Testament of St. Francis
In the Bull "Quo elongati" of 1230 Pope Gregory IX states that when Francis was approaching his last days ("circa ultimum vitae suae"), he gave a commandment ("mandatum") to his brothers, which he called Testament.
The Testament, written probably in 1226, when Francis was dying, is the most important autobiographical document of the poverello. The description of this document as a "mandatum" indicates the style of a last will given by Francis to the brothers on the model of Christ's own "mandatum" in John 13-17, and particularly in the light of Christ's commandment of love unto death.
In the Testament written in Siena in 1225 (cfr. dictated writings), Francis expressed his last will in three points, which form the basis of this later Testament, namely, fraternity, poverty and obedience to the Church.
The Testament is well documented in the manuscript tradition, and is found in the Assisi Codex. The critical edition of the Testament is that of Kajetan Esser OFM, "Das Testamentum des heiligen Franziskus von Assisi", Münster, 1949.
The Testament was always a hotly debated document in the history of the Order. It presents the evangelical ideals of Francis as he originally conceived them, and sometimes it entered in direct conflict with the interpretations of the Rule given by the authority of the Church. All reform families in the Franciscan tradition held the Testament in great esteem. However, the intentions of Francis are clear in the text of the Testament, namely that this is a spiritual document which does not bind in conscience like the RegB. Nevertheless, the Testament remains a valuable document to trace the original inspiration of Francis, and the humble beginnings of the Order.
TESTAMENT OF ST. FRANCIS
The Lord gave to me, Brother Francis, thus to begin to do penance; for when I was in sin it seemed to me very bitter to see lepers, and the Lord Himself led me amongst them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, that which had seemed to me bitter was changed for me into sweetness of body and soul. And afterwards I remained a little and I left the world. And the Lord gave me so much faith in churches that I would simply pray and say thus: "We adore Thee Lord Jesus Christ here and in all Thy churches which are in the whole world, and we bless Thee because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world."
After that the Lord gave me, and gives me, so much faith in priests who live according to the form of the holy Roman Church, on account of their order, hat if they should persecute me, I would have recourse to them. And if I had as much wisdom as Solomon had, and if I should find poor priests of this world, would not preach against their will in the parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love, and honour them and all others as my masters; and I do not wish to consider sin in them, for in them I see the Son of God and they are my masters. And I do (his because in this world, I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God Himself except His most holy Body and Blood, which they receive and they alone administer to others. And I will that these most holy mysteries be honoured and revered above all things and that they be placed in precious places. Wheresoever I find His most holy Names and written words in unseemly places, I wish to collect them, and I ask that they may be collected and put in a becoming place. And we ought to honour and venerate all theologians and those who minister to us the most holy Divine Words as those who minister to us spirit and life. And when the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I ought to do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the holy Gospel. And I caused it to be written in few words and simply, and the Lord Pope confirmed it for me. And those who came to take this life upon themselves gave to the poor all that they might have and they were content with one tunic, patched within and without, by those who wished, with a cord and breeches, and we wished for no more.
We clerics said the Office like other clerics; the laics said the Paternoster, and we remained in the churches willingly enough. And we were simple and subject to all. And I worked with my hands and I wish to work and I wish firmly that all the other brothers should work at some labour which is compatible with honesty. Let those who know not [how to work] learn, not through desire to receive the price of labour but for the sake of example and to repel idleness. And when the price of labour is not given to us, let us have recourse to the table of the Lord, begging alms from door to door.
The Lord revealed to me this salutation, that we should say: "The Lord give thee peace." Let the brothers take care not to receive on any account churches, poor dwelling-places, and all other things that are constructed for them, unless they are as is becoming the holy poverty which we have promised in the Rule, always dwelling there as strangers and pilgrims. I strictly enjoin by obedience on all the brothers that, wherever they may be, they should not dare, either themselves or by means of some interposed person, to ask any letter in the Roman curia either for a church or for any other place, nor under pretext of preaching, nor on account of their bodily persecution; but, wherever they are not received let them flee to another land to do penance, with the blessing of God. And I wish to obey the, minister general of this brotherhood strictly and the guardian whom it may please him to give me. And I wish to be so captive in his hands that I cannot go or act beyond his obedience and his will because he is my master. And although I am simple and infirm, I desire withal always to have a cleric who will perform the office with me as it is contained in the Rule.
And let all the other brothers be bound to obey their guardian and to perform the office according to the Rule. And those who may be found not performing the office according to the Rule and wishing to change it in some way, or who are not Catholics, let all the brothers wherever they may be, if they find one of these, be bound by obedience to present him to the custos who is nearest to the place where they have found him. And the custos shall be strictly bound, by obedience, to guard him strongly day and night as a prisoner so that he cannot be snatched from his hands until he shall personally place him in the hands of his minister. And the minister shall be firmly bound by obedience to send him by such brothers as shall watch him day and night like a prisoner until they shall present him to the Lord of Ostia, who is master protector, and corrector of this brotherhood. And let not the brothers say: This is another Rule; for this is a remembrance, a warning, and an exhortation and my Testament which I, little Brother Francis, make for you, my blessed brothers, in order that we may observe in a more Catholic way the Rule which we have promised to the Lord. And let the minister general and all the other ministers and custodes be bound by obedience not to add to these words or to take from them. And let them always have this writing with them beside the Rule. And in all the Chapters they hold, when they read the Rule let them read these words also. And I strictly enjoin on all my brothers, clerics and laics, by obedience, not to put glosses on the Rule or on these words saying: Thus they ought to be understood; but as the Lord has given me to speak and to write the Rule and these words simply and purely, so shall you understand them simply and purely and with holy operation observe them until the end.
And whoever shall observe these things may he be filled in heaven with the blessing of the Most High Father and may he be filled on earth with blessing of His Beloved Son together with the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, and all the Powers of heaven and all the saints. And I, Brother Francis, your little one and servant, in so far as I am able, I confirm to you within and without, this most holy blessing. Amen.