Walking in the Footsteps of Christ – Day 23
Monday after 4th Sunday of Lent
A Lenten Journey with the Rule of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis
These Reflections which take the Rule of the Third Order as their springboard, were originally published in Lent 2012 are being republished during Easter 2020 as a way of deepening our faith during the Covid19 pandemic which is affecting the whole world
From the Principles:
The Second Way of Service – Study (continued)
As well as the devotional study of Scripture, all recognise their Christian responsibility to pursue other branches of study, both sacred and secular. In particular there are members of the Third Order who accept the duty of contributing, through their research and writing, to a better understanding of the church’s mission in the world: the application of Christian principles to the use and distribution of wealth; questions concerning justice and peace; and of all other questions concerning the life of faith.
From St Francis:
Knowledge and Good Works
The Apostle says, ‘The written letters kill, but the Spirit gives life.’
(2 Corinthians 3.6)
They are killed by the written letter who desire to know words so that they might seem wiser than others and be able to acquire riches to leave their relatives and friends.
And these religious are killed by the letter who do not care to follow the Spirit of Holy Scripture, but desire to know only words and to explain them to others.
And they are brought to life by the spirit of Holy Scripture who do not attribute to themselves everything they know and desire to know, but in words and example give credit to the Most High to whom belongs everything that is good. (Admonition 7)
So then, Franciscans are supposed be, if we are to read Francis’ words at face value, people who are enamoured of the Scriptures alone, shunning any other kind of learning. Sola Scriptura should be the anthem of these warriors of the Word as they refute the wisdom of their age and proof-text their way to vanquishing those who are hiding in the ivory towers of academia;
‘Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.’
Colossians 2:8 (KJV)
Would that things were so simple….
Very soon after the founding of the Franciscan movement great scholars, philosophers, artists, and leaders of people joined their ranks.
Here are a few Franciscans from the history books:
Christopher Columbus, Danté, William of Ockham, Anthony of Padua, Elizabeth of Thuringia, Louis IX of France, Duns Scotus, the Curé D’Ars, Maximillian Kolbe, Thomas More, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Padré Pio, Agostino Gemelli.
And there are many others active in all branches of study both sacred and secular. In particular there is a small University town populated by dreaming spires on the banks of the River Isis which became, and remains, a centre of worldwide learning when Francis himself sent them some of his ‘grey friars’.
I have been part of communities who insist that the answer to every situation life throws at them is found in the pages of the Bible and try to understand this call to ‘faithfulness’ to the Word as their guide for life. But as someone who has as many qualifications in Science as in Theology I do realise that the whole ‘Word’ of God is not restricted to the ‘words’ found in the 66 books of the Bible. God did not stop speaking to His creation when the Canon of Scripture was closed. Franciscans have realised this down the centuries reminding us that Creation is the first ‘Bible’ through which God show’s forth love. We belong to a living community of faith not a museum of history.
The Christian witness is not just about Scripture nor is it only about chasing the ‘ology of the proud grandmother in the old British Telecom TV advert. We are not to be blinkered in our view of the world – but nor are we to be submerged and overwhelmed by the world around us. If Christians do not involve themselves in the Academy and other secular disciplines how can we, how dare we even, speak to the wider world?
Too often the church’s public voice sounds like Kenneth William’s ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’. Telling the world that it is wrong yet providing no answers to the challenges of life save for recycled views on creation, conservative views about the edges of life, and declarations as to how God has chosen to love one group of people more than another.
Karl Bath recalled that he used to advise young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both.’ We must have a foot in both worlds. If we do not read and study the secular as well as the sacred the message of the Gospel, instead of spreading throughout the world, becomes the ingrown toenail of the Body of Christ.
This is not some kind of ‘selling out’ to the world but instead taking the world as seriously as our Lord did when he stretched out his arms to embrace all creation from the cross – not simply the parts which were deemed to be ‘holy’.
We cannot do either sacred or secular study in our pilgrimage – we must have aspects of both in our life. After all who else will speak up for the poor, the oppressed, and a pillaged creation if Christians do not? Remembering that Barth also told his neophyte pastors to ‘interpret newspapers from your Bible.’ Sacred and secular study, of course, but ensure that it is the sacred that sets the agenda.
May we explore together the territory of knowledge;
May we learn together the mysteries of truth;
May we share together the experience of beauty;
May we release in each other the spark of creativity;
May we always remember that you, the author of all knowledge,
yourself Goodness, Truth and Beauty, delight to share all experience with us.
(Kathleen A. Goodacre)
Decide to undertake a secular course of study for God’s glory
Take the daily news with you into your daily prayers.
Go through the ‘To Read or Not to Read’ checklist at the bottom of this page to ensure that you have a breadth of reading
99 Words to Breathe:
‘To see a world in a grain of sand,
And to see heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.’
‘However much you study, you cannot know without action. A donkey laden with books is neither an intellectual nor a wise man. Empty of essence, what learning has he, whether upon his back he carries books or firewood.’
(Sheikh Sa’adi of Shiraz)
The contribution of William Dalrymple – travel writer and historian
To Read or Not to Read
A list of literary genre by which to measure the breadth of your reading
(Tick off each category you have read in any of these areas in the last five years)
Conflict, Science Fiction
Children’s literature – Madeleine L’Engle, Roald Dahl
Classics of Literature: (think Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen)
Travel, Biography, History, Politics,
Ecology, Nature, Poetry, Psychology,
Sociology, Science, Theology,
Spirituality,Body, Mind and Spirit
Add your own categories to this list….
‘The Principles’ are from the Rule of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis – this version amended for corporate reading by Andrew Dotchin
‘The Words of Francis’ are from ‘Through the Year with Francis of Assisi’ selected and translated by Murray Bodo – copyright © Collins Fount 1988
Prayers are from ‘The Book of a Thousand Prayers’ compiled by Angela Ashwin – copyright © Zondervan 1996
‘You have breath for no more than 99 Words. What would they be?’ were collected by Liz Gray – copyright © DLT 2011
These Reflections, ‘Walking in the Footsteps of Christ’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged