The Franciscan Tradition of the Eremitical Life

st-francis-of-assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) founded the men’s Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis for men and women not able to live the lives of itinerant preachers followed by the early members of the Order of Friars Minor or the monastic lives of the Poor Clares. Though he was never ordained to the Priesthood, Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.

His approach to the eremitical life was simple and practical.

VII.
OF LIVING RELIGIOUSLY IN A HERMITAGE.
We learn from St. Bonaventure and the Fioretti that as companions began to flock to St. Francis, the man of God hesitated for a while between adopting a life of prayer or of preaching. Although, as we know, he finally decided in favor of the apostolate, yet withal he never altogether separated the contemplative from the active life. A precious witness to this fact is found in the Regulation for the brothers during their sojourn in hermitages with which we are now concerned. To understand the scope of this peculiar piece of legislation, it must be borne in mind that at the beginning of the Franciscan movement the friars had no settled domicile. The wide world was their cloister. Possessing nothing they wandered about like children careless of the day, teaching or preaching, passing the night in hay-lofts or under church porches, in lazarettos, or deserted huts and grottoes. The need of having some kind of permanent retreat where they might retire at times to pray or rest, resulted in the institution of hermitages. These little solitudes, to which Francis loved to withdraw, may be found wherever the Saint went. The Celle near Cortina, the Careen on Mount Subasio, Greccio in the valley of Rieti, and the more solitary hermitages, like Lo Speco, form, as someone has said, a series of documents, about St. Francis’ life, quite as important as the written ones. And not a little of his spirit still lingers in such of these hermitages as yet remain. It was for the government of small loci like these that the present special little Rule was written. Its attribution to St. Francis has not been questioned. The quaint simplicity of its conception proclaims its authenticity, and in none of the codices does it bear the name of any other author than St. Francis. It may have been written about 1217; its composition certainly belongs to the first decade of. the Order.
In the ancient collections of St. Francis’ writings found in the codices at Florence (Ognissanti), Foligno, Rome (St. Isidore’s MS. 1/25 and the Vatican MS. 7650), as well as in copies of the compilation which begins Fac secundum exemplar, this Instruction is found at the end of the Admonitions. But in the greater number of the early Codices the Admonitions close as in the present translation, and the opuscule on hermitages is preferably separated from them, as it is in the Assisian codex and that of St. Isidore’s, Rome (MS. 1/73). The text which follows is based on the Assisi MS., which has been collated with that of Ognissanti and those at St. Isidore’s and with the version of this Regulation given by Bartholomew of Pisa in his Conformities. Here is the text:

OF LIVING RELIGIOUSLY IN A HERMITAGE.
Let those who wish to live religiously in hermitages, be three brothers or four at most. Let two of them be mothers and have two sons, or at least one. Let the two former lead the life of Martha and the other two the life of Mary Magdalene.
Let those who lead the life of Mary have one cloister and each his own place, so that they may not live or sleep together. And let them always say Compline of the day toward sunset, and let them be careful to keep silence and to say their Hours and to rise for Matins, and let them seek first “the kingdom of God and His justice.” And let them say Prime and Tierce at the proper time, and, after the hour of Tierce, they may break silence and may speak and, when it is pleasing to them, they may go to their mothers and may ask an alms from them for the love of the Lord God, like little poor ones. And after that, let them say Sext and Nones and Vespers at the appointed time.
And they must not allow any person to enter into the cloister where they live, or let them eat there. Let those brothers who are mothers endeavor to keep apart from every person and, by the obedience of their custos, let them guard their sons from every person, so that no one may speak with them. And let these sons not speak with any person except with their mothers and with their custos, when it shall please him to visit them with the blessing of God. But the sons must sometimes in turn assume the office of mothers, for a time, according as it may seem to them to dispose. Let them strive to observe all the above diligently and earnestly.

From “The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi”, tr. by Paschal Robinson, [1905] http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/wosf/wosf10.htm

See also “St. Francis of Assisi’s Rule for Hermitages”: http://www.hermitary.com/articles/francis.html
LBF Prayer
In Australia, the (Anglican) Little Brothers of Francis, strive to live according to the Franciscan eremitical idea: http://www.franciscanhermitage.org/

“We are a community of Brothers who desire to deepen our relationship with God through prayer, manual work, community, and times of being alone in our hermitages. We follow the Rule written by Saint Francis for Hermitages in which three or four brothers live in each fraternity. As others join us we envisage a federation of fraternities with three or four brothers in each.
There are four sources of inspiration for the Little Brothers of Francis. They are:
1. The Gospels: The four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are central to our spirituality, and the main source material for our meditation and prayer life.
2. St Francis: Francis would recall Christ’s words and life through persistent meditation on the Gospels, for his deep desire was to love Christ and live a Christ-centred life.
He was a man of prayer and mystic who sought places of solitude, and hermitages played a central role in his life. Significant events, like the initiation of the Christmas Crib tradition, happened at the hermitage at Greccio, and, of course, he received the stigmata while he was at the hermitage at Mount La Verna. Though the early brothers embraced a mixed life of prayer and ministry, Francis wanted places of seclusion – hermitages, for the primacy of prayer, in which three or four brothers lived, and for which he wrote a rule.
3. St Francis’s Rule for Hermitages: In his brief rule for life within the hermitage, Francis avoided a detailed document and set out the principles that are important. Liturgy of the Hours is the focus, and sets the rhythm of the daily prayer. Each hermitage was to have at the most four Brothers, which meant they would be both ‘little’ and ‘fraternal’. Within this framework, Brothers could withdraw for periods of solitude. The hermitages were not to be places or centres of ministry.
4. Desert Fathers: The stories and sayings of the Desert Fathers contain a profound wisdom for any who are serious about the inner spiritual journey. This is why they have held such prominence in monastic circles in both East and West down through the centuries, and why they are a priority source for us.”

http://orders.anglican.org/arcyb/page39.html

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