Francis is by far one of the most popular figures across the world wide church, catholic and protestant. He was a favorite not simply among religious but during the “enlightenment” period, historians wished to make him a Saint of Humanism. Well known stories such as, in his attempt to bring an end to the crusades, he sought to convert the Sultan of Egypt. What is most often stressed by such is his love for nature, and for humanity.
Another great story from the life of Francis was when Pope Innocent III had a dream in which Francis was supporting a tilted church. Such a story is a reminder that for monks like Francis who took vows of poverty had a responsibility to find support from the high church for their mission. Francis sought support for his mission of preaching the kingdom to the poor. That the Pope is said to have had a dream and worked to support the mission of Francis bodes well for the Catholic church. It was men like Francis who have made the Catholic church great, and Popes who were moved to support it.
An area in the life of Francis that befuddles critics of monasticism (protestants) and critics of religion in general (moderns) was his love for sacrifice. For him it was part of walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Taking conscious efforts to be uncomfortable for the sake of Christ. Ironically a man who loved nature, loved man, and loved God, would choose to regularly deprive himself of pleasures. And thus it is his love for God, Nature, and Humanity that drove him to what modern men would describe as madness. Francis was mad for God. A hopeless romantic for God and all that came from God.
Francis upheld the teaching of the Catholic Church, that the world was created good and beautiful by God but suffers a need for redemption because of the primordial sin of man. He preached to man and beast the universal ability and duty of all creatures to praise God and the duty of men to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God’s creation and as creatures ourselves.
Thus the theological and application point embodied in the life of Francis, is to support Gods redemption of his creation through the son.
In the Modern era St. Francis became a hero of the humanist movement. But humanists can not claim him. He madly loved God. From the biblical worldview he found courage to love man, and love nature with the same madness. Even still environmentalists today may seek to claim such figures. But Francis belongs to the community of those who Love God and have the biblical framework for rightly loving nature.
The legacy of Francis of Assisi is something we in the 21st Century church can learn from. If we could address our “gnostic” emphasis on the earth as headed for destruction and focus on Gods mandate for stewardship of creation, and the restoration that God is bringing to his creation we would not have to surrender such views to secular environmentalist.