jeudi 4 octobre 2012

Saint FRANÇOIS D'ASSISE, religieux, fondateur et confesseur


Saint François d'Assise

Fondateur

(1182-1226)

La vie de saint François d'Assise est la condamnation des sages du monde, qui regardent comme un scandale et une folie l'humilité de la Croix. Il naquit à Assise, en Ombrie. Comme ses parents, qui étaient marchands, faisaient beaucoup de commerce avec les Français, ils lui firent apprendre la langue française et il parvint à la parler si parfaitement, qu'on lui donna le nom de François, quoiqu'il eût reçu celui de Jean au baptême.

Sa naissance avait été marquée par une merveille: d'après un avis du Ciel, sa mère le mit au monde sur la paille d'une étable. Dieu voulait qu'il fût, dès le premier moment, l'imitateur de Celui qui eut pour berceau une crèche et est mort sur une Croix. Les premières années de François se passèrent pourtant dans la dissipation; il aimait la beauté des vêtements, recherchait l'éclat des fêtes, traitait comme un prince ses compagnons, avait la passion de la grandeur; au milieu de ce mouvement frivole, il conserva toujours sa chasteté.

Il avait une grande compassion pour les pauvres. Ayant refusé un jour l'aumône à un malheureux, il s'en repentit aussitôt et jura de ne plus refuser à quiconque lui demanderait au nom de Dieu. Après des hésitations, François finit par comprendre la Volonté de Dieu sur lui et se voua à la pratique de cette parole qu'il a réalisée plus que tout autre Saint: "Si quelqu'un veut venir après Moi, qu'il se renonce lui-même, qu'il porte sa Croix et qu'il Me suive!"

Sa conversion fut accompagnée de plus d'un prodige: un crucifix lui adressa la parole; un peu plus tard, il guérit plusieurs lépreux en baisant leurs plaies. Son père fit une guerre acharnée à cette vocation extraordinaire, qui avait fait de son fils, si plein d'espérance, un mendiant jugé fou par le monde. François se dépouilla de tous ses vêtements, ne gardant qu'un cilice, et les remit à son père en disant: "Désormais je pourrai dire avec plus de vérité: "Notre Père, qui êtes aux Cieux."

Un jour, il entendit, à l'Évangile de la Messe, ces paroles du Sauveur: "Ne portez ni or ni argent, ni aucune monnaie dans votre bourse, ni sac, ni deux vêtements, ni souliers, ni bâtons." Dès lors, il commença cette vie tout angélique et tout apostolique dont il devait lever l'étendard sur le monde. On vit, à sa parole, des foules se convertir; bientôt les disciples affluèrent sous sa conduite; il fonda un Ordre de religieux qui porta son nom, et un Ordre de religieuses qui porte le nom de sainte Claire, la digne imitatrice de François. Ces deux frêles tiges devinrent des arbres immenses.

Abbé L. Jaud, Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l'année, Tours, Mame, 1950

SOURCE : http://magnificat.ca/cal/fr/saints/saint_francois_d_assise.html


BENOÎT XVI



AUDIENCE GÉNÉRALE



Mercredi 27 janvier 2010


Saint François d’Assise

Chers frères et sœurs,

Dans une récente catéchèse, j'ai déjà illustré le rôle providentiel que l'Ordre des frères mineurs et l'Ordre des frères prêcheurs, fondés respectivement par saint François d'Assise et par saint Dominique Guzman, eurent dans le renouveau de l'Eglise de leur temps. Je voudrais aujourd'hui vous présenter la figure de François, un authentique « géant » de sainteté, qui continue à fasciner de très nombreuses personnes de tous âges et de toutes religions.

« Surgit au monde un soleil ». A travers ces paroles, dans la Divine Comédie (Paradis, chant XI), le plus grand poète italien Dante Alighieri évoque la naissance de François, survenue à la fin de 1181 ou au début de 1182, à Assise. Appartenant à une riche famille – son père était marchand drapier –, François passa son adolescence et sa jeunesse dans l'insouciance, cultivant les idéaux chevaleresques de l'époque. A l'âge de vingt ans, il participa à une campagne militaire, et fut fait prisonnier. Il tomba malade et fut libéré. De retour à Assise, commença en lui un lent processus de conversion spirituelle, qui le conduisit à abandonner progressivement le style de vie mondain qu'il avait mené jusqu'alors. C'est à cette époque que remontent les célèbres épisodes de la rencontre avec le lépreux, auquel François, descendu de cheval, donna le baiser de la paix, et du message du Crucifié dans la petite église de saint Damien. Par trois fois, le Christ en croix s'anima, et lui dit: « Va, François, et répare mon église en ruine ». Ce simple événement de la parole du Seigneur entendue dans l'église de Saint-Damien renferme un symbolisme profond. Immédiatement, saint François est appelé à réparer cette petite église, mais l'état de délabrement de cet édifice est le symbole de la situation dramatique et préoccupante de l'Eglise elle-même à cette époque, avec une foi superficielle qui ne forme ni ne transforme la vie, avec un clergé peu zélé, avec un refroidissement de l'amour; une destruction intérieure de l'Eglise qui comporte également une décomposition de l'unité, avec la naissance de mouvements hérétiques. Toutefois, au centre de cette église en ruines se trouve le crucifié, et il parle: il appelle au renouveau, appelle François à un travail manuel pour réparer de façon concrète la petite église de Saint-Damien, symbole de l'appel plus profond à renouveler l'Eglise même du Christ, avec la radicalité de sa foi et l'enthousiasme de son amour pour le Christ. Cet événement qui a probablement eu lieu en 1205, fait penser à un autre événement semblable qui a eu lieu en 1207: le rêve du Pape Innocent III. Celui-ci voit en rêve que la Basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran, l'église mère de toutes les églises, s'écroule et un religieux petit et insignifiant la soutient de ses épaules afin qu'elle ne tombe pas. Il est intéressant de noter, d'une part, que ce n'est pas le Pape qui apporte son aide afin que l'église ne s'écroule pas, mais un religieux petit et insignifiant, dans lequel le Pape reconnaît François qui lui rend visite. Innocent III était un Pape puissant, d'une grande culture théologique, et d'un grand pouvoir politique, toutefois, ce n'est pas lui qui renouvelle l'église, mais le religieux petit et insignifiant: c'est saint François, appelé par Dieu. Mais d'autre part, il est intéressant de noter que saint François ne renouvelle pas l'Eglise sans ou contre le Pape, mais seulement en communion avec lui. Les deux réalités vont de pair: le Successeur de Pierre, les évêques, l'Eglise fondée sur la succession des apôtres et le charisme nouveau que l'Esprit Saint crée en ce moment pour renouveler l'Eglise. C'est ensemble que se développe le véritable renouveau.

Retournons à la vie de saint François. Etant donné que son père Bernardone lui reprochait sa générosité exagérée envers les pauvres, François, devant l'évêque d'Assise, à travers un geste symbolique, se dépouille de ses vêtements, montrant ainsi son intention de renoncer à l'héritage paternel: comme au moment de la création, François n'a rien, mais uniquement la vie que lui a donnée Dieu, entre les mains duquel il se remet. Puis il vécut comme un ermite, jusqu'à ce que, en 1208, eut lieu un autre événement fondamental dans l'itinéraire de sa conversion. En écoutant un passage de l'Evangile de Matthieu – le discours de Jésus aux apôtres envoyés en mission –, François se sentit appelé à vivre dans la pauvreté et à se consacrer à la prédication. D'autres compagnons s'associèrent à lui, et en 1209, il se rendit à Rome, pour soumettre au Pape Innocent III le projet d'une nouvelle forme de vie chrétienne. Il reçut un accueil paternel de la part de ce grand Souverain Pontife, qui, illuminé par le Seigneur, perçut l'origine divine du mouvement suscité par François. Le Poverello d'Assise avait compris que tout charisme donné par l'Esprit Saint doit être placé au service du Corps du Christ, qui est l'Eglise; c'est pourquoi, il agit toujours en pleine communion avec l'autorité ecclésiastique. Dans la vie des saints, il n'y a pas d'opposition entre charisme prophétique et charisme de gouvernement, et si apparaissent des tensions, ils savent attendre avec patience les temps de l'Esprit Saint.

