Tuesday, September 6, 2016

REQUIRED READING: The Cluniac Reform

The Cluniac Reform

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This morning I would like to speak to you about a monastic movement that was very important in the Middle Ages and which I have already mentioned in previous Catecheses. It is the Order of Cluny which at the beginning of the 12th century, at the height of its expansion, had almost 1,200 monasteries: a truly impressive figure! A monastery was founded at Cluny in 910, precisely 1,100 years ago, and subsequent to the donation of William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, was placed under the guidance of Abbot Berno. At that time Western monasticism, which had flourished several centuries earlier with St Benedict, was experiencing a severe decline for various reasons: unstable political and social conditions due to the continuous invasions and sacking by peoples who were not integrated into the fabric of Europe, widespread poverty and, especially, the dependence of abbeys on the local nobles who controlled all that belonged to the territories under their jurisdiction. In this context, Cluny was the heart and soul of a profound renewal of monastic life that led it back to its original inspiration.


At Cluny the Rule of St Benedict was restored with several adaptations which had already been introduced by other reformers. The main objective was to guarantee the central role that the Liturgy must have in Christian life. The Cluniac monks devoted themselves with love and great care to the celebration of the Liturgical Hours, to the singing of the Psalms, to processions as devout as they were solemn, and above all, to the celebration of Holy Mass. They promoted sacred music, they wanted architecture and art to contribute to the beauty and solemnity of the rites; they enriched the liturgical calendar with special celebrations such as, for example, at the beginning of November, the Commemoration of All Souls, which we too have just celebrated; and they intensified the devotion to the Virgin Mary. Great importance was given to the Liturgy because the monks of Cluny were convinced that it was participation in the liturgy of Heaven. And the monks felt responsible for interceding at the altar of God for the living and the dead, given large numbers of the faithful were insistently asking them to be remembered in prayer. Moreover, it was with this same aim that William the Pious had desired the foundation of the Abbey of Cluny. In the ancient document that testifies to the foundation we read: "With this gift I establish that a monastery of regulars be built at Cluny in honour of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, where monks who live according to the Rule of St Benedict shall gather... so that a venerable sanctuary of prayer with vows and supplications may be visited there, and the heavenly life be sought after and yearned for with every desire and with deep ardour, and that assiduous prayers, invocations and supplications be addressed to the Lord". To preserve and foster this atmosphere of prayer, the Cluniac Rule emphasized the importance of silence, to which discipline the monks willingly submitted, convinced that the purity of the virtues to which they aspired demanded deep and constant recollection. It is not surprising that before long the Monastery of Cluny gained a reputation for holiness and that many other monastic communities decided to follow its discipline. Numerous princes and Popes asked the abbots of Cluny to extend their reform so that in a short time a dense network of monasteries developed that were linked to Cluny, either by true and proper juridical bonds or by a sort of charismatic affiliation. Thus a spiritual Europe gradually took shape in the various regions of France and in Italy, Spain, Germany and Hungary.

Cluny's success was assured primarily not only by the lofty spirituality cultivated there but also by several other conditions that ensured its development. In comparison with what had happened until then, the Monastery of Cluny and the communities dependent upon it were recognized as exempt from the jurisdiction of the local Bishops and were directly subject to that of the Roman Pontiff. This meant that Cluny had a special bond with the See of Peter and, precisely because of the protection and encouragement of the Pontiffs the ideals of purity and fidelity proposed by the Cluniac Reform spread rapidly. Furthermore, the abbots were elected without any interference from the civil authorities, unlike what happened in other places. Truly worthy people succeeded one another at the helm of Cluny and of the numerous monastic communities dependent upon it: Abbot Odo of Cluny, of whom I spoke in a Catechesis two months ago, and other great figures such as Eymard, Majolus, Odilo and especially Hugh the Great, who served for long periods, thereby assuring stability and the spread of the reform embarked upon. As well as Odo, Majolus, Odilo and Hugh are venerated as Saints.

Not only did the Cluniac Reform have positive effects in the purification and reawakening of monastic life but also in the life of the universal Church. In fact, the aspiration to evangelical perfection was an incentive to fight two great abuses that afflicted the Church in that period: simony, that is the acquisition of pastoral offices for money, and immorality among the secular clergy. The abbots of Cluny with their spiritual authority, the Cluniac monks who became Bishops and some of them even Popes, took the lead in this impressive action of spiritual renewal. And it yielded abundant fruit: celibacy was once again esteemed and practised by priests and more transparent procedures were introduced in the designation of ecclesiastical offices.

