Mark Galli in Francis of Assisi’s World

Interview of Mark Galli by Dick Staub

Well, good afternoon everybody. This is your friendly guide. And you know, when we talk to people about their journeys, which we often do, we’re talking to contemporaries. But today we take a look at the life, work, and journey of a man who lived over 800 years ago. His story is told in the new InterVarsity Press Histories series. This one is authored by Mark Galli. He is the managing editor of Christianity Today magazine, and he is the author of Francis of Assisi and His World.

Q. Mark, great to have you with us this afternoon.
A. Good to be with you, Dick.
Q. So tell me a little bit about this series, the InterVarsity Histories series. What
does it look like and what is it going to look like?

A. Well, they’ve done a great job of putting together essentially what you’d
normally think of as a coffee-table type book with gorgeous full-color illustrations throughout, nice sidebars, quotes in the margins, but in a nice pocketbook size, paperback size. And they’re trying to accomplish two things: introduce readers to the sweep of Christian history in a very kind of accessible way, both through the-the writing of the texts is accessible, it’s not scholarly, and through the, you know, the images and graphics in the-in the material. So this is part of at least a projected 12-part series. They started with Luther. I know a colleague of mine, Ted Olsen, is doing one on the Celtic church. And this is on Saint Francis.

Q. Wow. Now, what’s distinctive about these in addition to the size? I mean,
describe-describe what I’m looking at right now.

A. Well, I think one of the things they’re editorially, in terms on content, they’re
trying to make sure that the person that they’re covering ¢€œ in this case Francis ¢€œ is set in his world.

Q. Yeah.
A. So that along with the running text there are sidebars that help explain. So
what was church government like back then? So what were troubadours?

Q. What were meals like?
A. Pardon?
Q. What were meals like?
A. Exactly. What did people eat? When it says Francis fasted, what did that
involve? You know, when he said he preached in the church, what would that have looked like or felt like?

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. That sort of thing.
Q. Now, how did you get-get fascinated with history?
A. Well, that started way¢â‚¬¦ I was one of those nerdy kids that when the-when I
was a freshman in high school and the teacher say-the counselor said you need to choose a major so you can be thinking about that for college, I spent a few months thinking about it and decided to be a history major.

Q. Really.
A. And didn’t sway.
Q. Really.
A. It was something about just the very notion of studying the past and how
people made decisions in the past that-that fascinated me. And then I didn’t really use that directly. I was a Presbyterian minister for 10 years. I mean, it was always in the background and helped me think through things and give me perspective, but then I spent about six years working on a magazine here at Christianity Today called Christian History. I was the editor of that and just got really immersed in the broad sweep of Christian history and, in fact, did an issue on Saint Francis. And after I finished that issue I thought, that would be great to be able to expand on that and do a whole book on that some day. And when the British publisher, Lion, who worked with InterVarsity on this, invited me to do a volume and asked which one would I like to do, and they showed me a list, I said I’ll take the Francis one.

Q. Wow.
A. So¢â‚¬¦
Q. That’s great. When you-when you look at the trends of a consumption of
history and-and the next generation, what do we know about it? I mean, you must have had lots of demographic research at-at the Christian History magazine, but is this younger generation understanding the connection between these roots and-and-and their life?

A. Well, certainly there are large sections of-of, yeah, of America in particular.
America has been called anti-historical or a-historical, always interested in the present and especially the future, as a nation, in terms of our cultural biases. And I would say that would be true of the part of the church I come out of, the Evangelical world. We’re also very much interested in the present and the future and we don’t spend a lot of time on the past. For a lot of people there was Jesus, there was Luther, and then there was Billy Graham.

