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Essay/Term paper: Saint francis of assissi

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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Saint Francis of Assissi

1. Birth

Saint Francis was born Giovanni Bernadone in either 1181 or 1182 in the
Italian hill town of Assisi. His parents, Pietro and Pica, were members of the
rather well-to-do merchant class of the town. Pioetro Bernadone was away in
France when his son was born. On his return, he had the boy's name changed from
Giovanni to Franceso ("The Little Frenchman"-perhaps a tribute to France, a
country he loved and from which his wife's family came). Saint Francis of Assisi,
was born in 1182, more probably in the latter year. His mother's family, which
was not without distinction, may originally have hailed from Provence. His
father, Pietro di Bernardone, was a prosperous cloth merchant and one of the
influential business men of Assisi. A merchant in those days was a far
different individual from the modern shop keeper; forced by circumstances to be
both daring and prudent, he constantly embarked upon the most hazardous
undertakings and his career was likely to be a succession of ups and downs.
Moreover, business activities, which today tend more and more to assert their
independence of any ethical code, were then strictly subordinated to accepted
moral standards, as is clearly shown in the writings of Leo Battista Alberti, a
century and a half later, or in the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas.
Bernardone was not in Assisi when his son was born. At first the child was
called John but upon his father's return he was christened Francis, in memory of
France, whence Pietro di Bernardone had just returned. More than any other
character in history, St. Francis in after life retained the qualities most
characteristic of childhood, so that it is not difficult to imagine him as he
must have appeared during his early years, with his combination of vivacity,
petulance and charm.


At the proper time young Francesco Benardone was sent to clergy of San
Giorgio, his parish church, to learn his letters and the ciphering necessary for
a merchant. He sat on a bench with the better-class boys, chorusing sacred
Latin. He was not a brilliant student. The three extant scraps of his writing
betray a clumsy fist and abound in sad solecisms. In later years he avoided
holding a pen; he preferred to dictate, and to sign his pronouncements with a
cross or tau, a semisacred symbol. However, he learned enough Latin for his
purposes, for school routine and for the comprehension of the ritual. Francesco
also had the education of the home and shop. He could admire his father, honest
and worthy, but an austere man, taking up where he laid not down, reaping where
he had not shown. Drama also rendered his secret dream, the realization of the
chivalrous life. The exploits of Charlemagne's paladins and the Knights of the
Round Table were already familiar throughout Italy, and code of knightly
behavior was known and honored, if little practiced. Francis's imagination
disported itself in the enchanted world of knighthood; and all his life he used
the language of chivalry and appealed to its ideals.
After Francis had attained manhood and developed his native discernment, he
devoted himself to the profession of his father, who was a merchant. Yet this
he did in his own way. Merry and generous by nature, ever ready for jest and
song, he roamed the town of Assisi day and night with his comrades and was most
prodigal in his spending-to such and extent that he used all the money allowed
him and all his earnings for banquets and festivities. For this reason his
parents frequently remonstrated with him, pointing out that he was living in
such style with his friends that he no longer seemed to be their son, but the
son a great prince. Yet as his parents were wealthy and loved their son
tenderly, they allowed him to have his own way rather that disturb him.

Educational Backround

The official Life of Saint Francis, written by Saint Bonaventure, the
Minister General of the Franciscan Order, after the chapter of 1266 at which it
was decided that such a life was needed, because of the proliferation of
apochryphal and spurious lives, records that Francis was sent to school to the
priests of Saint George's, also in Assisi. But he seems to have learned little
from them except enough Latin to read with difficulty and write great labour.
In later life, the clerky Brother Leo usually acted as his secretary; although
an example of his signature survives, he preferred to make his mark with a Greek
cross, the letter tau, the cross used by the crusaders. However, somewhere -
probably in the first instance from his father and his father's business
acquaintances - he learned enough French to be able to converse in that language,
and earn himself the nickname il Francesco, "the Frenchman', although whether it
was given to him by his father, as pious legend has always maintained, or by the
wits of Assisi, is uncertain. Whoever gave it to him, it was the obvious name
for a boy wearing French cloth, talking with French visitors, and singing
French tunes, the songs of troubadours and jongleurs. John Bernardone became "
Francis' early in life, and has remained Francis throughout the years since.
Which dialect of French he spoke is unknown. Because he was called "the
Frenchman' and called his language "French', it is usually assumed that his
dialect was that of the north and the Ile de France, not the langue d'oc of
county of Toulouse, which further west towards Navarre shaded into early
Spanish. But although he once himself proposed to go to Paris, most of the
traces of "French' influence in his life seem to relate to southern France, and
there are no proofs that Pietro Bernardone's travels in search of business took
him further north than the great fairs at Toulouse, Lyons, and Montpellier. The
Question remains open. Francis's everyday language must have been the current
Umbrain dialect: not yet Italian, but a mingling of late Latin and dialect
words from which Italian was rapidly emerging. He died just thirty-nine years
before the birth of Dante, the first and greatest of the Italian vernacular

