Francis, Saint (1181-1226)

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Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) founded the Franciscan order and was an important participant in the religious revival of the late Middle Ages. He was born Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone in the duchy of Spoleto into the family of a prominent cloth merchant, and was fairly well educated for a youth of the upper middle class. As a young man he hungered after military adventure in the service of his prince and his church, and he was wounded in the war between Assisi and Perugia. After recovering, he was determined to enlist in the papal army of Count Gentile against Frederick II (1194-1250, H.R.E. 1220-1250) in Apulia, but changed his mind after experiencing a dream that appeared to be heaven-sent. He gave himself over to solitude and prayer so that he might determine the will of God, and while praying in a grotto near Assisi had a vision of Christ. Other visions followed quickly thereafter, and from these he determined that the Lord wanted him to be an example of Christian service and charity. It was the Gospel of Matthew that inspired the life of Saint Francis and the order he founded: "Preach as you go, saying, `The Kingdom of God is at hand.' . . . You received without paying, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food."

Although the Franciscan order has always been associated with poverty, it was not poverty that Saint Francis and his followers sought, but rather a closeness to God through walking in the path of Christ. The Franciscans differed from a number of heretical orders that shared a similar objective because they strictly adhered to orthodoxy, recognized the authority of Rome, and appealed to Innocent III (r. 1198-1216) for papal sanction of their activities. Saint Francis's personal example drew numerous followers to the order. Eventually, the number of members grew so large that Saint Francis was forced to turn the running of the order over to more capable managerial hands.

Besides the poverty traditionally associated with Saint Francis, a profound love of nature is also characteristic of his theology. Like Kalidasa, Saint Francis recognized the inherent worth of natural life, and his most famous work, The Canticle of the Sun, is full of rich, natural symbolism. Saint Francis's pious and exemplary life, love of man and nature, and religious mission made his movement a success during his lifetime and ensured his place as one of the most popular figures in Christianity. The Franciscan order has played an important role in history through its enduring message of Christian love and virtuous simplicity. Its ranks have produced numerous men of note, including Saint Bonaventure (1217-1274), Duns Scotus (1265-1308), and William of Occam (1285-1347).


Works by the Author

St. Francis of Assisi. The Little Flowers and the Life of Brother Giles. Oxford: Oxford Univesity Press, 1925.

St Francis of Assisi. The Little Flowers, The Mirror of Perfection and the Life of St. Francis. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co.


The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

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