Francis of Assisi vs. John Wycliffe

Who's ready for another full week of hard-hitting saintly action? Well, clearly YOU are since a) you're reading this and b) you've  been hitting "refresh" on your web browser continually since 7:50 am EST just in case the SEC erred and posted this matchup a few minutes early. 

After an entire weekend experiencing LMW (Lent Madness Withdrawal) symptoms, your balm has been delivered in the form of Francis of Assisi vs. John Wycliffe. Time to pull out the ubiquitous Wycliffe bird bath that likely graces your garden and start reading about these two medieval saints.

Speaking of birds and other creatures great and small, we hope you read the SEC's statement released over the weekend assuring the Lent Madness public that no animals were harmed in the formation of the 2015 bracket.

But enough stalling. The Madness is back. Get to it!

unnamedFrancis of Assisi

Francis was born into a wealthy family in the early twelfth century. His younger years were spent like many rich young men of the day — partying rather than praying. A series of events, including an imprisonment and a serious illness, began to shift Francis’s priorities and awareness. On a pilgrimage to Rome, Francis was moved to compassion by encounters with beggars outside St. Peter’s Cathedral.

When Francis returned home, he broke from his old life, taking up the disciplines of poverty and devotion. While attending Mass one day, Francis heard the words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel, asking his disciples to leave all and follow him. These words guided Francis’s life henceforth. He became an itinerant preacher embracing poverty, humility, and devotion to the Holy Eucharist. He soon had people joining him in his example of ministry. When the number of followers reached twelve, Francis wrote a rule for the group and soon obtained papal approval for the “friars minor” as they called themselves.They continued to grow and encouraged a similar society for women (founded by Clare of Assisi) as well as a Third Order for lay associates.

Francis was not a priest and evidence that he might have been a deacon comes mainly from the account by Bonaventure, who wrote of Francis’s use of a cave in the Italian village of Grecio to preach about the Nativity. Francis used a manger and two live animals (an ox and an ass) to teach about the Babe of Bethlehem. Thus, we have the first recorded account of a crèche. The hay Francis used in the crèche was reported to have cured local cattle of disease.

There are many legends surrounding Francis’s interactions with animals. From preaching to birds to freeing fish and rabbits caught for meals, Francis was often reported to call these creatures “Brother” and “Sister.” The source of the stories is unclear, but Francis expressed his love of creation and an understanding that we are in relationship not just with each other as humans but with all of creation in his “Canticle of Brother Sun.” While Francis composed several other prayers, he most likely was not the author of the prayer most commonly attributed to him — "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” — since its composition date is 1912, several centuries after Saint Francis died.

In prayerful preparation for Michaelmas 1224, Francis received the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ. He received care for these wounds in several cities, but in 1226 he requested to be taken back to Portiuncula, the site of the church where he first heard the words from Matthew bidding him to give up all he had and live the gospel. He died where his call was birthed on October 3, 1226, and he was canonized less than two years later.

He devoted himself to a life of preaching the gospel by caring for the poor as one of them, by honoring God in all creation, by his profound devotion to prayer and humility, and by his forming community to join him in God’s ministry.

Collect for Francis of Assisi

Most high, omnipotent good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world: that following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Laurie Brock

SuperStock_1916-3159John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe was an early supporter of reform in the Roman Catholic Church. Born in Yorkshire, England, Wycliffe received an excellent education at Oxford University. He earned his doctorate in 1372 and came to be considered one of Oxford’s leading philosophers and theologians. Remembered by the Church as both a translator and controversialist, Wycliffe conformed to the mold of faithful people who did amazing things but would probably never be anyone’s first choice to share a beer with (see also John the Baptist, Cardinal Walsingham, and the Apostle Paul).

Not everyone was a fan of Wycliffe’s criticism of the doctrine of transubstantiation, his challenge of indulgences, and his repudiation of private confession. His deep belief that every Christian should have access to scripture in their own language made him a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation and Public Enemy #1 for the Roman Catholic Church.

He was summoned to appear before the Bishop of London in 1377 to answer to the charges of heresy, but before the trial could start, recriminations on both sides filled the air and erupted into an open fight, ending the trial. Three months later, Pope Gregory XI issued five church edicts against Wycliffe, in which Wycliffe was accused on eighteen counts and was called “the master of errors.”

The Church tried to silence him but it was too late. Wycliffe had by this time many followers known as Lollards. They preached anticlerical and biblically centered reform. The more the Church attacked and suppressed Wycliffe’s teachings, the more determined his followers became. At one point the Lollards were driven underground, but they remained a constant source of irritation to the English Catholic authorities until the English Reformation made their views the norm.