Q. Yeah, exactly.
A. And that’s about it.
Q. Who else do you need?
A. So one of the big challenges is to help American-Americans in general,
Christians in general, Evangelicals in general, to-to take a step back from the hubbub and the flurry of everyday life and the planning for the future and reflect a little bit on how-how have we done this before? You know, there’s hardly a problem we’re confronting today that in one form or another we haven’t as a-as a species in western civilization had to deal with before. And one of the great things about history is to be able to look at how other people dealt with their challenges in their day. Always a little bit different, so there’s not usually a direct one-to-one relationship, but there’s enough insight there for you to go, you know, I don’t need to panic right now.

Q. Yeah.
A. That God will help me find a way out of this somehow, or our culture’s way
out of it, or there are some strategies that have been employed before that we might be able to adapt today.

Q. Yeah. So if you had to¢â‚¬¦ We’re going to get into this in a little bit of detail in
a moment. But if you had to extrapolate a few themes of Francis that you think are just dead-on contemporary and timely for the Evangelical church today, what would they be?

A. Well, one was¢â‚¬¦ One of the things that most fascinated me about him was
that he was a radical reformer of the church. That is to say, he saw clearly all, every single thing that was wrong with the church, how materialistic it was, how worldly it was, how hypocritical so many of the priests were, and yet at the same time he was absolutely devoted and loyal to the church. He-he would-he would, you know, walk up and any time he met a priest he would walk up and bow before him or kiss his hand and thank him for his ministry, because he knew that the priest’s ministry was to bring Christ to people. So¢â‚¬¦ And whenever he asked¢â‚¬¦ He told his friars whenever they passed a church they were to stop and say a prayer and bless that church.

Q. Wow.
A. Most, you know, most reformers today that are reforming the church sort of
they despise the church and you can tell they’re sort of angry with it and there’s not that loyalty and love of it.

Q. Yeah.
A. And then there’s other people who love and are loyal to it and can’t seem to
see any faults with it.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. Francis, one of his geniuses, was able to do both.
Q. And what was that genius? What was the nature of that genius? What
enabled him to do that?

A. Well, I think one is, what-what-where he saw the flaws was he was, what I’d
call a God-intoxicated person. He was just completely, absolutely committed and taken with the vision of who God is ¢€œ

Q. Uh-huh.
A. ¢€œ and what that-what that means day to day. And so when you compare the
vision of, the beatific vision of God in his greatness with any human enterprise, that human enterprise is going to come in for some-for some hard talk. At the same time he recognized that this great God of love uses certain institutions or certain movements in history to accomplish his will and to communicate his will. So he saw clearly that the church, for all its flaws, was in fact founded by Christ ¢€œ

Q. Uh-huh.
A. ¢€œ and was intended to communicate the good news of the gospel.
Q. Yeah.
A. So at the same time that it needed reform, it was something to be honored and
respected.

Q. What about the issue of wealth? I mean, is this a timely message for the
Evangelical church today?

A. Well, that’s probably, yeah. I would say definitely it’s something to be-to be
reminded about in terms of Francis because I think one of the things Evangelicals have experienced in the last 20 to 30 years is we’ve gone from a movement which has been considered rural, middle, lower-middle class, middle class, off to, you know, a world in which we are now living in more upper class suburbs. We’re much more highly educated, we’re much more fluent than we ever have been in our history.

Q. Yeah.
A. And the warnings that Francis gave to his church in his generation and to
himself about the seduction of wealth ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ is right on target.
Q. Yeah. I was thinking of that because at the end of the book you talk about
how today we view Francis as-as a man of peace, and we think of him as environmental, and he’s concerned about ecology. But-but we’ve kind of forgotten, at times, the-the vow of poverty and the way that he was so intense about that. As a matter of fact, as I was reading your book I’m thinking, if this guy showed up today which ¢€œ and you know from time to time they show up at CT or they show up at my doorstep with some-their eyes are blazing and they’ve got some vision ¢€œ I would have thought he was a complete lunatic.

A. Yeah. Yeah. In fact, that was-that was the take on Francis for the first two
years of his ministry.

Q. Yeah. Yeah, we’re¢â‚¬¦
A. He was able to show himself to be more than just the fanatic for God.
Q. Yeah, exactly.

We’re going to be back with more of Mark Galli. He’s the managing editor of Christianity Today magazine. He is the author of Francis of Assisi and His World. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back.

