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St. Francis of Assisi: They Pretended to Love You So that They Might Leave You

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Saint Francis of Assisi:

They Pretended to Love You So That They Might Leave You

 “In no one has the image of Christ our Lord and the ideal of Gospel life been more faithfully and strikingly expressed than in Francis. For this reason, while he called himself ‘the Herald of the great King’, he has justly been styled ‘the second Christ’, because he appeared like Christ reborn to his contemporaries no less than to later ages.” (Pope Pius XI, Rite Expiatis)

*(Note): What follows is the first and second installments in a three-part series on St. Francis.

 

I believe that we have to go back to the Thirteenth Century in order to understand the crisis which has now largely decimated the Catholic Church. What happened almost eight hundred years ago instituted a spiraling process of betrayal which culminated in the chastisement from God which we have experienced as the post-Vatican Council II Church. That we now think Vatican II to be the source of this crisis, rather than its fruit, serves to indicate the degree to which self-delusion is the mistress of such betrayal. The darkness which has collectively descended over the Catholic mind, and the resultant ignorance in regard to the roots of its own illness, is now almost universal.

The thirteenth century was “The Greatest of Centuries,” not primarily because it was the century in which there were great Saints, magnificent cathedrals, Catholic monarchs, or even because it was the century in which all the principles of Catholic Faith and Catholic life were, to a significant extent, incarnated into the institutions of society. These “fruits” (to the limited extent to which they were realized) were derivative, rather than causative. Rather, it was the greatest of centuries because it was in this century that God bathed both human intellect and will in the transparent light of His own presence to the world. By so doing, he infused into our cultural “vision” an iconography of the perfect ordering of these two faculties towards both the created and the Divine orders. The two primary vehicles of this revelation were St. Francis and St. Thomas. And this, not primarily because of their personal holiness, but because of the double-vision of life (the living of the Beatitudes) and Truth which God revealed through them.

Correspondingly, the roots of that spiritual decay which has increasingly penetrated Christian civilization over the past 7-8 centuries, and which has now culminated in the virtual death of this civilization, can be identified with two causative factors: 1) the stripping away from St. Francis of his Religious Order through the destruction of the ideal of Poverty, in which the Gospel light of purity of heart [which “sees God”] was manifested to the world in all its fullness; and, 2) the rejection of the purity of Thomistic Metaphysics, which contained the intellectual framework and vision absolutely necessary to our perception of the transparency of all creation, and therefore also integral to this vision of God’s presence in the world. This twofold violation – of Franciscan Poverty and Thomistic Metaphysics – in turn engendered a war between Franciscan and Dominican spirituality which has been perpetuated down through the centuries. Such conflict could only have happened through a falsification of the charisms of both Orders. As Francis and Dominic literally embraced in their own lives, so did God intend the embrace of Franciscan and Dominican (especially in the form of Thomism) spirituality to endure until the end of time.

The Thirteenth century was poised on the cusp of the Renaissance, and the flood of pagan concupiscence and intellectual pride which was about to inundate Christendom. In the heart of this threatened world, God planted the two gifts of Franciscan Poverty and Thomistic Realism as Icons of Love and Truth, the vision of which would infuse every aspect of human culture with all that was necessary to protect it from these evils. These Gifts were rejected, and this rejection initiated a fundamental posture of prostitution towards the world which, like a slow-moving cancer, has eaten away at the heart of the Church for centuries. Wrongly, therefore, do we now wail at the post-Vatican II ruin of our Catholic world as though it were a sudden calamity unjustly inflicted. As we shall see, ours is a chastisement long merited.

In previous articles, we have dealt more extensively with the Gift of Thomas, and its rejection. Most of this article will focus on St. Francis, but with some emphasis on integrating the visions of these two great Saints.

 

St. Francis: The Key to Catholic Restoration

“Here the broad highway of the old world changed into the narrow way to life eternal.”

The above-quoted passage, taken from the early life of St. Francis titled The Mirror of Perfection (Speculum Perfectionis – to be designated here as SC)), speaks of that moment of God’s radical intervention in human history which was the life of St. Francis of Assisi. The great, tragic irony is that, despite the immense popularity of the Saint himself, even during his lifetime, this grace was almost immediately compromised and falsified by many who claimed to be his friends.

It may indeed seem disproportionate to place so much spiritual and historical importance upon one man, and the particular grace to the Church and the world which he represented. It would seem of value therefore to begin with the evaluation of Francis made by Popes in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries who saw in the following of St. Francis the great hope for the restoration of Christian civilization, and the defeat of all those forces which threatened its destruction. In his encyclical Rite Expiatis (On the Seventh Centenary of the Death of St. Francis), Pope Pius XI wrote:

“…in no one has the image of Christ our Lord and the ideal of Gospel life been more faithfully and strikingly expressed than in Francis. For this reason, while he called himself “the Herald of the great King,” he has justly been styled “the second Christ,” because he appeared like Christ reborn to his contemporaries no less than to later ages….”

Pope Benedict XV, in Sacra Propediem, expressed similar sentiments:

The words of St. Paul, ‘Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ,’ we may justly apply to Francis, who by following Christ has become His most perfect image and likeness.”

Popes such as Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XI all saw in this “following” of St. Francis something that was the key to overcoming the crisis of the present age:

“[St. Francis] has been appointed by Our Predecessor [Pope Leo XIII] as heavenly patron of the so-called Catholic Action, being a man destined by God for the reformation not only of his own turbulent age but of Christian society in all times.” (Rite Expiatis).

This translated into a call from these Popes for virtually all Catholics to join the Third Order of St. Francis:

We do urge all Christians not to be behindhand in joining the ranks of this soldiery of Christ.” (Leo XIII, Auspicato).

Urge those who have not yet entered this distinguished militia to do so this year. And let those who are too young become Cordbearers of St. Francis so that even the children may grow accustomed to the life.” (Rite Expiatis).

In other words, the gift of God which is the life and ideal of St. Francis of Assisi is to be seen not only as of a sort of general inspiration and motivation towards holiness, as is the case with all saints, but for a very specific purpose – for salvation of Christian civilization from all those forces which intend its destruction.

We should be startled by this assessment. No one could possibly conclude that the Franciscan Order of today possesses the power or grace to reform or save Christian civilization. The application of such terms as “militia” and “soldier” to the Franciscan Order now seems for the most part laughable, and the notion that children should be “Cordbearers” in such a militia seems even more absurd. Something happened which virtually destroyed the power of this inestimable gift from God. In order to understand this “something”, we need to penetrate to the heart of Francis’ life and ideal, and then unravel the betrayal which ensued.

 

An Icon in Stone

It is appropriate, I think, to begin with an iconographic depiction of this grace and its betrayal.

Four kilometers from Assisi is the Basilica ofSanta Maria degli Angeli, the seventh largest church in Christendom, built over and around the original home of the Franciscan Order. Within this magnificent and massive structure, and directly under the cupola, stands a tiny church (only 22’ X 13’6”) called the Portiuncula (the word translates as “little portion of land”). The Portiuncula is the singular place on this earth most beloved to St. Francis; it is where he founded his Order, and where he passionately desired the most perfect preservation of his ideal. And, in St. Francis’ own words, “Of all the churches in the world that the blessed Virgin loves, she bears the greatest love for this one.” (Legend of Perugia, 9 – hereafter abbreviated LP)).

It is especially important to understand that the Portiuncula was never owned by Francis or the Order. To this day, the Franciscans pay an annual rent of one basket of fish to the Benedictines for its use.

The ideal which St. Francis desired to be preserved in this most holy of Franciscan sites was the Franciscan charism of Poverty. We must realize that Francis’ ideal of Poverty soared far beyond the evangelical counsel of poverty which we associate with the religious life. His “Lady Poverty” extended to all that is human – both interior and exterior. It encompassed the entirety of the Gospel – the mystery of Christ assuming absolute servitude and poverty for our salvation: God, poor in His birth, poor in His life and public ministry, and embracing absolute Poverty in His Death. As emphasized by Popes Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI, Francis’ charism of poverty penetrated to the heart of the perfect imitation of Jesus Christ: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58).

Because St. Francis considered the Portiuncula to be “holy, beloved, and chosen before all others by Christ and the glorious Virgin” (SP, 55), and because he intensely desired that the Portiuncula be the example and model for all the rest of the order, he gave minute instructions before his death for the preservation of this ideal. These instructions applied first of all to all those practices which cultivate the interior life of holiness – silence, prayer, holy conversation, physical labor, fasting and other forms of physical mortification. Especially, he sought to keep this place free from worldly conversation and news, and free from all that is not edifying. He gave specific instructions as to the qualities needed in the clergy and friars who were to reside and serve here, and he stated, “I do not wish anyone else, whether layfolk or friars, to enter this place, except the Minister General and the lay-brothers who serve them.” (Ibid.).

During St. Francis’ life, the General Chapter was held at the Portiuncula. The only dwelling that the friars had for their gathering was a small, poor hut covered with straw, the walls being constructed of branches and mud. Francis returned from one of the provinces to find that the citizens of Assisi had hastily erected a larger building for their use. Francis’ response was radical and drastic. He ordered his brothers up on the roof, and they began tearing off the tiles and throwing them to the ground, with the intention of demolishing the whole building. The citizens of Assisi finally persuaded Francis to desist from his project of demolition, employing the argument that this particular building belonged to the community of Assisi, and was not in any way to be perceived as the property of the Friars Minor.

At another time, the Minister General (most likely Francis’ Vicar, Brother Elias) decided to build two small houses close to the Church of the Portiuncula because of the increasing number of brothers and general population who came to this place, and because “it was practically impossible for them to provide for the needs of physical health and their spiritual life.” (LP,12)). Upon returning from a journey, and having discovered this construction almost completed, Francis sent for the minister general and said to him: “Brother, this friary is the model and mirror of our Order. So that the brothers of the entire Order who come here may take back to their friaries the good example of poverty, I wish that the brothers of this friary bear with inconvenience and disturbance for the love of the Lord God rather than experience tranquility and consolations.”

There is therefore no question that the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in all the various dimensions of its physical and spiritual grandiosity, amounts to a profound betrayal of St. Francis. One cannot help but call to mind the words of Our Lord: “Woe to you who build the monuments of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.” (Luke 11:47). The difference here being that with the tragedy which has befallen the Portiuncula, it was not St. Francis himself who was slain, but his ideal.

 

The Franciscan Ideal

Francis knew that what God intended to accomplish through his Order was something radically different from all other religious Orders. In his Testament, written shortly before his death, and designed not as another rule, but “that we may observe in a more Catholic way the Rule we have promised to God, ”St. Francis wrote the following:

When God gave me some friars, there was no one to tell me what I should do; but the Most High himself made it clear to me that I must live the life of the Gospel. I had this written down briefly and simply and his holiness the Pope confirmed it for me [this early Rule has been lost]. Those who embraced this life gave everything to the poor. They were satisfied with one habit which was patched inside and outside, and a cord, and trousers. We refused to have anything more…The friars must be very careful not to accept churches or poor dwellings for themselves, or anything else built for them unless they are in harmony with the poverty which we have promised in the Rule; and they should occupy these places as strangers and pilgrims [no ownership]. In virtue of obedience, I strictly forbid the friars, wherever they may be, to petition the Roman Curia, either personally or through an intermediary, for a papal brief, whether it concerns a church or any other place, or even in order to preach, or because they are being persecuted… They should always have this writing [the Testament] with them as well as the Rule and at the chapters they hold, when the Rule is read, they should read these words also. In virtue of obedience, I strictly forbid any of my friars, clerics or lay brothers, to interpret the Rule or these words, saying, ‘This is what they mean.’ God inspired me to write the Rule and these words plainly and simply, and so you too must understand them plainly and simply, and live by them, doing good to the last.”

St. Francis envisioned such poverty for both individual friars and the Order as a whole. He gave strict orders that all friars must beg, that they must never touch money, that they must labor with their hands, they must never ride an animal unless sickness or old age demands such mercy, that all buildings must be extremely poor and constructed only of mud and wood, that they must not own books or pursue learning, etc.

As the Order grew in numbers, these demands became insupportable to Brother Elias and many of the provincial ministers. The Speculum Perfectionis offers an account of an incident which occurred quite late in life, during the period when he was writing the Rule of 1223. It is worth quoting in full, since it presents to us the Francis that very few wish to know:

“After the second Rule written by blessed Francis had been lost, he went up a mountain (Monte Colombo, near Rieti) with Brother Leo of Assisi and Brother Bonizo of Bologna, to draw up another, and under the guidance of Christ he had it written down. But many Ministers came in a body to Brother Elias, the Vicar of blessed Francis [Francis had resigned], and said, ‘We hear that Brother Francis is drawing up a new Rule, and we fear that he will make it so harsh that it will be impossible for us to keep it. So we would like you to go and tell him that we are not willing to be bound by this Rule. Let him make it for himself, and not for us.’ But Brother Elias feared a rebuke from the holy Father, and refused to go. And when they all pressed him, he said that he would not go without them, so they all went together.

When Brother Elias approached the place where blessed Francis was standing, he called to him. And when he had answered and saw the Ministers, he asked, ‘What do these Brothers want?’ Brother Elias said, ‘They are Ministers, who hear that you are drawing up a new Rule, and they fear that you intend to make it too hard. They refuse to be bound by it, and ask you to make it for yourself, and not for them.’

At this blessed Francis raised his face to heaven and spoke to Christ, saying, ‘Lord, was I not right when I said that they would not believe me?’ And all present heard the voice of Christ answer from heaven, ‘Francis, nothing in this Rule is yours; for all is Mine. I wish the Rule to be obeyed to the letter, to the letter, without a gloss, without a gloss. I know what the frailty of man can achieve, and I know how much I intend to help them. So let those who are not willing to obey the Rule leave the Order.’ [Emphasis mine]

Then blessed Francis turned to the friars and said, ‘You have heard! You have heard! Do you want this to be repeated?’ And the Ministers confessed their fault and went away confused and terrified.” (SP, 1).

