Sacred Exchange Between Saint Francis and Lady Poverty
THE SACRED EXCHANGE BETWEEN SAINT FRANCIS AND LADY POVERTY INTRODUCTION The Franciscan Order has been saddled with the controversy on the issue of the observance of poverty.During the lifetime of Saint Francis of Assisi, there were already factions in the Order; the faction that were in favour of living the Franciscan charism in a new dimension are called the lenient and the wise, and those who are in favour of keeping to the original way of living the Franciscan Charism, are often called the companions; “we who were with him”.
After the death of Francis, the controversy became more intense between the Friars of the Community, who sought to live the Rule and poverty of the Franciscan life in towns and cities with the inspiration of the founder, and the spirituals that sought to live the literal observance of Rule with a more austere adherence.This controversy on the issue of the observance of poverty prompted so many friars from both factions to publish books in defense of the observance of poverty.
Examples of books published include: Sacred Exchange between St Francis of Assisi and Lady Poverty by an unknown author, The Legend of the Three Companions by Br.
Leo, Br. Rufino and Br. Angelo, The Tree of the Crucified Life of Jesus Christ by Ubertino Da Casale, The Tribulations of the Order of Lesser Ones by Angelo Clarino, the Little flowers of St Francis etc. In this essay, I will be explaining in details the information that the author is trying to pass across from some of the subthemes of the book entitled, “The Sacred Exchange between St Francis of Assisi and Lady Poverty”, that is specifically written in defense of the literal observance of poverty, indicating where the author is writing from, the year of composition and the aim of the author and the society of his time.
The Sacred Exchange in other words, called the holy commerce between St Francis and Lady Poverty was written or composed between 1237 and 1239, few years after the death of St Francis of Assisi. It was written this time because there were already lapses in the observance of poverty just few years after the death of the founder. Also during these years, Pope Gregory IX, a close friend of Francis and the first Cardinal protector of the Order, issued a papal decree entitled “Quo elongati” addressed to the Friars egarding the observance of the Rule and Testament of Saint Francis. Furthermore, Br. Elias was elected as the Minister General of the Order and a massive Church was being built in honour of St Francis in the city of Assisi. All these development encourage the relaxation of the literal observance of poverty, thus creating more division within the Order. Consequently, this book was composed with rich allegory flavoured with so many scriptural references to defend, encourage and to remind the friars of the importance of the literal observance of poverty in the Order.
AUTHOR Up to this day, the author of this book is still unknown, but there are suggestions that the author could be St Anthony of Padua, Blessed John of Parma or Caesar of Speyer, because there are similarities in their writing style with that of Sacred Exchange. It is certain that this was composed by a lenient Franciscan Friar who is well versed and acquainted with what was going on in the Order at that time.
His talented gift surfaced in the way he personified Poverty as a Lady, because the word “lady” means a young admirable and respectful woman that knows her worth and does not seek after men; rather men always seek after her and she responds with love and kindness to the true man who seeks her. EXPLANATIONS ON THE SUB-THEMES BLESSED FRANCIS ASKS ABOUT POVERTY Here, the author presents the Lady poverty as a fine, beautiful maiden whom Francis is eagerly seeking with great enthusiasm and caution. In his quest to finding her, he came across some people on the streets of the towns and cities and enquired of the whereabouts of Lady Poverty.
The author in this section, tried to portray the people living in the cities as those friars who were living in the cities and thus, because they live in the cities, they could not understand what Francis is saying. According to the author, the friars that live in the towns and cities cannot observe the literal observance of poverty, because they are living in the worldly part of the world and so it will be difficult for them to live out the literal observance of poverty. That is why they could not understand what Francis was enquiring from them and they told Francis to speak in their own words or what Francis is saying is foreign to them. The people in the towns and cities are more prone to worldly demands and activities to the extent that poverty is seen as a bad and accursed thing not to be admired or observed. I will go to the best and the wise: According to the author, Francis thought that if he went to the wise and the lenient, they would help him find Lady Poverty, but as soon as he got to the wise and enquired, they rebuked him that he should not come to them regarding anything dealing with poverty; that they are happy with their merriments and extravagance.