Religious Affliation and Experiences

In the chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, Francis was kneeling at the foot
of the crucifix, he was completely drawn out of himself and lost all
consciousness except of God. From the cross Christ spoke to him. "Francis,"
the Voice came, "do you not see that My house is being destroyed? Go therefore
and repair it." He took Christ's words in the most literal sense. He could see
that the neglected chapel was badly in need of restoration, so he accepted the
task laid upon him as being simply that of bringing stones and mortar and
setting to work. Not for an instant did he imagine that the commision could be
wider than that. Indeed, though the field of his labor was soon to widen to
enclose the last limits of the earth, he never ceased to believe, as in the case
of the lepers, that the local obligation was also his. He never ceased to be
greatly concerned about the rebuilding and care of dilapidated churches.

Professional life

There is no doubt that Francis and his brothers did preach peace in Assisi
in autumn, but whether in fact he played the leading role ascribed to him
reconciling the factions is undemonstrable. If the claim also sometimes made is
true, that it was from this time that he penitents of Assisi began to call
themselves the frates minores, it is unlikely that Francis arbitrated
effectually in the quarrel. At Assisi in 1202, frates minores would not have
been taken to mean "the lesser', that is, more humble, "brothers', but "brothers
of the minores'; it would have bben a political label, as suggestive of
commitment as "the Workers' party' of "the workers' brotherhood' might be today.
Francis had fought with the minores in 1202 and he was committed to poverty;
but he had not damned the rich for their wealth, as Joachim of Flora had done,
and it is unlikely that he would have begun his mission to the world by
deliberately alienating a significant faction in his native city.

Major Goals

About the spring of the year 1206, Francis was freed from everything tying
him to what theologians called "the world', Francis was poised to begin his
life's work at last. There was one difficulty, however. He still did not know
what that work was. Even though he was freed from the world, he was still
totally dependant on it for food, drink and clothing. He took a job as a
dishwasher in a monastery - probably a subpriory of the Benedictines of Mount
Subasio - but he felt that he was being badly treated there, and left, crossing
the mountain to the village of Gubbio, where an old friend took pity on him,
giving him food and clothing. While Francis was working on the restoration of
Saint Damian's, Francis also continued his attempts to help the lepers, who at
this time were still outlawed and and counted dead by most of the world. Since
the first crusade, their numbers had vastly increased, though whether their
disease was true leprosy or not is a matter of dispute. To rebuild Saint
Domian's, he begged stones - and, of coarse, food - from his father's friends in
Assisi. Their pity must have been hard for Pietro Bernardone to bear as
anything he had yet endured on Francis's account.

Major issues and concerns

During the Middle Ages, a number of movements were based on the ideal of
poverty. What made the movement led by Saint Francis different was his
attractive personality and passionate dedication to the message he preached.
One of the most popular of saints, he combined austerity with poetic gentleness.
Francis popularized the custom of the Christmas crib. Besides the three
branches of the order that he established, many other religious societies bear
his name. One of the major issues that Francis took an interest in the most was,
preaching the necessity of the poor, a simple life-style based on the ideals of
the Gospels. Francis overflowed with a spirit of love not only for men who
suffered but also for dumb animals, reptiles, birds, and any other creature with
and without consciousness. Above all, he loved little lambs with a special
affection and love, fot they showed forth the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ,
since the Scriptures used the image of a lamb in describing him.