Elias and the Ministers of course had a reasonable concern – reasonable at least from the perspective of every worldly concern imaginable. The Order had grown astronomically. There were all the issues of housing, feeding, government, discipline, etc. normally associated with such a large organization. It was only natural for the Church hierarchy, including the Pope, to desire that the Order be established as an efficient organization for ministry and missionary activity. All this seemed impossible under Francis’ radical prohibitions against everything which insured any sort of stability or security for the Order, or which failed to provide security in regard to the “necessities” of life. Over and over again, we find Francis reiterating the same prescription for being a Friar Minor: “I assure you, brother, that it has been and remains my first and last intention and desire – had the brethren only believed me – that no friar should possess anything but a habit, a cord, and an undergarment, as our Rule allows.” [sometimes he would add ‘shoes in the case of necessity’].

It is extremely important to understand that the objections raised by Elias and the Ministers, and the rationale used to justify these objections, were fully understood by St. Francis, and completely rejected by him. Francis received assurance directly from Christ that this extreme ideal of Poverty was the will of God for the Franciscan Order, no matter how large the Order became or what difficulties might be encountered with the increase and spread of the Order. The early life of St. Francis titled Mirror of Perfection recalls the following incident:

When the Friar Ministers urged him to allow the friars to possess something, at least in common, so that so great a company might have some resources, blessed Francis called upon Christ in prayer, and took counsel with Him on the matter. And Christ at once answered him, saying, ‘It is My will to withhold all things from them, both in general and in particular. I will always be ready to provide for the family, however great it may become, and I will always cherish it so long as it shall trust in Me.” (SP, 13).

The simple, historical fact is that many provincial ministers, Minister Generals like Elias and St. Bonaventure, and future Popes, chose to trust neither Francis nor Christ.

The rejection of the Gift of God which was St. Francis and his ideal was not the accomplishment of men who intended evil towards the Franciscan Order, but rather a work of benighted love coming from his friends. Ministers and Popes (except, apparently, Innocent III) simply did not understand what God intended to do through St. Francis, and did not believe that his ideal could be realized on the scale of a large Religious Order. Francis’ response was simply to resign.

It is rationally incontestable that the life of no other Saint has been falsified to the extreme extent as has been the life of St. Francis. As we have seen, the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels is an icon of this betrayal in stone. But the falsification courses deep into every aspect of Francis’ life and message. This is especially true of the conventional rational given for his resignation as head of the Order.

Francis’ illness was certainly a sufficient excuse justifying his resignation, but it was not the determining reason. Responding to a question from one of his friars concerning this matter, Francis said:

I put the Order back in the hands of God and of the ministers. I relinquished my post and resigned, excusing myself at the general chapter because my sickness would not allow me to care for the brothers. And yet, if the brothers had walked and were still walking according to my will, I would prefer that they have no other minister but myself until the day of my death. In fact, when subjects are good and faithful, when they know and fulfill the will of their superior, then the superior has scarcely any anxiety concerning them. What is more, I would experience such joy seeing the quality of the brothers and such comfort at the thought of our progress that I would let them have their own way and I would feel no added burden, even if I were nailed to a bed through sickness.

My duty, my mandate as superior of the brothers, is of a spiritual order because I must repress vices and correct them. But if through my exhortations and my example I can neither suppress nor correct them, I do not wish to become an executioner who punishes and flogs, as the secular arm does. I have confidence in the Lord that they will be punished by invisible enemies (those valets of the Lord in charge of punishing in this world and in the next those who transgress God’s commandments); they will be punished and corrected by the men of this world to their great shame and confusion, and in that way they will return to their profession and vocation.” ( Legend of Perugia, 76).

The Mirror of Perfection relates a similar question from one of the friars, and records the following response of Francis: “For some of the superiors pull them in another direction, holding up to them as patterns the men of long ago, and disregarding warnings. But what they are doing and the way in which they are now acting will appear more clearly in the end.” The author then closes his account of this incident with the following:

And shortly afterwards, when he was burdened with severe illness, he raised himself in bed, and cried out in vehemence of spirit, ‘Who are these who have torn my Order and my friars out of my hands? If I come to the General Chapter I will make my intention clear!’”

Having established the fact of St. Francis’ consuming passion for total Poverty, and its absolute centrality in regard to the Gift which God intended as the Franciscan Order, we need to penetrate to the reasons for this love.

 

Sacrum Commercium

Possibly the most revealing and enchanting of all the early works on the life of St. Francis is a work composed in the year 1227 (one year after Francis’ death), titled Sacrum Commercium. The title literally means “holy commerce or exchange.” It is an allegory depicting Francis’ romance with Lady Poverty, penetrating to the depths of the meaning and centrality of this virtue, and examining its history among men.

The Prologue to Sacrum Commercium begins as follows:

Among all the excellent and excelling virtues that prepares in man a place and a dwelling for God and show man the better and easier way of going to God and of arriving at him, holy poverty stands out above all the rest by a certain precedence and excels the glory of the others by its singular grace, for it is indeed the foundation of all other virtues and their guardian, and it rightly stands first both in place [Poverty stands at the head of the list of Beatitudes] and its name among other evangelical virtues. The other virtues need not fear the pouring down of rain, the coming of floods, and the blowing of winds that threaten destruction, so long as they are solidly established upon this foundation of poverty.

This is indeed as it should be, for the Son of God, ‘the Lord of hosts and the king of glory’, loved this virtue with a special predilection, sought it out, and found it, when he wrought our salvation upon this earth. At the beginning of his preaching he placed this virtue as a light in the hands of those who enter the portal of faith and made it the foundation stone of his house. The other virtues receive the kingdom of heaven only in promise from him; poverty, however, is already invested with it without delay. For ‘blessed are the poor in spirit, he said, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’.

“Very properly is the kingdom of heaven said to be the possession of those who keep nothing of the goods of this world through their own will, their inclination towards spiritual things, and their desire for eternal things. For it can only follow that a person will live on heavenly things if he cares nothing for earthly things, and he who renounces all earthly things and ‘counts them as dung’ will taste with pleasure the savory crumbs that fall from the table of the holy angels and will deserve to taste how sweet and how good the Lord is.”

It is worthwhile noting here that St. Thomas establishes a one-to-one correlation between the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the first seven Beatitudes. The First Beatitude, Poverty, corresponds to the First Gift of the Holy Spirit – Fear of the Lord. And just as Fear of the Lord is “the beginning of wisdom” and therefore the pre-requisite for all further growth in the spirit, so Poverty is the foundation of all the other virtues, and therefore the pre-requisite for all advancement in living the Gospel life of the Beatitudes. We must be poor to all the things of this world if we are to become rich in God.

Sacrum Commercium offers a unique contribution to early Franciscan literature, because of its examination of the history of Poverty among men. Lady Poverty, in her conversation on the top of the “mountain of the Lord” (where St. Francis and his companions had ascended to meet her), stated her intention: “I therefore wish to recount for you, if listening to me will not bore you, the long but none the less useful history of my status, that you might learn how you ought to walk to please God, taking care not to look back once you have willed to put your hand to the plow.”

After examining the creation of man in Paradise, wherein “possessing nothing, he belonged entirely to God,” Lady Poverty then details man’s Fall from innocence, his being clothed with “the skins of the dead,” and his being cast out of Paradise “to multiply his labors that he might become rich,” and to await in tears and sorrow for a Redeemer – “until the Most High came into the world from the bosom of the Father, he who sought me [Lady Poverty] out most graciously.”

In turn, when Christ was to return to the Father, He sent his Apostles and Disciples out into the world in this same spirit of Poverty – “Everyone of you who does not renounce all that he possesses cannot be my disciple” – in order to convert all peoples back to God and the living of the Gospel.

This devotion to Lady Poverty overflowed into all the early followers of Christ. She refers specifically to the passages in the Book of Acts which details the character of their lives;

And all they that believed, were together, and had all things in common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as everyone had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart; Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:44-47).

And:

“And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but all things were common unto them. And with great power did the apostles give testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord; and great grace was in them all. For neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as were owners of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the price of the things they sold, and laid it down before the feet of the apostles. And distribution was made to every one according as he had need.” (Acts 4:32-35).

It is clear from the above two passages that it was precisely this “commercium” of Poverty among the early followers of Christ that merited the grace for the massive conversions of early peoples to Christ and the Gospel. In the words of Lady Poverty,

The truth of their words [in the Book of Acts] remained for a long time among many, at least as long as the blood of the poor Crucified One was warm in their memory, and the overflowing chalice of his passion filled their hearts unto inebriation…Enduring, this victory lasted for a long time, so that each day a thousand thousands were sealed with the seal of the most high King.”

Lady Poverty then proceeds to recount the great disaster that descended upon early Christianity:

But alas! After not too long a time, peace was made, and that peace was more disastrous than any war. In the beginning few were sealed; toward the middle, still fewer; and at the end, very few indeed. And now certainly in peace is my bitterness most bitter when all flee from me, all drive me away; I am needed by none, I am abandoned by all. Peace was granted me by my enemies, but not by my own; peace from strangers, but not from my own children.”

It is quite revealing that in my 32 years as a Catholic I have never heard the above passages from the Book of Acts given any serious treatment (even though they are part of the cycle of readings during Mass), and never heard any explanation for the disaster which destroyed this early purity of Christian living.

The Early Church Fathers, who lived in these times of decay, were not always so silent. St. Cyprian of Carthage (250 A.D.) wrote a work titled The Unity of the Church. It was quoted extensively in Pope Leo XIII’s own encyclical on The Unity of the Church (Satis Cognitum). In the following passage from St. Cyprian’s work, I would ask the reader to note carefully the extent to which he clearly makes orthodox belief and “unity of mind” dependent upon Poverty, and the Charity which is its “commercium:”

This common mind prevailed once, in the time of the Apostles; this was the spirit in which the new community of the believers obeyed Our Lord’s commands and maintained charity with one another. The Scriptures are witness to it: ‘But the crowd of those who had come to believe acted with one mind and soul.’ And again: ‘They were all persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary who had been the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren’ And that was the reason why their prayers were efficacious, that was why they could be confident of obtaining whatever they asked of God’s mercy.

“But amongst us, that unity of mind has weakened in proportion as the generosity of our charity has crumbled away. In those days, they would sell their houses and estates and lay up to themselves treasure in heaven by giving the money to the Apostles for distribution to those in need. But now, we do not even give tithes on our patrimony, and whereas Our Lord tells us to sell, we buy instead and accumulate. To such an extent have our people lost their old steadfastness in belief. That is why Our Lord says in His Gospel, with an eye on our times: ‘The Son of man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth?’”

We need not get lost in trying to figure the extent to which this “having all things in common” was external. There could be endless, useless speculation in this regard. It is clear, however, that these first Christians broke bread “from house to house”, and that at least some therefore possessed their own homes. We need speculate no further in this regard than did the writer of the Epistle to Diognetes, writing almost 100 years later (130 A.D.): “They have a common table, but not a common bed.” It was the spirit that mattered – the externals obviously had their limits. As the passage from Acts 4 states, “Neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed was his own”. Their physical poverty was real, but not absolute. Their “spirit of poverty”, on the other hand, was quite absolute indeed. This Christian heart in which this spirit was operative was aptly described in the following passage from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (7: 29-31):

This therefore I say, brethren; the time is short; it remaineth, that they also who have wives, be as if they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice as if they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away.”

And what makes this spirit possible?

The above-quoted passages from Acts has been quoted in order to exemplify the simplicity and poverty which was the core charism of the early Christians and St. Francis. But these scriptures also expose to our vision something deeper within the human heart, which makes such simplicity and poverty both possible and necessary. The one word which would seem to best expresses this “something” is “Immediacy”. It is the immediacy – defined as “the quality of bringing one into direct and instant involvement with something, giving rise to a sense of urgency or excitement” – which most characterizes the heart of these first Christians, and of St. Francis and his faithful followers. And this immediacy is at the same time always present – it penetrated into all that these first Christians did, and every moment and part of their existence. Repeating what Lady Poverty says in Sacrum Commercium, “ “The truth of their words [in the Book of Acts] remained for a long time among many, at least as long as the blood of the poor Crucified One was warm in their memory, and the overflowing chalice of his passion filled their hearts unto inebriation…Enduring, this victory lasted for a long time, so that each day a thousand thousands were sealed with the seal of the most high King.”

Interestingly, God’s demand that man recognize the immediacy of His presence, and be constantly Innebriated with his presence, is not something which only became possible after the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Possibly the greatest passage in all of scripture depicting this “spirit” is to be found in Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our god is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength.

“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart: and thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising. And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between the eyes.” Deut 6:4-8).

This image of the constant presence of God “moving between the eyes” is possibly the greatest mystical image in all of Christian literature. We are dealing here with human hearts and minds possessed by God in all their thoughts and activities.

It is this immediacy of the human heart among these first Christians which made possible the “single eye” which directed everything towards Christ. Further, this immediacy made possible not only this singular relationship with Christ, but with others who were members of His Body, and it also enabled true charity towards all other human beings (both friends and enemies) simply because they were all created “by Him, and in Him” (Colossians 1:16).

This profoundly “common” union of hearts with Christ and one another merited the grace that “the Lord increased daily such as should be saved”. This is why we see so many miracles among the early Christians, why we see the fulfillment of Our Lord’s words that “you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7), why 3,000 would be converted one day ,and 5,000 another, and that there could be such astonishingly rapid conversions of whole people and nations to Christ.

It is not at all necessary to be utopian in order to understand the unique spirit of these first Christians. Where there is human nature, there is always sin. We see these sins in the story of Ananias and Saphira, who sold land, gave part while hypocritically pretending to give all, and were punished by God. We see it present in the various churches as revealed in the letters of St. Paul, especially those to the Corinthians, in regard to the unseemly behavior indulged in at Agape Feasts, the adulterous behavior of a son with his Father’s wife, the competition of various factions who claimed to be followers of one teacher in opposition to others, etc. We explore the lives of these early Christians not because the perfection of human beings was across-the board accomplished, but because it was indeed present and visible in a way which it is not now – present to such an extent as to merit all sorts of extraordinary graces from God, and in a way which can clearly be contrasted with our present nakedness in this regard.

