St. Francis of Assisi (one of my favorite saints) is again being twisted into a communist and a pacifist. To dispel this, you can read the gold-standard biography by St. Bonaventure called The Life of St. Francis of Assisi. In the 20th century, GK Chesterton wrote St. Francis of Assisi. He recounts this unusual interaction:
“The good Bishop of Assisi expressed a sort of horror at the hard life which the Little Brothers lived at the Portiuncula, without comforts, without possessions, eating anything they could get and sleeping anyhow on the ground. St. Francis answered him with that curious and almost stunning shrewdness which the unworldly can sometimes wield like a club of stone. He said, ‘If we had any possessions, we should need weapons and laws to defend them.'”
Let’s consider again the words of that saint: “If we had any possessions, we should need weapons and laws to defend them.” We moderns are tempted to project a snark into those words, as if he meant to say: “We Franciscans are what all Catholics should be forced to be: poor hippies living unarmed in a commune without laws.” But perhaps we should take the saint exactly at his words: If we had any possessions, we should need weapons and laws to defend them. Considering the child-like personality of St. Francis of Assisi, he meant that sentence literally, almost as if to say: “If we Franciscans had possessions like everybody else, we would be required by law to defend our goods like everyone else. But by a pure gift of God, we are free of such concerns.”
In other words, St. Francis of Assisi had no intention to force communism or disarmament upon Christendom. GK Chesterton sarcastically shows that, already in 1923, St. Francis was being made out to be a communist:
“Everybody knew of course that Franciscans were communists; but this was not so much being a communist as being an anarchist. Surely upon any argument somebody or something must be answerable for what happened to or in or concerning a number of historic edifices and ordinary goods and chattels. Many idealists of a socialistic sort, notably of the school of Mr. Shaw or Mr. Wells, have treated this dispute as if it were merely a case of the tyranny of wealthy and wicked pontiffs crushing the true Christianity of Christian Socialists. But in truth this extreme ideal was in a sense the very reverse of Socialist, or even social. Precisely the thing which these enthusiasts refused was that social ownership on which Socialism is built; what they primarily refused to do was what Socialists primarily exist to do; to own legally in their corporate capacity.”
Of course, the Franciscans were “communists” only in the very classic use of the word insofar as they voluntarily chose to hold as “common” all their own belongings. But to force this upon all Christian lay people would have been exactly what GK Chesterton calls it above: anarchy. St. Francis of Assisi understood very well that a forced poverty would not only be anarchy, but eradicate the joy and freedom of the Gospel which invited men to a joyful and voluntary poverty. If he were alive today, St. Francis of Assisi would have been the first saint to recognize that socialism is tantamount to anarchy—a sort of anti-Gospel that overturns the thrill of freely choosing to follow Jesus in the grace of total detachment from dust and mothballs.
Because every lay man (in both the 12th century and 21st century) is entitled to private property, every man is also entitled to the weapons needed defend private property. If you think this is a stretch from everyone’s favorite hippy-saint, read again his words: “If we had any possessions, we should need weapons and laws to defend them.” He meant that literally, not sarcastically. St. Francis was the first to teach that being a poor Franciscan was a gift, not a requirement, of the Christian life. In his book, GK Chesterton contrasts the very Italian St. Francis to the very Spanish St. Dominic, but then he shows that they were not so different from each other on the topic of Christians owning weapons:
“St. Francis, as much as St. Dominic, would ultimately have defended the defence of Christian unity by arms...Medieval men thought that if a social system was founded on a certain idea it must fight for that idea, whether it was as simple as Islam or as carefully balanced as Catholicism. Modern men really think the same thing, as is clear when communists attack their ideas of property. Only they do not think it so clearly, because they have not really thought out their idea of property. But while it is probable that St. Francis would have reluctantly agreed with St. Dominic that war for the truth was right in the last resort, it is certain that St. Dominic did enthusiastically agree with St. Francis that it was far better to prevail by persuasion and enlightenment if it were possible.”