Also significant were the benefits that monasteries inspired by the Cluniac Reform contributed to society. At a time when Church institutions alone provided for the poor, charity was practised with dedication. In all the houses, the almoner was bound to offer hospitality to needy wayfarers and pilgrims, travelling priests and religious and especially the poor, who came asking for food and a roof over their heads for a few days. Equally important were two other institutions promoted by Cluny that were characteristic of medieval civilization: the "Truce of God" and the "Peace of God". In an epoch heavily marked by violence and the spirit of revenge, with the "Truces of God" long periods of non-belligerence were guaranteed, especially on the occasion of specific religious feasts and certain days of the week. With "the Peace of God", on pain of a canonical reprimand, respect was requested for defenceless people and for sacred places.

In this way, in the conscience of the peoples of Europe during that long process of gestation, which was to lead to their ever clearer recognition two fundamental elements for the construction of society matured, namely, the value of the human person and the primary good of peace. Furthermore, as happened for other monastic foundations, the Cluniac monasteries had likewise at their disposal extensive properties which, diligently put to good use, helped to develop the economy. Alongside the manual work there was no lack of the typical cultural activities of medieval monasticism such as schools for children, the foundation of libraries andscriptoria for the transcription of books.

In this way, 1,000 years ago when the development of the European identity had gathered momentum, the experience of Cluny, which had spread across vast regions of the European continent, made its important and precious contribution. It recalled the primacy of spiritual benefits; it kept alive the aspiration to the things of God; it inspired and encouraged initiatives and institutions for the promotion of human values; it taught a spirit of peace. Dear brothers and sisters let us pray that all those who have at heart an authentic humanism and the future of Europe may be able to rediscover, appreciate and defend the rich cultural and religious heritage of these centuries.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

REQUIRED READING: Saint Clare of Assisi

BENEDICT XVI
GENERAL AUDIENCE
Paul VI Hall
Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Saint Clare of Assisi


Dear Brothers and Sisters,
One of the best loved Saints is without a doubt St Clare of Assisi who lived in the 13th century and was a contemporary of St Francis. Her testimony shows us how indebted the Church is to courageous women, full of faith like her, who can give a crucial impetus to the Church's renewal.
So who was Clare of Assisi? To answer this question we possess reliable sources: not only the ancient biographies, such as that of Tommaso da Celano, but also the Proceedings of the cause of her canonization that the Pope promoted only a few month after Clare's death and that contain the depositions of those who had lived a long time with her.

Born in 1193, Clare belonged to a wealthy, aristocratic family. She renounced her noble status and wealth to live in humility and poverty, adopting the lifestyle that Francis of Assisi recommended. Although her parents were planning a marriage for her with some important figure, as was then the custom, Clare, with a daring act inspired by her deep desire to follow Christ and her admiration for Francis, at the age of 18 left her family home and, in the company of a friend, Bona di Guelfuccio, made her way in secret to the Friars Minor at the little Church of the Portiuncula. It was the evening of Palm Sunday in 1211. In the general commotion, a highly symbolic act took place: while his companions lit torches, Francis cut off Clare's hair and she put on a rough penitential habit. From that moment she had become the virgin bride of Christ, humble and poor, and she consecrated herself totally to him. Like Clare and her companions, down through history innumerable women have been fascinated by love for Christ which, with the beauty of his Divine Person, fills their hearts. And the entire Church, through the mystical nuptial vocation of consecrated virgins, appears what she will be for ever: the pure and beautiful Bride of Christ.

In one of the four letters that Clare sent to St Agnes of Prague the daughter of the King of Bohemia, who wished to follow in Christ's footsteps, she speaks of Christ, her beloved Spouse, with nuptial words that may be surprising but are nevertheless moving: "When you have loved [him] you shall be chaste; when you have touched [him] you shall become purer; when you have accepted [him] you shall be a virgin. Whose power is stronger, whose generosity is more elevated, whose appearance more beautiful, whose love more tender, whose courtesy more gracious. In whose embrace you are already caught up; who has adorned your breast with precious stones... and placed on your head a golden crown as a sign [to all] of your holiness" (First Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague: FF, 2862).

