Did St. Francis say, "Preach the Gospel: Use words if necessary"

I’ve seen quite a few discussions on this topic.

Someone quotes this saying attributed to Saint Francis, and someone quickly shoots them down.

Here are the Saint’s own words:

The Earlier Rule:

Chapter XVII Preachers

  1. All the brothers, however, should preach by their deeds
  2. Therefore, in the love with is God, I beg all my brothers - those who preach, pray, work, whether cleric or lay - to strive to humble themselves in all things.*

The Later Rule

Chapter IX Preachers

3.** I also admonish and exhort these brothers that, in their preaching, their words be well chosen and chaste… in a discourse that is brief, because it was in few words that the Lord preached while on earth.***

**The Admonitions of Saint Francis:
XXI: The Frivolous and Talkative Religious

  1. Blessed is the servant who, when he speaks , does not reveal everything about himself in the hope of receiving a reward, and who is not quick to speak, but wisely weighs what he should say and how he should reply. 2. Woe to that religious who does not keep in his heart the good things the Lord reveals to him and who does not manifest to others by his actions, but rather seeks to make such good things known by his words. 3. He thereby receives his reward while those who listen to him carry away but little fruit.*

What do you think - is it fair to claim that St. Francis said “Preach the Gospel - use words ONLY if necessary” but not in so few word ;)?

*Quotes from Regis Armstrong OFM Cap, Ignatius Brady OFM, Francis and Clare: the Complete Works, Paulist Press, 1982

I think it’s fair if you say, ‘To paraphrase St. Francis…’ On the other hand, it’s a nice pithy statement as it is.

“The problem with quotes on the Internet is they’re so cussed hard to verify,” --Abraham Lincoln

I believe he did say that but that it is a slight misphrase. In other words, I think, considering your sources, that “Preach the Gospel at all times: use few words when necessary.” would be better.

Close enough;)

St Francis may not have said it, but it’s a good bit of advice nonetheless. Show what you believe always. Live it. When you need to, preach it.

I voted “yes” because of the provision that paraphrase was OK.

It correlates with what St. Paul writes:

1 Cor 1:17-25
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to*** preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.***

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”

Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.


Whatever it was that he said, he didn’t mean by it what most people mean when they attribute this saying to him.

He would never have intended to provide a coward’s way out from boldly preaching the Gospel in season and out of season, as St. Paul admonishes St. Timothy to do. (II Timothy 4:2)

When St. Francis admonished his brothers to let their deeds be their preaching, he was not telling them to stop preaching. Rather, he was telling them to make sure they were living according to their own preaching, so that deeds and words were aligned together, and in order to provide a perfect witness that Christ’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

But he certainly intended for them to preach the Gospel in words, and in deeds, and in attitudes, and in everything they did both day and night.

I can never understand how this attribution or his actual words could be taken to mean “be a timid Catholic.” :confused:

Doesn’t it mean don’t just talk, actually DO something to show that you are a follower of Christ?:confused:

Yup. Actions speak louder than words.

Because people take it to mean, you don’t have to tell your daughter in words that she’s living in sin. You only have to role-model a good marriage.

They take it to mean, you don’t have to tell your son using words that he has to quit drinking and carousing all night. You only have to role-model a sober lifestyle.

Doesn’t it mean don’t just talk, actually DO something to show that you are a follower of Christ? :confused:

With speaking, as well - not just doing. Because people can see that you’re a nice person and that you have your stuff together, and it might not ever even dawn on them that it’s because you’re a Christian who is following the laws of Christ. You have to speak out loud, as well, and let them know the source of your joy.

Obviously :wink:

Francis preached (with words) all over Italy and in the Holy Land. :slight_smile:

I’ve always taken it to mean more, how you relate to others less close to you, than those very close. I always see it working into fraternal correction. In some cases, verbal correction may not be whats prudent, if we’re not that close to someone, or we do not have good reason to think they won’t rebel in the opposng way. In such cases, living and showing how you live can be the first step to breaking the ice.

This is how St. Francis saw “doing.” The Earlier Rule:

Chapter XIV When the brothers go about through the world, they should carry nothing for the journey. neither a knapsack, nor a purse, nor bread, nor money, nor a staff. And into whatever house they enter,m let them first say: Peace be to this house. And, remaining in the house, they may eat and drink whatever their hosts have offered. They should not offer resistance to evil, but if someone should strike him on one cheek, let them offer him the other as well. And if someone should take away their clothes, they should not deny him also their tunic. They should give to all who ask; and if anyone takes what is theirs, they should not demand that it be returned…

Chapter XXII, 9. And now that we have left the world, we have nothing to do except follow the will of the Lord and to please HIm.

Not a lot of talking, but an awful lot of preaching going on here!

:blush: He could have just said “Use words if necessary”…
and that would be a whole of a teaching for me…:shrug:


How can they possibly mean that? Are you saying that words would not be necessary at those times? If you do think words are necessary then ponder the statement, “use words when necessary,” and tell me why you anyone but an abject fool would think that statement means to remain silent when words are necessary. And if anyone is that much of a fool, then saying anything at all is to fight a losing battle, according to scripture:



It’s hyperbole, obviously.

Again: Francis himself preached using words:wink:

Because the context in which I hear this being quoted is always where someone is being reassured that they don’t have to speak difficult truths to their loved ones - that the only thing they have to do is remain a silent witness and give a good example.

And you’re right - it’s the exact same thing as confirming the fool in his folly.

Just to chime in - my own concern was not with the context that people said “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words”, but whether Francis actually said anything like this. And he did.:thumbsup:

If you read his writings he seems very circumspect about his friars going about willy-nilly and preaching.

The Later Rule, Chapter IX Preaching

" None of the preachers shall dare to preach to the people unless he has been examined and approved by the minister general of this fraternity and has received from him the office of preaching. I also admonish and exhort these brothers that, in their preaching, their words be well chosen and chaste for the instruction and edification of the people… in a discourse that is brief, because it was in few words that the Lord preached while on earth.""

Here’s what he says about the friars who want to go and live “among the saracens and other non-believers.”

The Earlier Rule Chapter XVI
5. As for the brothers who go, they can live spiritually among (the Saracens and nonbelievers) in two ways. 6. One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every living creature for God’s sake and to acknowledge that they are Christians. 7.** Another way is to proclaim the word of God **when they see that it pleases the Lord, so that they believe in the all-powerful God - Father, and Son and Holy Spirit - the Creator of all,…

Francis really seems to value just being present for the sake of the Kingdom as highly as preaching for the sake of the Kingdom.

  1. And all the brothers… should remember that they gave themselves and abandoned their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ. 11. And for love of Him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies, both visible and invisible, because the Lord says: Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it…

And not just present, but vulnerable and humble and patient.

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