St. Francis and the 4th Commandment


Did St. Francis break the 4th Commandment by disowning his father?


His father was the one who took St Francis to a legal trial (presided over by the Bishop). Over a measly piece of cloth that Francis, who had been working in the family shop without pay, took in order to have something to sell and financially support himself with. And which Francis freely gave back - along with ALL his clothes :eek: when the dispute arose.

So I think the disowning was done by the father really!


I didn’t know that he was working for his family without pay. I had always heard that he had taken the clothes from his father and sold them and given the money to the poor. When his father sued for the money back, then Francis disowned him. I may be wrong in that and it’s perfectly likely. St. Francis is one of my favorite saints and I’m not trying to tear him down.


When a person “disowns” another person, they refuse to acknowledge all ties with that person. St. Francis did not “disown” his father. He renounced his father’s name… and all rights to his own inheritence. That doesn’t necessarily mean he cut all ties with his parents.

There’s a difference.


That’s true.

As far as what I said - you may be right, St Francis may have sold the goods to support the poor (of course he was among those poor :wink:

Like most children of businessmen at the time, he did indeed work in the family business without getting paid for it. And he DID give everything he had (including the clothes off his back) back to his father when sued even so.


Okay, that makes me feel better. Thank you!:slight_smile:


This is an interesting point Lily makes- that he gave all he had (the clothes off his back) to his father. It had not occurred to me before, but probably everything he “had” in the way of wordly things really belonged to his father as the “property” of children belongs to parents, am I on course here? Certainly, as you said without wages, he would not have paid for any of it, though I’m sure he must have received gifts.

I say this because I also thought to myself that St. Francis, even if what he had belonged to his father at the time, nevertheless was not likely to want for anything, given the lifestyle he led and which his father would have had to contribute some support to. I have never gotten the impression from what I’ve read that he “went without” and he certainly had his share in the revels of his friends. I strongly doubt as the son of a respectable merchant that he did not make a good showing of it. He may not have been of the wealthiest family (if memory serves), or had any money of his own as an unpaid laborer for his father, but I have never gotten the impression he ever even flirted with Lady Poverty prior to that turning point in his ongoing conversion, if we may call it that.

I could be off-base with all of this, and I know it’s off-track (i.e. whether he actually disowned his father and whether it was sinful if he did) but the question of family poverty and being well-off despite limited or lack of personal ownership just struck me as very interesting. St. Francis certainly went a long way in his life, I think that can give us all reason to hope for our own lives when we feel low because of our faults. Or it does me, anyway. :thumbsup:

As for the question, my own thought was that his father was more or less disowning HIM by suing him and dragging him before the bishop. It may have been a last ditch attempt to reconcile, perhaps thinking the seriousness of it all would jar Francis out of whatever was possessing him, but would he have kept ties if it didn’t, as it wouldn’t, work?

Instead, Francis gave him back all his father had given him, short of life. He honored him by sparing him the further humiliation the man would have suffered at seeing his son become what he never would have given a second glance to on the street, and the actions he may have been driven to as a result. He honored his father’s wishes- in short, he obeyed. The man he was becoming could not be Pietro Bernardone’s son. To his father, he was already dead if he did not give up that nonsense and stop shaming the family.

I think it is all rather complicated, but again, in a weird way, in the back of my mind, it is all a strange sort of obedience to the will of his earthly father (no longer being the albatross around the man’s neck thanks to his new behavior) and the will of his heavenly One by giving up all He had and following Him, and I can imagine St. Francis’ heart breaking at the decision even as he rejoiced in claiming his place as God’s son and committing himself once and for all to the path he had taken in the sight of everyone who would see. In a way, he both died to his old life and was born again in the new, don’t you think?

SO I don’t think it would fall under a breach of the 4th commandment. In case that wasn’t obvious. :wink: I could be all twisted in how I look at this, let me know, this is the first time I really gave it thought in this context so I may have gone wrong somewhere! And of course I am speculating on some motives, I suppose those of his father in particular are known truly only to him and God. God bless you. :slight_smile:


no, he did nothing wrong. he left his father out of filial love for the Father, not out of animosity or anger or hate. he had to leave one to follow the other since the two were at odds regarding him. in fact, he honored his father more so in following the Father, whom all paternity takes itself from. so, in a sense, he fulfilled the 4th commandment in a greater way than if he were to stay under his father.