And so, we are compelled to ask the inevitable question: What happened within the depths of the souls of Catholics during the early decades and centuries of the Christian era which compromised this immediacy of Christ presence within the followers of Christ, and profoundly diminished the visible evidence of the power of God’s grace operative through them? Again, the answer is to be found in scripture – this time most aptly expressed in the Letter of St. James:

You ask, and receive not; because you ask amiss: that you may consume it on your concupiscences”> (James 4;3).

Everything we have is a gift from God. To see the life of Christ which is “the light of men” (John 1: 4), and to follow this life and light with an upright heart is to remain in the immediacy and presence of God’s Truth and Life. Sin, both original and personal, is the turning aside the gifts of God in order to possess and use them as our own possessions: “All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way….” (Isaiah 53: 6). We all tend to do it. The extent to which we do it corresponds to the degree to which God’s immediacy and presence is lost to us, and we become immersed in hypocrisy and duplicity. At a certain point we enter into the spiritual death of mortal sin.

 

Lady Poverty and the Beatitude of Society

The nature of the Gift which God intended to give to societies through St. Francis, and which the world (including most of his own Order) rejected, is possibly best seen through St. Francis’ teaching on begging. In the Legend of Perugia, #3, we encounter the following:

My dear brothers and sons, do not be ashamed to go begging for alms, for God became poor for our sake in this world. That is why we have chosen the road of genuine poverty in imitation of his example and that of his holy Mother: this is the inheritance that our Lord Jesus Christ has acquired and left us, to us and to those who, following him, have chosen to live in holy poverty.” Then he added, “In truth I say to you, many nobles and scholars of this world will enter our Order, and will consider themselves highly honored to beg for alms. Go therefore and beg with confidence, with a joyful heart, and with the blessing of God. You ought to ask for alms with more cheerfulness and joy than a man who would offer a hundred pennies for one: in exchange for the alms that you solicit, you will offer the love of God, since you will say: ‘Give us an alms for the love of God!’ and heaven and earth are nothing when compared to this love.”

Francis envisioned a dynamic of charity at the heart of the relationship between his Order and the rest of the world. The Franciscan imitation of Christ’s Poverty was to be lived to the fullest extent by his brothers. The extraordinary graces received through this imitation of Christ were to be communicated to others through example, works of charity, and the preaching of the Gospel. The faithful would merit and receive these graces through their providing the extremely simple necessities of life required by the friars. The fact that the graces received by these early Franciscans were real, extraordinary, and abundant is testified to by the plentiful early accounts of Francis and his companions who were faithful to their Franciscan vocation. The fact that the faithful responded to these graces in vast numbers is testified to by the incredibly rapid spread of the order, the large number of conversions, the early establishment and proliferation of the Third Order, the miracles, healings, miraculous resolution of enmities, etc. And it all came down to a formula of the most startling simplicity: one friar living Absolute Poverty, with all its implications both exterior and interior; and, on the other hand, one person, rich or poor, whose heart was open to receive these graces, and to respond with a slice of bread, bowl of soup, and possibly a humble place to spend the night. Although it is not recorded that St. Francis expressed his ideal in exactly this formula as just stated, it all comes down to this eminently simple, and fully realizable, ideal.

There would be no limit to the number of friars who could realistically follow such a life. Correspondingly, there would be no limit to the graces received by individuals, or by whole societies and nations which opened themselves up to such a living of the Gospel. Sin would, of course, continue to exist. But the graces penetrating into the heart of those societies which had embraced this experiment, would have prevented the growth not only of the unlimited materialism, avarice, usury, consumerism, impurity, murder of the unborn, and the incessant warfares which now scourge mankind in the flesh, but also all the manifestations of intellectual hubris – reductive science, technological oppression, and philosophical and theological error and heresy – which have now reduced the vast majority of men to intellectual and spiritual insanity.

It is also very important to understand that St. Francis founded the first Third Order for lay people. The Rule that he established for the Third Order of course did not require the extreme poverty which was to be the way of his Friars. Rather, it established them in that spirit of poverty which would empower lay people to engage effectively in that battle against the allurements of this world which are the ruin of the spiritual life. It will be worthwhile here to quote a rather long passage from Thomas of Celano’s First Life of St. Francis.

Francis, therefore, Christ’s valiant knight, went round the cities and fortresses proclaiming the Kingdom of God, preaching peace, teaching salvation and repentance for the remission of sins, not with plausible words of human wisdom, but with the learning and power of the Spirit. The Apostolic authority which had been granted him enabled him to act in all things with greater confidence, without using flattery or seducing blandishments. Incapable of caressing the faults of certain men, he could pierce them; incapable of showing favor to the lives of sinners, he could smite them with sharp reproof because he had first persuaded himself by practice of that which he endeavored to commend to others by his words; and without fear of any reprover he uttered the truth most confidently, so that even the most learned men, mighty in renown and dignity, wondered at his discourses and were smitten by his presence with wholesome fear. Men ran, women too ran, clerks hastened, and Religious made speed to see and hear the Saint of God who seemed to all to be a man of another world. People of every age and either sex hastened to behold the wonders which the Lord was newly working in the world by His servant. Surely at that time, whether by Holy Francis’ presence or by the fame [of him], it seemed that, as it were, a new light had been sent from heaven on earth, scattering the universal blackness of darkness which has so seized on well-nigh the whole of that region, that scarce any one knew whither he must go. For such depth of forgetfulness of God and such slumber of neglect of His commandments had oppressed almost all that they could scarce endure to be roused, even slightly, from their old and inveterate sins.”

He darted his beams like a star shining in the gloom of night, and as it were the morning spread over the darkness; and thus it came to pass that in all short time the face of the whole province was changed, and she appeared of more cheerful countenance, the former foulness having everywhere been laid aside. The former dryness was done away and in the field erstwhile hard the crops sprang up quickly; the untended vine began moreover to put forth shoots of divine fragrance, and, after bearing blossoms of sweetness, yielded fruits of honor and virtue together. Everywhere thanksgiving and the voice of praise were resounding in such wise that many cast away the cares of the world, and in the life and teaching of the most blessed father Francis gained knowledge of themselves, and aspired to love of their Creator and reverence for Him. Many among the people, nobles and plebeians, clerks and lay-folk, pierced by God’s inspiration, began to come to holy Francis, longing evermore to fight under his discipline and leadership: all of whom the Saint of God, like a plenteous stream of heavenly grace, watered with anointing showers, and beautified the field of their hearts with flowers of virtue. Truly an excellent craftsman after whose pattern, rule and teaching, heralded with noteworthy proclamation, Christ’s Church is being renewed in either sex, and is triumphing in a threefold army of men who are to be saved. For he assigned to all their rule of life, and pointed out truly the way to be saved in every station.”

True religious poverty is, of course the antidote to all sin. It establishes the soul in the first Beatitude, by which the soul lives in that spiritual simplicity which is poor to all the things of this world, and is thereby enabled to see God in all things: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” It is always tempting to believe that such “spiritual poverty” can be lived in the midst of external affluence, but this is most often a delusion. We are incarnate beings, and the life we live in the flesh necessarily resonates in the spirit.

St. Paul flatly states “For the love of money is the root of all evils.” It is worthwhile here to interject the teaching of St. Thomas on this subject, for it offers a striking confirmation of the necessity of poverty in the life of both individuals and societies.

Analyzing the distinction between the “beginning of all sin” on the one hand, and “the root of all sin” on the other, St. Thomas writes:

We must therefore say that pride, even as denoting a special sin, is the beginning of every sin….On the other hand, in the order of execution, the first place belongs to that which by furnishing the opportunity of fulfilling all desires of sin, has the character of a root, and such are riches; so that, from this point of view, covetousness is said to be the root of all evils…” (ST, I-II, Q.84, a.1)

And since “every sin includes an inordinate turning to a mutable good” (Ibid., Q.72, a.2), it then follows:

Accordingly, we must say that covetousness, as denoting a special sin, is called the root of all sins, in likeness to the root of a tree, in furnishing sustenance to the whole tree. For we see that by riches man acquires the means of committing any sin whatever, and of sating his desire for any sin whatever, since money helps man to obtain all manner of temporal goods, according to Eccles 10:19: All things obey money: so that in this sense desire for riches is the root of all sins.” (Ibid., Q.84, a.1).

A world which played host to vast numbers of Francis’ Friars Minor would be one in which the root of all sin was parched by the heavy cross upon which Christ thirsted. It would bear little resemblance to the world under which we are crushed today. This is true not only of the lower world of luxuries and specific sins of the passions, but also the “higher” realms of man’s social and intellectual activities. It is riches which build modern economies, the unnatural life of cities, and the stilted technological world in which we try to raise our families. It is money which feeds the endless quest of reductive scientific research and the anti-God mentality which is inevitably its concubine. It is the world of finance which constructs the engines and schemes of international warfare. And it is money that maintains the Ivory Towers where modern philosophers and theologians culture their pestilence and perversities.

It need not have happened.

 

Part II

St. Francis of Assisi: They Pretended to Love You So That They Might Leave You

 

Introduction

One of the most difficult things for us to comprehend as faithful Catholics is how it can be possible for good men, even those who might be saints or those whom we might consider to be great Popes or other members of the hierarchy, to teach things which are very wrong (even to the extent of objective heresy), or to pursue pastoral policies and acts of government which produce evil fruits. And yet the history of the Church contains many such examples. Possibly the most succinct formulation of this phenomena is to be found in the words of Our Lady of Good Success to Mother Mariana in the year 1594: ”For the time will come when the devils will try to demolish this Convent, availing themselves of both good and evil persons to achieve that end.”

What we are about to encounter in the following history of the betrayal of St. Francis and his ideal represents what might well be the most profound and extensive example in the Church’s history of Satan successfully using good men to accomplish his designs.

In preparation for examining this history, and in order to pre-empt any attempts to claim that we are engaging in an attempt to denigrate the holiness of some who might even be canonized saints, we must first therefore try here to unravel the apparent mystery as to how such a thing is possible. We also wish to emphasize that, when we speak of “betrayal”, we do not intend to claim that this necessarily involves the sort of betrayal, or “pretention of love”, which involves calculated deceit, maliciousness, loss of faith, or mortal sin. As we shall see, the betrayal which we shall be examining here often involved men who truly believed that they loved St. Francis, and that they were doing what was necessary for the survival of his Order. The “pretention” and ”betrayal” which we are about to unravel is the sort of thing which inevitably happens when faith and grace becomes weakened through trying to amalgamate them to a status of compromise with the “wisdom of this world”. It can and does, in other words, happen to the best of us. It is the plague of the consequences of original sin – what St. Augustine called “the languor of nature” – which has come to rest in the fallen nature of each one of us. We might even conclude that it is the accumulated deposit of 2,000 years of such duplicitous behavior among Catholics that has now brought the Church to such a state of prostitution towards the world as to explain its present crisis.

The key to this mystery lies in unraveling the nature of the act of faith itself. Vatican Council I defined faith in the following words:

“Man being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason    being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. And the Catholic Church teaches that this faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, Who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive.”

We tend to think of faith as predominantly an intellectual phenomenon. Yet, as the Council’s definition of faith indicates, the act of faith is not primarily dependent upon our understanding, but rather upon the act whereby assisted by the grace of God, we “yield the full obedience of our intelligence and will” to God’s Revelation. In other words, the act of faith itself demands, and is constituted by, an intimate relationship between our intellect and will. St. Thomas defines the act of faith as “an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine truth at the command of the will moved by the grace of God….” (ST, II-II, Q. 2, A.9).

This definition might at first seem dense, but it is easily unraveled.

Faith is in itself, of course, a gift of God, and therefore of God’s grace. There can be no supernatural faith without this gift. But faith is at the same time a truly human act, involving both the intellect and will, cooperating with God’s grace.

St. Thomas analysis of this human act centers upon St. Paul’s definition of faith in Heb 11:1:

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”

Faith is an act of intellectual assent to things that “appear not.” St. Thomas notes that the intellect assents to things in two ways. In the case of things that are actually “seen” (understood by the intellect), the movement of assent is caused by the object itself. But in the case of things that are not seen, or not sufficiently seen (and therefore the objects of faith), the intellect is moved to assent by the will. The will is therefore the causative agent in the act of faith.

Obviously, this act of the will moving the intellect to the assent of faith is not arbitrary. The will does not choose in a vacuum, but is itself dependent on some degree of knowledge. There are certain truths implicit in human nature, and therefore constituting the very structure of the intellectual light of the human mind, which form the foundation of knowledge from which the will chooses to assent to the Christian Faith.

St. Thomas teaches that the proper object of the human intellect is truth, and that therefore its ultimate and final object is the First Truth which is God. At the same time, the proper object of the human will is the good, which entails that it is ordered towards the possession of the Final Good which is God. Intellect and will are therefore united in their ultimate goal.

Along the path towards this goal, however, each of these faculties, intellect and will, is distinct; and each has a unique role to play in the act of faith.

St. Thomas also teaches that there is nothing in the mind that is not first in the senses. We are born with no innate knowledge. But this does not at all mean that the mind is devoid of a specific nature, or that the intellectual light which specifies this nature, is not implicitly and instinctively drawn towards truth. In regard to the “truth” about created things, for instance, St. Thomas writes:

“And thus we must need say that the human soul knows all things in the eternal types, since by participation of these types we know all things. For the intellectual light itself which is in us, is nothing else than a participated likeness of the uncreated light, in which are contained the eternal types.” (ST I, 84, 5).

In other words, God so created us in His image as to possess a created intellectual light which indeed does see created substances as He sees them.

Similarly, the created light within us is also implicitly ordered towards God. St. Thomas writes: “man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men.” (ST I, Q. 93, a.4). From the standpoint of the intellect, this entails that “all knowers know God implicitly in all they know.” (De Veritate, Q. 22, a.2). This does not mean that man has any innate knowledge of God, but rather that the human mind, being constituted as a created participation in the uncreated Light of God, the intellectual light that is within us is also ordered towards the structure of causation and design in God’s creation. Every known thing therefore implicitly draws our intelligence towards both the First and Final Cause Who is God. This is why St. Paul proclaimed that unbelief in God is “inexcusable,” because “the invisible things of him [God], from the beginning of the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made….” (Romans 1:20).

