Confraternity of Penitents: St. Francis' Rule of Penance for the Laity
"Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your holy and true command." ---------- Saint Francis' of Assisi's prayer before the San Damiano Crucifix
Letters of Saint Francis of Assisi to the Faithful
In the Name of the Lord!
On those who do penance
All who love (dilectio) the Lord "with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their virtue" (cf. Mk 12:30) and love their neighbors as (they do) themselves (cf. Mt 22:39), · and hold their bodies in hatred 30 together with (their) vices and sins, · and receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, · and produce fruits worthy of penance: · O how blessed and blest are those men and women, while they do such things and persevere in them, · since "upon" them "rests the Spirit of the Lord" (Is. 11:2), and He will make His little dwelling "and mansion among" them (cf. Jn 14:23), 31 · and they are sons of (their) Heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are spouses, fathers and mothers of Our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50). ·
We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is joined with Our Lord Jesus Christ. 32 ·
We are His brothers, when we do "the Will of the Father who is in Heaven" (Mt 12:50). ·
Mothers, when we carry Him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor 6:20) by means of divine love (amor) and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to Him through holy work, which ought to shine upon others as an example (cf. Mt 5:16). ·
O how glorious it is, to have a Holy and Great Father in Heaven! · O how holy, consoling, 33 beautiful and admirable, to have such a Spouse! ·
O how holy and how beloved (dilectio), well pleasing, humble, peaceable, sweet, lovable (amor) and desirable above all things, to have such a Brother and such a Son: Our Lord Jesus Christ, · who laid down His life on behalf of His sheep (cf. Jn 10:15) and prayed to His Father saying: "Holy Father, guard them in Thy Name" (Jn 17:11), "whom Thou has given Me" in "the world; Thine they were and Thou has gave them to Me" (Jn 17:6). · And "the words which Thou has given Me, I have given to them, and they have accepted (these) and" have believed "truly, that I have come forth from Thee, and" they have known, "that Thou has sent Me" (Jn 17:8). · I pray on their behalf and "not on behalf of the world" (cf. Jn 17:9). · Bless and "sanctify" them (Jn 17:17) "and on their behalf I sanctify My very self" (Jn 17:19). · "Not on their behalf only do I pray, but on behalf of those who are going to believe in Me through" their "words" (cf. Jn 17:20), "so that all" may be sanctified "in one" (cf. Jn 17:23) even as We are" (Jn 17:11). · And I wish, Father, "that where I am, they also may be with Me, to see My splendor" 34 (Jn 17:24) "in Thy Kingdom" (Mt 20:21). Amen.
On those who do not do penance
However all those men and women, who are not in penance, · and do not receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, · and work vices and sins and who walk after wicked concupiscence and the wicked desires of their flesh, · and do not observe, what they have promised the Lord, 35 · and serve the world bodily by carnal desires and anxious concerns (sollicitudo) for the world (saeculum) and by the cares of this life: · (these) held back by the devil, whose sons they are and whose works they do (cf. Jn 8:41), 36 are blind, · because they do not see the True Light, Our Lord Jesus Christ. · They do not have spiritual wisdom, because they do not have the Son of God who is the True Wisdom of the Father, · of whom it is said: "Their wisdom is swallowed up" (Ps 106:27 - Rom. Ps.); and "Cursed are they who turn away from Thy mandates" (Ps 118:21). · They see and acknowledge, they know and work wicked things and they themselves knowingly loose their souls. ·
See, blind ones, deceived by your enemies: by the flesh, the world, and the devil; that it is sweet to the body to work sin and bitter to work to serve God; · because all vices and sins come forth and "proceed from the heart of man," just as the Lord says in the Gospel (cf. Mk 7:21). · And you shall have nothing in this age nor in the one to come. · And you think you will posses the vanities of this generation (saeculum) for a long time, but you have been deceived, since there shall come the day and hour, of which you do not think, know or pay attention; the body weakens, death approaches and thus one dies a bitter death. ·
And wherever, whenever, however a man dies in culpable sin, without penance and satisfaction, if he can make satisfaction and does not make satisfaction, the devil tears his soul from his body with such anguish and tribulation, that no one can know it, except him who experiences it. · And all the talents and power and "knowledge and wisdom" (2 Chron 1:12), which they thought they had, is borne away from them (cf. Lk 8:18; Mk 4:25). · And he bequeathed (these) to neighbors and friends and these bore off and divided his substance, 37 and said afterwards: "Cursed be his soul, since he could have given us more and acquired what he did not acquire." · Worms eat the body, and thus perished body and soul in this short age and they shall go into Hell, where they will be tortured without end.