Our holy father Francis was responding to the Gospel passage that said “unless a man leaves father mother etc and take up his cross . . .”

Francis’ disconnect from Pietro Bernadone was due to Pietro’s misunderstanding of Francis’ vocation. We must be very careful not to vilainize Pietro Bernadone either. Pietro thought his son had lost his mind. He was a good man and a good father; but father and son were talking past each other.

The father was thinking practically and the son was a mystic. When the confrontations came to a head, Pietro took his son’s case to the magistrate of the City of Assisi. He wanted his son committed. The City of Assisi was very much afraid of Francis, Pietro and the Bishop. Francis had reputation for being a saint and he was much loved by the local bishop. They did not want to get into the middle of that mess between Francis, his admirers, the bishop and one of the city’s wealthiest men.

Like Pilate, they washed their hands and told Pietro that they had no jurisdiction in the case and that they had to turn the case over to an ecclesial tribunal.

Pietro filed his complaint with the bishop. Bishop Guido sent for our holy father to appear before him on a specific date. After hearing the case the bishop ruled that Francis had to return everything he had taken from his father and admonished Francis that he was not to achieve holiness at his father’s expense.

Francis, being a mystic, gave back the money and his clothes as well. It was at this point that Francis makes his famous statement, “I no longer call Pietro Bernadone father, but say ‘Our Father in Heaven’.”

Francis is not renouncing his father or denouncing him in any way. He is resigning his inheritence. Francis was the older of two sons born to Pietro and Pica Bernadone. If Francis had not done this, he still would have been Pietro’s heir at the time of his death. The thought of this would have driven Pietro mad, because Pietro had worked hard all his life. He was convinced that he now had a psychotic for a son, who was going to be the heir to the Bernadone kingdom.

Francis, like all mystics, has a very practical side to him. By renouncing his inheritence, he frees his father of any legal obligations toward him. His brother, Angelo, becomes the heir to the Bernadone fortune. At the same time, Francis is now poor like Christ and free to become an heir of the Kingdom, like Christ.

Our holy father achieved two things.

  1. He liberated himself and his father from a long legal battle that would have taken their entire lives, over the family inheritence.

  2. He enters into an intimate communion with Christ as a son of the Father.

He is very much a precurser of Teresa of Avila in the sense that he was a mystic and a pragmatist. Most mystics seem to have an uncanny ability to be other worldly and yet be very practical in some cases. Of course, like all human beings, they make mistakes of human judgment, but not big moral ones.

The best proof that Francis’ relationship with his biological family was not torn assunder is the fact that his nephew joins the Order several years after his death. Angelo had a son whom he named after Francis. Brother John of Assisi is Francis’ nephew. Francis’ real name is John Bernadone. Francis was the apple of his father’s eye. That’s why Pietro nicknamed him Francesco. Francis was half French. Pica was from France. Francis was fluent in French. Pietro called him “the Little Frenchie”. In Italian it is Francesco. He was the first man in history to have this name. We can see that he came from a loving family. His mother was a loving mother. His father wanted to protect him. His nephew joined his uncle’s order and Francis never spoke evil of his father.

I hope this helps.


Brother JR :slight_smile:


Wow, thank you JR! You have certainly been very helpful. I hope no one thinks I was trying to discredit St. Francis. I love St. Francis and I’m even dicserning a possible Franciscan vocation. Your explanation was wonderful! You’re such a great Franciscan resource for these forums!


Everyone is very welcome. I don’t believe that Joy was trying to discredit St. Francis at all.

I have had this question thrown at me many times, because I work in formation. This is a very common question. One author who does this question justice is Ignacio Laranaga, SJ he wrote a wonderful book in which he takes up this and many other topics that are not commonly found in biographies of our holy father Francis, Brother Francis of Assisi. It’s available in several languages and was originally written in Spanish for those who prefer to read it in the original language, El Hermano de Asis.