When we turn to the question of the will, we see that it also has a “natural aptitude” which directs it towards God as its end. This natural aptitude is rooted in the fact that the human will is created with a nature constituted in such a way as to have “the good” as its proper object, and this in turn reveals a proportion to the Infinite Goodness of God:

This “initial participation” lies precisely in the fact that the “good” to which the will naturally aspires is happiness, and that this desire for happiness can achieve its final rest only in that ultimate reward which is everlasting life in God, and which is constituted by the eternal vision of God. St. Thomas writes: “Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence.” (ST, I-II, Q. 3, a.8). Therefore, the will moves the intellect to the act of faith because such faith is the necessary condition for this reward: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6).

All of this reveals what might indeed seem to be a peculiar relationship between the human mind and its own act of faith. While faith is “certain” because of the act of will, through God’s grace which determines it to be so, it is not at all certain in relation to actual intellectual knowledge or “sight.” In a penetrating passage from De Veritate (XIV, a. 1), St. Thomas unravels this relationship:

“In faith there is some perfection and some imperfection. The firmness which pertains to the assent is a perfection, but the lack of sight, because of which the movement of discursive thought still remains in the mind of one who believes, is an imperfection. The perfection, namely, the assent, is caused by the simple light which is faith. But, since the participation in this light is not perfect, the imperfection of the understanding is not completely removed. For this reason the movement of discursive thought in it stays restless.”

It is precisely the latter “imperfection” and “restlessness” in the act of faith which has been the source of so much error propagated in the name of Christ and Christianity.

Certainly, one of the most fascinating aspects of the history of the lives of the Saints is the degree to which this “restlessness” and darkness on the part of their minds in regard to their faith led them into some quite profound and dangerous doctrinal errors.

For instance, virtually all the “Eastern Fathers” (including the three Cappadocian Fathers – St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nanzianzus) taught that no created intellect will ever see the Essence of God, but rather only His attributes or “Energies.” This, despite the fact that Holy Scripture promises that we shall see God “face to face,” and that “I shall Know [God] even as I am Known.” (1 Cor 13:12).” This denial of the substance of the Beatific Vision would eventually bear fruit in Palamite theology (the dominant theology in Eastern Orthodoxy today), which denies the Absolute Divine Simplicity of God. It is absolutely necessary Catholic theology that God is One – that His Intellect and Will, and all of His attributes such as Truth, Goodness, and Love are absolutely One is His Absolute Divine Simplicity. Any distinction which we make between God and His Attributes or “Energies” (a popular term in Eastern theology) is solely due to the fact that as finite human being we are here on this earth limited to approaching God from finite and limited perspectives. There is no “composition” or “parts” within the Infinite Being of God, and therefore for the saints in Heaven to see God “face to face necessarily entails that they will see the very Essence of God.

Another example of objective heresy (very much savoring of Gnostic influence) is to be found in St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximus the Confessor’s teaching that God only created the two sexes of the human species “in pre-vision of sin” – in other words, only because of His foreknowledge of man’s original sin. This, despite the fact that Holy Scripture states that “God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27). Clearly, scripture testifies to the duality of sexes as being in harmony with the image of God, and not as something which is a divine condescension or punishment “in pre-vision of sin.”

St. Maximus the Confessor went much further. In Ad Thalassium 61, he teaches that God did not create sensible pleasure and pain as integral to human nature, and that original sin consisted in the fact that the first man “at the instant he was created” turned towards sensual pleasure and human sexuality as a means for generation of the human race. And, he then concludes that only those “who are mystically reborn by his Spirit and who no longer retain the pleasure of sexual conception derived from Adam” are liberated from the condemnations of original sin.   Not only is this view redolent with the Gnostic view that all of physical creation is a decay away from the spiritual, but it also can be seen as being fully compatible with the Manichaeism belief which views all that is physical as being evil. It logically entails the negation of all that is physical, the degradation of marriage, and the destruction of the family. All of this, of course, is in direct contradiction to Holy Scripture and its teaching concerning the essential goodness of all physical creation, the dignity of human sexuality, and the nobility of marriage as an imitation of Christ and His love for the Church.

I offer these examples simply to illustrate one essential point in our discussion of the concept of faith. We absolutely cannot establish a one-to-one equation between the reality of “manifestly” believing or teaching objective heresy, on the one hand, and “not possessing the faith” on the other. In the case of the Eastern Fathers and saints mentioned above, their quite grave errors in regard to the Faith were expressed before these matters were fully defined by the Church through her Magisterium. We may assume if such had occurred during their lifetime they would have possessed the “good will” to submit to the authority of the Church eventually defining and clarifying these aspects of Divine Revelation.

But it is also true that even further down the historical timeline (even up to the present) “good men” might teach falsely, and yet not be considered to be persons who have lost the faith – either because of the limitations of their intellect, or because of inculpable ignorance. As scripture says, “For Thou [God] only knowest the heart of all the children of men.” (3 Kings 8: 39 – Douay-Rheims Bible). It is, in other words, God’s business to search out the depths of the human heart and ultimately determine whether or not a person possesses the good will towards His Truth which is necessary for salvation.

It simply will not do, therefore, for any individual Catholic to compile all the writings or statements of a particular person that contradict Catholic doctrine, and then presume to make a judgment that this same person is “not in possession of the Catholic Faith” To expose the objective heresy of any person, be he the humblest lay person or Pope, is one thing; to make the claim that the person is a heretic is another. Our Lord said that “Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” It is one thing to point out to our brother that he is acting foolishly; it is an altogether different thing to judge and reduce his humanity by labeling him a Fool, or a Heretic. It is very disturbing indeed, therefore to witness, the name-calling prevalent in conservative and traditional Catholic circles in regard to Pope Francis and others of the hierarchy (not to mention the laity). St. Jude writes: “When Michael the archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him the judgment of railing speech, but said: The Lord command thee.” If such be the case in regard to “railing” judgments against the devil who resides in Hell and is our implacable enemy, what must be our conclusion concerning those who make such railing judgments against their fellow men who are this side of Hell, and towards whom Our Lord demands charity?

It is also true, however, that in the realm of putting our faith into practice in this world, all of us tend to one degree or another to be duplicitous. It is the most constant threat to our spiritual lives, and the most omnipresent presence of the effects of original sin, for each of us to try at the same time to be friends of God while also being “friends of this world” (which, as St. James points out, is “enmity with God” (James 4:4-5). Again, only God can determine when such “double-mindedness” so changes the depths of the human heart that it no longer constitutes only venial, but rather mortal sin. But we may be assured that, to greatly varying extents, this duplicity is the inheritance of all men fallen away from the gift of complete integrity which man possessed before original sin. As scripture says, “For a just man shall fall seven times and shall rise again: but the wicked shall fall down into evil.” (Prov. 24: 16). Thus it is that good, and even holy, men may become tools of the devil for persecution of the good and the accomplishment of evil.

It is especially in this area that those who loved St. Francis betrayed him. It is here where they used their worldly wisdom to compromise and distort his ideal, simply because they did not see and believe the extraordinary thing that God intended to do through this man whom Pope Pius XI called “the second Christ.”

All of this, as we have said, offers no excuse for “railing judgments” against any of the persons discussed in the following analysis. At the same time, however, the work of charity and the pursuit of that Truth which is the Life of Christ and the light for all men, demands that we not be silent about that extraordinary grace of Christ which was given to the world in the 13th century. And this, in turn, requires understanding the depths and sinews of Satan’s work by which this light has been falsified. For it is in this darkness that we are now immersed, and which threatens to drown out even the memory of what constituted Christian civilization.

 

Francis and the Papacy

Any attempt to portray St. Francis as possessing a spirit of independence from, or disobedience to the Papacy amounts to a total falsification. From the very inception of his work he sought to receive complete Papal approval and recognition.

In the year 1209, three years after his own radical conversion, Francis wrote his short First Rule (now lost), and journeyed to Rome with his first 11 companions in order to seek approval for his new way of life from Pope Innocent III. The following account is taken from St. Bonaventure’s Major Life of St. Francis:

“The Pope, Innocent III, was famous for his learning; and when he saw Francis’ wonderful purity of heart, together with his determination, and the fiery eagerness of his will, he felt inclined to give his approval. However, the whole idea seemed so new to some of the cardinals, who thought that the rule was too difficult for any human being, that he hesitated to do what Francis asked. One of the cardinals was His Eminence John of St. Paul, Bishop of Santa Sabina, a man who loved holiness and was dedicated to Christ’s poor. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he addressed the pope and his confreres saying, ‘We must be careful. If we refuse this beggarman’s request because it is new or too difficult, we may be sinning against Christ’s Gospel, because he is only asking us to approve a form of Gospel life. Anyone who says that a vow to live according to the perfection of the Gospel contains something new or unreasonable or too difficult to be observed, is guilty of blasphemy against Christ, the Author of the Gospel.’ At that, the successor of St. Peter turned to St. Francis and told him, ‘My son, pray to Christ that he may show us his will through you. When we are sure of that, we can grant your request without fear.’”

After praying fervently, St. Francis and the Pope received revelations from God, separately, but at the same time. St. Bonaventure relates the following about Francis:

Francis told the pope a story which he had learned from God about a wealthy monarch who voluntarily married a poor but very beautiful woman and had a number of children by her. These resembled him closely, so that they had the right to eat at his table. Then Francis added, by way of explanation, ‘There is no danger that the sons and heirs of the immortal King will die of hunger. They have been born of a poor mother by the power of the Holy Spirit in the image of Christ the King and they will be followed by others who will be brought to birth in our Order by the spirit of poverty. If the King of Heaven promises his followers an eternal kingdom, he certainly will not let them go short of the material goods he bestows on good and bad without distinction.’

And, on the part of Innocent III:

“When the pope heard this story and its explanation, he was amazed and he realized without the slightest doubt that Christ had spoken through Francis. Only a short time before, he had seen a vision from heaven and by divine inspiration he now testified that it would be fulfilled in Francis. As he himself described it, he had a dream in which he saw the Lateran Basilica [the official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope, ranking first among all the Church’s of Christendom, even above St. Peter’s] which was threatening to fall being held up by a poor beggarman who put his back to it. ‘This is certainly the man,’ he added. ‘By his work and teaching, he will uphold Christ’s Church.’”

We do well to keep in mind the words of Cardinal John of St. Paul – “Anyone who says that a vow to live according to the perfection of the Gospel contains something new or unreasonable or too difficult to be observed, is guilty of blasphemy against Christ, the Author of the Gospel.” When we now come to consider what happened during the last 6-10 years of St. Francis’ life, and subsequent to his death, we will see that such “blasphemy” became the norm.

 

Betrayal With a Kiss

Pope Innocent III died on July 16, 1216, to be succeeded by Pope Honorius III. Bishop Giovanni di San Paolo, who had been the liaison between the Pope and the Franciscan Order, died the same year, and was succeeded in this office (as Cardinal Protector of the Franciscan Order) by Cardinal Ugolino, Bishop of Ostia, and the future Pope Gregory IX. There is no question, from the various appearances of Cardinal Ugolino throughout the early lives of Francis, that he deeply loved the Saint. There is also no question that he was the central force and authority behind the compromise and eventual destruction of the ideal of Francis.

In May of 1217, the famous Pentecost “Chapter of the Mats” was held at the Portiuncula. The Speculum Perfectionis, #68 relates what occurred. Nothing in all of the early sources more clearly reveals the web of destructive and falsifying love that was, at this period, being spun around Francis and his ideal:

When blessed Francis was at the Chapter General held at St. Mary of the Portiuncula – known as the Chapter of the Mats, because the only shelters there consisted of rush-mats, which were used by five thousand friars – a number of prudent and learned friars went to the Lord Cardinal of Ostia [Ugolino] who was present, and said to him, ‘My Lord, we wish that you would persuade Brother Francis to follow the advice of the wiser brethren, and allow himself to be guided by them.’ And they quoted the Rules of Saint Benedict, Saint Augustine, and Saint Bernard, which lay down the principles of the regular life.

“The Cardinal repeated all that they had said to blessed Francis in the form of advice; but without making any answer he took the Cardinal by the hand, and led him before the friars assembled in Chapter. And he spoke to the friars in the fervor and power of the Holy Spirit, saying, ‘My brothers! My brothers! God has called me by the way of simplicity and humility, and has in truth revealed this way for me and for all who are willing to trust and follow me. So I do not want you to quote any other Rule to me, whether that of Saint Benedict, Saint Augustine, or Saint Bernard, or to recommend any other way or form of life except this way which God in His mercy has revealed and given to me. The Lord told me that He wished me to be a new kind of simpleton in this world, and he does not wish us to live by any other wisdom but this. God will confound you through your own prudence and learning. And I trust in the constables [the devils, whom Francis called “God’s policemen”] of God, that He will punish you through them. Eventually, whether you wish it or not, you will return with great remorse to your first state.’

“The Cardinal was utterly dumbfounded and said nothing; and all the friars were filled with great fear.”

The pattern here becomes clear. A good number of ministers and friars were working with Cardinal Ugolino to compromise Francis’ ideal. Francis’   final response, after returning from the Holy Land in 1220, was to resign. He was succeeded by Peter Catani, and then by Brother Elias in 1223.

Francis wrote three Rules – the original Rule, which was approved by Innocent III, and has been lost; the Rule of 1221, which is known as the First Rule; and the Rule of 1223, which is called the Regula Bullata, because it was approved by the Pope (Honorius III). There has been much discussion about these Rules – whether, for instance, the Final Rule (Regula Bullata) is really fully in accord with Francis’ thinking and with his original Rule – but it is not necessary to discuss this subject here. The historical fact is that after his death Francis’ ideal was destroyed through Papal legislation, and through the acts, writings, etc. of those like Brother Elias and St. Bonaventure who loved St. Francis and claimed to be his friends. It is this history which we shall here attempt to summarize.

 

A Basic Outline of the Conflict

Even prior to Francis’ death, the Franciscan Order was deeply divided between those who were committed to following the strict observance of poverty laid down by St. Francis, and those who wished to see mitigations in his Rule. The former have come to be called “Spirituals” (or Zelanti –from the Italian word for “zealous”). The latter are known as the “Relaxati”. While Francis was still alive, the Relaxati were to be identified with Elias and those ministers and friars whose actions and words we have already detailed. The term is now most closely identified with that branch of the Order known as the Conventual Franciscans.

