The story continued
Francis and Clare began the Franciscan story, but it has continued to inspire many to follow Christ through the centuries. And the tradition itself has grown, developed and changed, through the lives and writings of Franciscans of all sorts.
Bonaventure (d. 1274) would have known some of Francis’ early companions. He became Minister General of the brothers in 1257; and in addition was a theologian, diplomat, bishop and cardinal. He wrote an important biography of Francis, and a classical work of mystical theology, The Soul’s Journey into God. In his theology, creation becomes a mean towards discovering Christ.
John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) continued this theme with his theological reflections on the incarnation. He stressed the incarnation as God’s greatest expression of love, and not simply a response to the problem of human sin. And each human person is a living image of the incarnate Word.
Angela of Foligno (d. 1309) was an early member of the Order of Penance (The Third Order). After a profound religious conversion in her early forties she sold her possessions, gave the proceeds to the poor, and began to live a life of penitence, prayer and service to the sick She wrote a spiritual autobiography (the Memorial), and also the Instructions, teaching on various aspects of the Christian life, especially prayer. Her disciples included friars, and her influence on them earned her the title of Teacher of Theologians. Her spirituality is very incarnational, and she describes her experiences in prayer in physical and sensual language.
Franciscans continued to write about prayer, and one of them, Francisco de Osuna (d. c.1540) influenced the great Carmelite mystic, Teresa of Avila. His book, The Third Spiritual Alphabet, in which he taught the prayer of recollection, leading to a simple loving gaze towards God, influenced her own contemplative prayer. Osuna belonged to one of the reform movements among Franciscan brothers, one which emphasized a return to the more contemplative style of life practised in the early Franciscan hermitages.
(l-r: The Carceri Hermitage; Cave where Francis Prayed at the hermitage on La Verna; View from La Verna)
It is popularly said that only the Holy Spirit knows how many Franciscans there are, and certainly the range of ways of being a Franciscan is extraordinary. Today in the Catholic Church there are tens of thousands of men, lay and ordained, in the three major branches of the Friars Minor, tracing their history back to Francis. There are hundreds of Poor Clare communities, tracing their history back to Clare. There are hundreds of thousands of women and men in hundreds of Third Order Regular communities, inspired by the Order of Penance founded by Francis, but living in community and under the same vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as the friars and Poor Clares. And there are millions in the Secular Franciscan Order, the direct descendants of the Order of Penance, living their lives of Franciscan witness in secular work and family life.
And then of course there are those inspired by Francis in other churches; the Anglican Franciscan communities of which the Society of St Francis is the largest, and others in the Lutheran and other Protestant churches. And there are those who join no community, and perhaps even no church, but who are nevertheless inspired in their journey of faith by Francis and Clare.