Especially at the beginning of her religious experience, Francis of Assisi was not only a teacher to Clare whose teachings she was to follow but also a brotherly friend. The friendship between these two Saints is a very beautiful and important aspect. Indeed, when two pure souls on fire with the same love for God meet, they find in their friendship with each other a powerful incentive to advance on the path of perfection. Friendship is one of the noblest and loftiest human sentiments which divine Grace purifies and transfigures. Like St Francis and St Clare, other Saints too experienced profound friendship on the journey towards Christian perfection. Examples are St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal. And St Francis de Sales himself wrote: "It is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. I am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to all mankind, but of that spiritual friendship which binds souls together, leading them to share devotions and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them" (The Introduction to a Devout Life, III, 19).
After spending a period of several months at other monastic communities, resisting the pressure of her relatives who did not at first approve of her decision, Clare settled with her first companions at the Church of San Damiano where the Friars Minor had organized a small convent for them. She lived in this Monastery for more than 40 years, until her death in 1253. A first-hand description has come down to us of how these women lived in those years at the beginning of the Franciscan movement. It is the admiring account of Jacques de Vitry, a Flemish Bishop who came to Italy on a visit. He declared that he had encountered a large number of men and women of every social class who, having "left all things for Christ, fled the world. They called themselves Friars Minor and Sisters Minor [Lesser] and are held in high esteem by the Lord Pope and the Cardinals.... The women live together in various homes not far from the city. They receive nothing but live on the work of their own hands. And they are deeply troubled and pained at being honoured more than they would like to be by both clerics and lay people" (Letter of October 1216: FF, 2205, 2207).

Jacques de Vitry had perceptively noticed a characteristic trait of Franciscan spirituality about which Clare was deeply sensitive: the radicalism of poverty associated with total trust in Divine Providence. For this reason, she acted with great determination, obtaining from Pope Gregory IX or, probably, already from Pope Innocent III, the so-called Privilegium Paupertatis (cf. FF., 3279). On the basis of this privilege Clare and her companions at San Damiano could not possess any material property. This was a truly extraordinary exception in comparison with the canon law then in force but the ecclesiastical authorities of that time permitted it, appreciating the fruits of evangelical holiness that they recognized in the way of life of Clare and her sisters. This shows that even in the centuries of the Middle Ages the role of women was not secondary but on the contrary considerable. In this regard, it is useful to remember that Clare was the first woman in the Church's history who composed a written Rule, submitted for the Pope's approval, to ensure the preservation of Francis of Assisi's charism in all the communities of women large numbers of which were already springing up in her time that wished to draw inspiration from the example of Francis and Clare.

In the Convent of San Damiano, Clare practised heroically the virtues that should distinguish every Christian: humility, a spirit of piety and penitence and charity. Although she was the superior, she wanted to serve the sick sisters herself and joyfully subjected herself to the most menial tasks. In fact, charity overcomes all resistance and whoever loves, joyfully performs every sacrifice. Her faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was so great that twice a miracle happened. Simply by showing to them the Most Blessed Sacrament distanced the Saracen mercenaries, who were on the point of attacking the convent of San Damiano and pillaging the city of Assisi.

Such episodes, like other miracles whose memory lives on, prompted Pope Alexander IV to canonize her in 1255, only two years after her death, outlining her eulogy in the Bull on the Canonization of St Clare. In it we read: "How powerful was the illumination of this light and how strong the brightness of this source of light. Truly this light was kept hidden in the cloistered life; and outside them shone with gleaming rays; Clare in fact lay hidden, but her life was revealed to all. Clare was silent, but her fame was shouted out" (FF, 3284). And this is exactly how it was, dear friends: those who change the world for the better are holy, they transform it permanently, instilling in it the energies that only love inspired by the Gospel can elicit. The Saints are humanity's great benefactors!

St Clare's spirituality, the synthesis of the holiness she proposed is summed up in the fourth letter she wrote to St Agnes of Prague. St Clare used an image very widespread in the Middle Ages that dates back to Patristic times: the mirror. And she invited her friend in Prague to reflect herself in that mirror of the perfection of every virtue which is the Lord himself. She wrote: "Happy, indeed, is the one permitted to share in this sacred banquet so as to be joined with all the feelings of her heart (to Christ) whose beauty all the blessed hosts of the Heavens unceasingly admire, whose affection moves, whose contemplation invigorates, whose generosity fills, whose sweetness replenishes, whose remembrance pleasantly brings light, whose fragrance will revive the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, because the vision of him is the splendour of everlasting glory, the radiance of everlasting light, and a mirror without tarnish. Look into this mirror every day, O Queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it, so that in this way you may adorn yourself completely, inwardly and outwardly.... In this mirror shine blessed poverty, holy humility, and charity beyond words..." (Fourth Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, FF, 2901-2903).