En réalité, certains historiens du XIXe siècle et même du siècle dernier ont essayé de créer derrière le François de la tradition, un soi-disant François historique, de même que l'on essaie de créer derrière le Jésus des Evangiles, un soi-disant Jésus historique. Ce François historique n'aurait pas été un homme d'Eglise, mais un homme lié immédiatement uniquement au Christ, un homme qui voulait créer un renouveau du peuple de Dieu, sans formes canoniques et sans hiérarchie. La vérité est que saint François a eu réellement une relation très directe avec Jésus et avec la Parole de Dieu, qu'il voulait suivre sine glossa, telle quelle, dans toute sa radicalité et sa vérité. Et il est aussi vrai qu'initialement, il n'avait pas l'intention de créer un Ordre avec les formes canoniques nécessaires, mais simplement, avec la parole de Dieu et la présence du Seigneur, il voulait renouveler le peuple de Dieu, le convoquer de nouveau à l'écoute de la parole et de l'obéissance verbale avec le Christ. En outre, il savait que le Christ n'est jamais « mien », mais qu'il est toujours « nôtre », que le Christ, je ne peux pas l'avoir « moi » et reconstruire « moi » contre l'Eglise, sa volonté et son enseignement, mais uniquement dans la communion de l'Eglise construite sur la succession des Apôtres qui se renouvelle également dans l'obéissance à la parole de Dieu.

Et il est également vrai qu'il n'avait pas l'intention de créer un nouvel ordre, mais uniquement de renouveler le peuple de Dieu pour le Seigneur qui vient. Mais il comprit avec souffrance et avec douleur que tout doit avoir son ordre, que le droit de l'Eglise lui aussi est nécessaire pour donner forme au renouveau et ainsi réellement il s'inscrivit de manière totale, avec le cœur, dans la communion de l'Eglise, avec le Pape et avec les évêques. Il savait toujours que le centre de l'Eglise est l'Eucharistie, où le Corps du Christ et son Sang deviennent présents. A travers le Sacerdoce, l'Eucharistie est l'Eglise. Là où le Sacerdoce, le Christ et la communion de l'Eglise vont de pair, là seul habite aussi la parole de Dieu. Le vrai François historique est le François de l'Eglise et précisément de cette manière, il parle aussi aux non-croyants, aux croyants d'autres confessions et religions.

François et ses frères, toujours plus nombreux, s'établirent à la Portioncule, ou église Sainte-Marie des Anges, lieu sacré par excellence de la spiritualité franciscaine. Claire aussi, une jeune femme d'Assise, de famille noble, se mit à l'école de François. Ainsi vit le jour le deuxième ordre franciscain, celui des Clarisses, une autre expérience destinée à produire d'insignes fruits de sainteté dans l'Eglise.

Le successeur d'Innocent III lui aussi, le Pape Honorius III, avec sa bulle Cum dilecti de 1218 soutint le développement singulier des premiers Frères mineurs, qui partaient ouvrir leurs missions dans différents pays d'Europe, et jusqu'au Maroc. En 1219, François obtint le permis d'aller s'entretenir, en Egypte, avec le sultan musulman, Melek-el-Kâmel, pour prêcher là aussi l'Evangile de Jésus. Je souhaite souligner cet épisode de la vie de saint François, qui est d'une grande actualité. A une époque où était en cours un conflit entre le christianisme et l'islam, François, qui n'était volontairement armé que de sa foi et de sa douceur personnelle, parcourut concrètement la voie du dialogue. Les chroniques nous parlent d'un accueil bienveillant et cordial reçu de la part du sultan musulman. C'est un modèle dont devraient s'inspirer aujourd'hui encore les relations entre chrétiens et musulmans: promouvoir un dialogue dans la vérité, dans le respect réciproque et dans la compréhension mutuelle (cf. Nostra Aetate, n. 3). Il semble ensuite que François ait visité la Terre Sainte, jetant ainsi une semence qui porterait beaucoup de fruits: ses fils spirituels en effet firent des Lieux où vécut Jésus un contexte privilégié de leur mission. Je pense aujourd'hui avec gratitude aux grands mérites de la Custodie franciscaine de Terre Sainte.

De retour en Italie, François remit le gouvernement de l'ordre à son vicaire, le frère Pietro Cattani, tandis que le Pape confia à la protection du cardinal Ugolino, le futur Souverain Pontife Grégoire IX, l'Ordre, qui recueillait de plus en plus d'adhésions. Pour sa part, son Fondateur, se consacrant tout entier à la prédication qu'il menait avec un grand succès, rédigea la Règle, ensuite approuvée par le Pape.

En 1224, dans l'ermitage de la Verna, François vit le Crucifié sous la forme d'un séraphin et de cette rencontre avec le séraphin crucifié, il reçut les stigmates; il devint ainsi un avec le Christ crucifié: un don qui exprime donc son intime identification avec le Seigneur.

La mort de François – son transitus – advint le soir du 3 octobre 1226, à la Portioncule. Après avoir béni ses fils spirituels, il mourut, étendu sur la terre nue. Deux années plus tard, le Pape Grégoire IX l'inscrivit dans l'album des saints. Peu de temps après, une grande basilique fut élevée en son honneur, à Assise, destination encore aujourd'hui de nombreux pèlerins, qui peuvent vénérer la tombe du saint et jouir de la vision des fresques de Giotto, le peintre qui a illustré de manière magnifique la vie de François.

Il a été dit que François représente un alter Christus, qu'il était vraiment une icône vivante du Christ. Il fut également appelé « le frère de Jésus ». En effet, tel était son idéal: être comme Jésus; contempler le Christ de l'Evangile, l'aimer intensément, en imiter les vertus. Il a en particulier voulu accorder une valeur fondamentale à la pauvreté intérieure et extérieure, en l'enseignant également à ses fils spirituels. La première béatitude du Discours de la Montagne – Bienheureux les pauvres d'esprit car le royaume des cieux leur appartient (Mt 5, 3) a trouvé une réalisation lumineuse dans la vie et dans les paroles de saint François. Chers amis, les saints sont vraiment les meilleurs interprètes de la Bible; ils incarnent dans leur vie la Parole de Dieu, ils la rendent plus que jamais attirante, si bien qu'elle nous parle concrètement. Le témoignage de François, qui a aimé la pauvreté pour suivre le Christ avec un dévouement et une liberté totale, continue à être également pour nous une invitation à cultiver la pauvreté intérieure afin de croître dans la confiance en Dieu, en unissant également un style de vie sobre et un détachement des biens matériels.

Chez François, l'amour pour le Christ s'exprima de manière particulière dans l'adoration du Très Saint Sacrement de l'Eucharistie. Dans les Sources franciscaines, on lit des expressions émouvantes, comme celle-ci: « Toute l'humanité a peur, l'univers tout entier a peur et le ciel exulte, lorsque sur l'autel, dans la main du prêtre, il y a le Christ, le Fils du Dieu vivant. O grâce merveilleuse! O fait humblement sublime, que le Seigneur de l'univers, Dieu et Fils de Dieu, s'humilie ainsi au point de se cacher pour notre salut, sous une modeste forme de pain » (François d'Assise, Ecrits, Editrice Francescane, Padoue 2002, 401).

En cette année sacerdotale, j'ai également plaisir à rappeler une recommandation adressée par François aux prêtres: « Lorsqu'ils voudront célébrer la Messe, purs de manière pure, qu'ils présentent avec respect le véritable sacrifice du Très Saint Corps et Sang de notre Seigneur Jésus Christ » (François d'Assise, Ecrits, 399). François faisait toujours preuve d'un grand respect envers les prêtres et il recommandait de toujours les respecter, même dans le cas où ils en étaient personnellement peu dignes. Il donnait comme motivation de ce profond respect le fait qu'ils avaient reçu le don de consacrer l'Eucharistie. Chers frères dans le sacerdoce, n'oublions jamais cet enseignement: la sainteté de l'Eucharistie nous demande d'être purs, de vivre de manière cohérente avec le Mystère que nous célébrons.

De l'amour pour le Christ naît l'amour envers les personnes et également envers toutes les créatures de Dieu. Voilà un autre trait caractéristique de la spiritualité de François: le sens de la fraternité universelle et l'amour pour la création, qui lui inspira le célèbre Cantique des créatures. C'est un message très actuel. Comme je l'ai rappelé dans ma récente encyclique Caritas in veritate, seul un développement qui respecte la création et qui n'endommage pas l'environnement pourra être durable (cf. nn. 48-52), et dans le Message pour la Journée mondiale de la paix de cette année, j'ai souligné que l'édification d'une paix solide est également liée au respect de la création. François nous rappelle que dans la création se déploient la sagesse et la bienveillance du Créateur. Il comprend la nature précisément comme un langage dans lequel Dieu parle avec nous, dans lequel la réalité devient transparente et où nous pouvons parler de Dieu et avec Dieu.

