Francis of Assisi

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Authors born between 1100 and 1300 CE

Chu Hsi ] Kamo no Chomei ] [ Francis of Assisi ] Sa'di ] Ibn Khallikan ] Magna Carta ] Kenko ] Swiss Federation ]

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                    Contents

  Introduction

  1. Canticle of Brother Sun

  2. Sermon to the Birds

  3. Of Love

  4. Conquer the Body

  5. Avoid Anger and Guilt

  6. The Strength of Patience and Humility

  7.  Blessed are the Meek

  8. Treat Another’s Frailty Like Your Own

  9. Speak Not for Hope of Reward

10. Willingly Bear Reproof Even when Without Fault

11. Be Humble Among the Humble and under Correction

12. Be Constant in Love for your Brother

13. Of the Virtues putting Vices to Flight

14. Salutation of the Virtues

15. The Qualities of God

16. The Rule for the Friars Minor

17. The Reception of a New Brother

18. Of the Manner of serving and working.

19. Of asking for Alms

20 What Things are Perfect Joy

Sources

Introduction

Francis of Assisi (Giovanni Francesco Bernadone, 1181-1226) was born in Assisi, Umbria, to a successful textile merchant, Pietro Barnadone, and his wife Pica, who was from France. He received an elementary education at San Giorgio. Early biographers suggest that his later youth was not free from irregularities. Certainly, his financial position and inclination towards song and celebration led him to become a leader in the revels of the young men of the town. After a prolonged and serous illness, he experienced a spiritual crisis and sought only solitude and prayer, devoting himself to helping the poor.

On an encounter with a leper begging alms at Assisi, Francis kissed the man’s hand, giving him the money he had with him. He thereafter served lepers, helping in hospitals. He also provided funds for the restoration of the ruined church of St Damian. By now, his habit of donating generously to the poor at the expense of his family annd former revelers caused his father to take him to the Bishop of Assisi in 1206 to legally disinherit him before the entire family was made penurious. Francis at this point gave back his clothes to his father and, accepting a friar’s cloak from the Archbishop, went off singing to enter seclusion in the woods of Mount Subasio.

For about three years he remained in the local area, giving aid to lepers and other outcasts, frequently attending the Portinuncula, a chapel of St. Mary. There, in 1209, he read words from the Christian New Testament that summoned him to imitate Christ’s life. He went to Assisi and started preaching to the poor, although he was still a layman. He attracted disciples and when there were twelve of them, the group went to Rome, where Pope Innocent III gave them provisional approval by word of mouth, provided they would become clerics and elect a leader. The disciples elected Francis and promised obedience to him. Francis in turn promised obedience to the Pope, who gave Francis permission to read the Christian Gospels in churches. Francis did not become a priest.

Francis chose the name “Minors” for the group and secured the use of the Portinuncula from the Benedictine abbey on Mount Subasio. All members sought to imitate Christ, particularly in respect of choosing poverty. The members had no fixed abode, although frequently used a deserted building near the chapel. They preached to the poor and lowly, the lepers and outcasts. Dressed in poorest peasant clothes, they traveled in pairs, cheerful and joyous and often singing, working to earn their keep and sleeping in hedgerows, barns or church porches. They were forbidden to receive or handle money, to accumulate capital, or to posses land. When they could not work, they begged for sustenance. Francis extended his sense of brotherhood beyond the clergy and lay population to the world at large, the heavenly bodies, and the elements. In his splendid song, The Canticle of Brother Sun, we have an all-embracing view of the universe and the way that humanity is part of it.

Francis died two in 1226 and was canonized that year, later becoming recognized as the patron saint of animals. He wrote in the vernacular speech of Umbria, a dialect of Italian., and was thus one of the earliest Italian poets. In 1980 he was proclaimed patron of ecology by Pope John Paul II. This captures the prominent feature of  Francis’s way of life. Rather than expounding on spiritual exercises or methods of prayer, he found expression for his spirituality in a simplicity of life that preserved the environment, in exultation at the marvels of God’s creation, and in a generosity of love and protection for all people and all creatures.

Some of the writings of Francis are given below, together with a few legends of his life taken from the collection The Little Flowers of St. Francis).

 

 

 

1. Canticle of Brother Sun

 

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord,

Praise, glory and honor and benediction are all Yours.

To You most high they alone belong,

And there is no man fit to say your name.

Praise be to You, my Lord, from all your creatures,

Especially through my worshipful brother sun

Who lights up the day. Through him You give brightness;

And he is beautiful, radiant with great splendor;

Of You, most High, he gives the sign.

 

Praised be my Lord, for sister moon and for the stars,

In heaven you have formed them clear and precious and fair.

Praised be my Lord for brother wind

And for the air and clouds, in fair and every kind of weather,

By which You give to your creatures nourishment.

 

Praised be my Lord for sister water,

So greatly helpful and humble and precious and pure.

Praised be my Lord for brother fire,

By the which You illuminate the dark..

And he is fair and gay and mighty and strong.