Here the author tried to portray the friars living in the cities and those engaged in studies as the lenient and the wise that Francis met. That is why the author, in his defense of the companions and their idea of the literal observance poverty, put these statement in the mouth of Francis that he marveled and bless God for hiding these things to the lenient and the wise (that is the friars in the cities), and revealing them to the little ones (that is Friars in the hermitages) that are faithful to the observance of poverty.
After he left the city, he quickly came to a certain field from afar, he saw two old men wasted away from great sorrow: Here Francis left the city where the worldly, lenient and wise are (Friars in cities) and went to certain field and met with two old men clad in sorrow (Friars in hermitages). Here the author is conveying a message that those that seek to observe the literal observance of poverty are not found in cities but rather in rural, and remote places like the fields, or the hermitages.
In other words the author is saying that these are the Friars who are faithful to the observance of poverty, for they live far away from cities and their dwellings are at the hermitages which of course are found in the remote areas. Whom shall I respect except the one who is poor and contrite in spirit and the one who trembles at my words: Here the author is conveying a message that the literal observance of poverty is more valuable than obedience to the authorities, for the Rule is the Gospel and the Gospel is Christ Jesus who is God, the highest authority.
We brought nothing into this world the other said and without doubt we take nothing out of it, but having food and whatever covers us, we are content with these: The author is saying that a true Friar that observe poverty will be content with the basic things of life which are food and whatever covers them; this is in total contrast to those friars in towns and cities seeking for self-sufficiency and knowledge. This also shows how profound and wise the friars in the hermitages are in their serious observance of poverty. (Sacred Exchange, p. 530, n. 6 & 8) HE ASKS TO BE SHOWN WHERE POVERTY LIVES
Francis asks the two old men; tell me I beg you, where does Lady Poverty dwell? Where does she eat? Where does she rest at noon? For I languish in love of her: Comparing the manner in which Francis asked the two old Men (“I beg you”), and the manner he asked the lenient and those on the streets of towns and cities, you will notice that the author deliberately put the statement (“I beg you”), to point out the fact that Francis saw the old men as one of “the little ones”, to whom God has revealed the mysteries of the kingdom of God and, because of this, they could give him clue as to how to find Lady Poverty.
Furthermore, the author deliberately put the three questions, which in Hebrew numbering system, three things, symbolizes substantial and serious. That means Francis’ questions are substantial and of serious matter because he is really serious to meet Lady Poverty. Francis’ enthusiasm, restlessness, undying desire and love for Lady Poverty, shows that poverty is indeed worthwhile to be observed literally and not to be abandoned. Good Brother: The old men called Francis “good brother” because they also see Francis as a likeminded person, that is they and Francis are seeking to observe poverty.
Furthermore, it is conveying a message that those that observe poverty without gloss, are the good brothers, that is, the faithful lesser brothers. We have sat here for a time and for times and half a time: Here the author is trying to portray the fact that these old Men have made the field (that is, the deserted place) as their new abode where they are living. They fled the cities to the remote place to faithfully and properly observe lady poverty. They told Francis that many search for her and when they find her, they accompanied her for a while, but they will leave her alone by herself.
The author is conveying a message that at the beginning, the virtue of poverty is longed for and faithfully observed by people, and religious in particular, but after a while they can become lukewarm in the observance of poverty due to the allurement of the worldly possessions and then gradually abandoning. The children of my mother have fought against me: Meaning that those that sought to have and to observe her (i. e. Lady Poverty) after a while, have abandoned her, she cried out.
But the old Men will say to Lady Poverty that the upright love her; meaning that only the upright ones that are determine to live spiritually and renounce the world and his allurements, by living in the deserted places like the hermitage are the ones that truly love her. In paragraph ten, the author tried to defend the fact that poverty is the highest form of all virtue and that the mandates or commands to observe this virtue comes from God and should be observed with the highest reverence before any other.
It is for this reason that the author wrote: she is dwelling in the sacred mountains because God loved her above all the tabernacles of Jacob (i. e. , poverty is place higher than other virtues just as Joseph son of Jacob is exulted above his brothers). Since poverty is the highest virtue, only the humble, not even the giants and the eagles (pride of strength and knowledge), can touch the footprints and shoulder.
