Monday, October 04, 2010

Francis of Assisi: The Antithesis of Clericalism and Monarchism

Throughout the world today Christians and people of good will are remembering, reflecting upon, and celebrating the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

Here at The Wild Reed I commemorate Francis by sharing excerpts from Leonardo Boff’s book, Francis of Assisi: A Model for Human Liberation. These excerpts remind us that Francis was, in many ways, the antithesis of both the clericalism and monarchism that remain destructive forces within the Church today.


Francis lived the antithesis of clericalism. We should never lose sight of the fact that he was a lay person and wanted to remain such to evangelize the laity who were pastorally abandoned, above all the poor. If later he became an ordained lay person, it was with the aim of being able to preach with greater liberty, since there was a conciliar prohibition that disallowed the preaching by lay people on doctrinal matters. He was never an agent of the clerical system. The astute historian Eduardo Hoornaert calls attention to the mistaken perspective of considering Francis a man of the Church, that is, a cleric with influence among the people. Even today his image is in harmony with the popular culture almost everywhere.

. . . 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 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 lived 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. . . . Francis lives [the] experience of Christ as Brother. From there comes the discovery of the umbilical cord that unites all human beings, the understanding of 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. . . . Francis delegitimizes the principle of power . . . 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.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
St. Francis of Assisi: Dancer, Rebel, Archetype
Francis of Assisi: God’s Gift to the Church
No Mere Abstraction
St. Francis of Assisi and Human Sexuality

Image: Artist unknown.

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