Friday, 13 July 2012

Settling an issue.

This has been a quote that has 'eerked' me for quite some time.  It's attributed to St Francis of Assisi and is as follows
"Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary."
The quote has always bugged me because Jesus' call to the church was to go and preach the Gospel. There is an inherent use of words when preaching, or proclaiming (either is a correct translation of κηρύσσω [Mark 16:15]); so it always felt strange when someone tried to tell me that when I preach the Gospel by my actions people will be more inclined to accept it.

An article I read on The Gospel Coalition this morning settles the issue for me.  For it seems St Francis never actually made this remark. And himself had quite a high view of preaching the Gospel.

None of his disciples, early or later biographers have these words coming from his mouth. It doesn't show up in any of his writings. Not even close really. The closest comes from his Rule of 1221, Chapter XII on how the Franciscans should practice their preaching: 
 "No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister . . . All the Friars . . . should preach by their deeds. "
 Essentially, make sure your deeds match your words. While there's a nice and good sentiment in the statement---be sure you live out the grace and truth of the Gospel---the notion as it is typically presented is neither practical, nor faithful to the Gospel of Christ. It does not align with St. Francis' own practice...

Our man clearly spent a great deal of time using his words when he preached, "sometimes preaching in up to five villages a day, often outdoors. In the country, Francis often spoke from a bale of straw or a granary doorway. In town, he would climb on a box or up steps in a public building. He preached to . . . any who gathered to hear the strange but fiery little preacher from Assisi." He was sometimes so animated and passionate in his delivery that "his feet moved as if he were dancing."

Read the rest of the article here. We should be careful when quoting someone to make sure that it is actually what they said.  St Francis has been labeled quite widely, within the church, as saying something that does not line up to the evidence in his life or ministry - that's a problem for preachers today!

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