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. I think the joy and delight in which Francis lived his life is why I chose him. I think all too often we forget that wild abandonment on celebration of all God's creation is what it's about - even in Lent. I am voting in my soul not my head. If anyone has ever walked the streets of Assisi they could nothing else.

  2. As much as I love Francis, as a Latin American historian currently working on issues of colonial era translations of the catechism into Native American languages I have to ponder this one a bit more.

  3. Francis also tried to end the Crusades in 1219 by voyaging to Cairo in hopes of converting the Caliph. The Caliph granted an audience to the strange, ragged little man and listened respectfully to what he had to say, but unfortunately was not persuaded. How different the world might have been if Francis had successfully pulled that one off!

    What I find compelling in this pairing is Francis's utter uniqueness. If he hadn't lived, there is no reason to think another countercultural figure would have risen from the mire of the Thirteenth Century to replace him; and his influence on the Church, the whole Church, has been incalculable then and ever since.

    Wycliffe and the Lollards were also heroes of boldness and devotion; but at least to me it seems that in their absence it's likely that the reforms they championed would have come about in some other way. So my vote went to Francis largely on the principle of "sine quo/qua non."

  4. These two initially seemed hard to choose between. I voted for the less obvious Wycliffe, as he seemed to have more impact on the growth of Christianity, where Francis' approach, while commendable, seems inward and personal.

  5. Looking forward to learning more about Wycliffe; although, it will sadly most likely have to be through self study. His collect caught me by my heart. An apropos prayer for the modern day Church..."Grant us ...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."

  6. Though I love Francis dearly, I have to throw my lot in with the renegade who foresaw what has become the Episcopal Church. Thank you, John Wycliffe.

  7. I'm going Wycliffe. Francis needs no help, but Wycliffe was the pebble in the shoe that makes us consider our errors. A grumpy curmudgeon, but worthy.

      1. We trust that Cursillo was a great experience! Many Blessings No snakes

        Due to Zoological issues must go with Francis Sigs, Brandy, and Mocha must be served

  8. I fully expected to vote for Francis — loved him forever and have irritated for Blessing of the Animals everywhere I go (now I'm at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine I don't have to irritate because it's done with such festival and joy there) but then there's Wycliffe who was an irritant. Oh how I can relate to that!! And to be dug up and burned after being dead — now that's a Master Irritator. Gotta go with Wycliffe. Sorry Francis. I'll just get another ferret in penance.

  9. I pray in thanksgiving for the Society of St. Francis, especially for Brother Dunstan who taught me as a child in FL while on a preaching trip to the parish of my childhood. I pray in thanksgiving for the departed soul of the Rt Rev Jim Kelsey of tertiary of the SSF, a former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of N. MI. In the Episcopal Diocese of Northern MI, there is a Roman Catholic conference center that they allow us to use. I think of seeing a lovely statue of Francis and the animals quite covered with snow... such that he nearly had a mitre of snow. May all you snow bound, become snow birds and join us in FL -

  10. I, we, have been ""beggars outside of St Peter's" in Rome from the death of John XXIII until Francis came along and brought the spirit of St Francis of Assisi,, kindness and the power of kindness and a smile, back to Rome. Thanks, I do appreciate Wycliffe for his clarity and bravery.

  11. Francis is reported to have said something to the effect: "Proclaim the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." One of my favorite "saintly" quotes. I admire Wycliffe greatly and give thanks to God for his scholarship and the impact he has had on the church [and I, too, love irritants], Francis embodied the Gospel of Christ and so gets my vote!

  12. Francis is my favorite saint. One of my middle names is Frances – strictly coincidence, came from my father and his family; I think it was a latinization of Freeman, the one time last name. However, I am putting aside my sentimentality to vote for reason and education.

  13. St.Francis is my favorite saint, as an animal lover and someone who expresses our interconnection with all of life, he gets my vote. Plus at the Episcopal Youth Event this past summer, Francis beat Michael in a vote of the churches youth

  14. I chose Francis when I filled out my bracket, but it was hard not to vote for Wycliff. I wouldn't like having to read the Bible in Latin or Greek although I am having a fine time reading The Nyew Testament in Gullah.

  15. Wow! Why were 2 Giants of the Faith pitched against each other so soon in the voting? I could honestly go either way. I ended up voting for Wycliffe, simply to make his loss less severe. In God's eyes, they are both winners.

  16. Though as an EfM mentor I am all for translators like John Wycliffe and having the Scriptures available to all in a language they can understand, today I am particularly thankful for the ministry of one of Francis' friars.

    Fr. Richard Rohr's books and teaching have reinvigorated my own practice of prayer and engagement with the Scriptures, so my vote goes to Francis today.

