Francis of Assisi

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Legend of St Francis, Sermon to the Birds, Giotto (Upper Basilica, Assisi)

The ascended master Kuthumi was embodied as Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), founder of the Franciscan order, the divine poverello, who renounced family and wealth and embraced “Lady Poverty,” living among the poor and the lepers, finding unspeakable joy in imitating the compassion of Christ.

God revealed to Francis the divine Presence in “brother sun” and “sister moon” and rewarded his devotion with the stigmata of Christ crucified—the first saint known to receive them. The prayer of St. Francis is spoken by people of all faiths around the world: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace!...”

Early life

Francis was born in 1182. His family name was Bernardone and his father was a cloth merchant. He led a boisterous and an indulgent life as a youth, and he used his money to pay for all the parties they held, and so he was called “the king of feasts.”

He left home to fight in the war with Perugia in 1202, a warring city state next to his own, and was captured and imprisoned for a year. Upon his return, he still was continuing in his old pleasureful ways. He was determined to become a knight. He heard the tales of King Arthur and the Round Table and the knights and the chivalry, and so he conceived of himself in the person of a knight. But as he was going to receive the necessary training, a mysterious voice spoke to him from within and posed to him this great riddle: “Francis, who can do more for you, the Lord or the servant?”

Francis answered, “The Lord.”

The voice said, “Therefore why do you leave the Lord for the servant and the prince for the vassal?”

Francis answered, “O Lord, what do you wish me to do?”

And the Lord said, “Return to Assisi and what you are to do will be revealed to you there.”

And so he returned. He became a very different Francis. He was quiet and serious. He knew the conversion of the apostle Saul on the road to Damascus. He had stepped into the very living presence of the aura of Jesus Christ, and that was enough to strip from him the outer layer, merely a patine over his soul of light, of the world consciousness.

The crucifix before which Francis knelt in the ruined church of San Damiano

His calling

As Francis was in prayer one day in 1206 at the ruined chapel of San Damiano outside the gate of Assisi, he heard a voice from the crucifix above the altar command: “Go, Francis, and repair my house which, as you see, is falling in ruins.”

Francis set about to do his heavenly Father’s business. He took a bolt of cloth from his human father, and he sold it. He presented the money to the Church. The priest refused it because he had heard that Francis had stolen the goods from his father in order to get the money.

Francis’ father pressed charges against him for the theft. Because Francis had taken the vow of the oblate, he was tried in an ecclesiastical court. Upon hearing the charges read by his father, Francis stripped himself of his clothing and threw them at the feet of his father. He said, “Here, I strip myself. Take what I have.”

Immediately the bishop walked over to Francis and laid his own mantle upon him. Francis had received the appearance of the Saviour directly, and now the outer Church recognized him. The mantle of the bishop was laid upon him. He gave up the clothing, the right and wrong of this world, and he was clothed upon with the mantle of the one who was anointed within the structure of Jesus’ Church. The case was dismissed because the money had already been returned to Francis’ father by the priest of the Church.

Renouncing worldly goods and family ties, Francis embraced a life of poverty. He wandered around the countryside for a year clothed in tattered rags. He returned to Assisi and begged for lime and mortar to repair the church of San Damiano, and for two or three years, he fervently dedicated himself to repairing the church of San Damiano, a chapel honoring St. Peter, and the Portiuncula, the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, near Assisi. He was treated with great scorn by the people of Assisi, but he continued to pursue the path that he knew to be his own.

Francis’ “day of decision”

The Portiuncula, which was to become the cradle of the Franciscan Order, was described by Saint Bonaventure as “the place that Francis loved most in the whole world.” It was there that Francis received the revelation of his true vocation.

While attending Mass in the restored chapel on the Feast of St. Matthias, February 24, 1208, he listened as the priest read from Matthew 10:

Go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. Freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves; for the workman is worthy of his meat.

Francis later recalled this as his “day of decision”—the day in which “the Most High personally revealed to me that I ought to live according to the Holy Gospel.” He donned a coarser garment, went barefoot, and began to preach to the townspeople, attracting followers to his way of life. His early followers came from the well-to-do families of Assisi; some that had been on the path of pleasure with him.

