Franciscan spirituality motivates a way of following Christ that is based on the gospels. It embraces a diversity of vocations: lay and clerical, contemplative and active, academic and pastoral, married and celibate. Emerging out of the high middles ages, it emphasizes the humanity of Jesus Christ as the mystery of God's presence in human flesh. After the Second Vatican Council critical editions and new translations of primary sources inaugurated new approaches to study of texts that are foundational for Franciscan spirituality. First among these are the writings of Francis of Assisi, which, although not exclusively, are important for the Franciscans of the First Order. The writings of Clare have also developed in importance for the Second Order of Poor Clares. In regard to the lay movement of the Third Order, which today comprises both the Secular Franciscan Order and many canonically established religious communities, there are a number of important texts. The experience of these early lay Franciscans, who embraced a life of conversion, served the poor and experienced mystical contemplation, have become more important for understanding the foundational Franciscan experience. Angela of Foligno and Jacopone da Todi are here selected as examples of the lay Franciscan penitental movement. The first part of this article will examine the writings of these four figures as examples of the foundational inspiration for the ongoing development of Franciscan spirituality.
The second part of the article will treat initial theological insights and developments offered by three early Franciscan theologians: anthony of padua, bonaven ture, and john duns scotus. The development of the full 800-year tradition of Franciscan spirituality is beyond the scope of this article, but it will conclude by identifying several common characteristics that continue to identify the Franciscan spiritual tradition.
Foundations. Francis of Assisi (d. 1226) acknowledges that his conversion began when the Lord led him to live among the lepers. It was among lepers that the Spirit transformed for him what "seemed bitter … into sweetness of body and soul" (I 124) [cf. Francis of Assisi: Early Documents listed below]. Francis's loving acceptance of those who had been hatefully rejected was his way of "leaving the world" of power, conceit, and its death-dealing divisions. From this point forward, Francis considered himself a "lesser brother," and accepted every human being he encountered as a generous gift of God and, therefore, his brother or sister.
Having found a new home among the lepers and the beggars, Francis found a new home in the Church and a new understanding of Church. He came upon the three abandoned churches in Assisi of St. Mary of the Portiuncula, San Damiano, and St. Peter that were falling into ruin. By rebuilding these churches, he began to care for the wounds of the Church. He was equally at home in the Church and in the houses of lepers. Both places opened his heart to hear the Word of God and to embrace those different from himself. Just as he experienced the cross of Christ in the poverty of lepers, so in the human vulnerability and weaknesses of the larger community— that is Church—he entered into the same mystery of the cross. The first prayer he taught his brothers was an ecclesial prayer: "We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, in all your churches throughout the whole world and we bless you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world" (I 124–25). This is an older liturgical formula that Francis adapted by adding to it his own words: "Lord Jesus, … in all your churches throughout the world," and "holy." For Francis every church and every house of lepers was a place of sacred encounter with the cross of the Lord Jesus.
The church of St. Mary of the Portiuncula was especially important to him because there Francis honored Mary, who first conceived the Word of God by the same Spirit that penetrated his own heart. It was there, in obedience to the command of Christ, he received the Body of Christ she first brought into the world. Only in the Church, where Francis could find the Body of Christ, could he find the source, the beginning, and the power for his gospel life of peace and reconciliation: "I implore all of you brothers to show all possible reverence and honor to the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in Whom that which is in heaven and on earth has been brought to peace and reconciled to almighty God" (I117).
From the houses of lepers and the churches Francis moved into the world with new ears for the Gospel. The more he embraced the Gospel, the more the "poverty and humility of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (I 70) became the concrete and practical plan for his own life. Courageously he announced peace: "Let us pay attention to what the Lord says: 'Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, for Our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose footprints we must follow, called His betrayer a friend and willingly offered Himself to His executioners. Our friends therefore, are all those who unjustly inflict upon us distress and anguish, shame, injury, sorrow and punishment, martyrdom and death"' (I 79). Francis's acceptance of distress and anguish, martyrdom and death were at the heart of his mission to serve the Lord as a "pilgrim and stranger" on the highways and byways of the world. In his Testament Francis acknowledged that he and his brothers in their gospel life and preaching had one greeting for all: "The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say: 'May the Lord give you peace"' (I 125–26).
