St. Francis of Assisi and the Fifth Crusade


#1

I’ve learned that St. Francis tried to convince the Egyptian leader to cease fighting the Christians, and to become a Christian. I’ve also learned that St. Francis tried to convince Cardinal Pelagius to cease Christian involvement in the Crusade. He was apparently unsuccessful in his effort to create peace.

My question is what arguments St. Francis used to try to convince Cardinal Pelagius to end Christian involvement in the crusade. Was he, as some people have suggested, opposed to the idea of a Crusade? Did he believe that the Crusade opposed the spirit of Christianity, and if so, for what reasons? Or did he think that the Crusade was holy, but had problems with it?

I don’t know exactly what his reasoning was, though I’ve heard various people try to use St. Francis’ peace effort to argue that St. Francis believed in something akin to modern religious freedom. Others don’t see it that way.

So I want to know what the grounds really were for Francis’ opposition to the war.


#2

HMMM… don’t know about the crusade you are refering to, but I do know that Francis was involved in a battle along with his family over the right to be counted as aristocracy, being that his family were very wealthy, and were rejected by the people at the ‘top’ of the hill, and were therefore forced to dwell just below them. This landed Francis in jail for a year, and while there, he was beginning to think about just what it was worth to be accepted, afterall. This soon led to his conversion, whereas he decided to simply jump off the latter altogether. So the idea of a crusade, even on the side of christianity, I would have to surmise, would not apeal to his liking. [Remember, he was a Trubodor for several years before this, and I recall learning that Francis rejected the ideology of anything of the sort when he converted]. I hope some Franciscan fans out there can answer this more thoroughly, as I am also interested in this event.

Just so you know, Lief, I am not a brother just yet… I am a Capuchin candidate, and my ignorance of this crusade really means very little, as I am not yet schooled in Fracis’ life at this point. I will direct someone at the coffee club to assist you…:smiley:


#3

I would agree with brother Dan. Francis was opposed to any conflict.There is the story of him visiting the Sultan. I don’t know if this was the time of the 5th Crusade. There were no notes taken at the meeting. I believe Celano mentions it, but without any details.


#4

Hi guys. Let me try to help. Just so that you’ll trust me, just a little, I did get my MA in Mystical Theology and Francis was my thesis. I also served with the Capuchins in the missions for seven years and learned a great deal through them.

Now to St. Francis.

Prior to our Holy Father’s conversion experience, his family wanted him to go to crusades in the hope of being knighted. The Bernadones were a wealthy family in Assisi, but they were part of the merchant class, not the aristrocracy. Francis did join the army. In fact, he was in a battle between Assis and Perugia and was a prisoner of war for a year in Perugia. He later set out for the Crusades in the Northern Africa, but while on his way to join up with his batallion he heard a voice that asked him where he was going.

Francis responded to the Crusades and the voice asked him why he served the squire instead of the Master. The voice told him to retun to Assisi where he would be told what to do. Later, after much prayer and penance, Francis was prayingin at a small chapel outside of Assisi, San Damiano and he thought he heard a voice that came from the crucifix. The voice said, “Francis, go repair my Church, can’t you see that it’s falling into ruins.”

At first, Francis though that he should literally reconstruct the delapidated chapel and he did. As time passed he became more contemplative and realized that it was the Catholic Church that he was to repair.

Francis realized that the Church had cast its lots in with kings and princess. Although there were holy men in the Church, such as Dominic, his counterpart, there were also men who sought power and fame. Many of those who favoured the Crusades were more interested in the conquest of the Middle East rather than in preserving the Christian holy places. In fact, neither the Muslims nor the Jews living in Palestine at the time had done any harm to the Christian sites.

In any case, Francis set out to convert the Muslims. He did fail to convert them, but he made a lasting impression on them to this day, the same with the Jews. The Sultan remarked that he would become a Christian the next day if all Christians were as true to their faith as Francis was. He also got an agreement from the Sultan to treat the Christian prisoners of war with more dignity and to protect their human rights (not Francis words) but the same idea.

