What does it mean to think like a Franciscan? When people imagine our spirituality, I imagine many picture a tree-hugging hippie communing with nature, a jovial cartoon character with a big belly, or a humble beggar with tattered clothes. And there’s certainly some truth to all of these images! (Stereotypes exist for a reason…)
Unfortunately, what often gets lost in these caricatures is the fact that Franciscans were masters of theology in the Middle Ages. While many will think of St. Thomas Aquinas as the foremost theologian of Church history, the fact of the matter is that his popularity grew long after his death (after, of course, he his writings were suppressed and then reinstated…) As strange as it might sound today, it was actually the Franciscans that held the greatest and widest influence in scholastic thought for many centuries.
I guess some really do peak early.
With the rise of Thomism in the late Middle Ages, and the subsequent crowning of Thomas as the primary theologian of the Church after Trent and Vatican I, Franciscan thought took a backseat and was often forgotten by serious theologians. This was a great tragedy, and today some are beginning to rediscover the treasure that is the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition.
The problem, as so many understand, is that our Tradition is not a school with uniform principles of study. There is no such thing as a “Franciscan” way of studying or thinking. Unlike the Dominicans or Jesuits that have very clearly defined modes of theology, the Franciscans tend to be very experiential and personal, meaning that naming it is about as allusive as catching an electron: we know it’s there, and it’s certainly important, but there is just no way of fitting it neatly into a box.
Instead, as I have tried to capture in this video, there are broad categories of inquiry that Franciscans tend to focus on, and contributions made by specific Franciscans. None of them are universally held by every Franciscan, but they offer a starting point that may help us understand a different way of thinking in our Church.