(Break.)

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Mark Galli. His most recent book is Francis of Assisi and His World. It’s in the InterVarsity Press Histories series and it’s just a beautiful little volume. It’s very readable, very approachable, lots of great art and-and visuals in it, and nice sidebar articles that kind of bring out the-the context socially so that you really get a sense that you can live and move and breathe with Francis in his own context.

Q. He started out¢â‚¬¦ Tell us about his background. You start with him as a
knight, and the buildup to that is he’s from a very wealthy family, his father’s a fairly-becomes a fairly influential guy as the Crusades open up the trade routes. He is something of a romantic and-and gets caught up in the knight’s life. Describe-describe the Francis that we-we see as a-as a young man.

A. Yeah. Francis would have been, I suppose, the most popular guy on campus.
I mean, he was-he was a natural leader of people. And when Francis said, let’s go do anything, I would suppose ¢€œ I don’t know this for a fact ¢€œ that if Francis started wearing something other people would wear it. If Francis said, let’s go do this tonight, there would be a bunch of guys that would come along with him and do it. And so, in fact, he had a reputation as somewhat of a carouser and party animal in his younger days. He was the son of a cloth merchant, and that was a time in medieval history when cloth merchants were beginning to make a name for themselves and a fair amount of money. And so he was-he was sort of a-the son of a rich man and, you know, had the potential of being a rich man himself, and had that sort of playboy, party animal type reputation about him.

Q. Talk about his life as a knight.
A. Well, one of the¢â‚¬¦
Q. And his romantic vision of what it would be to be a knight.
A. Yeah. One of the aspirations of a young man of that day¢â‚¬¦ I suppose in our
day, you know, I have a foster son whose aspiration is to play basketball, NBA basketball, and be a sports star.

Q. Yeah.
A. In that day, I suppose, the sports stars were the knights who went off to the
Crusades. And any man with his machoism would-would just aspire to that from the time he was young. So Francis read about that, heard stories of traveling troubadours who would come through and talk about the life of knighthood, both its romantic side of wooing the lady and its heroic side of winning great jousts and battles, and Francis was very much taken with that and tried on two or three occasions to become a knight. Failed miserably each time for one reason or another.

Q. Hm. Though from a wealthy family, spoiled, and a natural leader, and a bit of
a hedonist, he did show some sympathy for the poor early on. And then he had an experience with God where he felt that God spoke to him audibly, told him to go and repair his house. Tell us about that experience and how it brought him head-to-head with his dad.

A. Yeah. That’s really, you know, obviously a key turning point of his errants as
a knight, he ends up in prison. And that’s the first time he starts to rethink his life focus. And you know, he had to spend a year in prison before he could be ransomed. And then as he’s-he gets out, he recovers from the illness he was a part of, and he starts thinking and meditating on his life. He starts spending more and more time in prayer, and he wanders the countryside in doing this. So in the countryside there are-there are little chapels all over the place. And one near Assisi is a chapel called San Damiano. And so he goes in there to pray one day, to-to just sort of get a general direction in his life. And as he steps in there and kneels before the crucifix he senses that the crucifix is talking to him, telling him to-to repair¢â‚¬¦ The voice says, the crucifix says to him, he believes, to repair my church for you can see it lies in great ruin. Now, Francis was absolutely stunned by this and felt that it was Jesus speaking to him directly, that this was something he was to do with his life. And he was absolutely captivated by the idea. But he was captivated at a very literal level. That is to say, he thought the message meant repair this particular church.