Again this says that no amount of worldly knowledge and possessions can take one to attain the highest virtue of poverty and the rewards of the faithful observance of poverty are only for the religious who perseveres to the end. Furthermore, Lady Poverty is hidden from the eyes of the self sufficient, worldly comforted, lenient and wise religious friars, because they fly so swiftly in worldly knowledge and wisdom that like the birds of the sky that fly so high they are proud.
Paragraph eleven contains the conditions for those who wish to climb high to reach the place where Lady Poverty dwells. The author wrote that the old men said to Francis to give up all possessions, like books, knowledge, fine clothes etc. before he can climb the mountain successfully to reach and attain the highest virtue of poverty. The author is telling the friars to do away with worldly affairs like possessions, books, knowledge, for such things are obstacles that keep them from observing poverty.
The author went on to say that poverty is kind and will be seen and found by those who seek her with sincerity and love. Finally the author is saying to the friars that if they truly love to observe poverty, they will be willing to give up all their worldly possessions for her. To think about her brother, is perfect understanding, and whoever keeps vigil for her will easily be secured: From this statement, the author is telling the friars that observing poverty is the way to perfect knowledge and security.
In other words the author is saying to the friars that they should seek first the kingdom of God which is hidden in the observance of poverty; then all other things like knowledge, goods, securities etc, will be given them, re-echoing the statement of Christ in the Gospel. Take faithful companions with you so that during the mountain ascent, you will have their advice and be strengthen by their help: Here it is obvious that there are already factions in the Order which are often called the Companions who are different from the wise and lenient.
It also shows that Francis felt at home with the Companions because he saw in them genuine zeal of the observance of the Rule and poverty and so he entrusted his care to these Companions and also sought advice from them alone. The author is saying that those that seek advice to live the Minorite life more perfectly should seek the counsels of the faithful friars because they observe the Rule and poverty as Francis did. (Sacred Exchange, pp. 531-532, n. 9, 10, & 11) BLESSED FRANCIS ENCOURAGES HIS BROTHERS
Here we are told that Francis received the advice and counsel of the old men in a deserted place (hermitage), unlike his rejection of the counsel of the wise and lenient and those he met on the streets of the towns and cities. Also, in paragraph 12, the author reemphasizes Francis’ choice of the faithful companions. The aim of this emphasis is to pass a message that only those friars who are faithful to the literal observance of poverty are truly faithful and they are the friars that Francis extols in this section.
Furthermore, the idea of the author to use the words “old men” (not “young men”) in the field and the people in the town and city, is a deliberate and selective statement used specifically to convey a message that the old men stand for the faithful members of the Order that still keep to the literal observance of poverty, while the people in the cities and towns are the majority of the members of the Order who are unfaithful because they do not observe poverty literally due to the allurements of the world.
From the statement, come let us climb the mountain of the Lord and the dwelling of Lady Poverty, that she may teach us her ways and we might walk in her paths: The author is saying that Francis sees poverty as the only way through which all holiness and knowledge are achieved, thus telling the friars to see the observance of poverty as their priority and that they should give their all to knowing how to attain this highest virtue.
The author, in order to properly defend his notion that only the “few” that live in hermitages can observe the literal observance of poverty faithfully, puts this question on the lips of the companions: who can climb this mountain and who can reach its summits? The author indicates that Francis answers the question (by putting the answers on the lips of Francis) by saying that the road is difficult and the gate is narrow, only the few can find it, again emphasizing that the few who keep the observance of poverty in fields and hermitages (not the majority in the convents of the cities) are the ones who can attain its summits.
Furthermore, in order to defend those friars who are keen on observing the Rule and poverty of the Order literally, who are in obedience to Christ (author’s defense of the “obedience” of the hermitage friars as opposed to the friars of the Community who are keen on obedience to the Church), the author wrote that the friars in hermitage are in obedience to Christ because if they are observing the Rule and poverty which is the Gospel they are, therefore, obeying Christ who is the Gospel and God himself the highest supreme being to be obeyed before any other authority. Authority here means the Church or the minister general of the Order). The author in his further defense said that Francis said to the Friars: The Spirit is before your face, Christ the Lord, who draws you to the heights of the mountain in bonds of love. Finally in this section, the author wrote: After he said these things, they all began to follow the holy Francis: Here the author is saying that the faithful friars will always see Christ in Francis, because he is holy and, being a perfect imitator of Christ, (alter Christus) the friars should keep to his teachings and ideals, thus making them holy as well. Sacred Exchange, pp. 532-533, n. 12 & 13) POVERTY MARVELS AT THE EASE OF THEIR ASCENT As the theme of this section is titled, the author tries to shed more light on the importance of detachment as the sole criterion to attain the highest virtue of all virtues: Lady Poverty. To defend this notion he wrote: She (Lady Poverty) was greatly astonished at seeing these men climbing so ably, almost flying. Also, the author wrote that Lady Poverty was astonished at their pace.
