St Clare of Assisi Presentation

The Voice of St Clare To Us Today

1 Samuel 8

Israel Asks for a King

8 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders.[a] 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead[b] us, such as all the other nations have.”

1 Samuel 8

Israel Asks for a King

8 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders.[a] 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead[b] us, such as all the other nations have.”

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your land, fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”


Rich and Poor In the Jewish Scriptures

The Jewish scriptures, which Christians are sure that Jesus believed, have always been an integral part of the Christian bible, and even the Old Testament God identifies with the weak and destitute:

He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker.

Prov 14:31

He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto Yehouah and that which he hath given will He pay him again.

Prov 19:17

The law of Moses declares that no human being owns anything in perpetuity because everything belongs only to God!

Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Yehouah Elohim’s, the earth also, with all that therein is.

Dt 10:14

The earth is Yehouah’s, and the fulness thereof, the world, and they that dwell therein.

Ps 24:1

The land shall not be sold for ever, for the land is mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.

Lev 25:23

Ownership was always for a limited period in the Old Testament. Those who had the use of what was properly God’s did so only so long as they were just and charitable to the poor. True enough, neither Jews nor Christians have taken any notice of this, but though they ignore what is inconvenient for them, they are directly opposing their own God’s Word.

The stern message of God’s retribution against the rich was already present in the Jewish scriptures, as exemplified by Isaiah, the greatly respected prophet of the Essenes and the early Christians:

Yehouah standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. Yehouah will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof, for ye have eaten up the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord Yehouah of hosts.

Isaiah 3:13


Money has a dangerous way of putting scales on one’s eyes, a dangerous way of freezing people’s hands, eyes, lips and hearts.

Dom Helder Camara

Judæa had historically been a poor country, but under Greek and Roman influence many Jews discovered a talent for commerce and developed a taste for wealth, especially the ruling class of Sadducees. So even before the “Abomination of Desolation” when the Greeks violated the Jewish temple with a statue of Zeus, Ben Sira could complain that the citizens of Jerusalem thought poverty disgraceful. Evidently the disgust of the Essenes for the Greek way of life included a disgust for the love of money and extortionate exploitation of the poor that was concomitant with it.

The Church Fathers spoke of early Christian sects (Ebionaioi) which still held on to some Jewish beliefs. In Hebrew, “ebyon” means “poor”. Irenaeus (AH 1:26:2), Origen (CC 2:1; DP 4:1:22) and Eusebius (HE 3:27) say Ebionites were called poor because of their “poor and mean opinions concerning Christ”. In fact, the name was used by the Essenes of themselves, as the Scrolls show plainly. Aramaic quite commonly uses as nouns adjectives like “poor”, “pious”, “holy”, “just”, “righteous”, “perfect” and “meek”. The Qumran literature often speaks of the community as “The Poor,” “The Meek” and “The Downtrodden” which, in the scrolls, seem to be used interchangeably. The scrolls have hymns to “The Poor”. This name the Essenes gave to themselves was a reaction to the cultural imperialism of the Greeks—Hellenization—which had led to the displacement of the original Persian Magi (“Hasidim”, The Holy Ones) from the temple, and the substitution of Hellenized priests. The Hasids who remained faithful to the original Persian traditions constantly opposed the new rulers in Jerusalem (the Scoffers), and were persecuted by them. Thus they remained poor but true to their traditional conception of Judaism.

“The Poor” are those who believed in the spiritual virtue of poverty, like Christ himself! That is the meaning of the phrase “poor in spirit”, used both by Christ and the Essene sectaries, and practised by the apostles and the Essenes. Can it be coincidence that “The Poor Ones” was a name of the followers of James in the Jerusalem Church (Gal 2:10 and Jas 2:3-5)? What the Greeks translating the words of the evangelists did not know was that the words they used when they said—“the poor”, “the holy” or “the righteous” meant the Essenes and not the poor, holy or righteous in general. Paul claims the only condition James imposed upon him in his missions to the gentiles was to remember “the poor”. He is reminding him to send money not for any poor but for “The Poor”, the Nazarenes, who, after the defeated uprising, had a lot of widows to support (Acts 6:1-6). Though there must be occasions in the New Testament when these words have been used in a general sense, perhaps by a later editor, in their original use they refer to the Essenes. Plainly, they were the orthodox Jewish Christians of Palestine who continued as Jews to observe the Mosaic Law. Isolated from the bulk of Christians from the time of the Jewish War they continued to practice the apostolic life, like the Essenes and Jesus, unpolluted by gentile adaptations until, the gentile Church Fathers declared them heretical. It was the gentile Church that was.

“The Meek” was also one of the community’s names for itself. Jesus said:

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,

Mt 5:5

an exact expression of the community’s beliefs about itself for, when God created His kingdom on earth, the elect would inherit it. In one scroll fragment (4Q521), the pious are glorified on the throne of the everlasting kingdom, and the righteous are promised resurrection. Adonai (Lord—God or the messiah?) visits “the meek”, calls the righteous by name, makes the blind see, raises up the downtrodden and resurrects the dead, and his spirit hovers over “the meek” announcing to them glad tidings. This astonishing little fragment alone ought to be sufficient to prove the relationship of early Christianity with the Essenes…

…the heavens and the earth will listen to His messiah, and none therein will stray from the commandments of the holy ones. Seekers of Adonai, strengthen yourselves in His service! All you hopeful in (your) heart, will you not find Adonai in this? For Adonai will seek the pious (hasidim) and call the righteous by name. Over the meek His spirit will hover and will renew the faithful with His power. And He will glorify the pious on the throne of the eternal Kingdom. He who liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, straightens the bent, and forever I will cleave to the hopeful and in His mercy… And the fruit… will not be delayed for anyone. And Adonai will accomplish glorious things which have never been as… For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor… He will lead the uprooted and knowledge… and smoke…




The 'Early church' 

Discussion of 'early church' values does not centre on issues of land.  It is argued that early Christian communities were motivated by an imminent eschaton, and therefore rights to land and issues of inheritance were not considered to be of great importance.  In addition, the Pauline mission was to cities, and particularly after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, the church was 'western', Greek-speaking, and largely urban.  Clearly some of the earliest Christians owned property, as indicated by churches meeting in individuals' houses, and from AD 222 Christians were officially allowed to own property.  Significantly, by the late third century the church itself was property-owning.  Contemporary debate seems to have centred on possessions, not OT values, and S. Jackson notes, "When Augustine composed his 'City of God' the right of Christians to own property and engage successfully in business was taken for granted by him." Some key contemporaries wrote as follows: 

Tertullian:  "Among us everything is common property except our wives."

Lucian (of the Palestinian Christians):"  ...these Christians despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property."

Origen:  "The law of Christ, as we follow it, does not permit us to have possessions on earth or houses in cities."

In the fourth century some of the fathers made attacks not so much on private property as its excessive accumulation in the hands of the rich.  Several fourth century monks became bishops, including Ambrose of Milan, the hermit Basil, Bishop Athanasius, and John Chrysostom.  Thus monastic ideals became a motive for attacks on private property.  John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople from 398, argued that private property was a result of the Fall.  In an imaginary dialogue with a rich man he is asked whether Abraham's wealth was unjust, and the Bishop replies that OT peoples' wealth was by natural increase, not injustice - hinting at a rural ideal.  His argument hinged on whether a rich man could trace the source of his wealth:  could he be sure it was not unjust?"  (God) provided the same earth to all.  Since it was common property, how is it that you have so and so acres, while your neighbour has not a spoonful of earth?" When he is answered 'my father handed it to me', the rich man is condemned.  There seems to be no sense of the foundational OT concept of inheritance in Chrysostom's arguments. 


The 'Medieval' era. 

By the late Eleventh century the church held a quarter of the recorded land value in England.  Thus the key point here is vast ecclesiastical land ownership in this period, and its incongruity with the vows of monastic orders to poverty.  Hence debates centred on apostolic poverty, the degrees of perfection of various monastic orders, and the legitimacy of ecclesiastical wealth.  Aquinas appealed to natural law, not scripture, to observe that there should be equality of possessions, and that it is legitimate for a poor man to expropriate some of a rich man's property.











You shall not steal.186

2401 The seventh commandment forbids unjustly taking or keeping the goods of one's neighbor and wronging him in any way with respect to his goods. It commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men's labor. For the sake of the common good, it requires respect for the universal destination of goods and respect for the right to private property. Christian life strives to order this world's goods to God and to fraternal charity.


