St Francis, The Wolf And The City

A Parable For Urban Peace-Making

The Story Of St. Francis And The Wolf

 The town of Gubbio was being afflicted by a ravenous wolf that tore apart both beasts and men and which nobody could withstand; so that the people of the city either went about heavily armed or stayed inside the gate. As the wolf ate even those who were heavily armed, eventually they all stayed inside the city gate. St Francis of Assisi was in their midst at the time and decided to deliver them from the wolf.  He went outside the gate and, when the wolf charged he withstood in the name and authority of Jesus Christ and commanded it to be meek by making the sign of the cross. To the astonishment of all but St. Francis, the wolf stopped its charge, closed its mouth, bowed low and obeyed St. Francis. The saint then informed the wolf that in the normal course of justice it should be horribly hacked to pieces but that if it was prepared to attack neither man nor beast and be fed by the people of the city that he would spare it.  The wolf indicated his agreement by appropriate and humble movements. That day St. Francis preached and a covenant of peace was drawn up between the wolf and the people of the city, the wolf pledging his agreement by raising his right paw at the appropriate moment.  The city raised a tremendous cheer and thanked both God and St. Francis for their deliverance from the ravenous wolf. As for the wolf, it kept its part of the bargain and begged its food from house to house, becoming a part of the city and a constant reminder of the mercy of God and the blessedness of St. Francis. This went on as related for around two years until old age claimed the wolf and it died.

 [Summarized from “The Little Flowers of St. Francis, trans. E.M. Blaiklock and A.C.Keys]


The Moral Of The Story

The legend of St. Francis and the Wolf at left is a metaphor for the saintly Christian response to urban problems. The wolf can be any problem that presses the people into a fear- based fight or flight response; a problem which the city consistently fails to solve, and which tears them apart day and night without mercy. Whatever is “tearing a community apart” – that is its Wolf.  

The Wolf killed to satisfy its hunger, but it did so in a lawless and uncontrolled way bringing judgment on itself and fear to the city. Similarly the Wolf that afflicts a given urban community is generally the lawless meeting of an out of control need. 

St. Francis represents the Christian exercising God’s mandated authority in the name of Jesus Christ and working with the cross in view. The Wolf is made both lawful and peaceful through the exercise of spiritual authority and its needs are met through creative problem solving. 

St. Francis demonstrates personal mastery and an approach to the Wolf that is entirely different from that of the townsfolk of Gubbio. Francis neither fights nor flees. He has no fear and does not resort to a fight or flight based solution. He faces and confronts the Wolf in order to peacefully master it. Urban problems need to faced calmly without retreat from the city on one hand or strong arm law and order approaches on the other. Reactivity should not determine response. Rather faith in the gospel will guide the response. Faith-based mastery is the desire personal stance rather than fear-based fight- or-flight.

St. Francis demonstrates that even the worst and most lethal of problems have an imaginative, peaceful and truly beautiful  solution.  He does not see the Wolf as a dramatic problem needing a drastic solution or as a big problem requiring a massive and expensive solution.  For St. Francis the Wolf is a moral problem requiring a gospel solution.

There is no relationship between the size of the problem and the size of the solution or the nastiness of the problem and the severity required in its solution. Big problems sometimes have easy but unseen solutions such as the terrible plague of scurvy that was stopped by eating fresh fruit or deaths in operating theatres that declined when Lister discovered germs and told doctors to wash their hands. 

Similarly quite deadly problems can sometimes have beautiful and almost quaint solutions. An urban squatter community in a particular Two-Thirds world city was being torn apart by unusual levels of community violence; so a Christian worker went in and did an ethnographic study of the possible causes. It emerged that the women, who had moved to the city, were without gardens and were bored and without the things that formerly gave meaning to their existence. To fill the void some of them had resorted to playing a rather lethal game of "my husband is tougher than your husband" that had got out of control. When the women were introduced to crafts that could earn them some money and give them self-esteem and meaning,  the violence subsided and their normal peaceful pattern of life resumed. This is just one example of how ugly, brutal , apparently complex and in this case lethal problems can have simple, beautiful and spiritual solutions.

I believe that peace-making should be solution-focused rather than problem-focused otherwise we can get bogged down in "the paralysis of analysis". St. Francis goes out to confront the Wolf convinced that God and the gospel will give him an answer. St. Francis did not go out there to psycho-analyze the Wolf or analyze its pattern of killing or assess whether it had a vitamin deficiency or which species of wolf it was. He went out there to "solve the Wolf problem for once and for all". He sought peace not information. While data collection and ethnography can be immensely useful (as in the squatter settlement story above) it must always be gathered in the context pf actually making peace and solving urban problems. We need to proceed to the solution as quickly as possible and St. Francis does just that.

Christian urban peace-making also addresses the needs of both parties. In the story at left  there is a meeting of mutual needs in a climate of mercy. The wolf if he is to change needs food. Indeed we are to feed our enemies!  "If your enemy is hungry give him something to eat". The city if it is to be merciful needs a guarantee of peace. The two needs are met by having the penitent wolf fed by the city, so  that its formerly out of control needs are met in peaceful and lawful ways

Just covenants are central to peace-making and one is forged here between the Wolf and the town of Gubbio.  Formal peace-making ceremonies such as that described in the full version of the story in Blaiklock's book bring a sense of closure to the process and enable a sense of confidence and normalcy to be achieved. Such covenants should be clear, fair and well-celebrated.

Finally the story tells us that once a problem is tamed it can even be a friend and more than that it can give glory to God. 

The St. Francis and The Wolf parable leads us to consider actively engaging in Christian peace-making in the urban environment. If we seek to love others in the name of Christ and seek a just peace the answer to the problem will be given to us by God. The very act of seeking to be a peace-maker is creative. Therefore we seek to find peaceful, just, Christian, creative, mastery based and solution-focused answers to the problems that tear cities apart.         

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