Saturday, October 04, 2008

Francis of Assisi: God's Gift to the Church


In celebration of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, I share today the following excerpt from Leonardo Boff’s book, Francis of Assisi: A Model for Human Liberation.


Francis lives the antithesis of paternalism and monarchism in the institutional structure of the Church. The practice of power led to the concentration in the hands of the clergy of the means of religious production. The justifying understanding needed for this practice was developed; here, categories of the most ancient imperial tradition came into play, managed by a political theology whose roots are found in Egypt and the Middle East. The one God-Father is represented by the monarch, father of his people. All the rest are subordinate, organized in a descending hierarchy; it is the kingdom of children. The relationship of the children among themselves is not developed, which would open up the opportunity for the idea of fraternity, but only the relationship of the children to the one father. Consequently, there is produced an inflating of the principle of the father, which generates patriarchism from the idea of the fullness of power in only one person. The Church, rooted in this model of political monarchism, appears as a society in principle, unequal and hierarchical.

Francis lives another experience of faith, tied to the most authentic sources of the New Testament. Because he is poor and unarmed and does not try to impose himself on others, but rather to serve them, he discovers the radical fraternity of all beings. God does not cease being Father. But this Father has one Son who is His substantial image and the only representative of the Father. This Son became human and mixed with God’s adopted children. He was the great Brother among brothers. Francis lives this experience of Christ as Brother. From there comes the discovery of the umbilical cord that unites all human beings, the understanding of the Church as fraternity and as universal confraternization blossoms. All represent the Father to the degree to which they are the children in the Son who is among us; this representation is no longer monopolized by anyone, and if by chance it persists (as a certain understanding of the ecclesial apostolates), it must be lived within the community and among the brothers and not above them.

In this context of ideas the petition of Francis arises in all its logic: “May no one call himself ‘prior’ among us, but rather that all be called without distinction ‘lesser brothers,’ washing the feet of one another”; and immediately afterward adding well-known Gospel texts against power (cf. Mt 20:25-26; Lk 22:26), he delegitimizes the principle of power as a relationship between the brothers and others, equally brothers, substituting for it the principle of mutual service.

This experience has profound ecclesiological consequences because it translates the mystery of the Church into categories of the practice of Jesus, and not into those of the monarchism and monotheism of the Old Testament and of the political theologies of ancient imperialism.

. . . There is then, an undeniable non-conformism in Saint Francis; his plan is not within the institutionality of the day; it is a Gospel plan. But he is a man of the Spirit in such a way that he realizes that the Gospel is not the monopoly of anyone, not even he, Francis; nor of the feudal and imperial Church. The Gospel is a ferment that continually gives life to the whole body, penetrating the institutional form as well as the charismatic moment of the community.

. . . Francis was a gift of God to his Church. It received him not without apprehensions, as it did in an exaggerated way with previous evangelical movements. . . . “The fact that the institution would doubt, distrusting and trying to reduce the original radicalness,” says Tadeo Matura, “shows the reaction of someone who feels threatened. The final acceptance of Franciscan evangelism on the part of the Church shows, however, that answering and adding to liberty form part of its deepest being, in that, far from destroying, it renews the Church.”

– Excerpted from Francis of Assisi: A Model for Human Liberation by Leonardo Boff (Orbis Books, 2006), pp. 103-105.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
St. Francis of Assisi: Dancer, Rebel, Archetype
St. Francis of Assisi and Human Sexuality

Image: Graham Faulkner as Francis in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon.


Mark Andrews said...

I'm not sure Boff's understanding of Francis, and Francis self-understanding, have alot to do with each other. Ditto for Boff's Christology.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hmmm . . . sounds like someone got out of the wrong side of bed this morning.