Grateful to God who give us Saints who speak to our hearts and offer us an example of Christian life to imitate, I would like to end with the same words of Blessing that St Clare composed for her Sisters and which the Poor Clares, who play a precious role in the Church with their prayer and with their work, still preserve today with great devotion. These are words in which the full tenderness of her spiritual motherhood emerges: "I give you my blessing now while living, and after my death, in as far as I may: nay, even more than I may, I call down on you all the blessings that the Father of mercies has bestowed and continues to bestow on his spiritual sons and daughters both in Heaven and on earth, and with which a spiritual father and mother have blessed and will bless their spiritual sons and daughters. Amen" (FF, 2856).



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Required Reading - Unam Sanctam


POPE BONIFACE VIII’S UNAM SANCTAM

I.               INTRODUCTION
The nature of the “Church is to become a sacrament of salvation.”[1] It is brought about by various means of sanctification and different acts of pastoral services rendered to the faithful. It is for this reason that the Church is considered as the authority regarding faith and morals. The concern of the Church is not just to give the spiritual needs of the believers through the sacraments and sacramentals[2] but also to educate the people towards an ethical way of living patterned on Christian values.
Through the course of Christian history, this mission of the Church is carried out under the supreme authority of the pope as the Vicar of Christ. This title, however, gained different understanding and interpretation of power execution. During the medieval period, especially on the rise of French monarchial government, papal subordination has become the sole criterion for salvation. This articulation was given by Pope Boniface VIII in his papal bull, Unam Sanctam.[3]
This paper tries to give a glimpse of the historico-political context on the document and its circumstances.  

II.             BENEDETTO CAETANI
Around the year 1235, a man named Benedetto Caetani was born in Anagni,[4] Italy. His early youth was spent in Todi where he took his legal studies. He entered the monastery of Friars Minor in Valletri[5] and soon became a canon at the cathedral. On 1264, he became part of the Roman Curia by serving  cardinals who became popes like Martin IV and Adrian V. Eventually he was sent to England as a rector of St. Lawrence Church and a papal notary in France. He was later on created as a cardinal on April 12, 1281 by then Pope Martin V.
III.           POPE BONIFACE VIII
During those times, the Papal State was in Naples. “Politically it was one of the most centralized states, economically it was a major commercial center and grain producer, and culturally it was a point of diffusion of Greek and Arab learning into western Europe.”[6] Pope Celestine V, after five months in his papacy, has resigned and just lived in a hermitage, who later on was abdicated. After ten days, “the cardinals met in Castel Nuovo, Naples who, on the third scrutiny, elected Benedetto Cardinal Caetani on December 24, 1294 as the successor to the papacy.
Immediately, he transferred the Seat of Papacy from Naples back to Rome. “The ceremony of his consecration and coronation as the Supreme Pontif of the Roman Cathlic Church was performed in St. Peter’s Basilica on January 23, 1295.”[7] This pope is described as “an intelligent but rude and ill-tempered man.”[8] Through the course of his papacy, he asserted the supremacy of the pope in relation with other institutions and imperial states. He wanted to monopolize the power of governance in both spiritual and temporal by being subjected to his authority.
IV.           UNAM SANCTAM
On November 18, 1302, Boniface VIII issued the Unam Sanctam which has been considered as “one of the most extreme statements of Papal spiritual supremacy ever made.”[9] It is a bull that “lays down dogmatic propositions on the unity of the Church, the necessity of belonging to it for the attainment of eternal salvation, the position of the pope as supreme head of the Church, and the duty thence arising of submission to the Pope in order to belong to the Church and thus to attain salvation.”[10] The original document does not exist anymore but there is a version of the same text attributed to Pope Boniface VIII’s files in the Vatican Archives. Nevertheless, this one is a landmark in the history of the doctrine of Papal Primacy.
            Its message is addressed primarily to the ruling powers of Europe. It is the “classical expression of the specifically medieval claim of the Papacy to absolute dominion over the Christian Commonwealth, its people, princes and kings.”[11] Here, Boniface uses the image of the two swords, “following St. Bernard’s allegorical interpretation of Luke 22: 38,”[12] pertaining to the spiritual and temporal jurisdiction of the Papal Supremacy. Moreover, it is a response to all who contradict the authority of the pope and “re-statement of the reality of the Church’s divinely-given right to correct the sins which kings commit as kings,”[13]
V.            POLITICAL CONTEXT
The bull was established as an assertion of Pope Boniface VIII against the taxation of the clergy imposed by the kings of France and England. The unexceptional taxation was brought about by these two kingdoms in “preparation for war with one another over their conflicting claims to rule the southwestern parts of modern France.”[14] This has become an immense problem in the financial system of the Roman Church, particularly to the pope himself.
As a solution for this, Pope Boniface VIII declared 1300 as a Jubilee Year. The announcement for Plenary Indulgence was spread throughout the demography of Christian world. Almost 200, 000 faithful have flocked to the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome. This time, gathering money from pilgrims  has been successful at the height of the papacy.
However, with the gravity of anger held by King Philip IV[15] of France against Pope Boniface VIII, he sent “William Nogaret, one of Philip’s chief adviser, and Sciarra Colonna, with a band of hired ruffians surprised the Aged Pontiff in his palace at Anagni, insulted him, hurled in his face the most infamous accusations, and brutally mistreated him; it is said that Colonna struck him with his iron glove.”[16] He was rescued by the people there but after a couple of days, he died on October 11, 1303.  There was a myth that “he had died of suicide from gnawing through his own arm and bashing his skull into a wall.”[17]
VI.           CONCLUSION
Pope Boniface VIII reigned for almost nine years. Throughout his papacy, the various challenges to the Church of Rome gave rise to assert Papal Supremacy. Even though he failed to implement the law of the two swords over the other authorities, the papacy still stood on its place. However, his death would be the beginning of the so called Babylonian Captivity of Papacy under the French Imperial Kings.
As a final remark, the Church, no matter how dark it has taken place in history, her mission to become a living sacrament of salvation continues. Thus, the ultimate criterion for salvation, based on Church magisterium, is not to submit oneself to the pope but to the one whom he represents – Christ the Lord. Amen.