John Wycliffe died December 28, 1384, from a stroke. In May 1415 he was declared a heretic, and his writings were banned. Wycliffe’s impact on the church was so great that forty-three years after his death, officials dug up his body, burned the remains, and threw the ashes into the River Swift as a protest against his teachings.

Collect for John Wycliffe

O God, your justice continually challenges your Church to live according to its calling: Grant us who now remember the work of John Wycliffe contrition for the wounds which our sins inflict on your Church, and such love for Christ that we may seek to heal the divisions which afflict his Body; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-Nancy Frausto


Francis of Assisi vs. John Wycliffe

  • Francis of Assisi (66%, 4,824 Votes)
  • John Wycliffe (34%, 2,478 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,302

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236 comments on “Francis of Assisi vs. John Wycliffe”

  1. A Few Fun Facts for Francis:

    -He wrote what is thought to be among the first, if not the first, works of literature in the Italian language (or a dialect thereof), “The Canticle of Brother Sun” (see “All Creatures of Our God and King,” The Hymnal 1982, #400, whose lyrics are a paraphrase of Francis’s song by Anglican priest William H. Draper);

    -In 1223, he commissioned the first known Christmas crèche (and preached so movingly on the Nativity that the faithful entered the sanctuary after Mass to take pieces of the straw as relics; it was said that “sick animals who ate it recovered their health, and that women in labor touched with it has easy deliveries”) (Thompson);

    -He urged his brothers to adopt a practice of putting out “special food for the birds and the beasts at Christmas so that in their own way they might rejoice at the birth of the Savior” (Thompson);

    -He was the first person to receive the stigmata (1224) (believe in the stigmata or not, as you wish, but the wounds were surely not, as a sixteenth-century German Protestant minister averred in book with a preface by Martin Luther, the result of a brawl with St. Dominic);

    -In “an age that ascribed depression to diabolical powers, ” he was “a compassionate brother,” with “a special gift for consoling those who suffered from it” (Thompson);

    -“He accepted into [his] community anyone who applied. There was no test, no waiting period” (Acocella);

    -He was characterized by “an extreme natural sweetness,” a quality “attested to by everyone who knew him.” […] “He was courteous, genial, extroverted—he was fun, a quality not always found in saints—and he laid it upon the brothers, as a duty, to be cheerful. […] He couldn’t hate anyone. […] He was different, morally, from most of us.” (Acocella); “All the first-hand accounts converge to paint a picture of the kindest young man in the world. ‘Kind’ is the epithet that is endlessly repeated.”(Green)

    1. Jesus would be proud of anyone who irritated the authorities over making it easier for the every day person to believe. He did allot of that himself. Oh Wycliffe all the way.

      1. Going in, I thought I would be voting for Francis, but after I read the synopsis of John Wycliffe seeing the need to fix some of the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church, I voted for him. I pray daily that some Muslims step up and act to extirpate those terrorist tenets in the radically violent sects and replace those beliefs with God and Allah inspired tenets such as "Love Thy Neighbor" and "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

          1. As an Episcopalian tired of hearing the "divorce theory" of the founding of our denomination , I am rooting for Wycliffe, one of the true forces for the split from Rome, all the way. However, I do recognize the "nice person to have a beer with" and animal kindness factor in popularity. Very glad that God's Grace and purpose covers all those in the contest, not just the popular, or the winners.

          2. As an Episcopalian, I'm really puzzled by all these glowing references to and comments about Pope Francis. Call me funny if you will.

          3. Although I am pleased to learn of John Wycliffe, of whom I knew nothing until now, I have to say that I cannot think of a Saint that I admire or love more than St. Francis. I was fortunate enough to visit Assisi this past fall, and it was truly a place of great spiritual presense. Although the town was brimming with tourists, there was a reverence displayed by pretty much everyone; a hush that was so respectful it was palpable. In contrast, the Vatican was a circus of noise and activity. I sometimes feel that Francis' spirit drives me. I would not be me without the knowing of him. I judge my actions by his standards.

        1. That's the reason I voted for Wycliffe. Only I didn't know it until your words resonated with me. You are right. As followers of Christ we do need to grapple with evil.

    2. All Creatures of our God and King: One of my favorite hymns and played at my wedding. I voted for John Wycliffe THIS TIME to honor the revolutionary spirit that characterizes our faith. Question authority, dare to change, love in the face of hate, seek to understand. Splendid day to all.