Q. Yeah.
A. This particular chapel. So he starts figuring out a plan to repair that chapel.
And he goes around begging in the neighborhood for supplies so that people would start giving him either money or stones or brick so that he could begin using it to repair the chapel. Well, as he does this his father becomes¢â‚¬¦ Oh, and another thing he does is he starts raising money by essentially going into his father’s shop ¢€œ he did this one day ¢€œ he goes into his shop, takes a bunch of fine cloth¢â‚¬¦

Q. And sells it.
A. And then he takes the family horse, or one of the horses, goes off to the
market, sells the cloth, sells the horse ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and then starts to use the money to help rebuild the chapel. Well, you can
imagine. His father is absolutely furious at what is going on. He’s embarrassed that his son is begging. You know, what have I done all my life? I’ve tried to do good by you and here you are begging like a common person.

Q. Yeah.
A. Doesn’t the family name have more meaning than that? And eventually¢â‚¬¦
Well, what he does at first is one medieval custom that’s kind of interesting is that the father has a right to throw his children into sort of a personal family prison and keep them confined there until they decide to reform. And so he does that. He takes Francis and he puts him in sort of the family cell and then goes off on a business trip. The mother has a little more sympathy and Francis apparently is able to talk his way out of it and he escapes again. So that when the father comes back he’s doubly furious now. He tries to get the city magistrate to talk to him but Francis says, No, I’m under the jurisdiction of a church. I’m working with a priest here at the San Damiano. You can’t arrest me. So then he goes to the bishop. And the bishop says, all right, Francis, enough of this. Now, Francis and the bishop apparently had some sort of relationship and Francis, as I said, has a tremendous respect for the institution of church. So when the bishop says, Francis, you need to come, you and your father need to come and we need to settle this thing, Francis says, fine. Well, that turns into one of the most dramatic moments in Christian history where when-when all is said and done, the bishop says, You know, Francis, you just can’t be taking money from your dad like that. Your mission may be good, but that’s stealing essentially, he says in a very nice way. And you can’t be doing that. And Francis says, You’re right. He goes off into another room, takes all his clothes off, puts them in a pile, puts a bag of silver on top of the pile, walks back to the bishop and says, in front of this crowd ¢€œ a crowd had gathered in this sort of patio area at this point ¢€œ and says essentially, I no longer call Peter ¢€œ that was his father’s name ¢€œ my father, but I say, my Father who art in heaven. And his father sees it, I think rightfully so, as a rejection of his fatherhood ¢€œ

Q. Uh-huh.
A. ¢€œ and he stomps off angry. And Francis at that point essentially makes a very
mental and spiritual break with his past and decides to-to live out his mission. At the time he’s still thinking it’s about rebuilding local churches.

Q. Uh-huh.
A. But to make that his complete focus and to figure out a way to finance that
without the help of his family anymore.

Q. Because then what we end up seeing, in a strange way, is he’s probably got
the entrepreneurial skills of his father and the winsomeness and leadership and everything else, but he’s had this spiritual encounter that has turned everything on its head.

A. That’s a very good insight. I hadn’t put it that way in the book but, yeah, I
think you’re absolutely right. As they say, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Q. Yeah, but I mean this is one of those points at which you think he’s nuts. I
mean, he takes his clothes off, he gets a bag of money, and walks into an open courtyard with people gathered around.

A. Yeah. That’s one of the things about his life. He has this flair for the
dramatic. So he gets that from his romantic, sort of romantic upbringing being taken with the troubadours, he also does¢â‚¬¦ He begins when he starts preaching, he makes singing ballads part of his repertoire. But he has this dramatic nature that when he wants to make a point, he doesn’t just stand up and say something formal and flat, he wants to act it out in some way. And it’s obvious it worked because we still remember it 800 years later.

Q. Well you know, what’s funny is one of the last interviews Rich Mullins and I
did together was about his-his complete fascination with Francis. And Rich Mullins had that same kind of off-the-wall ability to just grab people’s attention and get them thinking in new ways. And I remember him talking about he was going to take the vow of poverty because he wasn’t that good with money anyway, and he was going to take the chastity vow because he hadn’t had a date in years. And I mean, that was Rich Mullins. And now this is only how Francis would communicate.