Chers amis, François a été un grand saint et un homme joyeux. Sa simplicité, son humilité, sa foi, son amour pour le Christ, sa bonté envers chaque homme et chaque femme l'ont rendu heureux en toute situation. En effet, entre la sainteté et la joie existe un rapport intime et indissoluble. Un écrivain français a dit qu'il n'existe qu'une tristesse au monde: celle de ne pas être saints, c'est-à-dire de ne pas être proches de Dieu. En considérant le témoignage de saint François, nous comprenons que tel est le secret du vrai bonheur: devenir saints, proches de Dieu!

Que la Vierge, tendrement aimée de François, nous obtienne ce don. Nous nous confions à Elle avec les paroles mêmes du Poverello d'Assise: « Sainte Vierge Marie, il n'existe aucune femme semblable à toi née dans le monde, fille et servante du très haut Roi et Père céleste, Mère de notre très Saint Seigneur Jésus Christ, épouse de l'Esprit Saint: prie pour nous... auprès de ton bien-aimé Fils, Seigneur et Maître » (François d'Assise, Ecrits, 163).

* * *

Je suis heureux de saluer les pèlerins francophones présents, en particulier Mgr Perrier, évêque de Tarbes et Lourdes qui accompagne un groupe de l'Hospitalité Notre-Dame de Lourdes. Prions Dieu afin qu'il donne à son Eglise des saints, qui soient eux-aussi des « autres Christ ». Bon pèlerinage à tous!

________________________________________

APPEL

Il y a soixante-cinq ans, le 27 janvier 1945, étaient ouvertes les grilles du camp de concentration nazi de la ville polonaise d'Oswiecim, connue sous le nom allemand d'Auschwitz, et les quelques survivants furent libérés. Cet événement, ainsi que les témoignages des survivants révélèrent au monde l'horreur de crimes d'une cruauté inouïe, commis dans les camps d'extermination créés par l'Allemagne nazie.

Aujourd'hui, est célébré « la Journée de la Mémoire de l'Holocauste », en souvenir de toutes les victimes de ces crimes, en particulier de l'extermination programmée des juifs, et en l'honneur de tous ceux qui, au risque de leur vie, ont protégé les personnes persécutées, s'opposant à cette folie meurtrière. Avec une âme émue, nous pensons aux innombrables victimes d'une haine raciale et religieuse aveugle, qui ont subi la déportation, l'emprisonnement, la mort dans ces lieux terribles et inhumains. Que la mémoire de ces faits, en particulier du drame de la Shoah, qui a frappé le peuple juif, suscite un respect toujours plus convaincu de la dignité de chaque personne, afin que tous les hommes se sentent une unique et grande famille. Que Dieu tout-puissant illumine les cœurs et les esprits, afin que de telles tragédies ne se répètent plus !

© Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

SOURCE : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100127_fr.html



Saint François d'Assise






Grâce aux multiples rameaux de 1a famille franciscaine, Saint François d'Assise est assurément le maître spirituel qui a le plus profondément influencé la conscience religieuse populaire en Occident, singulièrement en ce qui touche la dévotion eucharistique. Des Opuscules qui rassemblent les écrits de Saint François d'Assise, on peut extraire une dizaine de textes particulièrement édifiants pour la piété eucharistique.

Deux des vingt-huit Admonitions, que l'on s'accorde à considérer comme les premières instructions de Saint François d'Assise à ses frères, parlent de l'Eucharistie. Dans la première Admonition, il range parmi les damnés, la « race charnelle » de ceux « qui ne voient pas et ne croient pas, selon l'Esprit et selon Dieu, que ce soit là réellement les très saints Corps et Sang de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ qui, chaque jour, s’humilie, exactement comme au jour où, quittant son palais royal, il s'est incarné dans le sein de la Vierge. » Ces gens sont condamnés parce que la dureté de leur coeur les empêche de contempler, c'est-à-dire de chercher à voir, « avec les yeux de l’esprit » ce qu'ils regardent avec leurs yeux de chair : « nous aussi, lorsque de nos yeux de chair, nous voyons le pain et le vin, sachons voir et croire fermement que nous avons là le Corps et le Sang très saints du Seigneur vivant et vrai. » Il est bien clair, dans la démarche spirituelle de Saint François d'Assise, que voir au-delà de ce que l'on regarde s'acquiert par l'effort du fidèle qui se veut accorder à l'Esprit Saint qui réside en lui, « c'est donc 1' Esprit du Seigneur, habitant ceux qui croient en lui, qui reçoit le Corps et le Sang très saints du Seigneur. Tous les autres, qui n'ont point part à cet Esprit et qui osent le recevoir, mangent et boivent leur condamnation. »

Ainsi, pour le baptisé, contempler Jésus dans l'Eucharistie et recevoir les grâces de la communion, procède de son acceptation des dons du Saint-Esprit qui s'épanouissent dans l'âme de celui qui s'y soumet par un effort constant de la volonté. Or, pour se réaliser pleinement, cet effort constant de la volonté doit nécessairement, selon Saint François d'Assise, s'accompagner de trois conditions : confession fréquente, respect aux ministres de l'Eucharistie, vénération habituelle des lieux de culte.

La Regula I fratrum minorum qui remplaça la règle primitive dont le texte ne nous est pas parvenu, souligne que les frères ne recevront la communion « que contrits et confessés. » Saint François d'Assise signale la même exigence dans la première lettre, adressée à tous les fidèles, et, dans la sixième lettre, il commande à ses frères, pour toutes les prédications qu'ils font, de prêcher au peuple la pénitence. Parce que le fidèle reçoit le Seigneur « d'un coeur pur et dans un corps chaste », il fait des oeuvres de pénitence qui sont fruits de salut, dont la plus grande est l'amour du prochain. Au cours du XIII° siècle, Thomas de Celano écrivait des premiers frères mineurs : « ils s'examinaient continuellement et repassaient dans leur esprit toutes leurs actions, rendant grâces à Dieu pour le bien qu'ils avaient fait, gémissant et pleurant sur leurs négligences ou leurs manques de prudence. »
Dans l'antépénultième et vingt-sixième Admonition, Saint François d'Assise s'écrie : « bienheureux le serviteur de Dieu

qui porte foi aux clercs, et malheur à ceux qui les méprisent ! » Et Saint François d'Assise d'ajouter, dans son Testament : « Le Seigneur m'a donné et me donne encore, à cause de leur caractère sacerdotal, une si grande foi en les prêtres qui vivent selon la règle de la sainte Eglise romaine, que même s'ils me persécutaient, c'est à eux que je veux avoir recours ... Je veux les craindre, les aimer et les honorer comme mes seigneurs. » Les prêtres ne sont pas vénérables à cause d'eux-mêmes, écrivait Saint François d'Assise dans la première lettre, car ils peuvent être pécheurs, mais à cause de leur charge de « ministres du Corps et du Sang très saints de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ qu'ils sacrifient sur l'autel, qu'ils reçoivent eux-mêmes et dont ils sont les dispensateurs pour les autres. »

Saint François d'Assise, dans sa première lettre, conjugue les nécessités de « visiter fréquemment les église et de révérer les prêtres. » Dans sa deuxième lettre il déplore les profanateurs qui « laissent l'Eucharistie à l'abandon, en des endroits malpropres, la portant sans honneur dans les rues, la recevant indignement et la distribuant aux autres sans discernement. » Il exige que la Présence Réelle soit entourée d'honneur et de vénération, il entend qu'on observe les règles du culte, qu'on place les saintes espèces « dans des lieux précieusement ornés » , qu' on soit attentif à l'état des vases sacrés et des linges, autant d'actes formels et d'attitudes révérencielles qui portent à la contemplation. « Je vous en prie donc instamment, vous tous, mes frères, en vous baisant les pieds et avec tout l'amour dont je suis capable : témoignez toute révérence et tout honneur, aussi grandement que vous pourrez, au Corps et au Sang très saints de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ, en tout ce qu'il y a dans le ciel et tout ce qu'il y a sur la terre a été pacifié et réconcilié au Dieu tout-puissant. »

Fondée sur une expérience mystique privilégiée, la spiritualité de Saint François d'Assise mène à l'adhérence totale au Christ à travers son imitation nourrie dans la méditation de tous les aspects du Christ, singulièrement, comme nous le chantons à Noël, de la crèche au crucifiement. Or, le Christ que Saint François d'Assise voulait imiter exactement, et qui sanctionna cette adéquation par le don des stigmates, se révélait à lui, immédiatement et sensiblement, dans l'Eucharistie. Son âme, éprise de sa propre purification, ordonnée au Seigneur par ses mortifications, communiait activement.