The Pope approving the statutes of the order of the Franciscans, Giotti (1295-1300)

The founding of the Franciscan Order

In 1209, Francis, with a band of eleven disciples, went to Rome to seek the approval of Pope Innocent III for a “rule of life” to formally begin his religious order. The Pope initially agreed to the new rule, but many of his advisors objected. Cardinal Giovanni di San Paolo (who later became Pope Gregory the Ninth) told the Pope, “If we reject the petition of this poor man on the grounds that the Rule is new and too austere, when he petitions us to approve a form of life which is in keeping with the Gospel, we must fear that we may displease the very Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The Pope assented when he recognized Francis as the same figure he had seen in a dream holding up the Lateran basilica on his own back.

This marked the official founding of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor (the “little brothers”), which was founded “to follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.”

Francis wrote: “The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property, and in chastity.”

Around 1221, he established the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance, a lay fraternity for those who did not wish to withdraw from the world or take religious vows but desired to live by Franciscan precepts.

Francis and his companions made their home near a river, and it was a hovel in which these despisers of large and beautiful habitations sought refuge. Here they found shelter from the storms, for as Francis said, “One goes more quickly to heaven from a hovel than from a palace.” Then they were driven from their place by a peasant, and so they left the refuge peacefully and took the road to Portiuncula, which became their base for the next ten years. Francis continued preaching in Assisi, and in those ten years the order grew from an initial twelve friars to three thousand in number.

Francis and Clare

It was at the Portiuncula that Francis and Clare had their first encounter. Francis had known of her and she was anxious to make his acquaintance. She was one of three daughters of a count. The family were known for wealth and arrogance. Her countenance bore the signs of this aristocratic lineage, but the pride of the aristocracy in her gave way to that utter humility which was the transfer of light from Saint Francis.

She came seeking to know how to live according to the Gospel. And so Francis became the guru of Clare to guide her in the way of living the Christian mysteries. She served in a novitiate under Francis for a year, and finally she was free from doubt and made her calling and election sure. She ran away from home on a moonlit night, and with a friend headed toward Portiuncula. The friars were waiting in front of the church with torches and singing, and they led her to the altar where Francis was waiting.

She fell to her knees and consecrated herself to the Lord, vowing to follow him in poverty according to the rule of her teacher. She removed her velvet gown and satin slippers, stripped herself of all adornments and took on the gray religious habit tightened around her waist by a string, and a pair of wooden clogs. Her blonde hair was cut by Francis and covered the floor. She took a black veil for her head and went to the monastery of the Benedictine nuns into whose care Francis had entrusted her.

The next morning there was a violent knocking heard at the door of the monastery as members of her family had come to take her back. She ran to the church and hid clinging to the altar. When she heard her own family, she went to face them. She showed them her head, and they were taken aback. And so they retreated and understood that she had made her vows.

Francis proceeded to take Clare to another monastery at Mount Subassio. Then Agnes, Clare’s sister, joined them, and she received her vows. And then they asked the bishop if the women of the holy order might be allowed to stay at Saint Damiano, the church that had been rebuilt by Francis and the brothers. The approval was given.

Clare’s other sister, Beatrice, came, and her mother also responded to the call. In 1219, the cardinal approved the very strict rule in which Clare, faithful to the teaching of Francis, insisted. She insisted that the privilege of poverty be confirmed. Their order became known as the Poor Clares (or the Order of Saint Clare).

One of the many legends surrounding the lives of Francis and Clare describes their meal at Santa Maria degli Angeli, where Francis spoke so lovingly of God that all were enraptured in Him. Suddenly the people of the village saw the convent and the woods ablaze. Running hastily to quench the flames, they beheld the little company enfolded in brilliant light with arms uplifted to heaven.

Growth of the order

The friars were now a multitude, and Francis began to send them to other parts of the world in small groups. They went for France, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Morocco. Francis went to the Orient. And in every other mystery school, when the message is set, when the Holy Spirit has been given, when souls are truly the electrodes because they have the inner alchemical marriage, they are sent forth even as King Arthur sent forth the knights to right social wrongs, to redress injustices, to let the kingdom of God come.

And so they went. They were the leaven. They were sown in the body of the earth. Their very living presence in those cities and nations was the lighting of a spiritual fire. They preached the Word. They were impassioned. They preached it in the public squares. They begged for their food. They withstood persecutions.

