Search Results for: francis of assisi

October 4 –  Clare & Francis of Assisi

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Clare & Francis of Assisi, faithful servants

Francis of Assisi (c.1182-1226) and Clare of Assisi (c.1194-1253) are among the best-loved saints in the Christian tradition. Over the centuries they have captured the hearts and imaginations of men and women of all nationalities and creeds. People everywhere have been attracted to their manifest spirituality, their Christlike nature, and their genuine simplicity, devotion and compassion. Their lives are increasingly relevant to today’s world: in 1979 Pope John Paul II named Francis as ‘Patron Saint of Ecology’ and recent studies of Clare portray her not only as a fervent disciple of Francis but also as a new leader of women and ‘a light for our time’. Francis and Clare shared a similar vision—a love of the crucified Christ and a desire to lead a biblically-inspired, simple life modelled on the example of Christ in the Gospels. The chief characteristics of their spirituality may be treated under four headings: poverty, contemplation or prayer, mission and creation.

Francis and Clare embraced voluntary poverty because they wanted to imitate Jesus who had made himself poor for us (2 Cor. 8.9). Christ’s freely-chosen material poverty defined their whole manner of life. Francis’ understanding of poverty was shaped by Christ’s total obedience to the will of the Father. He saw in Jesus’ obedience a revelation of the humility of God. Clare, on the other hand, had a more ascetical understanding of poverty. She focussed her devotion on the ‘poor Christ’. For Clare, the spiritual life consisted of conforming oneself to the poor Christ by the observance of the most perfect poverty. Poverty was the door to contemplation. By living in poverty, Clare maintained, one might enter upon the ‘narrow’ way that leads to the kingdom of heaven. Following Christ’s example, both Clare and Francis vowed to use only that which was needed and to live without owning anything—no lands, no income, no saving up ‘for a rainy day’, no possessions beyond what was needed for daily life. Poverty was a source of their joy and freedom. It was a treasure to be sought, the ‘pearl of great price’.

Both Clare and Francis emphasized the close association between poverty and prayer (contemplation). For Clare, the ‘poor Christ’ was a mirror into which she gazes. She was awe-struck by the poverty of Him who was placed in the manger. She was overwhelmed by the mystery of God’s love that led Christ to suffer on the Cross. Her prayer gives us insight into her life of contemplation: ‘Gaze upon Him, consider (Him), contemplate Him.’ Her way of being was to be a mirror to others living in the world. Clare was careful to point out that no other work was to supersede the spirit of prayer and devotion. For Francis, however, contemplation was focused on the Eucharist. Participation in the Eucharist was tantamount to the apostles’ own experience of being with the earthly and incarnate Jesus. Thus, the mystery of the Eucharist enabled Francis to ‘see’ the poor and crucified Christ and to respond in a similar form of humility. The simple prayer that Francis taught his followers expresses his intense devotion to the Eucharist: ‘We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, in all your churches throughout the world, and we bless You, for through Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.’

Francis’ idea of poverty was also linked to his understanding of mission. In poverty Francis found a freedom that fostered reconciliation. In the spirit of poverty he urged his followers to adopt a simple, non-polemical style of missionary presence, to renounce any desire to dominate, and to minister mostly among the poor. Francis was accustomed to saying, ‘The poor are sacraments of Christ for in them we see the poor and humble Christ.’ When a brother asked if it were proper to feed some robbers, he responded affirmatively, for in every person he saw a possible thief and in every thief a possible brother or sister.

Finally, Francis’ concern for the environment was also shaped by his devotion to Christ. While the whole created order is a reminder of God’s goodness and to be received as gift, there are certain things that are worthy of our special love and care because they symbolise aspects of the nature and activity of Christ. Thus, rocks reminded Francis of the rock that was Christ, lambs of the Lamb of God, trees of the Cross, and lights of the Light of the World. In Francis’ magnificent hymn, the ‘Canticle of Brother Son’, he expresses his vision of a reconciled world that reflects the poor and crucified Christ. This, it is commonly said, is the deepest meaning of the Francis’ stigmata: his being becomes what he ‘sees’, he lives the life of Christ as literally as it is humanly possible.

