The Aesthetic Pedagogy of Francis of Assisi Essay

The Aesthetic Pedagogy of Francis of Assisi Essay

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The Aesthetic Pedagogy of Francis of Assisi


ABSTRACT: Despite his anti-intellectualism, Francis of Assisi was an effective teacher who intentionally illustrated the life of virtue in his own way of living. He was a teacher in the sense that the Hebrew prophets, Socrates or Gandhi were teachers. He was a performance artist for whom drama functioned pedagogically. His life was not always meant to be an example to his followers; sometimes it was a dramatic lesson, meant to be watched, not imitated. All drama is inherently a distortion of reality because it focuses the attention on one aspect of reality. Francis’ dramatized life distorts the importance of poverty, but this is a distortion from which we may be able to learn if we are able to imaginatively identify with Francis. For Francis, asceticism was a form of obedience, and obedience a mode of knowledge. Such ‘personalized,’ lived teaching is the only way in which virtue (as opposed to ethics) may be effectively taught. Francis followed the same model of paideia as Gandhi, bringing together the physical discipline of radical asceticism with the aesthetic experience of a dramatic life in which he played the roles of troubadour and fool.

Unlike most of the other Western European figures of the 12th-century who are frequent subjects of academic study, Francis of Assisi was not a scholar. He had the education appropriate to the middle-class son of a prosperous merchant, but he never taught in a university, never wrote a Summa or a Commentary on the Sentences, never spent time in libraries. For much of his lifetime, the Order of Friars Minor didn’t even own a Bible, let alone any other books. Brother Leo, one of Francis’ closest companions, wrote of him that he "did not want ...


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...hton, 1923), p. 106.

(6) Bonaventure, Major Life, VI. 2.

(7) Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City: Doubleday, 1959), pp. 17-18.

(8) cited in Goffman, op. cit., pp. 19, 20.

(9) Dorothy Heathcote, Collected Writings on Education and Drama (London: Hutchinson, 1984), p. 114.

(10) cited in Howard Williams, Concepts of Ideology (New York; St. Martin's Press, 1988), p. 111.

(11) Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), p. 91.

(12) Brueggemann, op. cit., p. 104.

(13) Leroy S. Rouner, "Can Virtue Be Taught in a School?," Can Virtue Be Taught?, vol. 14, Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion, ed. Barbara Darling-Smith, p. 142.

(14) Rouner, op. cit., p.147.

(15) Rouner, op. cit., p. 148.

(16) Chesterton, op. cit., p. 86.

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