All those to whom these letters will have come, we beg in the Charity which God is (cf. 1 Jn 4:16), that they receive kindly those abovesaid sweet-smelling words of Our Lord Jesus Christ with divine love. · And let those who do not know how to read, have them read often; · and let them keep (these letters) with them with holy work even until the end, 38 because they are "spirit and life" (Jn 6:64). · And he who will not have done this, will be bound to render "an account on the Day of Judgement" (cf. Mt 12:36) 39 "before the tribunal of" Our Lord Jesus "Christ" (cf. Rm 14:10).
A Letter to the faithful
Although very similar to the previous version, the incipits of the medieval manuscripts, as well as the text itself, identify this recension as an exhortation sent by St. Francis to all the Christian faithful. 40 This Letter was written sometime between 1216 and 1226 A.D.. 41
In the Name of the Lord, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
To all 42 Christians, religious, clerics and laymen, men and women, to all who dwell in the entire world, Friar Francis, their servant and subject, (offers) submission with reverence, true peace from Heaven and sincere charity in the Lord.
Since I am the servant of all, I am bound to serve all and administer the sweet-smelling words of my Lord. · Whence considering in mind, that since personally on account of the infirmity and debility of my body I cannot visit each of you, I have proposed by these present letters and announcements to repeat to you the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Word of the Father, and the words of the Holy Spirit, which "are spirit and life" (Jn 6:64).
This Word of the Father—so worthy, so holy and glorious—the Most High Father of Heaven has announced through Saint Gabriel, His angel, into the womb of the holy and glorious Virgin Mary, of whose womb He 43 received the true flesh of humanity and of our fragility. · Who, "although He was rich" (2 Cor 8:9) above all things, He willed in the world with the Most Blessed Virgin, His Mother, to chose poverty. · And near His passion He celebrated the Passover with His disciples and taking bread gave thanks and blest it and broke it saying: "Take and eat, this is My Body." (Mt 26:26) · "And taking the chalice" He said: "This is My Blood of the New Testament, which" on your behalf 44 and "on behalf of the many will be poured out in remission of sins." (Mt 26:27) · Then He prayed to the Father saying: "Father, if it can be done, let this chalice pass from Me." 45 · "And His sweat became as drops of blood flowing down upon the earth" (Lk 22:44). · Nevertheless, He placed His own will in the Will of the Father, saying: "Father, Thy Will be done" (Mt 26:42); "not as I will, but as Thou" (Mt 26:39). ·
Of whose Father such was the Will, that His Son, blest and glorious, whom He gave to us and who had been born on our behalf, offer His very self through His very own Blood as a Sacrifice and Victim upon the altar of the Cross, · not for His own sake, through whom all things were made (cf. Jn 1:3), but on behalf of our sins, · leaving us an example, so that we may follow His footsteps (cf. 1 Pet 2:21). · And He wants 46 all to be saved through Him and that we receive Him with a pure heart and our own chaste body. · But there are few, who want to receive Him and be saved through Him, though His "yoke is sweet" and His "burden light" (cf. Mt 11:30).
Those who do not want to taste how "sweet the Lord" is (cf. Ps 33:9) and (who) love (dilectio) "shadows more than the Light" (Jn 3:19) not wanting to fulfill the mandates of God, have been cursed; · of whom it is said through the prophet: "Cursed are they who turn away from Thy mandates." (Ps 118:21). · But, oh how blessed and blest are those who love God and do as the Lord Himself says in the Gospel: "Love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart" and "with thy whole mind" and "thy neighbor as thy very self" (Mt 22:37,39).
Let us therefore love God and adore Him with a pure heart and a pure mind, since He Himself, seeking (such) above all, has said: "True adorers will adore the Father in spirit and in truth." (Jn 4:23) · For "it is proper" that all, "who adore Him, adore" Him "in the spirit" of truth (cf. Jn 4:24). · And let us offer 47 Him praises and prayers "day and night" (Ps 31:4) by saying: "Our Father who art in Heaven" (Mt 6:9), since "it is proper that" we "always pray and not fail to do what we might" (Lk 18:1).