Revising the rule

Upon Francis’ return from his own travels, he was bitterly surprised to find that a group of friars whom he had appointed as deputies in his absence had tried to introduce innovations into the rules to temper the strictness of the vow of poverty. Some had even gone so far as to draw up a new rule.

Francis went straight to the Pope. The Pope had approved the rule and now Francis wanted the Pope to confirm it anew. He was certain that Honorius the Third, the successor to Innocent the Third, would also defend his ideal and the rule of life which now served as an inspiration to thousands of religious.

The new Pope appointed Cardinal Ugolino as protector of the order, and it was his job to settle any disputes that had arisen in the order. On the one hand there were those who in time would be called “the Spirituals,” who championed absolute poverty, opposed to those called “the Lassity,” who demanded a modification of the strictness of the rules.

Cardinal Ugolino, the future Gregory the Ninth, showed Francis the proper balance between the two forces. He led him to understand that the heroic period that had been proper at the start now had to be followed by reflection and organization; hence the rule had to be modified. The strictness of Saint Francis was such that he desired not to own property, not to have libraries, not to own books. The sheer message of Francis was on that tenth station of the cross, Jesus is stripped of his garments: that trial of the boy Francis before his father showed where he was. He was willing to be stripped of his garments, of all attachment, and he wanted to be that living example of purity to the end, and so he was.

We understand within the thrust of this dispensation again the Alpha and the Omega. We understand that in order for the order to be perpetuated at all it would have to have properties assigned to it and members within the order to care for those properties so that those seeking the austerities of Francis could have a haven and a home of light and so that over the centuries they could walk in his footsteps.

Francis, however, was passionately affirming that the rule must continue in its purified form. He could not accept the watering down of his teachings. He said:

Brethren, God has called me to follow the voice of humility and he has pointed out to me the path of simplicity. I do not wish to hear any talk of any kind of rule, either that of Saint Augustine or Saint Bernard or Saint Benedict. The Lord has willed that I be a madman in the world, and God has not willed to lead us along any other path save this one.

Saint Francis receiving the stigmata, fresco by Giotto in the Upper Basilica at Assisi

The stigmata

Francis withdrew from the day-to-day concerns of his order. He was forty-two years old. He was tired and emaciated by his penitential practices, practices of penance. More than this, he was burdened because he bore the weight of world karma. He had illnesses and even his activity had come to a standstill. It had covered a brief span of fourteen years from the time of the approval of his order to the time of his retirement, from 1210 to 1224.

He felt the approach of what he called “sister death,” and he sought the silence of solitary places for which he had constantly yearned in the first years of his renunciation. He retraced his steps along the old paths between the mountains and forest, stopping once more in the cave which he had favored for prayer and fasting. These places are today famous as Franciscan sanctuaries.

It was on Mount Verna that what biographers have described as the most important episode of the life of the Poverello occurred—the stigmata. There was a hut made of branches built under a beech tree, and Francis besought Brother Leo to keep everyone away from that place. Here he spent the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, August 15. He continued to penetrate further and further into the forest toward the cleft in the mountain. It was Brother Leo’s task to bring him a little bread and water once a day. In that solitude, Francis relived the moments of the passion of Jesus with such an intensity of love that he brought them to a vivid reality in his soul and upon his body.

The culmination of his meditation upon the Redeemer came to Francis in the agony and the ecstasy of a dread illness when he sought solitude at the retreat on Mount La Verna. As the pale poverello lay outstretched upon a bare rock in the chill of the September dawn, “the fervor of his devotion increased so much that he totally transformed himself into Him who let himself be crucified through abundance of love.”

Brother Leo reports that

Suddenly appeared to him a seraph with six wings, bearing enfolded in them a very beautiful image of a crucified man, his hands and feet outflung as on a cross, with features clearly resembling those of Lord Jesus. Two wings covered the seraph’s head; two, descending to his feet, veiled the rest of his body; the other two were unfolded for flight.”[1]

Before the vision faded, Francis felt the five wounds of the Crucified pierce his body with such force that he fell unconscious.