A. Yeah.

We’re going to be back with more of Mark Galli. The book is Francis of
Assisi and His World, published by InterVarsity.

(Break.)

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. And I think you can tell from the-the-the chuckle in Mark’s voice as he’s telling the story of Francis, that he not only has that ability to pick up on the-the devotion of Francis that led to his sainthood and to a mark made in history, but also an ability to capture the winsomeness and the drama and even the-the humor of some of the stories of Francis, because he was a remarkable character. Well, he’s now made his break with his father and-and he does eventually end up founding an order.

Q. And-and you tell the story of him going off to Rome to see Pope Innocent
III, which was completely ludicrous. But-but how did he get from raising money for one little church and making a complete break with his family and father so he could pledge his allegiance completely to his heavenly father? How did he get from that point to actually finding followers, beginning to shape a-a-a set of dimensions that would be this new order, and-and then get to the place where he’s ready to go off to Rome and try to actually have this become an official thing?

A. Well, in this regard you could call him the accidental reformer because his full
intention, as far as we can tell early in his life, was simply to reform himself and to build these churches and do these very specific and local things in order to do the will of God as he perceived it. In fact, his lifestyle becomes increasingly impoverished and more-more aesthetic and more mystical. And he’s mocked by local townspeople and, you know, just an embarrassment to his family. But in the midst of all this he keeps at what he’s doing and he begins preaching his message of God’s call for poverty and a radical life of obeying, essentially obeying the Sermon on the Mount. And slowly, local young men, some of them fairly wealthy themselves, look at him and say, you know, Francis isn’t crazy. If he is anything he’s a crazy genius. And they begin to see that spark in him that they see as-as truth and goodness and they start coming to him. He never goes out recruiting. They are attracted to something about him and they come to him. And you know, we tend to think of him as a man of, sometimes we think of him ¢€œ if you read the stories about a man who just ¢€œ he fasts a lot and he prays a lot and he calls for repentance. But in the midst of that he was also, inasmuch as he tried to discipline his body and discipline his life to be obedient to Christ, especially to the Sermon on the Mount, he was a person who exuded a great amount of joy in the midst of all that. And I think that’s what attracts people more than anything else. How can this both be true? Radical obedience, which they’re used to morose, serious-minded monks doing their sacrificial things for God. They’re not used to seeing that a person who is just bubbling with that type of a joy, and so in love with God that it’s infectious.

Q. Yeah.
A. So young men, as I say, begin to come to him and say, Can we join you? Can
we join your order? And after he gets about a dozen people he thinks, you know, this is-this is a thing, this is a happening. I need to get a little organized here. So he creates a rule and he decides to go off to the Pope, a no-name nothing from a village in Assisi goes to, decides to go, you know, get the Pope’s approval and¢â‚¬¦

Q. Now, when he gets there he-he¢â‚¬¦ And again, it’s not¢â‚¬¦ There’s this
mysterious aspect to-to Francis, because it’s not with a great sense of pride or ego that he heads off believing he’s going to meet the Pope, it’s not because he thinks he’s so great, it’s just he thinks this is going to happen.

A. Yes.
Q. There’s this mix of humility with-with this daring that-that is such a
remarkable combination in this guy.

A. And then the other element of the humility is that he feels it’s absolutely
necessary to get the Pope’s permission to do this.

Q. Yes, yes. Because he wants to come under authority.
A. He was¢â‚¬¦ That was the other thing that was a very important theme in his life
was that everyone needed to be under authority.

Q. Yeah. Now-now, he does impress a cardinal who says I have found a most
perfect man who wishes to live according to the form of the Holy Gospel, to observe Evangelical perfection in all things. I believe that the Lord wills through him to reform the faith of the Holy church throughout the world. This is a remarkable commendation that the-the cardinal makes to the Pope.