In addition, to point out the zeal of the faithful friars towards attaining the virtue most dear to them, Lady Poverty exclaimed: who are these men, she asked, who fly like clouds and like doves to their windows? To express the delight and joy of Lady Poverty at the zeal, detachment, pace and uniqueness of these faithful friars, the author wrote: She (Lady Poverty) said; it has been a long time since I have seen such people or gazed upon those so unencumbered, all their burden set aside (i. e. Lady Poverty admiring their detachment).
Furthermore, to prove that many faithful have been led astray by distractions of the abyss (i. e. worldly affairs) by seeking worldly knowledge, merriments, living luxuriously, thereby making them to forget and then finally abandon the observance of Lady Poverty, the author wrote: Therefore I (Lady Poverty) will speak to them (the truly faithful friars) about what engages my heart so that, when they are staring down the abyss (distractions or worldly allurements) they do not like the others (i. e. the derailed friars) have second thoughts about such a climb.
The author also wrote that Lady Poverty said: There will be a reward for me before my heavenly Father if I give them saving advice. This statement of Lady Poverty re-emphasizes the fact that poverty is from God and since it is God’s plan that we should observe it, then that mandate must be obeyed else we are going contrary to his commandments since He is the almighty to whom all must obey before any human or religious authorities. In paragraph fifteen, and elsewhere in this book, the author always describes Lady Poverty as being naked.
For instance, he wrote in this section: And so Lady Poverty resting on a throne in her nakedness. By this statement, the author tries to convey a message that Lady Poverty can only be clothed with our willingness to embrace and to observe her with faithfulness and detachment. But when those that are faithful were derailed and misguided by the allurements of the world, they abandoned the observance of poverty, thus making her naked. And behold a voice was heard: fear not daughter of Zion, because these men are the seed whom the Lord has blessed in unfeigned love.
The author, through this statement, is trying to present the faithful friars to be like Christ at his baptism at River Jordan, when a voice is heard from the cloud saying behold this is my beloved son in whom am well pleased listen to him. Here the author is saying that God is pleased with their literal observance of the poverty and that they should not lose hope or despair, rather they should be faithful to the end. Welcome them with blessings and sweetness. “Tell me brothers”: Here the author is saying that Lady Poverty will always be ready to lavish her blessings and rewards on those (i. . the faithful brothers) who keep to the observance of poverty thus opening more doors to God’s blessings and divine providence. Are you perhaps, looking for me whom as you can see I am poor little one tossed about by storms and without consolation? Here the author tries to present the attitude and approaches that the friars had towards Lady Poverty and how they abandoned the observance of poverty. (Sacred Exchange, pp. 533-534, n. 14, & 15) BLESSED FRANCIS PRAISES POVERTY In paragraph sixteen, we see Lady Poverty being praised, acknowledged and honoured by the brothers.
They begged poverty to be their queen for they have seen above all from their experience that she is from the most high God and that it is through her (poverty) that Christ came to this world and undertook all aspects of his mission. The brothers also acknowledged that since the Most High used her (poverty) to accomplish his mission on earth, so they begged her to accept them, so that through her, they will also overcome the world and its allurements. They also see poverty as the key or gate to all other virtues, once again reaffirming poverty’s uniqueness and her esteemed position where God has placed her.
The brothers knew that unless they are accepted by Lady Poverty, the queen of all virtues, they will be lost. In summary, the brothers see poverty as the only medium which Christ used to come to this world, live among us, eat with us, announce penance and the Kingdom, be scourged, crucified and die on the Cross to redeem us. Therefore, it is inevitable that Man can conquer the world and its allurements only through embrace of the same virtue. In paragraph seventeen, the author, tries to present poverty as being preferred and cherished by Christ to even the host of angels and other principalities and powers of Heaven.