In his mystical experience of the stigmata on Mount La Verna two years before he died, Francis embraced Christ, his Brother, on the cross. It was an embrace so intimate it marked his flesh. The stigmatized Francis received Christ's wounded flesh in his own flesh. This has often been interpreted as affirmation of his unconditional embrace of what the Spirit revealed to him: "a form of life according to the Gospel." Francis embraced Christ in lepers, in the Church and, ultimately through the stigmata, in himself. On Mt. La Verna he received the gift of ecstatic peace.
After that mystical experience he composed his famous work The Canticle of Brother Sun. In this Canticle, Francis makes it clear that only when brothers and sisters humble themselves with their Brother, who humbled himself on the cross, can they make God's name known. To give praise to God, they must be humble not only before the lepers of the world, the non-Christians across the sea, and before the needs of each other, but they must also be humble before the very earth under their feet and even the sun above their heads. All elements of the created universe are brothers and sisters and share with Francis a common origin from the same God. All creation is called to share in the communion of praise offered by the whole
church together with the Virgin Mary and all the angels and saints. The legacy he left for his brothers was that they were to promote throughout the world The Canticle of Brother Sun as a song of communion and praise. He requested that it be sung before they preach. The Canticle was his message of peace.
Clare of Assisi (d. 1253) was the first woman to follow Francis, and in her own right she became a foundress of the Second Order, a new way of contemplative life for women. She was the first woman to write a rule of life for women. Living with her sisters in the monastery of San Damiano, she emphasized the necessity of peace in their relationships with each other in order that their spirits might soar toward contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnate Word. This is captured in Clare's Fourth Letter to Agnes: "Gaze upon that mirror each day, O Queen and Spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually study your face within it…. Indeed blessed poverty, holy humility andinexpressible charity are reflected in that mirror, as with the grace of God you can contemplate them throughout the entire mirror … that is, the poverty of Him who was placed in a manger … the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labors and burdens that He endured… the ineffable charity that led Him to suffer on the wood of the Cross and to die there the most shameful death" (Cf. Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, 48).
Poverty, humility, and charity are conditions and rewards of a life focused on penetrating the great mystery of how God creates and loves in God's own free and eternal choice for the incarnation of the Son. Contemplation is the shared journey of the sisters into direct experience of the heart of the great Christian mystery of God's love, the Word made flesh. In the "mirror" of that mystery, the sisters see the intimate reality of themselves. Christ, the fullest expression of God's life and love, is the mirror of all that God creates and loves. Contemplation is to ponder, experience, and embrace all that is found in the heart of Christ, who is the perfect example of self-giving love.
Clare's single-minded focus on the great mystery of God's love empowered her and her sisters to "be a mirror and an example for those living in the world" (CA:ED, 55). Their life of contemplation in a bond of peace and free from accumulation of possessions was not only a life for themselves—it was also a life to serve as example for others, calling others into the heart of the mystery of God's greatest revelation of love. In the bull of canonization issued by Alexander IV, he recognized this aspect of Clare's vocation: "Her life is an instruction and a lesson to others who learned the rule of living in this book of life" (CA:ED, 180). Moved by the example of Francis and inspired by the Spirit, Clare and her sisters focused all their energies toward a life of fullest freedom from what is not necessary in order to gaze in the mirror, that is, to know a peace that sees clearly and experiences profoundly God's love revealed in the "ineffable charity" of Christ on the cross.
Angela of Foligno (d. 1309) exemplifies the development of ecstatic experience among Franciscan lay penitent women. After the death of her husband and reception into the Third Order, she directed her attention to the service of lepers, the poor, and the sick. In this she began to perceive and experience how Christ had died for her. Overwhelmed at the gift of God's generous love, she was moved one day to strip herself of all her clothing before the cross: "I was inspired with the thought that if I wanted to go to the cross, I would need to strip myself in order to be lighter and go naked to it." (LaChance, 126). Stripped of her sins and possessions, her spiritual experience becomes intense, affective, and imaginative. Description of these experiences is preserved in her Memorial, the text written by her confessor Brother Arnaldo. To him she poured out her soul between 1290 and 1296, and step by step she describes her sharing in the self-emptying of Christ crucified that lead her through suffering, pain, joy, and darkness to "a state of joy so great that it is unspeakable. In it I knew everything I wanted to know, possessed all I wanted to possess. I saw the All Good. In this state the soul delights in the All Good" (LaChance, 203).