A. Yes. And I think that’s eventually what the Pope sees in Francis as well, even
though for political reasons he can’t make Francis’s order an official order yet, he does give him his blessing. You know, Innocent III, the Pope he went to, was one of the most powerful popes in the Middle Ages. He is-he is the President Bush of the Middle Ages. He just has dominant authority, both military, economic, and religious, and so he knows how to wield power, he knows about how to wield wealth, how to punish people for not obeying him, and he’s a very worldly man in that regard. But he also sees a-also has a spark of faith in him still, and he sees in Francis something of the ideals of the gospel that he originally was called to.

Q. Yeah. Now, his rules included obedience in a very literal sense. If you’re
supposed to give your coat away, he gave his coat away. Worship and work. Poverty, chastity, and a deep commitment to being fully Catholic, to be submitted to the church. What was unusual about those? I mean, what made this an unusual order because now in the-in the retrospect of history we can look back and see a lot of the orders had some commonalities. I mean, what was it about Francis that-that was different about his order?

A. Well, I think for this business of being Catholic through and through was very
important because there were other movements very similar to his, calling the church to poverty ¢€œ

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œ that emphasized preaching, that emphasized obeying the Sermon on the
Mount, but they also were so critical of the church of their day, they found themselves more and more alienated from the leadership of the church. And so for very pragmatic grounds partly, I’m thinking, Francis felt the need to¢â‚¬¦ If he was going to have any success reforming the church he needed to stay in relationship to the church.

Q. Yeah, okay.
A. That was absolutely important to him to stay connected and to be¢â‚¬¦ And to¢â‚¬¦
So that was the pragmatic part of it, but then there was also this theological or moral part that everybody needs to be in submission to someone else.

Q. Yeah.
A. He insisted his-his friars be in obedience to him, and then when they had
enough friars to have some hierarchy that, you know, everyone be in obedience to someone else. And he felt he needed to be in obedience to the Pope.

Q. Now-now, this movement spread. You talk about Clare. She heard him
preach when she was 16 years old. She started the order of the Poor Ladies, which became the Poor Clares. You talk in a chapter, “Beyond the Alps,” this thing starts to spread. In other words, this is-this is one of those situations where Francis is-is seeing a movement begin out of his seeds being planted and it takes on a life of its own. And as a matter of fact, then you get into Francis in conflict and the order in conflict. And what we find is by 1219, you say the innocence and naivete of the order is over. Francis is not really wanting to administrate something, and he finds himself in his own order feeling a bit out.

A. Yes. It just begins¢â‚¬¦ You know, he was a great leader for a group of 12 men.
Q. Yeah.
A. Now all of a sudden, the movement has 2-, well, some say 5,000 people by
the year 1219, which would be six or seven years after he started it.

Q. Yeah.
A. And he just frankly doesn’t have the administrative gifts to know how to-how
to manage such a thing. You have a lot of people who are becoming, who are attracted to the Franciscan movement who, like a lot of the ideals, a lot of the call for poverty, and a lot of the call for obedience, but you know, the more popular a movement becomes the less radical are the people who are signing up for it now. So now you have all, you know, if you’re going to appeal larger and larger, you know, there’s got to be some sort of room for flexibility in the movement.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. Francis just didn’t know how to-how to do that, how to further the Franciscan
ideals while at the same time allowing for a little bit of flexibility in his rule.

Q. Yeah.
A. And this so troubled him he was humble¢â‚¬¦ And that’s the other thing about
Francis¢â‚¬¦

I’ll tell you what. We’ll pick up right there when we come back.
We’re going to be back with some concluding comments from Mark Galli.

The book is Francis of Assisi, published by InterVaristy. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away.

(Break.)

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re talking with Mark Galli. He is the managing editor of Christianity Today magazine. He is also the author of Francis of Assisi and His World. It is published by InterVarsity Press in their IVP Histories series. I highly recommend it.