Major life events

When Blessed Francis, accompanied by Blessed Peter of Cattaneo, who had
been a doctor of law, crossed the sea, he left behind two vicars, Brother
Matthew of Nario and Brother Gregory of Naples. He instituted Matthew as vicar
of St. Mary of Portiuncula; he was to remain there and accept postulants into
the Order, while Gregory toured Italy to console the bretthren. Accourding to
the first Rule, the fairs were to fast on the fourth and sixth day of the week.
There might be some plausibility in the suggestion that the Roman authorities,
while lacking idealism thenselves, shrewdly understood how to utilize the
idealism of others, were it not that they would have been imbecile in their
policy had they failed to see that enthusiasm, to be useful at all, must be
maintained. This actually means that it must be constantly renewed. Therefore
it is absurd to suppose that they would have wished to modify the Franciscan
idealism in such a way as to destroy or even diminish it. Theirs was the
extremely delicate task of directing it so as to preserve it from dissipating
its energies and to help it to keep the enthusiasm bright and fresh.

What was this person most known for?

Saint Francis of Assisi was most known for all of his preaching. Francis
began as a poet and ended as one, though during the years of his active life he
appears to have been too busy living poetry to have felt much inclination to
write it. Of Francis's own style of preaching we can say that it was altogether
unstudied. He never prepared anything but, depending upon the inspiration of
the moment, addressed himself with burning intensity to those before him. His
whole body seemed to preach, and his gestures were vivacious and, perhaps,
violent. Had it not been for his crystalline sincerity he might have struck
people as absurd. Probably, too, it was not only in the famous sermon he was
soon to deliver before the Pope and the cardinals this his feet danced while he
spoke. His great dark eyes, full of fire and tenderness, seemed to look each
person present through and through. He had a voice so resonant that it was
startling, coming from so frail a man. It was fortunate that he had that asset
of the orator, for his physical presence was not at all impressive, and what
slight advantages he might have had in this respect were thrown away because of
his appearing in a coarse habit patched with material still coarser, sack-cloth
that did not even match in color.

Detail the search for truth

One day Francis, who had begun to walk about the house learning on a stick,
thought the time had come for him to go and breathe the country air; he opened
the door and went out , undoubtedly on to the road from Spello and Foligno,
which was nearest to his house and most convenient for him, being almost level.
The road runs along the side of Subasio: on the left rise the curves of the
broad mountain shoulder, here green with woods and there showing the bare rocks:
on the right the ground slopes away gently, clothed in the uniform soft pallor
of the olive. Before him, where the plain stretches away to Foligno, green and
fertile, cypresses and oaks strike a livelier not of colour. Of all the
landscapes round Assisi it is the sweetest and most attractive. Francis, who
had not looked at this view for a long time, sought anxiously for his usual
sensations at the sight of it. But the mountains and the slopes, the plain and
cypresses and olives, had nothing more to say to him; they were strange,
inanimate objects.

What resistance was met?

The claims of his commune has already drawn Francis towards the profession
of arms, but it was not enough to satisfy him. The disputes of a handful of
paltry merchants and insignificant nobles over a house of the ownership of a
mill, the petty wars of raids and rapine under the very city walls, made no
appeal to him, after his short unlucky experience. Of the disputes between
Church and Empire he understood but little: he had a respect for ecclesiastical
censure, for he had experienced in his own city its blighting effect on his
religious life. He sought for far-away adventure, a mighty war, without
scruples of conscience, with much glory and the crown of nobility at the end of

How did he/she affect the world around them?

All of the places that Francis visited, for example, Italy, according to
the historical records, were many; and as these appear in casual references,
they can be only a part of the total. If we were to include the popular legends,
the number would be infinite. Terni, Perugia, ubbio, Citta` di Castello,
Cortona, Arezzo, Siena, Florence, Bologna, Ancona, Osimo, Ascoli: these are too
some of the places that Saint Francis visited. It is at once observable that
they are all in a definite and rather circumscribed district. The Saint's
appearances in the more remote and diverse parts of the country, such as Rome,
Florence, Bologna, and Alexandria, were, in proportion, few and far between;
and one gets the impression ( borne out by the definite or circumstantial
evidence of the records ) that these were but occasional visits. The other
places, on the contrary, appear to represent his usual and appointed circuit.
If you take a map of Italy and draw a circle with Assisi as its center, with a
diameter of a little less than two hundred kilometers, you will include them all,
from Borgo San Sepolcro to Ascoli Piceno, Rieti, and Toscanella, the extremist
points being roughly equidistant from Assisi.