JR :slight_smile:


Oh, I surely did not mean in my rambling thoughts on the subject to vilify St. Francis’ father. I think he probably behaved as anyone may have under the bewildering and perhaps even frightening circumstances he was in at the time, seeing his son “transform” as he did. I apologize if it came across as otherwise, as I said it was all coming out as I thought of it and I was not sure how close (or far) I was to the mark at the time.

I have read “Brother Francis of Assisi,” since you mention it, the first biography I have read of St. Francis, and I know I will likely reread it again many times because there is so much to take in. It is truly an amazing read and the first biography of anyone I was reluctant to finish because I knew he was going to die at the end and I didn’t want him to! which is utterly stupid but there you have it. I hope anyone interested in St. Francis’ life will give this one a try.

I had no understanding of the legal aspects of the inheritance or of his family after the event in question but that sheds much light on the situation, too. :slight_smile: JR, you are indeed a blessing to this forum. Thank you for clearing up any muddiness my train of thought may have introduced to this thread.


Thanks JReducation, your posts are incredible!

I wish I could get an inspirational teaching message like this every day!


What often happens with St. Francis, as with many other saints, is that biographies focus on the highlights of their life. When you study Franciscan history then you get into the specific details of the period in which he lived, his family circumstances, the rules of that society and many other insights that are not convered in the typical biographies.

Biographies are written to tell the story of the saint, not always to provide the background. If you read Bonavneture’s biography of St. Francis you get very little about the background. Bonaventure was interested in showing the connection between Francis and Christ. He focuses on Francis’ mysticism.

Chesterton focuses on Francis’ actions, words and deeds. Chesterton is a typical Christian reporter and commentator. He’s excellent at it. For a commentary on the message of St. Francis, I believe there is no better writer.

Bodo focuses much more on the Franciscan ideal. He strays from the facts, not because they’re not important, but because not every fact is needed to preent the ideal. I often compare Bodo to St. John the Evangelist. John strays away from many historical facts about Christ, because he’s interested in showing us the Incarnate Word of God as the Saviour of the world. Well, Bodo does something similar. He tries to show us the Franciscan ideal as a summary of the Christian ideal.

I believe that reading all of the above, gives a much more comprehensive picture of Francis. Before I forget, there is Cajetan Esser who is a historian and goes much deeper into the times of St. Francis than anyone else. He also writes a later work on the history of the Franciscans, which sheds more light on the movement.

My personal favourite work on Francis are the sermons written by Bonaventure on St. Francis. They have been collected into a one valume called The Master and the Disciple. Bonaventure places himself as the disciple and Francis as the master on Christian living. He shows the parallels between Francis and different personalities in scripture from the OT and the NT. He concludes with his last sermon where he refers to Francis as the Mirror of Perfection, an old title that was given to Francis by Pope Gregory at his canonizaiton.

Many people do not know that Francis was one of the first, not the first, people to be formally canonized. Prior to the Middle Ages there were no formal canonizations. Cardinal Hugolino was assigned by Pope Honorius as the Cardinal Protector of the Franciscan Order. Hugolino was elected as pope after the death of Honorius. He became Gregory. Because he had known Francis personally for many years, he dispensed with all the required investigations into Francis’ life and canonized him 18 months after his death. Francis was never beatified. He went from death to saint.

Because the first Cardinal Protector of the Order became pope, the tradition continued to this day. The Protector of the Franciscan Order is always the pope. That’s why the official preachers and spiritual directors to the Apostolic household are Franciscans. Since then, the popes always had Franciscans living with them in the Vatican to serve as their preachers and spiritual guides to their staff. Today Brother Reinero (sp?), OFM Cap holds this distinction. There are several friars on the team, but he is their guardian.

Some may have seen him preach the Good Friday sermon to the Pope and the Papal Household. The Good Friday sermon is always preached by a Franciscan Brother (ordained or not). Reinero is ordained, but not everone on his team is. This requirement was not imposed on the Franciscans. It is up to the local bishop to impose it or not, except inside the local house. Then it is up to the local superior.