Since we ought to confess all our sins to a priest; let us also receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ from him. · He who does not eat His Flesh and does not drink His Blood (cf. Jn 6:55.57), "cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" (Jn 3:5). · Nevertheless let him eat and drink worthily, because he who receives "unworthily eats and drinks judgement for himself, not dejudicating the Body of the Lord" (1 Cor 11:29), that is, he does not discern it. · In addition let us produce "fruits worthy of penance" (Lk 3:8). · And let us love (our) neighbors as our very selves (cf. Mt 22:39). · And if one does not want to love (amor) them as his very self, at least he does not bring evils upon them, but does good (to them).
Moreover let those, who have received the power of judging others, exercise judgement with mercy, just as they themselves want to obtain mercy from the Lord. · "For" there shall be "judgment without mercy" for those "who" have shown "no mercy" (James 2:13). · And so let us have charity and humility; and let us give alms, because this washes souls 48 from the filth of their sins (cf. Tob 4:11; 12:9). · For men lose everything, which they abandon in this age; yet they carry with them the wages of charity and the alms, which they have given, because of which they will have from the Lord a reward and worthy recompense.
We also ought to fast and abstain from vices and sins (cf. Sir 3:32) and from a superfluity of food and drink and we must be Catholics. · We also ought to frequently visit churches 49 and venerate clerics and revere them, not so much for their (own) sake, if they be sinners, but on account of (their) office and administration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, which they sacrifice upon the altar and receive and administer to others. · And let us all know firmly, that no one can be saved, except through the words and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which the clerics speak, announce and minister. 50 · And they alone ought to minister and not others. 51 · Moreover the religious especially, who have renounced the world (saeculum), are bound to do more and greater things, but not to give up these (cf. Lk 11:42).
We ought to hold our bodies in hatred 52 together with (our) vices and sins, because the Lord says in the Gospel: All wicked things, vices and sins, "come forth from the heart." (Mt 15:18-19; Mk 7:23) · We ought to love (dilectio) our "enemies" and do good "to them, who" regard us with hatred (cf. Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27). · We ought to observe the precepts and counsels of Our Lord Jesus Christ. · We also ought to deny our very selves (cf. Mt 16:24) and place our bodies under the yoke of servitude 53 and holy obedience, just as each one has promised the Lord. · And let no man be bound out of obedience to obey anyone in that, where crime or sin is committed. 54
However to him whom obedience has been committed and "who" is held (to be) "greater, let him be as the lesser" (Lk 22:26) and the servant of the other brothers. 55 · And toward each of his brothers let him show and have mercy, as he would want done to himself, if he were in an exactly similar situation. · Nor from the crime of a brother is he to grow angry against a brother, but with all patience and humility let him kindly admonish and support him.
We ought not be wise and prudent according to the flesh, but rather we ought to be simple, humble and pure. · And let us hold our bodies in opprobrium and contempt, since through our own fault we are all wretched and putrid, fetid and worms, just as the Lord says through the prophet: "I am a worm and no man, the opprobrium of men and the abject of the people." (Ps 21:7) ·
We ought to never desire to be above others, but rather we ought to be slaves and subjects "to every human creature for God's sake" (1 Pt 2:13). ·
And all those men and women, while they do such things and persevere (in them) until the end, "may the Spirit of the Lord rest upon" them (Is 11:2) and make a little dwelling and mansion in them (cf. Jn 14:23). · And they shall be the sons of the Heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do. · And they are spouses, brothers and mothers of Our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50). · We are spouses, 56 when the faithful soul is joined by the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ. · For we are brothers, when we do the Will of His Father, who is in Heaven (cf. Mt 12:50); · mothers when we bear Him in our heart and body (1 Cor 6:20) by means of love (amor) and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to Him through holy work, which ought to shine upon others as an example (cf. Mt 5:16).
