Aardvark Alley

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Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

04 October 2005
  + Francis of Assisi +
4 October AD 1226

Saint Francis of AardsisiToday we celebrate a man some probably consider the Dr. Dolittle of the Sanctorial Calendar. Yes, it's the commemoration of Francis of Assisi, the guy most think of as taking preaching the Gospel to all creatures to mean all creatures, including the birds and the bunnies. Yet behind some known eccentricities and the misconceptions of later generations, we find a gentle yet strong-minded individual who forsook earthly wealth in favor of the true treasure of heaven.

Baptized Giovanni Bernardone in Assisi, Italy in 1181, this son of wealthy cloth merchant Pietro Bernardone became known as "Francesco." Speculation continues as to the origin of the replacement name. Some claim that it came soon after birth from his father, who'd from a trip to France; another account credits his early mastery of the French language. However, I think the best explanation I've heard is that he took or was given the name because of a deep affection for French literature and culture, especially the Troubadors.

After rejecting family wealth and renouncing his inheritance, he began a the life of a mendicant, or beggar. Slowly he attracted others to himself and a life of complete renunciation of earthly possessions. Pope Innocent III granted a charter to Francis and his followers, allowing the formation of the Order of Friars Minor.

If Francis suffered in poverty, he may have suffered even more as the leader of a recognized monastic order. Loose rule was replaced with rigid constitution and dissent sometimes arose over staying the course versus either relaxing or increasing the severity of the order's strict standards and vows.

Francis is rightly remembered as a man who passionately defended and wholeheartedly worked to uplift the poor in body or spirit. However, modern scholars pretty much agree that he wasn't always going about talking with the animals. While he considered that the created universe was good and offered God praise in and of itself, he didn't seem to adhere to many of the tenets ascribed to him by many environmentalists, animal "rights" activists, and sentimentalists of various stripes.

His later years finally brought a degree of solace as he was able to embark upon a brief period of hermitage, fasting, meditation, and prayer. He returned to Assisi prior to his death and large crowds made pilgrimage. Historians suspect that while some came to pay honor or receive spiritual blessing, others lurked hoping to be part of any division of his remains as relics.

Two years after his death, Pope Gregory IX, the former cardinal-protector of the order, canonized Francis.

"Of Assisi," yes … "a sissy," nope … he was one tough Little Brother.
 
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