“Saint Francis provides the basis for the spirituality of contemporary Anglican Tertiaries”.
Ted Witham tssf
Minister Provincial, Third Order, Society of St Francis,
Province of Australia, Papua New Guinea and East Asia
There have been Anglican Tertiaries in PNG and Australia for the past 50 years. They have been shaped by their history, firstly as the Third Order was generated by the First Order friars, and then in the struggle to become an independent, then interdependent Order. The vast distances of the Australian landscape have created small groups and individuals isolated from one another. This isolation is evolving into both familiar similarities and regional differences.
This paper will access the voices of Tertiaries themselves, to explore their distinctive perspectives on St Francis and the spirituality produced in our unique context.
In particular, the paper will examine
* Tertiaries’ understanding of Franciscan spirituality;
* The ways in which they practise the Franciscan value of poverty;
* Their engagement with social issues as an expression of their Franciscan spirituality; and finally
* Their responses to believers in other traditions in our multi-religious society.
The Third Order and its Form of Life
Young Francis visited the Pope in 1209 seeking permission to live his way of life according to a new Rule. Thomas of Celano tells us the story and uses two words for “Rule”: propositio and forma. Thomas seems to use these words interchangeably, and causes the reader some confusion. Was Francis submitting a formal propositio for approval, or was he seeking permission to live out his Christian faith in a new way: a forma vitae (a shape of life)?
Innocent III was familiar with the Benedictine Rule: a detailed propositio setting out the minutiae of the monks’ life. This written Rule contained within it the way of life, the forma. The monks read the Rule, and did what it said. St Francis had a new idea: his Rule set down gospel attitudes needed to live out the faith in a new and deeper way. It took another 12 years to persuade Francis that to protect this way of life, he needed a detailed and formal Rule – a controversial propositio for formal approval.
In St. Francis and the Third Order, Third Order Regular priest Raffaele Pazzelli argues that Francis’ prime aim in 1209 was to secure permission from the Pope to live penance, that is to live the gospel seriously, and to preach this radical Christianity. Australian Tertiary John Davis calls this being ‘seriously joyful’ in Christian living.
The tonsure and celibacy then granted to Francis were secondary consequences of placing the brothers under papal jurisdiction.
The Third Order first took its direction from the 1215 Letter addressed to All Christian People (Armstrong 1:41-44), and was more successful in maintaining the idea that a Rule should consist of principles to be absorbed and subsequently acted out, rather than direct prescriptions to be performed. (Pazzelli 1989)
Anglican Franciscan Orders
There were no religious orders in England after the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII between 1536 and 1540. 300 years later, in the wake of the Oxford movement, Rome re-established its hierarchy in England in 1850 and Roman Catholic Orders were again tolerated. Various Anglicans experimented with the creation of new Orders. (Williams 1982)
Some of these new Orders were responding to urban poverty and had a Franciscan flavour. Those that survived into the 20th century included the Society of Divine Compassion and the Brotherhood of Saint Francis of Assisi. From the 1920s in North America, and from the early 1930s in England, groups of Anglican Tertiaries began to establish themselves. Most of these groups of Brothers and Tertiaries came together in 1934 to form the Society of Saint Francis. The new SSF looked back to St Francis and Saint Clare for its inspiration. In particular, they wanted their communities to be filled with the spirit of primitive Franciscan life, and not to be constrained by inflexible Rules. (Dunstan 1997)
The Reverend John Copley Winslow, 1882-1974, was a missionary priest in India, searching for ways to live the gospel in community. (Emilson 1997). He established a Christian ashram Christa Prema Seva Sangha, writing a Rule with a Franciscan flavour. (Sister Joyce CSF 2003) CPSS included both celibate and married and other single members.
This Rule was rewritten and revised to become the Rules of all three Orders of the Society of St Francis. Back in England, Jack Winslow himself never joined SSF or any other community, but remained active all his life in promoting community as an essential part of Christian living. In later years, he encouraged the non-residential community centred on Lee Abbey. (Winslow 1954)
The Third Order Principles
The Principles now used by Tertiaries are a revised version of the Rules adopted in the 1930s. The genius of the Principles is in both their content, and also in the expectation that we will read them prayerfully over and over again.
Their content is designed to turn the way Franciscans think about Christianity into action. We remember that Christ is the Master. The Principles then commit us for the Master’s sake to evangelism, community and simple living. They tell us that we must pray, study and work if we are to grow as Christians. They encourage us to see the fruit of our Christian living manifest in humility, love and joy.
However, in repeating these Principles month after month, we learn a language which both propels us into action and also helps us interpret our actions of service and prayer. No wonder we all speak alike; we are all speaking the same language.
