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Francis, They Hardly Know Ye

Hattip to Elliot Bougis in regard to the below video.  Strong content advisory for the video for anyone who occasionally suffers from Kumbaya flashbacks to the Seventies.

 

 

For the benefit of those who believe that Saint Francis was some sort of medieval precursor to hippies/ecologists/ occupy wall street/new agers:

Like most very great men and women, legends began to cluster about Saint Francis even while he lived.  One of these involved his meeting with Pope Innocent III.

While the Vicar of Christ listened attentively to a parable told by Francis and its interpretation, he was quite amazed and recognised without a doubt that Christ had spoken in this man.  But he also confirmed a vision he had recently received from heaven, that, as the Divine Spirit indicated, would be fulfilled in this man.  He saw in a dream, as he recounted, the Lateran basilica almost ready to fall down.  A little poor man, small and scorned, was propping it up with his own back bent so that it would not fall.  “I’m sure,” he said, “he is the one who will hold up Christ’s Church by what he does and what he teaches.”  Because of this, filled with exceptional devotion, he bowed to the request in everything and always loved Christ’s servant with special love.  Then he granted what was asked and promised even more.  He approved the rule, gave them a mandate to preach penance, and had small tonsures given to all the lay brothers, who were accompanying the servant of God, so that they could freely preach the word of God. 

 

Cf. St. Bonaventure’s Major Legend of St. Francis, III:10

Saint Francis is probably the most popular Catholic saint among non-Catholics.  It is always pleasing of course for Catholics when non-Catholics recognize the heroic sanctity of one of their champions, but in the case of Saint Francis, I fear this popularity among non-Catholics is largely due to a fundamental misunderstanding about Saint Francis.  Saint Francis is often portrayed as a precursor of the modern environmental movement, a pantheist and a pacifist, someone, in short, who was preaching a message in the thirteenth century that accords nicely with twenty-first century liberal secular sensibilities.

Of course none of this is true.   Saint Francis never preached any doctrines in accord with the modern ecological movement and simply was not concerned with those types of issues that were absolutely foreign to his time.  Saint Francis was a completely orthodox Catholic who worshiped God with such intensity that he was the first to receive the stigmata.  Saint Francis never breathed a word against the Crusades and participated in the Fifth Crusade to Egypt.

As popular as Saint Francis is with non-Catholics, Innocent III would likely be equally unpopular if historical ignorance were not so wide-spread today.  He was the most powerful pope in secular matters in the history of the Church.  He made and unmade kings and emperors;  in his pontificate Constantinople fell to western crusaders, although he opposed this;  he began the Albigensian Crusade;  he dominated his age as no pope before or since.  To many moderns Innocent III would be the anti-Saint Francis.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth.  Saint Francis was recognized as a Saint by his contemporaries even while he lived.  His orthodoxy, his dedication to poverty, his burning desire to spread the Faith, and the miracles that sprang up about him all represented to medieval Catholics what a saint should be.  Innocent III likewise represented to medieval Catholics what a pope should be:  an unrelenting champion of orthodoxy, a vigilant guardian of the Church ever willing to call for swords about the Cross to protect the Faith, a personal life marked by piety and charity.  Innocent III was ever the patron of Saint Francis and his new order, seeing in him and his Friars Minor an ardent attempt to live out the perfect way of life called for by Christ.

A Protestant historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay, sums up the partnership that is constantly formed between popes and great saints like Saint Francis throughout the history of the Church:

Far different is the policy of Rome. The ignorant enthusiast whom the Anglican Church makes an enemy, and whatever the polite and learned may think, a most dangerous enemy, the Catholic Church makes a champion. She bids him nurse his beard, covers him with a gown and hood of coarse dark stuff, ties a rope round his waist, and sends him forth to teach in her name. He costs her nothing. He takes not a ducat away from the revenues of her beneficed clergy. He lives by the alms of those who respect his spiritual character, and are grateful for his instructions. He preaches, not exactly in the style of Massillon, but in a way which moves the passions of uneducated hearers; and all his influence is employed to strengthen the Church of which he is a minister. To that Church he becomes as strongly attached as any of the cardinals whose scarlet carriages and liveries crowd the entrance of the palace on the Quirinal. In this way the Church of Rome unites in herself all the strength of establishment, and all the strength of dissent. With the utmost pomp of a dominant hierarchy above, she has all the energy of the voluntary system below. It would be easy to mention very recent instances in which the hearts of hundreds of thousands, estranged from her by the selfishness, sloth, and cowardice of the beneficed clergy, have been brought back by the zeal of the begging friars.

