Aquinas and Francis

Father Quigley last Sunday told us that our good works, though essential, fall short.  Something about his sermon got me to thinking about people who have founded movements who later repudiated their own creations or were repudiated by them.  Two in particular came to mind: Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi.  The writings of Aquinas, as you know, are the intellectual foundation of Roman Catholic doctrine and an inescapable influence on every other part of christianity.  Francis, as you also know, founded a religious order, and as you might not know, founded two more, the last being the Third Order, members of which are known as Franciscan Tertiaries, seeking minimalist structures that would  be most in keeping with his ideal of active engagement in addressing poverty.

This wikipedia entry will tell you much more than you would have guessed there was to be told about Franciscan Third Order communities.  There seem to be dozens of them, including several in the Anglican and Lutheran church. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Order_of_Saint_Francis

With respect to the Third Order, this wikipedia on St. Francis, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi says only “For those who could not leave their homes, he later formed the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance. This was a fraternity composed of either laity or clergy whose members neither withdrew from the world nor took religious vows. Instead, they carried out the principles of Franciscan life in their daily lives.[1] Before long this Order grew beyond Italy.”  That isn’t quite the whole story though.  in other lives of Francis I’ve read, they say that he became disenchanted with his own First Order and that his efforts to reform it led to his own expulsion from it.  He had no better luck with a Second Order he founded, and he then founded the Third Order as something more closely in keeping with his ideal of christians actively involved in the world rather than cloistered away.

It has long been curious to me that modern day Franciscans, if they were to be faithful to their founder, wouldn’t close their monasteries and all become Third Order, since in his time he repudiated their way of life and they him.

For one man’s commentary of being an Anglican Franciscan Tertiary and why he left, see: http://www.cb1.com/~john/Religion/tertiary.html

Similarly,Thomas Aquinas breaks with his whole life’s work and, similar to Francis, his followers ignore it.  After completing the monumental work of recasting christian theology on a foundation of newly discovered Aristotelian philosophy, supplanting the previous Platonic foundation, he is said to have exclaimed late in life that he had had a vision which revealed to him that all he had written was just so much straw.  But his Summa Theologica remains the basis of Roman Catholic seminary education and the foundation of all their teaching. It does make a certain amount of sense though, for to throw it overboard with nothing in hand to replace it, would lead to too much chaos.

I’ve wondered if there are other examples of founders of a movement either becoming disenchanted with their own legacy or with how their followers were misinterpreting their legacy.  Lenin comes to mind.  Would he have repudiated what soviet communism became under Stalin?  I like to think so. Trotsky certainly did, and was duly murdered in Mexico by Stalin for it.

And Jesus.  What would he have made of the sale of indulgences?  Or the Inquisition? I think I know.  And today, what might he make of those who in his name embrace wilful ignorance of the findings of science and proclaim a world history in which the world was created just six thousand years ago? I think I know that too.  And might even we Anglicans be in for a rough go?  Church services in which the Word is read and preached in a setting of stately processions and uplifting and inspiring music might be a colossal waste of time and effort if we do not walk out the door each time with renewed resolve to do justice.  As Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) says in Apocolypse Now, we “cut ‘em in two with a 50 cal, and give ‘em a band-aid.”  Yes, we have to keep putting on the band-aids, but we’ve got to do more to change policies that cut people in two with unemployment, homelessness, hunger, and despair.

For Social Justice.

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.   (BCP, pg 260)
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 25-November-2014.

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One Response to Aquinas and Francis

  1. Elinor Constable says:

    yes yes yes. justice is hard so we tend to give up. i am reminded of the essentially tragic life of Marian Barry who was once on fire working for justice. i actually knew him then, when i was a community organizer in DC. I repeat myself but I love your daily cups

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