2402 In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits.187 The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

2403 The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

2404 "In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself."188 The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

2405 Goods of production - material or immaterial - such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.

2406 Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.189











Fools rush in where angels fear to tread: Dealing with the subject of poverty and property is perhaps rather rash and a wiser person would be more cautious.

In 1279, Pope Nicholas III had confirmed the arrangement already established by Cardinal Ugolino when he became Pope Gregory IX in 1227, by which all property given to the Franciscans was vested in the Holy See, which granted Franciscans the mere use of it.

The bull declared that renunciation of ownership of all things "both individually but also in common, for God's sake, is meritorious and holy; Christ, also, showing the way of perfection, taught it by word and confirmed it by example, and the first founders of the Church militant, as they had drawn it from the fountainhead itself, distributed it through the channels of their teaching and life to those wishing to live perfectly". 

Almost 100 years later in 1323 Pope John XX11 issued the short bull Cum inter nonnullos, which declared "erroneous and heretical" the doctrine that Christ and his apostles had no possessions whatever.

The arguments raged back and forth. The pope declared that it cannot be inferred that Christ and the apostles had nothing, adding: "Indeed, it can be inferred rather that the Gospel life lived by Christ and the Apostles did not exclude some possessions in common, since living 'without property' does not require that those living thus should have nothing in common."

Influential members of the order protested, including among others the minister general Michael of Cesena, the English provincial William of Ockham and Bonagratia of Bergamo. The Franciscans contended: "To say or assert that Christ, in showing the way of perfection, and the Apostles, in following that way and setting an example to others who wished to lead the perfect life, possessed nothing either severally or in common, either by right of ownership and dominium or by personal right, we corporately and unanimously declare to be not heretical, but true and catholic."

By the bull Ad conditorem canonum of, John XXII, declaring that "it was ridiculous to pretend that every egg and piece of bread given to and eaten by the Friars Minor belonged to the pope". This forced the Franciscans to accept ownership by ending the arrangement according to which all property given to the Franciscans was vested in the Holy See, which granted the friars the mere use of it. So it would appear ended also the ideal of apostolic poverty.

Let us now return to the words of our mother St Clare in the defence of poverty.



The Pope had come to Assisi. He had come to proclaim to the entire Christian world that Francis, the son of Pietro Bernardone, was a Saint.

It was 1228. Only two years had passed since the perfect Poor Man died, lying on the bare ground at the Portiuncula. These two years alone had sufficed to open and close the process of his canonization, for the Church did not need much time to establish in her infallible manner the holiness of Francis.

Time was not needed for the people. They immediately held him in veneration as they car¬ried his body - Brother Ass - up to the town and into the little church of St. George. On that body already existed the seals of holiness, im¬pressed by Jesus, those Five Wounds known as the Stigmata on his hands and feet and side.

Pope Gregory IX had purposely arrived in Assisi to add the weight of his authority to those miraculous signs, and to raise this Poor Man, God's jester, barefooted, macerated and wound¬ed, to the glories of the altar.

               Gregory had been Pope for only one year; previously he was Cardinal Hugolino of the Orsini family. As Cardinal he had known Francis and had helped him to compose and get the approval for his Rule of Life. Therefore, he knew all about Francis and about Clare and the Poor Ladies as well.

The Pope wanted to visit St. Damian's and see for himself what were the practical effects of their Rule of Poverty, concerning which he had had long discussions with Francis.

At Rome the demands of Francis and Clare had seemed just a little too bold. While many other people asked for privileges and favors, Francis and Clare asked simply to be allowed to live in poverty.

When this request of Clare asking for her¬self and the Poor Ladies the privilege of possess¬ing nothing and of begging had been placed before Pope Innocent III, the Pope remarked:

«Never has such a privilege - to live in such poverty - been requested of the Holy See!»

And now another Pope, Gregory IX, rode out from the gate of Assisi, down through the olive groves, to visit and see for himself just how it was possible to live in that way. He took the short road and quickly came down to the small convent with its roughly built walls, fol¬lowed by Cardinals, prelates and knights. The Holy Father knocked at the. door of the convent encircled by pargetless walls.

The exclusiveness of the cloister can be dispensed with by the Pope, so he went right inside to meet the Poor Ladies, who knelt before him.

Clare was his guide:

«See, here is the little church that Francis repaired with his own hands. This is the choir with its grille, opened so that the Poor Ladies might be able to kiss the wounds of the Saint. This is the cloister garden with its well. This the dormitory. This the sick room.» Finally, the gar¬den, so large as a tiny piece of delicate embroidery.

Gregory IX looked round him, and was turning everything over in his mind: the choir stalls of rough wood, the large refectory table, the mattresses of twigs and wooden pillows. He noticed the Sisters' clean attire, but full of mended pieces and patches, their bare feet, their work worn hands.


He measured the garden where nothing grew except two rosemary shrubs and some small sages. How was anyone able to live in this state of poverty? How did the Poor Ladies get their sustenance? All monasteries and convents always possessed fields and farms from which they were able to provide their necessities of life.


On the contrary at St. Damian's within the cloister walls, the Poor Ladies had no posses¬sions. How could they live?

«On alms, Holy Father,» replied Clare.

«But if hard times come, wars, famines, how would you manage then? »

«Divine Providence, Holy Father.»

«Your Rule is far too strict. Holy Mother Church cannot allow her chosen daughters to be thus exposed to need without any defense.»

 «Our defense is Christ crucified, and His Vicar on earth.»

Gregory looked straight into the firm fea¬tures of Clare and appeared to be searching into her innermost thoughts. He spoke to her slowly to give this strong willed woman time to reflect.

«My daughter, if you fear the vow of Holy Poverty which you have already made, I may dispense you from it. You know that Jesus gave His Vicar power to bind and to loose as well, and that which is bound on earth is bound also in heaven.»

Cardinals and prelates nodded assent. They found the words of the Pope very wise. It was a good thing to mitigate the severity of this Rule. The knights and the rest of the entourage agreed completely: the sight of such extreme poverty had disturbed them. Certainly it was necessary to alleviate the harshness of the life of these ladies!

Clare became pale at these words of the Holy Father, as if she were being threatened'. Her eyes filled with tears as though she had been punished for something. She fell on her knees before the Pope and, in a voice choking with emotion, appealed to him:

«Holy Father, I am not afraid of the vow I have taken. I know quite well that you are able to release and to absolve me from the vow I have made.»

There was a pause, and then she continued in a stronger voice:

«Holy Father, absolve me, indeed, from my sins, release me from my faults, but not - not from the privilege of holy poverty, from which I have no wish to ever be released!»

And all the Poor Ladies, faithful to the teaching of St. Francis, were in agreement with Clare. From Christ's Vicar they asked an ab¬solution from their sins, but also a strengthening of their vow of poverty.

Every time Clare met the Pope, she asked for two things: the forgiveness of her sins and the approbation of her vow of poverty.

The Abbess of St. Damian's particularly wanted a Papal Bull, that is, an official letter written on sheepskin, having attached to it the leaden pontifical seal, impressed on the other side with the coat of arms of the reigning Pope and on the other, the figures of Sts. Peter and Paul.

The Bull that Clare wanted, and had asked for, would have to contain the approval of the Rule that she had followed at St. Damian's under the guidance of St. Francis: the Rule which imposed a perfect and very strict poverty without any exception or mitigation.

For seventeen days Clare had eaten nothing, and her body was reduced to a skeleton, with her eyes, however, burning brightly in expectation of this final great grace.


The Papal Court was at Assisi, and every day Cardinals and bishops in twos and threes came down to St. Damian's to see and to speak with this chosen daughter of St. Francis. Clare received them all with a charming smile in spite of her pain, watching intently in case they might be bringing the longed for Bull. Not seeing it, she would then turn her head slowly aside, close her eyes, and murmur a prayer to the Vicar of Christ: «Do come and help me.»

Before she was called from this life, she wanted to have this Papal Bull to leave to her sisters as a legacy, so that after her death no one might be tempted to assail the strong wall of poverty with the weapons of human compassion.


She had, indeed, been very adamant in repulsing all attacks on her Rule. She had refused privileges and rejected concessions; her absolute fidelity to St. Francis had remained invincible. While ever she was in charge, even from her deathbed of twigs and straw, ill and weak, no assault of compassionate allurement had fright¬ened her. She consistently refused to look on poverty as a peril or a weakness. On the contrary, very strict poverty was for her, as it had been for Francis, an invincible weapon and an irre¬sistible power for holiness.