Q. We’ve been following this remarkable, radical character, Francis. And Mark,
you were just talking about that by the time the organization had grown to thousands of people there were accommodations being made, there was Elias, who is described as the black sheep, there were eventually the spirituals and the moderates, those that were more literalistic in their-their adherence to-to Francis’s original calling, and those that were more moderate. It became a movement that had taken on the life of its own that was somewhat different from what Francis had in mind. And he-he didn’t feel that he could continue in leadership so he actually resigned.

A. Yeah. He turned the¢â‚¬¦ It’s another sign of his great humility is he recognized
his gifts were not meant for that type of organization. So he actually turns the organization over to-to one of the brothers and actually submits himself in obedience to that brother and basically says, you know, I’m basically at his beck and call now.

Q. Yeah.
A. He’s in charge. And that’s sort of a remarkable thing. Now of course,
something that one founds you don’t just let go of that easily. And so from that point on Francis is still involved in the organization and still can’t help but either send letters or write up testaments, where they’re called testaments in which he keeps on reminding the organization, don’t forget how we began.

Q. Yes.

A. How we began in such poverty and how sincerity¢â‚¬¦ And let’s never forget
that. Let’s never forget that radical beginning because the larger group has now split into two factions. Essentially, one group which says if we want to get more Franciscans and really impact the world, we need to relax the standards.

Q. Yeah.
A. And another group saying, If we want to impact the world, we need to get out
all this riffraff and get back to the basics.

Q. Yeah, exactly. He-other reasons he’s known. The living nativity. He went
out on the hills of Bethlehem.

A. Yes. This would be another example of his wanting to dramatize it.
Q. Yeah.
A. Instead of just standing up and saying, the birth of Christ was really important
because it showed that he was living among us as a human being, he says, Why don’t we just act this out. And so he, if he’s not the first one, he’s certainly the first person to popularize the idea of a living creche with a living baby and living animals coming to a spot of worship.

Q. Now, one that’s-one that’s probably somewhat controversial within Protestant
circles, but within Catholic circles he was the first official saint that experienced the stigmata.

A. Yes. The wounds on the hands and on the feet and in the side. And the fact
that he had wounds is pretty much a historical fact. And of course at that point, then, you debate how did he get the wounds.

Q. Yeah.
A. From the pure skeptic to the fact that he consciously deceived people by self-
inflicting himself.

Q. Yeah.
A. To the more high-church Catholic who would say, No, an angel actually gave
them to him or Christ gave them to him in a vision.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I’m guessing the truth is somewhere in between those two things, but I
haven’t¢â‚¬¦It’s hard. The historical facts don’t let you make that decision.

Q. Now, he’s obviously¢â‚¬¦ You¢â‚¬¦ As we pointed out earlier, he’s known for his
ecology, lots of little figurines of Francis with the animals gathered around him. How did the whole nature piece become part of his legacy?

A. Well, apparently he did ¢€œ a lot of people chalk this up to legend ¢€œ but I just
read so many of these stories I couldn’t after awhile, I couldn’t-couldn’t buy that. He did seem to have some sort of extraordinary relationship with the created order. There are stories of him preaching and-and all the birds who had been chirping start to be quiet. There are stories of him somehow having an interaction with an animal along the path that indicated that there was some sort of communication going on. You know, some of the stories are apparently exaggerations about fish obeying his every command and that sort of thing.

Q. Yeah.
A. But there’s enough of them and they’re-they’re different enough that you
begin to think, you know, one thing these writers are trying to tell us is that when Francis was out in the natural world, something different was going on than when most people are out there.

Q. Yeah, absolutely. Tell us about The Testament. One of the last¢â‚¬¦ It is the
last thing he wrote, I think, isn’t it?

A. Yeah. And this was-this was a sort of Francis’s attempt to try to instill the
early ideals back into the order so that they wouldn’t forget it. And it’s understandable that he would want to do that, that he would try to bring people back to his original vision of poverty and obedience and-and its radical nature. But the only thing it did, unfortunately, was cause more splits in the organization because people took that as ammunition, especially the radical group, took it as ammunition. The order has fallen away and that we’ve got to get back to the-to the pure-to the pure beginning. And the realists or the practical people saying the order is just too big to do that now. We can still do a heck of a lot of good in the world if we temper Francis’s demands.

