Silly Things Never Actually Said: St. Francis and the Wordless Gospel
Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been irked whenever I hear a Christian repeat an alleged remark by St. Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Nearly every time I hear it used, it is quoted to defend an a-doctrinal view of Christianity. That is, the myth that Christianity is really all about doing nice things and being a nice person, not so much about a set body of teachings and beliefs. Buzzer Going Off Wrong! Now, let’s be clear. Being a nice person and doing nice things is, nice. As Frank Burns of the old TV sitcom once put it, “It’s nice, to be nice, to the nice.” Let’s take it one step further: “It’s even nicer, to be nice, to the not nice.” Granted. Fine. Good. Yes, I agree. But trying to put forward the view that Christianity is really about deeds, not creeds, is just wrong. It is not what Jesus taught, “If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples and you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free” and “Teach them to observe all I have commanded you.” And so forth. So, whenever I’ve heard that alleged phrase: “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” I have always been tempted to blurt out, “That is just so stupid!” Well, now we know that in fact St. Francis never said it. So, let’s stop repeating it. Here’s the scoop. HT: Extreme Theology. And here’s a quote:
Why is it, then, that we “remember” Francis as a wimp of a man who petted bunnies and never said a cross word, let alone much about the Cross? I suspect we sentimentalize Francis—like we do many saints of ages past—because we live in a sentimental age. We want it to be true that we can be nice and sweet and all will be well. We hope against hope that we won’t have take the trouble to figure out how exactly to talk about the gospel—our unbelieving friends will “catch” the gospel once our lifestyle is infected with it. “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets and Jesus and Paul put on preaching. Of course we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns. As blogger Justin Taylor recently put it, the Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.