Sorting Out the Truth
About St. Francis of Assisi

by Julie Zimmerman

The feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron of peace, animals and the environment, will be celebrated Oct. 4. Francis’ legacy of peacemaking, his devotion to the gospel and his love for creation remain relevant today, 800 years after he lived. As his life of service and joy inspired followers, his greatness caused some stories about his work and life to be mythologized. This edition of "Friar Jack’s Catechism Quiz" takes a closer look at St. Francis of Assisi. We admit this is not a big part of most catechisms, but saints are, and what saint is more popular than St. Francis?

When did St. Francis say,
"Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary"?

St. Francis of AssisiThis is a great quote, very Franciscan in its spirit, but not literally from St. Francis. The thought is his; this catchy phrasing is not in his writings or in the earliest biographies about him.

In Chapter XVII of his Rule of 1221, Francis told the friars not to preach unless they had received the proper permission to do so. Then he added, "Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds."

A few years ago, someone used the Internet to contact some of the most eminent Franciscan scholars in the world, seeking the source of this "Use words if necessary" quote. It is clearly not in any of Francis’ writings. After a couple weeks of searching, no scholar could find this quote in a story written within 200 years of Francis’ death.
Friar Jack’s Catechism Quiz:
September 23, 2002

Adapted from Ask A Franciscan, a feature in St. Anthony Messenger.

When did St. Francis write the "Peace Prayer"?

Lord, make me an intsrument of your peace.Another trick question. The above saying and the "Peace Prayer," which Francis certainly did not write, are easily identified with him because they so thoroughly reflect his spirit. Unfortunately, they would not have become as widespread if they had been attributed to "John Smith" or "Mary Jones."

Exhaustive research on the origins of the "Peace Prayer of St. Francis" has led to Christian Renoux’s new book in French. This 210-page study (ISBN 2-85020-096-4) is described at under Les Editions Franciscaines.

An 11th-century French prayer is similar to the first part of the "Peace Prayer." The oldest known copy of the current prayer, however, dates to 1912 in France. The prayer became more well known in other countries during World War I.

This prayer is sold all over Assisi today—but most often under the title "A Simple Prayer." Whoever linked it to St. Francis guaranteed a wide diffusion of the text. The same is true for the "Use words if necessary" quote. Both reflect St. Francis very well.
Friar Jack’s Catechism Quiz:
September 23, 2002

Adapted from Ask A Franciscan, a feature in St. Anthony Messenger.


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