What Did St. Francis Really Say?

First, think of this the next time you are called upon to sing that ditty that starts with: “Make me a channel of your peace”.

From the fine Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by frequent commentator here Fr Augustine Thompson.  US HERE – UK HERE

“Peace Prayer of Saint Francis”—a popular hymn best known by its opening words “Make me a channel of your peace,” and sung to a tune written by the Anglican composer Sebastian Temple. Many are quite shocked to find that this song is not identical to Francis’s “Canticle of Brother Sun,” from which Zefferelli took the name of his movie. The “Peace Prayer” is modern and anonymous, originally written in French, and dates to about 1912, when it was published in a minor French spiritual magazine, La Clochette. Noble as its sentiments are, Francis would not have written such a piece, focused as it is on the self, with its constant repetition of the pronouns “I” and “me,” the words “God” and “Jesus” never appearing once.

Happy Feast of St. Francis.

Now that we have a Pope named Francis, and we know that he intended to invoke St. Francis of Assisi, we might delve into what St. Francis really thought and said.

First, if you have the notion that Francis was bunny-hugging, pastel-toned image on a holy card or garden statuette, with little birdies sitting on his arms.  Think again. Francis had his tender side, but he was as hard as nails.   This is, after all, the guy who went to face down a Sultan when things between Christians and Islam weren’t exactly cordial.

A long time friend, the Great Roman Fabrizio™ once put together texts which give insight into what Francis was really about.  He pulled quotes from the texts of Francis, most not translated into English elsewhere.  He uses the exact words of St. Francis as found in the original Franciscan Sources and quoted in Latin (or Italian) original when available online.  Otherwise, he transcribed them from the print edition. And online source for St. Francis’ own writings: OPUSCULA OMNIA SANCTI FRANCISCI ASSISIENSIS

The Poor Man of Assisi would not have been into clay pots and gunny sack vestments for Mass.

MYTH: Francis hated the “triumphalism” of the Roman Liturgy. He wanted Mass celebrated in barns, the Sacred Species held in shoe boxes or recycled bottles. And he couldn’t stand the “ritualism” of liturgical norms and devotional practices (and shall we mention his murky understanding of the doctrine on the Eucharist?):

Epistola ad custodes

To all the custodians of the Friars Minor to whom this letter shall come, Brother Francis, your servant and little one in the Lord God, greetings with new signs of heaven and earth which are great and most excellent before God and are considered least of all by many religious and by other men.

I beg you more than if it were a question of myself that, when it is becoming and you will deem it convenient, you humbly beseech the clerics to venerate above all the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Name and written words which sanctify the body. They ought to hold the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice as precious. And if the most holy Body of the Lord is left very poorly in any place, let It be moved by them to a precious place, according to the command of the Church and let It be carried with great veneration and administered to others with discretion. The Names also and written words of the Lord, In whatever unclean place they may be found, let them be collected, and then they must be put in a proper place. And in every time you preach, admonish the people about penance and that no one can be saved except he that receives the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord. And whenever It is being sacrificed by the priest on the altar and It is being carried to any place, let all the people give praise, honor, and glory to the Lord God Living and True on their bended knees. And let His praise be announced and preached to all peoples so that at every hour and when the bells are rung praise and thanks shall always be given to the Almighty God by all the people through the whole earth.

And whoever of my brothers custodians shall receive this writing, let them copy it and keep it with them and cause it to be copied for the brothers who have the office of preaching and the care of brothers, and let them preach all those things that are contained in this writing to the end: let them know they have the blessing of the Lord God and mine. And let these be for them true and holy obedience.