For two years, Francis bore the intense suffering of Christ though at times, in transcendent joy, he would burst into song—lighting upon his “Canticle of the Creatures,” praising not only brother sun but brother wind, brother fire, sister earth, and sister death.

Final years

In 1209 Francis suffered from a general debility and weakening of flesh. Seven years later, in 1216, when he was sheltered by the Bishop of Assisi, he had recurrent fevers from the malaria he had contracted in his sojourn of the East—taking on the karma of the East he was bearing it out and working it out in his body.

This was the path of sainthood of these two thousand years of the age of Pisces before the coming of the seventh angel delivered to us the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, the violet flame. And so we see the saints who went before suffered these afflictions in body—the very literal working out of world karma. Today we may perform the same sacrifices with that violet flame. These afflictions of illness were added to the stigmata. There came pus forth from the opened wounds of the stigmata. He was pained dreadfully and continuously.

He went to Siena to spend the winter. His stomach, legs, feet swelled. The pain was aggravated to the point where he could scarcely take any food. In that state he besought Friar Elias to take him back to Assisi, in May 1226. Everywhere crowds gathered at his passage, and for this reason a secret route was decided upon. The procession at last reached Assisi and filed through the big gate of the bishop’s palace. Francis was to remain here for a time as the guest of the Prelate Guido, the same man who had covered him with his mantle in that now distant day when Francis had stripped himself before his father in order to wear the rags of poverty.

Where he felt that he was at the point of death, Francis asked to be transported to Portiuncula so the life of the body should end where the life of the soul had begun. During his last illness he felt a great need to sing and continually asked his attendant friars to intone the laudes and psalms. He composed the Canticle of Creatures as he laid on his pallet suffering. In the cell that he was to take his last breath, he asked all the friars to assemble around him and placing his right hand on each one of them, he blessed all those present and those absent and those who had joined the order in the future until the end of time.

He was awaiting the arrival of a lady, Jacqueline of Settesoli, a Roman noble woman who was considered the mother of the Franciscan Third Order. He had already sent his farewell to Clare and the other sisters. The one final greeting which remained to be delivered was to his beloved bride, the person of Mother Mary whom he espoused as Lady Poverty. He celebrated it with a rite. He had himself stretched out naked on the ground and ordered the attendant friars to gird him with a hair shirt and to spread ashes over him. And while they tried to restrain their tears, he said to them, “I have accomplished my work. May Christ teach you yours.”

Francis died on the evening of October 3, 1226, intoning with a thin voice a verse from a psalm: “Free my soul from prison so that I may praise thy name.” At that very instant a flock of skylarks soared above the roof as though to accompany the soul of the saint on his last journey. He was canonized by Pope Gregory the Ninth, but had he not done so he would be ever more canonized by the souls of Light, by the swallows, by the elementals and by Jesus himself.

St. Francis, Nicholas Roerich (1932)

Legends of Saint Francis

There are many sweet stories of Saint Francis. Some are considered to be legend, but they are well worth reading. They particularly include notations of how the brothers met face to face the temptations of demons and their blasphemies and their cursings and all of the types of consciousness of sin and of jealousy and of sensuality and of doubt and fear and all of these conditions of consciousness that come with seemingly a cyclical regularity.

Saint Francis and the leper

There is a story told in the Fioretti of a leper who was being cared for by the brothers in Saint Francis’ order. The leper was so blasphemous and abusive in his speech that none could bear to come near him. When Francis visited him, the leper complained that the brothers had not looked after him as they should, whereupon Francis offered to care for him himself.

The leper asked him what he could do that the others could not. Francis promised that he would do all he wished. The leper said, “I want you to wash me all over because the odor is such that I cannot stand it.” Francis then prepared water with many sweet-scented herbs, undressed him and began to wash him with his hands. Miraculously, wherever Francis touched, the leprosy disappeared and the flesh was healed.

As the leper’s body was healed, his soul experienced conversion also. Overcome with remorse for his sins, he began to weep bitterly, accusing himself for all the pain he had caused others. After fifteen days of deep penance, he fell ill and passed on. His soul, brighter than the sun, appeared to Saint Francis while he was praying in a forest. Pouring out gratitude and blessings, he announced to Francis that that day he was going to Paradise.[2]

Francis and the swallows

As Francis and his brothers came to a little town of Alviano, hundreds of persons were gathered in the square to hear him speak. Hundreds of swallows that nested in the city walls and towers circled above the square, which resounded with their song. Francis waited until it was nearly nightfall, thinking that they would go to rest, but when they did not, he said to them, “My brothers and sisters the swallows, it is now time for me to speak. You have spoken enough.”