  2. For further exploration of St. Francis (includes the works cited in the previous post):

    The Little Flowers of St. Francis, in multiple editions (translations of I Fioretti di San Francesco) (beautiful, brief, fairy-tale-like legends)

    “Rich Man, Poor Man: The Radical Visions of St. Francis,” by Joan Acocella, The New Yorker (January 14, 2013)

    Francis of Assisi: A New Biography, by Augustine Thompson, O.P. (Cornell University Press, 2012) (scholarly but accessible and concise)

    The Very Lowly: A Meditation on Francis of Assisi by Christian Bobin (New Seeds, 2006) (translation of Le Très-Bas) (stunningly beautiful text, highest possible recommendation)

    God’s Fool: The Life and Times of Francis of Assisi by Julien Green (Harper, 1987) (translation of Frère François) (lovely, very readable; perhaps inspired by I Fioretti, the story is told as a series of vignettes)


    “The Flowers of St. Francis” (film, 1950, dir. Rosselini) (odd, haunting)
    “Francis of Assisi” (film, 1961, dir. Curtiz) (“camp” but surprisingly touching)

    Among the innumerable paintings of St. Francis, see especially works by:

    El Greco
    Giotto (or whoever painted the frescoes in the Upper Church of the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi)

    1. Another movie, which influenced my spiritual life deeply: "Brother Sun, Sister Moon", with music by Donovan (1970's)

    2. My favorite book about Francis is The Passionate Troubadour, by Edward Hays. It is an imaginative telling of the story, influenced by the author's own brand of kindness and love of all people and creatures. It was one of those page-turners that I didn't want to end!

    3. By far my favorite Francis biography is Paul Sabatier's Life of St. Francis of Assisi. Reading it was literally a life-changing experience. It spent decades on the banned Index and was out of print for a long time but is now available again. One caution, there's a badly abridged version of the Sabatier out there titled The Road to Assisi. Avoid it. It's basically Francis sanitized and with all of the controversy and much of the life sucked right out of him. An English version of the original is available and the two are in no way comparable.

    4. Thank you so much for this bibliography. I hope to to find the time to explore all of the items you have offered.

  3. One last comment (I promise). Like all good hagiographies, the story of St. Francis blends fact and myth. In his case, the two elements are equally compelling and the marriage between them is particularly felicitous. This may explain, in part, his extraordinary popularity.

    1. These comments, interpretations, and recommended readings are themselves fioretti, or flowers of Francis! Thanks so very much!

    2. Thanks for all the fun info! I felt for Wyclife on this one. He was a gutsy guy, and he brought some important issues to the forefront; but when it comes to Francis, for me there was just no contest-- almost no matter who he went up against. Beyond my personal fondness for him (and so many people's), the fact is, he changed the face of Christianity-- and continues to-- for so many people, back to one of gentleness and compassion, humility and inclusion. And all this through that beautiful combination of myth and history, metaphoric and embodied truth, that makes Christianity what it is.

        1. I have always loved St. Francis for his peaceful loving presence, however, today I was compelled to vote for Wyclife. In 2015, we need a model of confronting wrong and reforming the Church which all too often turns a blind eye to the realities around them. Everyone loves the little animals. As followers of Christ, we need to grapple with evil.

          1. Carol: I totally agree and that is why I went for Wyclife. It was a hard choice but in the end I know that he was the right choice and that I would even have a beer with him given the opportunity.

          2. This was a struggle. I love St. Francis and all that he stood for but I have to agree that Wyclife was what the church needed at that time. I agree with Carol about both of them.

          3. It really isn't fair putting Francis against Wycliffe. The other day I didn't want to vote for either candidate, today I wanted to vote for both, especially as I've been reading a history of Christianity which has covered both.

          4. Completely agree, I had to go with Wycliffe. It's easy to love the animals, hard to go against authority. Sadly, I don't think Wycliffe will advance. The beasts are too cuddly.

          5. I felt the same way. I started reading with the thought that I didn't really need to read the blog since "who could possibly compete with St. Francis?" After reading about Wycliffe I have to vote for him. He was a rebel with a worthy cause!

