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Medieval Sourcebook: The Rule of the Franciscan Order


Subject: Medieval Sourcebook: The Rule of the Franciscan Order
     Francis left behind not only a legend but a religious order.
     Popularly known today as the Franciscan order, its real name
     is the ordo fratrum minorum , "the order of lesser brothers.'.
     The Franciscans proved enormously popular because, like
     Francis himself, they fulfilled a desperate need, in fact a
     whole series of them. Unlike the older monastic orders, they
     were not bound to a cloistered life within the confines of a
     monastery. Thus They and the other great mendicant order
     created at that time, the Dominicans, constituted a mobile
     striking force which the church could utilize wherever it
     seemed necessary.
     At that very moment there was a need for pastoral care in the
     cities, which had grown so rapidly that the old ecclesiastical
     structures were no longer adequate. The mendicants settled in
     the cities and developed a program of preaching and pastoral
     guidance so effective that the regular clergy were soon
     extremely jealous.
     At that moment the universities were growing and the
     translation of Aristotle into Latin was challenging Christian
     scholars. The mendicants took up the challenge with gusto, and

     by the end of the thirteenth century most of the lead the
     scholars in the major universities were either Dominicans or
     At that moment the church was engaged in an all-out assault on
     heresy. In fact, it had created a new institution to deal with
     it, the inquisition. The mendicants were widely used as
     inquisitors, and by the turn of the fourteenth century most
     inquisitors were either Franciscans or Dominicans.
     A religious order is based on a rule. The first rule of the
     Franciscan order, submitted to the pope in 1209, has long
     since disappeared from history. It was the rule of 1223, the
     third produced by Francis, which became the definitive one. It
     is still in use today. 
     I. In the name of the Lord, the life of the lesser brothers
     The rule and life of the lesser brothers is this: To observe
     the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience
     without anything of our own, and in chastity. Brother Francis
     promises obedience and reverence to the Lord Pope Honorius and
     his canonically elected successors, and to the Roman Church;
     and the rest of the brothers are obliged to obey Francis and
     his successors.
     II. Concerning those who wish to adopt this life.
     If someone should wish to adopt this life and should come to
     our brothers, they must send them to their provincial
     ministers to whom alone is granted the right to receive
     brothers. The ministers should examine them carefully
     regarding the Catholic faith and sacraments of the church. If
     they believe all these things, wishing to confess them
     faithfully and observe them diligently until the end; and if
     they have no wives, or their wives have entered a convent, or
     permission has been given to them by authority of their
     bishop, a vow of chastity having been taken and their wives
     being of such an age as to avoid suspicion; then let them go,
     sell all they have, and attempt to give it to the poor. If
     they cannot do so, their good intention will suffice. Let the
     brothers and their ministers beware of becoming concerned
     about the new brothers' temporal possessions, for they should
     freely dispose of their belongings as God inspires them. If
     they ask advice, the ministers may refer them to some
     God-fearing brothers through whose counsel their possessions
     may be distributed to the poor.
     Later, let them concede clothing of probation to the new
     brothers: Two tunics with hoods, belt and trousers, and a
     chaperon reaching down to the belt, unless the minister
     decides according to God that something else should be done.
     When the year of probation is over, let them be received into
     obedience, promising to observe this life and rule always;
     and, according to the command of the lord pope, it will be
     absolutely forbidden to them to leave the order, for according
     the holy gospel "no one who puts his hand to the plow and then
     looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
     And let those who have promised obedience take one tunic with
     a hood, and let those who wish it have another without a hood.
     And those who must may wear shoes. All the brothers are to
     wear inexpensive clothing, and they can use sackcloth and
     other material to mend it with God's blessing.
     III. Concerning the divine office and fasting; and how the
     brothers ought to travel through the world.
     Clerics are to perform the divine office according to the rite
     of the Roman Church, except for the Psalter, and they can have
     breviaries for that purpose. Laymen are to say twenty-four
     "Our Fathers" at matins; five at lauds; seven each at prime,
     terce, sext and none; twelve at vespers; and seven at
     compline. They should also pray for the dead.
     They should fast from the feast of all saints until Christmas.
     Those who voluntarily fast at Quadragessima, those forty days
     after Epiphany which the Lord consecrated with his own holy
     fasting, will themselves be blessed by the Lord; yet they are
     not required to do so if they do not want to. They must fast
     during Lent, but they are not required to do so at other times
     except on Fridays. In case of obvious necessity, however, they
     are excused from bodily fasting.
     I counsel, admonish and beg my brothers that, when they travel
     about the world, they should not be quarrelsome, dispute with
     words, or criticize others, but rather should be gentle,
     peaceful and unassuming, courteous and humble, speaking
     respectfully to all as is fitting. They must not ride on
     horseback unless forced to so by obvious necessity or illness.
     Whatever house they enter, they are first to say, "Peace to
     this house" (Lk. 10:5). According to the holy gospel they can
     eat whatever food is set before them.
     IV. That the brothers should not accept money.
     I strictly forbid the brothers to receive money in any form
     either directly or through an intermediary. Nevertheless, the
     ministers and custodians can work through spiritual friends to
     care for the sick and clothe the brothers, according to place,
     season and climate, as necessity may seem to demand. This must
     be done, however, in such a way that they do not receive
     V. On their manner of working.
     Those brothers whom the Lord favors with the gift of working
     should do so faithfully and devotedly, so that idleness, the
     enemy of the soul, is excluded yet the spirit of holy prayer
     and devotion, which all other temporal things should serve, is
     not extinguished. As payment for their labor let them receive
     that which is necessary for themselves and their brothers, but
