The Saint Who Bowed to Church Authority

Yesterday, I wrote about how one of the marks of greatness among the saints is their submission to the authority of the Church, particularly the Pope—and how this can be a source of spiritual inspiration and empowerment. This is exemplified by St. Francis, a saint who is much admired outside of the Church. As historian Warren Carroll has written:

 St. Francis’ preaching was marked by love of Christ and the Church and his fellow-man, by Christian joy, by the cheerful embracing of complete poverty, by a profound respect for the clergy, above all by total fidelity to orthodox doctrine. This full combination before had never been seen since the earliest days of the church.

 However, the benefits of submission to Church authority were not always as obvious as they were at the Fourth Lateran Council, mentioned in yesterday’s post. St. Francis’ commitment to Church authority was put to the test when St. Francis was charged with drafting a new rule for the order that he had founded, which had reportedly swelled by the thousands in short order. St. Francis was insistent that the rule contain an allusion to Jesus’ command to his disciples that they “take nothing with them as they go out and preach.” This was the touchstone of the Franciscan commitment to living by begging. But church authorities ruled that this had become impractical, forcing St. Francis to accept a revised rule, in which the language had been dropped out.

It took a great saint, as Carroll puts it, to accept the “fullness of church authority on matters so close to his heart.” His submission should give pause to anyone tempted to defy church authority—most likely with far less apparent justification than St. Francis.


Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on and A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage