What made St. Francis of Assisi so revolutionary? Reviewing the political theorist Giorgio Agamben’s recently translated investigation of monasticism, The Highest Poverty, Nathan Schneider emphasizes that St. Francis dreamed of a way of living “beyond the reach of ordinary politics” – not by retreating from the world, but through engaging it:
The Franciscan emphasis on poverty, for Agamben, represents a critical extension of the monastic rules. Clare of Assisi, who led the female branch of the Franciscan movement, insisted that Francis had given her not a rule at all but merely a “form of life.” He taught his followers by example and by preaching, eschewing the decrees one might hear from a monastery’s abbot. When his followers failed to listen, he didn’t police or punish. “I do not want to become a persecutor to pursue and frustrate them, like the power of this world,” Francis reportedly said.
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