     not money. Let them receive it humbly as befits those who
     serve God and seek after the holiest poverty.
     VI. That the brothers should appropriate nothing for
     themselves; and on how alms should be begged; and concerning
     sick brothers.
     The brothers should appropriate neither house, nor place, nor
     anything for themselves; and they should go confidently after
     alms, serving God in poverty and humility, as pilgrims and
     strangers in this world. Nor should they feel ashamed, for God
     made himself poor in this world for us. This is that peak of
     the highest poverty which has made you, my dearest brothers,
     heirs and kings of the kingdom of heaven, poor in things but
     rich in virtues. Let this be your portion. It leads into the
     land of the living and, adhering totally to it, for the sake
     of our Lord Jesus Christ wish never to have anything else in
     this world, beloved brothers.
     And wherever brothers meet one another, let them act like
     members of a common family. And let them securely make their
     needs known to one another, for if a mother loves and cares
     for her carnal son, how much more should one love and care for
     his spiritual son? And if one of them should become ill, let
     the other brothers serve him as they themselves would like to
     be served.
     VII. On the penances to be imposed on sinning brothers.
     If any of the brothers should sin mortally at the instigation
     of the enemy, they should recur to their provincial ministers
     without delay if the sin is one of those for which such
     recourse is required. The ministers, if they are priests,
     should mercifully prescribe a penance for them. If they are
     not priests, they should see that it is prescribed by others
     in the order who are such, as seems best to them according to
     God. They should be careful not to become angry and upset over
     someone's sin, for anger and perturbation in oneself or others
     impedes love.
     VIII. On the election of the general minister of this
     brotherhood; and on the chapter at Pentecost.
     The brothers are always bound to have a brother of the order
     as general minister and servant of the entire brotherhood, and
     they are strictly bound to obey him. When he dies, his
     successor is to be elected by the provincial ministers and
     custodians during the Pentecost chapter, at which provincial
     ministers are always to assemble in the place designated by
     the minister general. The general chapter should meet every
     three years, or sooner or later if the minister general should
     so ordain. If at some point it should appear to the provincial
     ministers and custodians that the minister general is
     incapable of serving the brothers properly, the aforesaid
     brothers to whom election is entrusted should, in the name of
     God, choose someone else.
     After the Pentecost chapter, the ministers and custodians may
     call their brothers to a chapter in their own custody's once
     in the same year, if they wish and it seems worthwhile.
     IX. On preachers.
     The friars must not preach in the diocese of any bishop if
     they have been forbidden to do so by him. And no brother
     should dare preach to the people unless he has been examined
     and approved by the minister general of his brotherhood and
     the office of preaching has been conceded to him. I also
     admonish and exhort the brothers that in their preaching their
     words be studied and chaste, useful and edifying to the
     people, telling them about vices and virtues, punishment and
     glory; and they ought to be brief, because the Lord kept his
     words brief when he was on earth.
     X. On the admonition and correction of brothers.
     Brothers who are ministers and servants of other brothers must
     visit and admonish their brothers, and they should correct
     them humbly and lovingly, prescribing nothing against their
     soul or our rule. Brothers who are subject to authority must
     remember that they have surrendered their own wills for the
     sake of God. Thus I strictly order them to obey their
     ministers in all those things which they have promised the
     Lord to observe and which are not contrary to the soul and to
     our rule. And wherever there are brothers who know they cannot
     observe the rule spiritually, those brothers should and may
     recur to their ministers. The ministers should receive them
     lovingly and generously and treat them so intimately that the
     brothers can speak and act as lords do with their servants.
     For that is the way it ought to be. The ministers should be
     servants of all the brothers.
     I admonish and exhort the brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ to
     beware of all pride, vainglory, envy, avarice, worldly care
     and concern, criticism and complaint. And I admonish the
     illiterate not to worry about studying but to realize instead
     that above all they should wish to have the spirit of the Lord
     working within them, and that they should pray to him
     constantly with a pure heart, be humble, be patient in
     persecution and infirmity, and love those who persecute, blame
     or accuse us, for the Lord says, "Love your enemies, pray for
     those who persecute and accuse you" (Mtt. 5:44). "Blessed are
     those who suffer persecution for justice's sake, for theirs is
     the kingdom of heaven" (Mtt. 5:10). "He who has persevered
     until the end, however, will be saved" (Mtt. 10:22).
     XI. That the brothers should not enter the convents of nuns.
     I strictly order all the brothers to avoid suspicious meetings
     or conversations with women and to stay out of the convents of
     nuns except in cases where special permission has been granted
     by the Holy See. Nor should they be godfathers of men or
     women, lest it lead to scandal among or concerning the
     XII. Concerning those who go among the Saracens and other
     Whoever should, by divine inspiration, wish to go among the
     Saracens and other infidels must ask permission from their
     provincial ministers. The ministers should grant permission
     only to those whom they consider qualified to be sent.
     I enjoin the ministers by obedience to ask the Lord Pope for a
     cardinal of the Holy Roman Church to serve as governor,
     protector and corrector of their brotherhood so that we
     servants and subjects at the feet of holy church, firm in
     faith, will always observe the poverty, humility and holy
     gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ which we firmly promised.
     Translation by David Burr []. See his home
     page. He indicated that the translations are available for
     educational use. He intends to expand the number of
     translations, so keep a note of his home page.
     Another out of copyright version definitely exists - in The
     Writings of St. Francis of Assisi, Paschal Robinson, trans,
     (Philadelphia: Dolphin Press, 1906).
     Paul Halsall Jan 1996, updated 9/22/1999


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