Controversial Passages

From the Later Rule: 
Official Charter of a New Order

This document was approved in 1223 as the official rule, or charter, of Francis’s followers, the Order of Friars Minor. Three of its passages soon led to bitter controversy.

How literally were these injunctions to be obeyed? Did they apply in all times and places? What if a superior ordered a brother to obey something seemingly contrary to the Rule, such as to receive money or to buy property to build a hospital?

I firmly command all the brothers that they in no way receive coins of money, either personally or through an intermediary.

The brothers shall not acquire anything as their own, neither a house nor a place nor anything at all. Instead, as pilgrims and strangers in this world who serve the Lord in poverty and humility, let them go begging for alms with full trust. Dedicate yourselves totally to this, my most beloved brothers, do not wish to have anything else forever under heaven for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The brothers who are the ministers and servants of the other brothers should visit and admonish their brothers and humbly and charitably correct them, not commanding them anything which might be against their conscience and our Rule. On the other hand, the brothers who are subject to them should remember that they have given up their own wills for God. Therefore I strictly command them to obey their ministers in all those things which they have promised to observe and which are not against conscience and our Rule.

From the Testament: 
Francis’s Final Charge to His Followers

In this document, dictated just before his death, Francis encouraged his brothers to observe his Rule. Though formally it is only an “admonition,” a few sentences seem like commands. Brothers who observed them literally brought both controversy and reform to the order.

Let the brothers beware that they by no means receive churches or poor dwellings or anything which is built for them, unless it is in harmony with [that] holy poverty which we have promised in the Rule, [and] let them always be guests there as pilgrims and strangers (1 Pet. 2:11).

And the minister general and all other ministers and custodians [leaders in the order] are bound through obedience not to add or subtract from these words. And let them always have this writing with them along with the Rule. And in all the chapters which they hold, when they read the Rule, let them also read these words.

And I through obedience strictly command all my brothers, cleric and lay, not to place glosses on the Rule or on these words, saying: They are to be understood in this way. But as the Lord granted me to speak and to write the Rule and these words simply and purely, so shall you understand them simply and without gloss, and observe them.

By

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #42 in 1994]

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