restricted access Part Two: The Practical Truths of Franciscan Action
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Part Two The Practical Truths of Franciscan Action Introduction The Franciscan movement developed through its social practices . We can look in on the practices easily enough, given the writings the early Franciscans left behind. We can say today: left behind for us, for people sensitive to Franciscan ways, who want to test them as we fashion our own. The early Franciscans put their accord and their understanding into writing in the interests of the clarity and coherence of their common action. They had every reason to want their action to continue, given its nature. They readily took new people into the movement. Those of us who continue their service to humankind today lay out our action in our (own) basic texts. In formulating and developing them, we draw encouragement and inspiration, as well as practical proposals, from the early Franciscan texts. They belong to us, they fit into our lives. The early Franciscans wrote them for us. Francis says so explicitly in the opening lines of the Message. That is not at all the case for historians who use them for their other purposes. In the following pages, we draw especially on three pieces from the early Franciscan writings: the Early Rule, the Admonitions , and the Message. The Early Rule represents the mind of the men around Francis, as they began and matured as a movement, from 1209 to 1221. Historians, who know the text, have not understood and mined its chapters for all it has to tell us. They understand neither its language nor its David Flood 46 narrative, for their story differs considerably from the one they encounter there. The Admonitions footnote the Early Rule, more intent on the individual than the whole brotherhood; they clarify and support a detail of the Early Rule, or they educate the movement on a point not easily integrated into the vita. Once more, Francis called the Early Rule the vita, in the sense that it was the verbal dimension of the life they were leading. Vita means life in Latin. Whereas a dictionary sums up the meaning of a word as used by people, given new circumstances and the moment’s need, someone will give a known word a new twist and new meaning. So it was with vita, although, I must add, Francis was not the first to do so in this way.70 It is understandable that the brothers of the first Franciscan generation needed more on the vita than the vita itself. In the chapters of the Early Rule there is a need and a drive for full clarity that is not satisfied until the brothers work out Chapter XVII. With those bold paragraphs they succeed in combining both their ultimate goal and its daily practice. Along the way they had used the words blasphemy, spirit, poverty, work, and they had to familiarize themselves with their movement meanings. The Admonitions made it easier for the individual brother to step into the action. As for the Message, it contains the movement’s effort to extend itself into the working population of the communes. In writing it, Francis, by then the movement’s spokesman, had in mind an urban population. (It is difficult to speak about the brothers and the peasants of the time. The peasants were a population apart, distinct in culture and in practice.) As mentioned earlier (20), the oldest manuscript with the early Franciscan writings, Assisi, Communal Library, codex 338, written in the late 1240s, calls the Message the Commonitorium . It recalls the addressees’ Christian commitment and it encourages them to renew that commitment. (It is commonly 70 If a writer begins talking about Francis and the gospel, and not about the vita and Francis, I take as demonstrated that the writer, historian or no, has not understood. And they are legion. – Stephen of Tournai wrote on the rule of Grandmont: “They call their written text (libellus) with its constitutions a vita and not a regula.”) The Practical Truths of Franciscan Action 47 called The Letter to the Faithful, a title that, in its vagueness, admits not understanding the text.) Taken together, with all their detail, these three sources amount to a lot of text. They might not cover many pages; they cover enough, and the origins and purposes of what they say can be uncovered and analyzed at length and with profit. At least, I so hope and expect we will see. The three texts also relate to one another in a way that stimulates reflection...