The hagiographers* wrote biographies of Saint Francis, notably Thomas of Celano who wrote Life of Saint Francis, 1228-1229, and then a second life. Saint Bonaventure wrote The Life of St. Francis later. These are not historical biographies, and one may find much confusion if searching for information as in an historical biography.
The hagiographers of the Middle Ages had to conform to predetermined rules in which”he sought to present his subject as conforming to certain particularly prestigious models of holiness . . . . (quoting from Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint by Vauchez Andre, listed on Resources page)
In the early documents, The Legend of the Three Companions is often referred to as more precise and better informed than the others on the early life of Saint Francis. For a scholarly biography written recently, the book referred to above by Vauchez Andre is highly recommended and enlightening.
The early documents may be found in the four volume set Francis of Assisi, Early Documents, listed on Resources page.
(* From William Hugo, “Know Your Biases, Know My Biases,” “Hagiography,” pages 20-27. “Hippolyte Delehays defines hagiography as ‘writings inspired by devotion to the saints and intended to increase that devotion.’” He breaks down increase devotion to five elements: to edify, to verify saint’s sanctity, to increase devotion to saint, to move reader to moral change, and to please reader by description and style. Objective truth about historical fact was not a medieval value.)
Francis of Assisi did some amazing things during his life, but it wasn’t the extraordinary things that made him a saint and still revered today. Most of Francis’s life was lived simply and ordinarily. How he did those ordinary things, the embrace of a marginalized person outside the Assisi walls, the conversation with a leader of another faith, the nonviolent being-in-the-world, the love of all creation, the simplicity of his needs and desires—this is what made him a saint. The way we live our lives, striving to make our whole lives our prayer, is what will make us saints too. Our lives of Gospel living, our living the Franciscan tradition in the world, deeply in love with God, begins as so many amazing love stories do: with a first date.
—from Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis (2012). Author: Daniel P. Horan, OFM.
Francis’ agenda is so simple that it is often overlooked, even among his followers and admirers. Francis’ only desire was – as the Franciscan theologian Regis Armstrong, OFM Cap., often says and to which I completely concur – to live more fully his baptismal vocation of following the Gospel. . . . Francis’s entire motivation was to live radically, that is “return to the root” of the Gospel.
Source: Danel P. Horan, OFM, https://datinggod.org/2017/02/08/neither-a-lover-of-nature-nor-a-utopian/
Quotes from Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint by Vauchez Andre
“Peace, penance and mercy were to become the watchwords of Franciscan preaching and to inspire concrete action through which people could make amends for their faults.” page 24
“By emphasizing in his Testament that his encounter with the lepers had been at the origin of his process of conversion, Francis clearly indicates that it was neither his praying nor his early dreams that changed his life, but rather this particular event. His generous attitude toward the disadvantaged had not been the fruit of his religious evolution; on the contrary it had preceded his discovery of the Gospel and was the cause of that discovery. ” page 24
THE TESTAMENT OF ST. FRANCIS
This is how God inspired me, Brother Francis, to embark upon a life of penance. When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I had once become acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became a source of spiritual and physical consolation for me. After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.
And God inspired me with such faith in his churches that I used to pray with all simplicity, saying, “We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, here and in all your churches in the whole world, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
God inspired me, too, and still inspires me with such great faith in priests who live according to the laws of the holy Church of Rome, because of their dignity, that if they persecuted me, I should still be ready to turn to them for aid. And if I were as wise as Solomon and met the poorest priests of the world, I would still refuse to preach against their will in the parishes in which they live. I am determined to reverence, love and honour priests and all others as my superiors. I refuse to consider their sins, because I can see the Son of God in them and they are better than I. I do this because in this world I cannot see the most high Son of God with my own eyes, except for his most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others.
Above everything else, I want this most holy Sacrament to be honoured and venerated and reserved in places which are richly ornamented. Whenever I find his most holy name or writings containing his words in an improper place, I make a point of picking them up, and I ask that they be picked up and put aside in a suitable place. We should honour and venerate theologians, too, and the ministers of God’s word, because it is they who give us spirit and life.
When God gave me some friars, there was no one to tell me what I should do; but the Most High himself made it clear to me that I must live the life of the Gospel. I had this written down briefly and simply and his holiness the Pope confirmed it for me. Those who embraced this life gave everything they had to the poor. They were satisfied with one habit which was patched inside and outside, and a cord, and trousers. We refused to have anything more.
Those of us who were clerics said the Office like other clerics, while the lay brothers said the Our Father, and we were only too glad to find shelter in abandoned churches. We made no claim to learning and we were submissive to everyone. I worked with my own hands and I am still determined to work; and with all my heart I want all the other friars to be busy with some kind of work that can be carried on without scandal. Those who do not know how to work should learn, not because they want to get something for their efforts, but to give good example and to avoid idleness. When we receive no recompense for our work, we can turn to God’s table and beg alms from door to door. God revealed a form of greeting to me, telling me that we should say, “God give you peace”.
The friars must be very careful not to accept churches or poor dwellings for themselves, or anything else built for them, unless they are in harmony with the poverty which we have promised in the Rule; and they should occupy these places only as strangers and pilgrims.
In virtue of obedience, I strictly forbid the friars, wherever they may be, to petition the Roman Curia, either personally or through an intermediary , for a papal brief, whether it concerns a church or any other place, or even in order to preach, or because they are being persecuted. If they are not welcome somewhere, they should flee to another country where they can lead a life of penance, with God’s blessing.
