Q. I recently read that the popular prayer usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, beginning with the words, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace,” did not actually originate with him. Is that true? If not, how did it come to be attributed to Francis?
A. Though the prayer is typically attributed to St. Francis, it is almost certainly a modern creation. Historians came to this conclusion some time ago, but recently the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, raised the issue anew when it reported that the prayer first appeared in France at the start of the twentieth century and became popular during World War I.
The prayer was first published, in French, in a Catholic weekly newspaper in 1912. Also known as the “Simple Prayer,” it was then republished on the front page of the Vatican newspaper in 1916 at the request of Pope Benedict XV. The Holy Father especially liked it message of peace in the midst of World War I.
The actual author remains anonymous. So why was the prayer attributed to Francis?
Historians note that it’s inspired by Franciscan themes, but the language is not typical of 13th-century Italian, which Francis spoke. There doesn’t seem to have been any organized attempt by anyone to deceive people into believing that Francis was the author. Perhaps it was later attributed to him because it was made popular by a French Franciscan between the two World Wars, who printed it on cards with an image of Francis on the back.