St. Francis

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscans and a major instrument of renewal in the Church. Read our exclusive below:

The following was a college essay written by Katie Hugo. It has been edited and approved by Christopher Centrella. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By Katie Hugo, Franciscan University

Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscan order in the thirteenth century as part of the vita apostolica, a revival of religious devotion. Since the founding of the Franciscan order, there has been a question over the centuries on what makes someone a true follower of Francis. To answer this question, one needs to examine the various writings on his order that were written either during the lifetime of Francis or shortly after his death in 1226. After examining early texts on the order, it is clear that there are several virtues that constitute a Franciscan, including voluntary poverty, joy, and faith.

The texts indicate that voluntary poverty is a necessary virtue for Francis and the early Franciscans. In The Beginning or Founding of the Order and the Deeds of Those Lesser Brothers Who Were the First Companions of Blessed Francis in Religion, the author, John of Perugia, relates a story of a greedy priest. The priest saw the Franciscans giving away money, and he said that the order had not paid him properly, to which Francis paid him the amount asked. Later, the priest felt remorse for his actions and knew “that blessed Francis was indeed God’s friend and that the religion he [had] founded would spread all over the world. From that time on, he began to fear God and do penance in his own home” before joining the order.[1] In addition, Francis writes in “The Later Rule” that “the brothers shall not acquire anything as their own,”[2] which shows that he viewed poverty as necessary for the order. Clearly, voluntary poverty was a virtue for the Franciscans and even moved others to reform their lives.

The texts indicate that deep joy is a necessary virtue for Francis and the early Franciscans. In The Beginning or Founding of the Order and the Deeds of Those Lesser Brothers Who Were the First Companions of Blessed Francis in Religion, the author discusses the joy that the friars had. He states that “each time they saw one another, the brothers were filled with such delight and spiritual joy that they forgot all the adversity and the extreme poverty that they suffered.”[3] In other words, the brothers had such a deep joy that it permeated their lives, making them continue in their lifestyle despite the poverty that they lived in.

The author also notes that “They rejoiced most in their poverty, for they desired no riches except those of eternity.”[4] They had a joy even with their circumstances because the friars desired only what God can provide. Yet another example is in the sixth chapter of the “The Later Rule”, where Saint Francis of Assisi writes that “And wherever the brothers may be together or meet [other] brothers, let them give witness that they are members of one family.”[5] This quote refers to joy because it shows the love that the brothers were supposed to have for their fellow Franciscans, and joy stems from love. Clearly, joy is an essential virtue for the early Franciscan order.

Lastly, the texts indicate that a living faith is a necessary virtue for Francis and the rest of the early Franciscans. In The Beginning or Founding of the Order and the Deeds of Those Lesser Brothers Who Were the First Companions of Blessed Francis in Religion, the author discusses the faith of Francis and the early Franciscans by saying:

Among the brothers assembled at chapter, not one of them dared to discuss worldly matters with anyone. Instead, they spoke about the lives of the holy fathers, or about the holiness of one of the brothers, or how they could better attain the grace of our Lord. If any of the brothers gathered at chapter experienced temptations of the flesh or the world, or some other kind of trial, the temptations would go away either on hearing blessed Francis….[6]

The Beginning or Founding of the Order and the Deeds of Those Lesser Brothers Who Were the First Companions of Blessed Francis in Religion, n. 13, found in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2: The Founder, by John of Perugia.

This shows that faith was present in the early Franciscans because the members of the order discussed spiritual topics, including various saints and how to deepen their relationship with Christ. Also, this text seems to indicate that their devotion was a living faith because it meant something to them, rather than just a set of devotions to be performed. The text clearly indicates that the members of the order knew that they could talk to Francis about their struggles in their spiritual lives. This was important because it shows that the members of the order could depend on each other while on the journey through life.

In addition, Saint Francis of Assisi writes in “The Later Rule” that “The rule and life of the Friars Minor is this: To observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without anything of their own, and in chastity.”[7] This indicates that the whole order revolves around the Gospel, which is the core of the Catholic faith. The Franciscan way of life is based on believing the one, true faith. In Chapter Five, called “The Manner of Working,” Francis says that the members of his order must “not extinguish the Spirit of holy prayer and devotion to which all other things of our earthly existence must contribute.”[8] In this passage, the Catholic saint is saying that faith is the foundation of their way of life, even more than bodily existence. From both the writings of Francis as well as writings about the early order, it is evident that a living faith was a necessary virtue to have as a member of the early Franciscan order.

Works Cited

Francis of Assisi, “The Later Rule.” Found in Francis and Clare: The Composite Works.

Translated by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap and Ignatius C. Brady. New York: Paulist Press: 1982.

John of Perugia, The Beginning or Founding of the Order and the Deeds of Those Lesser Brothers Who Were the First Companions of Blessed Francis in Religion, n. 13, found in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2: The Founder, edited by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, OFM Conv., and William J. Short, OFM, New York: New City Press, 2000.

Edited by Christopher Centrella


[1] John of Perugia, The Beginning or Founding of the Order and the Deeds of Those Lesser Brothers Who Were the First Companions of Blessed Francis in Religion, n. 13, found in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2: The Founder, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, OFM Conv., and William J. Short, OFM (New York: New City Press, 2000), 39. Hereafter referred to as AP.

[2] Francis of Assisi, “The Later Rule,” Ch. 6, found in Francis and Clare: The Composite Works, trans. Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap and Ignatius C. Brady (New York: Paulist Press: 1982), 141.

[3] AP, n. 25, 45.

[4] AP, n. 29, 47.

[5] Francis of Assisi, “The Later Rule,” Ch. 6, found in Francis and Clare: The Composite Works, trans. Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap and Ignatius C. Brady (New York: Paulist Press: 1982), 141.

[6] AP, no 39, 53.

[7] Francis of Assisi, “The Later Rule,” Ch. 1, found in Francis and Clare: The Composite Works, trans. Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap and Ignatius C. Brady (New York: Paulist Press: 1982), 127.

[8] Ibid, Ch. 5, 140.

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