Posted February 21, 2006
Book: Living our Future: Francis of Assisi and the Church Tomorrow
Author: Mario von Galli, S.J.
Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, IL, 1972, pp. 239
An Excerpt from the Introduction:
So how did the idea of writing a book about Francis of Assisi come to me? It
grew – as is so often true – out of a series of accidental circumstances.
First of all, Dennis Stock’s photographs of the Umbrian landscape were
before me, such peerless reproductions they almost make you believe you can
hear the clear voice of the Poverello of Assisi. He was the Provencal
minstrel of these woods and fields and streams; of these gnarled, tapering
olive trees and cypresses and thistles; of these oxen, sheep, and doves. . .
So the pictures were the occasion and also the starting pont of this book. I
saw them and they appealed to me. But I had not thought then of writing a
. . .[Friends] wanted a book of spontaneous impressions such as a man of
today might be able to offer. . . .Although I began the study of Francis of
Assisi helf-heartedly, I proceeded to fall under his spell.
. . .In so doing I realize that not everyone who is enthusiastic about
Francis is really acquainted with him. The name Francis reminds many people
only of pretty little flowers, lambs, and well-behaved birds. They don’t
know the incredible toughness of his passionate love of poverty. Others, who
studied him more closely, have sought to present him as an anti-Catholic.
Tis is wholly unjustified, even though he represents a truly Christian
desire for reform, espoused by reformers in his own and later times, which
all too often was driven from its rightful place. Still others believe that
they can interpret him purely in psychoanalytic terms. Such apparent or only
half-right interpretations deserve mention at best on the fringes.
It is something else which concerns us here. Namely, our future, which we
would like to measure against Francis as he really was. Certainly he was a
man of his time, and much in him was conditioned by that time. It could not
be otherwise. Still a timeless element came to light in his time-bound
figure, became clear and tangible as never before. That can be said of
every saint of course. But it cannot be said of them all that their peculiar
timelessness is relevant precisely for our own age. But with Francis this
seems to be true. So more than others he is a guide to the future for us.
Since the days of John XXIII, Pope and Council have been urging us to
intepret the signs of the time. The unexpected and surprising thing to me
was that the longer I studied Francis of Assisi, the more that study helped
me to read the signs of the time. Although our critical juncture in history
is not the same as that faced seven hundred years ago, the same figure
stands “on a little hill above the city, dark against the fading darkness.”
He stands with raised hands, and around him the songs of birds echo, and
behind him is the dawn. That is why I have tried to write this book.
An Excerpt from the Book:
What does cortesia mean here? It is decency, courtesy, nobleness,
attentiveness, magnanimity, or knightliness?
I have used the French word noblesse as the title of this chapter. As far as
I know, it does not appear in writings by or about Francis. Its meaning is
related to the German word Adel (nobility) chosen by Joseph Bernhart to
translate cortesia — except that it plays down the connotation of class
standing, which also surfaces irritatingly in the words cortesia gentilezza,
and “knightliness.” All these expressions of a feudal age which we no longer
know how to deal with at all. What is more, they are repugnant to us because
we feel that the remnants of feudal thinking are one of the greatest
obstacles on the pathway to a new age, especially in the Church. So we are
led to reject all talk about cortesia out of hand even in the case of
Francis; it seems to be too bound up with a different age. In doing so,
however, we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Of course Francis’
language was tied to his own age. But the meaning which he gave to the word
cortesia, and the basic attitude which lay behind it as he saw it, are
things that go far beyond feudal thinking.
The word noblesse better expresses what Francis realized as cortesia.
Perhaps we must go further and say that everything we designate today as
solidarity with the suffering and the oppressed corresponds to the cortesia
of Francis or, at the very least, does not run counter to it. I refer to
real solidarity with those whose human dignity has been violated, so that we
are prepared to share their lot and to fashion a community of disestablished
people for the purpose of initiating effective action and bringing about
structural change. But I do not want to equate solidarity completely with
cortesia. For the latter signifies a very specific kind of solidarity that
is essentially Christian in Francis’ eyes.
The English word “gentleman” might well be brought up here, for it suggests
a certain self-awareness. The gentleman knows his worth and does not give
undue weight to what others say or think about him. Thus no one can insult
him or get him angry. Desire for revenge is as alien to him as the jealousy
which, in its countless witting and unwitting forms, poisons the world.
Francis was such a gentleman through and through: always self-confident and
self-possessed, never envious. The world “gentleman,” however, does not
give adequate expression to th social aspect. Indeed, it bespeaks a certain
cynicism towards human beings. For all his correctness, there is a certain
lack of personal affection. The gentleman is always cool, and that
certainly cannot be said of Frnacis. He was a social being through and
through, oriented towards the “Thou” that others were.
This whole discussion of terminology may seem to be meaningless, but it
actually leads us to a correct understanding of the cortesia of Francis. It
contains much delicate reverence, but real involvement rather than
standoffishness. It bespeaks a highly personal relationship, a concern for
the person of one’s fellow man. One’s fellow man is valued objectively, but
as a free person. His potential for good is recognized and appealed to,
first and foremost; and his reprehensible traits are candidly and harshly
described for what they are. Francis threatens people with the judgment of
God astonishingly often. He warns people about the self-deception of the
unrepentant sinner, of those who go to the sacraments mechanically without
using their money for real social good. But such fulminations ever remain
background phenomena. The main theme is awakening people to generosity – not
to righteousness: for, Francis tells them that cortesia takes precedence
The most highly personal and existential affection for God and man,
unconditional trust in them, a joyous appeal to their generosity: here lies
the secret and the authentic merit of cortesia of Francis’ invincible charm.
Table of Contents:
1. Why I wrote this book
2. His father’s child
3. Living the Gospel
4. Poverty: the future of the Church
5. Francis: the revolutionary