UNAM SANCTAM
Urged on by our faith, we are obliged to believe and hold that there is one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And we firmly believe and profess that outside of her there is no salvation nor remission of sins , as the bridegroom declares in the Canticles, "My dove, my undefiled, is but one; she is the only one of her mother; she is the choice one of her that bare her." And this represents the one mystical body of Christ, and of this body Christ is the head, and God is the head of Christ. In it there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. For in the time of the Flood there was the single ark of Noah, which prefigures the one Church, and it was finished according to the measure of one cubit and had one Noah for pilot and captain, and outside of it every living creature on the earth, as we read, was destroyed. And this Church we revere as the only one, even as the Lord saith by the prophet, "Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog." He prayed for his soul, that is, for himself, head and body. And this body he called one body, that is, the Church, because of the single bridegroom, the unity of the faith, the sacraments, and the love of the Church. She is that seamless shirt of the Lord which was not rent but was allotted by the casting of lots. Therefore, this one and single Church has one head and not two, - for had she two heads, she would be a monster,- that is, Christ and Christ's vicar, Peter and Peter's successor. For the Lord said unto Peter, "Feed my sheep." "My," he said speaking generally and not particularly, "these and those," by which it is to be understood that all the sheep are committed unto him. So, when the Greeks or others say that they were not committed to the care of Peter and his successors, they must confess that they are not of Christ's sheep , even as the Lord says in John, "There is one fold and one shepherd."
That in her and within her power are two swords, we are taught in the Gospels, namely, the spiritual sword and the temporal sword. For when the Apostles said, "Lo, here,"- that is, in the Church,- are two swords, the Lord did not reply to the Apostles "it is too much," but "it is enough." It is certain that whoever denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter, hearkens ill to the words of the Lord which he spake, "Put up thy sword into its sheath." Therefore, both are in the power of the Church, namely, the spiritual sword and the temporal sword; the latter is to be used for the Church, the former by the Church; the former by the hand of the priest, the latter by the hand of princes and kings, but at the nod and sufferance of the priest. The one sword must of necessity be subject to the other, and the temporal authority to the spiritual. For the Apostle said, "There is no power but of God, and the powers that be are ordained of God"; and they would not have been ordained unless one sword had been made subject to the other, and even as the lower is subjected by the other for higher things. For, according to Dionysius, it is a divine law that the lowest things are made by mediocre things to attain to the highest. For it is not according to the law of the universe that all things in an equal way and immediately should reach their end, but the lowest through the mediocre and the lower through the higher. But that the spiritual power excels the earthly power in dignity and worth, we will the more clearly acknowledge just in proportion as the spiritual is higher than the temporal. And this we perceive quite distinctly from the donation of the tithe and functions of benediction and sanctification, from the mode in which the power was received, and the government of the subjected realms. For truth being the witness, the spiritual power has the functions of establishing the temporal power and sitting in judgment on it if it should prove to be not good. And to the Church and the Church's power the prophecy of Jeremiah attests: "See, I have set thee this day over the nations and the kingdoms to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
And if the earthly power deviate from the right path, it is judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power deviate from the right path, the lower in rank is judged by its superior; but if the supreme power [the papacy] deviate, it can be judged not by man but by God alone. And so the Apostle testifies, "He which is spiritual judges all things, but he himself is judged by no man." But this authority, although it be given to a man, and though it be exercised by a man, is not a human but a divine power given by divine word of mouth to Peter and confirmed to Peter and to his successors by Christ himself, whom Peter confessed, even him whom Christ called the Rock. For the Lord said to Peter himself, "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth," etc. Whoever, therefore, resists this power so ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God, unless perchance he imagine two principles to exist, as did Manich├Žus, which we pronounce false and heretical. For Moses testified that God created heaven and earth not in the beginnings but "in the beginning."
Furthermore, that every human creature is subject to the Roman pontiff, - this we declare, say, define, and pronounce to be altogether necessary to salvation.



