Faith for the Journey of Life

My Thoughts on Faith, Life, and 2,000+ Years of Catholicism / Christianity

19 October 2006

Pope Innocent III and St. Francis of Assisi

Adorning the walls of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi are a series of twenty-eight frescoes painted by the famed Florentine Renaissance artist Giotto (1276-1337). They tell the story of a man’s extraordinary journey of faith; it is often said that St. Francis’s life more nearly mirrored Jesus Christ than any other human being. Each of Giotto’s frescoes is powerful in its spiritual representation and magnificent in its use of color, structure and form.

For me personally, one frescoe stands out in particular from this inspiring group: "The Dream of Innocent III." As the title indicates, the frescoe depicts a dream that Pope Innocent III had in 1208. On the viewer's right side of the frescoe, a richly adorned Pope Innocent III sleeps in an ornate bed chamber. On the left side, the Lateran Basilica in Rome leans dangerously. Its collapse is prevented by a humble man dressed in a simple robe who physically uses his shoulders to hold up the Basilica.

At the time of Innocent III's dream, St. Francis had gathered a small group of followers and was making his way to Rome to seek Papal authorization for their fledgling monastic order. The Pope interpreted his dream to mean that St. Francis would been instrumental in reforming and strengthening the Catholic Church. Accordingly, the Pope not only received St. Francis but also approved his order.

"The Dream of Innocent III" depicts two men who in seemingly contradictory ways both made major contributions to the Church established by Jesus Christ. Pope Innocent III represented Church power and authority. "Innocent III was one of the most important and powerful popes in the entire history of the Church, and his pontificate is considered the summit of the medieval papacy," wrote Richard P. McBrien in his Lives of the Popes (208). Innocent III exerted his authority over not just the Church but secular states as well. He combated heresy, reformed the Church and the clergy, and convened the Fourth Lateran Council.

In stark contrast to the powerful Pope Innocent III was the humble St. Francis. The son of a wealthy merchant, St. Francis renounced his life of privilege and embarked upon a faith journey of abject poverty and spiritual wealth. He soon attracted a group of like-minded followers and by example launched a religious order that dramatically improved the Church through piety, poverty and service. Led by his friend St. Clare, a female order developed to complement his efforts. He even was blessed to bear the Holy Wounds of our Savior - the Stigmata. Death did not end his holy mission as evidenced by his many posthumous apparitions and intercessory miracles.

In considering the "Dream of Innocent III," we can symbolically see how selflessly St. Francis devoted himself to the Church Christ established on earth. He uses his body to prevent the Basilica from collapsing. His countenance is one full of faith and determination, and is devoid of fear and ambition. Like his role model Jesus Christ, he is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the Church and mankind.

[Note on sources: In preparing this reflection, Richard P. McBrien's Lives of the Popes (NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), H.W. Crocker III's Triumph: The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church (NY: Prima Publishing, 2001), and The Illustrated Guide of Assisi were consulted.]

Giotto's masterpiece may be viewed online at

http://www.abcgallery.com/G/giotto/giotto138.html

Faith for the Journey of Life Blog provides this link for illustrative purposes only and does not endorse the content of this website.

1 Comments:

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