 

Praised be my Lord for our sister, mother earth,

Who sustains and keeps us

And brings forth diverse fruits and grass and bright flowers.

 

Praised be my Lord for those who for Your love forgive

And bear weakness and tribulation.

Blessed those who shall endure in peace,

For by You, most High, they shall be crowned.

 

Praised be my Lord for our sister, the bodily death,

From the which no living man can flee.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin;

Blessed those who shall find themselves in Your most holy will,

For the second death shall do them no ill.

 

Praise and bless my Lord, and give Him thanks,

And serve Him with great humility.

 

2. Sermon to the Birds

 My little sisters, the birds, you owe much to God your Creator, and always in every place you should praise Him, for He has given you liberty to fly everywhere, and has also given you double and triple garments. Moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish from the world. Still more are you obliged to Him for the element of the air which He has made for you. Beyond all this, you sow not, neither do you reap; and God feeds you, and gives you the streams and fountains for your drink, the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees in which to make your nests. And because you do not know how to spin or sow, God clothes you and your children. Thus your Creator loves you greatly, seeing that He has bestowed on you so many benefits. Therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.

 

3. Of Love

 . . . He truly loves his enemy who does not grieve because of the wrong done to himself, but who is afflicted for love of God because of the sin on his [brother’s] soul and who shows his love by his works.

 

4. Conquer the Body

There are many who if they commit sin or suffer wrong often blame their enemy or their neighbor. But this is not right, for each one has his enemy in his power—to wit, the body by which he sins. Wherefore blessed is that servant who always holds captive the enemy thus given into his power and wisely guards himself from it, for so long as he acts thus no other enemy visible or invisible can do him harm.

 

5. Avoid Anger and Guilt

 To the servant of God nothing should be displeasing save sin. And no matter in what way any one may sin, if the servant of God is troubled or angered—except this be through charity—he treasures up guilt to himself. The servant of God who does not trouble himself or get angry about anything lives uprightly and without sin. And blessed is he who keeps nothing for himself, rendering “to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

 

6. The Strength of Patience and Humility

 How much interior patience and humility a servant of God may have cannot be known so long as he is contented. But when the time comes that those who ought to please him go against him, as much patience and humility as he then shows, so much has he and no more.

 

7. Blessed are the Meek

 Blessed is that servant who is not more puffed up because of the good the Lord says and works through him than because of that which He says and works through others. A man sins who wishes to receive more from his neighbor than he is himself willing to give to the Lord God.

 

8. Treat Another’s Frailty Like Your Own

 Blessed is the man who bears with his neighbor according to the frailty of his nature as much as he would wish to be borne with by him if he should be in a like case.

 

9. Speak Not for Hope of Reward

 Blessed is that servant who does not speak through hope of reward and who does not manifest everything and is not “hasty to speak,” but who wisely foresees what he ought to say and answer. Woe to that religious who not concealing in his heart the good things which the Lord has disclosed to him and who not manifesting them to others by his work, seeks rather through hope of reward to make them known to men by words: for now he receives his recompense and his hearers bear away little fruit.

 

10. Willingly Bear Reproof Even when Without Fault

 Blessed is the servant who bears discipline, accusation, and blame from others as patiently as if they came from himself. Blessed is the servant who, when reproved, mildly submits, modestly obeys, humbly confesses, and willingly satisfies. Blessed is the servant who is not prompt to excuse himself and who humbly bears shame and reproof for sin when he is without fault.

 

11. Be Humble Among the Humble and under Correction

 Blessed is he who shall be found as humble among his subjects as if he were among his masters. Blessed is the servant who always continues under the rod of correction. He is “a faithful and wise servant” who does not delay to punish himself for all his offences, interiorly by contrition and exteriorly by confession and by works of satisfaction.

 

12. Be Constant in Love for your Brother

 Blessed is that brother who would love his brother as much when he is ill and not able to assist him as he loves him when he is well and able to assist him. Blessed is the brother who would love and fear his brother as much when he is far from him as he would when with him, and who would not say anything about him behind his back that he could not with charity say in his presence.

 

13. Of the Virtues putting Vices to Flight

 Where there is charity and wisdom

 there is neither fear nor ignorance

Where there is patience and humility

there is neither anger nor worry.1

Where there is poverty and joy

there is neither cupidity nor avarice.

Where there is quiet and meditation

there is neither solicitude nor dissipation.

Where there is the fear of the Lord to guard the house

            the enemy cannot find a way to enter.

Where there is mercy and discretion

there is neither superfluity nor hard-heartedness.

 

14. Salutation of the Virtues

 Hail, queen wisdom! May the Lord save thee

with thy sister holy pure simplicity!

O Lady, holy poverty, may the Lord save thee

with thy sister holy humility!

O Lady, holy charity, may the Lord save thee

with thy sister holy obedience!

O all ye most holy virtues, may the Lord,

from whom you proceed and come, save you!

There is absolutely no man in the whole world

who can possess one among you

unless he first die.

He who possesses one and does not offend

the others, possesses all;

and he who offends one, possesses none

and offends all;

and every one [of them] confounds vices and sins.