The term “Spirituals” identifies many of Francis’ early companions (and those who later followed in their footsteps) such as Brothers Leo, Bernard of Quintavalle, Rufino, Giles, Angelo Tancredi, Masseo da Marignano, Ugolino di Monte Santa Maria (author of the “Little Flowers,” not to be confused with Cardinal Ugolino), and many others. The term is also associated with the names and movements which constitute various efforts down through the centuries aimed at bringing the Order back to a stricter observance of Francis’ ideal (the Capuchins also represent an attempt at this type of reform). All of this involves a very complicated and contentious history, which cannot be detailed here.

To complicate the matter further, there has always existed a tendency, especially among those who cling to a “relaxed” Franciscanism, to identify all “Spirituals” with the “Fraticelli” – those later brothers who in their zeal for the perfection of Francis’ ideal, ended up by embracing (to one extent or another) the heretical ideas of Joachimism (some of these ideas not being attributable to Joachim himself), and established themselves in revolt against the Papacy. On the contrary, there were, in fact, innumerable Spirituals (including early companions of Francis such as Bernard and Leo) who never rebelled in any way against the Papacy, who were persecuted for their fidelity to the ideals of Francis, and died under this persecution.

It also needs mentioning that the early biographies of St. Francis reflect this basic twofold division within the Order. On the one hand, we have “Lives” like those of St. Bonaventure and Thomas of Celano which embody a non-controversial hagiography that ignores these basic divisions and conflicts. On the other side, we have works which profoundly reveal and detail this division: the Speculum Perfectionis, the Legend of Perugia, The Little Flowers of St. Francis (the Fioretti), and the Sacrum Commercium. The works in this second category are sometimes called the “Leo Sources,” from the fact that their actual authorship or inspiration can be traced back to Brother Leo and other early companions of Francis, or their spiritual descendents, who were absolutely committed to living his ideal. As we shall see, it was St. Bonaventure who, as Minister General, ordered all these “divisive” works destroyed, and then enthroned his own “Legend of St. Francis” as the only acceptable biography of Francis.

 

Brother Elias

Many parallels have been rightly observed between the life of St. Francis and the life of Christ. Often this extends to viewing Brother Elias in the role of Judas.

Unquestionably, Brother Elias was a primary agent in the betrayal of the Franciscan ideal. We have already seen him as the spokesman for those ministers who refused to be bound by the Rule that Francis was in the process of writing in 1223, because it was “too hard.” There can be little doubt that Elias was working closely with these ministers, and with Cardinal Ugolino, in order to mitigate the Rule of Francis, and to make those compromises with the world which they saw as necessary in order to turn the Franciscan Order into an effective apostolate for the Church. As Lady Poverty explains in the Sacrum Commercium, this betrayal was all being accomplished under the guise of prudence and discretion.

Francis resigned as head of the Order in 1220, and Peter Catani was elected Vicar. In 1223, almost certainly with the strong support of Cardinal Ugolino, Elias was elected Vicar. Francis died on October 4, 1226. Elias immediately took control, acting as the head of the Order. Pope Honorius III (Innocent III’s successor) died on Mar 18, 1227, and Cardinal Ugolino was elected Pope and chose the name Gregory IX. The Pope gave his blessing to Elias’ great project of building a “monument” to Francis in the form of a great convent and the Basilica of Saint Francis. Pope Gregory gave him authority to receive money, and he began to collect money throughout Christendom for this project (remember that Francis called money “flies,” and absolutely forbade his friars to even touch it).

It was when his intention to build this Basilica (which would house the remains of St. Francis) was published that the Spirituals rose against him. Elias even placed a marble pot for the collection of money conspicuously on the hill of the proposed site of the Basilica. Brother Leo, in protest against this profound violation of the spirit and ideal of Francis, smashed the pot. Upon Elias’ order, Leo was scourged and expelled from Assisi. It was in fact the vehement opposition of Leo and other Spirituals which foiled Elias’ efforts to be elected Minister General at the Chapter in May of 1227. Instead, the friars elected John Parenti, a man incapable or unwilling to present a barrier to Elias’ schemes. Gregory IX, in support of Elias’ designs for the Basilica, in fact accomplished an end-run around Parenti by making Elias “Master of the Works”, with full authority to collect the funds and undertake all that was necessary for the completion of the project.

It all moved incredibly fast. On July 16, 1228, Pope Gregory canonized St. Francis. On May 25, 1230 the remains of St. Francis were secretly (at night) translated to the new Basilica of Saint Francis. Francis now lay entombed beneath a “monument” which rivaled the Portiuncula as the ultimate Icon of the betrayal of his Lady Poverty.

In 1232, Elias was elected Minister General. He obtained permission from Pope Gregory IX to discipline the Spirituals, and he moved with great efficiency and severity. Everywhere the original companions and faithful followers of Francis’ ideal concerning Poverty were persecuted. Elias’ greatest convert had been Caesar of Spires, who was considered by many to be the holiest friar since Francis (he collaborated with Francis in the writing of the Rule of 1223). He was now one of Elias’ strongest opponents. Elias ordered him imprisoned, and he met a violent death at the hands of the lay brother who was appointed to guard him.

Finally, the protests against Elias’ despotism and his violations of the Franciscan ideal became such a storm as to make it impossible for the Pope not to take action. Pope Gregory IX declared the position of Minister General vacant and, in the face of direct defiance on the part of Elias, also excommunicated him (as did Gregory’s successor Innocent IV). Elias eventually aligned himself in friendship and employment with the excommunicated Emperor Frederick II (enemy of Popes, agnostic, known in his own time as “the wonder of the “world,” and called by Nietzsche “the first European”). Upon the death of Frederick in 1250, Elias went into seclusion in Cortona, ever fearful of imprisonment by the Pope. Fearful of the ultimate consequences of being excommunicated, he sought absolution from the local clergy, and received it. Pope Innocent IV sent representatives to minutely examine the sincerity of his repentance and, being satisfied, allowed his burial in Franciscan habit.

Possibly nothing reveals the niggardliness and pathos of Brother Elias’ life as his words while Francis lay dying. The following incident is related in Speculum Perfectionis, #121:

Seeing that blessed Francis was comforted and rejoicing in the Lord in this way [his companions, at his request, were singing the Praises of the Lord night and day] despite his great pain, Brother Elias said to him, ‘Dearest Brother, the great joy shown by you and your companions gives me great comfort and edification. But the people of this city venerate you as a saint, and are well aware that you will soon die of your incurable disease; so when they hear the Praises sung day and night they are likely to say to themselves, ‘How can this man show so much joy when he is about to die? He ought to be preparing himself for death.’”

And Saint Francis answered him (in part):

Brother, allow me in my infirmities to rejoice in the Lord and in His praises, for by the grace and assistance of the Holy Spirit I am so united and conjoined to my Lord that by His mercy I may rightly rejoice in Him, the Most High.”

Elias was not present at Francis’ death.

 

Pope Gregory IX

When we consider the actual life and spirituality of the Franciscan Order, Elias may rightly be seen as the primary Judas-figure. However, the person most responsible for institutionalizing this betrayal on the ecclesiastical and juridical level is Pope Gregory IX (Cardinal Ugolino).

In 1230, four years after Francis’ death, Pope Gregory IX published the Bull Quo elongati. It declared the Testament of St. Francis to be devoid of legal force. In his scholarly work Franciscan Poverty, Malcolm D. Lambert writes the following:

What was the effect of the invalidating of the Testament? Looking back, we can see that, in a sense, 1230 represented the last chance for the order to return as a body to the way of living of Francis and the companions; then, Quo elongati blocked the way, and ever afterwards the weight of precedent and legislation was too great for it to be possible.”

Professor Lambert is in full agreement with the erroneous notion that “to a developing order with its problems of dwelling places, learning, sick friars, and the like….The ideal [of St. Francis] was impossible.” (p. 73). This opinion, as I have clearly shown, was in direct contradiction to the statements of St. Francis and the revelations he received from Christ.

It needs to be emphatically stated that the so-called Spirituals alone held fast to Francis’ ideal. Sometimes, as we shall see, some passed over to the point of embracing heresy (Joachimism – or a bastardized form of it), defying the Papacy, and embracing schism. Such are the Fraticelli. But we must reject the facile identification, popular among the Relaxati or Conventuals, of identifying the Spirituals with the Fraticelli. Friars such as Leo, Giles, Bernard of Quintavalle, Angelus, Rufino, Masseo, John of Parma, Brother Ugolino di Monte, and many others were certainly Spirituals, but are in no way to be considered Fraticelli.

Having made these clarifications, it remains to examine the fundamental betrayal of Francis’ ideal of poverty to be found in Quo elongati.

It is of the very nature of Francis’ ideal of Poverty that it is not subject to strict legislation. Francis’ great love was Lady Poverty, but it is obviously true that “absolute poverty” would simply kill a person. As human beings, we need food, clothes and, quite often, (especially here in Minnesota) shelter from the cold.

It is also true that sometimes the requirement of God’s mercy over-rides strict rules in regard to poverty, fasting, dress, etc. St. Francis fully understood this. Despite his vehement commands against touching or having anything to do with money, he made an exception in the case of severe sickness of a friar. He allowed shoes and riding of a horse or ass where necessity or illness made these things necessary. Following is one of the most enchanting stories, taken from the Legend of Perugia, #1, revealing this “heart of mercy” which is so intimately a part of the Franciscan ideal:

In the early days of the Order, that is to say, at the time when Francis began to group a few brothers around him, he lived with them at Rivo Torto. One night around midnight, when all were sleeping on their poor straw mattresses, one of the brothers began to cry out: ‘I am dying! I am dying!’ Blessed Francis got up and said: ‘Get up, Brothers, bring a light.’ A torch was lit and blessed Francis asked: ‘Who cried out, I am dying?’ One brother said, ‘I did.’ And blessed Francis said to him: ‘What ails you, Brother? What are you dying from?’ ‘I am dying of hunger,’ he answered.

Blessed Francis, a man full of charity and discretion, did not want the brother to blush from eating alone. He had a meal prepared then and there and everyone partook of it. It must be said that this brother and the others were recently converted and inflicted excessive penances on their bodies.

After the meal, blessed Francis said to the other brothers: ‘My brothers, I say to you, let everyone of you take his constitution into consideration. If one of you can do with less food than another, it is not my wish that he who needs to eat more should try to imitate the first. Let each one take his own constitution into account and give his body what it needs. If, in the matter of eating and drinking we are obliged to deny ourselves those superfluous thing which are harmful to the body and the soul, we must forego even more excessive mortification, for God desires loving kindness and mercy not sacrifice.” (this story is also found in Bonaventure’s Major Life, II Celano, and Speculum Perfectionis).

Similarly, if this particular brother had been freezing to death, Francis would have been the first to clothe him in fur; or if he were severely ill, he would have accepted the possible use of money to pay for a doctor. But the same “Rule” of Poverty still remained. Anyone who was to be a    Franciscan friar, as Francis says in his Testament, “gave everything to the poor. They were satisfied with one habit which was patched inside and outside, and a cord, and trousers. We refused to have anything more….The friars must be very careful not to accept churches or poor dwelling for themselves, or anything else built for them unless they are in harmony with the poverty which we have promised in the Rule [any “huts” were to be built of mud and sticks], and they should occupy these places as strangers and pilgrims.” Add to this his absolute proscription against petitioning the Roman Curia for any privileges, and the very important prohibition against pursuing learning or possessing books, we have basically the entire “heart” of Francis’ Rule as it concerns the ideal of Poverty. Francis’ devotion to Poverty was “absolute”, but this absoluteness was not capable of legalistic delineation – any more than specific acts of charity are subject to such legislation. It is this “heart” of Franciscan Poverty which Gregory IX failed to see, and which he essentially destroyed with his legislation.

The destruction came through the employment of a theoretical, legal distinction which Quo elongati enunciates in the following passage:

We say therefore that {the friars} ought not to have proprietas [dominion], either individual or common, but may have the usus alone of the utensils and books and movable goods which they are permitted to have, and the friars, as the minister-general and provincial [ministers] direct, may use them, leaving dominion of their settlements and houses to those to whom it is known to pertain….”

There was a certain amount of truth in the above passage, which could indeed be viewed as applying to St. Francis’ ideal. The brothers did indeed “use” things while not owning them – food, humble dwellings, habit, cord, trousers, breviary, psalter, etc. What is wrong about this passage only comes to light when seen in the light of its further context within the Pope’s Bull.

Quo elongati established a sophistry at the very heart of Franciscan self-understanding in regard to Poverty by introducing a new “office” for the reception of money and other ”necessities” into the Order. This official, called the nuntius, ostensibly acting on the part of the almsgiver (which can certainly be looked on as a “Jesuitical” distinction), insured that the Franciscan Order could be the recipient of virtually anything, while nominally still being able to claim adherence to the principle of “Absolute Poverty” because they did not possess proprietas, dominion, or actual ownership.

The effect of this sophistry was devastating to Franciscan spirituality. The primary spiritual effect of Francis’ own ideal of Poverty was, on the one hand, to deprive the mind and heart of each Friar of any security in the things of this world, and, on the other hand, to throw this same mind and heart into a fundamental posture of total trust in God and dependence on that “sacrum commercium” of charity with other human beings which we have already delineated. All of this is profoundly vitiated by the security which comes to the Franciscan life with the nuntius. The nuntius, and the resources for whom he was the agent, could always be drawn upon to alleviate any want or insecurity. In other words, the entire charism of the Franciscan Order became vitiated.

According to Lambert, “The greatest single cause of pressure on poverty was building.” (p. 94). In turn, the primary justification for such building was the perceived necessity to pursue learning. Again, from Lambert:

The standard of poverty intended by St. Francis, if appallingly severe, was coherent and, just, observable….But, as I see it, it is incompatible with the regular pursuit of learning. The new entrants to the order were bound to desire the practice of preaching, in the full, learned sense. If learning be adopted then the full poverty must be mitigated.”

This pressure for learning was largely the fruit of the increased clericalization of the Order. Francis, of course, refused the priesthood, and remained a deacon until he died. Although he certainly accepted priests into his Order (such as his early companion Brother Sylvester), he certainly did not envision a clericalized Brotherhood. The Franciscan Order was pre-eminently the Friars Minor – the “little brothers.” Clericalization, learning, building and economic security all go hand-in-hand, and demand mitigation of Francis’ ideal.

As with so many things, Francis was able to peer into the heart of this matter, and see the threat. The following is from the Legend of Perugia, #70:

Not that Francis ever despised or regarded sacred learning with disfavor: on the contrary, he showed a fond respect for the scholars of the Order, and for all scholars, as he himself says in his Testament: ‘We should honor and venerate theologians, too, and the ministers of God’s word, because it is they who give us spirit and life.’

“But, foreseeing the future, he knew through the Holy Spirit and often repeated that many of the brothers, under pretext of edifying others, would abandon their vocation, that is to say, pure and holy simplicity, prayer and Lady Poverty; they would consider themselves more fervent and more on fire with the love of God because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, whereas precisely because of it they would not be able to return to their former vocation since they had let the time given them to live in the holy vocation slip by.” (see also SP, #72).

In other words, the primary fruit of such pursuit of learning – necessarily entailing the violation of the Franciscan charism of holy simplicity and poverty – would be an enormous self-deception. Possibly the singularly most often used argument by Elias and the ministers in their attempt to mitigate the Rule was the necessity of making adjustments, so that the Order could become an effective means of Apostolate and preaching for the Church. This, in their minds required learning, books, buildings, and all the rest. Francis’ reply is devastating:

There are many brethren who devote all their energy and zeal to the acquisition of learning, neglecting their holy vocation, and straying from the way of humility and holy prayer both in mind and body. When they have preached to the people, and learn that some have been helped or moved to penitence, they grow conceited and congratulate themselves as though the others’ gain were their own. But they will have preached rather to their own condemnation and hurt, and have really achieved nothing except as the instruments of those through whom God has obtained this result. For those whom they imagined they were edifying and converting through their own learning and preaching have been edified and converted by God Himself through the prayers and tears of holy, poor, humble, and simple brethren….But those who have cared for nothing except to know and point out the way of salvation to others, and have made no effort to follow it themselves, will stand naked and empty-handed before the judgment-seat of Christ, bearing only the sheaves of confusion, shame, and grief. Then shall the truth of holy humility and simplicity, of holy prayer and poverty, which is our vocation, be exalted, glorified, and proclaimed….” (Ibid).

The pursuit of learning, while it certainly is valid for others, was not the Franciscan way. For Francis, it was in fact destructive to the vocation of a Friars Minor:

Many are they who desire to exalt themselves to the heights of knowledge, but blessed is he who prefers to renounce knowledge for love of the Lord God!” (#72).

The campaign for “learning” among the Friars was always accompanied by the “prudence” which claimed it was necessary for preaching and the “apostolate.” It was Francis’ grace to perceive that effective preaching was a matter of grace, that God would provide this “sustenance” to the Friars just as he provided for their physical necessities, and that the virtue of love of God is the true teacher: “Knowledge produces self-importance; love makes the building grow.” (Ibid).The validity of this teaching is to be found in the “proof “of the extraordinary transformations of peoples which occurred in the early days of the Order.

As is so often the case, St. Francis teaching on this particular subject is accompanied by delightful stories of actual incidents which penetrate to the heart of the matter. The Speculum Perfectionis relates several stories concerning a particular friar who was persistent in trying to obtain Francis’ permission to have a psalter:

<And blessed Francis said to him, “Once you have a psalter, you will want a breviary. And when you have a breviary, you will sit in a high chair like a great prelate, and say to your brother, ‘Bring me my breviary!’” As he spoke, blessed Francis in great fervor of spirit took up a handful of ashes and placed them on his head, and rubbing his hand around his head as though he was washing it, he exclaimed, “I a breviary!, I a breviary!” …Many months later, when blessed Francis was at S. Mary of the Porziuncula, this friar spoke to him yet again about the psalter as he stood on the road near his cell beyond the house. And blessed Francis [almost certainly quite weary of this pestering) told him, “Go and do as your Minister says on this matter.” When he heard this, the friar turned back along the road, while blessed Francis stood thinking over what he had said to the friar. Suddenly he called after him, saying, “Wait for me, brother, wait for me!” Overtaking him, he said, “Come back and show me the place where I told you to do so as your Minister directs about the Psalter.” So when they had arrived at the place, blessed Francis knelt down before the friar and said, “Mea culpa, brother, mea culpa; for whoever wishes to be a Friar Minor should possess nothing but a habit with a cord and undergarment, as the Rule allows him. And those whom need obliges to do so may have sandals.”>

Two other points need mentioning if we are to understand this incident. First, at certain times a psalter did indeed circulate among the Friars, and Francis would not have had objection to this particular Friar using it. Secondly, if some very poor lady came along begging, and Francis had nothing else to offer her, he would have gladly given her the psalter to sell in order to provide some sustenance for herself and her family.

What all this demonstrates is that Francis’ devotion to poverty was total, but that this “absoluteness” could not be regulated by legal formulas (involving distinctions, for instance, between dominion and use) or encapsulated in some sort of formulated theology (as we shall see St. Bonaventure attempting in his theology of “Absolute Poverty”). It could only be found in a heart devoted to total simplicity and renunciation of all the things of this world, while at the same time always leaving room for the exercise of God’s mercy. The attempt to legislate such a dynamic was bound to kill it, as was any attempt to formulate it theologically.

 

Pope Innocent IV

In 1245, with Crescenzio da Jesi (a Relaxati) functioning as Minister General, Pope Gregory’s successor Innocent IV issued a new Bull, titled Ordinem vestrum, which constituted a significant “relaxation” of Pope Gregory’s Quo elongati. The legal sophistry was in need of further sophistries. In the words of Lambert,

Where Gregory had permitted recourse to intermediaries (the nuntius) for the sake of buying necessities alone, Innocent allowed such recourse for ‘commodities’ as well, thus giving carte blanche to superiors to use agents to take money alms whenever they wished.” (p. 101).

The ultimate effect of all this was to place all ownership of Franciscan property into the hands of the Pope, who could give the Order anything they wanted, and still maintain the fiction of “Absolute Poverty” of dominion on the part of the Franciscan Order. Francis’ fear of, and proscription against, petitioning the Papacy or Curia for any prerogatives had thus blossomed into nightmarish fulfillment.

 

St. Bonaventure’s Doctrine of Absolute Poverty

That which the Papal Bulls Quo elongati and Ordinem vestrum accomplished in the ecclesial and legal realms as to the destruction of Franciscan Poverty, St. Bonaventure blessed in the theological domain. While Minister General, he wrote his work Apologia pauperum, which offers the following definition of Absolute Poverty:

Since there are two things to be considered with regard to the possession of temporal goods, dominion and usus, and usus is necessarily annexed to the present life; it is the nature of evangelical poverty to renounce earthly possession in respect of dominion and proprietas, and, not to reject usus utterly, but to restrain it….”

Any Catholic who possesses some depth of familiarity with St. Francis’ life and teaching should sense the total failure of the above definition to capture St. Francis’ ideal of Poverty. Francis’ ideal of Lady Poverty was entirely established in an imitation of Christ Who, though being God, became nothing. Christ did something much more than merely “restrain himself “when He took human form and sacrificed Himself on the Cross. Therefore, when transposed to human life, and the sincere attempt to follow this Way, the reality of Christ’s Poverty cannot be delineated or bifurcated into legal distinctions between dominion and use, or subjected to doctrinal formulation. St. Francis never formulated it as a doctrine, but only as a way of imitation, to which he appended some rules protecting that way from self-deceit and falsification. The attempt to formulate this Way with a doctrine of “Absolute Poverty” is therefore bound to involve an incompleteness, duplicity, self-deceit, and betrayal which is subject to eventual exposition and ridicule. As we shall see, this is precisely what will occur during the Papacy of John XXII.

St. Bonaventure’s doctrine of Absolute Poverty amounted to a virtual mirror reflection of the definition of Franciscan Poverty which was formulated in Gregory IX’s Bull Quo elongati in 1234. But Bonaventure’s exposition of Absolute Poverty had gone much further. It had applied this same doctrine, and these same legal distinctions, to Christ. In other words, Christ also practiced “Absolute Poverty” – this entailing the renunciation of all dominion (proprietas) over any possessions whatsoever, and also therefore absolutely possessing no right to sell or give away anything which might be in their use.

In the year 1276, Pope Nicholas III issued the Bull Exiit qui seminat which gave official sanction to this “Absolute Poverty of Christ” doctrine. In part it read:

“…we say that such renunciation of proprietas [dominion] of all things, both individually and in common, for God, is meritorious and holy, and taught in word and confirmed in example by Christ showing the way of perfection, and channeled on by the first founders of the church militant, as they had drawn it from that fount, through the streams of their doctrine and life.” (Lambert, p. 151).

I have stated that this entire effort to legally formulate a doctrine of “Absolute Poverty” involved duplicity. It was necessitated by the posture of the Franciscan “Community,” which claimed to follow Francis in his love of Lady Poverty, while at the same time working to mitigate Francis’ strict rules in regard to the use of the things of this world. It in fact allowed them to pose before the world under the guise of “Absolute Poverty” (of dominion) while in fact being neither poor in use or in spirit (in accord with the ideal of Francis). Once again, from Sacrum Commercium, “They pretended to love you so that they might leave you.”

Duplicity, by its very nature, requires obscurity. The Spirituals, despite whatever excesses they may have succumbed to, were always in the position of exposing the lie and they themselves appeared to be living lives much more in accord with Francis’ ideal. All through the period since Francis’ resignation, this witness invited persecution. The reign of St. Bonaventure as Minister General offers a unique example of such persecution. In the Fioretti (Little Flowers of St. Francis), we read the following:

Now this is what Brother Matthew told me: “I know a brother to whom the Lord has made known that which will take place in our Order; for Brother James della Massa had told me that, after the Lord had revealed to him many things concerning the Church militant, he saw in a vision a large and beautiful tree, the root of which was of gold, and all the branches were men, and these men were all Friars Minor; and there were as many large branches as there were provinces in the Order, and each branch was composed of as many brethren as there were friars in each province; and he was informed of the number of friars in the Order, and in each province – with their names, their ages, their rank, and the different offices they filled – also their various merits and defects. And he saw Brother John of Parma at the summit of the highest branch of the tree, and round him were the ministers of each province; and he saw Christ, the blessed one, sitting on a throne, who, calling St Francis to him, gave him a chalice full of the spirit of life, saying, `Go to thy brothers, and give them to drink of this spirit of life, as Satan will rise up against them, and many will fall and not rise again.’ And Christ, the blessed one, gave to St Francis two angels to accompany him; and St Francis took the chalice to his brothers, and offered it first to Brother John of Parma, who taking it drank all its contents in haste, but with great reverence, and having done so he became luminous, like the sun. After him St Francis offered it to all the others; and very few there were who took it, and drank with devotion: those who did so, were filled with light, like the sun; but those who took the chalice, and threw away its contents most irreverently, became black and deformed, and horrible to look at; those who drank a part of the contents and threw away the rest, were partly bright and partly dark, in proportion to the quantity they drank or threw away. The brightest of all was the said Brother John, who, having drained to the dregs the cup of life, had seen by the aid of a celestial light the tempests and troubles which were about to rise against the tree, shaking and tearing its branches; for which reason the said Brother John left the top of the tree where he was, and placing himself under its branches hid himself close to the roots. And while giving himself to contemplation there, Brother Bonaventure, who had drunk part of the chalice and had spilled part, went up to the branch and place which Brother John had left. And no sooner was he there, than the nails of his fingers became like points of iron; on seeing this, he hastened to leave the place he had taken, and in his fury he sought to vent his rage on Brother John; and Brother John perceiving his intention, cried out to Christ, the blessed one, who was seated on his throne, to help him; and Christ, hearing his cry, called St Francis, and giving him a sharp stone, said: `Take this stone, and going cut the nails of the brother who seeks to tear Brother John, so that he may not be able to do him any harm.’ And St Francis did as he was ordered. In the meantime a great tempest arose and the wind shook the tree in such a way that all the brethren fell to the ground. First fell those who had thrown away the contents of the chalice of the spirit of life: these were carried by devils to dark regions, full of pain and anguish; but Brother John, and others who had drunk of the chalice, were carried by angels to the regions of life eternal, full of light and splendour. And Brother James, who witnessed the vision, saw clearly the names, the condition and the fate of each brother. And the tempest did not cease till the tree was blown down, and carried away by the wind; and immediately another tree arose out of the golden roots of the old one, and it was entirely composed of gold, with its leaves and fruits; but for the present we will not describe the beauty, the virtues, and the delicious fragrance of this wonderful tree.”

Blessed John of Parma was St. Bonaventure’s predecessor as Minister General of the Franciscan Order. He is certainly to be considered the Minister General most devoted to the original idea of Poverty of Francis, and therefore the enemy of the Relaxati. His election was a source of joy to Francis’ early companions such as Leo, Ruffino, Masseo, and Giles. Upon his election, Giles said to him, “Welcome, father. But, oh, you come late!” John was the sixth Minister General, and the first one who strongly sought a return to Francis’ ideal. It is no wonder that Francis’ original companions and their spiritual successors rejoiced at his coming.

John reigned for 10 years (1247-1257). During that time he did much to bring back the Order to its original observance. His reputation for sanctity and learning was immense, as was his humility and personal observance of poverty. No other Minister General has ever been as zealous in visiting all the Franciscan monasteries, hermitages, etc. He heard every concern and complaint. It is even recorded that he once presided over a dispute as to whether a particular brother should be dismissed because his snoring was so profoundly disruptive of the sleep of others.

He had many friends, and also many enemies. Greatest among his enemies were those many ministers and friars within the Order who resented and feared the actions which he took to remedy relaxations of the Rule. After 10 years of rule, this conflict finally came to a head at the Chapter held at the Ara Coeli Convent in Rome in 1257. The Pope, Alexander IV, had also declared himself the Cardinal Protector of the Order. Constantly embroiled in this conflict, and always subject to the complaints and accusations of the Relaxati, he sent word secretly to John that if he were re-elected that he should not accept.