  4. Sorry, Wycliffe, but you are going down!
    "Extreme natural sweetness" is hard to resist!!!

    1. My priest (Episcopal) said to me (joking) yesterday after church that I don't understand that I need to be thinking about the likely winners and the brackets here (like for March Madness) rather than voting my heart or my mind based on the information given (explaining why I have only backed two winners so far). But I don't fill out March Madness brackets and I didn't fill out a bracket for Lent Madness either. Francis was a very fine person as he matured and saw the error of his ways. But, the non-prodigal daughter in me joins the Lollard in me voting for one of the men who set the stage for the Reformation, a great and inspirational teacher whose work also supported English nationalism against the Roman Church, with Jan Hus later using Wycliffe's ideas to support Bohemian national identity, as well. And unlike Hus, Wycliffe managed to escape burning at the stake until long after he was dead of natural causes so that shows either human or divine protection along with the silliness of those who would dig him up to burn his remains. I also love describing to my students a back alley Lollard deal over an English language gospel like its some sort of black market or drug deal. "Your walking home at night and you hear from down an alley, (stage whisper) 'Psst, how'd you like to read the Gospel according to St. Matthew in English?'"

      1. I'm with you, Carolyn,-- I don't fill in the brackets and I go with my heart instead of "for the win." Francis is my man today, but the blogger and the commenters are making the Wycliffe case so effectively, even my cats would understand if I'd voted the other way.

        1. I am with you and Carolyn, plus as I have said before there are really no losers in Lent Madness. Lots of winners since we get to learn about many saints, plus the amazing SEC

      2. As one who has voted for the loser almost every day so far, I'm certainly not thinking about winners and losers. I even voted for William Laud.
        More seriously, much as I love Francis, it's Wycliffe's determination that gets me.

      3. I ignored my own advice today and cast my vote for Wycliffe, knowing full well that the Francis groupies would probably carry the day. My bracket is busted, but I am content in my soul.

      4. "LIKE"

        I like savvy fighters and voted Wycliffe--like Jim and others, I know sweetness is easy to like, but I'd rather read the Bible than follow a celebrity saint! Despite the fact that I have his image in my house.

      1. Above -- "backed only two winners" -- "voted for the loser almost every day"? --
        Assuming this round goes as it has begun, my record will be o for 9 because I vote my heart and mind, not for the one I think likely to win. I understand why some people read the comments (so far) before they vote, and that's fine, but I prefer to read the initial statements, add what I know (if anything) about the two saints, then vote before looking at any results. Under basic statistical assumptions of independence (I'm a mathematician), the odds of my "scoring" 0 out of 9 are 511 to one -- anyone else with me among those few thousands of participants? It's all fun and informative, so I don't mind losing and losing and losing.

  5. Francis will probably win this and perhaps go on to get the Halo. He deserves it. But Wycliffe is such an important figure to anyone who reads the Bible. What an anguish causing choice. Ok....its Wycliffe.

  6. gotta stand up for wycliffe today, even though i'm sure francis will win...hope people read the post to better appreciate the debt we all owe to wcliffe (no caps today - have a broken elbow and typing is difficult)

  7. I feel that Francis has received his reward, and wonder if the sentimentality that is such a part of the popular view of his life would have him fleeing into the forest. Admire his witness, but if I had my choice I think I'd share that beer and conversation with John Wycliffe.

    1. Note to Caroline Mack (above): I ignored my own advice today and cast my vote for Wycliffe, knowing full well that the Francis groupies would probably carry the day. My bracket is busted, but I am content in my soul.

  8. I have Francis on my bracket, but voted for Wycliffe because even grumpy academics need love. That and I suspect Francis didn't need my vote.

    1. Yeah, my bracket says Francis goes all the way. But my vote went to Wycliff. No matter how you vote, let us pause to give thanks for the man who risked his life so that we could read the bible in our own language. That the Lord took him home 43 years before they could get the fire lit tells me that the Lord himself liked this guy.

    2. Good points and some of the reasons I voted for Wycliffe. The world knows Francis, and we do need his gentleness and compassion. But I agree, reform and naming evil what it is, and surviving, this is needed today.

    3. I was all set to vote for Francis but after reading the post, and then reading more about Wycliffe in Wikipedia, I must vote for him! And I have a quibble: according to the Wikipedia entry: "Thorpe says Wycliffe was of unblemished walk in life, and regarded affectionately by people of rank, who often consorted with him, took down his sayings, and clung to him." So who says he was a cranky academic?! People not only wanted to drink with him, they clung to him! Wycliffe, I'm afraid, once again, the establishment (this time, of Lent Madness) will overlook your invaluable contributions to our faith, but I for one, will vote for you! And maybe someday share a celestial beer.

    4. Grumpy academics DO need love Holly! And by golly, as someone who enjoys reading the Bible in my native tongue, today I vote for Wycliffe. (But I still love fuzzy animals, brothers and sisters.)

  9. I voted for Wycliffe. My favorite kind of person who believed in the Common Man. Also somebody who can rile up that kind of anger has to be doing something right.

