Franciscan Fanfare: Franciscan ‘MythBusters’


You may have had the opportunity to watch the show “MythBusters,” in which myths and urban legends are put to the test in order to determine which myths are true and which are not. It’s a lot of fun to watch and pretty intriguing to see how it turns out. I mean, who doesn’t want to find out if it truly is difficult to find a needle in a haystack?! Or who wouldn’t want to know if a parachute can really work if made completely out of duct tape?  

Perhaps it is worth applying the MythBusters phenomenon to the Franciscan tradition in a serious and not so serious way. Consider the following possible episodes of the series (OK, this won’t ever make it on TV except in the dream of this author): 

Truth or Myth? St. Francis of Assisi was a priest. 

Although St. Francis is commonly believed to have been a priest, this is actually a myth. However, it is likely that Francis was ordained a deacon later in his life. In a well-reputed biography of the saint by Friar Thomas of Celano, the story is told of St. Francis singing the Gospel during the celebration of an outdoor Mass that was a part of a live reenactment of the Nativity scene. This role of singing the Gospel would have been reserved for an ordained deacon. And, in the beautiful frescoes of the medieval painter Giotto, Francis is seen in this scene wearing the deacon’s dalmatic (liturgical vestment worn during Mass).  

Francis loved priests, but he wasn’t one himself. He had great reverence for those through whom we receive the “holy body and blood of the Lord. Regardless of their moral character, Francis honored priests and encouraged them to live up to their call to holiness. 

Truth or Myth?The dunce cap has its origins in the Franciscan, Blessed John Duns Scotus. 

This connection is true but deserves some good explanation to the honor of the name of this good Franciscan! Blessed John Duns Scotus, known as “the Subtle Doctor, was beatified in 1993 by St. John Paul II. John was born in Duns, Scotland (thus the name John Duns Scotus) and was a scholar from start to finish in living his vocation on earth. He taught in Oxford, Cambridge and Paris and founded a school in the Scholastic tradition known as Scotism. The followers of his school came to be known as “Dunsmen. 

Several centuries after his death, Scotus’ teachings began to be critiqued more vigorously as his teachings were accused of being overly intricate and including excessive distinctions. His allies, the Dunsmen (also known as the Dunces by some), fought back in vain, and their name quickly became publicly stereotyped as synonymous with “idiot.”  

But how does this all relate to pointy hats? One of the more “out there” ideas that Blessed John Duns Scotus had was the notion that cone-shaped hats increased learning. He thought that the shape of the hat would help funnel knowledge to the hat-wearer. As more and more people began to reject Blessed John Duns Scotus’ teachings, the “dunce cap” became a joke and was associated with ignorance instead of learning. 

Blessed John Duns Scotus certainly wasn’t a dunce, and neither are his followers who are proud of the gift of the Franciscan intellectual tradition. In the words of Eric Grundhauser in his online piece entitled “The Dunce Cap wasn’t always so Stupid,” “Today John Duns Scotus is thought to be one of the great thinkers of the Middle Ages. … Perhaps there is still room for the cap to be viewed as the symbol of learning it once was.” 

Truth or Myth? A recent graduating class considered giving a gift to the university of a statue of the Rev. Don Frinsko, TOR, sitting on a bench smoking a cigar and talking to a student.

All available evidence seems to indicate that this is true! Newer students may not be accustomed to the memory of Fr. Don (an esteemed chaplain of St. Francis Hall) sitting on the bench outside the dorm where he often smoked his cigar, heard confessions and carried on conversations with students. Unfortunately, the statue proposal was purportedly runnerup to the statue of St. John Paul II which is now outside the library that bears the saintly pontiff’s name (not too shabby to be second only to JPII!). You can still find Frinsko smoking a cigar on a rocking chair outside the friary from time to time.  

Truth or Myth? The Rev. Nathan Malavolti, TOR, was born with a smile on his face.

We cannot confirm or deny this statement, but seriously, we all know it’s true!