The Roman Catholic Church observes October 4 as the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. The beloved saint has often been portrayed as a proto-environmentalist, a borderline pantheist, or a holy man who used his religious vocation to “preach communism.”
This image could not be more baseless, writes Samuel Gregg, Ph.D., director of research at the Acton Institute. Gregg shared 13 facts about the historical Francis of Assisi on Twitter on Friday morning.
1. The Peace Prayer of Saint Francis can’t be traced further back than a French magazine published in 1912.
2. Saint Francis articulated no legal or social reform program whatsoever. Such projects were “alien” to him.
3. Saint Francis believed that his followers should engage in manual labor to procure necessities. Begging was seen as a secondary alternative.
4. Saint Francis believed one’s most direct contact with God was in the Mass, not in serving in the poor or in the natural world.
5. Saint Francis was “fiercely orthodox” on faith and morals: he thought that friars guilty of liturgical abuses or heresy should be remanded to higher church authorities.
6. Saint Francis told the Muslim Sultan al-Kamil he was there to explicate the truth of the Christian faith and save the sultan’s soul. He was about as far removed from a modern interfaith “dialoguer” as you can get.
7. Saint Francis rejected abstinence from meat and wasn’t a vegetarian.
8. Saint Francis loved animals but regarded vermin and mice as the devil’s agents.
9. Saint Francis believed the Mass required careful preparation, use of the finest sacred vessels, and proper vestments.
10. Saint Francis’s final words to his followers were concerned with proper reverence for the Eucharist, not poverty.
11. “Francis was a 13th century orthodox Catholic, not a modern spiritual individualist . . .”
12. There was “not a hint trace of pantheism in Francis’s approach to nature”. Francis’s references and allusions to nature in his writings, preaching, and instruction were overwhelmingly drawn from the Scriptures rather than the environment itself.
13. Francis regarded the beauty in nature and the animal world as something that should lead to worship and praise of God—but not things to be invested with god-like qualities.
Gregg drew all of these facts from the 2012 book Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by the Dominican historian Augustine Thompson, OP, of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, located in Berkeley. Gregg expounded on this topic in a 2015 article for Crisis magazine.
For more on how the mendicant orders combined their unique vocation and charism with work, see Lindsay Wilbur’s outstanding article for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic titled, “Even monks have to eat: Enterprise meets the vow of poverty.”
(Photo credit: St. Francis of Assisi is pictured in a mural featuring the urban blight of modern Philadelphia. Jim McIntosh. CC BY 2.0.)