Science & Culture

The Retrieval of a Distinctly Franciscan Spirituality and Intellectual Tradition

The Retrieval of a Distinctly Franciscan Spirituality and Intellectual Tradition
by Keith Douglass Warner OFM

St. Francis of Assisi is arguably the most popular saint in the Catholic Church. His witness has inspired people for centuries across continents and religions, and he has been particularly popular in the Spanish-speaking world. His followers today (men and women, lay and religious) constitute one of the largest movements within the Catholic Church. The revolutionary changes in societies in the 1960s and 1970s renewed popular interest in his example of a Christian spirituality. He embodied the values of humility and compassion, he embraced the poor and outcast, and he preached peace and love for the Earth. Scholarship over the past two generations has described not only St. Francis's distinct role in the history of Christian spirituality, but also the remarkable scope of his influence on religious thought and cultures over the centuries.

Thus, the re-examination of the Franciscan tradition has expanded its scope from the individual charismatic example of Francis to a broader way of living, loving, and knowing Jesus Christ and his message. This retrieval project is more than echoes the ideas of great medieval Franciscan thinkers such as Bonaventure of Bagnoregio and John Duns Scotus. The Franciscan intellectual tradition is broader than theology and philosophy, for it also includes early forms of natural and social sciences.

This essay recounts the religious and scholarly efforts to retrieve the example of St. Francis: his witness, wisdom, and vision. It then explains the relationship between scholarship about Francis and the renewal of Franciscan religious life, spurred by the Second Vatican Council. The second part reviews recent efforts to identify, articulate, and retrieve the Franciscan intellectual tradition. The essay concludes by outlining the broader implications of this project of retrieving the Franciscan intellectual and spiritual traditions.

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