As Franciscans celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Rule of 1223 on Nov. 29, it’s an invitation for people to reflect on living a life rooted in the Gospel, together as brothers and sisters, with regard for all of God’s creation.
The History of the Rule of 1223
A Rule provides a religious community with guidance for how to live, pray and carry out its mission. The Rule of 1223, also known as the Regula Bullata, is used by the Franciscan friars today as a comprehensive guide for following Jesus Christ through the example provided by St. Francis of Assisi.
The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by living in obedience, without anything of one's own, and in chastity.
— first sentence of the Rule of 1223
The Rule of 1223 was created during a time of rapid growth for the Order. St. Francis of Assisi’s guidance for his brothers evolved as the fraternity grew from 12 men to over 5,000 men in 14 years – though his guidance always remained firmly rooted in the Gospels and his desire to be a brother to everyone.
In 1209, St. Francis presented a few brief Scripture verses to Pope Innocent III and received verbal approval to “try it,” said historian Br. Jack Clark Robinson, OFM. In the following years, St. Francis’s guiding document grew, influenced by the friars’ experiences and the demands of the Church. The Earlier Rule of 1221 was considered unwieldy by some Church officials and the friars themselves, and it was edited before being presented to Pope Honorius III in 1223.
“Pope Honorius tried to set the Rule in stone – or at least confine it between a papal approbation at the beginning and a papal seal at the end,” said Br. Jack, noting that Francis had no problem with these different statements of the Rule. "For Francis – and importantly for friars today – the Rule remains the Gospel.”
Franciscans around the world continue to live by the Rule of 1223. “The Rule remains as it was for St. Francis: a moving target,” said Br. Jack. “Celebrating its 800th anniversary reminds us of our call to live the Gospel. The Gospel challenges us to go further than we have gone to live Christ-inspired and Christ-like lives.”
St. Francis's Rule and the Modern Church
The Rule continues to challenge the Franciscans to respond to the problems faced by the world. The Catholic Church is in the middle of a multiyear communal process of prayerful listening and dialogue about what God is calling it to be today. As the Church considers how it will respond to the many challenges faced by the poor and the marginalized, Pope Francis has referred to St. Francis of Assisi as the “saint of fraternal love,” a model for Catholics who seek to be brothers and sisters to all.
Eight hundred years after St. Francis provided guidance to a community that sought to serve in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, his words and deeds show the Church how to listen to everyone, especially people alienated by society, and “bear the Good News that has the power to fill the lives of those who accept it with joy and meaning,” according to a resource provided by the Conference of the Franciscan Family on the occasion of the centenary.
The Rule offers an opportunity for people “to get to know each other better,” added the Conference. “It promotes communion and fosters mutual trust among [Catholics]. It lets us rediscover the importance of dreaming together, it opens new evangelical paths that help us become a more open and outgoing fraternity, a fraternity that can generate a new culture of encounter and social friendship, a fraternity that strives to reach out to all members of society, ‘each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.’ (Fratelli tutti 8)”
The 800th anniversary of the confirmation of the Later Rule was celebrated at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome on Nov. 29 by members of the Franciscan family from around the world. In a letter to the Ministers General of the Franciscan family, the pope encouraged Franciscans to use the anniversary as a time for a "renewed missionary mandate of the Church which calls us to go out to meet the world where many brothers and sisters await to be consoled, loved and cared for."
A livestream of the celebration can be found below.