215, Francis attempted to join the struggle to convert and overcome the Saracens of Syria and the Arabs of Morocco. He was turned back before he reached his destination both times, but these efforts show that the yearnings of the adventurer in Francis still remained.
Following this period, flaws began to appear in the structure of the Franciscan's organization. Not only did many of the Friars Minor possess books and other things, but some of Francis's underlings made organized attempts to sanction this. As a response, Francis wrote the Rule of 1221, which laid down the three main tenants for his followers, those being obedience, poverty and chastity, with particular emphasis placed on poverty. The original version, however, was lost (perhaps deliberately misplaced by one of Francis's lieutenants), and thus the rule had to be rewritten by Francis, which he proceeded to compile into more compendious form. His emphasis on poverty, which was a reaction to the Franciscans's drift from it, grew to be a major point of contention following his relinquishing leadership of the order in 1224.
This turmoil frustrated Francis, and he found himself losing his voice to other, younger leaders in his own church. Though these deviations can be attributed in part to the group's new 'cosmopolitan' status, "Francis's peculiar religious genius was probably not adapted for the government of an enormous society spread over the world, as the Friar's Minor had now become."51 Perhaps the problem also lay in the fact that the Franciscans were now too big, as Francis himself said, "Would that there were fewer Friars Minor, and that the world should so rarly see one as to wonder at their fewness!"
Despite the group's eventual fading from St. Francis's strict adherence to poverty, "...in spite of all the troubles and dissensions and strivings that have marred Franciscan history, the Friars Minor of every kind have in each age faithfully and zealously carried on St. Francis's great work of ministering to the spiritual needs of the poor."52 For example, "Some idea of the extraordinary extension of this remarkable institute may be formed from the startling statement that, in the dreadful plague of the Black Death in the [fourteenth] century, no fewer than 124,000 Franciscans fell victims to their zeal for the care of the sick and for the spiritual ministrations to the dying."53
As he grew older, Francis's desire to run the order shrank, and his desire to pray in solitude grew. Following this desire, he retired from his rule of the order and went to the top of a mountain called La Verna. There, during a forty day fast, Francis received the Stigmata, or wounds of Christ,
"...there appeared on his body the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified which, says an early writer, had long since been impressed upon his heart. ... The saint's right side is described as bearing an open wound which looked as if made by a lance, while through his hands and feet were black nails of flesh, the points of which were bent backward."54
Francis was to receive the Stigmata with failing health and eyesight so poor he was effectively blind.
Francis left the mountain and headed for Assisi where it was sure that he would breathe his last breaths. There he dictated the "Canticle of the Sun," the first poem in the Italian language, a salute to nature and the glory of God. This consumed much of the two years between his return and his death in 1226. He was to add one final stanza which foretold the coming of "Sister Death," and shortly later, he was lead from this earth by her hand. It was October third, 1226, and Francis was forty-five. He left behind thousands of followers and an organization that needed his spiritual guidance more than ever at the time of his death.
Anyone considering the life of St. Francis must note that:
"In a process that began in the last years of his life and greatly accelerated after his death, some very basic ideas of Saint Francis (especially on poverty, the question of higher education for his brothers, ecclesiastical privilege) had not only suffered neglect but were ultimately modified or legislated against. There were sporadic attempts to revive the ideals of Francis, but they met with powerful resistance. Men who did attempt to revive these earlier ideals, such as the spiritual Franciscans, were harassed into untenable positions or persecuted out of existence. The Franciscans became, in a relatively short time, a properly bound monastic group which, for whatever good the order did do, bore little resemblance to the more or less unstructured life preached by Francis and his earlier followers."55
In spite of this, Francis was not a failure in his life mission. His example of leading a simple, pure life close to Christ was to become the blueprint for much of monastic life in the Middle Ages. His energy and devotion to the teachings of Jesus reinvigorated the Catholic church at a time of its greatest need. Before Francis, G.K. Chesterton describes the church thus, "The Church looked old then as now; and there were some who thought her dying then... In truth orthodoxy was not dead but it may have been dull; it is certain that some people began to think it dull."56 and, "It is likely enough that after all those centuries of hopeless war without and ruthless asceticism within, the official orthodoxy seemed to be something stale. The freshness and freedom of the first Christians seemed then as much as now a lost and almost prehistoric age of gold."57
Omer Englebert said of St. Francis, "No one, though, ever loved his homeland more than he did or was more beloved by its people."58 Francis earned the love and respect he had by the end of his life. Indeed, he was so popular that his canonization was sped through quickly, and two years after his death, he was called Saint Francis of Assisi and his feast was marked as the fourth of October. "...he is the one saint whom all succeeding generations have agreed in canonizing. ...he is the one saint whom, in our day, all non-Catholics have agreed in canonizing. Certainly no other has so appealed to Protestants and even to non-Christians."59
Jesus's words to his disciples initially inspired Francis to his radical poverty, and they also foretell the violent course of Francis's life and the strength of character resulting from the struggle,
"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that house' for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved."60
We cannot know whether Francis was indeed "saved," but he became a leader of men, a paragon of religious devotion, and a true spokesman of Christ in his time. And though he became all these things, he never became haughty, or intellectual, nor did he revel in the pleasure of being a leader. In fact, the opposite was true, he refused even to embrace common forms of knowledge and study:
"He ignored and in some degree discouraged books and book-learning; and from his own point of view and that of his own work in the world he was absolutely right. The whole point of his message was to be so simple that the village idiot could understand it. The whole point of his point of view was that it looked out freshly upon a fresh world, that might have been made that morning. Save for the great primal things, the creation and the Story of Eden, the first Christmas and the first Easter, the world had no history."61
If anything, "...he feared the Lady Learning as a rival of the Lady Poverty."62 Through his attitude, Francis attempted to maintain the purity of his message. He felt so deeply imbued with a sense of the mission of Christ that "It is probably true to say that no one has ever set himself so seriously to imitate the life of Christ and to carry out so literally Christ's work in Christ's own way."63 His resounding popularity and role as a source for both religious and secular inspiration even today are testament to his success.
Despite his strict adherence to the laws he designed, Francis truly enjoyed his work, and his faith. This only serves to make his faith all the more respectable; in spite of his severe devotion, a "...striking feature of Francis's character was his constant joyousness; it was a precept in his rule, and one that he enforced strictly, that his friars should be always rejoicing in the Lord."64
Was St. Francis simply, as commentator Pat Buchanan articulated, "the pacifist with the pigeons"? Or was the 1792 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica correct when it interpreted Francis's spirituality as "...an extravagant kind of devotion, that looked less like religion than alienation of mind."65 I think these two phrases cast St. Francis in an overly simplified light, and perhaps narrowminded. His strength of character is borne out singularly by his ability to maintain adherence to vows against property in the face of the growing successes of the Franciscan religious organization. Compared to his modern day counterparts, and especially compared to today's mainstream religion hawkers, the "Televangelists," Francis is truly a Saint, and one worthy of much respect and admiration.
And though his form of religious observance may have been extreme (he admitted to living life in a constant state of religious ecstacy), Francis was able to transcend all that was petty around him, the material possessions, family struggles, societal acceptance, to live as close to Jesus as he could. Some writers have used these incidents in Francis's life to draw similarities between Francis and other modern day groups. For example, Joseph Roddy's66 casting of Francis as Hippie, or other suggestive parallels between him and some sort of an extreme religious fundamentalist, or even a social worker, but,
"It would be a mistake to think of Francis as a philanthropist or a 'social worker' or a revivalist preacher, though he fulfilled the best functions of all of these. Before everything he was an ascetic and a mystic - and ascetic who, though gentile to others, wore out his own body by self-denial, so much so that when he came to die he begged pardon "brother Ass the body" for having unduly ill treated it: a mystic irradiated with the love of God, endowed in an extraordinary degree with the spirit of prayer, and pouring forth his heart by the hour in the tenderest affection to God and our Lord. St. Francis was a deacon but not a Priest."67
Francis went to the extremes he did because he truly believed and loved God in his heart, and his extreme devotion to his religion has remained unparalleled to this day.
Though it may be impossible to do justice to the state of religious bliss he lived in, one has only to compare him to the mammon-seekers of the later church, and many of today's religious organizations, to understand the great heights to which he aspired and attained. This in the face of the type of ostentatious wealth that people today, like Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker, flock to. It is inconceivable to imagine that these two worship the same God and pray under the same precepts as Francis. If there is a heaven, Francis will be welcoming us in, while the P.T.L. members will be enjoying the flesh-searing heat of eternal damnation in the hell for hypocrites.