Contributed by William Emilsen

MtE Update – October 2 2020

  1. Our Intro the Old Testament studies begin again next week — you’ll be very welcome if you would like to join us then! Contact Craig for the online connection details.
  2. This Sunday October 4 we will (most likely!) be our second-last treatment of Ezekiel drawing from chapter 34. In addition, we’ll hear Psalm 80 for the day and the set gospel reading see here for some commentary on the Matthew text.  
  3. A brief account of ministry of the saint(s) commemorated this Sunday can be found here October 4 –  Clare & Francis of Assisi  

January 17 – Anthony of Egypt

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Anthony of Egypt, reformer of the Church & First Desert Father

There are few more important figures in the history of early Christianity than Anthony of Egypt. By his actions as a desert anchorite he paved the way for the practice of Christian life to develop a genuine monastic ideal. Alone in his cell on Mt Colzim in the Eastern Desert of Egypt, inland from the Nile, he refined asceticism to the point where it became the template for all of monasticism in both Europe and Greece.

Born into a farming family on the Nile in 251 AD, in a village called Coma, Anthony embraced the ascetic life after an early encounter in his local church with a Gospel text that urged him to break with his material ways. “If you be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matt. 19:21). He received the calling and acted accordingly. At the age of 20, he chose to become a solitary living in a hut outside his village.

Thus began one of the most revolutionary lives in the history of Christianity. No man before Anthony has set such store in the practice of anchoresis (solitary life) and in metanoia (repentance or a turning-about). These became the touchstones of his life as an anchorite, firstly outside his village, later inside an Egyptian tomb for 25 years, and finally as a hermit on Mt Colzim for a period of more than 50 years. He ate little, slept even less and, over the years, turned himself into a ‘metanoic’ man.

His encounter with the mystical impulse was fulsome and unremitting. As St Athanasius, his great chronicler, remarked, he was capable of “going out of himself” and remaining in a state of ecstatic trance for long periods. At other times he experienced challenging battles with demons, which gave us the iconic motif of the so-called “Temptations of Saint Anthony” as depicted in so much of European art. Somehow he was able to overcome these bouts of accidie (spiritual boredom), which themselves were probably the remnants of the psychological taboos of the old Pharaonic religion of his time, in order to become a man of truly luminous statue in the eyes of his contemporaries.

His example made it possible for other men to embrace the anchoritic life. In the years following his death in 256 AD, thousands of men took to the desert up and down the Nile. These actions alone undermined Roman exploitation (through taxes) of Egypt, and the now outmoded Classical ideal then still in vogue in Alexandria. His simple premise that a man could lead an autarchic life in the middle of urban existence set the scene for the great monasteries of Europe to emerge as the founding ideal of early medievalism.

Great saints, such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius, and much later Simone Weil in the 20th century, sought guidance from his actions. Christ’s life now possessed a practical expression not so much in the value of good works, but in the search for a mystical alignment between a man and his God. Jesus was the intercessionary figure in this respect; but Anthony was his exemplar. Out of this man’s life a new society was born: one that owed its allegiance to no man save he who was prepared to dedicate himself to cultivating what Novalis called “the blue flower” of ascesis.

James Cowan

August 20 – Bernard of Clairvaux

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Bernard of Clairvaux, person of prayer

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) was a complex and many-sided character. He was a Cistercian abbot and monastic reformer, a spiritual writer of exceptional depth and beauty, an ecclesiastical statesman who advised kings, cardinals and popes, a preacher of crusades and a dogged opponent of heresy.

He was undoubtedly the most commanding Church leader in the first half of the twelfth century and one of the great spiritual masters of all times. He left his mark on schools of spirituality, monasticism, theology, worship, church music, church administration, art and architecture. Almost everything that he did had a tremendous effect in shaping the course of history.

