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Lincoln Rogers
Lincoln Rogers

St Francis of Assisi: His Life and Legacy in His Own Words



The Writings of St Francis of Assisi




St Francis of Assisi (c. 1181Oct. 3, 1226) is one of the most beloved and influential saints in the history of Christianity. He was the founder of the Franciscan order, a champion of poverty, a lover of nature, and a mystic who bore the wounds of Christ on his body. He is also known for his writings, which express his spiritual vision and practical wisdom in simple and poetic language. In this article, we will explore some of his most famous writings and their significance for his life and legacy.




The Writings of st Francis of Assisi



Introduction




Who was St Francis of Assisi?




St Francis was born in Assisi, a town in central Italy, to a wealthy merchant father and a noble mother. He was baptized Giovanni, but his father nicknamed him Francesco, meaning "the Frenchman", because of his love for France. As a young man, he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and dreamed of becoming a knight. However, after a series of events that included a war, a captivity, an illness, and a vision, he felt called by God to renounce his worldly possessions and follow Christ in poverty and simplicity. He began to preach repentance and peace, and soon attracted many followers who shared his ideals. He founded three orders: the Friars Minor (the first order), who lived in community and served the poor; the Poor Clares (the second order), who were cloistered nuns; and the Third Order (the secular order), who were lay people who followed Francis's rule in their daily lives. He traveled widely, preaching the gospel to people and animals alike. He also visited the Holy Land, where he met with the Sultan of Egypt in an attempt to end the Crusades. He received the stigmata, or the marks of Christ's wounds, in 1224, two years before his death. He was canonized by Pope Gregory IX in 1228.


Why are his writings important?




St Francis's writings are important for several reasons. First, they are among the earliest examples of Italian literature, written in the vernacular rather than Latin. They show Francis's mastery of various literary forms, such as hymns, rules, testaments, admonitions, and letters. Second, they are authentic expressions of Francis's spirituality and personality. They reveal his deep love for God, his reverence for creation, his joy in suffering, his humility in service, his obedience to authority, and his compassion for all creatures. Third, they are sources of inspiration and guidance for millions of Christians throughout history and today. They have influenced many spiritual movements and leaders, such as the Franciscans, the Poor Clares, St Clare of Assisi, St Bonaventure, St Anthony of Padua, St Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri, Giotto, Martin Luther, St Ignatius of Loyola, St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, St Thérèse of Lisieux, Pope Francis, and many others.


What are the main themes of his writings?




St Francis's writings cover a variety of topics, but some of the main themes that emerge are:


  • Praise and thanksgiving to God for his goodness and beauty.



  • Love and care for creation as a reflection of God's glory and a gift to humanity.



  • Poverty and simplicity as a way of imitating Christ and sharing in his cross.



  • Humility and obedience as a way of honoring God and submitting to his will.



  • Peace and harmony as a way of living in accordance with the gospel and respecting all creatures.



  • Service and charity as a way of following Christ's example and showing his love to others.



  • Conversion and repentance as a way of turning away from sin and turning toward God.



The Canticle of the Sun




What is the Canticle of the Sun?




The Canticle of the Sun is one of the most famous and beautiful hymns in Christian literature. It is also known as the Canticle of the Creatures or Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures). It was composed by Francis in 1225, when he was suffering from a serious illness and blindness. He dictated it to one of his companions, Brother Leo, who wrote it down. It is a song of praise to God for all his creatures, especially those that Francis considered his brothers and sisters: the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the air, the water, the fire, the earth, and death. It also includes a prayer for peace and forgiveness among people. It is considered one of the earliest expressions of environmental awareness and appreciation in Western culture.


How does it express Francis's love for creation?




The Canticle of the Sun expresses Francis's love for creation in several ways. First, it uses familial language to address the elements of nature, calling them brothers and sisters. This shows Francis's sense of kinship and intimacy with them, as well as his respect and gratitude for their roles in sustaining life. Second, it attributes qualities and virtues to each creature, such as beauty, splendor, brightness, strength, humility, purity, usefulness, warmth, fruitfulness, etc. This shows Francis's recognition and admiration of their intrinsic value and dignity, as well as their reflection of God's attributes. Third, it acknowledges that each creature praises God by being itself and fulfilling its purpose. This shows Francis's awareness and celebration of the diversity and harmony of creation, as well as his desire to join them in glorifying God.


How does it relate to his stigmata and death?




The Canticle of the Sun relates to Francis's stigmata and death in several ways. First, it was composed shortly after he received the stigmata on Mount La Verna in 1224. The stigmata were a sign of Francis's mystical union with Christ in his passion and resurrection. The canticle expresses Francis's joy in sharing in Christ's sufferings and hope in sharing in his glory. Second, it was sung by Francis on his deathbed in 1226. He added a final stanza to praise Sister Death, whom he welcomed as a friend rather than feared as an enemy. The canticle expresses Francis's readiness to depart from this world and enter into eternal life with God. Third, it was sung by his followers at his funeral in Assisi. The canticle expresses Francis's legacy of love and peace that he left behind for his order and for the church.


