Tuesday, August 21, 2012

St Francis and "poverty"

Here's an interesting quote from Fr Augustine Thompson OP's "St Francis of Assizi, a new Biography"
Ghinato (1973), 42-43, thinks that Francis’s 1209 decision to seek approval from the pope was the result of a “Catholic scruple” about the need to distinguish his movement from heretical sects. He contrasts this to the 1223 Rule approbation, when the need was to formalize a set way of life. Miccoli (1991), 73, links the decision to get Roman approval to Francis’s desire to subordinate himself to the Catholic clergy who ministered the Eucharis. This is an important insight. I also agree with Miccoli (1991), 58-72), that renunciation of one’s own will is the essence of “poverty” for Francis. One can see this in Francis’s own writings, e.g., Adm 2. Both scholars are on to something, but I would go a step further.

Francis’s decision was about a scruple, but the scruple was a personal, even private one. He wanted an ecclesiastical authority (and who better than the pope?) to certify that the “form of the Gospel” he was to follow was one acceptable to the Church and not the result of an autonomous act of his own will. To obey the Gospel for Francis meant also to obey the Church. Manselli (1995), 193-94, makes the excellent observation that for Francis “poverty” was above all a state without defenses, subordinate to others. That is why he chose to call his followers minores, not paupers. Thus the submission of his intentions to the pope. Pace Flood (1983), 49, this poverty is really quite different from being “marginal,” which is a social state. Francis’s concern in 1209 was more spiritual, even psychological, than social, if one wants to use modern language. We have to infer what Francis intended to do in Rome from his own words and known actions, not from retrojection of later Franciscan concerns.
Francis of Assisi, A New Biography, Augustine Thompson OP, 2012, 195

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