Se mettre à l'école du père séraphique, exige que l'on s'échine à considérer le Christ sous tous ses aspects pour pouvoir discerner, dans nos propres vies, ceux auxquels il nous associe et que nous reproduisons dans le siècle. Comme le résumeront plus tard les pères de l' Ecole française de spiritualité, mettre Jésus devant nos yeux, pour qu'il pénètre nos coeurs, puis anime nos mains. Pour parler comme Bossuet à propos de l' Eglise, le chrétien n'est autre que le Christ répandu et communiqué. Cependant le fidèle ne saurait être au Christ en dehors de l'Eglise qui, d'une part, transmet son enseignement et, d'autre part, communique sa vie. Enfin, à l'exemple et par l'intercession de la Vierge Marie, le chrétien se laisse saisir par le Saint-Esprit pour engendrer spirituellement les âmes dans le Christ et l' Eglise, opération qui s'accomplit chez celui qui accueille dans sa propre vie le Christ sous tous ses aspects, qui vise à aimer Dieu et le prochain par des oeuvres pieuses et miséricordieuses, qui cherche toujours davantage la pureté du coeur par l'examen de sa conscience et la réforme de soi.

Voilà donc ce que chacun de nous doit attendre de la communion qui sera d'autant plus efficace que, avant de la recevoir, il se sera déjà préparé à ses fruits par d'actifs exercices de soumission aux dons du Saint-Esprit. Au lieu d'attendre béatement que l'Eucharistie, reçue plus ou moins dignement, veuille bien nous transformer à l'image du Christ, ayons soin de nous préparer à cette conversion par l'obéissance à l'enseignement de l' Eglise, par la vénération du Saint-Sacrement, par des actes de charité fraternelle, par la contrition, la pénitence et la confession. Que le ministère de la Vierge Marie, Mère de Dieu et notre Mère, nous y aide par l’intermédiaire des saint anges et l’intercession des saints.



O Frères bien aimés, ô Fils béni pour l'éternité, écoutez-moi, écoutez la voix de votre Père : nous avons promis de grandes choses ; de plus grandes nous sont promises : observons les unes, soupirons après les autres.

Le plaisir est court, la peine est éternelle. La souffrance est passagère, la gloire est infinie. Beaucoup sont appelés, peu sont élus. Tous sont rétribués. Mes Frères, pendant que nous en avons le temps, faisons le bien.

Saint François d'Assise



Des profondeurs de l'éternité, Dieu appelle chacun de nous à l'existence : Dès avant la fondation du monde, écrivait saint Paul aux Ephésiens, il nous a élu en lui ; en nous créant, le Seigneur a déjà pour chacun de nous des projets et, tout au long de notre vie, il nous appelle constamment à les réaliser par des dépassements de nous-mêmes qui nous font de plus en plus devenir, avec le secours de sa grâce, ce qu'il attend de nous depuis toujours.

Dieu ne crée pas au hasard des êtres à qui, selon la nécessité, il donnerait une vocation, mais il peut dire à chacun, comme au prophète Jérémie : avant de te former au ventre de ta mère, je t'ai connu, avant même que tu sois sorti du sein, je t'ai consacré.

Peut-être avez-vous eu de grands rêves ... Sans doute avez-vous planifié votre avenir... Ou, plus simplement, dans une attente diffuse, vous ne savez pas où la vie vous mènera ... Quoi qu'il en soit du dessein de Dieu sur vous, il vous faut le découvrir de sorte qu'on ne puisse pas vous reprocher d'avoir gaspillé vos talents.

Invoquez l'aide et l'intercession de saint François d'Assise, mettez-vous à son école pour savoir répondre à votre vocation comme il le fit lui-même dans la petite église de Saint Damien.

Ne placez jamais votre confiance dans les moyens de la puissance humaine, mais ceux dans la grâce divine : appliquez votre intelligence aux vérités que le Seigneur nous a révélées, observez les commandements qu'ils nous donnés, recevez les secours qu'il nous a préparés.

Puisez dans la prière et la mortification vos énergies pour concrétiser votre communion au Christ crucifié qui vous appelle à vous offrir avec lui pour le salut des hommes.

Efforcez-vous de lire l'Évangile, de le méditer et essayez de l'appliquer à la lettre et sans glose. Vous pourrez dire alors avec saint François : Personne ne me montra ce que je devais faire, mais le Très-Haut lui-même me révéla que je devais vivre selon le saint Évangile.

Quoi qu'il arrive, restez fidèles à l'Eglise ; uni au Pape et à tous les fidèles, priez et oeuvrez dans l'Eglise militante ; imitez ce que vous pouvez de vie des saints, appelez leur aide et confiez-vous à l'intercession de l'Eglise triomphante ; intercédez pour la libération des âmes de l'Eglise souffrante.

Travaillez de vos mains à la construction de l'Eglise, cherchez à acquérir les compétences qui vous manquent, sachez faire profiter les autres de vos richesses spirituelles, intellectuelles et matérielles.

SOURCE : http://missel.free.fr/Sanctoral/10/04.php



Né en 1182, mort en 1226. Canonisé en 1228, fête immédiate.

Leçons des Matines (avant 1960)

Quatrième leçon. François naquit à Assise en Ombrie, et suivit l’exemple de son père, en se livrant au commerce, dès sa jeunesse. Un jour qu’un pauvre lui demanda l’aumône pour l’amour de Jésus-Christ, François, contre son habitude, le repoussa d’abord, mais troublé aussitôt de ce refus, il lui accorda plus qu’il n’avait coutume de donner, et, le jour même promit à Dieu de ne jamais refuser son aumône à quiconque la lui demanderait. Quelque temps après il tomba gravement malade, et à peine fut-il guéri qu’il commença à se livrer très ardemment aux offices de la charité, et fit de tels progrès dans cette vertu qu’épris de la perfection évangélique il distribuait aux pauvres tout ce qu’il possédait. Son père ne put souffrir une telle conduite, aussi l’obligea-t-il, par devant l’Évêque d’Assise, à renoncer à tous les biens patrimoniaux. François abandonna tout et jusqu’à ses habits, disant que désormais il aurait un motif de plus de répéter : Notre Père, qui êtes aux cieux.

Cinquième leçon. Ayant entendu lire cette parole de l’Évangile : « Ne possédez ni or, ni argent, ni aucune monnaie dans vos ceintures, ni sac pour la route, ni deux tuniques, ni chaussures, » François se proposa de la prendre pour règle de vie. Quittant donc ses chaussures, se contentant d’une seule tunique, et s’associant douze compagnons, il institua l’Ordre des Mineurs. En l’année mil deux cent neuf, il se rendit à Rome, pour que le Saint-Siège confirmât la règle de son Ordre. Sa demande fut d’abord rejetée par le souverain Pontife Innocent III. Mais ayant vu en songe, pendant la nuit, celui qu’il avait repoussé, soutenir sur ses épaules la basilique de Latran chancelante, le Pape, troublé par cette vision, fit rechercher François, le reçut avec bonté et confirma sa règle. Le saint fondateur envoya donc ses frères prêcher l’Évangile dans tout l’univers ; et lui-même, ambitionnant la gloire du martyre, fit voile pour la Syrie, où il fut reçu par le Soudan avec toutes sortes d’égards. N’obtenant pas le résultat qu’il désirait, il revint en Italie.