However, now that on deathbed she felt the approach of Sister Death, now that she was about to relinquish the post of command and of battle, she wanted to leave her sisters another weapon which would be nothing less than a reflex ion of her own unbending will.


She wished that the Vicar of Christ would accept this will of hers; she requested from the Church an official document in which the Rule in all its integrity would be approved. Conse¬quently, she waited for a Papal Bull.

For this reason she gazed lovingly at the hands of the Cardinals and Bishops who came to visit her; then, not seeing this roll of parch¬ment with the leaden bull, the seal hanging from it, she would sigh again, turn her head away, close her eyes and repeat her silent prayer.

In those days she had visits also from the remaining companions of St. Francis, now old men. Brother Leo, «The Little Sheep of God»; Brother Angelo, «The Warrior of Christ»; and Brother Giles, «The Knight of the Round Table.» And Clare would ask them: «Have you at hand anything new from sweet Jesus?»

She meant the strength of words newly afire with love for Jesus, words such as the deep mysticism of these men, the old followers of Francis, was able to give her. She asked that they pray for her, these old and time-worn men from the woods around St. Mary of the Angels. Pray that she would not die before that Papal Bull arrived at St. Damian's!

Then at last came the Pontifical document, only one day after it had been signed by the Pope. It was August 10th, 1253. Accurately rolled, with the seal intact, it was brought to the bed of the dying nun. She kissed the seal on both sides and asked them to unroll the document and read it to her. She then closed her eyes, the better to follow the words.

The Bull said: Innocent, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God. to his daughters in Jesus Christ, Clare, Abbess, and to the other Ladies of the Convent of St. Damian at As¬sisi, health and Apostolic Blessing. You have humbly asked Us to sanction with Our Apostolic authority the form of life which St. Francis gave you, and which you have embraced of your own free will, therefore obliging yourselves to a common life in spiritual unity with the vow of most high poverty. Wherefore. attend¬ing to these desires of your piety, We very willingly fully ratify your Rule and strengthen it with Our Apostolic Authority ...

Clare reopened her eyes and tears of Joy were on her face. She seemed in ecstasy as the reader continued:

... There is no permission given to anyone what¬soever to infringe this Act of Our Authority, or to be so bold as to act against it, indeed, should anyone dare attempt this. let him know that he will immediately incur the anger of Almighty God and of his Apostles. Peter and Paul ...

She stretched out her hands and looked intently at the leaden seal having the impressions of St. Peter with his keys and St. Paul with his sword. From now on there existed a sure defense of the way of life at St. Damian's and its privilege of holy poverty.

Clare then read the date:

Given at Assisi, the ninth day of the month of August in the eleventh year of our Pontificate.

She drew the parchment to herself and closed her hands over it in the form of a cross.

The hour of her death was very near.

At the time of Francis’ death in 1226, only San Damiano and a handful of other houses had been incorporated into the Franciscan Order.  They now faced pressure from ecclesiastical efforts to normalize the women’s religious movements. 

Beginning in 1218, Cardinal Hugolino dei Segni had begun to regularize communities of female penitents in central Italy.  Although many of these groups had been motivated by apostolic poverty (albeit not directly inspired by Francis), Hugolino imposed a constitution modelled after the Benedictine rule that required material support.  He also sought to link these houses more closely to the Franciscan Order.

On Francis’ death and Hugolino’s elevation to the papacy as Gregory IX (1227-1241).  He directed the Franciscan Minister General to appoint a minister for these houses, which the papal curia began to identify as the Order of San Damiano.

The confusion between Clare’s community at San Damiano and the Order of San Damiano was deliberate.  While suggesting fidelity to Francis’s and Clare’s model of religious life, the papal program differed in several key components including strict enclosure, monastic silence, and financial endowment. 

Over the next two decades, Clare would resist pressure to conform to these standards.  In 1228 Gregory IX granted a “Privilege of Poverty” to San Damiano that allowed the women to live without guaranteed income. 

Other houses that sought similar privileges were generally refused.  An exception was Agnes of Prague, who only obtained permission to give up property held in common toward the end of her life. 

From the 1230s onward most Damianite houses, including those foundations originally established by San Damiano’s sisters, accepted property.  Pope Innocent IV’s constitution for the Order (1247), issued to resolve ambiguities in earlier legislation, also mandated ownership. 

Clare rejected this rule and instead composed her own formula vitae (form of life), which modified Francis’ rule for the friars to meet the needs of a stable female community.  Pope Innocent IV approved the text on her deathbed in1253.  Certain provisions suggest that she intended it to govern all Damianite houses, but it did not circulate beyond a few affiliated communities. 

Some houses adopted the 1247 Rule, others kept the Hugolinian constitution, and most had individual provisions concerning their observance.  Pastoral care from Franciscan friars linked these diverse houses, an institutional relationship that contributed to the papally-constituted order increasingly coming to identify itself with the movement initiated by Francis of Assisi.

 During the same period, the newly canonized Saint Clare (1255) was memorialized as an enclosed contemplative, a model for all religious women rather than a female example of Francis’ spiritual ideals.

The original copy of the bull Solet annuere, by which Innocent IV confirmed the rule in 1253, two days before Saint Clare's death, was re-discovered 1894 by the late Abbess Matilda Rossi, who at that time was Superior of the mother house at Assisi : she found this precious document, which contains the text of the rule in full, and which had been lost sight of for years, wrapped in the folds of an old habit which once belonged to the Seraphic Mother.

It had no doubt been placed there for the sake of security and the forgotten for the many centuries. " For more than once the religious of Santa Chiara have been suddenly expelled without being allowed time to take anything with them, whilst their monastery was pillaged and turned over to the soldiers as a barracks, or the cells were let out as lodgings."

The Abbess Rossi had Pope Innocent's bull photographed and to provide every Clare house in Christendom with a copy of it. It has since been very carefully edited and printed by the Franciscan fathers of Quaracchi, and the original, framed and glazed, is now carefully treasured in the church of Santa Chiara at Assisi. It has been examined by experts again and again, and there can be no doubt whatever as to its authenticity. It measures fifty-five centimetres in length and sixty-nine in width.

With the historical stage now set, let us venture where those angels fear to tread.

In Roman law property was 'things', and the law of 'things' featured prominently in Justinian's textbook, the Institutes, although the law students were left to work out for themselves just what 'things' were. In its simplest form, property was any 'thing'. material or immaterial. that was owned or possessed and had some economic value. The most obvious and important thing was immovable: it was land. The chief source of wealth, and, in a primitive economy, the means of production. But 'things' also included the immovable buildings erected on that land; the movable animals which grazed on it, the crops which grew on it, and an infinite variety of movable chattels. All were tied to the ownership of land; of property.

These might be natural raw materials or manufactured goods. A 'thing' might even be intangible, such as the labor of one's own body. It might be a legal right, such as a right of way. It might involve rights over someone, a master's rights over a slave, a husband's rights over a wife, a manorial lord's over a serf or villein. The possession of property was therefore inseparable from both political and legal rights.

Property can be seen as the means to sustain life and as something to be enjoyed and shared. It can also be seen as the object of human greed, and its possession as a title to riches and to power over others. Medieval thinkers considered that both property and the subjection of one person to another were the result of sin.

In Paradise there was no private property, for everything was held in common, and the fruits of the earth were naturally shared. But after the Fall, when human nature became corrupted by sin, human institutions such as government and property became necessary. They were seen as a divinely ordained remedy for sin, which would help to order human life in its degraded state.

The Bible opens with an account of creation and immediately turns to stewardship, to God's entrusting of creation to humanity. In Genesis 2, God created Adam and Eve, a "suitable helper." Why a helper? Because they had work to do. They were called to work Eden and take care of it. (Genesis 2.15) Often, discussion of Genesis is clouded by debates of whether to understand the text literally or allegorically. Either way, however, the message is clear. God called humanity to be custodians of the earth.

Land was not so much a commodity. Rather, it was an inheritance for the Israelites and it was core to the covenantal promises that God made to them. God's people are not to abuse their inheritance, but to treasure it. It cannot be bought and sold. Actually, the land could be bought and sold, but every fifty years, it reverted to its "owners" or "inheritors."

What term to use is problematic, because we are inclined to use labels that imply dominance over the land. Instead, Leviticus 25 proves helpful: "The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine [God's] and you are but aliens and my tenants." This verse clearly assumes that mankind is custodian or caretaker of land.

