The Little Flowers of St. Francis was a collection of anecdotes and stories concerning the life and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1181- 1226) written in the mid-to-late 14th century. It focused on St. Francis’ order of the “Friars Minor“, or the Franciscans. This order focused very heavily on poverty and humility, and the friars obtained virtually all the things which they needed through begging. According to St. Francis and the Friars Minor, the way to salvation was through good works and virtues, the principle ones of these being humility, holy obedience, and poverty.
In many chapters of Little Flowers, the virtue of humility is exhorted. In chapter eight of part one St. Francis and Brother Leo were on a journey from one convent to another. Calling out to Brother Leo, St. Francis gave several examples of possible great achievements of the Friars Minor, such as being able to heal the sick, being able to speak in all languages, being learned in the sciences, converting unbelievers, etc.; and said that all these would not be the perfect joy. He then said that if they arrived at their destination, and were cast out into the rain by the porter and beaten by him for being imposters, and they endured this injustice with humility and patience, this would be the perfect joy. This story illustrated the importance of humility in the lives of the Friars. More greatly esteemed than knowledge or the ability to convert many, humility was instrumental to the Friars Minor
In chapter 20 of part one, a story is told of a young man who had just joined the order. He was very annoyed with his habit (a simple vestment worn by the Friars) and was at the point of leaving the order because of it. One day, he had a vision of many beautifully dressed men in a procession in heaven. He asked who these men were, and was told that they were the Friars Minor. After this he became changed, and loved the habit of St. Francis. The Friars Minor wore a very humble habit in this world, but were richly adorned in the next. This story is another example of how greatly St. Francis and the Friars Minor esteemed the virtue of humility.
Another very important virtue to the Friars Minor was holy obedience. It was invoked throughout Little Flowers, especially in St. Francis’ sermon in chapter 18 of part one. To St. Francis, it was not the principle virtue, but it was of great importance to the Friars Minor, in conjunction with humility.
Probably the most important virtue to St. Francis and to his order was that of holy poverty. The whole essence of the Franciscan order was centered on taking a vow of poverty and renouncing the things of this world. In chapter 18 of part one there was a great meeting of many Friars and holy men that was held by St. Francis. At this meeting there was the founder of the contemporary order of the Friars Preachers, St. Dominic. Moved greatly by St. Francis’ vows of poverty, St. Dominic resolved to take a vow of “holy evangelical poverty” himself. In chapter 13 of part one, St. Francis called Brother Masseo to pray with him for holy poverty, saying:
“Let us go to St. Peter and St. Paul, and let us pray them together that they may teach us and help us to possess the unbounded treasure of holy poverty, for it is a treasure so great and so divine, that we are not worthy to possess it in these vile bodies of ours. It is this celestial virtue which teaches us to despise all earthly and transitory things, and through it every hindrance is removed from the soul, so that it can freely commune with God.”
St. Peter and St. Paul replied to Francis:
“[T]he Lord Jesus sends us to thee, to tell thee that thy prayer has been heard, and that it is granted to thee and to all thy followers to possess the treasure of holy poverty. We tell thee also from him, that whosoever, after thy example, shall embrace this holy virtue, shall most certainly enjoy perfect happiness in heaven; for thou and all thy followers shall be blessed by God.”
Clearly the virtue of holy poverty was one of the most important, if not the most important virtue to St. Francis. According to this account of St. Peter and St. Paul, holy poverty was a way into the perfect happiness of heaven.
The virtues of humility, obedience, and holy poverty were considered necessary by the Franciscans to entering the kingdom of heaven. Chief among these virtues was “holy evangelical poverty”, which was the entire basis of the Franciscan order.