[1] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium no. 1.
[2] These are the other acts of divine worship such as Liturgy of the Hours, Popular Devotions, Cult of Saints, etc. See Code of Canon Law, Book IV, Part II.
[3] It means “One Holy” which are the first words of the Latin document.
[4] Anagni is an ancient town in Central Italy, in the hills east-southeast of Rome.
[5] Valletri is an ancient city of the Volsci tribe which is now a home for circuit court.
[6] See http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/402903/Kingdom-of-Naples.
[7] See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02662a.htm.
[8] Joseph H. Lynch, The Medieval Church: A Brief History (New York: Longman Group, 1992), 320.
[10] Ibid.
[11] John Laux, Church History: A Complete History of the Catholic Church to the Present Day (Illinois: Tan Books & Publishers, Inc.: 1989), 395.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Philip Hunges, A History of the Church, vol. 3, The Revolt Against the Church: Aquinas to Luther (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1946), 83.
[14] Joseph H. Lynch, The Medieval Church: A Brief History, 321.
[15] Also known as King Philip the Fair of France.
[16] John Laux, Church History: A Complete History of the Catholic Church to the Present, 395.

[17] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Boniface_VIII.

Required Reading - St. Francis of Assisi

BENEDICT XVI GENERAL AUDIENCE
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 27 January 2010 
Saint Francis of Assisi

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In a recent Catechesis, I illustrated the providential role the Orders of Friars Minor and the Order of Preachers, founded by St Francis of Assisi and St Dominic de Guzmán respectively, played in the renewal of the Church in their day. Today I would like to present to you the figure of Francis, an authentic "giant" of holiness, who continues to fascinate a great many people of all age groups and every religion.

"A sun was born into the world". With these words, in the Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto XI), the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri alludes to Francis' birth, which took place in Assisi either at the end of 1181 or the beginning of 1182. As part of a rich family his father was a cloth merchant Francis lived a carefree adolescence and youth, cultivating the chivalrous ideals of the time. At age 20, he took part in a military campaign and was taken prisoner. He became ill and was freed. After his return to Assisi, a slow process of spiritual conversion began within him, which brought him to gradually abandon the worldly lifestyle that he had adopted thus far. The famous episodes of Francis' meeting with the leper to whom, dismounting from his horse, he gave the kiss of peace and of the message from the Crucifix in the small Church of St Damian, date pack to this period. Three times Christ on the Cross came to life, and told him: "Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins". This simple occurrence of the word of God heard in the Church of St Damian contains a profound symbolism. At that moment St Francis was called to repair the small church, but the ruinous state of the building was a symbol of the dramatic and disquieting situation of the Church herself. At that time the Church had a superficial faith which did not shape or transform life, a scarcely zealous clergy, and a chilling of love. It was an interior destruction of the Church which also brought a decomposition of unity, with the birth of heretical movements. Yet, there at the centre of the Church in ruins was the Crucified Lord, and he spoke: he called for renewal, he called Francis to the manual labour of repairing the small Church of St Damian, the symbol of a much deeper call to renew Christ's own Church, with her radicality of faith and her loving enthusiasm for Christ. This event, which probably happened in 1205, calls to mind another similar occurrence which took place in 1207: Pope Innocent III's dream. In it, he saw the Basilica of St John Lateran, the mother of all churches, collapsing and one small and insignificant religious brother supporting the church on his shoulders to prevent it from falling. On the one hand, it is interesting to note that it is not the Pope who was helping to prevent the church from collapsing but rather a small and insignificant brother, whom the Pope recognized in Francis when he later came to visit. Innocent III was a powerful Pope who had a great theological formation and great political influence; nevertheless he was not the one to renew the Church but the small, insignificant religious. It was St Francis, called by God. On the other hand, however, it is important to note that St Francis does not renew the Church without or in opposition to the Pope, but only in communion with him. The two realities go together: the Successor of Peter, the Bishops, the Church founded on the succession of the Apostles and the new charism that the Holy Spirit brought to life at that time for the Church's renewal. Authentic renewal grew from these together.