Sixième leçon. Après avoir construit quantité de maisons de son institut, François se retira dans la solitude, sur le mont Alverne. Ayant commencé là un jeûne de quarante jours, en l’honneur de l’Archange saint Michel, il advint qu’en la fête de l’Exaltation de la sainte Croix, un Séraphin lui apparut, portant entre ses ailes l’image du Crucifié. Ce Séraphin imprima sur les mains, les pieds et le côté de François, les stigmates des clous. Saint Bonaventure affirme dans ses lettres avoir entendu le Pape Alexandre IV déclarer, dans un sermon, qu’il avait vu les stigmates. Ces témoignages de l’amour de Jésus-Christ excitèrent l’admiration de tous. Enfin, deux ans après, se sentant gravement malade, François voulut qu’on le transportât dans l’église de Sainte-Marie-des-Anges, afin de rendre, son dernier souffle là même où Dieu lui avait accordé la vie de la grâce. En ce lieu, il exhorta ses frères à conserver très fidèlement la pauvreté, la patience et la foi de la sainte Église romaine. Pendant qu’il récitait le Psaume : « De ma voix, j’ai crié vers le Seigneur, » étant arrivé à ce verset : « Des justes m’attendent jusqu’à ce que vous m’exauciez, » il rendit son âme à Dieu. C’était le quatrième jour des nones d’octobre. De nombreux miracles l’ayant illustré, Grégoire IX l’inscrivit au catalogue des Saints.

SOURCE : http://www.introibo.fr/04-10-St-Francois-d-Assise



Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664) François d'Assise, 1645, 


Prière de Saint-François d'Assise


"Seigneur, fais de moi un instrument de ta paix,


Là où est la haine, que je mette l'amour.

Là où est l'offense, que je mette le pardon.

Là où est la discorde, que je mette l'union.

Là où est l'erreur, que je mette la vérité.

Là où est le doute, que je mette la foi.

Là où est le désespoir, que je mette l'espérance.

Là où sont les ténèbres, que je mette la lumière.

Là où est la tristesse, que je mette la joie.


O Seigneur, que je ne cherche pas tant à

être consolé qu'à consoler,

à être compris qu'à comprendre,

à être aimé qu'à aimer.


Car c'est en se donnant qu'on reçoit,

c'est en s'oubliant qu'on se retrouve,

c'est en pardonnant qu'on est pardonné,

c'est en mourant qu'on ressuscite à l'éternelle vie."


SAINT FRANÇOIS *


François s'appela, d'abord Jean, mais, dans la suite; il changea de nom et s'appela François. Il paraît que ce fut pour plusieurs motifs que ce changement ut lieu. 1° Comme souvenir d'une chose merveilleuse; savoir: qu'il reçut de Dieu d'une manière miraculeuse le don de la langue française ; ce qui fait dire dans sa légende que, toujours, quand il était embrasé du feu de l’Esprit Saint, il exprimait en français ses émotions brûlantes. 2° Afin que son ministère fût manifesté; c'est pour cela qu'il est dit dans sa légende que ce fut par un effet de la sagesse divine qu'il, fut ainsi appelé, afin due par ce nom singulier, que personne n'avait encore porté, le but de son ministère fût plus vite connu dans tout l’univers. 3° Pour indiquer les résultats qu'il devait obtenir; car, ainsi, on donnait à comprendre que, par lui et par ses enfants, il devait rendre francs et libres une quantité d'esclaves du péché et du démon. 4° A raison de sa magnanimité de cœur, car franc vient de férocité; il y a, en effet., dans le caractère français; un instinct de férocité joint à la magnanimité. 5° En raison de la vertu de sa parole, qui tranchait dans le vice comme une francisque. 6° Pour la terreur que le démon ressentait quand François le mettait en fuite. 7° Pour sa sécurité dans la vertu, la perfection de ses oeuvres et l’honnêteté de sa manière de vivre. On dit, en effet, que les francisques étaient des insignes ayant la forme de haches, portées au-devant des consuls, comme marque .de terreur, de sécurité et d'honneur tout à la fois.

François, le serviteur et l’ami du Très-Haut, né dans la ville d'Assise, et négociant, vécut dans la vanité jusqu'à l’âge de près de vingt ans. Notre-Seigneur se servit du fouet de l’infirmité pour le corriger et le changea subitement en un autre homme, en sorte que, dès cet instant, l’esprit de prophétie commença à se faire remarquer en lui. Une fois, en effet, que pris avec beaucoup d'autres par des Pérousins, il avait été mis en une dure prison, quand tous ses compagnons étaient dans la tristesse, seul il entra dans des transports de joie ; et comme ils l’en reprenaient, il leur dit : « Vous saurez que si je me réjouis, c'est que je. serai honoré, comme un saint, du monde entier. » Un jour, dans un voyage qu'il faisait à Rome par dévotion, il se dépouilla de ses habits et prenant ceux d'un pauvre, il s'assit au milieu des mendiants devant l’église de Saint-Pierre; il mangea avidement avec eux, comme l’un d'entre eux; ce qu'il eût fait plus souvent s'il n'eût été retenu par respect pour lés personnes de sa connaissance. L'antique ennemi s'efforçait de le détourner de son bon propos, et lui rappela le souvenir d'une femme de son pays monstrueusement bossue, en le menaçant de le rendre comme elle, s'il ne se désistait de son entreprise ; mais le Seigneur qui le fortifia lui fit entendre ces paroles : « François, les choses amères, prends-les pour douces, et méprise-toi toi-même, si tu désires me connaître. » Il rencontra lors un lépreux, et quoique tous ceux qui sont affligés de cette maladie soient un sujet d'horreur, il se rappela l’oracle divin et courut embrasser ce lépreux, qui disparut aussitôt après. A l’instant il se hâte d'aller dans les asiles des lépreux, leur embrasse les mains avec dévotion et leur donne de l’argent. II entre pour faire sa prière dans l’église de Saint-Damien, et une image du Christ lui adresse miraculeusement ces paroles : « François, va réparer ma maison, qui, comme tu le vois, s'écroule de toutes parts. » A dater de ce moment, son âme s'était comme fondue et la compassion pour J.-C. crucifié fut merveilleusement empreinte en son cœur. Il mit tous ses soins à réparer l’église, et après avoir vendu ce qu'il avait, il voulait en donner l’argent à un prêtre; comme celui-ci refusait de le recevoir par crainte des parents de François, le saint jeta cet argent, en sa présence, comme une poussière méprisable. Ce fut alors que son père le fit saisir et lier, mais François lui rendit le prix de la vente de ses biens, et se défit pareillement de son habit; dans cet état de nudité il se jeta dans les bras du Seigneur, et se revêtit d'un cilice. Le serviteur de Dieu appelle alors un simple particulier qu'il regarde comme son père en sollicitant ses bénédictions à la place de celui qui l’accablait de malédictions. Son frère le rencontra, un jour d'hiver, couvert de haillons, et en. prières. En le voyant tout grelottant, il dit à quelqu'un : « Demande à François de te vendre une once de sueur. » Ce qu'entendant François, il répondit : « Vraiment j'en vendrai à mon Seigneur(Chronique de l’Ordre de Saint-François, Ire p. l. I, c. v).» Un jour qu'il avait entendu ces paroles adressées par Notre-Seigneur à ses disciples, quand il les envoya prêcher, à l’instant il se mit en devoir de les pratiquer toutes à la lettre : il ôte ses souliers, se couvre d'une seule tunique, encore est-elle grossière et à la place d'une ceinture de cuir, il emprunte une corde. Par un temps de neige, et passant dans une forêt, il fut pris par des larrons; ils lui demandèrent qui il était, il répondit qu'il est le héraut de Dieu. Alors ils le prirent et le jetèrent dans la neige, en disant: « Dors, rustique héraut de Dieu. »

