- The Franciscan usus pauper As The Gateway Towards An Aesthetic Economy
Today’s crisis in the Western economy has led important economists to rediscover the moral and spiritual sources of their field; I will mention only Tomáš Sedláček, Thomas Piketty, Robert and Edward Skidelsky. The crisis is also an opportunity to look at the economy in a Franciscan perspective. This perspective is, as I will argue, one of perfection, undividedness (Hebr. tamim), and the Franciscan way of seeing things in this perspective is a particular form of poverty. The early Franciscans, beginning with their patron and example St. Francis of Assisi, had discovered this perspective by leaving the world, experiencing poverty, and accepting it – even this poverty – as a divine gift.1 By experiencing and enduring poverty, they came in touch with the true values of life, and were able to see reality in the perspective of God’s undivided abundance. The usus pauper, as understood by Peter of John Olivi, was a way to keep and guard this poverty in a monetary society, and bring the people who are looking for it in contact with life according to the perfection of the Gospel. I would like to develop the premises for an economy on the basis of the usus pauper, and present the Franciscan practice as an example of the paradoxical dream of pope Francis: a poor Church for the poor, to free them from poverty.
1. Leaving, receiving and sharing
Francis grew up in an expanding urban society with a developing monetary economy, in which counting transformed reality.2 He found [End Page 185] no real value in this world and left it. For some time he lived in the forests surrounding the city, where he met other people who were cast out from society. In the silence of the woods and the encounters with the outcasts, Francis received the grace to sense the true values of the evangelical life.3 This was a life-spanning discovery. True values were living without property, in brotherhood and in peace.4 Writing his Testament, he remembers having received these true values from the Lord: “Dominus dedit mihi…” And as he received God’s gifts together with their inclination to be shared with others,5 Francis wanted to share them with his brothers and the world, and felt the responsibility to serve and to guard them (cf. Genesis 2:15).
If we describe Francis’ discovery in a phenomenological way, focusing on the act of giving, we will get a glimpse of an economy. The only way to serve and guard the gifts of God is by keeping the relation between Giver and gift intact. Then the gift remains a gift, which is a dynamic, and not a property, which would stop the dynamic. The gift is like the ball in a game: its meaning lies in its being moved between the players. To receive God’s gifts well means that Francis would not take possession of anything and that he would guard the interpersonal relation with God, in which the gift functions as a medium.6 Not taking possession of anything means that Francis would choose to live in poverty, i.e. a particular form of poverty, namely a vivere sine proprio in which gifts as well as needs are shared.7 This sharing opened the relation between Francis and God towards an undivided and unlimited community.8 [End Page 186]
Guarding the interpersonal relation meant that he would follow Christ in as bodily a way as possible, that is, for example, by following his footsteps.9 The motif of Francis growing more and more in the likeness of Christ is in fact just a natural process: people who communicate with each other will grow towards each other, as if they are looking in a mirror that transforms them (cf. Epistola Claræ III 12-13). Focusing on Christ as a person with a human face, communicating Himself through creatures, Francis discovered a growing brother- and sisterhood as the setting of the good life (cf. Regula bullata 6:7; Legenda Trium Sociorum 13). On the other hand, and inevitably, he also joined Christ in His position as...