The “Prayer of St. Francis”

Make me an instrument of your peace, etc.

Someone asked about this prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. I haven’t dealt with it before because there’s no puzzling-out to be done–it’s known not to be his. But I think I’m getting enough traffic now to make it worth putting out there for anyone who comes here looking for info about it.

I’m going to C&P most of the summary section of the Wikipedia article on the prayer since that covers it well and is in line with what I have seen elsewhere:

The text most commonly called Prayer of Saint Francis, also known as the Peace Prayer or Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace, is a widely known Christian prayer. Often wrongly attributed to the 13th-century saint Francis of Assisi, the prayer in its present form cannot be traced back further than 1912, when it was printed in Paris in French, in a small spiritual magazine called La Clochette (The Little Bell), published by La Ligue de la Sainte-Messe (The League of the Holy Mass). The author’s name was not given, although it may have been the founder of La Ligue, Fr. Esther Bouquerel.

Around 1920, a French Franciscan priest printed the prayer on the back of an image of St. Francis, without attribution. The prayer has been known in the United States since 1927, when its first known English translation (possibly still under copyright today) appeared in the Quaker magazine Friends’ Intelligencer under the mistaken title “A prayer of St. Francis of Assissi.” Senator Albert W. Hawkes and the saint’s namesake Cardinal Francis Spellman distributed millions of copies of the prayer during and just after World War II.

The prayer has similarities to this saying of Blessed Giles of Assisi, one of the companions of St. Francis:

Blessed is he who loves and does not therefore desire to be loved; blessed is he who fears and does not therefore desire to be feared; blessed is he who serves and does not therefore desire to be served; blessed is he who behaves well toward others and does not desire that others behave well toward him; and because these are great things, the foolish do not rise to them.

The Wikipedia article draws from the article linked here.

Good, better, best: St. Jerome?

Good, better, best, Never let it rest, Til your good is better, and your better best.

Attributed to St. Jerome, on what grounds I will never know. It sounds utterly unlike him. It doesn’t work as anything special sounding in Latin: “Bonum, melior, optimum. Non quiescat [or perhaps quiescas] priumquam bonum melior et melior optimum.” I will be stunned if anyone succeeds in finding it in his works.

But, just to prove the point:

  1. A Google search for good better best jerome turns up the usual plethora of “quotation” sites and no references. Remember that it’s a bad sign when no primary source references turn up on the first page or two because they almost always do turn up for an authentic quotation.
  2. Wikiquote doesn’t it have it under St. Jerome at all, not even under “misattributed” or on the discussion page. This doesn’t surprise me; I think the misattribution to St. Jerome is recent because ….
  3. The oldest Google Books hit is from 2009, in Inspiring Student Writers: Strategies and Examples for Teachers, which says it is “a popular saying attributed to St. Jerome.” None of the Google Books hits gives a reference to a primary source, naturally.
  4. I searched the text of St. Jerome from CCEL, both by looking at all 204 occurrences of the word better and by running a regex search of good.{1,20}better.{1,20}best over his works as a text file (if that makes no sense to you, don’t worry about it). It’s not there.

Is it absolutely impossible that St. Jerome wrote something that might have inspired someone else to formulate the saying? No, but there’s no evidence that it happened.

The saying itself has been around forever (relatively speaking). The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs has a citation from 1904 (not St. Jerome!), but Google Books found it for me in Christian Work: Illustrated Family Newspaper – Volume 62 – Page 195, published in 1897, and it’s given there in a form that makes me think it was a well-known saying at the time.

Given that the misattribution appears to have happened in the early 21st Century, I’m going to point at the Internet and partial search results as the source for this one.

Verdict: Fauxtation