Saint Francis of Assisi? La Clochette magazine? Friends’ Intelligencer? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a very popular prayer that is usually credited to St. Francis of Assisi. It begins:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
What is known about this attribution? Is it correct?
Quote Investigator: Christian Renoux, an Associate Professor at the University of Orleans, France, investigated the origin of this prayer and was able to trace it back to an appearance in French in a magazine called “La Clochette” in 1912 where it was published anonymously. This research is discussed in a short article titled “The Origin of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis” which is available at a website of “The Franciscan Archive” here [CRSF].
There is no compelling support for an attribution to St. Francis. Renoux states that around 1920 the prayer was printed on the back of an image of St. Francis with the title ‘Prière pour la paix’ (Prayer for Peace). This suggests to QI a natural mechanism for the creation of the ascription to St. Francis.
In 1927 a version of the prayer appeared in English in a periodical called “Friends’ Intelligencer” published by the Religious Society of Friends also known as the Quakers. This is the earliest instance in English that QI has located. Immediately preceding the prayer the following attribution was given: “A prayer of St, Francis of Assissi”. Note the spelling of Assisi within the periodical used the letter “s” four times [FAFI]:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; and
where there is sadness, joy.
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love; for
it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
The text of the prayer above has been reformatted for readability. The passage in “Friends’ Intelligencer” was printed in two simple paragraphs with a break at the phrase “O Divine Master”.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In January 1932 a version of the prayer was published and credited to “St. Francis of Assissi” in a weekly titled “Young India”. The editor of this periodical was Mahadev Desai who today is best known for being the personal secretary of Mahatma Gandhi. Desai provided the following introductory remark for the prayer [MDYI]:
For us the unworthy followers of Bapu and the Sardar who are today thrown, seemingly leaderless and helpless, in impenetrable darkness, to work towards the life-giving light of Swaraj I cannot think of a better prayer than one I received yesterday from two Christian friends who send their “love and prayers and living faith in the triumph of truth through suffering as part of that sympathy which is being borne out to you all by countless numbers in these very difficult days.”
In August 1932 a shortened version of the prayer appeared in the “Boy Scouts Bulletin” section of a newspaper called “The Daily Gleaner” of Kingston, Jamaica [BSDG]:
Happifying Service : (July Scouter)Grant that I may not so much seek
Francis of Assissi’s prayer may well be that of a Rover where he says:
Lord make me an instrument of thy peace,
Where there is hatred let me sow love,
Where there is sadness let me sow joy
O Divine Master,
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love.
In conclusion, the first known appearance of the prayer was dated 1912. The quotation was initially expressed in French and was translated into English by 1927. The words were first presented without attribution and were ascribed to Assisi by 1927.
Thanks for your question.
[CRSF] The Franciscan Archive website, “The Origin of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis” by Christian Renoux, Associate Professor, University of Orleans, France. (Accessed franciscan-archive.org 2011 December 20) link
[FAFI] 1927 First Month 22 [“First Month” probably refers to January], Friends’ Intelligencer, Page 66, Column 1, Volume 84, Number 4, Religious Society of Friends, Philadelphia. (Verified with scans from the Hartzler Library at Eastern Mennonite University; Many thanks to the librarians)
[MDYI] 1932 January 7, Young India: A Weekly Journal, Edited by Mahadev Desai, Page 4, Column 1, Volume 14, Number 1, Navajivan Pub. House, Ahmedabad, India. (HathiTrust)
[BSDG] 1932 August 8, The Daily Gleaner, Boy Scouts Bulletin, Page 21, Column 2, Kingston, Jamaica. (NewspaperArchive)