Franciscan Theology, Tradition and Spirituality

It is difficult for me to write F.U.N. Reflection(s) on Franciscan Theology because it is a "heavy" subject. I am not a theologian although I am well-read. This F.U.N. Reflection will cover the "Alternate (Franciscan) Tradition" outlined in Figure 2, on page 6 of 30 of this chapter in the FUN Manual. There is a Primary Theology adopted by the Church, and then there is the Franciscan Theology referenced as "Franciscan Tradition (alternate theology)."

These "FUN Reflections" only cover the highlights of each chapter of the FUN Formation Manual - it is strongly recommended that the original work be read, used for formation of others, and for ongoing formation of the Professed. /Fred Schaeffer, OFS

"The theology of the Franciscan School develops from an insight of the Eastern Fathers, namely that the Incarnation is too important and too great an event to be initiated by sin. The insight stimulates a new understanding and hopefully an appreciation of the fullness of God's love for creation."

Rupert of Deutz (OSB) around 1127 was probably the first to state that "the Incarnation was fore-ordained so that God could be present and rejoice with His people. The Cross was the result of man's fall, but the Incarnation was not."

Later in the 1230's Robert Grosseteste (secular clergyman, later bishop) an Oxford Scripture Scholar, believed "that the whole universe reflected the glory of God." Robert taught theology to the new friars. Both Rupert and Robert had great influence of the theology of Bl. John Duns Scotus, OFM and his work would form the basis of thought for the theology of the Franciscan School.

"The Incarnation was not a reaction, but the initial action that caused creation in the first place."

"In the Franciscan vision, creation might look more like this: all creation begins with Jesus, who is the blueprint for creation and is the ultimate goal of creation."

  • Jesus the Master Plan - Ephesians 1:4
  • Firstborn of Creation - Colossians 1:15-18
  • Pre-existant Word- Logos - John 1
  • Center, focus, reason for creation -
  • goal of creation - All things created through, for Him & have their goal/fullness in Him - Colossians 1:15-18

fig 3. Franciscan sequence of Creation

Francis of Assisi vernacular theologian

Francis was not formally educated in theology but through gift (of God) and experience was able to articulate the loving presence of God so that it was understandable by the poor and unlettered masses. "The foundation stones for Franciscan theology, spirituality and life are based in the humility and poverty of God. This poverty is know as kenosis, or God's total giving/self-emptying to be born into the human condition. God freely chose to become human to rejoice in creation."

"Francis in his Canticle of the Creatures expresses his understanding of this poverty and humility, turned in love toward creation and goes on to declare that God alone is good and worthy, while man in his exalted position (within the created and ordered world) is little more than a worm compared to the greatness of God. In all this Francis is humbled and in awe of God, who despite all His majesty, desires us and stoops down low in love for us, a love that surpasses and covers everything."

"The Franciscan path is a Spirituality of descent, a way of becoming little and a way to imitate the humility and poverty of God."

(On page 9 of 30) this is stated in Figure 4 (Foundations of Franciscan Spiritual Tradition), in two key beliefs, Poverty of God, and Humility of God, and a third consideration: "Our poverty & humility is based on our understanding and embracing our absolute dependence upon God for existence and our need for otherness (relationships)."

Page 10,11 and 12 of 30 is a short explanation of the works of St. Bonaventure. He is known as the "Seraphic Doctor" and his theology/philosophy carries immense value in the Franciscan family.

"These are some of the key highpoints from the works of Bonaventure to reflect on:
(please note I'm listing only the key points, not their definition for the purpose of this reflection/FSS)

  • Incarnation of God's complete self-communication/expression of Himself to creation.

    Sin is the least important reason for the Incarnation

  • Trinity
    "Much of Bonaventure's work leads us deeply into the mystery of the Trinity, and the image of a fountain is possibly the best way to understand the life of the Trinity in his writings...."

    "The relationship of love within the Trinity is internal (intra) to the nature of the Trinity, and all creation is the product of that "perfect" and totally shared love. (In Francis' day it was called the fecundity of God and was understood that perfect love shared perfectly must be fertile and productive).

"Still at this time in history, the predominant theology thought was that Jesus came to die for our sins..."

Page 12-17 of 30 cover the theology of (Blessed) John Duns Scotus, OFM. He had considerable influence on Catholic thought.

"In John's writing, though not as well organized as the "Summa" of Thomas Aquinas, the Franciscan School moved away from atonement-based theology, which had become the primary theology of the Dominican School. After many years of debate, the Dominican based approach would become the most widely held theology within the Church, though the position of the Franciscan School as secondary remained and still remains today a fully accepted Tradition or alternate theology within the Church, so much so that many of our Roman Pontiffs became members of the Secular Franciscan Order."

"It was the desire of God to embrace and in turn be embraced, and this desire, not the sin of man, was the reason for the coming of Jesus, the fulfillment of the intention that became creation. Bl. John Scotus expressed his understanding in his work, the "Primacy of Christ", the theological foundation that stems from the lived reality of Francis of Assisi."

"Scotus places Jesus and the Incarnation firmly at the absolute core of Christian belief. Not starting with the need for a sin offering as we still do today, (we Franciscans so often start here too), but at a beginning based on a total and complete free expression of God's love and otherness. Sure we don't deny that Jesus redeemed us and died because of sin, but Jesus was always God's first intention or master plan and would have become incarnate (taken on our humanity) regardless of sin or anything else."

Blessed Duns Scotus:

  • The Incarnation is not a divine thought or reaction to any event, but the cornerstone of the whole plan of creation.
  • Everything that was, is & ever will be is based in Christ
  • The relationship between divinity & humanity, God & humanity, are intrinsically united and all creation is centered in Jesus.
  • Creation is based on God's absolute freedom and love, e.g. God's very nature, and not a need.

You are the unique and specific one that is the apple of God's eye.

Thisness (haecceitas)

  • The doctrine of thisness applied to the human person invests each individual with a unique value as one single individual wanted and loved by God
  • Of the infinite possibilities for a "you" the specific unique "you" is the one wanted & loved by God and called into being.
    We are a unique, customized, gift from God.

    "Until we understand that we stand alone and naked before God, without any accomplishment and without any successes, and understand/experience that God is totally consumed with love for each of us, we cannot fathom the depth and passion of God's love and His desire to share this love with us.

The second part of this chapter, page 18 of 30, onward, will be treated in a separate reflection.

"My God and My All"


Peace and Good,

Fred Schaeffer, OFS
August 2nd, 2012