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Making Peace Like St. Francis

Franciscan Way: Part Two

Making Peace Like St. Francis
Friday, October 11, 2019

My Franciscan brother Fr. Louie Vitale, who has been a peace activist for almost 40 years, tells how St. Francis was working for peace even at the end of his life. At the time, Bishop Guido of Assisi excommunicated the mayor of Assisi on the pope’s orders because the mayor supported another war with Perugia. In response, the mayor proclaimed that no one could sell to or buy anything from the bishop or have legal dealings with him. This story illustrates the practical power of nonviolent, restorative justice. Vitale writes:

This was not just a misunderstanding or an argument between the bishop and the mayor. There was serious structural violence involving the nobility, the new merchant class, the city and the Church. . . . Theologian and biblical scholar Walter Wink would name this as an example of the “Domination System” and its efforts to control society. In the case of thirteenth-century Assisi, this struggle turned on the question of who would be in control—the powerful factions in the city or the people allied with the pope?

In Wink’s terminology, these institutions are “powers” which enforce domination and preclude peaceful resolution. “What people in the Bible experienced and called ‘Principalities and Powers’ was in fact real,” Wink writes. “They were discerning the actual spirituality at the center of the political, economic and cultural institutions of their day. . . . I use the expression ‘the Domination System’ to indicate what happens when an entire network of Powers becomes integrated around idolatrous values [like greed and superiority].” [1] . . .

Wink writes: “The Powers are good. The Powers are fallen. The Powers must be redeemed.” [2] While recognizing the demonic in each of the institutions involved, Francis also acknowledged the source of their creation and sought to restore them to the God-given purpose for which they were created. . . . Wink sees the Gospel as the alternative power to the Domination System. Francis brought this Gospel alternative to new life. . . .

[Knowing that] both the mayor and the bishop held Francis in the highest esteem, Francis used a subtle nonviolent approach. He added another verse on peace to his Canticle of the Creatures. He sent one of his brothers to invite the mayor to go to the bishop’s palace, and another to prepare the bishop. Francis did not go but remained in prayer. The brothers sang the canticle with its message of peace to the mayor and the bishop, which included the new verse:

Happy those who endure in peace,
By you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Both were moved to great repentance and mutual embrace. “In this moment, a centuries-old struggle for power ended,” historian Arnaldo Fortini [himself a former mayor of Assisi] wrote, crediting this intervention with bringing true peace into being.

Walter Wink stresses that a key dimension of nonviolent action is prayer. . . . Intercession visualizes an alternative future to the one created by the momentum of current forces. . . . Eight centuries after Francis we are called, as he was, to pray and act for a new future of peace.

References:
[1] Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Augsburg Fortress: 1992), 6, 9.

[2] Ibid., 10.

Adapted from Louie Vitale, Love Is What Matters: Writings on Peace and Nonviolence (Pace e Bene Press: 2015), 41-42, 43.

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson
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