Beaucoup de nobles et de roturiers, tant clercs que laïques, quittèrent les pompes du monde pour s'attacher à lui. Ce père en sainteté leur enseigna à pratiquer la perfection évangélique, à embrasser la pauvreté et à marcher dans: la voie de la sainte simplicité. Il écrivit en outre une  règle évangélique pour lui et les frères qu'il avait et qu'il aurait, règle qui fut confirmée par le pape Innocent III. Depuis lors, il commença à répandre avec plus de ferveur que jamais la semence de la parole de Dieu, et à parcourir les villes et les bourgs, animé d'un zèle admirable. — Il y avait un frère qui, extérieurement, paraissait d'une éminente sainteté, toutefois il était fort original; il observait la règle du 'silence avec une telle rigueur qu'il ne se confessait que par signes et non de vive voix. Tout le monde le louait comme un saint, mais l’homme de Dieu vint dire : « Cessez, mes frères, de louer en lui des illusions diaboliques : Qu'on l’avertisse de se confesser une fois ou d'eux par semaine; que s'il ne le fait pas, il y a tentation du diable et supercherie. » Quand les frères donnèrent cet. avis à cet homme, il mit un doigt sur sa bouche et secouant la tête, il fit signe qu'il ne se confesserait pas. Peu de jours après; il retourna à son vomissement et mourut après avoir passé sa vie dans des actions criminelles. — Dans un voyage, le serviteur de Dieu fatigué allait monté sur un âne; son compagnon frère Léonard d'Assises, qui . était aussi fatigué, se mit à penser et à dire en lui-même : « Ses parents et les miens ne jouaient pas de pair ensemble. » A l’instant l’homme de Dieu descendit de son âne et dit à son frère : « Il n'est pas convenable que j'aille sur un âne et que vous alliez à pied, car vous avez été plus noble que moi. » Le frère, stupéfait, se jeta aux pieds du père et lui demanda pardon. — Il rencontra, un jour sur son passage, une femme noble qui marchait à pas précipités. Le saint eut pitié de sa fatigue et de l’état d'oppression qui en était la suite; il lui demanda ce qu'elle cherchait « Priez pour moi, mon père, lui dit-elle, parce que mon mari  m’empêche de mettre à exécution un salutaire propos que j'ai résolu de suivre; et il me gêne fort de servir J.-C. » Saint François lui dit : « Allez, ma fille, dans peu, vous en recevrez de la consolation, et vous lui annoncerez, de la part de Dieu tout-puissant et de la mienne, que c'est maintenant pour lui le temps du salut, plus tard, ce sera celui de la justice. » Cette femme rapporta ces paroles à son mari qui se trouva changé tout d'un coup et promit de garder la continence. — Un paysan mourait de soif dans un lieu désert; le saint lui obtint au même endroit une fontaine par ses prières. — Par l’inspiration du Saint-Esprit, il révéla le secret suivant à un des frères qui était de ses intimes : « Il existe aujourd'hui sur la terre un serviteur de Dieu, en faveur duquel, tant qu'il sera en vie, le Seigneur ne permettra pas que la famine sévisse sur les hommes. » Or, on raconte que la prédiction se réalisa effectivement : mais quand il fut mort, il en arriva tout autrement; car, après son heureux trépas, il apparut au même frère et lui dit :

« Voici la famine, que, tout le temps de ma vie, le Seigneur ne laissa pas venir sur la terre.» — A la fête de Pâques, les frères grecs du désert avaient préparé la table d'une manière plus recherchée qu'à l’ordinaire, avec des nappes et des verres ; quand l’homme de Dieu eut vu cela, il se retira à l’instant; il se mit sur la tête le chapeau d'un pauvre qui se trouvait là pour lors, et un bâton à la main, il sort dehors et va attendre à la porte. Pendant que les frères étaient à table, il criait à la porte que, pour l’amour de Dieu, ils donnassent l’aumône à un pèlerin pauvre et infirme. On appelle le pauvre, on le fait entrer : il s'assied par terre à l’écart et pose son plat sur la cendre. Les frères, voyant cela, furent tout stupéfaits, et il leur dit «J'ai vu la table parée et ornée, je me suis aperçu que ce n'est pas là l’ordinaire de pauvres qui vont mendier de porte en porte. »

Il aimait à tel point la pauvreté en lui et chez les autres qu'il appelait toujours la pauvreté sa dame mais quand il voyait quelqu'un plus pauvre que lui, il en était jaloux et craignait d'être dépassé en cela par autrui. En effet; un jour qu'il avait rencontré une pauvre femme, il dit à son compagnon : « Le dénument de cette personne nous a fait honte; c'est une critique achevée de notre pauvreté, car à la place de mes richesses, j'ai fait choix de la pauvreté pour ma dame et voici qu'elle reluit plus en cette femme qu'en moi (Hist. ord. Min., Ire p., I. VI, c. CVII). » — Un pauvre vint à passer devant lui, et l’homme de Dieu en fut touché d'une vive compassion; alors son compagnon lui dit : « Bien que cet homme . soit pauvre, peut-être aussi n'y en a-t-il pas dans tout le pays qui soit plus riche en désir. » L'homme de Dieu répliqua: « Dépouillez-vous vite de votre tunique, donnez-la à ce pauvre, jetez-vous à ses pieds et reconnaissez hautement la faute dont vous venez de vous rendre coupable. » Le compagnon obéit tout aussitôt. — Une fois il rencontra trois femmes semblables en tout pour la figure et pour la manière d'être, et elles le saluèrent en ces termes : « Que dame pauvreté soit la bienvenue », et elles disparurent de suite, sans qu'on les ait plus jamais vues. — En venant à Arezzo où une guerre intestine s'était émue, l’homme de Dieu vit du faubourg des démons qui se réjouissaient au-dessus de ce pays; et appelant son compagnon nommé Silvestre, il lui dit : « Allez à la porte de la ville, et, de la part de Dieu tout-puissant, commandez aux démons d'en sortir. » Silvestre se hâta d'aller à la porte, où il cria avec force : « De la part de Dieu et par l’ordre de notre père François, démons, sortez, tous. » Peu de temps après, la concorde se rétablit parmi les citoyens. — Ce même Silvestre, n'étant encore que prêtre séculier, vit en songe sortir de la bouche de saint François une croix d'or dont le sommet touchait le ciel, et les bras étendus au large embrassaient l’une et l’autre partie du monde. Touché de componction, le prêtre quitta aussitôt le monde et devint un parfait imitateur de l’homme de Dieu.

L'homme de Dieu était en oraison et le diable l’appela trois fois par son nom. Le saint lui répondit, et le diable ajouta : « Il n'est dans ce monde aucun homme, tel pécheur qu'il soit, auquel le Seigneur ne fasse miséricorde, s'il se convertit ; mais celui qui se tuera par une dure pénitence, ne trouvera jamais miséricorde. » Aussitôt le serviteur de Dieu connut par révélation la malice de l’ennemi qui s'était efforcé de le faire tomber dans la tiédeur. Mais l’antique ennemi voyant qu'il n'avait pas eu le dessus de cette manière, lui inspira une forte tentation de la chair ; en la ressentant, l’homme de Dieu se dépouilla de son habit et se frappa avec une corde très mince, très serrée, en disant Allons, frère l’âne, garde-toi bien de remuer, voilà comment il faut subir le fouet. » Mais comme la tentation tardait à s'éloigner, saint François alla se précipiter tout nu dans une neige épaisse, puis prenant de cette neige, il en fit sept blocs cri forme de boule, et se les mettant sous les yeux, il parla à son corps « Vois, lui dit-il : celle-ci qui est plus grosse, c'est ta femme ; de ces quatre, deux sont tes fils et deux sont tes filles, les deux qui restent sont ton domestique et ta servante. » Hâte-toi de les revêtir toutes, car elles meurent de froid; mais si ces soins multipliés t'importunent, ne sers que le Seigneur avec sollicitude. » Aussitôt le diable confus se retira et le saint revint à sa cellule en glorifiant Dieu. — Il logeait depuis quelque temps chez Léon, cardinal de Sainte-Croix, qui l’avait invité. Une nuit les démons vinrent le battre avec la plus grande violence. Il appela alors son compagnon et lui dit : « Les démons sont des hommes d'affaires destinés par Notre-Seigneur pour punir nos excès : or, je ne me rappelle pas avoir commis une faute que je n'aie expiée avec la miséricorde de Dieu et par la satisfaction; mais peut-être que le majordome (Castaldus. Sic appellabant Longobardi locorum, praediorum ac villarum praefectos, rerum dominicarum actores, procuratores, administratores, villicos. Ducange,V° Castaldus) a permis que ses gens se ruent sur moi, parce que je demeure à la cour des grands; ce qui a pu fournir à mes pauvres petits frères l’occasion de concevoir de mauvais soupçons, quand ils me voient vivre dans les délices et, l’abondance. » Il se leva de grand matin et s'en alla. — Il était en oraison, un jour qu'il entendit sur le toit de la maison, des troupes de démons qui couraient avec grand bruit : aussitôt il sortit et faisant sur lui le signe de la croix, il dit : « De la part du Dieu tout-puissant, je vous dis, démons, de faire sur mon corps tout ce qui vous est permis : je suis disposé à tout supporter, parce que n'ayant pas de plus grand ennemi que mon corps, vous me vengerez de mon adversaire, pendant qu'à ma place, vous exercerez vengeance contre lui. » Alors les démons confus s'évanouirent. — Un frère, le compagnon de l’homme de Dieu, vit, en extase, parmi les trônes du ciel, un de ces trônes très remarquable et brillant d'une gloire extraordinaire. Plein d'admiration il se demandait à qui ce siège éclatant était réservé, et il entendit qu'on lui disait : « Ce siège a appartenu à un des princes chassés du ciel et maintenant il est préparé à l’humble François. » Après sa prière, il demanda à l’homme de Dieu : « Que pensez-vous de vous-même, père? » « Je me considère, répondit le saint, comme un très grand pécheur. » Et aussitôt l’Esprit dit dans le coeur du frère « Sache que ce que tu as vu est véritable; parce que l’humilité élèvera le plus humble de tous au trône qui a été perdu par l’orgueil. »

