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Greater than a Mother's Love: The Spirituality of Francis and Clare of Assisi

November 3, 2011:
Gilberto Cavazos-González, O.F.M., Greater than a Mother's Love: The Spirituality of Francis and Clare of Assisi

University of Scranton Press, 2010
Preface by Ingrid Peterson, O.S.F.


Although there are several studies dedicated to the lives of Francis and Clare of Assisi, Gilberto Cavazos-González’s Greater Than a Mother’s Love is the first to investigate their spirituality in the context of family relationships. He delves into the writings of Francis and Clare and illustrates how both used observations of their various human relationships to understand their experiences with God and neighbor. He then moves to a re-appropriation of the kinship spirituality of Francis and Clare for today. Accompanying this study is an exhaustive bibliography and several appendices that enhance this unique treatment of these two beloved and admired religious figures.

Excerpt From Pages 164-165:
Jesus as Brother and Mother

If the faithful come to this recognition and acceptance of God as the only Father, it is thanks to Jesus, His only begotten Son who reveals Him (RnB 22.33-34; Adm 1.1-7). It would not be far from the truth to say that in the medieval mindset, Jesus took on the maternal role of bringing the children to the Father. The medieval concept of Jesus' maternity[1] has its roots in the second century when Clement of Alexandria made use of the Eucharistic image of Christ as a mother breastfeeding the soul[2]. In the twelfth century, Anselm of Canterbury had made the distinction between God the Father and the maternity of Jesus. At that time, the father’s role was thought to be more active in the generation of offspring than a mother, because the male semen was then considered to contribute most to the begetting of a child. Anselm recognizes that the mother imperils her life in order to birth that same child, often times dying in the process as did Christ when he gave birth to the Church. Anselm compares both Jesus and St. Paul as mothers, but he insists that they are also fathers: fathers by result, authority, and protection, mothers by affection, kindness, and compassion[3].

Francis may or may not have been aware of the devotion to the maternity of Jesus. One thing is certain: he had no problem assigning Jesus the maternal role of bringing children to the Father. This certainly would have been in keeping with Francis’ assigning all brothers a maternal role (RnB 9.11)[4].

Another way in which Francis assigns maternal-fraternal tension to Jesus is through nourishment. Nourishment as we have noted is a maternal activity, especially in the period of infancy, when the Church insisted that the natural mother should be the one to breastfeed her own children. In the celebration of the Eucharist the priest consecrates the Body and Blood of the Lord, and then feeds it to the faithful. We saw earlier that this Body and Blood of Christ were the way in which Christ himself fed and nourished the soul from his own flesh, much like a lactating mother.

Francis’ insistence on the blood of Christ as essential to salvation is reminiscent of breastfeeding. Usually Francis ties the Blood of Christ to the Body of Christ and insists that both be received by the faithful[5]. Even so, Francis explicitly singles out the Blood of Christ as that which was poured out in sacrifice for our redemption/salvation (2EpFid 11); as Jesus prayed on the night before He died, His sweat turned into Blood (2EpFid 9); Christ’s words and His Blood are the only salvation (2EpFid 34); and the Lord has washed us in His Blood (EpOrd 3), Francis also warns that Priests should be careful not to contaminate His Blood (EpOrd 18).

To the medieval mind the milk that flowed from a mother’s breast was nothing more than reconstituted blood. In this blood made milk, the mother passed on her characteristics to her baby, just as the father had previously done with his sperm. I am not saying that Francis singled out the Lord’s Blood as a veiled reference to mother’s milk. However, knowing the biological beliefs of the time and the faithful’s taste for mystical milk[6], it would not be far fetched. Given Francis’ maternal-fraternal view of Jesus as the big Brother/Mother who takes the faithful to the Father, he might be making an unconscious reference to the Blood of Christ as maternal milk. Certainly, Francis insists that it is thanks to the Blood of Christ that one is redeemed and saved. In feeding the faithful with His Blood, He not only passes on redemption; He passes on His characteristics/virtues, like mothers were thought to do with their milk.


ISBN-10: 158966213X
University of Scranton Press 2010
308 pages
Preface by Ingrid Peterson, OSF
Can be purchased from the University of Chicago Press Books


Editorial Reviews:

“No one has covered the topic of familial relationships in the thought of Francis and Clare with the background, depth, and clarity of Cavazos in Greater than a Mother’s Love.”—Ingrid Peterson, OSF, Saint Bonaventure University

“The book is an excellent introduction to the everyday spiritual lives of Francis and Clare in their familial and communal context.  Cavazos-González shows how the experiences of their families of origin helped shape, but did not determine, their respective approaches to their newly founded Franciscan family/religious community. … Based on his approach and methodology, excellent use of the sources, and judicious findings, his book will be a standard textbook for any further studies on the spirituality of Francis and Clare.” —Steven J. McMicahel, O.F.M., Conv., University of Saint Thomas (Saint Paul, Minnesota)


[1]Cf. Bynum, Jesus as Mother, 110-169; André Cabassut, `Une Dévotion Médiéval Peu Connu: La Dévotion À 'Jésus Notre Mère'', Revue d'Ascétique et de Mystique, 25 (1949): 234-245; Vandenbroucke, “New Milieux”, 244.

[2] Bynum, Holy Feast, 94.

[3] Cf. Anselm’s Prayer to St. Paul in Opera Omnia 3.33, 39-41 as cited by Bynum, Jesus as Mother, 113;-114.

[4] RB 6.9; RegErem.

[5] Of the 38 times that Francis refers to Blood of Christ, 28 times it is in conjunction with his Body, 3 times with his Flesh, and 7 times it is by itself.

[6] In the High and Later Middle Ages, several mystics received the Virgin’s milk. (Cf. Atkinson, The Oldest Vocation 142). Francis, however never once refers to this phenomenon, it would seem that he prefers to receive the blood of the nursing Christ.