Q. Yeah.
A. One of the biggest differences would be at the beginning Francis said that the
order was not to own any property whatsoever and was to always go about begging for its needs. And the moderates came along and said, All well and good for a group of 12, but if you’re going to sustain a group of thousands ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ you’ve got to own some property.
Q. Yeah. The description that you give of Francis as a 46 year old whose body is
slipping away, and you talk about medical scholars today believing that he suffered from osteoporosis, fatal malnutrition probably from excessive fasting, possibly tuberculosis, peptic or stomach ulcers, side effects of malaria, stomach began to swell, etc., etc., etc. This was a guy who had punished his body, but did it for the gospel’s sake. I mean, he believed that he was living life the way Christ wanted him to.

A. Yes.
Q. It’s an amazing-it’s an amazing thing. You know, again I say, Mark, when I
think about-about American religion today and-and Evangelicalism and-and the way Francis had this ability to speak to the church from within the church, a deep love and affection for the church, but he did it through really becoming very radical. I mean, and-and you-you-you see really¢â‚¬¦ That’s one of the reasons I find him so fascinating for today because I think today we have a lot of people who know how to operate smoothly within the subcultures of Evangelicalism or Catholicism orthodoxy, etc., but-but he was not one who operated smoothly within it, he operated radically within it.

A. Yeah. Yeah. Well, one of the things is that he, you know, the claim, and I
think it’s fairly true, that he lived out the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone else except Jesus himself. So there’s that element. And then there’s this¢â‚¬¦ Yeah, today we-we hark¢â‚¬¦ We are just yearning for a new technique, a new Evangelistic technique, a new social justice technique, a new-new theology, a new way of thinking about the faith that will somehow make a difference in how people¢â‚¬¦ It will attract more people to Christ. Well, Francis had a very radical and very biblical idea. Why not live out the Christian life as close as you possibly can?

Q. Yeah.
A. And that’s an idea that is very threatening to certainly me. It’s very
threatening to our subculture of Evangelicalism, and yet one cannot help think that it’s probably a message that’s needed now. We need a little less talk, and a little less technique, and a little more simple obedience to the commands of Christ.

Q. Yeah. I like what you said about his preaching, it had a kindness and a
severity. He-he had a tenderness and yet he had a prophetic voice. And-and that combination of ability to speak to¢â‚¬¦ As a matter of fact, he also got involved in Muslim Evangelism for goodness sake.

A. Exactly. Right.
Q. I mean in Syria. He was-he has this-this¢â‚¬¦ There are so many points of which
his life story I think is instructive, and I-I find that a younger generation of Christians that are looking at-at our faith and saying, you know, unless there’s some there there I’m not interested in it. And I really think a lot of them are saying, where is the real stuff? You know?

A. Yeah.
Q. And that’s kind of where Francis got into the mix.
A. Yeah. And I think your phrase, well, it’s kind of a cliché now, but it’s
absolutely true. Where is the there there? When you look at Francis you see it. So¢â‚¬¦

Q. Yeah. So what did writing this book do to you? Spending all this time with
Francis.

A. Well, I think that would probably be the thing, the message I got out of it the
most whenever I do church history is-is it’s a-it’s a living out the faith day by day in a very radical and common way. Sacrificing oneself for other people.

Q. Yeah.
A. I get so tired of hearing the talk of a new theology, a new technique that will
somehow help the church be better ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ at sharing its faith.
Q. Yeah.
A. But I really do believe that¢â‚¬¦
Q. It’s living it out.
A. It’s living it out in a sacrificial way. That’s what really impresses people.
Q. Well, Francis is the one that said to preach the gospel. And if you must, use
words, I think.

We’ll be back with more after this. Don’t go away.

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