  10. Both loved the Church passionately enough to call it to greater adherence to the Living Word. You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, through. I voted for Francis but am really glad that there's a place for offputting prophets like Wycliffe.

  11. I was born on the Transitus, around the time that St. Francis died.

    My husband and I had the opportunity to travel in Italy a few summers ago. The tour gave us the Sunday as a day off. We figured out the train schedule from Rome and took a train up to Assisi. We got there in time for the high mass in the Basilica. Following the service, we joined the long line of pilgrims who went downstairs to the crypt, where St. Francis is entombed.
    This is the live webcam (right now it isn't working) of the chapel.

  12. Wycliffe was a bit of a jerk, to put it mildly - that irritating person who thinks he is always smarter than everyone else.

  13. I would like to protest putting up Wycliffe against Francis. Wycliffe was a giant for us... I hated not voting for him whom I admire but no one could beat Francis!

    1. Totally agree! My thoughts exactly. Would've loved to see a different match-up so they both could move on.

  14. My debt to Francis knows no bounds, and I am confident that Francis will win this matchup, and at least make it to the Faithful Four, but I voted for John Wycliffe "The Morning Star of the Reformation," and I hope he comes in at 49%.

  15. An interesting description of Wycliffe - "Remembered by the Church as both a translator and controversialist, Wycliffe conformed to the mold of faithful people who did amazing things but would probably never be anyone's first choice to share a beer with." It speaks volumes about the man that and the fistfight at the cathedral. I recall a phrase from my youth "The Saints belong in Heaven, because they are hell to live with on Earth."
    But would one want to share a beer with Francis?? He wore the same clothes for most of his monastic life, day in and day out. Leaving his personal habits(!) behind, would you want to sit and have a beer with him?? Or Saint Paul, or Saint Peter for that matter?? Great thinkers who could be stinkers?? Fathers of our faith, who like regular fathers might be a bit much to take from time to time??

    1. I suspect sitting with Francis would be being bathed in love, whether you wanted or needed it or not, whether he smelled funny or not. I think that spirit of love--coupled with simplicity--is what prompted our present Pope to take his name.

    2. Would I sit and have a beer with St. Francis? Yeah, I'd be willing to sit and have a beer with the guy described as "courteous," "genial," "extroverted," "cheerful," and "kind."

  16. As an avid birdwatcher since the age of 8 and a Lay Reader formerly serving the church of St. Francis of the Birds in St-Sauveur, QC, there's only one choice for me!!

  17. My daughter's youth group did a pilgrimage to Assisi and followed the steps of Francis. For her and those young minds and hearts, I cast my vote for Francis.

  18. I, along with millions of others, to have gained much from the vernacular Bibles we now read, thanks, in part, to Wycliffe. Yet my vote goes to Francis, whose sweet nature and constant walk with and among the most lowly is surely an example we all need to follow more. And who can argue with the humane treatment of animals? Hard choice, yet Francis is such an iconic figure it is impossible for me to resist voting for him.

  19. I voted for Francis, though Wycliffe is to be admired greatly for his view that scripture should be available to all in their own language. Grateful still for the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators today for continuing this work.

  20. I love Frances and his gentle ways. However, I also love a good rebel and voted for Wycliffe because he fought the establishment for a good reason.

  21. Francis is everybody's sentimental favorite. Who doesn't love animals and those who protect animals, or the role model of a rich man who gives away everything and wears rags (Early Hippy??). But for elevating the Bible above the priestly class and encouraging the laity to find God on a personal level, I have to vote for Wycliffe. Being so hated by the authorities that his corpse gets burned decades later is a great testimony to his unorthodoxy.

  22. How can we not vote for Wycliffe? He appealed to me immediately with his courage to speak his truth. I believe most votes for St. Frances are sentimental although I do admire what we know of his example.

  23. Wycliffe is a straight up badass. Both are great candidates, but I want to read the blogging about Wycliffe much more than Francis...

  24. I love Francis but my vote goes to Wycliffe. Anyone who risked death at the hands of the church for the belief that everyone should be able to read scripture in their native tongue is cool with me even if they were not an obvious choice for a drinking buddy. Besides, if you're an argumentative drunk Wycliffe may have been perfect!

  25. All creatures of our God and King is a favourite hymn of mine (sadly un-singable in Lent). I love Francis for taking seriously the natural world and our fellow creatures, for his rejection of worldly goods. I am intrigued by his encounter with Islam, meeting the Sultan in 1219. There are themes in the life of Francis life which are very relevant today. All this said, I am voting for Wycliffe because the church always needs irritants, and God loves the grumpy too!