Chapter

St. Francis and His Audience

Kenneth Baxter Wolf

in The Poverty of Riches

Published in print March 2003 | ISBN: 9780195158083
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834877 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0195158083.003.0009

Series: Oxford Studies in Historical Theology

 St. Francis and His Audience

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Francis was the son of a prominent cloth merchant and as such his early life was spent immersed in burgher culture. When he decided to renounce his place in society and live a life of voluntary poverty, he constructed that life as the antithesis of the life of a wealthy burgher. As a result, his form of poverty quite naturally spoke to the particular spiritual needs of the urban elite. By providing his former peer group with a way of dealing with the guilt surrounding their mercantile lifestyles, he found himself elevated to a position of great popularity and influence. His sermons, in which he preached penance, encouraged burghers either to follow his example and become “perfectly poor” or to support him and his fellow friars as they tried to perfect their own poverty. The natural “fit” between Francis's new, postconversion lifestyle and the experiences of the other members of the urban elite paved the way for the cult of St. Francis to assume proportions that dwarfed the cults of the rest of the urban saints of his day.

Keywords: burgher; cult; guilt; penance; sermons; urban; urban elite

Chapter.  7570 words. 

Subjects: Christianity

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