Francis also saw the other side of the war, the pain and the suffering that the Christians inflicted on civilian Muslims and Jews. While he acknowledged the Catholic faith as being the true faith, he also acknowledge that Christ would not treat anyone in such a horrible manner. In fact it was Christ who was abused and murdered, not he who did the abusing.

In Francis’ mind both the Muslims and the Christians claimed to fight for God, but neither treated their enemies as brothers and sisters, children of the same God that they both worshipped. The cruelty was mutual and the hatred the same. Both the cruelty and the hatred were contrary to the Gospel that Francis had vowed to live by. He had vowed to preach the Gospel by his way of life, not by force.

There were two kinds of confrontation that Francis avoided at all costs and urged the leaders of his time to do likewise: 1) physical confrontations such as war and 2) verbal confrontations such as hurling insults at non believers or harrassing them.

When he went to a place where he knew that he could not preach without upsetting the crowds, Francis preached by silence. One day he invited a Brother to preach in a town that was truly deep in sin. They walked through the town. When they got to the other side, the other Brother asked him, “Father (a title of honor, Francis was a layman) where are we going to preach?” To which Francis responded, “We already have.”

In Franciscan mysticism there is no room for physical or verbal conflict of any kind. You speak the truth when you can and you speak with example when words don’t work.

For this reason, Francis would not support the Crusades. He was not anti-Church. He was anti anger, hatred, materialism, injustice and any violation of the Beatitudes and the corporal works of mercy. This was his greatest exercise in poverty. He became detached from everything and anything that did not conform to the Gospel’s message of peace, salvation and reconciliation.

I hope this helps.

JR :slight_smile:


#5

It does help; thank-you :).

I have a few more questions I hope you won’t mind helping me with.

Francis also saw the other side of the war, the pain and the suffering that the Christians inflicted on civilian Muslims and Jews. While he acknowledged the Catholic faith as being the true faith, he also acknowledge that Christ would not treat anyone in such a horrible manner. In fact it was Christ who was abused and murdered, not he who did the abusing.

Was his primary concern about civilian atrocities, or was he equally concerned about the Muslim soldiers Christians were killing?

There were two kinds of confrontation that Francis avoided at all costs and urged the leaders of his time to do likewise: 1) physical confrontations such as war and 2) verbal confrontations such as hurling insults at non believers or harrassing them.

Does this mean that he opposed all war?

One other thing: Does this mean he believed heresy should be legal? Is there any document that has teachings of St. Francis on this?

In Franciscan mysticism there is no room for physical or verbal conflict of any kind. You speak the truth when you can and you speak with example when words don’t work.

For this reason, Francis would not support the Crusades. He was not anti-Church. He was anti anger, hatred, materialism, injustice and any violation of the Beatitudes and the corporal works of mercy. This was his greatest exercise in poverty. He became detached from everything and anything that did not conform to the Gospel’s message of peace, salvation and reconciliation.

This really sounds as though he opposed all war. Did he oppose a state’s war in self defense also?

Also, was he opposed to the existence of a police force? Did he believe that it was valid for state authorities to punish criminals?

I have a couple questions relating to an argument I read from a different site. It’s not a very long document, so if you want to read the whole, it wouldn’t take you long at all. It contains a couple interesting historical points I’d like to hear your comments on.

Here’s the entire document:
sspxseminary.org/apologetics/errors/False_ecumenism/assisi.shtml

I’m most interested in the historical accuracy of this essay. Particularly these two historical items:

When brought to the Sultan, Francis said, “I am sent by the Most High God, to show you and your people the way of salvation by announcing to you the truths of the Gospel.” [8] And when Saint Francis preached, the Sultan felt himself very much drawn to Francis and to the power of his words. So much so, that he invited Francis to stay with him.

