THE SECOND LETTER OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI TO THE FAITHFUL
A few years before 1221 A. D. St. Francis of Assisi wrote a letter to "the faithful" members of the Third Order of Penance, which he had just recently founded for priests and laity. In 1221, St. Francis wrote a Rule for his Third Order, which Pope Gregory confirmed in that same year. The First Letter to the Faithful describes the spirit and practices of the Third Order of St. Francis according to the mind of its Founder. It is the most ancient witness to the original carism of the Third Order of St. Francis.
In Nomine Domini
Chapter I: Those Who Do Penance
To all those who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with their whole strength (cf. Mk 12:30) and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance: Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, since the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon them (cf. Is 11:2) and He will make His home and dwelling among them (cf. Jn 14:23). They are children of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45) whose works they do, and they are spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50).
We are spouses when the faithful soul is joined to our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. We are brothers to Him when we do the will of the Father Who is in Heaven (Mt 12:50); mothers, when we carry Him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor 6:20) through divine love and pure and sincere conscience and when we give birth to Him through a holy manner of working, which should shine before others as an example (cf. Mt 5:16). Oh, how glorious it is, how holy and great, to have a Father in Heaven! Oh, how holy, consoling, beautiful and wondrous it is to have such a Spouse! Oh, how holy and how loving, pleasing, humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all things to have such a Brother and such a Son: our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave up His life for His sheep (cf. Jn 10:15) and Who prayed to the Father saying:
O Holy Father, protect those in your name (Jn 17:11) whom you have given to me in the world; they were yours and you have given them to me (Jn 17:6) and the words which you gave to me, I have given to them, and they have accepted them and have believed truly that I have come from you and they have known that you sent me (Jn 17:8). I pray for them and not for the world (cf. Jn 17:9). Bless and sanctify them and I sanctify myself for them (Jn 17:19). Not only for these do I pray, but for those who through their words will believe in me (Jn 17:20), so that they may be made holy in being one (Jn 17:23) as we are one (Jn 17:11). And I wish, Father, that where I am they also may be with me so that they may see my glory (Jn 17:24) in your kingdom (Mt 20:21). Amen.
Chapter II: Those Who Do Not Do Penance
To all those men and women who are not living in penance and do not receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; who practice vice and sin and follow wicked concupiscence (Col 3:5) and the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16); who do not observe what you have promised to the Lord, and bodily serve the world by the desires of the flesh (1 Pet 2:11), the anxieties of the world and the cares of this life; you who are held fast by the devil, whose children you are and whose works you perform (cf Jn 8:41): You are blind, since you do not see the true light, Our Lord Jesus Christ. You do not have spiritual wisdom, since you do not possess the Son of God, Who is the true wisdom of the Father. It is said of such people: Their wisdom has been swallowed up (Ps 106:27), and: Cursed are those who turn away from Your commands (Ps 118:21). You see, acknowledge, know and do evil deeds, and knowingly, you lose your souls.
See, you blind ones, you who are deceived by your enemies: by the flesh, the world, and the devil; because it is sweet to the body to commit sin and it is bitter for it to serve God; and because all vices and sins come forth and proceed from the heart of a man, as the Lord says in the Gospel (cf. Mk 7:21). And you have nothing in this world or in the one to come. And you think you posses the vanities of this world for a while, but you are deceived, since the day and the hour will come to which you give no thought, of which you have no knowledge, and of which you are ignorant (cf. Mt 25:13). The body becomes sick, death approaches, and this man dies a bitter death. And no matter where or when or how a man dies in the guilt of sin without doing penance and satisfaction, if he is able to perform some act of satisfaction and does not, the devil snatches up his soul from his body with so much anguish and tribulation that no one can know it unless he has experienced it.
And every talent and power and knowledge and wisdom (2 Chron. 1:12) which they think they posses will be taken away from them (cf Lk 8:18; Mk 4:25). And they leave their substance to their relatives and friends, and these have taken and divided the inheritance among themselves and afterwards they have said: "May his soul be cursed since he could have acquired more and given more to us than he did!" Worms eat the body. And so they have lost body and soul in this passing world, and both will go down to hell where they will be tormented without end. In the love which is God (cf. Jn 4:16), we beg all those whom these letters reach to accept with kindness and a divine love the fragrant words of our Lord Jesus Christ which are written above. And those who do not know how to read should have them read to them frequently. And, since they are spirit and life (Jn 6:64), they should preserve them together with a holy manner of working even to the end.
And whoever shall not have done these things will be held accountable on the day of judgment (cf. Mt 12:36) before the tribunal of Our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Rm 14:10).
Francis of Assisi Index