The Rule of 1221




What is the Rule of 1221?




How does it describe the Franciscan way of life?




The Rule of 1221 describes the Franciscan way of life in terms of three evangelical counsels: obedience, poverty, and chastity. It also specifies some concrete aspects of how the friars should live out these counsels in their daily activities. For example:


  • Obedience: The friars should obey their superiors, the pope, the bishops, and the clergy. They should also obey each other without complaining. They should avoid disputes and quarrels and seek peace with everyone. They should not preach without permission and should respect the doctrines and traditions of the church.



  • Poverty: The friars should not own anything individually or collectively. They should live by working or begging for their food and clothing. They should be content with simple and coarse garments and shoes. They should not accept money or handle it in any way. They should share everything in common and be generous to the poor.



  • Chastity: The friars should observe perfect chastity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. They should avoid all occasions of sin and temptation. They should be modest and respectful in their words and deeds. They should love God above all things and their neighbors as themselves.



How does it reflect Francis's humility and obedience?




The Rule of 1221 reflects Francis's humility and obedience in several ways. First, it shows his submission to the authority of the church and his willingness to conform his rule to its norms and requirements. He sought the approval of Pope Innocent III for his rule and promised to obey him and his successors. He also incorporated some elements from other existing rules, such as those of St Benedict and St Augustine, into his own rule. Second, it shows his deference to his fellow friars and his desire to serve them as a brother rather than a master. He gave them freedom to choose their own ministers and guardians, who were to be elected by a majority vote. He also gave them permission to adapt their rule according to their needs and circumstances, as long as they did not deviate from its spirit and essentials. Third, it shows his recognition of his own limitations and faults and his dependence on God's grace and mercy. He admitted that he was not learned or eloquent enough to write a perfect rule, but he trusted that God would inspire him and his brothers to follow it faithfully. He also asked for forgiveness for any errors or omissions he might have made in writing his rule.


The Testament of 1226




What is the Testament of 1226?




The Testament of 1226 is one of the last writings of Francis before his death. It is not a legal document or a revision of his rule, but a personal statement of his convictions and experiences. It is also a reminder and an exhortation to his brothers to remain faithful to their original vocation and charism. It was written in Assisi, where Francis was staying at the bishop's palace, suffering from various illnesses and preparing for his final departure.


How does it summarize Francis's spiritual journey?




The Testament of 1226 summarizes Francis's spiritual journey in terms of three key moments: his conversion, his approval by the pope, and his reception of the stigmata. These moments mark the stages of his transformation from a worldly man to a follower of Christ.


  • Conversion: Francis recalls how he was led by God to renounce his father's wealth and embrace a life of poverty among lepers. He also remembers how he restored some churches in Assisi, especially the chapel of St Mary of the Angels (the Porziuncola), where he founded his order.



  • Approval: Francis recounts how he went to Rome with his first companions to seek the pope's blessing for his rule and way of life. He also mentions how he received a vision of Christ telling him to go and preach penance.



  • Stigmata: Francis describes how he received the marks of Christ's wounds on his hands, feet, and side on Mount La Verna in 1224. He also reveals how he kept this miracle secret until his death.



How does it address the challenges facing his order?




The Testament of 1226 addresses the challenges facing his order in terms of two main issues: the observance of poverty and the preservation of unity. These issues were becoming more difficult and controversial as the order grew in numbers and diversity.


  • Poverty: Francis insists that his brothers should not own anything, either individually or collectively, and that they should not accept any privileges or exemptions from the church or the secular authorities. He also warns them against the temptations of money, property, learning, and prestige. He urges them to be content with simple and humble things and to trust in God's providence.



  • Unity: Francis appeals to his brothers to love one another and to avoid divisions and conflicts. He also advises them to respect their ministers and guardians, who are appointed by God to guide them. He encourages them to follow his rule and example, as well as the teachings of the gospel and the church.



The Admonitions




What are the Admonitions?




The Admonitions are a collection of 28 short texts that Francis wrote for the instruction and edification of his brothers. They are also known as the Exhortations or the Counsels. They were composed at different times and occasions, but they were probably compiled by Francis himself or by one of his close companions. They contain moral and spiritual advice on various topics, such as humility, charity, prayer, obedience, patience, purity, peace, etc. They are based on Francis's personal experience and knowledge of the Scriptures and the church fathers.


How do they offer practical advice for Franciscans?




The Admonitions offer practical advice for Franciscans in several ways. First, they provide concrete examples and illustrations of how to live out the Franciscan ideals in everyday situations. For instance, Francis explains how to deal with insults, injuries, temptations, doubts, etc. Second, they challenge the friars to examine their conscience and motives and to correct their faults and vices. For example, Francis warns them against pride, envy, greed, anger, etc. Third, they inspire the friars to aspire to higher levels of holiness and perfection. For instance, Francis exhorts them to imitate Christ's humility, poverty, obedience, love, etc.


How do they illustrate Francis's biblical wisdom and insight?