“Willingly,” Francis replied, “if you and your people will be converted to Christ.” [9]

Francis then proposed his famous challenge.

He said “If you yet waver between Christ and Mohammed, order a fire kindled and I will go into it with your priests that you may see which is the true Faith.” [10] The Sultan was not willing to permit this trial by fire, so Francis requested permission to leave. And the Sultan gave orders that Francis be conducted back to his camp with courtesy.

Did this ever happen, historically? If it did, it would seem to suggest that Francis considered flames to be a valid judgment for nonbelievers, and was willing to have their priests consumed in them. Do you find that a valid conclusion?

His biographer, Father Cuthbert, wrote in 1916, that Saint Francis was “apt to be impatient with meddlers and heretics to the end.” [4]

Do you have any insight as to what Father Cuthbert meant when he said this?

I can see that St. Francis was far from a hostile man. But the Early Church Fathers and countless popes have also been “impatient with meddlers and heretics,” and the accepted view about justice in St. Francis’ time period was that heretics and nonbelievers should be punished by force. I’m wondering how much he shared these views.


#6

i would be interested in any textual references that anyone has that supports the idea that francis somehow tried to get pelagius to shut down the crusade. i am not aware of any such evidence nor do i see any signs in the documents of the period that francis was in any way opposed to the crusade. in fact it would be shocking if francis openly opposed the authority of a bishop or the pope by suggesting the crusade was unjust.

but i will just point out two things…the vita prima (celano’s early text that someone else already mentioned) makes pretty clear that francis goes to the muslims seeking martyrdom, never saying anything about a peacemaking exercise. in fact, it makes pretty clear that god spared francis this martyrdom so that he could receive a greater reward (the stigmata).

second the chronicle of ernoul, which is contemporary with the vita prima, likewise mentions francis going to the saracen camp and returning, but nothing about francis’s supposed opposition to the crusade or him trying to get the cardinal to stop the campaign and make peace. this despite the fact that a long conversation is represented as taking place between francis and the cardinal BEFORE francis leaves in which the cardinal makes clear that francis is free to go, but does not go on the cardinal’s behalf, nor does he speak for the cardinal.

finally, one should note that peace negotiations were going on between the two sides independently of francis in any case, though they were not ultimately fruitful.

peace of christ,
invocation.


#7

Does this mean he believed heresy should be legal? Is there any document that has teachings of St. Francis on this?

As far as I know, St. Francis was very stringent against heresy, and said that he would rather his Brothers be locked away for espousing any heresies. I don’t have a source on-hand, but that much was related in a lecture about St. Francis that I attended, given by a Dominican friar. He gave the source at the time, but I don’t recall it now. :o

Peace and God bless!


#8

Thanks for sharing that- it is interesting. I believe you. I could really use some good sources on his views about this, though, for otherwise I can’t use it.


#9

I cannot remember off the top of my head where the passage is that Ghosty mentions (I would start with Bonaventure’s Legenda Major if I were you), but you get a similar statement at the end of the Testament (31-33).


#10

Do you think that is the basis for the “Preach the Gospel and use words if necessary” quote?

Edwin


#11

i think there are a number of issues that lead francis to make statements like that. the example you provide is probably one. there is also the very large issue of needing episcopal permission to preach (in the technical sense) within a diocese. in the early life of the order this was, very understandably, not forthcoming from a lot of bishops who didn’t want wandering preachers meandering through their town stirring up trouble, etc. in a more general way, of course, the quote you mention goes to the fact that francis considered the rule of life that he had founded to be a kind of journey to god and the way he lived his life was the gospel. living the franciscan life was preaching the gospel for francis.

may the peace of christ be with you.


#12

Thanks for referring me to the Testament. That proved useful. Here’s a quotation on the issue of heretics:

[quote=St. Francis’ Testament]And whenever some are found who do not wish to perform the office according to the rule and want to change it, or who are not Catholic in their beliefs, then all the brothers wherever they may be are bound by obedience to turn such people over to the custodian nearest the place where they found them. The custodian in turn is bound by obedience to guard him strongly life a man in chains, day and night, so that he cannot possibly escape from his hands until he personally places him in the hands of his minister. And the minister is bound by obedience to place him in the care of brothers who will guard him night and day like a man in chains until they turn him over to our lord bishop of Ostia, who is the lord protector and corrector of the whole brotherhood.

And the brothers must not say, “This is another rule,” for it is a recollection, admonition, exhortation and my testament which I, poor brother Francis, make for you my brothers, so that we may observe the rule we have promised to God in a more Catholic manner.

[/quote]

My question next would be what the lord bishop of Ostia would do, after a brother has been turned over to him. It seems that they hold the heretic a prisoner until they can bring him to the lord bishop, but what would happen next?
fordham.edu/halsall/source/stfran-test.html


#13

I believe he would do whatever was in the power of Bishops to do, namely try and possibly punish heretics if they were found guilty and did not recant. Sounds like St. Fracis was letting the Church hierarchy deal with Franciscan heretics as it saw fit (which often meant guilty parties being handed over to secular authorities for execution), and directing his brothers to ensure that any Franciscan heretics would be held and turned over to that hierarchy.

Definitely not very soft on heresy, that’s for sure.

Peace and God bless!


#14

one should also note that these issues became much more pressing and troublesome for the Franciscan order (passing beyond Francis himself, now) in the century following the death of Francis, when a controversy broke out within the order itself over how to interpret and live the Rule.

It was often the case that Franciscan brothers were prosecuted by the Inquisition and then handed back over to the Franciscans for “perpetual imprisonment”. This could in some cases be a death sentence depending on how harsh the conditions of imprisonment were. In other cases it could be a short stay in prison before the prisoner was released and through penance offered a way back into full community.

Of course inquisitorial proceedings could also end in the death of Franciscan friars, and this happened more than a few times in the late 12th and early 13th centuries – after the death of Francis.

The work of David Burr is a good resource on the way prosecutions were handled by the Franciscan order in the immediate aftermath of Francis.

in the peace of Christ


#15

Yes. This is an example of one of the many times that Francis encourages preaching without words.

Another is when he finally concedes to send the friars to the Holy Land. They are sent with a mission. They were to preach the Gospel by living it, but not by word unless they were asked.

Centuries later Pope Pius X asked the Franciscans to segragate a group of friars especially trained to live and work in the Holy Land so that they could minister to Chritians, Jews and Muslims without preaching. Thus the Custody of the Holy Land was created. They run schools for all children, family centers and they care for the shrines and holy Christian sites along with the Orthodox Clergy. It is quite a work of exumenism and preaching through their life of prayer, service, community and fidelity to the Church and Gospel.

The good news is that the friars are very much loved by Jews, Muslims, Palestinian Christians and Orthodox Christians.

Most of the friars are Palestinian, but they train at Catholic University in Washington, DC and their mother house is a few blocks away from the University. Most people know it simply as the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land…

All of this arose from Francis’ deep desire to bring Christ to the region and to end the killing and the conflict that was doing such harm to innocent poeple on both sides.

Our community chroniclers know very little about what Francis and the Holy See may have discussed regarding the Crusade, we do know that he very much wanted peace and that he felt very ashamed of the way that Christians treated the Muslims. He also spoke very sternly to the Muslims about the way that they teated their Christian prisoners of war. Apparently he had some success, because years later former prisoners said that after Francis’ visit they were treated better.

Also, the Jews and Muslims living in Palestine agreed that Western Christian missionaries could live among them as long as they were Franciscans. Eastern Christians were already there since the time of the Apostles.

JR :slight_smile:


#16

i am just curious what your sources are regarding the 5th Crusade, because I see nothing in the early documents along the lines you mention. You have Francis going in basically seeking martyrdom, and when that fails he leaves. End of story. Neither Celano, or the Chronicle of Enoul or Jacques de Vitry (the central documents closest to Francis’s death) mention more than that. And the Chronicle in fact takes pains to mention that the Cardinal made clear that Francis did not speak on his behalf. Are there early documents saying more which I am not aware of?

