Recently, I was on the internet looking up an old adage. It goes as follows:
Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
From my earliest memories, this adage has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. I guess it was about 1970 when I first heard the adage. But I don’t imagine it was invented then. Imagine my surprise when I found out that some people are denying that St. Francis ever said it. They claim that they know that he didn’t say it since they can’t find it in any of his writings or in any of his brothers’ writings.
There’s another old adage which applies,
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
It is a logical fallacy to conclude that St. Francis never uttered these words simply because no one can find the adage in his writings. After all, is there some rule that St. Francis had to write down everything he ever said? Or that anyone had to write down everything St. Francis ever said?
Let’s take an example. Say that your mom bakes some cookies. Then she puts them in a box and mails them to you. But you don’t get them. Your mom assures you that she sent them. Is the absence of the cookies evidence that your mom did not bake them?
No. The absence of the cookies is merely evidence that the cookies are absent.
So, do you believe your mom? I would. First of all, you know that your mom loves to bake. You know that she loves to send you stuff. And there have been other occasions when those tasty goodies did not reach their destination.
So, the preponderance of the evidence shows that your mom probably baked the cookies and sent them to you. And that’s where I would put my bet.
Now, let’s look at one example of what those who deny this Franciscan quote are saying about it:
This is a great quote, very Franciscan in its spirit, but not literally from St. Francis. The thought is his; this catchy phrasing is not in his writings or in the earliest biographies about him.
Really? They admit that the thought is his, but deny that these could be his words?
Folks, the absence of this adage in his writings is merely evidence that:
1. he didn't write it down or
2. that the writing is lost.
But it is not evidence that those words never crossed St. Francis' lips.
As for me, I believe that he said it. But, what do you think? Let me know in the comments.