Writings of St. Francis - Letters
(Seventeen letters are attributed to St. Francis in Wadding's edition of the Opuscula. But some of these are disputed. The following are generally accepted as coming from St. Francis)
(The following pages have been compiled from different sources. The major sources are: Internet Sacred Text Archive; The Franciscans – website of T.O.R; The Classics of Western Spirituality - Francis and Clare - Translation and Introduction by: Regis J. Armstrong, OFM, Cap. and Ignatius C. Brady, OFM).
The "Chronica XXIV Generalium Ordinis Minorum" mentions Anthony from Lisbon, who entered the Franciscan Order after being a canon regular of St. Augustine, prompted by the heroic example of Bernard and his companions, first Franciscan martyrs in Morocco (1220). Anthony, later universally known as Anthony of Padua, was sent to teach theology to the brothers in Bologna around the year 1222. In this short note, Francis approves Anthony's academic vocation, but exhorts him not to extinguish the "spirit of prayer and devotion" (RegB 10).I Brother Francis send wishes of health to Brother Anthony, my bishop. It pleases me that you teach sacred theology to the brothers, as long as in the words of the Rule you "do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion" with study of this kind.
This is one of the "eucharistic" documents of Francis. It reflects the decisions taken by the IV Lateran Council in 1215, and also the papal decree "Sane cum olim" (1219). The Legend of Perugia, 18, states that Francis showed great respect for the sacrament of the Eucharist, and often admonished his brothers to show reverence and care for churches, altars, etc. The Letter to the Clerics has been handed down in two versions. The first one was found in a 13th century Missal in the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco, with the sign of the "Thau cum capite", so characteristic of Francis (cfr. Parchment given to brother Leo).
8. Are we not moved by a sense of piety concerning all these things, since the good Lord offers Himself into our hands and we handle Him and receive Him daily with our mouth? 9. Or do we forget that we must come into His hands (cf. Hebr 10:31)? 10. Well then, let us quickly and firmly amend our ways in these and other matters; 11. and wherever the most holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ has been unlawfully housed and neglected, let it be removed from that place and deposited and locked in a precious location. 12. Likewise, wherever the written words of the Lord may be found in unbecoming places, they are to be collected and kept in a place that is becoming. 13. And we know that we are bound to observe all of these matters above all else according to the precepts of the Lord and the constitutions of holy Mother Church. 14. And whoever has not done so, let him know that he will be bound to give an account before our Lord Jesus Christ on the day of judgment (Mt 12:36). 15. Those who make copies of this writing so that it may be better observed should know that they will be blessed by the Lord God.
There are two versions of the Letter to the Custodians. The circumstances of composition are similar to those of the Letter to the Clerics. The first version was found by Sabatier in the Codex 225 of the Guarnacci Library. In the letter Francis speaks about the importance of rendering public adoration to the Eucharist on the part of preachers, on the part of priests who celebrate the Eucharist and on the part of common Christians.
Regarding the term "custos" or "custodian", Esser states that "in the documents of the Roman Curia...we detect a certain complexity in regard to this office ... The term does not seem to have been used at first in a proper sense only, inasmuch as the Final Rule prescribes that, in place of an incompetent minister general, the friars are to elect for themselves another as custos in the name of the Lord. Thus, the term could apply even to the highest superior in the Order ... Yet by the time St. Francis wrote his Testament the word had certainly come to mean a clearly defined office. The provinces by that time were, obviously, divided into smaller administrative units, headed by a custos" (K. Esser, "Origins of the Franciscan Order", Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1970, pp. 67-68).
1. To all the custodians of the Friars Minor to whom this letter is sent, Brother Francis, your servant and little one in the Lord God, sends a greeting with new signs of heaven and earth, which are great and extraordinary in the sight of God and yet are regarded as of little importance by many religious and other people.
2. I beg you, with all that is in me and more, that, when it is appropriate and you judge it profitable, you humbly beg the clergy to revere above everything else the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy written words which consecrate [His] Body. 3. The chalices, corporals, appointments of the altar, and everything which pertains to the sacrifice must be of precious material. 4. And if the most holy Body of the Lord is very poorly reserved in any place, it should be placed in a precious location under lock and kept according to the mandate of the Church and carried about with great reverence and administered to others with discretion. 5. In a similar way the written words of the Lord, whenever they are found in an improper place, should be gathered together and kept in a becoming place.
6. And in every sermon which you give, admonish the people concerning [the need of] penance, and [tell them] that no one can be saved unless he receive the Body and Blood of the Lord (cf. Jn 6:54). 7. And when It is sacrificed upon the altar by the priest and carried to any place, let all the people, on bended knee, praise, glorify, and honor the Lord God living and true. 8. And you must announce and preach His praise to all peoples in such a manner that at every hour and whenever the bells are rung, praise, glory, and honor are given to the all-powerful God throughout all the earth. 9. And my brothers [who are] custodians to whom this writing shall come and [who] have made copies to keep for themselves and to give to the brothers who have the office of preaching or the care of the brothers; and who have preached everything which is contained in this writing to the very end, should know that they have the blessing of the Lord God as well as my own. 10. And let these matters be for them [an expression of] true and holy obedience.
2. Know well that in the sight of God there are certain matters which are very lofty and sublime which are sometimes considered worthless and inferior by people; 3. while there are other things, cherished and esteemed by people, which are considered worthless and inferior by God. 4. I ask you in the sight of the Lord our God, as much as I can, to give the letters which treat of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord to the bishops and other members of the clergy; 5. and keep in mind what we recommended to you in this regard. 6. Make many copies of the other letter containing an invitation to proclaim the praises of God among the peoples and in the piazzas which I am sending to you to give to mayors, consuls, and rulers. 7. And propagate them with great diligence among those to whom they should be given.