Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

.. Use Words When Necessary

leave a comment »

When I write, I want to verify the quotes and references I use. Even when material is common knowledge, that does not establish that the common knowledge is factually correct. Thus, I began to research this quote which is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.

So did St. Francis ever really say that?

There does not appear to be direct evidence that he said those exact words:

This is a great quote, very Franciscan in its spirit, but not literally from St. Francis. The thought is his; this catchy phrasing is not in his writings or in the earliest biographies about him.
— “Great Saying But Tough to Trace”, St. Anthony Messenger,

St. Francis founded the Franciscan order. In Chapter XVII of his Rule of 1221, he did write, “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.”

This emphasis on exemplification has got up the noses of several commentators:

It is a quote that has often rankled me because it seems to create a useless dichotomy between speech and action.
— Glenn T. Stanton, “FactChecker: Misquoting Francis of Assisi”, The Gospel Coalition,

This author is neither in the world nor of it if he has never experienced a dichotomy between speech and action in everyday life.

Much of the rhetorical power of the quotation comes from the assumption that Francis not only said it but lived it.

The problem is that he did not say it. Nor did he live it. And those two contra-facts tell us something about the spirit of our age.
— Mark Galli, Speak the Gospel“, Christianity Today,

Actually, the correctness of the quotation would not be impaired by the speaker having at times failed to live up to it. Humans, being imperfect, do that.

If we are to make disciples of all nations, we must use words. Preaching necessitates the use of language.
— Ed Stetzer, “Preach the Gospel, and Since It’s Necessary, Use Words”, Christianity Today,

The preaching is rather empty without credibility conferred by actions.

Judging by the way these and other authors have reacted — abreacted, really — I must conclude that this quote has struck a nerve. If St. Francis did not really say the quotation attributed to him, he should have.


Written by srojak

February 22, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: