Spirit + Life No. 132: April – June 2020

Review of Franciscan Culture

This issue commemorates a group of Franciscan friars who died as martyrs in Jerusalem after they brazenly went to preach to the Muslims. Nikola Tavelić, Adeodat of Rodez, Peter of Narbonne and Stefano da Cuneo were canonised by Pope Paul VI in June 1970, fifty years ago. Their martyrdom, seen from a purely historical perspective, does not add much to the crusader ideal of dying for the faith by wielding the sword or, in this case, the word of preaching to convert. The same can be said of another Franciscan penitent, a great intellectual, namely Ramon Llull. He also was an ardent apostle of the Gospel among the Saracens, but his methodology was based upon the effective result of dialogue through learning and study. After the loss of the crusader dream at the end of the 13th century, other Franciscan missionaries and thinkers tried to come to grips with how to recover what had been lost to western civilisation by changing strategy and methodology. Not that they lost their allegiance to the crusader ideal of conquering the Holy Land. They did not forget that the ideal of carrying the Cross among those who were considered to be “Saracens and non-believers” was still a calling to be followed, but in a different way. These learned Franciscans tried the way of persuasion through dialogue, based upon study and learning. They were still sons of their times, and they still dreamt of one unified army and navy which could guarantee the safety of the Christian strongholds in Outremer. However, for them, the use of the force of arms was not to be the only method to follow. Indeed, it would have to be used only as a last resort. Their writings still resemble treatises on military strategy. Fidenzio da Padova, a Franciscan of the Holy Land, is a case in point, being ready to compose a plan for the recovery of the Holy Land. However, in heart, these men were convinced that their calling was that of being missionaries. For this reason, dialogue based upon intellectual openness to cultures, languages and religions, was fundamental. They were innovators.

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