And it is evident in his incarnation when he left his royalty and pitched his tent among us to embrace poverty. This is also proof of the highest dignity that she (i. e. poverty) has in the eyes of Christ. But it is often hard for man to see it that way due to his blindness and ignorance caused by worldly affairs, thus abandoning the greatest treasure and going after worthless and vain things that cannot lead him or her to eternal home but only to destruction. Furthermore, the author wrote that Francis, after his reflective praises of Lady Poverty, begged her to have pity on them and to accept them, for it is only those that are ignorant (i. . those blinded by worldly affairs) that will not be longing to have her (i. e. poverty) whom the Most High God cherished and honoured before everything else. Finally, to show the zeal of Francis and his faithful companions the author wrote that: They begged Lady Poverty to consider them for the sake of Christ with whom she abides and without whom no one will be saved. Here the author is saying that the virtue of poverty is from God, and he established that we observe it and thus we called to obey God before any authority (here, the author is defending poverty against the Church’s notion of the observance of poverty). Sacred Exchange, pp. 534-535, n. 16, 17) DIGNITY OF POVERTY AND HER RESPONSE The author tries to present the important role that the virtue of poverty played in the coming of Christ into this world. First, to prove the need and importance of the observance of poverty, the author narrated how God used poverty to prepare the Blessed Mother, a poor and humble lady, and made her womb to be the first dwelling place of our Lord Jesus Christ. Also when it was time to be born, he preferred to be born in a poor place, a manger where animals are kept.
Again the first people that received the news of the birth of Christ are the poor shepherds, he had nowhere to lay his head (i. e. from the scriptures: foxes have holes but the son of man has no place to lay his head). The creator of the creatures has no place as his own here, showing his special love and bond for lady poverty. In paragraph twenty-one, even when Christ is being mocked, spat on, betrayed by his very dear apostles, insulted, slapped, the only consolation he got is from Lady Poverty because she is always faithful.
The author is encouraging the friars not to forget this virtue of all virtues. Here in paragraph twenty-three, the author tries to show that Lady Poverty will always respond with joy and delight towards those that are zealous in her observance. She (poverty) always sees such people as her own. Little wonders why the author put the phrase: “Brothers and very dear friends” here to show the level or degree of love she has towards those that seek her genuinely. (Sacred Exchange, pp. 535-537, n. 19, 21 & 23)
A RECOLLECTION OF POVERTY IN PARADISE In this section, we see the author, in his gifted ability to perfectly connect words and scriptural scenarios together, liken the joy that Adam and Eve experienced in paradise and the loss of that joy as a result of their unfaithfulness and disobedience with the peace and serene experiences that the some friars had when they were faithful to the observance of poverty and the woes and flaws that others experienced because of their rejection of the literal observance of poverty.
In a nutshell, the author is conveying a message, that just as man lost paradise by the cunning of the serpent, which consequently led to disobedience, so the friars will lose their holiness and spiritual esteem by the allurements of worldly possessions (i. e. books, fine clothes comfortable houses and living in towns and cities) leading to their rejection of poverty.
Furthermore, just as man tried to give excuses for his deeds instead of asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness and thus incurred His wrath, so it would be for the friars, if they continue to defend their reasons for trying to mitigate the literal observance of poverty. Finally in this section, the author is encouraging the friars to come back to the primitive observance of poverty and if they do come back to it, God will replenish them with all the graces they have lost and thus enjoy God’s divine providence which the world cannot give.
He tried to liken the glory and honour that the friars would experience again, with the redemptive or salvific victory that Christ won for us when he reconciled mankind to God once again by his blood. (Sacred Exchange, pp. 537-539, n. 25-30. ) THE COVENANT OF CHRIST In this section, we can see the overall point of the author and his reason for agitating for the friars’ return to the literal observance of poverty. He said that Lady Poverty is a covenant or testament which Christ specifically left to his disciples and thus the friars.
The author is encouraging the friars to trust in divine providence and that they should not worry about what to wear, what to eat etc. , that all these will be provided for only if they observe poverty. (Sacred Exchange, p. 539, n. 31) THE APOSTLES Here the author is saying that even the apostles observe the virtue of poverty both in their words and actions and, thereby won so many souls for Christ. They never said anything of their own word, but what Christ asked them to say.
