During the lifetime of Saint Francis of Assisi people experienced a deep yearning for a Church of the Spirit; they longed for a better, purer, more meaningful Christianity and anticipated that this new Church would bring about a change in the course of history as well. To many of those who suffered from the inadequacies of institutional Christianity, Saint Francis seemed to be a God-sent answer to their expectations, and, in fact, Christianity of the Spirit has seldom been so genuinely exemplified as it was in him. But there was something unusual about him, too. His Christianity of the Spirit was based on an entirely literal obedience to the word of the Bible. The new principle that he opposed to the lukewarm Christianity of casuistry was sine glossa (without gloss): he heard the word of God without the barrier of explanations that might serve to moderate it, to make it safe and harmless. He heard it without the academic sophistries that made it an object of controversy for scholars but far removed from the realities of everyday life. He heard it and accepted it as it was, as a word of the Lord addressed to me personally without an “if” or a “but”. And this is the wonderful part: it is the word taken literally that is also the wholly spiritual word. The Spirit appears to be, not in contradiction to the word, but in the word, and the more deeply we penetrate the word, the more true this becomes.… But Saint Francis appears in an entirely different light to people today. We know him as the friend of animals, as the patron saint of conservationists. Given the increasing exploitation of the world by our greed, the effort to conserve nature is certainly something good and necessary. But in the vehemence of its loudest defenders we detect a certain fatal error. They obviously regard men as the real mischief-makers in nature and their spirit as responsible for endangering the peaceful balance of nature. What they say often comes close to contempt for men and even to a desire to limit their ardor. Among the followers of Saint Francis, the attitude toward nature was quite different. He is the one in whom the seraphic idea of man found its fulfillment, that is, he is the one in whom the creature learns to soar and to sing; in whom it transcends itself and becomes a model of self-emptying and self-giving. Wherever this happens, the deepest longing of creatures is fulfilled; their hidden sadness is changed into confidence, into joy. It is not by denying the spirit that nature will be saved but by releasing it into the pure atmosphere of adoring love.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 323–324). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.