The cross was the inspiration of her prayer and visions, and through these she received the grace to return the love to Christ crucified which he had given to her. In this manner, she experienced the cross deep within herself and she entered intensely into the experience of Christ, who made himself "poor of goods, … poor of friends, … poor of himself to the point of helplessness" (LaChance, 288). Through this self-emptying focus on the cross she entered into a radical new experience of God. She writes: "The more perfectly and purely we see, the more perfectly and purely we love. As we see, so we love. Therefore, the more we see of Jesus Christ, God and man, the more we are transformed into him by love" (La-Chance, 242).
Jacopone da Todi (d. 1306) lived as a lay Franciscan penitent for 10 years after the death of his wife. Although he eventually joined the First Order, his vernacular writing, The Lauds, a poetic diary of his own experience, was shaped by his lay penitential life. Jacapone emphasized that poverty and obedience of the cross are key insights for following Christ: "poverty is having nothing, wanting nothing, and possessing all things in freedom" (Huges, 186). On the cross Christ obediently embraces all that is mortally human and therein the obedience of the cross is recapitulation of all of creation into the peace and harmony of God's eternal plan. So Jacopone exults: "Since I gave my will to God, all things are mine and I am one with them in love, in ardent charity." Jacopone was amazed at the wonder of all the gifts of creation. The more he let them go, the more beautiful they became, and the more he connected to them. His poverty became his peace.
Initial Theological Developments. Anthony of Padua (d. 1231) was among the first of the trained theologians to join the First Order. Francis acknowledged and approved his theological vocation: "I am pleased that you teach sacred theology to the brothers providing that, as contained in the Rule, you 'do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion' during study of this kind" (I107). Anthony captured Francis's vocation of preaching and composed two sermon collections: the Sunday Sermons (1223–30) and the Festal Sermons (1230–31). He gave much of his energy to teaching theology in order to support the mission of gospel preaching. He was a master of the spiritual interpretation of scripture, and he crafted his gospel message to be practical encouragement for people of all vocations. Like Francis, Anthony of Padua taught that the humility, poverty, and suffering of Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel and is the only way to understand and effect among peoples the gospel message of peace. Anthony writes: 'only the poor, that is the humble, have the gospel preached to them, because their emptiness makes them receptive, while the proud are unwilling to receive anything" (Lynch, 28–29).
Bonaventure (d. 1274), especially after his election as minister general of the order, devotes his theological and literary skills to deepen the spiritual insights that flowed from Francis. He applied his interpretations and synthesis of Augustinian theories of exemplarism and illumination to the Franciscan mystical journey. This earned him the title Seraphic Doctor. His spiritual masterpiece, The Journey of the Soul into God, models the pilgrim's contemplative assent after the pattern of Francis's seraphic embrace of the poor crucified Christ. Bonaventure identifies the spiritual journey in a very succinct way: "There is no other path but through the burning love of the crucified" (Cousins, 54).
From the outset of the spiritual journey, Bonaventure insists that the true goal of contemplation is the ecstatic peace of union with God. Since the soul's desire for peace can only be fulfilled through and in a humble desire for God, the text outlines a path to peace through "six levels of illumination by which, as if by steps or stages, the soul can pass over to peace through ecstatic elevations of Christian wisdom" (Cousins, 54). Bonaventure understands peace (pax ) to mean "right order," specifically, the order of divine love as shared within the Trinity and as poured out into creation. Receptivity is the root of the "right order" of peace. Such a vision understands that everything is a pure gift from God and everything is invitation to an intimate sharing of God's love generously poured out upon all creatures. True order is not a static "thing" imposed, but a dynamic relationship of love that is freely shared.