Holy wisdom confounds Satan and all his wickednesses.

Pure holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom

of this world and the wisdom of the flesh.

Holy poverty confounds cupidity and avarice

and the cares of this world.

Holy humility confounds pride and all the men

of this world and all things

that are in the world

Holy charity confounds all diabolical and fleshly

temptations and all fleshly fears.

Holy obedience confounds all bodily and fleshly

desires and keeps the body mortified

to the obedience of the spirit and

to the obedience of one’s brother

and makes a man subject to all the men of this world

and not to men alone, but also to all beasts and wild animals,

so that they may do with him whatsoever they will,

            in so far as it may be granted to them from above by the Lord.

 

15. The Qualities of God

. . .

Thou art charity, love. Thou art wisdom.

Thou art humility. Thou art patience.

Thou art security. Thou art quietude.

Thou art joy and gladness.

Thou art justice and temperance.

Thou art all riches to sufficiency.

Thou art beauty. Thou art meekness.

Thou art protector.

Thou art guardian and defender.

Thou art strength. Thou art refreshment.

Thou art our hope. Thou art our faith.

Thou art our great sweetness. . . 

 

16. The Rule for the Friars Minor

 The Rule and life of these brothers is this: namely, to live in obedience and chastity, and without property, and to follow the doctrine and footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ, who says: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me.”

And: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me;”

And: “If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple”

And:  “And everyone that hath left father or mother, brothers or sisters, or wife, or children or lands, for My sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting.”

 

17. The Reception of a New Brother

 If any one, wishing by divine inspiration to embrace this manner of life, comes to our brothers, let him be kindly received by them. And if he be firmly resolved to undertake our life, let the brothers take great care not to meddle with his temporal affairs, but let them present him as soon as possible to their minister. Let the minister receive him kindly, and encourage him, and diligently explain to him the tenor of our life. This being done, if he be willing and able, with safety of conscience and without impediment, let him sell all his goods and endeavor to distribute them to the poor. But let the brothers and the ministers of the brothers be careful not to interfere in any way in his affairs, and let them not receive any money, either themselves or through any person acting as intermediary; if however they should be in want, the brothers may accept other necessaries for the body, money excepted, by reason of their necessity, like other poor.

 

18. Of the Manner of serving and working.

 Let the brothers in whatever places they may be among others to serve or to work, not be chamberlains, nor cellarers, nor overseers in the houses of those whom they serve, and let them not accept any employment which might cause scandal, or be injurious to their soul,1 but let them be inferior and subject to all who are in the same house.

And let the brothers who know how to work, labor and exercise themselves in that art they may understand, if it be not contrary to the salvation of their soul, and they can exercise it becomingly For the prophet says: “For thou shalt eat the labors of thy hands; blessed art thou, and it shall be well with thee”; and the Apostle: “If any man will not work, neither let him eat.” And let every man abide in the art or employment wherein he was called. And for their labor they may receive all necessary things, except money. And if they be in want, let them seek for alms like other brothers. And they may have the tools and implements necessary for their work. Let all the brothers apply themselves with diligence to good works, for it is written: “Be always busy in some good work, that the devil may find thee occupied;” and again: “Idleness is an enemy to the soul.” Therefore the servants of God ought always to continue in prayer or in some other good work.

Let the brothers take care that wherever they may be, whether in hermitages or in other places, they never appropriate any place to themselves, or maintain it against another. And whoever may come to them, either a friend or a foe, a thief or a robber, let them receive him kindly. And wherever the brothers are and in whatsoever place they may find themselves, let them spiritually and diligently show reverence and honor toward one another without murmuring. And let them take care not to appear exteriorly sad and gloomy like hypocrites, but let them show themselves to be joyful and contented in the Lord, merry and becomingly courteous.

 

19. Of asking for Alms

 Let all the brothers strive to follow the humility and poverty of our Lord Jesus Christ, and let them remember that we ought to have nothing else in the whole world, except as the Apostle says: “Having food and wherewith to be covered, with these we are content. ” And they ought to rejoice when they converse with mean and despised persons, with the poor and the weak, with the infirm and lepers, and with those who beg in the streets. And when it may be necessary, let them go for alms. And let them not be ashamed thereof, but rather remember that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living and Omnipotent God, set His face “as a hard rock,”1 and was not ashamed, and was poor, and a stranger, and lived on alms. . .

 

20 What Things are Perfect Joy

 One day in winter, as St Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to St Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: "Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy."

A little further on, St Francis called to him a second time: "O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy."

Shortly after, he cried out again: "O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy."

After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice: "O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of waters - write that this would not be perfect joy."

Shortly after, he cried out again: "O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy."

Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: "Father, I pray thee teach me wherein is perfect joy." St Francis answered: "If, when we shall arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, `We are two of the brethren', he should answer angrily, `What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say'; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall - then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.  . .

 

Sources

 Little Flowers of St Francis, the first English translation revised and emended by DOM Roger Hudleston. Heritage Press, New York.

www.ewtn.com/library/mary/flowers.htm This text is in the public domain.