For many centuries, there have been two main concepts of land in relation to its ownership. In the Bible, 1 Kings 21, we read of an encounter between Ahab and Naboth that illustrates a fundamental contrast in attitudes to land. Ahab, in coveting Naboth’s vineyard, sees land simply as an object or commodity that can be bought and sold: “….. I will give thee the worth of it in money”. But to Naboth, land is not just a tradable commodity: “The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my father unto thee”. Land to Naboth was an inheritance over which he had stewardship and not something that could simply be bought and sold.


One view sees land simply as a commodity, as something that can be bought and sold just like any other object. The other view sees land as different and special, and as something that is regarded as heritage. The first view correlates with private ownership, whereas the second relates more to communal ownership – the notion that land is the common heritage of humankind.


The mendicant solution was to renounce all property, both individually and corporately. Implementing this, however, was not without problems, because in order to survive everyone needs a modicum of 'things'.


St Francis, whose life more than any other came to epitomize abso¬lute poverty, arose from precisely the new mercantile elite against which religious movements were reacting. He was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant of Assisi. Francis himself was an extremist, totally dedicated to imitating not so much the poverty of the Apostles, but what he saw as that of Christ himself In the rule of 1223 he ordered his followers to re¬nounce all property: "The friars are to appropriate nothing for themselves, neither a house, nor a place, nor anything else. As strangers and pilgrims in this world, who serve God in poverty and humility, they should beg alms trustingly!”


As we have seen, papal intervention had put an effective end to this dream, which was so dear to the hearts of both Francis and Clare.


Both Francis and Clare were mystics and it comes as no surprise that the experience of mystic union often leads to intuitive knowledge.


 Mysticism is when God’s presence becomes experiential and undoubted for a person. You can see a kind of courage and self-confidence in the mystics. That puts them in an extraordinary category. Most of us believe things because our churches tell us to believe them and we don’t want to be disobedient members of the church so we say “I believe” as we do in the creed.


A mystic doesn’t say “I believe.” A mystic says “I know.” A true mystic ironically speaks with an almost arrogant self-confidence and, at the same time, with a kind of humility. When you see this combination of calm self-confidence, certitude, and patient humility, all at the same time, you can trust you are in the presence of a person who has had an actual “encounter” with God or the Holy.


I believe that in the words of St Clare that we have heard, this same calm self-confidence, certitude, and patient humility is to be found.


What then can we deduce from this encounter with Jesus the Christ that gave St Clare this resolve in the defense of poverty; what can we can divine from the Gospels.


The New Testament concentrated more on the kingdom which is 'not of this world', but even here the idea ownership was perpetuated in the parable of the talents. God retained lordship of property, but for practical purposes Christians administered it, or had the use of it. It belonged to the "Whole Christian society, the Church. All Christians were baptized into the Church: they became united within the mystical body of Christ.


In the Gospel of both Mathew and Luke, Jerome translates the Greek word σταυρὸν (stavron), staff, into the Latin word crux, cross,  so that we are given the injunction of ‘picking up our cross’ as disciples to follow Jesus.


After the crucifixion event in the age of martyrdom, the idea of following Jesus through suffering to death would imply the idea of the ‘cross’ for discipleship. It would however not be unreasonable to presume a more traditional translation of stavron to ‘staff, standard or tent-peg’.


Let us begin with the meaning of staff as the more likely form from common usage and eschatological implications contained in both the Hebrew and Aramaic understanding of staff.


The seventy references to the staff found in the Old Testament, refer variously to ‘the staff of judgement’, ‘the law-giver’ and ‘the leader of the community’ (Gen 49:10). The 'Staff' is defined as the ‘seeker after the Torah' as well as ‘the well which he digs’.


The 'staves' are seen as the Laws, that they are commanded to walk in 'during all the Era of Evil' until 'the One who pours out Righteousness (Yoreh ha-Zedek) arises (or stands up) at the end of days.'


This alternative translation would be especially suitable to relationship with Jesus as the ‘way, the truth and the life’. The Hebrew understanding of ‘truth’ is relational with the ongoing unfolding revelation of one person to another; a process by which we come to know who we are - always as mystically seen in the eyes of the lover; so much a part of Clare's words.


But in the Aramaic we have a deeper meaning; stavron as tent-peg, which is seen among nomadic Biblical tribes, temporary property rights by the knocking of the tent-peg into the ground.


With the growing of the kingdom we find the elite of the population appropriating land ownership that had previously been the express right of YHWH who gifts it to his people.


With control of the land in the hands of the political and religious elite, they ‘enforce risky crop intensification of grain, wine and oil, parlaying their exports among competitive foreign powers, making covenants with them, and growing rich at the expense of the peasantry who work the land’. Poverty thus becomes equated with being landless.


These alternative translations within their cultural settings move us from the understanding of carrying the cross after Jesus to redemption through sharing in his suffering and death, to an understanding of a relationship with Jesus as the way of journeying in righteousness; holding on to our staff, who is Jesus and is the way without any appropriation of the property.


On the occasion of this 2012 Feast of St Francis, the general Definitory have challenged us in the face of the current financial, economic and ecological crises facing humanity.

For us Franciscans, the current crisis may be a call of the Spirit, “a time of grace” to change our view of the world and to act in solidarity. It cannot leave us indifferent, but must trigger in us, in both our local and provincial fraternities, a careful evaluation of our lifestyle, of the concrete way we live sine proprio, of the economic organization of our institutions and of our ability to share with the poor and the marginalized.

The current crisis, which forces many families to tighten their belts and others to deprive themselves of the necessary, should lead the Friars to a strict examination of conscience regarding a lifestyle that may have become too comfortable, or an overly liberal use of more sophisticated technology, or of habits of life that are clearly “bourgeois” and consumerist (cf. GGCC 67). How can we instil courage and hope in the new poor if we ourselves cannot manage to do without many “unnecessary needs”?

The austerity brought about by the crisis should also cause us to reconsider the use of liquid assets (e.g., accumulation of money, cf. GGCC 82 § 3, and our trust in Divine Providence?) and of property (many of our buildings are empty). How many evicted families, homeless migrants and charitable institutions could make use of our many unused places! And where do we deposit our money, in what banks? Do we know how they are using our savings?

In our communities we need to adopt a key phrase from the Acts of the Apostles. It states that “they had everything in common”. This will ensure that our parishes, shrines, and convents become places of welcome and gathering, where volunteers can meet the poor and show solidarity.


We also want to ask ourselves a more radical question: are we still able to be scandalized by so much poverty and injustice in the world, or do we take refuge behind the easy statement that the problem is beyond us and therefore we cannot do anything about it? Is this not a way to put our conscience “to sleep”? As the sea is made up of countless small drops, so in the socio-economic sphere: our little drop can contribute to a sea of solidarity and kindness.



A RULE OF LIFE                                by Br john-Allen green ofm

In his article on "Hermitage and the Active Life',  BROTHER WALT HUND, T.O.R. writes:


Perhaps the first thing that I should explain is that the following thoughts are not the result of years (or even months!) of research on the subject of Franciscan Hermitage. I am grateful to those who have done that, for they have rediscovered one of the greatest treasures of St. Francis and Franciscan spirituality.


This is, instead, a reflection on the experience of hermitage as it has been integrated into the life of our friary. Of course, this is not offered as the way to live the hermitage experience, but we found this way to be a great source of spiritual nourishment for us.


I should also mention that, by nature, I'm not a "hermitage type" • person. On the contrary, I'm one of those "B" type personalities. I'm sure you've heard the description of us "B"' s: we hate to wait (for anything), love to argue (I discuss), think that all traffic lights should be replaced by "Yield" signs and, when the drawbridge is up to let a boat go by, would rather swim the river than wait for the boat to pass. My point is that I'm not the type of person that you'd expect to want to go off for two days of silence and solitude. But the fruitfulness of the hermitage experience has overcome the tendencies of the "go-getter" in me. Besides, we "B" person¬alities are also opportunists... we know a good thing when we see it.


The original idea to make hermitage a part of our life came from Giles, a brother in our house. He is, in the truest sense of the word, a visionary ... a dreamer. As you may know, this type of a person is not very common in the Franciscan life today. Their insight and vision call us to change, a proposition we usually find quite uncomfortable. But if we can walk down that difficult path with them, we are often rewarded with new and deeper experiences of God and His people. Every house should have at least one dreamer. Anyway, we took the original idea, prayed about it, talked about it, got some valuable insight from a good friend, Fr. Andre Cerino, O.F.M., and then decided to do it (for some ''valuable insight and expla¬nation of your own, .see Andre's article "Hermitage in the City," The Cord, March 1985.).


