“When the Brothers Go Through the World”: The Urban Asceticism of St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi is often considered a new phenomenon in the history of Christian sanctity, to the point where later developments in Franciscan spirituality are attributed to him. Lester Little makes the argument that the theological crisis caused by the profit economy was solved by the Mendicants by the beginning of the 14th century. While this may be true to some extent, it was not solved within the order, and it is doubtful that Francis himself represents any "new" direction in the history of western spirituality. Reading the First and Second Rule, and the hagiographical tradition represented by Thomas of Celano and St. Bonaventure, the picture of Francis that emerges is more of a traditional urban ascetic. Reading ascetic lives from the early Egyptian desert tradition, as filtered through the Latin patristic tradition, we see that the Greek tradition had already dealt with the question of living out a life of spiritual self-denial within the city walls, so that the urban explosion in the west in the 11th–13 th centuries provided grounds where these experiments in urban asceticism could be practiced. Francis had predecessors in this regard, Norbert of Xanten being one. My purpose is to look at Francis from the lens of desert spirituality, especially as it relates to the urban culture in which he is living out this life.
0320: Religious history