Thursday, October 04, 2012

On the Feast of St Francis...

On our great feast day of Francis, let me elaborate a little further on what we Franciscans believe to be “the Univocity of all Being.” Univocity, in Latin, means “one voice.” When you speak of God, when you speak of angels, when you speak of humans, when you speak of animals, when you speak of trees, when you speak of fish, when you speak of the earth, you are using the word “Being” univocally, or with one foundational and common meaning.

They all participate in the same Being to varying degrees. And being is One, as is God. It might seem like an abstract philosophical position, but I hope you can see how life-changing it is. Now we have an inclusive and consistent universe where everything is sacred, where you can’t divide the world into the sacred and profane any more. God is revealed in everything and uses everything without exception (1 Corinthians 15.28; Colossians 3.11).

Thus later biographers have brilliantly called Francis “an authentic spiritual genius” and “our one sincere democrat” (lowercase “d”). Today we bless all the creatures in his honour!

Richard Rohr, from an unpublished talk in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

Interestingly, in the verses Rohr has quoted here, it is in Christ that this unity comes about. This, as much as anything, seems to be what the Incarnation is all about: creation itself, matter, is drawn into God, is of one being with him, just as Christ himself is described in the Nicene Creed.

This always reminds me of the concept of Buddha-nature, of which Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche writes: "It is because this ground or sugatagarbha or potential is common to all beings that they are capable of attaining enlightenment. If they did not have such a ground then they could never become buddhas."

Of course all this is implicit in Scripture, especially in the first chapter of St John's Gospel, and in the "farewell discourses" of our Lord that John records in chapters 13-17. It took St Francis, with his clear sight and extraordinary openness, to show the Church what it might look like in the "actually loved and known", as David Jones put it.


  1. Having practiced in Buddhist circles in the past, I can say that one text that is often very well understood by them is The Cloud of Unknowing/Book of Privy Counseling. The instruction to sit before God, offering your whole being just as it is, to Him just as He is, without conceptions or expections, was very similar to teachings I'd been given by my guru, such as to "sit with everything just as it is, without trying to change anything" or to "rest in the natural state". It was those books that introduced me to Christian mysticism.

  2. Absolutely, Ona. That's precisely it...