I myself spent many years as a student and then as collaborator working with our brother André Cirino in Canterbury. At the conclusion of his six month course that he did every year at the International Study Centre on the contemplative dimension of Franciscan Spirituality, I would give input on my own experience of living the life of a hermit before joining the Franciscan family. I count brother André not only as a very dear friend and mentor, but also as a brilliant scholar in this field. Brother Hund continues his story...

When you hear the word "hermitage," do you picture ... a mountain ... a forest ... a babbling brook? Well, that's not exactly our setting. The South Bronx is one of the poorest and most violent sections of New York City. Scattered throughout the day and night, you can hear alarms, sirens loud radios and the sounds of the children at play in the streets. Got the picture? Doesn't sound like the ideal spot for quiet contemplation, does it? But it is. With only occasional exception, we've all found the time to spend in the hermitage to be basically quiet and peaceful.

It seems inconceivable that our experience can he "quiet and peaceful" in the midst of a lot of street noise. But is it the outside noise that real distracts us, or the noise that's inside us? It seems to, me that it's the noise that's inside that can do the most damage. I have felt God's Presence very deeply and peacefully in some of the most chaotic and fast-moving situations imaginable. Conversely, I have prayed in monastic enclosures "far from the maddening crowd," and have been unable to hear the gentle voice of the Lord because the "hustle and bustle" inside me was drowning Him out!

Not all is quiet and peaceful in the hermitage, however. There are times of real testing and temptation. When we slow down and leave our distractions behind, we often find that the devil, as well as the Lord, is waiting to speak to us. Should this alarm us? Should it surprise us? I think not. Rather, it should excite us. Excite us? Yes. As followers of Jesus and Francis, we seek to be like them and to experience the things that they experienced. What happened to Jesus when He went off into the desert to fast and pray? He was tempted by the devil. What did Francis experience as he sought God through fasting and prayer? Temptation. . . at times so strong, that, to fight it, he hurled himself into thorny rose hushes and snow banks. Now, I don't know about you, but rose hushes and snow banks are not my idea of a good time. That's not what should excite us. What should excite us is having the same experience that Jesus and Francis had.. . temptation in prayer and solitude. Francis goes as far as to say, "Do not be afraid because you are tempted. The more you are beset by temptation, the greater servant and friend of God do I consider you. I tell you that nobody in fact ought to consider himself a perfect friend of God except insofar as he passes through many trials and temptations." We should rejoice at being called friends of God!

Of course, there's also the lighter side of temptation. Like the time that a friend of mine found out that I was about to he "cooped up in the little house for two days." He offered to secretly bring me a pizza at midnight, under cover of darkness. I declined, noting that the time would give me it's own "food." To which he inquired, "But is it as good as pizza?" I assured him that it was better, yes."

 Our hermitage is an eight foot by ten foot pre-fabricated wooden build¬ing. Most people probably use them for tool sheds or pool cabanas. It sits in our front yard, in a space that we enclosed to give the hermit a little space outdoors in nice weather. Inside, It's pretty basic: oil lamps for light, a woodstove for heat and mattress for a bed. We go into the hermitage every five to seven weeks, depending on the number of the people in the house. It usually takes half a day to relax and slow down. Then you can begin to move more deeply into the experience of Jesus in solitude. We don't realize all of the things that occupy (and preoccupy) us until we pull back from them and "go off to a quiet place."

Speaking Of going off to a quiet place, we thought about trying the hermitage experience within the house itself. Again, it was our "resident dreamer" who suggested that it would be beneficial, psychologically speak¬ing, to "go away" from the friary. From my experience in the hermitage, I think that he is right. Just as going for a drive can allow you to "get away from it all" for awhile, so also can walking away from your house and going to a small hermitage outside. Also, you're away from all those familiar distractions: phones and doorbells ringing, doors slamming, water running, food cooking (or burning,) etc.  

From listening to my brothers share their experiences in the hermitage, I think that I can safely say that we have found it to be of great spiritual assistance to us, both individually and communally.. It is, for us, a "pearl of great price." But like the "'pearl," the hermitage also has its price. We have to slow down, and that is something that, often, we don't enjoy doing. Running around- distracts us from things we'd rather not think about (our unfaithfulness to God, our selfishness to our sisters and brothers, etc.). Theoretically, we don't question the value of it at all, but we can find all kinds of important reasons for not making the time. After reflecting on the time that I've been in hermitage, I must say that it was the times that I least desired to "go apart" for two days, that were actually the most beneficial for me. And imagine my surprise when, lo and behold, God had managed to run the world for two days without me! And the Youth Group, guidance counseling, problems, successes, etc. were all still there, too. But there was a difference. I felt rejuvenated, renewed; better able to look at all those things in proper perspective. I also felt that I had more energy, more of myself to give to them: I have heard others in the house express the same sentiments. I have also heard them speak of feeling consoled by the Lord, of having the burden lifted, of being renewed, of feeling loved, and also of feeling convicted and called to "turn from your sins and believe in the Good News." Indeed, the Lord speaks in solitude, and His Word is to return, once again, to Him ... to move into deeper union with Him. But, as I listen to us share our experiences in the hermitages, I realize that what excites us is not so much what the Lord says, but that He does speak to us. It is His tender voice, His gentle touch which causes us to know and feel His love.

Many times we find ourselves moving so fast and concerned about so many things that we rarely hear His voice. Our dialogue with God becomes a monologue. We're not asking Him to show us the Way; it's more like were sending Him memos, informing Him of what we've decided to do and would He mind blessing our efforts? Many times we're talking to ourselves! And we can get used to it! Then, when we take the time to listen and hear the Lord speak, His Presence overwhelms us. We feel His voice. It is the experience of His Presence that we long for, That His message is one of congratulations: correction or consolation is secondary compared to the statement that his Presence makes: Our God is real!

It is this experience of God in the hermitage that has convinced me of its importance in the Franciscan life. Francis' Rule for Hermitages is beautiful, as are all of the lectures, writings, etc. about it. But we can find so many reasons for not doing it ourselves, for enshrining it as some¬thing that St. Francis could do but that is beyond us. After allowing the hermitage to slow you down so that you can hear His voice, you no longer seek to avoid it. Instead, you run toward it; you seek to protect it; you cherish it as you would a "pearl of great price. You seek to hear the Lord's voice, and feel His gentle touch. As St. Augustine says, "You have touched me, 0 Lord and I have tasted your sweetness. Now I burn with Your Love, and I hunger and thirst after You."

In the recent article by Tina Beattie, 'Doorways to Faith - the role of mysticism and Sacramentality in Prayer', she spoke of how Blessed Pope John Paul II often wrote about our need to do less in order to be more. In the frenetic scramble of our contemporary lives, the spaces of silence and rest have been crowded out, and our faith seems to have become an incessantly activist and politicised mission to change the world, or to coax and coerce the people around us to change their way of being in the world. 

 With that background, I return to our own home here in South Africa. At the Natal Regional Meeting Held At Coolog House from 30th April to 1st May, 2012, our brother Provincial David noted from the General that        

... our identity was best expressed when we prayed; that our Franciscan charism welled up from the experience of God and had its first and primary expression of our identity in a life of prayer (2 Ch 95;19:2). This was the identity of the true contemplative, starting from spontaneous praise in the beauty of creation (The first Book of Revelation – St Bonaventure), through the Eucharist (thanksgiving), the Word (Gospel), the liturgy of the Hours and prolonged personal prayer, that is the basis of our transformation.

For progress to be made in these areas, it is necessary to prioritize our action plan and to be guided by the spirit of truth and courage. We are also being called to collaboration with others especially the wider Franciscan family.

In this year of Faith, we remember that it was Vatican II that invited us as religious communities to return to the charism of our founders. This was understood as a continuous process of discernment and renewal needed in response to the rapid changes taking place in the post-modern world.

On February 2, 1992, the Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II, in presenting the meaning of the synod on consecrated life, used the following words to offer some initial points on the subject:

...The successors of the apostles will meet to discuss your life, the contribution which your founders, foundresses and their respective spiritual families have made to the church's mission in the past and are making at the present moment. They want to understand the breadth and depth of the plan of the Lord who sanctifies, enriches and also guides his people through the gifts and charisms of the communities of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life. The bishops want to help you to be Gospel leaven and evangelizers of the cultures of the third millennium and the social ordering of peoples.

