Theology Thursday: Saint Francis of Assisi: A Prophet for the Entire Family of Jesus Christ

God walking in grass field

Coming from a wealthy, Christian background, son of a cloth maker and merchant, Francis lived a typical life of a young adult socializing with young people in his age group desiring to have a family of his own and dreaming of becoming a knight.

He found himself in an enemy jail during a war with a neighboring state; however, his father bailed him out. Later, the young Francis fell ill but recovered. Now a changed man, he continued to go out with friends, but this time with more reflection. When the pope called the first crusade, Francis volunteered becoming a knight. After his return, he became ill again, however, once again recovering. While walking past a chapel known as San Damiano in severe disrepair, he heard a voice saying to him coming from the cross, “rebuild my church.”1

In This Article:

Rebuilding the Crumbling Church

This encounter inspired him to work to rebuild the chapel and sacrifice his social position to begin a movement that would stress intimacy with God, love for creation and detachment from worldly wealth. Soon, many individuals started gravitating toward him and his way of living a life of poverty and trusting God for their needs. His movement would later draw across denominational lines to Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant religious communities formed to follow the pattern of Saint Francis.2

Generations of Revivals of Simplicity

Years later, a new desire and appreciation for simplicity surfaced in the rise of medievalism during the early industrial revolution. It cultivated a renewed interest in Saint Francis due to his appreciation for nature and living a less sophisticated life. Even years later, closer to our time, many people during the Victorian age, representing all the economic and social classes, looked to innocence and simplicity depicted in medieval history leading to a growing appreciation for the life and teaching of Francis.

The appreciation for the teachings and life of Saint Francis lays the groundwork for greater Christian oneness through interdenominational appreciation throughout the family of Jesus Christ. It would seem this protestant appreciation for Saint Francis laid the groundwork for the ecumenical movement with the Christian family that started following Vatican II, which continues to this very day.2

Renewal of Creation

Francis and his followers communicated a real respect for nature, introducing a type of Christian worldview that conveys both a love and respect for nature. He went as far as leaving the urban life of the city to live among lepers demonstrating his love for the poor and vulnerable. He often withdrew to the caves and forests when stepping away for prayer.

When establishing religious houses, he and his followers would leave the wild plant life in perimeter areas including leaving the trees untouched. It is even said that Francis may have had conversations with the plants and wild animals. His love of nature’s wonders and seeing the natural beauty that God created inspired a deep love and respect which has been instilled into civilizations, cultures and Christians through a God-centered “Ecological Worldview.”

Detachment From the World

His followers also embraced a voluntary poverty where they deliberately forsook the right to dependable sources of income and other economic assets, such as real-estate, vehicles and lavish clothing. For a follower of Francis, voluntary material poverty is first an awareness where they “expose” themselves to their “radical inner poverty” to see who they really are. This poverty intends to express detachment.4

Pope Francis and the Vision of Francis of Assisi

Pope Francis envisioned a poor church detached from the material world, which reaches out to the poor and vulnerable. Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis seek to teach people that detachment from material assets cultivates solidarity with those living in poverty and other vulnerable populations. Vatican II called all people to live a life of holiness. This mentality led some to question the relevance of voluntary poverty embraced by members of religious communities in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church. However, such voluntary detachment communicates to a popular culture that people who live simply and detach themselves from the desire for material assets can and do lead a life of fulfillment that can change their lives and the lives of others. Poverty in spirit means to, first, trust in God’s providence.4

Further the current pope, taking the name of Francis, advocates people to consider life beyond their personal experience. Countering the conveyance of “phoniness” coming from many public figures, he communicates a sense of integrity and goodwill. He communicates this example by choosing a modest lifestyle while sharing his concern for global inequality and the need to care for the environment.5 For example, Pope Francis, when elected, chose to continue living in the Vatican guest house instead of relocating to the Papal Apartments on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace.6

Teachings From Francis

Through voluntary poverty of Francis, he opposed the abuse coming from church leaders and corruption among the wealthy economic classes. The opposition attracted numerous followers. His first female follower, known as Clare, began a religious community for women.5 A movement was later started allowing lay people to continue to live and work in the world while still following the Franciscan spirituality. This spiritual movement continues to thrive within Catholic religious circles, while receiving respect throughout the entire Christian family. Francis teaches a detachment from earthly wealth although a state of life or personal circumstances may not permit taking the radical step of leaving the world.

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1 Whelan, W. (2022). Franciscans. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 13, 2023.

2 Appelbaum, P. (2009). St. Francis in the Nineteenth Century. American Society of Church History, 2009 Church History (78)4, 792-813. Retrieved on June 13, 2023. Doi 10.1017/S0009640709990527

3 Viviers, H. (2014). The Second Christ, Saint Francis of Assisi and ecological consciousness. Verbum et Ecclesia, 35 (1) 1-9.

4 Mansford CFR, E. (2014). Love Does Silly Things: The Prophetic Power of the Vow of Poverty 2014 Series on the Vows of Consecrated Life. Religious Life Review.

5 Wilson, C. (2018). A Man of His Word Presents a Pope for All People. St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO). Retrieved on June 13, 2023.

6 Wooden, C. (n.d.). Pope Francis to Live in Guesthouse. The Catholic Herald. Retrieved on June 13, 2023.


Approved by faculty of the College of Theology on July 14, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.