In reciting these Principles prayerfully, we avoid the danger of simply parroting Franciscan language, because our prayer leads us to reflect on the implications of each section of the Principles, to explore their meanings in our life contexts, and even to be critical of them when appropriate.
A Tertiary’s Rule has a second part. It consists of both the Principles and the Tertiary’s Personal Rule of Life. This latter document, drawn up by the Tertiary and the Tertiary’s Regional Minister, describes explicitly the actions this particular Tertiary is taking in incarnating the Franciscan way of living the faith. (Third Order Manual 2009)
The Personal Rule of Life individualises the Franciscan way of living. What is the daily prayer practice of this Tertiary? When, where and how often does this Tertiary receive Holy Communion? How much money does this Tertiary give away – and to whom? How are the values inscribed in the Principles taken into this Tertiary’s daily life and ministry? What will this Tertiary do to express Franciscan simplicity? While the emphasis in the Personal Rule is on this Tertiary, care is taken not to isolate the individual Tertiary from the community.
The gift of the Principles is a language which gives shape to our ministry. Meet Tertiaries from any part of the world, and you will hear this common language spoken. The question for this paper is: Is there a distinctive Australian accent?
Australian Tertiaries’ Lives Reflect their Rule
Earlier in 2009, I invited fellow Tertiaries around Australia to respond to a questionnaire which sought to identify the involvement of Tertiaries in social justice and interfaith activities. I asked them whether they believed there was a distinctive Australian quality to their ministry as Franciscans.
Out of a possible 200 Tertiaries, 32 questionnaires were returned. It is likely that these respondents were highly motivated Tertiaries, possibly longer professed than others, and almost certainly involved in leadership in the Third Order.
These 15% who responded to the questionnaire present a picture of Tertiaries highly engaged in active ministry in the community. One, for example, teaches health to Indigenous students. Others are prolific writers of letters to editors. Several are involved in formal ministry to the marginalised through the Mission to Seafarers, prison and hospital chaplaincies. Others are heavily involved in activism on behalf of the environment, signing petitions, writing letters to politicians and attending rallies. Many are involved in their local parishes as teachers, encouragers, and leaders in prayer.
One respondent reported that she or he incorporated Franciscan spirituality in everyday life by:
“Involvement in and work for organisations concerned with social justice, the environment and peacemaking: Oxfam, Amnesty International, Asylum Seeker Support Network, Australian Conservation Foundation and Pax Christi; living in the present moment, trusting ‘all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’; beginning each day with a time of prayer.”
The lifestyle of these Tertiaries reflects their Franciscan calling. Most choose simplicity in their clothing, buying only what is necessary and buying where possible from charity shops. Many have been reducing, reusing and recycling everyday supplies, long before this became popular in the community. These Tertiaries are careful in their use of money. They recognise the danger in the affluent Australian community of buying their way into consumerist attitudes.
One Tertiary wrote:
“I have frequent cupboard cleanouts, and pass on to op shops all that I no longer need. For me the discipline is not to buy the things I do not need. … I own only a few clothes and shoes, many of which I have bought at op shops. … As I do not have a car, I walk or use government transport; or travel with a friend. ”
Many of these Tertiaries direct gifts of money to carefully chosen agencies in the developing world and those who work with Indigenous Australians.
Tertiaries with natural contact with members of other faiths have become deeply involved in interfaith work. Some are members of formal committees; others are involved in caring for Muslim or Hindu refugees. This ministry tended to relate to context: in places where there were no newcomers, Tertiaries had not met people of other faiths, nor sought them out to be involved in interfaith ministry.
This activism is grounded in an understanding of Franciscan spirituality as being “seriously joyful” in living the Christian Gospel. They speak of passionate love for Christ, of care for people and creation, of simplicity and humility.
“Franciscan spirituality is a creation-centred, reflective spirituality that embraces the Divine Love of God; and its beauty is in its simplicity. Franciscans show their love for God through their affinity with and care of all of creation: nature, animal kingdom, humanity, and all that is animate and inanimate.”
In the words of another, Franciscan spirituality is:
“The wholeness and balance of living both in the desert and the marketplace.”
One Tertiary summed up her Franciscan life in these words:
“May I grow in His Love
To love others
May I serve Him in all Humility
To lovingly wash other’s feet
May I seek His Heavenly gifts
To give to the needy in love
May I follow Him in the Way of the Cross
To show others that Way of love
May I do all things in His strength
To help strengthen the weak
My God and my All.”
Reading about the courage and energy Tertiaries are investing in ministry, especially in social justice and environmental activism was awe-inspiring.
The Language of their Rule permeates the Lives of Tertiaries
The second impressive thing about the Tertiaries who responded is their consistency of language. All are committed, for example, to “speak out for … international peace.” (Day 9, The Principles).