In the light of these challenges, I wish to offer here some reflections on our Rule of Life.


From the earliest days of his conversion, Francis spent time praying in caves in solitude. From the very beginning he was accompanied by a companion. Being with brothers and sisters in solitude is a unique characteristic of the Franciscan Hermitage tradition. When the Order grew into thousands of brothers, he wrote down his manner of spending time in solitude. More recently this Document on Solitude has been named his “Rule For Hermitages.”

The title given to this opusculum might be misleading, since here we are not dealing with a rule in the juridical sense. This document, which does not have any title in the Assisi Codex, contains some precise dispositions regarding the life and daily routine of those brothers who lived in the hermitages.

The term “hermitage” indicates the early Franciscan places in which the brothers would periodically dwell together. Jacques de Vitry, writing in 1216 from Genoa, on the life of the first Friars Minor, says: “They live according to the form of life of the primitive Church, about whom it was written: The community of believers were of one heart and one mind (Acts 4,32). During the day they go into the cities and villages giving themselves over to the active life in order to gain others; at night, however, they return to their hermitage or solitary places to devote themselves to contemplation.”29

Examples of these early Franciscan hermitages are still to be found in the Italian peninsula. One of the most famous is the hermitage of Le Carceri, just above Assisi. Others include the hermitages of the Rieti Valley, namely, Fonte Colombo, Greccio, La Foresta and Poggiobustone. Another important hermitage is La Verna, the place where Francis received the stigmata in 1224. Le Celle, near Cortona, is reputed to be the place where Francis could have dictated his Testament. Other hermitages include places hallowed by the presence of Francis and the first brothers: Monte Casale, Monteluco, Speco di Sant’Urbano.

In the gradual unfolding of the history of the Order, the hermitage became known as locus, to be distinguished from the conventus, or large friary in the town. These early hermitages are given great importance in the Franciscan Sources of the 13th and 14th centuries. The Later Rule was written in the hermitage of Fonte Colombo; Francis celebrated Christmas in 1223 in the hermitage of Greccio; at the same hermitage he also gave the brothers an example of true poverty in begging alms on Easter Sunday; he received the stigmata in the hermitage of La Verna. These same hermitages became the centres of reform in the Franciscan Order, particularly during the early years of the 14th century, during the time of the Spirituals and Fraticelli, and during the mid-14th century, with the reform of the Regular Observance.

The Earlier Rule provides a clue as to the various places in which the brothers lived, including the hermitages: “Wherever the brothers may be, either in hermitages or other places, let them be careful not to make any place their own or contend with anyone for it.”30

In The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, Thomas of Celano gives us a proof of Francis’ predilection to the way of life in the hermitages: “Once a Spaniard, a devout cleric, happened to enjoy some time seeing and talking with Saint Francis. Among other news about the brothers in Spain, he made the saint happy with this report: ‘Your brothers in our country stay in a poor hermitage. They have set up the following way of life for themselves: half of them take care of the household chores and half remain free for contemplation. In this manner each week the active half moves to the contemplative, and the repose of those contemplating returns to the toils of labor.’”31

The contents of The Rule for Hermitages, provide us with a clear insight into the way of life of the first brothers. The whole structure of the Franciscan locus is based on the Gospel text of Luke 10:38-42, namely, Jesus being welcomed into the house of Martha and Mary. The role of Martha is compared to the active life, while that of Mary to the contemplative life of the brothers. The material structure of the hermitage reflects the description we find in The Mirror of Perfection, 10 (Sabatier edition). The Franciscan hermitage would normally be located on the flanks of a mountain, preferably in a wooded area, but close enough to the arterial roads as to render it fairly easy for the brothers to go into the towns.

The way of life is described as “staying in hermitages in a religious way”, an expression indicating, at least in the Latin religiose stare in eremis, a well-structured, regular life, which is, to all intents and purposes, a way of consecrated life in fraternity.

The roles of the brothers are described as being those of “mothers” (role of Martha) and “sons” (role of Mary). The daily routine of the Franciscan hermitage rotates round the canonical hours of the Divine Office, beginning with Compline (last of the canonical hours just before retiring), after which the brothers are to maintain strict silence all night long until after Terce (the third Canonical hour; about 09:00) the following morning. In the middle of the night they rise for Matins (the first canonical hour at daybreak), and early in the morning they pray Prime and then Terce.

After breaking the silence the “sons” can go and beg for alms from their “mothers”, and afterwards meet again for prayers at Sext, None, and Vespers.

The place in which the brothers live is described as an “enclosure”. In it nobody is allowed to enter, except the Minister or Custodian. The “mothers” have the duty to protect the “sons” from any inopportune intrusions which might disturb their contemplation. Lastly, the role of “mothers” and “sons” is interchangeable, according to the model which Thomas of Celano presents when speaking about the brothers in Spain, in the text we have quoted above.

Regarding the date of The Rule for Hermitages, it comes definitely after 1217, simply because it speaks about the office of Custodian. Now, from 1217 onwards, the Order had Ministers and Custodians in the various entities, just like this document states. There is no proof that the Ministers existed before 1217. Regarding the other end of the time-scale for dating The Rule of Hermitages, Esser proposes 1222. By this date the term “hermitage” had been accepted in The Earlier Rule, as we have seen above. Furthermore, it is strange that The Rule for Hermitages makes no mention of the Eucharist. This is to be understood in the light of what happened in the Order in 1222. In fact, it was only on 29th March 1222, that the brothers were allowed to have their own oratories in which to celebrate the Eucharist and the Divine Office, with the Bull Devotionis vestrae of Pope Honorius III. Therefore The Rule for Hermitages comes from a period immediately preceding this date, during which the brothers still had to go out of their houses in order to celebrate or assist at the Eucharist, and could only have oratories for private prayer.

The Rule for Hermitages is a truly inspiring document for Franciscan life. The Order is nowadays encouraging the brothers, and indeed, all those who would like to experience Franciscan life, to undertake a period of contemplative prayer in the simple settings of a Franciscan hermitage.


Let those who wish to live religiously in hermitages, be three brothers or four at most. Let two of them be mothers and have two sons, or at least one. Let the two former lead the life of Martha and the other two the life of Mary Magdalene. 

Let those who lead the life of Mary have one cloister and each his own place, so that they may not live or sleep together. And let them always say Compline of the day toward sunset,  and let them be careful to keep silence and to say their Hours and to rise for Matins, and let them seek first "the kingdom of God and His justice."  And let them say Prime and Tierce at the proper time, and, after the hour of Tierce, they may break silence and may speak and, when it is pleasing to them, they may go to their mothers and may ask an alms from them for the love of the Lord God, like little poor ones.  And after that, let them say Sext and Nones and Vespers at the appointed time.

And they must not allow any  person to enter into the cloister where they live, or let them eat there. Let those brothers who are mothers endeavour to keep apart from every person and, by the obedience of their custos, let them guard their sons from every person, so that no one may speak with them. And let these sons not speak with any person except with their mothers and with their custos, when it shall please him to visit them with the blessing of God. 4 But the sons must sometimes in turn assume the office of mothers, for a time, according as it may seem to them to dispose. Let them strive to observe all the above diligently and earnestly. 

This Rule presents a picture of hermits living with hermits. The hermitage community was made up of "mothers" and "sons." The mothers took on the role of caring for the needs of the hermit sons. This "Martha/Mary" arrangement was not permanent. The brothers switched roles from time to time, thereby providing each friar with the opportunity to serve the others and also to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Regis Armstrong comments that ‘what is remarkable about this blueprint is that it contains the basic elements of Francis view of life. It is a life based on following the Lords will as did Martha and Mary; lived in celebrating God’s Word in fraternal love and dependence on one another; and dedicated to service and prayer or to the pursuit of God for the sake of others. “Mothers” and “Sons” are some of the texts words and phrases that appear frequently in the writings of Francis.

Thus Francis tells us quite simply how he envisages living a Gospel life centered on the pursuit of God in solitude and fraternal caring for one another that can only be characterized only by a mother’s love and a child’s simple acceptance.’

This description of a mother’s love and a child’s simple acceptance used by Regis left me ‘gob-smacked’ to use this very British idiom. I spent some weeks in the rather weird situation of seeking a philosophical argument for the source of knowledge leading to human rationality, while believing that it is not, in effect, the intellectualized idea of knowledge that leads to rationality. Trying to disprove the proof, using the very arguments of the proof; this circular problem left my head spinning.