O how glorious and holy and great to have in Heaven a Father! · O how holy, consoling, 57 beautiful and admirable, to have (such) a Spouse! · O how holy and how beloved (dilectio), well pleasing, humble, peaceable, sweet and lovable (amor) and above all things desirable to have such a Brother and Son, who laid down His life on behalf of His sheep (cf. Jn 10:15) and besought 58 the Father on our behalf saying: "Holy Father, save those in Thy Name, whom Thou has given Me" (Jn 17:11). · Father, all (those), "whom Thou has given Me" in "the world, were Thine and Thou has given them to Me." (Jn 17:6) · And "the words, which Thou has given to Me, I have given to them; and they have accepted these and know truly, that I have gone forth from Thee and they have believed, that Thou has sent Me" (Jn 17:8); I beg on their behalf and "not on behalf of the world" (cf. Jn 17:9); Bless and "sanctify them" (Jn 17:17). · "And on their behalf I sanctify My very self, so that they may be sanctified in" (Jn 17:19) "one just as We" are (cf. Jn 17:6). · And I wish, Father, "that where" I am "they also may be with Me, to see My splendor" 59 (Jn 17:24) "in Thy Kingdom" (Mt 20:21).
Moreover, to Him who endured such great things on our behalf, conferred all good things and (who) will confer them in the future, let every creature, which is in Heaven, on earth, in the seas, and in the abyss render praise, glory, honor, and blessing to God (cf. Apoc 5:13), · since He Himself is our virtue and fortitude, who alone is good, alone the Most High, alone the Omnipotent, admirable, glorious and alone holy, worthy of praise and blest throughout the infinite ages of ages. Amen. 60
However all those, who are not in penance and do not receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, · and who work vices and sins, and who walk after wicked concupiscence and wicked desires, and do not observe, what they have promised, · and serve the world bodily by carnal desires, cares and anxious concerns (sollicitudo) for this world (saeculum) and by the cares of this life, · having been deceived by the devil, whose sons they are and whose works they do (cf. Jn 8:41), are blind, because they do not see the True Light, Our Lord Jesus Christ. · They do not have spiritual wisdom, because they do not have the Son of God in themselves, He who is the True Wisdom of the Father; of whom it is said: "Their wisdom has been swallowed up." (Ps 106:27) · They see, they acknowledge, they know and they do wicked things; and they knowingly loose (their) souls. ·
See, blind ones, deceived by our enemies, namely, by the flesh, by the world, and by the devil, that it is sweet to the body to work sin and bitter to serve God, because "all wicked things," vices and sins come forth and "proceed from the heart of men" (cf. Mk 7:21,23), just as the Lord says in the Gospel. · And you shall have nothing in this age nor in the one to come. · You think you will posses the vanities of this generation (saeculum) for a long time, but you have been deceived, since there shall come the day and hour, of which you do not think or know or pay attention.
The body weakens, death approaches, neighbors and friends come, saying: "Dispose of your things." · Behold his wife and his sons and neighbors and friends feign weeping. · And looking back he sees them weeping, (and) he is moved by a wicked emotion; 61 thinking within himself he says: "Behold my soul and body and all my things I place in your hands." · Truly, has that man been cursed, who confides and exposes 62 his soul and body and all his things to such hands; · whence the Lord (says) through the prophet: "Cursed (be) the man who confides in man." (Jer 17:5) ·
And immediately they make the priest come; the priest says to him: "Do you want to receive a penance because of all your sins?" 63 · He answers: "I do wish it." "Do you wish to make satisfaction because of (the sins you) committed and these things of which you have defrauded and deceived men, as you are able from your substance?" 64 · He answers: "No." And the priest says; "Why not?" · "Because I have disposed of everything into the hands of my neighbors and friends." · And he begins to loose speech and so that (man) dies a wretch.
But let all know, that wherever and however a man die in culpable sin without satisfaction and he can make satisfaction and he has not made satisfaction, the devil tears his soul from his body with so much anguish and tribulation, that no one can know how much, except him who experiences it. · And all the talents and power and knowledge, which he thought he had (cf. Lk 8:18), "is borne away from him" (Mk 4:25). · And he abandons neighbors and friends, and they bear off and divide his substance and say afterwards: "Cursed be his soul, since he could have given us more and acquired what he did not acquire." · Worms eat the body; and so perishes body and soul in that brief life-span (saeculum) and he shall go into Hell, where he will be tortured without end.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. · I, Friar Francis, your lesser servant, beg and entreat you earnestly in the Charity, which God is (cf. 1 Jn 4:16), and with the desire to kiss your feet, 65 that with humility and charity you ought to receive and put into practice and observe these words and the others of Our Lord Jesus Christ. · And all those men and women, who will kindly receive, understand and send copies of these to others, and if "they have persevered" in these "until the end" (Mt 24:13), may the Father and Son and Holy Spirit bless them. Amen.
(Printed with gratitude to the Franciscan Archives, on line)
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