  17. St Francis speaks to my soul with the model of his life, kindness, and fun-loving generosity of spirit.

    Wycliffe speaks to all the practicality of my religious & spiritual life. His influence challenged many of the loathsome practices of the day and endured to create a new approach for the faithful.

    Toughest bracket yet. My heart says Francis. My head says Wycliffe. Today, my head rules. I may have a beer to celebrate & further reflect. Oh, what Lent Madness brings to life!!

  18. I was poised to vote for St. Francis as my model Saint for all times. I've had a statue of him in my garden, I've sung his Canticle, I love his hewing to the path of Christ and his example for all of us. His life did not seem to take as much courage, however. He had everything of this earth, realized that it is not where happiness and godliness lies, and followed the path of love and Christ, which heals the soul. Wycliffe, on the other hand, questioned the "wisdom" of the Catholic church that hindered the ability of the common people access a faith and study not mediated by clergy, at great danger to himself, and paved the way for us to grow in our relationship with God. I voted for Wycliffe.

  19. Battling the establishment to establish another establishment....I'll take kindness, compassion, and the belief that we are in relationship to all of creation.

  20. Two so different, yet profoundly vital, men.... a very tough choice to begin this week. I go with Francis for his radicalism... and the sense I have had lately of reading about Isis radicals... from affluent families etc... who leave home to follow a religious conviction, but one of deep violence, whereas this Christian radical .. and others like Clare... left their affluent homes to follow a religious conviction of profound peace and compassion. The difference is striking.

  21. Kudos to Wycliffe for riling up the Catholic church (a need that seems to be continual), but I have to go with Francis. Francis recognized that man was a part of creation and needed to show respect and care for it long before that was anywhere near the norm. The attitude that humans were 'rulers' of creation, both above it and without having to show regard for it, was way too prevalent at that time. For that, as well as the general love and respect for other humans, he gets my vote.

  22. I'm just not getting the "I voted for the rebel" theme. Francis was a colossal rebel and a huge irritant, but we tend not to see him that way because, by the grace of God and the sheer force of his personality and example, he more or less compelled the establishment to embrace him and his seedy band of followers.

    And the beer thing is a true red herring. The chances of sharing a beer with Wycliffe far outrun those of sharing one with Francis who, lest we forget, was Italian.

  23. Without Francis, we would not have the blessing of Richard Rohr and his daily messages of Alternative Orthodoxy. It seems to me that Fr Rohr has also a great deal of Francis' cheer and kindness, now inviting a worldwide digital community to let go of dualism and enmity and embrace unitive consciousness with the marginalized. Not to mention a kinder gentler Pope. Francis for Golden Halo

  24. Had to vote for Wycliffe...what came to mind was "Fight the good fight with all your might"....While St Francis was I his cave..Wycliffe was on the ramparts!

  25. This was a tough one, but I voted for St. Francis of Assisi. Primarily because the anthem that I learned in children's choir eons ago based on the prayer attributed to him - "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace...." will now be stuck in my head for the rest of the day. With all due respect to the man for whom the international Bible translation society is named - and to whom we all owe a great debt - my vote goes to the gentle lover of animals. Particularly as we deal with the death of my beloved dog this past Friday.

  26. 3.2.2015 [Francis]

    the trappings of
    earthly weal,
    home, hearth,

    let go for the
    eternal non-trappings
    of heart, health,
    and soul

    brother Francis
    you lead
    the way.
    Monday in 2Lent

  27. All Hail Francis. Love his "biographies, and when possible show the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon to anyone who will sit still for a couple of hours. Not glorified in the Church much, Wycliffe is an example of serious belief in the priesthood of all believers and probably not heard of by most. Yet we thrive on his example hardly realizing his existence. May there be many more of both.

  28. Sorry to have to choose between these two, but it's Francis hands down for me. After all, I'm rector of St. Francis, Dunellen, NJ!

    In addirion to the other fine resources on Francis others have posted, I highly recommend the DVD/workbook program, "Embracing an Alternative Orthodoxy: Richard Rohr on the Legacy of Francis" from Church Publishing. We're using it for our Lenten Adult Formation and it is wonderfully eye-opening. Rohr takes Francis' teaching and that of his successors far beyond the sometimes sentimental picture of Francis many have.

    I also love the flower child version of Francis in the classic movie, "Brother Sun, Sister Moon."

  29. It's hardly fair to include St. Francis at all. Surely nobody has a chance against him. Maybe he should be awarded a Golden Halo for Life (or After Life) and retired from competition.

    1. Francis has been on the slate before (2010) and made it through three rounds before Julian of Norwich beat him out in the Final Four prior to losing the final vote to George Herbert. His opponents, though, were J. Schereshrewsky (?sp), Hilda of Whitby, and Aelred -- not exactly household name saints. Others do have a chance against him.