For some Tertiaries speaking out for international peace means a commitment to non-violence. These Tertiaries wish to resist evil even if the resistance itself provokes more violence. Other Tertiaries are pacifists eschewing all violence, even in resolving conflict. A number of Tertiaries are members of the military, equally committed to international peace, but seeing a positive role for the armed forces in maintaining peace.
The common desire to speak out for international peace surely arises from the Christian commitment of these Tertiaries. However, the commonality of language appears to come from the Principles themselves.
Again and again in the questionnaire responses and in talking to Tertiaries, the language of the Principles is heard clearly. Tertiaries wish to “make our Lord known and loved everywhere.” (Day 5 – the First Aim of the Order). Tertiaries see that “the heart of their prayer life is the Eucharist.” (Day 15) The fruit of Christian living is joy (Day 28).
This commonality of language appears from four factors.
- Firstly, it arises from the obligation of Tertiaries to use daily the Community Obedience. This includes reading the Principles on a monthly cycle.
- Secondly, all Tertiaries are required to wear their profession cross “as a habit”. One significance of wearing the cross is that it bestows a sense of belonging to a distinctive community in which the values embedded in the Principles are encouraged.
- Thirdly, all Tertiaries have at some time been a novice. Novices are exposed to twelve sets of reading from the Franciscan tradition, and invited to reflect on these readings. Novice Counsellors encourage novices to dwell in the readings and make them their own. When all twelve Novice Notes have been read and reflected on, the newly professed Tertiary can look back and see in these Notes where in the Franciscan tradition of the Principles they have been derived.
- Fourthly, each Tertiary must renew their promises annually. This keeps them in active contact with the community with its Franciscan charism, and makes them accountable for their use of the Daily Obedience, and hence of their reading of the Principles.
The Rule and the Distances between Australian Tertiaries
A challenge unique to the Australian Third Order community is the sheer difficulty of meeting. Australian Tertiaries who live in urban settings tend to live on the outskirts of the metropolitan capitals. To get together in the cities often requires quite difficult journeys of several hours. In rural areas, this problem is magnified. (Woodbridge 2009)
The “tyranny of distance” forces the Australian Tertiary to take greater individual responsibility for his growth as a Christian and as a member of the Third Order community. This throws a greater emphasis on the Franciscan activities done alone, that is, in particular, the reading of the Principles.
This enforced isolation appears to achieve two things: it means that Australian Tertiaries when they can meet value those meetings highly. (Woodbridge 2009, 69-90). It also throws them back onto the regular reading of the Principles as their ongoing formation.
The movement from absorbing the Principles and learning their language, to reflective action in the real world is vital for Tertiaries. The Principles inspire them to action, and give them a language to describe, analyse and refine those actions.
In this distinctive way, Australian Tertiaries try to live out their Rule in the spirit of St Francis. It becomes a language to inspire and frame “seriously joyful” living of the gospel in the real world.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Regis J. Armstrong (ed.) Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol.1, The Saint, New City Press, 2002
Maurice Carmody, The Franciscan Story, London: Athena, 2008
Petà Dunstan, This Poor Sort, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd (1997).
William W. Emilson, “The Legacy of John Copley Winslow 1882-1974”, in International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 01 Jan. 1997
Sister Joyce CSF (ed.), From the Rule of Christa Prema Seva Sangha, 1922-1934, in Walking in the Footsteps of Christ: the Historical documents of the Society of Saint Francis, published in 2003 by the Society of Saint Francis, Dorset, UK
Jacques le Goff, Saint Francis of Assisi, London : Routledge, 2004
Denise Mumford tssf, Report on the results of a Questionnaire to Tertiaries of the European Province 2009 (http://www.tssf.org.uk/Members/TSSF_Resources_and_Downloads.html) Accessed 13 November 2009
Raffaele Pazzelli, St. Francis and the Third Order: the Franciscan and pre-Franciscan Penitential movement, Chicago, Ill.: Franciscan Herald Press, 1989.
Third Order, Society of St Francis, Province of Australia, Papua and New Guinea, The Manual, 2009 Revision.
Barrie Williams, The Franciscan Revival in the Anglican Communion, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982
John Copley Winslow, The Eyelids of the Dawn; Memories, Reflections and Hopes, London: Hodder & Stoughton 1954
Denis Woodbridge tssf, Franciscan Gold : a history of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis in the province of Australia, Papua New Guinea and East Asia, Riverton WA: Third Order, Society of St Francis, Australian Province, 2009
Jacques le Goff makes a similar point about Thomas of Celano’s usage of the words forma
. (le Goff, 2004, 31-32)
 In March 2009, English Tertiary Denise Mumford asked Tertiaries in the European Province to respond to a questionnaire similar to mine. Mumford obtained demographic information which showed that leaders in the Order were over-represented in the sample returned. (Mumford 2009)