I am determined to obey the Minister General of the Order and the guardian whom he sees fit to give me. I want to be a captive in his hands so that I cannot travel about or do anything against his command or desire, because he is my superior. Although I am ill and not much use, I always want to have a cleric with me who will say the Office for me, as is prescribed in the Rule.
All the other friars, too, are bound to obey their guardians in the same way, and say the Office according to the Rule. If any of them refuse to say the Office according to the Rule and want to change it, or if they are not true to the Catholic faith, the other friars are bound in virtue of obedience to bring them before the custos nearest the place where they find them. The custos must keep any such friar as a prisoner day and night so that he cannot escape from his hands until he personally hands him over to his minister. The minister, then, is strictly bound by obedience to place him in the care of friars who will guard him day and night like a prisoner until they present him before his lordship the Bishop of Ostia, who is the superior, protector, and corrector of the whole Order.
The friars should not say, this is another Rule. For this is a remainder, admonition, exhortation, and my testament which I, Brother Francis, worthless as I am, leave to you, my brothers, that we may observe in a more Catholic way the Rule we have promised to God. The Minister General and all the other ministers and custodes are bound in virtue of obedience not to add anything to these words or subtract from them. They should always have this writing with them as well as the Rule and at the chapters they hold, when the Rule is read, they should read these words also.
In virtue of obedience, I strictly forbid any of my friars, clerics or lay brothers, to interpret the Rule or these words, saying, “This is what they mean”. God inspired me to write the Rule and these words plainly and simply, and so you too must understand them plainly and simply, and live by them, doing good to the last.
And may whoever observes all this be filled in heaven with the blessing of the most high Father, and on earth with that of his beloved Son, together with the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, and all the powers of heaven and all the saints. And I, Brother Francis, your poor worthless servant, add my share internally and externally to that most holy blessing. Amen.
Lifeline of St. Francis (click)
Introduction to Life of Saint Francis
“Sweet Francis of Assisi, would that he were here again!” Tennyson.
Saint Francis was born in 1182 in the Italian town of Assisi, 80 miles north of Rome. The story of his life is both fascinating and inspiring, a story that calls us to holiness and the gospel life. It is about a life that had a passion for the Gospel and Jesus Christ, so much so that he gave up his own self to become a “Mirror of Christ.” (continue reading on subpage “Introduction to Life of Saint Francis”)
OTHER INFORMATION – CLICK LINKS
“This document has its origins in the simple form of life which Francis brought to Pope Innocent III for his approval in 1209 or 1210. During the following years it developed in light of the experiences of the brothers, the teaching of the Church, especially the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council, and the teachings of Francis himself. The final stage of its composition occurred at the Chapter of 1221, the last Pentecost Chapter at which all the brothers gathered together. . . .”
With our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, with our whole strength and fortitude with our whole understanding with all our powers with every effort, every affection, every feeling, every desire and wish let us all love the Lord God Who has given and gives to each one of us our whole body, our whole soul and our whole life, Who has created, redeemed and will save us by His mercy alone, Who did and does everything good for us, miserable and wretched, rotten and foul, ungrateful and evil ones. Therefore, let us desire nothing else, let us want nothing else, let nothing else please us and cause us delight except our Creator, Redeemer and Savior, the only true God, Who is the fullness of good, all good, every good, the true and supreme good, Who alone is good, merciful, gentle, delightful, and sweet, Who alone is holy, just, true, holy, and upright, Who alone is kind, innocent, clean, from Whom, through Whom and in Whom is all pardon, all grace, all glory of all penitents and just ones, of all the blessed rejoicing together in heaven.
Therefore, let nothing hinder us, nothing separate us, nothing come between us. Wherever we are, in every place, at every hour, at every time of the day, every day and continually, let all of us truly and humbly believe, hold in our heart and love, honor, adore, serve, praise and bless, glorify and exalt, magnify and give thanks to the Most High and Supreme Eternal God Trinity and Unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator of all, Savior of all Who believe and hope in Him, and love Him, Who, without beginning and end, is unchangeable, invisible, indescribable, ineffable, incomprehensible, unfathomable, blessed, praiseworthy, glorious, exalted, sublime, most high, gentle, lovable, delightful, and totally desirable above all else forever.” From the “Earlier Rule” of Saint Francis of Assisi
In the Name of The Lord begins the life of the Friars Minor
1. This is the Rule and Life of the Friars Minor, namely to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without property and in chastity. Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to our Lord Pope Honorius and his successors canonically elected, and to the Roman Church and the other Friars are bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors. . . . ” (click here to continue reading)
[This Rule of 1223 is still in effect today.]
BASILICA OF SAINT FRANCIS IN ASSISI
” . . . O holy town of Assisi, you are known in the whole world for the one fact of having given birth to the Little Poor One, your Saint, so seraphic in his love. May you understand this privilege, and offer to all people the spectacle of such a faithfulness to Christian tradition that it will be to your real and everlasting honour.
. . . Here, with Saint Francis, here we are truly at the gates of Paradise.
. . . The moderate and wise use of the beautiful and good things that Providence has distributed to the world, excluding no one, useful to all, is Heaven on earth. We ask ourselves: why did God give Assisi this enchantment of nature, this aura of sanctity, almost suspended in the air, which the pilgrim almost tangibly feels? The answer is simple. So that men, through a common and universal language, will learn to recognize the Creator, and to recognize each other as brothers.” (Pope John XXIII, October, 1962, Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi.)
TOMB OF SAINT FRANCIS