My own experience convinced me that there was an experience of love on which we built our knowledge towards rational beings. To find myself up against the teachings of Aristotle as taken up by St Thomas Aquinas as well as Lonergan in contemporary philosophy did not help the situation. The all too solid Aristotelian idea of knowledge moving from experience to knowledge through understanding, then to judgment and the will and finally leading us to love, appeared unassailable.

It was therefore like a child with a new toy, that I discovered the teaching of Blessed John Duns Scotus. It is Scotus states unequivocally that the philosophers are wrong. In his rejection of the over-intellectualized philosophical view of the supremacy of the intellect, Scotus argues that that

Ordered love, not knowledge, defines and perfects human rationality.  Human dignity has it foundation in rational freedom.  In contrast to the philosophical, intellectualist model of human nature and destiny, the Franciscan offers and strengthens the Christian alternative, centred not merely on knowledge but on rational love…The Franciscan tradition consistently defends a position wherein the fullest perfection of the human person as rational involves loving in the way God loves, rather than knowing in the way God knows (Ingham & Dreyer 2004:7-8).

This was the brilliant intuition of Francis in his primitive rule to which Duns Scotus gives the rational explanation.

Scotus asks;’ Does this infer that we can love what we do not know? For Scotus, this is not a licit question because love and knowledge are not of the same order, just as goodness and truth are not of the same order, and therefore the act of loving is distinct from the act of knowing as these acts are distinct faculties. Through knowledge we are informed of the object of our love. By our love we are attracted to the object of our knowledge.

Here, I believe is the Franciscan answer to such difficult questions as the juxtaposition of Mercy and Justice which place God’s actions within our temporal ideas; implying God’s actions taking place in time; as though God first knows and then loves or who first applies justice followed by mercy.  Scripture tells us that God is Love and it is therefore that very same relational Love that knows.

In the Gospel of John this relational aspect of love is made abundantly clear when Jesus gives us a commandment from the Father (Jn. 12:49) which Jesus confirms ‘is life everlasting’ (Jn. 12:50):

‘A new commandment I give unto you: That you love (αγάπη) one another, as I have loved (αγάπη) you, that you also love (αγάπη) one another.(Jn. 13:34)  Three times it is repeated using the very specific Greek form of love ‘agape’. That you (αγάπη) one another, as I have (αγάπη) you, that you also (αγάπη) one another.

Again we have the triadic repetition where Peter is asked by Jesus, ‘do you love (αγάπη) me more than these?’ Peter answers, ‘you know that I love (φιλῶ) you.’ (Jn. 21:15) This is not what Jesus asked. John is hammering home a very specific point. So again Jesus asks, ‘do you love (αγάπη) me’; and Peter again answers, ‘you know that I love (φιλῶ) you.’ It is only at the third response of Peter to Jesus, ‘You know all things; You know that I love (φιλῶ) you’ (Jn. 21:17) that the question is answered. Now Jesus is satisfied with the answer, because he indeed does know all things, and he does know that Peter loves (αγάπη) him, and that love will give demonstration of itself in the ultimate witness.

This gift of divine love (αγάπη) which comes from heaven (Rom.5:5) is a joyful foretaste of blessedness, the Beatific Vision which is that final vision of God and union which is the goal of the Christian life and is mirrored in the gift love of mother to child when found in pure form.

This led me from looking at the intuition of Francis through the arguments of John Duns Scotus to seek some evidence in support of the understanding of ordered or gift love as the basis of rationality through which we are in that image of God.

Starting by looking at the many clinical trials of co-rearing children with chimpanzees (Kellogg & Kellogg -1933; Hayes & Hayes -1951/52) and various other language training trials using also other animals (Herman et al. -1986) it is shown that, the potential for full rationality remains the prerogative of human beings. It is also clear from observations that this potential can be actualized only through relationships with other people. In the case of ‘Hospitalized’ babies in institutions where care is limited to medication and feeding, and where the loving relationship of mother and child is absent, the potential to rationality, or even, the very potential for normal human development, is severely retarded, and even completely destroyed.

Infant mental health is synonymous with healthy social and emotional relational development.  When mental health fails at an early age, the damage lasts a lifetime. A weak mother-baby relationship creates the foundation for a rash of mental-health problems; developmental delays, depression, traumatic stress disorders...and begins paving the way to juvenile court…A prime destroyer of infant mental health is also a major cause of mental retardation, largely because it prevents a baby's brain from fully developing (Nyhan 2006).

Another example of non-actualization of the human potential to rationality is to be found in the study of feral or ‘wild children’ who have been reared by animals in nature. These studies indicate a narrow window period for the development of language and cognitive skills. These children show the same retardation of development and an inability to develop relationships or to come to full self awareness. This really shook me – potential human rationality cannot be actualized in nature apart from human relationships.

Without going into the arguments of the absurdity of an infinite regress, I think we are justified in asking the question; If rationality cannot be actualized by nature outside of human relationships and I became actualized (the ability to love) through my parents and they through theirs and so on through the ages.....where does the first experience of this gift love emerge from. I would concede that the absurdity could be in the eye of the beholder, but I am still awaiting an alternative thesis.

On the other side, it has been observed that babies cared for by mentally retarded or impaired parents in a loving environment, have in no way suffered any impairment in developing their own potential rationality.  This appears to validate the understanding of Scotus that it is gift-love or, as he defines it, ‘ordered-love’, through affirming relationships that is the key to unlocking our potential for rationality. Ordered love, not knowledge, defines and perfects human rationality.



The Franciscan spiritual path involves a number of encounters which St Francis himself interprets as being both of Christ, and initiated by Christ. Everything is perceived as God’s gift. It stems from God’s initiative and guidance who leads Francis to a new relational life, with the Gospel as sustenance, orientation and justification. This is nowhere more evident than in his Testament, where Francis affirms that,

The Lord gave me the way to do penance…The Lord himself led me among the lepers…The Lord gave me such faith in Churches…The Lord gave me such faith in priests…The Lord gave me some brothers…The Most High himself revealed to me that I should live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel…The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say, “May the Lord give you peace”…The Lord has given me to speak and write the Rule’(In Armstrong et al, I;121-127).



In the early phase of this contemplative experience of God, Francis initially misinterprets the purpose of these encounters. Not focussing on the relational aspect of the encounter, there is an initial temporal response by Francis, rebuilding derelict churches, starting with the little church of San Damiano.

It is only later, during the illuminative stage that this initial response of Francis is followed by an intuitive understanding of fraternal charity, in the image of Christ’s gift-love of himself. This is the intuitive understanding which we discover in Francis' ‘Rule for Hermitages’ (1217-1221). The text of this Rule is to be found in the oldest manuscript collections of St Francis’ writings (In Armstrong et al, I, 61). Many of the Franciscan scholars consider this ‘Rule’ as being a part of the Admonitions of St Francis. This is where i hear the most authentic voice of Francis speaking.  Esser, for one, called the Admonitions the “Canticle of inner poverty and the Canticle of Christian brotherliness.” He also characterized them as the magna carta of what Francis meant by brotherhood.  Cuthbert of Brighton considered the collection of Admonitions to be the “Sermon on the Mount” of the little poor one. Manselli, too, believes that what we have here are “Francis's essential thoughts.” The Admonitions, he feels, belong among the writings which “aim at summing up the experiences of his whole life.”  (Goorbergh, and Zweerman 2001: 56)

It is from this intuition of Francis that the Gospel way of evangelical life develops and evolves over his lifetime and will finally culminate in the ultimate joyous illumination which Francis experiences in the paradoxical suffering and darkness of his physical blindness; the sight of creation through the Lord’s eyes. Through this vision Francis comes to see that it is good, and to ‘Love as God Loves’. It is from this experience of Francis that our Franciscan theologian Blessed John Duns Scotus, taught in opposition to the overly intellectualized philosophy of the Scholastics of the Middle Ages.

As I consider the women who accompanied and ministered to Jesus and his disciples as well as story of Martha and Mary, it becomes clear these have become the inspiration for the primitive rule of St Francis. We have seen how this gift love is mirrored by the love of a mother for a child. We have also seen how this gift love within affirming relationships actualizes our potential to become fully rational in the image of God.  I would propose further, that in such affirming gift love relational situations, God becomes present and sensible to us, our families, our communities and our societies.  Making our Franciscan intuition, tradition and insights known and accessible through our practice of such affirming love fraternities in a world of great loneliness is central to giving birth to the Gospel message. 