Let us return to the life of St Francis. When his father Bernardone reproached him for being too generous to the poor, Francis, standing before the Bishop of Assisi, in a symbolic gesture, stripped off his clothes, thus showing he renounced his paternal inheritance. Just as at the moment of creation, Francis had nothing, only the life that God gave him, into whose hands he delivered himself. He then lived as a hermit, until, in 1208, another fundamental step in his journey of conversion took place. While listening to a passage from the Gospel of Matthew Jesus' discourse to the apostles whom he sent out on mission Francis felt called to live in poverty and dedicate himself to preaching. Other companions joined him, and in 1209 he travelled to Rome, to propose to Pope Innocent III the plan for a new form of Christian life. He received a fatherly welcome from that great Pontiff, who, enlightened by the Lord, perceived the divine origin of the movement inspired by Francis. The Poverello of Assisi understood that every charism as a gift of the Holy Spirit existed to serve the Body of Christ, which is the Church; therefore he always acted in full communion with the ecclesial authorities. In the life of the Saints there is no contradiction between prophetic charism and the charism of governance, and if tension arises, they know to patiently await the times determined by the Holy Spirit.

Actually, several 19th-century and also 20th-century historians have sought to construct a so-called historical Francis, behind the traditional depiction of the Saint, just as they sought to create a so-called historical Jesus behind the Jesus of the Gospels. This historical Francis would not have been a man of the Church, but rather a man connected directly and solely to Christ, a man that wanted to bring about a renewal of the People of God, without canonical forms or hierarchy. The truth is that St Francis really did have an extremely intimate relationship with Jesus and with the word of God, that he wanted to pursue sine glossa: just as it is, in all its radicality and truth. It is also true that initially he did not intend to create an Order with the necessary canonical forms. Rather he simply wanted, through the word of God and the presence of the Lord, to renew the People of God, to call them back to listening to the word and to literal obedience to Christ. Furthermore, he knew that Christ was never "mine" but is always "ours", that "I" cannot possess Christ that "I" cannot rebuild in opposition to the Church, her will and her teaching. Instead it is only in communion with the Church built on the Apostolic succession that obedience too, to the word of God can be renewed.

It is also true that Francis had no intention of creating a new Order, but solely that of renewing the People of God for the Lord who comes. He understood, however, through suffering and pain that everything must have its own order and that the law of the Church is necessary to give shape to renewal. Thus he placed himself fully, with his heart, in communion with the Church, with the Pope and with the Bishops. He always knew that the centre of the Church is the Eucharist, where the Body of Christ and his Blood are made present through the priesthood, the Eucharist and the communion of the Church. Wherever the priesthood and the Eucharist and the Church come together, it is there alone that the word of God also dwells. The real historical Francis was the Francis of the Church, and precisely in this way he continues to speak to non-believers and believers of other confessions and religions as well.

Francis and his friars, who were becoming ever more numerous, established themselves at the Portiuncula, or the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the sacred place par excellence of Franciscan spirituality. Even Clare, a young woman of Assisi from a noble family, followed the school of Francis. This became the origin of the Second Franciscan Order, that of the Poor Clares, another experience destined to produce outstanding figures of sainthood in the Church.

Innocent III's Successor, Pope Honorius III, with his Bull Cum Dilecti in 1218 supported the unique development of the first Friars Minor, who started missions in different European countries, and even in Morocco. In 1219 Francis obtained permission to visit and speak to the Muslim sultan Malik al-Klmil, to preach the Gospel of Jesus there too. I would like to highlight this episode in St Francis' life, which is very timely. In an age when there was a conflict underway between Christianity and Islam, Francis, intentionally armed only with his faith and personal humility, travelled the path of dialogue effectively. The chronicles tell us that he was given a benevolent welcome and a cordial reception by the Muslim Sultan. It provides a model which should inspire today's relations between Christians and Muslims: to promote a sincere dialogue, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding (cf. Nostra Aetate, 3). It appears that later, in 1220, Francis visited the Holy Land, thus sowing a seed that would bear much fruit: his spiritual sons would in fact make of the Sites where Jesus lived a privileged space for their mission. It is with gratitude that I think today of the great merits of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

On his return to Italy, Francis turned over the administration of his Order to his vicar, Br Pietro Cattani, while the Pope entrusted the rapidly growing Order's protection to Cardinal Ugolino, the future Supreme Pontiff Gregory IX. For his part, the Founder, dedicated completely to his preaching, which he carried out with great success, compiled his Rule that was then approved by the Pope.

