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Pigs and persistence

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St Francis of Assisi is famous for two things: preaching to birds, and the useless saying ‘Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words’.  Presumably his theology of preaching was dictated by his audience.  Francis earned himself the nickname ‘God’s Jester’ and the 14th Century Tuscan work, Fioretti di San Francesco, follows the escapades of his band of monks for our spiritual instruction and amusement.

The RSPCA have requested that you do not try this at home 

One of the best known is the story of St Juniper who joined Francis in 1210 and of whom Francis remarked, ‘Would to God, my brothers, I had a whole forest of such Junipers’.  Boom boom.  One of the friars was ill and Juniper asked if there was anything he could do for him.  The brother asked for a simple meal of a pig’s foot, so Juniper happily trotted off in search of a pig.  He spotted one wandering around in a neighbour’s farm and lopped-off a foot for his brother.

The owner of the pig was furious and hurled abuse at the Franciscans.  Francis demanded that Juniper apologise and make some reparation to the farmer.  Juniper was a simple soul, though, and failed to understand how the man could be so upset about such an act of kindness so he retold the story of the pig’s trotter as if he had done the farmer a favour.  When the farmer exploded at this, Junpier assumed he had misunderstood and gave him a hug, told the story again- this time hamming it up great deal- and asked that the whole pig could be given to the Franciscans.  The farmer was won over by Junpier’s pigheadedness and donated the animal to be slaughtered.

Perhaps Juniper would have looked back to the father of monasticism, St Anthony, who is also the patron saint of pigs.  While on a year of solitary retreat and prayer, Anthony was tempted by the devil appearing to him in the form of a fierce porker which viciously mauled him.  Anthony graciously resisted the temptation to fight back and serve-up bacon butties, was enveloped by a ‘wondrous light’ and the pig was transformed into a humble and docile porcine companion.  Since then, ‘Tantony’ (a contraction of ‘Saint Anthony’) is the nickname given to runt piglets in the litter.

13 comments on “Pigs and persistence

  1. rather than calling it a useless saying, i find there is a lot of wisdom in st. francis’ saying ‘Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words’

  2. Dear Johannes, the reason that Francis’ saying makes me feel a little less merrie than usual is that I’m sure words are really quite necessary to preach the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).

  3. St Mark Twain said "Action speaks louder than words BUT NOT NEARLY AS OFTEN" 😀

  4. Is this really in good taste given the recent health concerns? I had to phone NHS direct the other day. I said, "Sorry to boar you." Then explained my symptoms. Their ‘useful’ reply? "Stop Hogging the line!" and then they hung up!!!

    When i tried calling back later all I could get was crackling.

  5. I would also point out that while the saying is often attributed to St Francis, there is little evidence that he ever actually said it (I think). Certainly it seems he would not have approved of the way the phrase is used – he was a bold street preacher in his time and took the Gospel to the Muslim world during the Crusades (see http://www.piney.com/DocFrAssisi.html and Amy Orr-Ewing’s book ‘Holy Warriors’)

  6. Wow, that’s quite a sweeping dismissal of St Francis! Surely he’s know for lots of other things about from preaching to birds and an attributed saying (like his commiment to the poor, founding a monastic order, his care for creation, his generosity, his dramatic conversion, his commitment to traveling preaching etc). I think James’ (the poster not the Bible book!) clarification of the quote above is really helpful. I’ve always understood it to mean that your lifestyle is really important when preaching, and that people ‘hear’ a message from how you act as well as how you speak. I think that’s really biblical (e.g. James 2: 14-19; 1 cor 13:1-3), I think it’s important to remember that we could have the soundest, most biblical preaching in the world, but do it in an unloving way, or live in a way which denies the truth of what we’re saying, and just be a clanging symbol. Anyway, that’s my twopenneth! Incidently, I agree that there’s some great stories about the franciscans to provoke mirth and merriement!

  7. Uh oh, getting a bit un-merrie in the comments! It wouldn’t do now to keep discussion light-hearted on this board, not when there’s scope for some theological finger-waggling without hint of self-parody. Where’s disgusted of Eastbourne when you need him!

  8. Si, thank you.  I have sent an e-mail apologising to St. Francis.  It appears he was a good guy after all.

    Have you ever taken a leg from a pig?  Perhaps it’s possible…

  9. I tried to add a post about chopping up pig meat, and the comment engine said: "Your comment will not appear immediately in order to avoid spam." Boom boom…

  10. i think the reason he said preach the gospel and use words only if necessary was because there was a rule concerning who could and couldn’t preach.

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