In the encyclical ‘Deus Caritas Est’ of the late Pope John Paul II, he speaks of the 'feminine genius, which coincides with the acceptance and communication of love that, from the heart of God, radiates and shines in human hearts.’ It is in this light that we come to contemplate the Virgin Mary as Mother giving birth to Love itself; and being our exemplar in the Church, calling on us also to bring to term within us the message of the Gospel and, as part of our authentic Franciscan calling, to give birth to that love of Christ for the world.



The diverse experiences of Francis have led different authors to propose different experiences as core to the Franciscan spiritual path.

Tavard, for instance, considers the Francis vision at La Verna, of Christ crucified in the form of a winged seraph, which accompanied Francis being imprinted with the stigmata, as being fundamental to his piety and Christology, and therefore being at the core of Franciscan spirituality.  (Theological Studies, Vol. 42. No. 4, 565).  This reflection of the tokens of the Lord’s Passion, which is seen as the perfect imitatio Christi (McGiinn, 51), occurred in 1224, which was only two years before the death of Francis.

In the interpretation of Gallant and Cirino it is the dream of Francis as ‘Herald of the great King; the dream of glory which is contained in Francis' own prayers in the ‘Office of the Passion’.  As ‘The Geste of the Great King’, singing of the hero (Christ) who has been entrusted with a mission leading to acts of great valour, confronting the enemy and culminating in victory (Gallant and Cirino, 21).

Francis sees the path as an imitation of Christ, through suffering leading ultimately to the glory of the resurrection of the hero, because of his obedience. According to the Franciscan scholar, Regis Armstrong, it is the experience of Francis in the meeting with the leper which is the essence of the Franciscan experience (Armstrong, 21).

Yet for others, it is the crib at Greccio which showed the humility and poverty of Christ made manifest in the incarnation; the juxtaposition of transcendence and immanence. The transcendent God of all holiness who is here among us, as a completely dependent baby lying in a manger (Doyle, 57). This humility of Christ who gifts us through himself to each other with universal brother and sisterhood is, therefore, seen as central to Francis piety and thus the fundamental virtue of Franciscan spiritual life. This is the way of renounced ‘self-will’, purged of all lesser loves and attachments so that we may come to live in the awareness of the present moment. In the traditional contemplative and mystical traditions, this is seen as the abandoning former delights or prospective gratification, exclusively seeking God, for the sake of the love of God.



Do all of these different strands of Franciscan spirituality lead back to a central experience which may be deemed the spiritual path along which the disciple may find his way? Can we give some contemporary form to the historic ideal of evangelical fraternity of Gospel living in the way of the apostles and the first Christian communities? Jacques Dalarun points to a problem within the hagiographical writings due to serious inconsistencies between various biographies, the First Life and Second Life of Celano, and especially the Anonymous of Perugia and the Legend of the Three Companions on the one hand, and the Legend of Perugia  on the other.

Even within the genre of hagiographical accounts of the life of St Francis we have complex and often irreconcilable differences. In some instances we have a joyous, easy going Francis portrayed as having a free attitude towards any monastic rule, and especially bodily discipline. He is shown as being opposed to systematic penance and excessive fasting, mortification and asceticism, pointing rather towards the virtue of discernment. He ‘reproved his brothers when they were too harsh on themselves . . . binding up their wounds with the bandages of sane precepts and directions’ (3Comps: 59).

Though he is sometimes reported to have worn a hair-shirt in the early days, he forbade that such traditional devices be used by his friars (Perugia: 2). Writing in his own hand to Brother Leo after his stigmata, Francis advocates, speaking as a mother, that it is neither the biblical models, nor ecclesiastical prescriptions, nor is it the newly established Franciscan tradition that describes the path for the initiate. The path that Francis points towards is in the ongoing, relational dialogue with the living Lord. ‘In whatever way it seems better to you to praise the Lord God and to follow in His footprint and poverty, do it with the blessing of God and my obedience’ (In Armstrong et al,122). In juxtaposition to this view of Francis, we have the portrait of the saint drawn for us who represents the perfect ascetic, rigorous in following the rule of life; demanding complete self renunciation and absolute poverty, sine proprio (Dalarun 2002: 219). The editors of the 1999 three volume series of Francis of Assisi – The Early Documents, also point to other difficulties in studying the Franciscan tradition. There is ‘polishing’ of the ‘simplistic’ writing of Francis in copying of the manu-scripts as well as a blending of the primitive style of Francis with stylized prayers of the Liturgy.


André Cirino points out that images showing Francis at  the foot of the cross, with his gaze fixed on the suffering Christ, which ‘accords’ with the religious sensitivity of the earlier biographers of the period, is misleading. This is the way of indicating ‘compassionate contemplation’ of the cross, which some scholars see being perfected in the stigmata received by Francis (Sheldrake 2005: 311), and which Bonaventure interprets as the validation of the Franciscan road of contemplation. Cirino rather interprets the contemplative way of St Francis directly from the prayers of the saint in the ‘Office of the Passion’. The pattern starts with the praises of the victorious Hero in the glory of the Father; then recognizes in the Antiphon the ‘glorified Hero’ as his ‘Lord and Teacher’; finally to the ‘Hero-Teacher’ showing the way of ‘obedience through opposition and persecution, to the fullness of life in the Kingdom (Gallant and Cirino, 25). In contemplating Christ, Francis has found himself reflected in Christ’s gaze; a mirror image of the encounter with the leper.


This idea of ‘gazing’ on the face of the Lord, as a ‘mother’ and ‘son’ in Francis’ Rule for hermitages, will be taken up by St Clare (1181-1253) in her ‘mirror’ imagery, as she follows Francis' way of life ‘according to the Gospel’. In her imagery, it is Francis who is the mother, and she the child (son) as seen in the Rule for Hermitages..

Lady Clare also related how once, in a vision, it seemed to her she brought a bowl of hot water to Saint Francis along with a towel for drying his hands. She was climbing a very high stairway, but was going very quickly, almost as though she were going on level ground. When she reached Saint Francis, the saint bared his breast and said to the Lady Clare: “Come, take and drink.” After she had sucked from it, the saint admonished her to imbibe once again. After she did so what she had tasted was so sweet and delightful she in no way could describe it. After she had imbibed, that nipple or opening of the breast from which the milk came remained between the lips of blessed Clare. After she took what remained in her mouth in her hands, it seemed to her it was gold so clear and bright that everything was seen in it as in a mirror (Goorbergh, and Zweerman 2001: 108).

In the many disputes about Franciscan poverty following the death of St Francis, it is Clare who remains the most loyal and obedient ‘child’, adhering strictly to the ‘Lady Poverty’ and the ideals of sine proprio, following ‘in the footprints of the poor, condemned Christ’ (Sr Francis Teresa, 68)


Franciscan spirituality has manifested itself in the Church in developing mysticism, in sacred music and art, in a wide intellectual tradition supporting the growth of philosophy and theology as well as science seeking ever to bridge the gap between faith and reason.

The Franciscan understanding of all the rich diversity of creation as our brothers and sisters, bearing the imprint of the creator, meant that their portrayer in truth meant a move towards a more emotional and naturalistic portrayal away from the abstraction and poetic beauty of the Italian-Byzantine style.

Franciscans have remained faithful to their missionary activity and the call for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Seeing all creation as good, this is a spirituality divested of any form of domination, seeking always to bridge human alienation from nature and the divine. Starting from the second book of revelation, which is creation, the seven steps on the path of spiritual growth in the ‘The Journey into God’, developed by St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (1221-1274), Bishop and Doctor of the Church as well as eighth Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, remains integral to spiritual direction programmes worldwide.

Through the centuries, Franciscan spirituality has remained centred on the mystical contemplation held in tension with evangelic mission. Through the development of Franciscan devotions, this contemplation of Scripture moves from the incarnation which we see in the crib, the Cross as we see in the ‘Stations of the Cross’, and the living Christ at the centre of human history and culture, as we see in the ‘Crucifix of San Damiano’.


A return to the charism of the contemplative being as envisaged in the Rule that we have inherited, could appear counter-intuitive in the hurly-burly of our current challenges. I would however advocate that the pendulum has swung too far in that historical tension of the active and contemplative lives of the Little Brothers. There is within me a deep conviction and a yearning of and for the fire that burns in the desert; a return to the mountain.  If we do not stop to listen; if we do not return to the experience of the divine, how can we hear; how can we know? What have we to offer the world?

As the contemplative aspect of our religious life contracts and our hermitages fall into disuse in a world forgetful of the sacred, we see our vocations faltering and our Order dwindling.