The story becomes much more elaborate in later writers of course.

All that said, you are certainly correct that the Franciscans have really been the leaders, right up through the writing of Nostra Aetate, in bringing about fruitful dialogue between Catholicism and Islam, and there is a long and respected tradition of Franciscans in the Middle East. This has roots in Francis’s visit to the Sultan during the 5th Crusade, certainly. But one shouldn’t read more into Francis’s visit than is there.

in the peace of Christ.


#17

Don’t forget Judaism. The Jews also hold the Franciscan family in high regard. The problem is that there is confusion among people between what Francis triggered, which was a dialogue with the Muslims and what his friars continued through the centuries.

While we can and justifiable attribute the success of the friars among Jews and Muslims to Francis, the attribution is made becaues he founded the community, set the example and they have lived by his spirit of evangelizing through peace, prayer, penance, charity, poverty and community life.

These are qualities that speak to Jews and Muslims. They have brought many to Christianity without engaging in a campaign to convert them.

We can’t underestimate Francis’ contribution to the relationship of the Church and the Holy Land, but we must remember that he was not a one-man-show. He accomplished a great deal though his sons, the Friars Minor.

JR :slight_smile:


#18

Well, my brothers, this has all been very enlightening, and interesting! I just have one comment though.- I cannot see Francis going to the Sultain seeking martyrdom, if you are refering to his “trial by fire” so to speak. Fancis was a man of great faith, and I beleive he truly wanted to prove Christianity to the muslims. He also was very commited to his mission, and would not want to be martyred, and thus be no longer of service to his Brother-King. This does not make sense to me at all, and seems contrary to Francis.

May the poor and humble Christ fill you with peace and love.

By the way- I am now a postulant-elect with the Saint Joseph province of the Capuchins.:slight_smile: I start postulancy in August.:thumbsup:


#19

St. Francis talked to Pelagius to ask him permission to cross enemy lines and go preach to the Sultan. I don't recall that he tried to talk him out of the Crusade, and I just did some quick research on this again. This is I believe is a false interpretation of the incident where Francis tried to talk the Crusaders out of attacking on a certain day, since he had received a prophecy that if they attacked on that day they would lose the battle. They did not listen to him and they lost the battle. But this was only in reference to that particular battle because he knew they would lose. If he thought they were going to win, he would have not objected to their
fighting. This is explained in chapter 9 of my book "St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims."
Peace,
Frank Rega
www.frankrega.com


#20

[quote="frankrega, post:19, topic:106483"]
St. Francis talked to Pelagius to ask him permission to cross enemy lines and go preach to the Sultan. I don't recall that he tried to talk him out of the Crusade, and I just did some quick research on this again. This is I believe is a false interpretation of the incident where Francis tried to talk the Crusaders out of attacking on a certain day, since he had received a prophecy that if they attacked on that day they would lose the battle. They did not listen to him and they lost the battle. But this was only in reference to that particular battle because he knew they would lose. If he thought they were going to win, he would have not objected to their
fighting. This is explained in chapter 9 of my book "St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims."
Peace,
Frank Rega
www.frankrega.com

[/quote]

There is a newer book that you may want to read, if you're interested in this part of history. The Saint and the Sultan by Paul Moses. I read it and it's excellent. Mr. Moses hat the benefit of being given access to many of the Franciscan archives that had been locked and not allowed to be seen by anyone for centuries. There is a lot of information in these files that was deliberately hidden by St. Bonaventure to protect Francis' reputation. Bonaventure was afraid that Francis' position on the Crusades would be misunderstood and considered a heresy instead of a position of peace. It's a very good book and has many pieces from documents that normally only Franciscan men have been allowed to read.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :)


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