Find a quote made by the person that most identifies the individual and his/her
work. Why did you choose this quote?

Saint Francis took a child that had just been born and said, "There have
been born today in this street two children, one of whom will be one of the best
men in the world. The other will be the worst." That "worst" has been taken to
apply to the man who succeeded Francis as the ruler of the Franciscan Order,
Brother Elias. Yet, apart from the question as to whether Elias was as bad as
all that, there is a reason to believe that he was not born in Assisi at all,
but nearby; and nobody knows the exact date of his birth. I chose this
particular quote because it talks about the everyday occurrence of children
being born each and every day. Some of those children are among those best men
or women in the world and some are unfortunate to have the opportunity to even
be born. Those children who are born with a disorder, from their mother's wrong
doing while carrying her child.

Your reflection should include:

How did he/she express genuine love and concern for people in the climate of
their world?

Francis was one that should have been included among the Fathers, for he
puts then into shame. He came at the end of the long process of discovery.
With him, the wheel has turned full circle: we are back again in the gold-
illuminated days of the apostles and of the early catacombs, the days when to be
a Christian was to be carefree, before the heretics and arisen and the
disputatious theologians has assumed the role of lawgivers. Francis threw
learning away and the world sighed with relief, for learning was already
weighing heavily in the cloisters, and the librarians, as usual, were wondering
whether they would be able to keep count of the books. "What have I to do with
books?" Francis said. "O my brethren, all we need to do is pray." As all of
the people of the Church read of the Church Fathers, we are all made aware of
immense strains, heroic efforts, terrible responsibilities. The Fathers of the
fourth and fifth centuries were shoring up the ruins of Rome with their naked
shoulders. They fought prodigiously, with superlative cunning, against the
barbarians and the Emperors and all the tribes of wanton and evil people in the

How did he/she bring to real life what is right, and what is good?

Saint Francis, the true disciple of Christ, while he was living in this
miserable life, tried to follow in the path of Christ with all his strength, for
Christ was the perfect master. So it often happened that as he healed a body,
God also healed the soul, for the same thing often happened to Christ. So
Francis did not only serve the lepers willingly, but also ordered his brethren
as they went about the world to serve the needs of lepers for the love of Christ,
who reputed a poor leper himself. Saint Francis was staying in a place near to
where some of the brothers of the order were serving a leper hospital. One of
the lepers was testy, unruly, and also so obstinate that everyone believed.
This leper had abused and cursed whoever waited on him and, what was worse, he
bitterly blasphemed and cursed Christ and his Holy Mother. No one wanted to
take care, or even be near him. Although the brothers were willing to put up
with the leper's many abuses in order to grow in the virtue of patience, but
their consciences would not ever tolerate his blasphemies about Christ and his
Mother. So the brothers were quite prepared to abandon him, but they thought
that before doing this they should consult Saint Francis, who at the time was
staying nearby.

When the brothers told Francis about this perverse leper, Francis went to
see him. Finding the leper, Francis greeted him warmly: "God grant you peace,
my dearest brother." The leper then replied with a grumble, "What peace can I
find from God, who has taken away my peace and every worldly good and left me
cancerous and stinking?" Saint Francis then answered him, "My son, be patient!
God often inflicts us with a weakness of the body for the good of our souls.
There is a great merit in bearing illness with patience." The sick man retorted,
"How can I endure the continual pain both day and night with any sense of peace?
Not only am I sick, but the brothers who were sent to help me will not do it, as
the ought." Saint Francis, divinely inspired to understand that this leper was
possessed by an evil spirit, prayed most devoutly for this man before God.
After he had prayed, he returned again to speak to the leper: "My son, I will
take care of you, since the others do not want to." "I'll willingly have you.
What can you do though that the others have not done?" "What do you want me to
do?" "I want you to wash me, for I stink so bad that I cannot stand myself."

Saint Francis immediately went and heated water, which he scented with
herbs. Then he undressed the man and washed him with his own hands, while
another brother poured the water. Through divine power, wherever Saint Francis
touched him with his hands, the leprosy disappeared and the flesh grew
immediately healthy. And as his body healed, his soul also healed along with
his body. When the leper saw his body heal, he began to weep bitterly because
of his sorrow for his sins and great compunction that he felt. As his body was
cleansed from the leprosy by the bathing, so his soul was cleansing power of his
tears and his sorrow.


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