Bonaventure's insistence on the necessity of receptivity for acquiring peace can be seen in how he opens the first chapter: "Here begins the speculation of the poor person in the desert" (Cousins, 59). Like Francis, Bonaventure's journey to God begins in poverty. The inherent poverty of the human person is embedded in the very fact that, as a creature, one is in no way equal to God; rather, the creature, essentially and totally, depends upon God the Creator. This is a poverty of absolute and radical dependency on God, which in turn opens the creature to God, the overflowing giver and source of every good gift. Poverty is fundamentally openness and receptivity. Everything exists not only in relationship to God's loving presence, but since only God can truly fulfill the inherent poverty and need of the created human person, the poverty of created existence reveals also the richness of the divine presence. Ultimately, poverty indicates that all of creation and every creature is a gift freely and generously given.
The journey of the soul ends with the poverty of the cross. The disorder of sin must be reordered by the love of the cross whereby the highest becomes the lowest and the richest becomes the poorest. On the cross God becomes poor. Cruciform love leads the wayfarer into the very core of the mystery of God's self-giving love. Here, the root of the soul's union with God is the poverty of the reciprocal self-emptying of the divine into the human and the human into the divine. The fruit of this union is the soul's transitus into the ecstatic peace of God's love. The two meet and become one through and in the seraphic love of Christ crucified. In the gift of Christ's cross, like Francis, one receives peace.
John Duns Scotus (d. 1308), in his unique approach to the absolute predestination of Christ, offers an important theological cornerstone for the development of Franciscan spirituality. He taught that the mystery of the incarnation resides first and foremost deep in the mystery of the free gift of God's goodness and love. Jesus is the "first born of every creature" (Col 1, 15), and the incarnation of the Word is therefore conditioned neither to creation nor to human sin. Rather, creation itself is ordered within God's eternal design that the Word become flesh. All creation therefore exists because of and for the sake of the gift of the incarnate Christ, who is the full manifestation of God's love. All creation mirrors the gift of God's Word because all exist in view of the incarnate Word, and no human sin can destroy the eternal design that manifests God's goodness. Creation, that is, each and every creature, even in the singular uniqueness or "thisness" (haecceitas ) of each individual reality, is a gift and is infinitely loved by God. Considering, however, the historical reality of sin, this divine love does in fact become redemptive but in the great eternal scheme of God's plan for creation this redemptive aspect is an accidental rather than an essential aspect of God's love for creation. For example, in the third Ordinatio John Scotus writes: "I say that the incarnation of Christ was not foreseen as occasioned by sin, but as immediately foreseen from all eternity by God as a good more proximate to the end. Thus Christ in his human nature is seen as closer to the end [God had in mind in creating]" (McElrath, 153). Scotus' teaching on the Immaculate Conception is to be understood in this context. In the primary mystery and eternal plan that the Word of God is to take flesh, Mary is and remains a model of God's divine original intention.
Characteristics. Poverty. The fundamental disposition of Franciscan spirituality is openness to God, the giver of every gift. It refers everything back to God. Francis of Assisi saw poverty exemplified in Christ and it becomes the gospel value he embraced as he followed the "poverty and humility of Our Lord Jesus Christ." Clare embraced radical poverty to foster a life of contemplation of the poor Christ. Bonaventure taught poverty is the first step of the spiritual journey toward God. Jacopone da Todi believed that poverty was having nothing in order to possess all things in freedom. Subsequently, Spiritual Franciscans John Peter Olivi (d. 1298) and Ubertino da Casale (d. 1341) insisted that strict poverty was key to authentic living of the Rule. With Angelo of Clareno (d.1337), poverty took on an eschatological significance necessary for the renewal of the whole Church. Later in the 15th century, the First Order Observant movement attempted to recapture and promote a simpler life of strict poverty as it was found in the tradition of the rural or more eremitical friaries. John Capistran (d. 1456) and James of the Marshes (d. 1476) were strong promoters for this renewal of poverty in the life of the First Order.