John promptly obeyed. Beseeched by many friars to recommend his successor, he named Bonaventura da Bagnorea, whom the world now knows as St. Bonaventure. There is every indication that John of Parma desired only to continue to serve the Order and the new Minister General in some humbler capacity. It was not to be allowed. Instead, under the authority and direction of Bonaventure, he was soon sent to a convent in Tuscany to be placed on trial and judged.

There were a number of accusations, including that of being a heretic (Joachimite). John had certainly shown some sympathy for some of the ideas of Joachim of Flora (as did St. Bonaventure), but certainly not for the bastardization of Joachim’s ideas which became known as the heresy of Joachimism, and which prophesied a coming Age of the Holy Spirit which would transcend the law of Christ and supersede the organized Church. John’s obedience and submission to the hierarchy was profound until the day of his death   Unquestionably, the primary motivation for his prosecution lay in the constant campaign to rid the Order of the Spirituals. The condemnation and imprisonment of the former Minister General represented the keystone for their success.

The following is an account taken from Anne Macdonell’s Sons of Francis (p. 241-242):

The scandalous sentence was, indeed, being pronounced, when a letter reached the judges from one too influential to be snubbed. The letter of the Cardinal Ottoboni, afterwards Pope Adrian V, was emphatic. It was almost threatening. He spoke of his sorrow at hearing of the accusation. “A holier and a more loyal man,” he said, “I have never known. I do not hesitate to say that his faith is my faith. Whatever heresy you discover in him abounds in me. His person is my person. In such things as you condemn him, I also am guilty. And with him I would be counted.”

In the face of this “threat” from Cardinal Ottoboni, the decision of the judges altered. Instead of being formally condemned and imprisoned, John was allowed to choose his place of perpetual retreat. He chose Greccio, where Francis had re-enacted the First Christmas. He would spend thirty-two years there. Subsequent examination of his life and teachings resulted in his beatification in 1777, and his Feast is celebrated on March 20.

St. Bonaventure’s efforts to bring unity to the Franciscan Order – which, as we have seen, demanded the suppression of the Spirituals – also required the suppression of any effective memory of the conflict between Francis and the “moderation” which had now become the “Conventual” norm of the Order. Such works as The Legend of Perugia, Speculum Perfectionis, and Sacrum Commercium were indeed sources of acute embarrassment, for they did indeed reveal that such moderation was the source of Francis’ great sorrow, and the reason for his resignation. Thus it came about that in 1266, under the Minister-Generalcy of St. Bonaventure, the General Chapter ordered all other Lives of St. Francis destroyed, and canonized Bonaventure’s Legend as the only permissible and acceptable Life of St. Francis.

None of this, of course, is meant to contradict the Church’s final judgment of St. Bonaventure’s sainthood. The story is told of St. Thomas and a companion visiting the room of St. Bonaventure at the University of Paris. Upon discovering that the latter was working on his life of Francis, St. Thomas said to his companion, “Let us leave a Saint to write about a Saint.” The problem is that St. Bonaventure, like so many Popes, Minister Generals, and other good men of the time, did not understand that St. Francis could not be “moderated” without being destroyed.

The deeper one penetrates into history, and the lives of those who make it, the more one comes to realize that extraordinary sanctity and goodness is not at all to be identified with infallibility or inerrancy, and that the life of great and holy men, including Popes and Saints, yet often contain very many serious errors and mistakes.

The irony, however, is that after having suborned the Papacy to support this betrayal of Francis, and having developed the systematic doctrine of “Absolute Poverty” in order to theologically bless this betrayal, and now being largely triumphant over the Spirituals, the position of the “Community” (a euphemism for the “moderate” majority of Franciscans) was soon to be shown forth in all its self-contradictory nakedness.

The agent of this revelation was to be the Avignon Pope, John XXII.

 

Pope John XXII

The Condemnation of the Doctrine of the Absolute Poverty of Christ

The conflict between the various elements of the Franciscan Order – Relaxati, Conventuals, Spirituals, Fraticelli – is quite complex, involving many personalities, events, injustices, extremes of action and reaction, etc. It is not to our purpose to fully delineate these things here. Suffice to say, it all came to a dramatic climax with the Papacy of John XXII, who resolved to destroy the Spirituals on the one hand, but equally to condemn the doctrine of Absolute Poverty which the “Community” of the Franciscan Order claimed for their unique charism.

We recall that this doctrine of Absolute Poverty, as taught by St. Bonaventure and embraced by a series of previous Popes, applied to common dominion over all property. Its basic principle was that the Franciscan Order did not have dominion (propietas) over its property. It was now the Pope, in fact, who allegedly held all of this property, and allowed the Order the use (administration) over such. Further, in endorsement of Bonaventure’s teaching, this doctrine of Absolute Poverty had, in Exiit qui seminat, also been claimed to apply to Christ and the Apostles.

It was the position of the Franciscan Community that the previous encyclicals of the aforementioned Popes had infallibly defined this doctrine. Pope John’s first step in this contest was to declare in his Bull Qui nonnunquam (March 26, 1322) that this was not true, and that he had the right to alter the Bulls of his predecessors. He wrote:

Because sometimes, what conjecture believed would be of profit, subsequent experience has shown to be harmful, it ought not to be thought reprehensible, if the legislator takes steps to revoke canons issued by himself or his predecessors, if he sees them to be harmful rather than profitable….” (Loomis, p. 244).

This of course opened up Pope Nicholas III’s Bull Exiit qui seminat, which had taught not only the Absolute Poverty of the Franciscan Order but also the Absolute Poverty of Christ, to reconsideration and abrogation.

Approximately 9 months later, John issued a second Bull, Ad conditorem, which reiterated even more strongly his right to abrogate the Bulls of his predecessors. But it did something even more devastating to the presumptions of the Franciscan Community: it cancelled the Pope’s ownership and dominion over all Franciscan property, thereby destroying all pretentions of being able to use these things without ownership. In one stroke, the “Absolute Poverty” of the Franciscan Order had been destroyed.

The final blow came in the Pope’s Bull Cum inter nonnullos. Therein John declared that it was a heresy to teach or claim that Christ and the Apostles did not “have anything either privately or in common,” and equally heretical to assert that they did not possess the right of “selling, giving, or exchanging them [possessions]….” To sell something one must possess legal dominion or ownership. It was obvious therefore to all that John XXII had declared it heretical to deny dominion over property to Christ and the Apostles. The Franciscan “Community” had always claimed that their embrace of Absolute Poverty placed them in the unique position, which they alone occupied among all the Religious Orders, of fully imitating Christ in His Absolute Poverty. John’s condemnation of the doctrine of the Absolute Poverty of Christ amounted, therefore, to the deepest assault upon the existing Order’s dignity, and any claim to a unique charism.

All claims of the Franciscan Order to the Possession of the charism of “Absolute Poverty” had thereby been destroyed, as had any claim to the following of Christ in the imitation of such Absolute Poverty.

The betrayal of St. Francis had now reached its epiphany, and it was time for the so-called “Moderates’ to experience persecution. The current Minister General, Michael of Cesena (who had assisted Pope John XXII in the suppression of Spirituals), fled to the Court of Lewis of Bavaria, along with Bongratio of Bergamo (litigator for the Community, and prosecutor of the Spirituals) and William of Ockham. According to Lambert:

Under his protection they launched attack after attack upon the Bulls of John XXII, whom they accused of having imposed heresy on the Church in Ad Conditorem and Cum inter nonnullos. They were deposed from office, excluded from the order, and excommunicated.”

All three died in schism.

The Great Betrayal had now come full-circle. What Francis had prophesied at the Chapter of the Matts in 1223 had now come to fulfillment. It is worth quoting again.

My brothers! My brothers! God has called me by the way of simplicity and humility, and has in truth revealed this way for me and for all who are willing to trust and follow me. So I do not want you to quote any other Rule to me, whether that of Saint Benedict, Saint Augustine, or Saint Bernard, or to recommend any other way or form of life except this way which God in His mercy has revealed and given to me. The Lord told me that He wished me to be a new kind of simpleton in this world, and he does not wish us to live by any other wisdom but this. God will confound you through your own prudence and learning. And I trust in the constables [the devils, whom Francis called “God’s policemen”] of God, that He will punish you through them. Eventually, whether you wish it or not, you will return with great remorse to your first state.”

The Order has not yet returned. There have of course been movements involving both individuals (Peter of Alcantara for one) and branches (such as the Observants and Capuchins) that have succeeded to various extents. Francis saw that his Order would endure until the end of the world, and that his Friars would eventually return. Again, from the vision of Brother James of Massa:

And the tempest did not cease till the tree was blown down, and carried away by the wind; and immediately another tree arose out of the golden roots of the old one, and it was entirely composed of gold, with its leaves and fruits; but for the present we will not describe the beauty, the virtues, and the delicious fragrance of this wonderful tree.””

The fact remains, however, that the Sacrum Commercium of St. Francis had been rejected. Christian Civilization, despite the appearances of its cultural “monuments,” was in flight from the Beatitudes.

 

Part III

St. Francis of Assisi: They Pretended to Love You So That They Might Leave You

 

A Darksome Light

In His Sermon on the Mount (the whole of which can be seen as an exposition of the meaning of the Beatitudes), Our Lord offered the following:

For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be! No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6:21-24).

It might first seem to be a matter of total contradiction, or at least a paradoxical riddle, to speak of a “light that is darkness” – a “Darksome Light,” as it were. All contradiction is removed, however, if we perceive this phrase as referring to the relationship between intellect and will – between Truth, and the actual way in which we live, or fail to live, this truth in the world. “Faith, without works is dead,” proclaims St. James. It is thus entirely possible to “possess” the Faith, while yet denying it in the will, and therefore in what we love and pursue in this world. The possibility of a Darksome Faith is thus the inheritance of original sin, and the unnatural duplicity which is the tendency of all men

We see this “apparent” contradiction most aptly expressed in Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees:

And the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled in them, who saith: ‘By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand: and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive. For the heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears they have been dull of hearing, and their eyes they have shut: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I would heal them.” (Mt 13:14-15).

The Sixth Beatitude is “Blessed are the clean [pure] of heart, for they shall see God.” This Beatitude corresponds, in Thomas’ analysis, to the Gift of the Holy Spirit which is called Understanding. It was the great Gift of God to St. Francis that he was able to obtain to the vision that the key to this “understanding with the heart” lies in poverty towards all the things of this world. This, in turn, establishes the soul in that simplicity of intention which is able to see God in all things, and beyond all things. In other words, this poverty and simplicity of intention bears the grace by which all of creation becomes transparent to the presence of God. This is why the “embrace” of St. Francis and St. Thomas (the true successor of St. Dominic) is the key to all return to sanity and integrity of faith in the face of the present Darkness. What Francis was able to directly perceive through Brothers and Sisters Sun, Moon, Stars, Water, Fire, Earth, Death, Birds, Wolves, and even mice and worms, corresponds to Thomas’ metaphysical vision which “sees” that no created thing is reducible to scientific (accidental) analysis, but only to the sustaining, creative action of God from nothing. It is this intellectual understanding which absolutely strips every created substance of its self-sufficiency, and thus necessitates a profound devotion to Lady Poverty as the Sacrum Commercium necessary for the preservation of a living faith. It is the Metaphysics of St. Thomas that is therefore truly Franciscan in spirit, and not that of Bonaventure, Ockham, or duns Scotus – all of whom rejected this Metaphysics.

As I have mentioned previously, the Thirteenth Century was poised on the cusp of that tidal-wave of intellectual hubris and growth of the “mammon of iniquity” which was the Renaissance. There is no necessity here to explore all the manifold areas of commerce, banking, growth of cities, scientific exploration and invention, technological advances, philosophical and theological aberrations, heresies, schisms, political revolutions, etc. by which these betrayals of the Gifts of Francis and Thomas became incarnate in Christian society over the subsequent centuries. The primary effect was to force the Church into retreat from “understanding with the heart.” Two very brief examples of this will hopefully suffice.

Francis, of course, had contempt of money over all things, and named it “Flies.” St. Thomas taught that money was only a medium of exchange for real things, that it was absolutely morally wrong to make it “fruitful” in any way, and that it was intimately linked to the principle that “riches” provide the sustenance for all other sins, and that we are therefore to desire and possess only that which is necessary for leading a simple life. The centuries after the death of Francis and Thomas saw the multiplication of “extrinsic titles’ which made it possible to obtain “interest,” and therefore make “fruitful” in every conceivable way, money issued as a loan. The eventual outcome of this was to totally silence the Church’s teaching on usury, and to involve the Church itself in the worst scandals in regard to her own banking operations. We will soon be posting an article here, titled Usury and the Love of Money, which will deal with the history and structure of this betrayal, St. Paul of tells us that love of money is “the root of all evil,” and therefore the “sustenance” which nourishes all the activities which corrupt the heart and will. If we wish to penetrate to the depths of that almost universal corruption which has now descended upon both the Church and the world, it is absolutely essential therefore that we come to understand how “love of money” has come to dominate not only our own personal lives, but also all the institutions of society, including the Church.

Our second example deals again with the Portiuncula, and the shrine of Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in which it is now enclosed. St. Mary of the Angels was built between the years 1569 and 1579 at the express will of Pope St. Pius V. As we have discussed towards the beginning of Part I, it represents very graphically an icon in stone of the betrayal of St. Francis. Pope St. Pius V was, of course, the “Pope of Trent,” the pontiff responsible for the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and the Mass of Pius V. The content of the Faith was being dogmatized, the unity and solemnity of worship being restored, while the heart of Francis and the life of the Beatitudes was being entombed. Trent restored the faith, but did little or nothing to stem the slide of the faithful into the jaws of the mammon of iniquity. The word “usury,” for instance, never appears in any of its documents. Such is the duplicity, the bifurcation between intellect and will, by which the Faith becomes Darksome.

 

A Darksome Mirror

For if a man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was.” (James 1:23-24)

It is difficult for any of us to believe that the above scriptural passage could apply to us. St. James speaks of a “hearer of the word,” which would certainly seem to indicate any of us who have been open to receive the Truth of God, and have given to it the assent of our faith. Is it possible, or even conceivable, that in the midst of all this possession of the Faith, there now exists a darkness in our souls by which, and through which, we have “forgotten what manner of man we were?” Is it conceivable, referring to St. James graphic terminology, that we are so “spotted by the world” that we no longer know who we are, or what it really means to be Christian?