In 1224, at the hermitage in La Verna, Francis had a vision of the Crucified Lord in the form of a seraph and from that encounter received the stigmata from the Seraph Crucifix, thus becoming one with the Crucified Christ. It was a gift, therefore, that expressed his intimate identification with the Lord.

The death of Francis his transitus occurred on the evening of 3 October 1226, in the Portiuncula. After having blessed his spiritual children, he died, lying on the bare earthen floor. Two years later Pope Gregory ix entered him in the roll of saints. A short time after, a great basilica in his honour was constructed in Assisi, still today an extremely popular pilgrim destination. There pilgrims can venerate the Saint's tomb and take in the frescoes by Giotto, an artist who has magnificently illustrated Francis' life.

It has been said that Francis represents an alter Christus, that he was truly a living icon of Christ. He has also been called "the brother of Jesus". Indeed, this was his ideal: to be like Jesus, to contemplate Christ in the Gospel, to love him intensely and to imitate his virtues. In particular, he wished to ascribe interior and exterior poverty with a fundamental value, which he also taught to his spiritual sons. The first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5: 3) found a luminous fulfilment in the life and words of St Francis. Truly, dear friends, the saints are the best interpreters of the Bible. As they incarnate the word of God in their own lives, they make it more captivating than ever, so that it really speaks to us. The witness of Francis, who loved poverty as a means to follow Christ with dedication and total freedom, continues to be for us too an invitation to cultivate interior poverty in order to grow in our trust of God, also by adopting a sober lifestyle and a detachment from material goods.

Francis' love for Christ expressed itself in a special way in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Fonti Francescane (Writings of St Francis) one reads such moving expressions as: "Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exult, when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest. Oh stupendous dignity! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles himself that for our salvation he hides himself under an ordinary piece of bread" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, Editrici Francescane, Padova 2002, 401).

In this Year for Priests, I would also like to recall a piece of advice that Francis gave to priests: "When you wish to celebrate Mass, in a pure way, reverently make the true sacrifice of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, 399). Francis always showed great deference towards priests, and asserted that they should always be treated with respect, even in cases where they might be somewhat unworthy personally. The reason he gave for this profound respect was that they receive the gift of consacrating the Eucharist. Dear brothers in the priesthood, let us never forget this teaching: the holiness of the Eucharist appeals to us to be pure, to live in a way that is consistent with the Mystery we celebrate.

From love for Christ stems love for others and also for all God's creatures. This is yet another characteristic trait of Francis' spirituality: the sense of universal brotherhood and love for Creation, which inspired the famous Canticle of Creatures. This too is an extremely timely message. As I recalled in my recent Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, development is sustainable only when it respects Creation and does not damage the environment (cf. nn. 48-52), and in the Message for the World Day of Peace this year, I also underscored that even building stable peace is linked to respect for Creation. Francis reminds us that the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator is expressed through Creation. He understood nature as a language in which God speaks to us, in which reality becomes clear, and we can speak of God and with God.

Dear friends, Francis was a great Saint and a joyful man. His simplicity, his humility, his faith, his love for Christ, his goodness towards every man and every woman, brought him gladness in every circumstance. Indeed, there subsists an intimate and indissoluble relationship between holiness and joy. A French writer once wrote that there is only one sorrow in the world: not to be saints, that is, not to be near to God. Looking at the testimony of St Francis, we understand that this is the secret of true happiness: to become saints, close to God!

May the Virgin, so tenderly loved by Francis, obtain this gift for us. Let us entrust ourselves to her with the words of the Poverello of Assisi himself: "Blessed Virgin Mary, no one like you among women has ever been born in the world, daughter and handmaid of the Most High King and heavenly Father, Mother of our Most Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, spouse of the Holy Spirit. Pray for us... to your most blessed and beloved Son, Lord and Master" (Francesco di Assisi, Scritti, 163).