Universis custodibus fratrum minorum, ad quos litterae istae pervenerint, frater Franciscus in Domino Deo vester servus et parvulus, salutem cum novis signis caeli et terrae, quae magna et excellentissima sunt apud Deum et a multis religiosis et aliis hominibus minima reputantur. Rogo vos plus quam de me ipso, quatenus, cum decet et videritis expedire, clericis humiliter supplicetis, quod sanctissimum corpus et sanguinem Domini nostri Jesu Christi et sancta nomina et verba eius scripta, quae sanctificant corpus, super omnia debeant venerari. Calices, corporalia, ornamenta altaris et omnia, quae pertinent ad sacrificium, pretiosa habere debeant. Et si in aliquo loco sanctissimum corpus Domini fuerit pauperrime collocatum, iuxta mandatum Ecclesiae in loco pretioso ab eis ponatur et consignetur et cum magna veneratione portetur et cum discretione aliis ministretur. Nomina etiam et verba Domini scripta, ubicumque inveniantur in locis immundis, colligantur et in loco honesto debeant collocari. Et in omni praedicatione, quam facitis, de poenitentia populum moneatis, et quod nemo potest salvari, nisi qui recipit sanctissimum corpus et sanguinem Domini (cfr. Joa 6,54). Et, quando a sacerdote sacrificatur super altare et in aliqua parte portatur, omnes gentes flexis genibus reddant laudes, gloriam et honorem Domino Deo vivo et vero. Et de laude eius ita omnibus gentibus annuntietis et praedicetis, ut omni hora et quando pulsantur campanae semper ab universo populo omnipotenti Deo laudes et gratiae referantur per totam terram. Et, ad quoscumque fratres meos custodes pervenerit hoc scriptum et exemplaverint et apud se habuerint et pro fratribus, qui habent officium praedicationis et custodiam fratrum, fecerint exemplari et omnia, quae continentur in hoc scripto, praedicaverint usque in finem, sciant se habere benedictionem Domini Dei et meam. Et ista sint eis per veram et sanctam obedientiam. Amen.


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  1. Andrew1054 says:

    The fact that St. Francis had to write these instructions suggests that people weren’t taking care of the Blessed Sacrament or the vestments or altar vessels. It would seem liturgical abuses aren’t unique to our time. St. Francis rebuilt the Church literally brick by brick. We will too. Our time is probably more like St. Francis’ than we think.

  2. Gregorius says:

    To Latin learners, I read somewhere (here on a previous post? I forget) that St. Francis’ Latin is relatively easy to read, being mostly simple vocab and word order interspersed with scripture quotes. It might be good practice.

  3. caesare86 says:

    Yea, it seems to me that receiving the stigmata and being esteemed as the “alter Christus” doesn’t follow from simply being an eco-friendly animal rights activist hippy.

    San Francesco, prega per noi!

  4. majuscule says:

    Fr. Augustine Thompson’s book is quite illuminating for those of us who were brought up with the fluffy St. Francis garden statue image.

    I recommend it highly. It has given my facts to use in discussions with certain people.

  5. Gregorius says:

    What did St. Francis really say? Some solemn nonsense, apparently…
    [Cap. XVI: De euntibus inter saracenos et alios infideles]
    1Dicit Dominus: «Ecce ego mitto vos sicut oves in medio luporum». 2Estote ergo prudentes sicut serpentes et simplices sicut columbae (Mt 10,16). 3Unde quicumque frater voluerit ire inter saracenos et alios infideles, vadat de licentia sui ministri et servi. 4Et minister det eis licentiam et non contradicat, si viderit eos idoneos ad mittendum; nam tenebitur Domino reddere rationem (cfr. Lc 16,2), si in hoc vel in aliis processerit indiscrete. 5Fratres vero, qui vadunt, duobus modis inter eos possunt spiritualiter conversari. 6Unus modus est, quod non faciant lites neque contentiones, sed sint subditi omni humanae creaturae propter Deum (1 Petr 2,13) et confiteantur se esse christianos. 7Alius modus est, quod, cum viderint placere Domino, annuntient verbum Dei, ut credant Deum omnipotentem Patrem et Filium et Spiritum Sanctum, creatorem omnium, redemptorem et salvatorem Filium, et ut baptizentur et efficiantur christiani, quia quis renatus non fuerit ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto, non potest intrare in regnum Dei (cfr. Joa 3,5).

  6. For the dedicated Franciscan there is the St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources (1973) or Fr Regis Armstrong’s far more recent 3 volume set: Francis of Assisi – The Saint, Francis of Assisi – The Founder, and Francis of Assisi – The Prophet. If anyone prefers to watch movies instead there is Cavanni’s Francesco (which you can get at https://www.amazon.com/Francesco-Mickey-Rourke/dp/B00ZZ8PCUK/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1507145006&sr=1-1&keywords=Francesco&refinements=p_n_theme_browse-bin%3A2650369011). Mickey Rourke hams it a bit but it’s a good antidote to Zefirelli’s hippy version of Francis.