They contributed according to their ability and shared according to needs of the community entrusted to them. The writer said it is because of the great impact of the lifestyle of early Christian community of which the apostles were the guide. (Sacred Exchange, pp. 539-540, n. 32) THE PEACE CONTRARY TO POVERTY The author tries to tell the friars that not all that glitters is gold; that at times when all is going well, they should be very cautious because there can be evil disguised as good just to derail them from the observance of poverty.
He likened the movement of the Order’s clericalization and into cities (urbanization), which was taking the Order away from the original observance of poverty, with the peace pact and legitimization of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, which according to the author did more harm than good, because from the time of the pact zeal for the Lord and His kingdom, expressed in persecution and martyrdom, had waned. (Sacred Exchange, pp. 541-532, n. 34-35) THE PRAISE OF THE GOOD POOR The author in this section tried to be more specific about the two factions already emerging in the Franciscan Order. i. e. , the community and the companions) Observing paragraph thirty-seven: After a while, some began to breathe and willingly to walk the right path which for some time they had walked out of necessity. From the statement the author is saying that some of the friars (i. e. the companions) realize that things were not going well with the Order, for many have all failed to observe poverty, so they struggled hard to restore a more pristine observance of poverty; often, however, they were opposed by the other friars (i. . the community). (Sacred Exchange, p. 542, n. 37) The author further called the companions men of virtue pleasing and blameless before God which, in other words, means that the friars should not be dismayed by the antagonism and criticism they receive from the community; rather they should be happy for they are pleasing and acceptable to God and, thus, he listed a great litany of virtues, attributing them solely to the companions (Sacred Exchange, p. 542, n. 38) POVERTY WARNS FALSE RELIGIOUS
In encouraging the faithful friars, (i. e. , the companions) Lady Poverty urged them to be steadfast and hold their heads high; they should be persistent in their pursuit of her embrace and that they should be conscious of the dangers of worldly enticements so that they will not be derailed like the others; because if they are not careful, their fate would be worse. For under the guise of piety, they withdraw from that which was given them by a holy commandment. (Sacred Exchange, p. 543, n. 40) POVERTY SPEAKS ABOUT GOOD RELIGOUS
In this section, the author tries to convey a message that those friars who are faithful to the observance of poverty are not easily entangled or seduced by worldly desires, for they are always praying with all humility and joy. Also, the author calls them Israel, which means that they are the chosen people of God and they are always blessed and favoured by Him since He had made covenant with them and for this reason they will be honour by many people; furthermore, they will be a light for all to see. (Sacred Exchange, p. 44, n. 42) POVERTY WARNS THEM TO RETURN In this section, the author is trying to persuade the friars to return to the original charism of the observance of Poverty. He wrote: Return you children who are withdrawing and I will heal your aversion. The author here used some scriptural words that the prophets in the Old Testament used in order to call the Israelites to repentance lest they perish. He asked them to listen to their heart and that they should not be stubborn else they might lose their souls to worldly possessions.
Furthermore, he tries to explain how miserable the lives of those friars will be who refuse to repent and that the punishment that awaits those that disobeyed Christ’s commands will be more severe than the punishment that the Israelites got simply because they violate the rule that Moses gave them, for the Son of Man is greater than Moses and all the prophets and saints. (Sacred Exchange, p. 548, n. 51) THE LORD SPEAKS TO LADY POVERTY With these words: They have departed and gone away for they have not rejected you (Lady Poverty) but me (i. . , God), the author is saying that the observance of poverty means the acceptance and obedience of God’s commands which supersedes all other authority; therefore, whoever refuse to observe poverty is rejecting God. (Sacred Exchange, p. 548, n. 52) LADY POVERTY ADMONISHES BLESSED FRANCIS ABOUT PROGRESS AND REGRESSION IN RELIGIOUS LIFE. The author is saying to the friars not to look back for those that have put their hands on the plough and look back are not fit for the kingdom of God.