Right away there was silence and it lasted while Francis gave his sermon. At the end of it, the swallows joined in the song of jubilation sung by the people of Alviano, who cried with one voice, “A miracle! A saint!” Then the bells in the church began to ring all by themselves and the people crowded around Saint Francis, asking to be admitted to his band of disciples, claiming that they were ready to abandon their homes and follow him.

The first nativity scene

In 1223 Brother Francis prepared a special Christmas celebration. His heart’s desire was to commemorate the birth of Christ in a way which would vividly portray the suffering and discomfort the Saviour had borne. He asked his devout friend Messer John Vellita to set up a real manger filled with hay in a grotto on a steep wooded hill in Greccio. An ox and ass were also brought to the spot, just as at Bethlehem.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, the brothers and neighboring people came bearing candles and lighted torches that brilliantly illumined the night. Together they celebrated a solemn Mass over the crèche; and Francis, with a countenance of supreme compassion and unspeakable joy, delivered a moving sermon on the “Bethlehem Babe.” For a moment, his friend John saw a beautiful infant lying in the manger, appearing almost lifeless. Then he saw Francis step forward and lift the Child, who opened his eyes as if waking from a deep sleep and smiled. The vision signified that although Christ had been asleep and forgotten in the hearts of many, he was being brought to life again through the devotion of his servant Francis.

The call to the brothers and sisters of Assisi

Main article: Order of Francis and Clare

Today Kuthumi calls the brothers and sisters of Assisi together once again, those who hunger for the simple life of the Spirit but with the dynamism, the fervor, and the drama that Francis knew. It is the revolutionary Francis who comes once again in Jesus’ name not to send a placid peace but to thrust the sword of the living Word into the decadence of an age.

Kuthumi says:

In those days of old when we called the brothers of Assisi and we went forth preaching in the squares, we sent forth the light of love from our hearts, the light inspired and ignited by Jesus. And as you look back upon the days of Assisi, almost romantically, thinking of those moments we shared, I would remind you that the weight of materialism and sensuality and the rejection of the way of the Christ was virulent. And therefore the Lord allowed me to infuse the Church with a dynamic flow founded on the ray of chastity, obedience, and the love of Mother Poverty.

We came to demonstrate what a band of devotees could realize when all else was set aside....

How fortunate, then, that we are able to draw together again in this nucleus of chelas of the Masters many of the souls who served in the order of the men and the order of the women! I welcome you! I welcome you, one and all! For this is also an hour similar to that day when the Church, as the body of God upon earth, requires the revitalization of the flame of the heart, when the Church must again become built of lively stones, of those who are ready to take that stand for purity and for obedience to the law of life.

Our cause was unpopular. Do not expect that yours will be popular, at least not overnight. But I expect, as the cycles turn, that the flow of light from the I AM Presence will ultimately be welcomed by the masses of mankind because you chose to take your stand. Our rejoicing over the one and the two and the three who came to join us was very great; for we saw in the life reborn, in the lives reformed, how the victory of Christ in the soul was an alchemy able to reinfuse the entire momentum of Christianity with life, new life, as the real essence of the blood and the body of Jesus.[3]

See also



For more information

For more on the life of Saint Francis and the ongoing mission of Francis and Clare in this age, see:

  • Sermon by Elizabeth Clare Prophet on the life of Saint Francis, June 30, 1978.
  • Dictation Out of the Love of Francis and Clare, July 1, 1977, published in Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 57, no. 14, July 15, 2014.


Jesus and Kuthumi, Prayer and Meditation.

Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 28, no. 9, March 3, 1985, endnotes.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet, sermon on the life of Francis of Assisi, June 30, 1978.

  1. Morris Bishop, St. Francis of Assisi (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1974), p. 168.
  2. The Little Flowers of Saint Francis, XXV.
  3. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Great White Brotherhood in the Culture, History and Religion of America, chapter 25.