In Solitude and Dialogue: Contemparary Franciscans Theologize

In Solitude and Dialogue: Contemparary Franciscans Theologize

In Solitude and Dialogue: Contemparary Franciscans Theologize

In Solitude and Dialogue: Contemparary Franciscans Theologize


Seven articles explore different aspects of the contemplative experience of contemporary Franciscan theology. The foundation for the essays is Francis’s Rule for Hermitages; the texts emerged from the desire of mature Franciscans to describe the call to pray in community and share their own intellectual journeys. Contributors include R. Duffy, OFM.; J. Mueller, OSF; J. Burkhard, OFM Conv.; and G. Ühlein, OSF.


In his loving reflection of Iris Murdoch’s journey into Alzheimer’s disease, her husband John Bayley writes: “A solitary life is splendid, provided you can lead it with someone else.” This brief, insightful statement is not only a clever resolution of Francis of Assisi’s personal struggle with the relationship between his life of solitude and his life of preaching but it is also an eloquent commentary on Francis’s Rule for Hermitages. For the Franciscan, the solitary life is highly desirable, especially as one grows older. But, then, the Franciscan also longs to live in fraternity, especially to fulfill the felt need to belong. Bayley’s observation strikes at the Franciscan heart. Francis would have been pleased with this succinct commentary on his Rule for Hermitages. Bonaventure would have delighted in the coincidence of opposites. Franciscan theologians, too, should be heartened by it.

When we think of the role of the Franciscan theologian, we frequently consider the image of a solitary Bonaventure roaming around in the caves of La Verna writing his masterpiece, the Itinerarium. And this is a valuable portrait. Yet Bonaventure would not have been able to have theologized so eloquently had he not spent many hours dialoguing with his brothers and debating with his colleagues at the University of Paris. He needed both solitude and fraternity to develop his profound theological vision.

Francis’s Rule for Hermitages offers us not only an integrated vision of our dual roles as Martha and Mary but also offers Franciscan scholars a theological method. Franciscans theologize contemplatively and fraternally. It is necessary to spend many hours in solitude, reading, lingering over a text, pondering these things (Lk. 2:51) in one’s heart, seeking the moment when the flash of insight (Itin: Prol, 3) arrives. But then these thoughts in solitude, to conjure up an image from Thomas Merton, must be tried and tested

Quoted in Sarah Lyall, “Devotion Refuses to Yield,” The New York Times (December 30, 1998), E1.

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