Spurious quotes

The other day I ran across another quote attributed to Francis.  This one was in Italian, proving that it isn’t only English speakers who do this.

Quite regularly, people give Francis credit for some attractive spiritual text – a prayer, a poem, an aphorism – that he didn’t really say or write. The famous “peace prayer” is probably the best-known example. I had thought at first that it was the only one, but I was wrong. We also have “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words” and “Ask of the beasts and they will teach you the beauty of this earth” and others (see my book for a fuller discussion). That last one – “ask of the beasts” – is paraphrased from the Bible, but it got into the Francis canon because a composer added it to a musical setting of Francis’s Canticle of the Sun. Even a New York Times reporter got the attribution wrong.

Anyway, here is the Italian quote:

Chi lavora con le sui mani è un lavoratore. Chi lavora con le sui mani e la sua testa è un artigiano. Chi lavora con le sui mani e la sua testa ed il suo cuore è un artista.

In English:

The one who works with his [her] hands is a laborer. The one who works with his hands and his head is an artisan. The one who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.

(It’s hard to say it in gender-inclusive language without losing the cadence of a folk saying.)

This was on a website called Dictionary of Quotes; I ran across it while looking for something by Oscar Wilde. The person who submitted it, in early May of this year, wrote in a few days later to say sadly, “Non e un frase di Francesco d’Assisi :- ( ”   – It is not a phrase of Francis of Assisi.

But there it still is on the web page.


A correspondent writes:

I wanted to tell you about something I spotted on the bus recently. I noticed
that a woman sitting in front of me had a wordy tattoo on the back of her left
upper arm. After idly staring at it for a while I focused on what it said, and
 – you’ll have guessed – there was, “Lord, make me an instrument…” I don’t
think her arm accommodated the whole prayer; the last word I could make out,
down around her elbow, was “joy.”

I wonder if the rest of it was on her forearm, or her other arm.

In any case, this got me wondering about St. Francis tattoos. It turns out there are quite a lot of them. Those that are pictures of Francis often seem to use blended imagery: the stigmata, or a crucifix, alongside birds and animals. As I note in the book, those symbols rarely appeared together until quite recently.

But there are a lot of “wordy” tattoos as well. In 2012, the evangelical online journal Christian Post reported on British actor Russell Brand’s tattoo of the prayer. For him it was a sign of recovery from drug abuse; the article notes that the prayer appears in the Alcoholics Anonymous book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (see my book on this, too). It’s interesting that Brand’s tattoo uses the wording “Make me a channel of thy peace,” rather than the more common “instrument.” “Channel” was popularized through song lyrics, a 1967 setting by Sebastian Temple. Since it was performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, its popularity has taken off. (On the other hand, Temple used the modern “your,” not “thy.” More blending.)

Someone’s Pinterest board shows several terrific images of this tattoo. There’s one that covers a person’s back, another with “Make me a channel” (sic) on a forearm, and a very elaborate image that first turned up on Buzzfeed. It’s everywhere.

One source actually calls this tattoo the “prayer of St. Francis recovery tattoo,” suggesting a strong association with the recovery movement. But a Facebook member involved in animal rescue wants one, too.

Tell me what you see.