Born to minor nobility at Fontaines-les-Dijon, Bernard entered the recently founded ‘New Monastery’ of Citeaux in Burgundy, France, in 1112, bringing with him some thirty friends and relatives whom he had persuaded to join him. Three years later, Bernard, then only twenty-four or twenty-five, was sent to found a new monastery at Clairvaux (‘Valley of Light’) in Champagne, which became the most successful Cistercian house in Europe. From this time Bernard’s fame spread and reluctantly he began to enter public affairs. Popes, bishops, abbesses (including Hildegard of Bingen), almost anyone in difficulty, sought his advice and support.

Bernard led a remarkable public life. He intervened (not always appropriately) in ecclesiastical elections to ensure the appointment of reform-minded candidates. He arbitrated disputes and resolved papal schism. He supported bright young men such as Peter Lombard, Robert Pullen (one of the early Masters at Oxford), and John of Salisbury (who became bishop of Chartres). Although a monk he spent more than a third of his time traversing Europe resolving disputes, upbraiding popes and emperor, dislodging archbishops, defending orthodoxy, pursuing heretics, writing prolifically, and leading the broadest reform movement in monastic history. Aware of the incongruity of his busy life, Bernard wrote that, ‘I am like a little bird that has not yet grown feathers, nearly all the time outside its dear nest, at the mercy of wind and storm’. It would be easy to censure Bernard for being drawn so heavily into politics, especially when he preached a very different set of priorities, but his manner of living—struggling to be in the world but not of it—inspired and challenged other spiritual and political leaders of the time to be more devoted to Christ in their daily life.

Primarily, Bernard is remembered as a master of the spiritual life rather than as a statesman or ecclesiastical diplomat. And although his writings were mostly addressed to those living the monastic life, his prayerful, pastoral approach to theology was and still is attractive to many outside monastic cloisters. In Bernard’s theology there is a comprehensive and cohesive ‘theology of experience’. Experience is the distinguishing mark of his thought. His spirituality embraced notions of desire, delight, love, awe, wonder and anticipation. He treated religious experience as the gateway to God, beginning with introspection and self-knowledge and ending with the contemplation of and direct knowledge of God. Bernard effectively took Anselm’s classic dictum, ‘I believe so that I might understand’, so characteristic of the scholastic approach to theology, and supplanted it with one of his own, ‘I believe so that I might experience’.

Bernard speaks of the spiritual life as a kind of interior pilgrimage whereby one passes from lower to higher forms of love. This is clearly illustrated in his little classic On the Love of God where he traces the spiritual journey in terms of four degrees of love: human or carnal love, self-interested love of God; filial love of God; and a selfless love of God. For Bernard the body is important; the spiritual life begins with human nature and utilises human feelings such as desire, friendship, love, affection, and deep and unexplainable attachments to discover one’s capacity and longing for God. Similarly, in Bernard’s great masterpiece, Sermons on the Song of Songs, he discusses various themes on the love of God and the movement towards union with God.

Bernard was one of the few medieval theologians that the Protestant reformers spoke of with praise. Both Luther and Calvin valued him as an ally and quoted him extensively. Luther ranked Bernard alongside the Latin ‘Fathers’ of the Western Church: Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory the Great. Luther appreciated Bernard’s devotion to the humanity of Christ and regarded him as an outstanding preacher and witness to the gospel. In recent times Bernard has been described as a ‘forerunner of the Reformation’ and an ‘evangelical Catholic’.

Bernard is a key literary source of hope and encouragement in the Christian life. His influence is still felt in the joyfulness of Francis of Assisi, the devotion in Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, and in the oratorios of J. S. Bach. His theology has much that is worthy of the modern church’s attention. It captures the best elements of both Catholicism and Protestantism. He emphasized teachings precious to Protestants such as confidence in God’s grace, conversion and salvation through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ; he also honoured Catholic teachings on the sacraments, the saints and of the necessity of the Church.

Contributed by William Emilsen