St. James makes “double-mindedness,” or duplicity, to be the primary factor in this loss of self-knowledge. This duplicity finds its most succinct exposition in the following passage of his epistle:

You ask, and receive not: because you ask amiss; that you may consume it on your concupiscences. Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world, is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God.” (4:3-4).

To be a “doer of the word,” is therefore to be identified with renouncing friendship with this world, and with that threefold concupiscence – of the flesh, the eyes, and pride of life – which St. John defines to be the entire substance of this world. The “heart” of this choice of God over the world is a militant devotion and commitment to Poverty, which is the First Beatitude and the foundation of the entire spiritual life:

Very properly is the kingdom of heaven said to be the possession of those who keep nothing of the goods of this world through their own will, their inclination towards spiritual things, and their desire for eternal things. For it can only follow that a person will live on heavenly things if he cares nothing for earthly things, and he who renounces all earthly things and counts them as dung will taste with pleasure the savory crumbs that fall from the table of the holy angels and will deserve to taste how sweet and how good the Lord is.” (Sacrum Commercium, Prologue).

The rejection of the sacrum commercium of St. Francis opened the heart of Christian civilization to that prostitution to the world of concupiscence and hubris, the ascending severity of which is possibly best encapsulated in the popular names which we give to these succeeding ages of history: Renaissance, Enlightenment, Age of Reason, Industrial Age, and our own Information Age. With each succeeding century the penetrating power of money over all the institutions of society was increased; the Church’s teaching on usury was softened, compromised, and finally silenced; international finance and trade come to dominate human relations; life became incredibly more complex and simplicity was lost; the population of cities grew at the expense of rural areas; the grip of reductive scientific thinking became dominant over every “civilized” man; human progress came to be increasingly identified with scientific, economic, technological, and consumeristic growth rather than anything to do with the spiritual life or the growth of Christ’s Kingdom.

The growth of these forces (and more) certainly moved at an accelerating pace through the 14th – 19th centuries. But something happened during the first half of the 20th Century – as though these forces of worldliness reached a critical mass – which enabled the whole process to enter into a geometrical progression. Possibly a few statistics might be of help:

According to the World Health Organization:

For the first time ever, the majority of the world’s population lives in a city, and this proportion continues to grow. One hundred years ago, 2 out of every 10 people lived in an urban area. By 1990, less than 40% of the global population lived in a city, but as of 2010, more than half of all people live in an urban area. By 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will live in a city, and by 2050, this proportion will increase to 7 out of 10 people.”

Such an increase speaks of a growth of people living profoundly unrelated to the intimacy of God’s natural creation and all its rhythms and realities, a devotion to consumerism, and a loss of any sort of life of simplicity which, in turn, could only lead to a massive loss of all the spiritual truths and realities to be found in Our Lord’s teaching on the Beatitudes and in the entire Sermon on the Mount. One need only look at a demographic map of the voting orientations for the 2016 U.S. Presidential election to see the stark reality. The blue areas (Democrats) are almost entirely confined to urban areas, whereas areas colored red (Republican) are predominantly rural. In translating this into geographical terms this signifies that Obama won 580,000 square miles, while Romney won 2,427,000 square miles, and yet lost the election. I present these statistics not in any way as an endorsement of Romney or the Republican Party, but only to strongly indicate the process of liberalization inherent in the growth of cities.

This urbanization of course means that what the vast majority of people do in order to earn their living has little or nothing to do with anything relating to God’s creation, or anything which Our Lord, St. Francis, or St. Thomas would consider the necessities of life. There are, for instance, approximately 623,800 people employed in Advertising, Marketing, Promotions, Public Relations, and as Sales Managers in the United States. If there are that many actually employed in promoting and selling consumerism, one can barely imagine the disastrous effect upon all of Americans (and elsewhere) of the work of this vast army promoting the destruction of the ideal of Poverty.

Millions work in vocations related to the entertainment industry, which is almost certainly the primary source for spreading violence and sexual impurity in our cultures. Francis’ 1221 Rule for the Franciscan Third Order stated emphatically: “They shall not donate to actors, and shall forbid their household to donate.”

We need consider what this loss of poverty and simplicity of life has done to children. Global toy sales for the year 2011 were reported at 83.3 billion. The vast majority of these toys are almost certainly electronic – things which never seem to satisfy, always demand further growth in complexity and stimulation, and are soon broken or obsolete. Our children and grandchildren are violated by all this in the deepest recesses of their hearts and minds.

Pre-Vatican II American Catholics, in the midst of the twentieth century and during this period of exploding consumerism and secularism, possessed an abundance of the exterior testimonies to Christian civilization: vocations to the priesthood and religious life; the most extensive Catholic school system in the world; all children systematically taught the Baltimore Catechism; magnificent Churches; a vast network of Catholic Universities and Colleges; efficient Charitable Organizations; the Traditional Latin Mass.

And, in the midst of all this monumental Catholicism, they increasingly built up their bank accounts, stock portfolios, and retirement funds. They came to rely on insurance for their security rather than the charity of their family, friends, and Church. They somehow identified their faith with democracy and the American Experiment. They really believed in Religious Pluralism as the foundation of this experiment. They adored Bishop Sheen, and absorbed his embrace of evolutionary theory, which led him to write that Teilhard de Chardin “will appear like John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, as the spiritual genius of the twentieth century.” (Footprints in a Darkened Forest, Meredith Press, 1967, p. 73). They embraced the banal TV entertainment of the 50’s, and prepared themselves to remain glued to their chairs for the flood of impurity that would descend in the 60’s and afterward.

In the intellectual realm, they became concubines of scientific reductionism, and every technological development. Virtually down to every single child and adult they absorbed the spiritual desolation involved in the notion that all physical things are reducible to atomic analysis. They taught, or had their children taught, about their alleged simian ancestry. They turned their faces away from Catholic teaching on “just wars, while this country dropped hydrogen bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which killed over 200,000 innocent civilians; they did the same while we incinerated hundreds of thousands more with the Fire-storm bombing of Tokyo and many European cities (135,000 in Dresden in one night). They raised America and the Constitution to a status parallel to the Chosen People and the Bible.

The examples are almost unlimited. They reach into every nook and cranny of our personal and communal lives.

It is therefore highly superficial to attribute the present chaos and filth in the Church to Vatican Council II. Vatican II and its aftermaths are the fruit, and certainly the facilitator of chastisement, for a much deeper infidelity and betrayal. Why should we believe that we have a right to the Traditional Latin Mass, which re-presents the supreme act of Poverty and Sacrifice by which Christ overcame the same world to which we are now prostituted? Why should we wonder that the leaders of the Church have now embraced an ecumenism which has had the effect of lowering us into the world’s cesspool of pluralism and paganism, which is the very constitutional principle upon which democracy and our country is founded? Why should we find it surprising that our hierarchy is largely immersed in the same sort of avarice, violence, and filth which is often our entertainment? Why should we be horrified by the undermining of Church Doctrine through philosophies and theologies which are the fruit of the same reductive scientism which has thoroughly permeated our own souls?

St. Gregory the Great wrote: “Divine justice provides shepherds according to the just desserts of the faithful.” The Papacy can be employed by God as a means of chastisement, as well as blessing. Any serious study of the history of the Church will prove the veracity of this principle. Vatican Council I taught that Peter, through Christ, “lives, presides and judges to this day, always in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome,” and that we are obliged to believe therefore that, “The disposition made by Incarnate Truth (dispositio veritatis) therefore remains, and Blessed Peter, abiding in the rock’s strength which he received (in accepta fortitudine petrae perseverans), has not abandoned the direction of the Church.” To believe this is to be Catholic, to believe otherwise is something else. If we choose to be Catholic, then we need to look inward for the real reasons behind Christ’s “direction” through Peter.

If we have a Pope who is in any way sinful or weak, then that infirmity is most likely intimately connected within the Mystical Body of Christ to our own hypocrisy, duplicity, and sinfulness. The same may be said of the hierarchy in general. This, of course, does not excuse Popes, bishops, priests, religious, theologians, catechists, etc. from sins, nor disallow us from combating error and abuses. It does, however, profoundly deepen our understanding of the roots of such sin, and also our proper response to it. Most of all, it forces us to acknowledge our complicity in this immense tragedy; and, hopefully, especially in the light of our exploration and study of St. Francis and his Sacred Commercium of Poverty, it should teach us humility, and destroy some conceits. In such humility, we might begin to find the answer, as did Daniel the Prophet:

“All this evil is come upon us; and we entreated not thy face, O Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and think on thy truth. And the Lord hath watched upon the evil, and hath brought it upon us: the Lord our God is just in all his works which he hath done: for we have not hearkened to his voice…we have sinned, we have committed iniquity…. For by reason of our sins, and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem, and thy people are a reproach to all that are round about us. Now therefore, O our Lord, hear the supplication of thy servant, and his prayers: and shew thy face upon thy sanctuary which is desolate, for thy own sake.”

Daniel has always seemed to be the premier Old Testament image of purity and sainthood – the Old Testament parallel to St. Francis. The scriptures repeatedly call him the “man of desires”, as though to underline the singular way in which his mind and heart were united to God, and therefore possessed that understanding heart which truly “sees God.”

Daniel never says “they have sinned”, but repeatedly “we have sinned, we have committed iniquity.”

The man who becomes Poor for Christ simply attains to such a state of charity with God and all His creation that he sees things very differently. This does not mean that he loses his ability to discern sin, or the lack of fortitude and righteous desire to combat it. It does mean that he penetrates to such a depth into the merciful heart of Christ and also into the poverty of every single human being, including himself, that he cannot help but say we have sinned many more times each day than they have sinned. This seems to me something which those who call themselves traditional Catholics, and consider themselves as a remnant of God in a world turned to general apostasy, have largely yet to learn. I do not know that in any of my reading of contemporary traditionalist literature I have ever seen the questions seriously posed, “What have we done wrong?” or “What have we done to deserve this?”

The dream of Pope Innocent III, in which he saw St. Francis holding up and restoring a Church crumbling into ruins, offers the answer. What is needed today is not another book on the errors of Vatican II. What is needed is not slick, expensive new catechisms, Catholic Universities and Colleges, more Catholic forums and conferences, more Monuments. What is needed most is not even the total restoration of the Traditional Mass. The Mass was the universal possession of all the faithful before Vatican II, and it did not prevent our present infidelity. What is demanded is hearts turned away from the world in poverty, and turned towards Christ in depth of desire and simplicity of intention. What is required is St. Francis, and the life of Poverty which was his Lady.

It is easy for us to dismiss all of this with the excuse that as lay people we cannot possibly live the “extreme” Poverty that Francis demanded of his Friars Minor. In doing so, we would be completely missing the richness of the Sacrum Commercium which was Francis’ love, and which he envisioned as a love for all. As quoted earlier from the I Celano, “For he assigned to all their rule of life, and pointed out truly the way to be saved in every station.”

It is an immense task. The great Cathedrals of Christendom are nothing when compared to the creativity demanded of such a work. Its intricacy is that of the human heart, as compared to stone. What Francis called “Flies,” and all its illegitimate children, have penetrated into every aspect of our lives. The task before us is a heroic undertaking. God will surely honor both our successes and failures, if only we turn back to Him with all our hearts:

“For we, O Lord, are diminished more than any nation, and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins….And now we follow thee with all our heart, and we fear thee, and seek thy face. Put us not to confusion, but deal with us according to thy meekness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies.” (Dan 3:33, 41-42).

 

Our Lady, Queen of Mercy

In his Second Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano offers us the following description of St. Francis’ extraordinary devotion to Our Lady:

Toward the Mother of Jesus he was filled with an inexpressible love, because it was she who made the Lord of Majesty our brother. He sang special Praises to her, poured out prayers to her, offered her his affections, so many and so great that the tongue of man cannot recount them. But what delights us most, he made her the advocate of the order and placed under her wings the sons he was about to leave that she might cherish them and protect them to the end – Hail advocate of the poor! Fulfill toward us your office of protectress until the time set by the Father!”

“Hail advocate of the poor! St. Francis clearly identified Our Lady with Lady Poverty. But there is more. He also identified Mary with the Church. The following, in Francis’ own words, is St. Francis prayer and Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Hail, O Lady, Holy Queen

Mary, Mother of God:

You are the virgin made Church

And the one chosen by the most holy Father in Heaven

Whom He consecrated with His most holy beloved Son

And with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, In whom there was and is

All the fullness of grace and every good.

It is an extraordinary concept that Mary, through the will of the Father, was made Church. We of course can appreciate that this means that she is personally the perfect union of humanity with God, and is therefore the precursor and model, in imitation of her Son, of perfect holiness. She is the perfection of the Mystical Body of Christ.

But there is a second sense in which Mary is “made” Church. She encompasses within Her Immaculate Heart all that constitutes the Church Militant and the Church Suffering. As such, she has received the grace and power to purify the hearts of each one of us that we might come “to see with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and understand with our heart, and be converted”; and that Our Lord might truly heal us of our infidelities and prostitutions to a world plummeting into the luxurious and prideful hands of Satan. It is thus that Our Lady is truly spoken of as Queen of Mercy.

This is the entire purpose of the Rosary to the Interior: For the Purification of the Church – to place all of us within the Immaculate Heart of Mary in order that we might be purified of that darkness which enshrouds us all. It is of course impossible for any of us to survive in this Babylonian world, even in terms of possessing the simple necessities of this life, in the same way that was possible in the relative simplicity of the 13th Century. But God sees the heart, and it is here where the simplicity and purity of our intentions may receive His grace and fruitfulness. It is here where we may receive the grace of that “single eye” which truly seeks God above all the things of this world, and the power of truly Christian creativity to make this present within our lives and the lives of our families. Most of all, this necessitates that we begin by confessing that we cannot receive or live the richness of God, while pursuing the riches, luxuries, pleasures, and advancements of this world. We cannot claim the first Beatitude and that poverty of spirit which “sees God”, without at the same time possessing a deep love and devotion towards St. Francis’ Lady Poverty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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