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"It Pleases Me That You Should Teach Sacred Theology": Franciscans Doing Theology

From: Franciscan Studies
Volume 55, 1998
pp. 1-25 | 10.1353/frc.1998.0037

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"IT PLEASES ME THAT YOU SHOULD TEACH SACRED THEOLOGY" FRANCISCANS DOING THEOLOGY1 Since the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, Franciscans have been struggling to define and describe their life in the church with more appropriate categories than the Code allows. Franciscans realize that they are neither monastic nor apostolic and claim for themselves the description "evangelical." The rediscovery and description of the evangelical form of life has emerged from a serious, systematic reflection on the experience of Franciscan living in the light of the early sources which give shape, meaning, and direction to the Franciscan movement. These early Franciscan texts, used as a point of reflection, include the writings and hagiographical texts of Francis and Clare, but also include the writings of the great theologians of the Order, especially Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus. In fact, one could argue that it is the explicitly theological resources of the tradition that provided the context for rediscovering the evangelical character of Franciscan life. This was the direction taken by Joseph Chinnici in his seminal paper "Evangelical and Apostolic Tensions."2 However, there is a reluctance to engage the philosophical and theological resources of the tradition in discussing the charism in the contemporary situation. The contemporary focus on ministry tends to dissociate being and doing from thinking, and there is a reluctance to associate "doing" with "theology." It seems that we have dichotomized (or we have inherited the dichotomy) what for Francis and Clare and the founding Franciscan generations was an integral experience of Christian living. It is also interesting to note that the "thinking" about theology, or the sacra pagina as the monks put it, has been connected to the 'This paper was given at The National Franciscan Forum: Franciscans Doing Theology, June 10-15, 1997 in Colorado Spring, Co. and sponsored by The Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. 2Published in the Proceedings: Our Franciscan Charism Today (New Jersey: FAME, 1987). 1 Franciscan Studies, 55 (1998) 2 MICHAEL BLASTIC, O.F.M. CONV. charism of monastic life, with its own emphasis on lectio divina and contemplatio as the way to God, while the "doing" of ministry and life has been connected to the charism of apostolic life. The renewal of Franciscan life has bounced back and forth between the realities of contemplation and ministry or fraternal life. There is a tendancy to theorize about the reality of contemplation, ministry, and fraternal life in a manner that dichotomizes life as a result, almost by definition. We are just beginning to discover the real implications of our own life as evangelical, not as a hybrid of monastery and pulpit and classroom, but as the life of imitation, of following Christ's footprints in the real world which show the way to the Kingdom of God. In other words, the evangelical life is an integrated life of contemplative action in the model of Francis and Clare, a life which is theological by definition. The rediscovery of the evangelical life after many years of renewal and retrieval, has brought us to the threshold of the rediscovery of the Franciscan theological tradition. Chinnici aptly describes this threshold in the following way: The evangelical religious life means witness—witness as a Roman Catholic to the good Gospel of Jesus Christ. It means taking seriously and publicly naming the fact that God, who encompasses all things, is the personal heart of the evangelical life and the goal of our desires. It means talking about this search for God, a community of three in one, whose Word became flesh in the womb of a woman, and giving it a social language which communicates to people WHO OUR GOD IS AND WHO WE ARE.3 This is what Franciscan Theology is—it is about the "search for God" with a social language that speaks to people in our world. But it has taken Franciscans some time to articulate this selfunderstanding and perhaps the reason that the church had not included the category of evangelical life in the new code (even though it appeared in previous draft texts) was that over the centuries Franciscans had forgotten their own evangelical theology— had forgotten how to speak about their...