Dans une vision, le serviteur de Dieu aperçut au-dessus de lui un séraphin crucifié qui imprima les marques de sa crucifixion d'une manière si évidente sur François que le saint paraissait avoir été lui-même crucifié. Ses mains, ses pieds et son côté, furent marqués du caractère de la croix; mais il cacha ces stigmates à tous les yeux avec grand soin. Quelques-uns cependant les virent de son vivant; mais à sa mort, il y en eut beaucoup qui les considérèrent. L'existence réelle de ces stigmates fut confirmée par de nombreux miracles, dont il suffira d'en rapporter deux qui eurent lieu après son décès. Dans la Pouille, un homme appelé Roger, qui avait sous les yeux l’image de saint François, se mit à penser ceci en lui-même: «Serait-il vrai qu'il eût été honoré d'un pareil miracle; ou bien serait-ce une pieuse illusion, ou même une fourberie inventée par ses frères ? » Tandis qu'il roulait cela dans son esprit, tout à coup il entendit, un bruit semblable à celui d'un javelot lancé, par une baliste, et se sentit grièvement blessé à la main gauche; mais comme il n'y avait aucune déchirure à son gant, il l’ôta et trouva sur la paume de sa main une blessure profonde faite comme par une flèche. Il en résultait une chaleur si vive qu'il semblait devoir entièrement défaillir de douleur et de chaleur. Alors il se repentit et témoigna croire à la réalité des stigmates de saint François ; deux jours après, ayant prié le saint par ses stigmates, il fut aussitôt guéri. — Au royaume de Castille, un homme dévot, à saint François allait à complies, et fut la victime innocente d'embûches dressées pour faire mourir un autre que lui ; il fut mortellement blessé et laissé pour mort. Après quoi, sort cruel meurtrier lui enfonça une épée dans la gorge et ne pouvant la retirer, il s'enfuit. On accourt, de toutes parts, on s'écrie et on le pleure comme un homme mort. Or, à minuit, comme la cloche des frères sonnait les matines, sa femme se mit à lui crier: «Mon maître, lève-toi et va aux matines ; voici la cloche qui t'appelle. » Aussitôt le blessé lève la main et semble faire signe à quelqu'un d'extraire l’épée, quand, aux yeux de tous, voici l’épée qui saute en l’air comme si elle eût été lancée par un poignet très vigoureux : à l’instant cet homme se leva parfaitement guéri en disant: « Le bienheureux François est venu à moi, et apposant ses stigmates sur mes blessures, il en a rempli chacune d'elles . d'une onction suave et les a guéries miraculeusement par ce contact: comme il voulait se retirer, je lui faisais signe d'ôter l’épée, parce que je ne pouvais parler autrement. Il la saisit et la jeta avec force et aussitôt il guérit entièrement ma gorge, en passant doucement ses stigmates dessus. » — Saint François et saint Dominique, ces deux lumières du monde, se trouvaient à Rome en compagnie du cardinal d'Ostie qui fut dans la suite souverain pontife. Cet. évêque leur dit : « Pourquoi ne faisons-nous pas de vos frères des évêques et des prélats qui l’emporteraient sur les autres par leur enseignement et leurs exemples ? » Ce fut à qui répondrait le premier. L'humilité de saint François lui donna la victoire en ne s'avançant pas : saint Dominique remporta aussi la victoire en répondant le premier par obéissance. Saint Dominique répondit donc : « Seigneur, s'ils veulent le reconnaître, mes frères ont été élevés à une position convenable; et tant que cela sera en mon pouvoir, je ne souffrirai pas qu'ils obtiennent d'autre marque de dignité. » Après quoi saint François prit la parole et répondit : « Seigneur, mes frères ont été appelés mineurs, afin qu'ils n'eussent pas la présomption de devenir majeurs. » Saint François, qui avait la simplicité d'une colombe, invitait toutes les créatures à l’amour du Créateur; il prêchait les oiseaux qui l’écoutaient, qui se laissaient toucher par lui et qui ne se retiraient qu'après en avoir reçu la permission. Des hirondelles babillaient tandis qu'il prêchait, elles se turent immédiatement après qu'il leur eut donné ordre de le faire.

A la Portioncule, une cigale qui restait sur un figuier, vis-à-vis de sa cellule, chantait souvent. L'homme de Dieu étendit la main et l’appela en disant : « Ma soeur la cigale, viens à moi. » L'insecte obéissant monta aussitôt sur la main de saint François qui lui dit :

« Chante, ma soeur la cigale, et loue ton. Seigneur. Elle se mit aussitôt à chanter et ne se retira qu'après avoir été congédiée. Il ne touchait ni aux lanternes, ni aux lampes, ni aux chandelles, car il ne voulait pas en ternir l’éclat avec sa main. Il marchait sur les pierres avec révérence par considération, pour celui qui s'appelle Pierre. Il ôtait les vers de dessus le chemin de crainte qu'ils ne fussent écrasés sous les pieds des passants. Afin que les abeilles ne mourussent pas au milieu du froid de l’hiver, il leur faisait donner du miel et ce qu'il y a de meilleur en vin. Tous les animaux il les appelait ses frères. Rempli d'une joie merveilleuse et ineffable dans son amour pour le Créateur, il contemplait le soleil, la lune et les étoiles et les invitait à aimer le Créateur. Il empêchait qu'on ne lui fît une grande couronne en disant: « Je veux que mes frères simples aient part en mon chef. » — Un homme fort mondain, ayant rencontré le serviteur de Dieu François qui prêchait à Saint-Séverin, vit, par une révélation divine, deux épées très brillantes placées en travers sur le saint en forme de croix; l’une allait de la tête aux pieds et la seconde s'étendait d'une main à l’autre en passant transversalement par sa poitrine. Or, il n'avait jamais vu François, mais il le reconnut à cette marque: alors il fut touché, entra dans l’ordre des frères Mineurs où il mourut heureusement. — Les larmes qu'il versait constamment. lui firent contracter une maladie aux yeux; on lui conseilla alors de cesser de pleurer; mais il répondit : « Ce n'est pas par amour pour cette lumière qui nous est commune avec les mouches qu'il faut renoncer à voir la lumière éternelle. » — Ses frères le pressaient de se laisser faire une opération à cause de son mal d'yeux, et le chirurgien avait en main un instrument de fer rougi au feu; alors l’homme de Dieu dit : « Mon frère, le feu, sois doux et courtois pour moi. Je prie le Seigneur qui t'a créé de tempérer pour moi ta chaleur. » Et en disant cela il fit le signe de la croix sur l’instrument qui fut enfoncé dans la chair vive depuis l’oreille jusqu'au sourcil, sans qu'il en ressentît aucune douleur; il le témoigna lui-même. — Le serviteur de Dieu était attaque d'une très grave maladie à l’ermitage de Saint-Urbain. Sentant lui-même que la nature était en défaillance, il demanda à boire du vin, mais il n'y en avait point: on lui apporta de l’eau qu'il bénit en faisant le signe de la croix ; et à l’instant elle fut changée en un vin excellent. La pureté du saint homme lui fit obtenir ce que la pauvreté d'un lieu désert n'avait pu lui procurer : il n'en eut pas plutôt goûté qu'il entra de suite en convalescence. Il préférait les mépris aux louanges : et lorsque les peuples exaltaient les mérites de sa sainteté, il commandait à quelque frère de lui lancer aux oreilles des paroles de nature à l’avilir. Et quand le frère, bien malgré lui, l’appelait rustique, mercenaire, maladroit et inutile, saint François tout égayé lui disait : « Que le Seigneur vous bénisse, parce que vous dites les choses les plus vraies : elles sont telles que je dois en entendre. » Le serviteur de Dieu ne voulut pas tant être supérieur qu'inférieur, ni tant commander qu'obéir. Aussi il se démit du généralat et demanda nu gardien à la volonté duquel il serait soumis en tout. Il promit et pratiqua toujours l’obéissance à l’égard du frère avec lequel il avait coutume d'aller.