St. Francis and his spiritual family are very interesting, as are other religious families in the Church. The Holy Spirit has blessed the Church with many religious families who have made some exceptional contributions to the people of God.

Francis of Assisi stands out as one of the most charismatic individuals for his simplicity, humility, love of his brothers and sisters and obedience to the Church.


Br. JR, OFS :slight_smile:


The inspiration is not mine, but Francis’. I had the privilege of studying Franciscan theology and mysticism for many years. I say privilege, because not eveyrone gets that opportunity to take a saint and study him in great depth.

I noticed that you’re married and have children. Did you know that our father Francis had a great love and respect for marriage and the family?

It was common in the Middle Ages for spouses to agree to separate and join monasteries. Of course these were men and women who did not have children.

As Francis’ religious family grew, Clare came and demanded to be received. I say demanded, not because she was arrogant, but because she was determined to follow Christ’s call to live the Gospel in the manner of Francis. Francis founded his second order, putting Clare at the head of it. She of course not only guided the Order of Poor Sisters (Poor Clares), but also served as a catalyst for men and women who wanted to live the Gospel more intensely. She was one of Francis’ strongest spiritual allies and guides.

Later, couples came to him. They were willing to separate so that the husbands could join the friars and the wives could join Clare and the Poor Sisters of Assisi as they were known.

Francis had such a deep regard for marriage and the family that he sat down and wrote a rule for these men and women. That’s how he founded his third order. So you see, the third order had nothing to do with ranking in the Franciscan family, but third in chronology. He founded it in 1221. It was the first rule ever written that allowed married men and women to live religious life and remain married, have children, raise a family and be on equal footing with their celibate brothers and sisters among the friars and the nuns. In other words, they are truly an order and truly Franciscans with all the rights and obligations that come with it.

Francis’ idea was that a family should never be abandoned for any reason, even to live the religious life. In his mind, this was a conflict. He saw the call to live the Gospel as the primary call of every Christian. However, he also saw the Sacrament of Marriage and the family as the garden in which vocations to the service of the Lord were conceived and nurtured until they were strong enough to become independent.

So he wrote a rule and called this third order The Brothers and Sisters of Penance. He gave them a habit, a way of life, a spirituality like that of the friars and the nuns with intense prayer and service to the poor, but he added one more element that made them very distinctive. He added penance of conversion, not just fasting.

He believed that being a good husband or wife and a good parent, was not an easy task. This was a form of penance, if it was embraced with the right attitude. Marriage and parenting often demand great sacrifices, great patience and on-going conversion in the way that we see ourselves and that we see our spouses and families. It is not a matter of being right or wrong, it is a matter of doing what is good for one who has made a solemn vow to love his spouse and children, even if they are wrong and one is right. This is a penance, because one has to swallow his pride and continue to love and serve.

Francis taught the Brothers and Sisters of Penance that if they loved and served within the family, it (the family) would serve as a school. As you perfected this love, with great sacrifice and humility, you could take it out into the secular world.

That’s why Pope Paul VI changed the name of the Order to the Secular Franciscan Order. The emphasis was to be on the three words: (Secular) to serve the secular world with great sacrifice, always avoiding being contaminated by secularism. The second, (Franciscan) to serve the secular world in the manner of St. Francis. Finally, (Order) to live a well ordered life using the Gospel and the guidance of St. Francis to guide our actions and choices.

In this way the Glory of God is proclaimed to the world, the vows made at one’s wedding are fulfilled and one’s oblgiations as a parent are fulfilled by being the kind of parent and spouse that Francis would be.

The struggle to be the kind of parent and spouse that Francis would be is not a cult to Francis. But it is using Francis as a teacher. Because Francis understood Christ’s love for his Bride. He understood the Father’s love for his children. He was open to the voice of the Holy Spirit even when the Spirit demanded what was often more of a penance than a joy.

Anyone who is married and has children can probably relate to Francis understanding of marriage and parenting as a penance than can save souls, if it is embraced with great love for Christ.



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