December 4, 2021
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The Trinitarian Devotion of St. Francis of Assisi

The Trinitarian Devotion of St. Francis of Assisi

St Francis in Prayer (National Gallery, London)

These days we have had the great grace of celebrating the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. As a Franciscan Capuchin brother I cannot not remember, with the utmost loving affection, St Francis of Assisi’s devotion to the Most Holy Trinity.

From the phrases we find from his writings we can notice how orthodox was the Poverello’s belief in the Trinity. In his First Admonition Francis gives us a clear picture of God as One and Triune. When he speaks of the possibility of seeing God with his spiritual eyes he does so through each and every Person of the Trinity. Sacred Scripture says that the Father lives in inaccessible light (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16), and God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24) and, No one has ever seen God (Jn. 1:18). 6. Therefore he cannot be seen except in the Spirit since it is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh does not offer anything (Jn. 6:64). 7. But neither, inasmuch as he is equal to the Father, is the Son seen by anyone other than the Father [or] other than the Holy Spirit. 

The properties of the one divine essence are common to the three Persons of the Trinity. Therefore, as Francis says in his Regula Non Bullata in chapter 23: Wherever we are, in every place, at every hour, at every time of the day, every day and continually, let all of us truly and humbly believe, hold in our heart, adore, serve, praise and bless, glorify and exalt, magnify and give thanks to the Most High and Supreme Eternal God Trinity and Unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator of all, Savior of all Who believe and hope in Him, and love Him, Who without beginning and end, is unchangeable, invisible, indescribable, ineffable, incomprehensible, unfathomable, blessed, praiseworthy, glorious, exalted, sublime, most high, gentle, lovable, delightful, and totally desirable above all else for ever. Amen.

From this richly scriptural as well as patristic text we can notice that Francis attributes to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit every divine action that produces something external of God such as creation. 

Among the properties that St Francis exalts in God there is certainly goodness. Francis associates the latter to the paternity of God. It is for this reason that the Poverello uses the word “Father,” to specifically address the one triune God. This can be easily seen in his Praises of God.

You, Holy Father, the King of heaven and earth. You are Three and One, Lord God of gods; You are good, all good, the highest good, Lord, God, living and true. You are love, charity. You are wisdom; You are humility; You are patience; You are beauty; You are meekness; You are security; You are inner peace; You are joy; You are our hope and joy; You are justice; You are moderation, You are all our riches. You are beauty, You are meekness; You are the protector, You are the guardian and defender; You are strength; You are refreshment. You are our hope, You are our faith, You are our charity, You are all our sweetness, You are our eternal life: Great and wonderful Lord, God almighty, Merciful Savior.

In St Francis’ understanding we see the economic Trinity (that is the divine activity of the Trinity in favour of creation) through the mediation of the Son in creation, his redemptive incarnation as well as the final glorification of the just. In chapter 23 of the Regula Non Bullata Francis writes: We thank you as through Your Son You created us, … You brought about His birth as true God and true man by the glorious ever-virgin, most blessed, holy Mary and You willed to redeem us captives through His cross and blood and death. We thank You for Your Son Himself will come again in the glory of His majesty … 

Francis’ love for the Most Holy Trinity can be detected from a Trinitarian prayer in which he, in many times of the day, perfectly expressed his faith in this foundational mystery of our Christian faith, in the three divine Persons who are One God. In his Praises To Be Said at All the Hours, St Francis thus praises the triune God: Let us bless the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit: and let us praise and glorify Him forever… Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, And let us praise and glorify Him forever. 

In his Letter to the Entire Order, Francis starts in the name of the most high Trinity and holy Unity: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then he reminds that Jesus Christ remains undivided and knows no loss; but One everywhere, He acts and He pleases, with the Lord God the Father and the Holy Spirit the Paraclete for ever and ever. Amen. In this letter Francis humbly confesses his sins to the Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and concludes this beautiful writing by the invocation of the Blessed Trinity so that inwardly cleansed, interiorly enlightened and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit, we may be able to follow in the footprints of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and, by Your grace alone, may we make our way to You, Most High, Who live and rule in perfect Trinity and simple Unity, and are glorified God almighty, forever and ever. Amen.

Perhaps the most powerful testimony of Francis’ loving devotion for the Blessed Trinity is found in the Trinitarian blessing we come across at the end of his Testament.  And whoever shall have observed these things, may he be filled in heaven with the blessing of the most high Father and on earth with the blessing of His beloved Son with the most Holy Spirit the Paraclete.

Francis’ love for the Trinity was deeply embedded in the faith of the Gospel he openly embraced, the faith of the Church he wholeheartedly followed, and his personal experience of the triune God which changed him to such a degree that he became a living Trinitarian prayer for others.

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Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap