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Posted June 16, 2006

Book: The Franciscan Vision and the Gospel of John: The San Damiano Cross, Francis and John, Creation and John
Author: Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M.
Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University, Saint Bonaventure, NY. 2006. Pp. 62

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

In Part Two, we will take a close look at the San Damiano Crucifix. . . .

In Part Three, we will turn our attention to the writings of St. Francis and present some of the evidence that the Gospel of John was for him a major source of inspiration. This will appear especially in the favorite images of Jesus Francis often draws upon.

In Part Four, we will take a close look at the Prologue of John's gospel and its relationship to our understanding of creation.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The One Who Washes Feet

The second part of the Gospel of John, the so-called Book of Glory (chaps. 13-21), begins with Jesus and his disciples gathered at supper. Jesus rises from the table, puts off his outer garment, wraps himself in a towel and washes the feet of his disciples. It is almost as if he is action out the words of Luke 12:37: "Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them." This is an example of humble service, and symbolically characterizes Jesus' impending suffering and death as a work of service. It is, further, an act that the disciples should imitate.

But, as is so often the case with John's gospel, there are other meanings as well. Jesus' action can be seen as an expression of friendship based on equality. "By washing his disciples' feet, Jesus overcame by love the inequality which existed by nature between himself and those he had chosen as friends." He is "subverting in principle all structures of domination. . . . The desire for first place has no function in friendship." Further, in light of hospitality practices at the time of Christ, it can be seen as an act of welcoming his disciples into the household of God.

At the time of Francis, the dominant understanding of Jesus' action would have been that of humble service, and it is in this light that Francis understands it. In addressing brothers who were placed in authority over others, he says:

I did not come to be served but to serve, says the Lord. Let those who are placed over others boast about that position as much as they would if they were assigned the duty of washing the feet of their brothers. And if they are more upset at having their places over others taken away from them than at losing their position at their feet, the more they store up a money bag to the peril of their soul (Adm 4).

In the Earlier Rule (1221), he urges: "Let no one be called "prior" but let everyone in general be called a lesser brother. Let one wash the feet of the other." The Latin says literally "fratres minores." This would in fact become the name of the First Order, Ordo Fratrum Minorum (=O.F.M.), "Order of Lesser Brothers." We can see that the image of Christ washing the feet of his disciples was an important part of what "lesser brother" meant to Francis.

Table of Contents:

Part One: Author's Introduction

Part Two: The San Damiano Crucifix
The figure of Jesus
The community under Jesus' arms
The smaller figures at the bottom, the sides, and the top

Part Three: Francis and the Gospel of John
Favored Johannine images

Part Four: Creation and the Gospel of John
The prologue of John's gospel
St. Francis and creation

Part Five: Conclusion