Brat, turned religious nut, strips butt naked before father and bishop
Assisi, April 10, 1206
If there had been tabloids, that probably would have made a great headline in Assisi in the year 1206.
Francis, son of a rich cloth merchant, had led a charmed life, but after a year as a prisoner of war in Perugia something seemed to change.
On his return he was ill and took time to recuperate. But there was something more that needed to be healed. Francis began roaming the hills and churches around Assisi. He even sold some of his father’s cloth to help repair the church of San Damiano.
His angry father had him jailed in the house, but his mother released him when his father was on one of his journeys.
His father sought to get his money from Francis and to disinherit him. But since Francis was a Penitent, connected with the church, the secular court had no jurisdiction. And so Pietro di Bernadone and his son Francesco appeared before Bishop Guido of Assisi.
At one point Francis stripped all his clothes and laid them at the feet of his father. “Before I called you ‘father,’ but now I only have on Father who is in heaven.”
Naked, he was covered by the bishop in his mantle and later given some workmen’s clothes.
It makes me recall the primal innocence of Adam and Eve in the Garden.
But it also reminds me of the nakedness of the very poor who have only tatters to cover them.
Naked and vulnerable.
Naked, without protection.
Naked, like Christ on the cross.
Julien Green, in God’s Fool: The Life and Times of Francis of Assisi, p. 84, puts it well:
To get back to the scene of the stripping, in an age when shame had not yet been confused with prudery, this act was one of the forms of public penance. To strip oneself of the external signs of wealth, of the clothes in which he had tasted all the pleasures of the world – and the pleasure of a fine appearance meant a great deal to him – to abandon the pride of his youth, showed everyone that Francis violently repudiated his past. The renunciation in the presence of a crowd was in itself, according to the medieval mentality, a juridical act. From now on, Francis, with nothing to his name, was taking sides with the outcast and the disinherited.
Not many will strip themselves as Francis did, but all of us can take sides with the outcast and the disinherited.
This post originally appeared in my blog on Saint Francis here.