He reminded the friars to always remember what happened to Lot’s wife whenever they are being tempted by the snare of evil thoughts to go against the literal observance of poverty. Furthermore, he urged those who are faithful to the observance of poverty to keep up their heroic work and that they are seen as the trusted friends of God; therefore, they are not far from the kingdom of heaven because they have decided to take the path of ascent where only few can go. Finally, he said to the friars to see Christ as the only model and guide and that they should be careful not to fall into the trap of seeking vain worldly knowledge, wealth etc. hich leads to greed, pride and sloth, for if they happen to fall to this snares, it will be very difficult to recover from such a pit because it is not easy to come back to perfectly observe poverty due to the snares of the worldly riches. (Sacred Exchange, pp. 549-550, n. 53-55) BLESSED FRANCIS TOGHETHER WITH HIS BROTHERS RESPOND TO LADY POVERTY Here the author tries to prove that Francis and his brothers’ love and desire to observe poverty as they consecrate themselves totally to the observance of poverty.
Francis and his brothers blest poverty, because through her many people are blest and have won God’s favours. They said that although they were hearing bad rumors about her, they have come to see and experience what she (Lady Poverty) perfectly means and is and they begged her not to give them little of herself for they are ready to observe her more fervently like never before and always be her spouse. (Sacred Exchange, p. 550, n. 56-58) THE CONSENT OF POVERTY The author said that poverty consented to the pleas of Francis and his brothers as she embraced them with all her graces and blessings.
The author said that Francis was so happy for the love of Lady Poverty that he continued to praise God with all his strength, for she has finally accepted them to be her spouse. (Sacred Exchange, p. 551, n. 58) THE BANQUET OF POVERTY WITH THE BROTHERS Here in this section, the author compare the dwellings of the friars in the city (i. e. the community friars) with their luxurious houses and settings, kitchen, assorted meals, rooms, condiments and dining room, etc. ith the poor dwellings of the companions with stones for their pillows, bread and water as their assorted food, cracked bowls as their water bowl, their teeth as their knife, their habit as their hand towel and the whole world as their enclosure, thus showing that the friars in hermitages are the faithful ones with the observance of poverty and that’s why she is so happy with them always. (Sacred Exchange, pp. 551-552, n. 59-63) LADY POVERTY BLESSES THE BROTHERS AND URGES THEM TO PERSEVERE WITH THE GRACE THEY HAVE RECEIVED Therefore, I (i. . , Lady Poverty) beg you brothers(the faithful ones who keep to the literal observance of poverty), through the mercy of God which has made you so poor, do that for which you have come, that for which you have risen up from the waters of Babylon: The author is urging the friars to continue in their observance of poverty because God’s blessings and grace is already bestowed upon them and, for through them, so many souls will be won; their prayers always rise like incense of sweet smell before the Trinity.
Finally, the author is saying that the faithful friars will forever be honoured, for they have made the angels in heaven rejoice continually, the whole company of heaven, saints, martyrs, virgins, blessed etc, are all celebrating for their devotedness and love; their exemplary lives, though full of struggle, are not in vain. (Sacred Exchange, pp. 553-554, n. 64-69) CONCLUSION Following our analysis of the Sacred Exchange it is apparent that the author is full of bias and prejudice towards the friars that sought to live the observance of poverty in a modified way in towns and cities.
Nevertheless, one may ask if someone wants to take what is cherished and valued away from another, would that one be happy? Would he/she not try everything in his/her power to protect it from being taken away? The writer of this precious document, and those who shared his perspective on events of the early brotherhood, was not writing to cause division in the Order, rather, it would seem that he was defending something so precious and necessary to the charism of the Order. The writer was attempting to safeguard something he considered a fundamental value; he was writing for what he perceived to be a just cause.
Though Franciscans of today know they cannot observe poverty in the same way the early friars due to the absolutely clear differences in the societal and cultural settings of their time and ours, still there many of things we can learn from their zeal, their spirituality and their faithfulness in keeping alive this aspect of our Franciscan heritage which we have inherited and must pass on to generations of friars yet to come. Finally, let us cherish all their efforts by appreciating their writings and studying them well, for if we study them, we learn from their spirituality, their intellectuality, and also from their mistakes.
Then we can apply them to our age. For in their writings, we could find answers to some of the problems that we face today, and in doing so, we are keeping the eight hundred years old Franciscan tradition alive for the friar yet to be born. BIBLIOGRAPHY Francis of Assisi, “Sacred Exchange between Saint Francis of Assisi and Lady Poverty” in Regis J. Armstrong Et al. Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, VOL. I: The Saint (London: New City Press, 1999), pp. 529-554.