Macaulay saw the lyrics but could not hear the tune.  God makes use in His Church both of great popes and great saints, and wise popes and wise saints understand this, and both Saint Francis and Pope Innocent III were very wise indeed.  So when we remember a great Saint, let us also recall the great Pope who was ever his friend and advocate.  That Saint Francis today is popular while Innocent III, for those who recall him at all, would often be regarded as embodying the worst about Catholicism, says quite a bit about our time and nothing at all about either the Saint or the Pope.

 

 

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

11 Comments

  1. The following image of the dream of Pope Innocent III is displayed in Marytown. St Maximilian Kolbe envisioned the Order of Friar’s Minor Conventional standing along brother Francis helping to support the Holy Church. As lay brothers, Knights of the Immaculata, we join in this noble cause.

    St. Francis of Assisi pray for us.

    https://goo.gl/images/mTLo5a

    I apologise. I’m having difficulty bringing​ the image up into the combox. (Techno-challenged.)

  2. Having once been a Pentecostal Protestant, I learned about St. Francis of Assisi when I first entered the AA Program some 31 years ago. My early AA home group used a rented room in one of the buildings at the monastery in Graymoor, NY where the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement made their headquarters. As I have repeatedly explained in previous posts, my sponsor’s sponsor was a Franciscan priest. He brought me through RCIA and with him I did my first Confession (which was the 5th step – confession – of my first 4th step moral inventory). I was constantly surrounded by Franciscan clerics at meetings. What I was presented with was not a saint of the ecology or environment, but a saint whose example in life showed all of us new AA members how we could escape from alcoholism one day at a time. Father Jack (the aforementioned priest) taught that if we mortify our alcoholism and addictions before the cross as Saint Francis mortified the desires of the flesh, then maybe, just maybe we would stay sober one day at a time. Finally I learned what Bill Wilson wrote about St. Francis in the 12 & 12, a book explaining the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of the Program. Here is Step 11 in that book: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

    And here in that book is a partial explanation of that step using St. Francis as an example:

    Well, we might start like this. First let’s look at a really good prayer. We won’t have far to seek; the great men and women of all religions have left us a wonderful supply. Here let us consider one that is a classic.

    Its author was a man who for several hundred years now has been rated as a saint. We won’t be biased or scared off by that fact, because although he was not an alcoholic he did, like us, go through the emotional wringer. And as he came out the other side of that painful experience, this prayer was his expression of what he could then see, feel, and wish to become:

    “Lord, make me a channel of thy peace— that where there is hatred, I may bring
    love— that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness— that where there is discord, I may bring harmony— that where there is error, I may bring truth— that where there is doubt, I may bring faith— that where there is despair, I may bring hope — that where there are shadows, I may bring light— that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted— to understand, than to be understood— to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.”

    As beginners in meditation, we might now reread this prayer several times very slowly, savoring every word and trying to take in the deep meaning of each phrase and idea. It will help if we can drop all resistance to what our friend says. For in meditation, debate has no place…….

    —–

    You may read the entirety of the 11th step here – start at page 96 and continue to page 105. Each page is numbered alternately in the top right hand and left hand corners except for the chapter title page which is numbered at the bottom.

    http://www.lebanonpaaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/12and12.pdf

  3. “Lord, make me a channel of thy peace— that where there is hatred, I may bring
    love— that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness— that where there is discord, I may bring harmony— that where there is error, I may bring truth— that where there is doubt, I may bring faith— that where there is despair, I may bring hope — that where there are shadows, I may bring light— that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted— to understand, than to be understood— to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.”

    That prayer dates back to 1912. Like most things the modern world connects with Saint Francis there is no real connection with the historic Saint Francis.

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