Humility. Francis identified humility as a sister to poverty. Humility is grateful acceptance of God's gifts, especially the gift of God's Son in Word and Eucharist. Both of these aspects of the mystery of the incarnation are sacraments of the humility of God. In the conclusion of his Later Rule Francis writes that the brothers are "to observe the poverty, humility and Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I 106). Poverty and humility not only have gospel implications but also ecclesial ones. The brothers are to live the gospel "submissive and subject" to Holy Church. This humble submission to the Church is consistent with his vision of the gospel life that the brothers no matter where they find themselves are "not to engage in arguments or disputes but [are] to be subject to every human creature for God's sake" (I 89). According to Thomas of Celano (d.1260) the "humility of the Incarnation" describes the process of Francis's conversion and is the identifying characteristic of the spiritual disposition of all the brothers.
Compassion. Clare is the first to mention explicitly two basic characteristics of Franciscan compassion. In her contemplation Clare gazes in the mirror and sees Him "who was placed in a manger" and Him who suffered "on the wood of the cross" (CA:ED, 48). Crib and cross characterize the compassion of Christ who fully embraced the human condition in the helplessness of an infant and in the suffering of a shameful death. This is the compassion of God. In The Major Life of Francis, Bonaventure explains that it is "through compassion [God] transformed him [Francis] into Christ" (II 586). Compassion is the basis for service to the poor. This characteristic was pronounced among Third-Order lay Franciscans. In addition to Angela of Foligno and Jacapone da Todi, St. Elisabeth of Hungary (d. 1231), St. Rose of Viterbo (d.1252), St. Margaret of Cortona (d. 1297) and even St. Louis IX (d. 1270) were notable examples of an active compassion that embraced others in their helplessness and suffering.
Jesus Christ—The Incarnate Word. The characteristics of poverty, humility and compassion flow from the vision and the experience of Christ as he is found in the texts of the gospel. The incarnate Christ in the crib and on the cross is the central spiritual focus that captures the dynamic of Franciscan spirituality. This fosters the affections and, in some cases, encourages ecstatic mystical experiences. As already indicated above, Clare saw Christ as the "mirror" into which one must gaze. Angela threw herself naked on the cross to embrace her Divine Lover. Bernadine of Siena (d. 1444), following the Christcentered spirit of Scotus, preached the holy name of Jesus. In his sermon The Glorious Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ he taught that everything that pertains to salvation and to the glory of the final age is revealed in the name of Jesus: "O glorious name, O gracious name, O lovely and worthy name." St. Leonard of Port Maurice promoted the devotion of the Stations of the Cross as a way to foster affective prayer based on the human suffering of Christ. Francesco de Osuna (d. 1540) developed a method of recollection that placed emphasis on alertness of heart and intensity of desire. Human affections, desire and imagination are all aspects of Franciscan prayer that center on the mystery of the incarnation.
Within this central characteristic of emphasis on the humanity of Christ, the role of Mary is always prominent. The incarnation of the Word of God can never be honored apart from her who conceived the Word and gave the Word human flesh. Francis often praised the "Mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ, Spouse of the Holy Spirit" (I 141), and he even held that to follow Christ in poverty is to follow Mary: "He [Christ] wished, together with the most Blessed Virgin, His mother to choose poverty in the world beyond all else" (I 46). Bonaventure continues the Marian tradition by identifying Mary as the Advocate of the Franciscan Order. Lawrence of Brindisi (d. 1619) in his famous Mariale demonstrates that Marian spirituality flows out of the devotion to the universal primacy of Christ and is directed toward her consent to and participation in the mystery of the Word made flesh. In modern times, Maximilian Kolbe (d. 1941) renewed and further developed this same Marian aspect of Franciscan devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation.
Finally, all these characteristics can be brought together under the umbrella of piety (pietas ). In the modern use of English the word is weak; but in Bonaventure's use of the term, it is a rich use of the ancient Roman word that characterizes familial relationships. In Franciscan spirituality, the virtue of piety reconciles the family of creation. It flows from participation in the mystery of the incarnation: "Truly this is the virtue that binds all creatures together, and gives power to all things having the promise of the life, that now is and is yet to come" (II 595).
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[j. m. hammond/
j. a. hellmann]