Page 6, 15th July 1983

15th July 1983
Page 6
Page 6, 15th July 1983 — What the first Franciscans said

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People: Clare, Francis


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What the first Franciscans said

Francis and Clare; the Complete Works, translated and introduced by R Armstrong and I C Brady (SPCK paperback £9.50).

THIS BOOK is a contribution to the Classics of Western Spirituality series which aims to give the reader the opportunity of enjoying the original writings of acknowledged teachers of Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions.

The claim of this particular book is that it brings together, for the first time, in English, the complete writings of both St Francis and St Clare.

The format is the same as previous volumes in the series, an introduction to the life, contribution and theology of the individuals together with a general note on the writings themselves. Each particular writing is introduced, and, where necessary, footnotes give added explanation.

There can be little doubt that Francis of Assisi was in his own life time, and has remained through the centuries, a deeply powerful and charismatic figure.

His conversion, after injury in a local feud, and his radical acceptance of poverty provoked both amazement and imitation.

His mendicant style of life and his passionate belief in Gospel poverty was not new, but most of those who had tried to introduce such a way of life had failed to win support and acceptance and had become marginalised before being forced into the exile of excommunication.

Francis succeeded in offering an alternative model of Church at the very time when the papacy was at its most obviously powerful under the unambiguous leadership of Innocent III, and it is to the credit of this Pope that he authorised Francis to form one of the most effective religious orders in the history of the Church.

From his conversion until his death Francis attracted vast numbers of followers, and, perhaps in, the numbers themselves and the consequent need for organisation, there was planted the seed of future discord among the Franciscans especially over the nature and practice of poverty. His writings are relatively few in number, only 28 have been firmly accepted as authentic works of Francis himself, though a small number are added in this volume under the title Dictated Writings which refers to those transmitted through the biographical tradition.

The best known is the Canticle of Brother Sun which demonstrates Francis' simplicity, faith and love of nature. Other writings, including the 'Admonitions' and the Earlier and Later Rules give an insight into the nature of Franciscan life.

All the writings, in different ways, reflect Francis' simplicity, his faith in the Trinity, his loyalty to the Church and his passionate belief in community life which, he maintained, expressed most perfectly the ideals of the Gospel. Throughout his writings there shine through his knowledge, love and assimilation of the Scriptures.

Less well known compared with Francis, St Clare was never the less extremely popular and highly regarded during her own life time as her canonisation in 1255, only two years after her death, testifies.

If her initial request of Francis surprised the latter, he soon recognised her seriousness and perseverence. After a brief spell in a Benedictine convent, Clare went to San Damiano where she was to remain until her death some forty two years later.

Here she attracted like minded people and encouraged them to live an enclosed life of absolute poverty. Enclosure did not protect her from a constant, almost lifelong, struggle to preserve the purity of the Franciscan ideal of poverty, a struggle made more difficult by events among the Franciscans themselves which threatened the unity of the Order.

However, her death, two days after the papal bull finally approving her rule, symbolised the successful end of that arduous and lengthy conflict.

Her writings are few, only five have been universally accepted as attributable to her, though this volume includes four others about which scholars remain uncertain.

Bernard Bickers

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