    It is hard to believe that for so many centuries the life of Francis was known only through hagiographies that mixed truth and fiction. Only in the 20th Century did scholars begin to scrape away the encrustation of legend to reveal the extraordinary man that Francis was or rather that grace made of him. Bon fete!

  7. Gerhard says:

    No ambiguity there….

  8. Dear Fr. Z., thanks for the publicity.

    Readers might find the dust-jacket image of Francis interesting. It is certainly the oldest painting of him and must date before his canonization (1228) because he is called “Frater” not “Sanctus,” has no nimbus, and there are no stigmata. It is a fresco at the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco.

    It is not impossible that it was painted in his own lifetime. And it does resemble closely the description of him in his first biography, that usually called “Celano I.”

  9. surritter says:

    Let it also be known that there is no record of St. Francis having said, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” That thing is constantly tossed around. Interesting advice, but wrong attribution.

  10. KateD says:

    Thank you!!! Book markin’ that!

    I don’t know how to phrase this right…but does anyone know if there are any 3rd order fraternities that are traditional/Latin…Many seculars attend Tridentine Mass, but the meetings seem to follow the new way. For instance, the Liturgy of Hours is in the vernacular and the NAB translation. The Latin Benedictine monks pray the traditional Divine Office in Latin, and I assume their oblates do as well? And the Norbertines? Their prayers are in Latin, right?

    I guess what I’m asking is: Are there Franciscan fraternities that operate in a way that’d be recognizable to Saint Francis as what he founded?

  11. Tamquam says:

    Sebastian Temple, whom I knew, entered the Catholic Church later in life and attempted to enter the Religious life. Two things held him back: 1. he had a very forceful personality that did not mesh well with some of the community; 2. he was a vegetarian and loathed the smell of cooked meat.

  12. Danteewoo says:

    The Hymn to the Sun by St. Francis ends with a line very much like “Woe to those who die in mortal sin.”

  13. jflare says:

    FWIW, I have long considered the ideas presented in “Prayer of St Francis” to be worthwhile and dignified. …And, while many seem to disagree, the musical arrangement has never bothered me.
    I have long wondered if the song might be better if recast in a more traditional composition. On the other hand, if this article is correct, the ideas presented may not reflect Francis’ own thoughts very well. That would be rather a problem.

  14. pelerin says:

    I seem to remember that our Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, once emerged from No 10 with another quote supposedly from St Francis. It was discovered later that the author was not St Francis at all.

  15. Imrahil says:

    Dear Danteewo,

    no, it does not.

    It ends with Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord, and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.

    What you quote is immediately before that; it is present, but it is not the end.

    Which I find an important distinction.

  16. Magash says:

    How very interesting that a Dominican has written a biography of St. Francis. It is defiantly going on my list after Father Z’s recommendation.
    I have a copy of the Omnibus of Sources, but was recently disturbed to find that its version of the SALUTATIO BEATAE MARIAE VIRGINIS was missing the line “quae es virgo ecclesia facta”. Makes me wonder what else might have been left out or changed. Been out of print forever. Got mine on Amazon as a New Old Stock and it was pricey, but not as pricey as grugalread whcih wants $752 for a copy.

  17. Dear Magash,

    Although handy in one volume the _Omnibus_ is very much out of date. Since it was first published almost every text has been reedited (in Latin or Italian) according to better manuscripts and a good number of new texts have been found.

    And all are available in excellent new English translations in the series “Francis of Assisi: Early Documents.” (HERE) The general editor is Fr. Regis Armstrong. It is currently 4vols. (at least one in process) including the index. But in paper they are much cheaper than old copies of the Omnibus.

  18. RichR says:

    This reminds me of the oft-misquoted St. Augustine when it comes to singing in church. You will hear enthusiastic choir leaders tell tone deaf participants: “He who sings”, says St Augustine, “prays twice.” The actual quote is “Bis orat qui bene cantat”, or “He who sings WELL sings twice.”

    [Well… no. That’s what he should have said. But neither of those appear anywhere in any of his works. What he did say is “Cantare amantis est.”]

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