The Admonitions illustrate Francis's biblical wisdom and insight in several ways. First, they show his familiarity and love for the Scriptures, especially the gospels. He quotes or paraphrases many passages from both the Old and New Testaments to support his arguments and teachings. Second, they show his ability to interpret and apply the Scriptures to his own context and circumstances. He draws lessons and implications from the biblical stories and characters for himself and his brothers. Third, they show his gift of discernment and prophecy. He reveals a deep understanding of God's will and plan for his order and for the church. He also foresees some of the future problems and crises that his order will face.


The Letters




To whom did Francis write letters?




Francis wrote letters to various recipients, such as:


  • His fellow friars: He wrote letters to the whole order or to specific groups or individuals within it. He addressed them as brothers or sons and gave them instructions, encouragements, corrections, blessings, etc.



  • His female followers: He wrote letters to St Clare of Assisi and her sisters at San Damiano (the Poor Clares), as well as to other women who belonged to the Third Order or who sought his guidance. He addressed them as sisters or daughters and gave them advice, praises, prayers, etc.



What topics did he cover in his letters?




Francis covered various topics in his letters, such as:


  • His spiritual teachings and exhortations: He wrote about the importance of faith, hope, love, humility, poverty, chastity, obedience, prayer, penance, peace, joy, etc. He also quoted and explained many passages from the Scriptures and the church fathers.



  • His personal experiences and feelings: He wrote about his conversion, his vision of Christ, his stigmata, his illness, his death, etc. He also expressed his gratitude, affection, concern, sorrow, etc. for his correspondents.



  • His practical matters and requests: He wrote about the organization and administration of his order, the approval and observance of his rule, the appointment and obedience of his ministers and guardians, etc. He also asked for prayers, advice, help, etc. from his friends.



How do they reveal his personality and emotions?




Francis's letters reveal his personality and emotions in several ways. First, they show his simplicity and sincerity of style and language. He wrote in Italian rather than Latin and used familiar and affectionate terms to address his recipients. He also avoided rhetorical devices and embellishments and wrote directly and clearly. Second, they show his warmth and tenderness of heart and spirit. He wrote with love and compassion for his brothers and sisters and showed interest and care for their well-being. He also shared his joys and sorrows with them and asked for their forgiveness and blessing. Third, they show his zeal and enthusiasm for God and his gospel. He wrote with passion and conviction about his mission and vocation and urged his followers to do the same. He also praised God for all his gifts and wonders and invited everyone to join him in worshiping him.


Conclusion




In conclusion, Francis's writings are a precious treasure for the church and the world. They reveal the depth and beauty of his spirituality and personality. They also inspire us to follow his example of holiness and service. As Pope Francis said in his encyclical Laudato si' (2015), which takes its title from Francis's Canticle of the Sun:


"I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology...He shows us just how inseparable is the bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace." (LS 10)


FAQs




  • What are the main sources of Francis's writings?



  • How many writings did Francis compose?



  • What are some of the literary genres that Francis used in his writings?



  • What are some of the challenges that scholars face when studying Francis's writings?



  • What are some of the benefits that readers can gain from reading Francis's writings?



Answers




  • The main sources of Francis's writings are manuscripts that contain collections or fragments of his texts. Some of these manuscripts date back to the 13th century or earlier. The oldest surviving manuscript is Codex 338 from Assisi (c. 1230-1240), which contains 13 texts by Francis.



  • The exact number of writings that Francis composed is not certain, as some texts are attributed to him with more or less certainty than others. However, most scholars agree that he wrote at least 28 texts: 1 rule for friars (1223), 1 rule for nuns (1219-1220), 1 testament (1226), 6 letters (1215-1226), 28 admonitions (1209-1226), 1 canticle (1225), 5 prayers (1209-1226), 1 office (1224-1225), 1 letter to a city (1212), 1 letter to a custodian (1220), 1 letter to a minister (1220), 1 letter to a chapter (1220), 1 letter to a cleric (1220), 1 letter to the faithful (1215), 1 letter to the whole order (1220), 1 letter to St Clare (1215), 1 letter to Brother Leo (1224), and 1 blessing for Brother Leo (1224).



  • Some of the literary genres that Francis used in his writings are hymns, rules, testaments, admonitions, letters, prayers, canticles, offices, and blessings. He also used various literary forms, such as prose, poetry, dialogue, parable, allegory, etc.



  • Some of the challenges that scholars face when studying Francis's writings are: the scarcity and diversity of the manuscripts; the variations and errors in the texts; the difficulties of dating and authenticating the texts; the influences and interpolations of other authors; the linguistic and cultural differences between Francis's time and ours; the interpretation and application of Francis's teachings to different contexts and situations.



  • Some of the benefits that readers can gain from reading Francis's writings are: a deeper knowledge and appreciation of Francis's life and legacy; a greater understanding and admiration of Francis's spirituality and personality; a stronger inspiration and motivation to follow Francis's example of holiness and service; a richer experience and expression of Francis's love for God and his creation.




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