A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE RULE
OF THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
Nicholas Warne OFM
1. We are indebted to Fr Chris Shorrock for his paper on this topic. I would like to complement it with several points.
2. The present SFO Rule is essentially related to the Rule of the Franciscan Friars and the Poor Clares. The essential element and ideal is similarly expressed: "The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi ..." (Art. 4). The relation was not so clear at the time of St Francis.
3. There is, however, an essential similarity with regard to the initial stages of the friarsí way of life and the way of life of the seculars who were to constitute the Order of Penance, later called the Third Order of St Francis.
(a) St Francis himself began his conversion as a "penitent" and adopted a garb which demonstrated this.
(b) When his first companions joined him, they took the name, "Penitents of Assisi".
(c) Finally, St Francisí definitive enlightenment with regard to his vocation (or Godís calling of him) is expressed in the following terms: "No one showed me what I should do" etc., and marked the culmination of a long spiritual search or journey.
The three major stages of his spiritual journey were: his meeting with the leper; the revelation from the San Damiano crucifix: "Go and repair my house ..."; and his hearing the instructions given to the apostles.
4. St Francisí own spiritual journey certainly would have influenced his approach to dedicated lay people who were attracted by his way of life. St Francisí contribution to this way of life would have been charismatic rather than juridical.
5. Those who would deny that St Francis was the founder of the Third Order would base their judgment on the lack of juridical documentation.
6. Those holding that he was the founder of the Third Order, at least in the broad sense, would base their judgment on historical-narrative sources.
Julian of Speyer in 1231-32 composed a liturgical text known as the Rhythmic Office of Saint Francis for the feast of the saint. The third antiphon of Lauds reads: "This one organised three orders: The first is called Of the Lesser Brothers, the second of the Poor Ladies, the third of Penitents, which was comprised of both sexes." Julian also wrote a Life of St Francis which contained the same testimony.
Pope Gregory IX gave similar testimony in a letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, in 1238. The Legend of the Three Companions, in 1246, and a Franciscan Friar Alexander, in 1249, also name St Francis as the founder of the Third Order.
7. We may also refer to the Letter to All the Faithful, written in 1213. In this, there is a heavy accent on PENANCE, which would reflect the mentality of the time.
Note: The emphasis on poverty reflects a reaction against the contemporary economic development and the rise of the merchant classes (a "commercial revolution").
8. So far as RULE is concerned, we have what is called the Memoriale propositi (fratrum et sororum de Poenitentia in domibus propriiis existentium), of 1221, drafted by Cardinal Ugolino and approved by honourius III. This was addressed to the whole Order of Penance, not exclusively to Franciscan Penitents. This was revised and preserved in a second redaction of 1228.
The document treated of: modesty and decency in dress; modest entertainment; abstinence from meat and moderation in food; prescriptions for fasting; prescriptions concerning the Divine Office, Confession and Holy Communion; prescriptions concerning reconciliation, the bearing of arms and oaths; regulations regarding the monthly meeting; visits to sick brothers, funerals, etc.; tasks of the Minister of the Fraternity; admission into and perseverance in the Fraternity; the Visitator; elections of offices; the obligation of these norms.
9. The Memoriale propositi had the force of law for Penitents until Supra montem, the legislative text approved by Nicholas IV, in 1289. (Cf. Shorrock, p.2). Nicholas IV had previously been the Minister General of the Friars Minor. It was basically composed by the Franciscan Caro of Florence. It affirms that St Francis founded an order of penance for secular people.
10. Supra montem was in force for six centuries, until the Rule of Pope Leo XIII, Misericors Dei Filius, in 1883.This Rule was in force until 1978, until the Rule of Pope Paul VI, Seraphicus Patriarcha.
11. Fr Chris has covered the Rule of Leo XIII very well, so I refer you to pages 3 and 4 of his paper. Approximately half of this Rule was concerned with devotional practices, and the structure was based on the local fraternity.
12. Involvement with social reform was encouraged by Pius X, in 1912, but limited to Catholic Action. This set the Third Order back considerably, reducing it almost to a pious sodality.
13. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) had a profound effect on the Third Order. Permission was granted on 3 March, 1966, to prepare a revision of both the Rule and the General Constitutions. This initiated a long process involving secular Franciscans everywhere in the world. Many here will remember the splendid Australian contribution.
14. The culmination of all these efforts over the course of ten years resulted in what is called the Pauline Rule. It was approved and confirmed on June 24, 1978.
15. Changes of Emphasis in the New Rule:
(a) Autonomy: a single Order;
structured in local, regional, and national fraternities;
autonomous in government;
an essential part of the Franciscan Family;
stipulates a fraternal as well as a pastoral visitation.
(b) The Role of the Spiritual Assistant:
change of name from Spiritual Director, and change of function;
changes with regard to receptions and professions.
(c) Apostolic outlook.
(d) Stress on secularity.
16. There was also a whole new approach to organization underlying the need for change in the General Constitutions. Also, there was a fundamental new approach to the matter of Formation.
17. Constitutions of the Third Order:
(a) Constitutions for the Third Order directed by the Conventual friars were approved in 1628. Those for the Third Order directed by the Observant friars were drawn up in 1686 and approved by Pope Innocent XI.
(b) Constitutions for all four Third Orders directed by the four obediences of the friars were promulgated in 1957 by the Sacred Congregation of Religious. These introduced elements of provincial, national and interobediential chapters.
(c) Preliminary work on Constitutions for the unitary Secular Franciscan Order began immediately after the promulgation of the Pauline Rule. The first draft was promulgated in 1987. Further submissions were requested by 31 January, 1988. An "experimental" text was approved in 1990.
(d) This work has now culminated in the final text, approved on 8 December, 2000.
18. Relationship between the SFO Rule and General Constitutions:
(a) the two documents are completely inter-related and entirely complementary to each other.
i. Each is composed of three chapters and each chapter makes use of the same title or heading.
ii. Each chapter therefore pertains to the same relevant contents and material.
(b) The Constitutions restate and add precision to the Rule. They are more lengthy than the Rule, but do not step outside its boundaries.
(c) They line up as follows:
Chapter One: 3 numbers
Chapter Two: 16 "
Chapter Three: 7 "
Chapter I: 7 Articles
Chapter II: 19 "
Chapter III: 76 "