Almedingen, E.M., St. Francis of Assisi, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1967
Butler, Rev. Alban, The Lives of the Saints, (Now Edited, Revised and Copiously Supplemented by Herbert Thurston, S.J., and Donald Attwater), Burnes, Oates, & Washbourne, Ltd., London, 1936
Chambers, William and Robert, Chamber's Encyclopaedia, William and Robert Chambers, Ltd., London and Edinburgh, 1895
Chesterton, G.K., St. Francis of Assisi, Doubleday & Company, New York, 1924
Cunningham, Lawrence, Brother Francis (An Anthology of writing by and about St. Francis of Assisi), Harper & Row, New York, 1972
Egan, Maurice Francis, Everybody's St. Francis, The Century Co., New York, 1912
Englebert, Omer, Saint Francis of Assisi: A Biography, Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1965
Grierson, Elizabeth W., The Story of St. Francis of Assisi, A.R.Mowbray & Co., London, 1912
Herbermann, Charles G., Pace, Edward A., Pallen, Conde B., Shahan, Thomas J., and Wynne, John J., The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Universal Knowledge Foundation, New York, 1909
Jones, Cheslyn, Wainwright, Geoffrey, and Yarnold, Edward, The Study of Spirituality, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986
Jorgensen, Johannes, Saint Francis of Assisi (A Biography), Longmans, Green and Co., New York, 1912
Knowles, David and Obolensky, Dimitri, The Middle Ages, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1969
Leclercq, Jean, Vandenbroucke, Francois and Bouyer, Louis, The Spirituality of the Middle Ages, The Seabury Press, Minneapolis, 1968
May, Herbert G. and Metzger, Bruce M., The Holy Bible (New Oxford Annotated), Oxford University Press, New York, 1971
Maynard, Theodore, Richest of the Poor, Doubleday & Co, Garden City, N.Y., 1948
Mockler, Anthony, Francis of Assisi, The Wandering Years, Phaidon, Oxford, 1976
Smith, John Holland, Francis of Assisi, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1972
Stein, Jess, The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Random House, New York, 1979
Moore's Dublin Edition: Encyclopaedia Britannica, James Moore, No. 45, College-Green, Dublin, 1792, Volume VII
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th Edition, 1926, Volume 10
Gwinn, Robert P., The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., Chicago, 1991, Volume 4
0Johannes Jorgensen, Saint Francis of Assisi, page 18 1Theodore Maynard, Richest of the Poor, page 72 2Elizabeth W. Grierson, The Story of St. Francis of Assisi, page 5 3Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th Edition, 1926, Volume 10, Page 937 4G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi, page 55 5Robert P. Gwinn, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition, Volume 4, page 926 6G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi, page 56 7Ibid, page 58 8Jean Leclercq, Francois Vandenbroucke and Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the Middle Ages, page 288 9Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th Edition, Volume 10, Page 937 10Elizabeth W. Grierson, The Story of St. Francis of Assisi, page 6 11G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi, page 59 12Elizabeth Grierson, St. Francis of Assisi, page 8 13John Holland Smith, Francis of Assisi, page 32 14Johannes Jorgensen, Saint Francis of Assisi, page 20 15John Holland Smith, Francis of Assisi, page 33 16Elizabeth Grierson, The Story of St. Francis of Assisi, page 9 17Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th Edition, 1926, Volume 10, Page 937 18Johannes Jorgensen, Saint Francis of Assisi, page 21 19John Holland Smith, Francis of Assisi, pages 34-35 20Ibid, page 33 21Ibid, page 32-33 22Chamber's Encyclopaedia, Volume IV, Page 794 23Jean Leclercq, Francois Vandenbroucke and Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the Middle Ages, page 284 24Anthony Mockler, Francis of Assisi, The Wandering Years, page 79 25John Holland Smith, Francis of Assisi, pages 35-36 26Charles Herbermann, The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Volume VI, page 222 27Ibid, page 222 28John Holland Smith, Francis of Assisi, page 43 29Ibid, page 43 30Theodore Maynard, Richest of the Poor, page 61 31G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi, pages 79-80 32Omer Englebert, Saint Francis of Assisi, page 78 33Anthony Mockler, Francis of Assisi, page 83 34Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, The Holy Bible (New Oxford Annotated), Matthew 10:5-10 35Omer Englebert, Saint Francis of Assisi: A Biography, page 85 36Anthony Mockler, Francis of Assisi: The Wandering Years, page 101 37Omer Englebert, Saint Francis of Assisi: A Biography, page 86 38Maurice Francis Egan, Everybody's St. Francis, Page 39 39Lawrence Cunningham, Brother Francis, page xiv 40Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, The Holy Bible (New Oxford Annotated), Philippians 2:5-9 41Lawrence Cunningham, Brother Francis, page xiii 42Anthony Mockler, Francis of Assisi: The Wandering Years, page 103 43Charles Herbermann, The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Volume VI, page 222 44Jess Stein, The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, page 809 45Charles Herbermann, The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Volume VI, page 222 46E.M. Almedingen, St. Francis of Assisi, Page 105 47E.M. Almedingen, St. Francis of Assisi, Page 105 48Charles Herbermann, The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Volume IV, page 223 49E.M. Almedingen, St. Francis of Assisi, Page 104 50E.M. Almedingen, St. Francis of Assisi, Page 111 51Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th Edition, 1926, Volume 10, Page 938 52Ibid, Volume 11, Page 3 53Chamber's Encyclopaedia, Volume IV, Page 792 54Charles Herbermann, The Catholic Encyclopaedia, Volume VI, page 226 55Lawrence Cunningham, Brother Francis, page xv-xvi 56G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi, pages 70-71 57Ibid, page 71 58Omer Englebert, Saint Francis of Assisi: A Biography, page 82 59Rev. Alban Butler, The Lives of the Saints, page 38 60Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, The Holy Bible (New Oxford Annotated), Matthew 10:16-22 61G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi, pages 223-24 62Rev. Alban Butler, Lives of the Saints, page 50 63Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th Edition, 1926, Volume 10, Page. 938 64Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th Edition, 1926, Volume 10, Page 938 65Encyclopaedia Britannica, Moore's Dublin Edition, Volume VII, Page 447 66Joseph Roddy, "The Hippie Saint", Look, April 20, 1971, pp. 32-37 67Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13th Edition, 1926, Volume 10, Page 938