Un frère ayant commis un acte de désobéissance, en témoignait du repentir ; cependant l’homme de Dieu, pour inspirer de la crainte aux autres, fit jeter le capuce de ce frère dans le feu. Après que le capuce fut resté quelque temps, en plein foyer, il ordonna, de l’ôter et de le rendre au frère. On ôte donc le capuce du milieu des flammes, saris qu'il y eût la moindre trace de brûlure. — Un jour qu'il se promenait dans les marais de Venise, il trouva une énorme multitude d'oiseaux qui chantaient, et il dit à son compagnon : « Mes frères les oiseaux louent leur Créateur, allons au milieu d'eux chanter les heures canoniales. » Quand il pénétra dans cette volée, les oiseaux ne furent pas effrayés, mais le saint et son compagnon ne pouvant s'entendre l’un l’autre à cause du gazouillement excessif de ces animaux, François dit : « Mes frères les oiseaux, cessez de chanter jusqu'à ce que nous ayons terminé notre office de Laudes. » Les oiseaux se turent aussitôt, et quand les Laudes furent achevées, il leur donna la permission de chanter et à l’instant ils continuèrent leur ramage comme à l’ordinaire. — Il avait été invité par un chevalier auquel il dit : « Frère hôte, suivez mes avis, et confessez vos péchés, car bientôt vous mangerez ailleurs. » Le chevalier consentit; il régla ses affaires domestiques, et reçut une pénitence salutaire. Or, comme ils entraient pour se mettre à table, l’hôte mourut subitement. — Il avait rencontré une multitude d'oiseaux et il les avait salués comme des créatures douées de raison. « Mes frères les oiseaux, leur dit-il, vous devez beaucoup de louanges à votre Créateur qui vous a revêtus de plumes; il vous a donné des ailes pour voler, il vous a départi les régions de l’air et il vous gouverne sans aucune sollicitude de votre part. » Les oiseaux se mirent alors à allonger le cou, à battre de l’aile, à ouvrir le bec et à regarder le saint attentivement. En passant au milieu d'eux, il les touchait avec sa robe et cependant aucun ne changea de place jusqu'à ce que leur en ayant donné la permission, ils s'envolèrent tous à la fois. — Au château d'Alviane, pendant une prédication, on ne pouvait l’entendre à cause: du gazouillement des hirondelles dont le nid était proche. Et il leur dit : « Mes soeurs les hirondelles, c'est à moi de parler maintenant ; vous avez assez dit ; gardez le silence jusqu'à ce que la parole du Seigneur soit achevée. » Aussitôt elles lui obéirent et Se turent.

Un jour que l’homme de Dieu voyageait dans la Pouille, il trouva sur le chemin une grande bourse toute grosse d'argent. En la voyant, son compagnon voulut la prendre, pour en faire largesse aux pauvres ; mais le saint s'y opposa formellement. « Il n'est pas permis, dit-il, mon fils, de prendre le bien d'autrui. » Mais comme le frère insistait fortement, François, après une courte oraison, lui commanda de ramasser la bourse qui au lieu d'argent ne renfermait plus qu'une couleuvre. A cette vue le frère eut peur, mais comme il voulait obéir et exécuter l’ordre qu'il avait reçu, il prit la bourse avec les mains, et il en sortit un grand serpent. Alors le saint dit : « L'argent, pour les serviteurs de Dieu, n'est rien autre chose que diable et serpent venimeux. » — Un frère, fortement tenté, se mit dans l’esprit que s'il avait sur lui quelque papier avec l’écriture du saint, la tentation cesserait aussitôt. Mais comme il n'osait pas lui manifester son désir, il arriva que l’homme de Dieu l’appela : « Apportez-moi, lui dit-il, mon fils, du papier et de l’encre, car je veux écrire quelque chose à la louange de. Dieu. » Et après avoir écrit, il dit: « Prenez ce papier et gardez-le soigneusement jusqu'au jour de votre mort. » Et aussitôt toute tentation s'éloigna de lui. — Ce même frère, lorsque le saint était malade, se mit à penser : « Voilà que le Père est près de mourir, et ce serait pour moi grande consolation, si; après sa mort, j'avais la tunique de mon Père. » Peu après, saint François l’appelle et lui dit : «Je vous donne cette tunique et après ma mort, elle vous appartiendra de plein droit. » — Il avait reçu l’hospitalité à Alexandrie, en Lombardie, chez. un honnête homme, qui le pria, pour observer l’évangile, de manger de tout ce qu'on servirait. Le saint ayant consenti au pieux désir de son hôte, celui-ci courut lui préparer un chapon de sept ans pour le repas. Pendant qu'ils étaient à table, un infidèle demanda l’aumône pour l’amour de Dieu. Aussitôt le saint homme, entendant bénir le nom de Dieu, fit passer au mendiant un morceau de chapon. Le malheureux infidèle conserve. ce, qui vient de lui être donné, et le lendemain, tandis que le saint prêchait, il le montre en disant : « Voici, quelle sorte de viande mange ce frère que vous honorez comme un saint : c'est ce qu'il  m’a donné hier soir. » Mais. le morceau de chapon parut à tout le monde être du poisson. Alors l’infidèle, traité d'insensé par toute l’assemblée, ayant appris ce qu'il en était, resta confus et demanda pardon. Le morceau reparut être de la chair quand le prévaricateur fut rentré en lui-même (Saint Antonin, tit. XXIV, ch. II, § 2. — Wading). — Une fois que le saint était à table et qu'il y avait conférence sur la pauvreté de la Bienheureuse Vierge et de son Fils, aussitôt l’homme de Dieu quitta 1a table en poussant des sanglots de douleur et couvert de larmes il mange sur la terre nue le morceau de pain qui lui reste. — Il voulait qu'on témoignât une grande révérence pour les mains des prêtres à qui a été confié le pouvoir de faire le sacrement du corps de N.-S. Aussi disait-il souvent : « Si je rencontrais un saint venant du ciel et un pauvre prêtre, j'irais au plus tôt embrasser les mains du prêtre, et je dirais au saint « Attendez-moi, saint Laurent, parce que les mains que voici touchent le verbe de vie, et elles possèdent quelque chose de surhumain. »

Sa vie fut illustrée par de nombreux miracles. En effet, des pains qu'on lui présenta à bénir guérirent beaucoup de malades; il changea de l’eau en vin, et un malade qui en goûta récupéra aussitôt la santé;, il fit encore beaucoup d'autres miracles. Quand il approcha de sa fin, bien que réduit par une longue maladie, il se fit mettre sur la terre nue et appela auprès de lui tous les frères qui se trouvaient dans la maison. Imposant alors les mains sur eux tous, il les bénit, et, comme à la Cène du Seigneur, il donna à chacun une petite bouchée de pain. Il invitait, suivant la coutume, toutes les créatures à louer Dieu ; la mort elle-même, qui est si terrible pour tous et si odieuse, il l’invitait aussi; il l’accueillit avec joie, et la priait de venir en son hôtellerie, en disant : « Qu'elle soit la bienvenue, ma sueur la mort.» Quand , fut arrivée sa dernière heure, il s'endormit dans le Seigneur. Un frère vit son âme, sous la forme d'une étoile semblable à la lune en grandeur et brillante, comme le soleil. Le supérieur des frères dans la terre de Labour, appelé Augustin, qui était à l’extrémité, et qui avait déjà perdu depuis longtemps l’usage de la parole, s'écria subitement : « Attendez-moi, père, attendez ; je vais avec vous. » Comme les frères lui demandaient ce qu'il voulait dire, il répondit : « Ne voyez-vous pas notre père François qui va au ciel? » Et, au même instant, il s'endormit en paix et suivit le père. — Une dame qui avait été fort dévouée à saint François vint à mourir. Les clercs et les prêtres étaient autour de sa bière pour ses funérailles, quand tout à coup cette femme se lève sur le lit funèbre, et appelant un des prêtres qui étaient là, elle lui dit :

« Mon frère, je veux me confesser. J'étais morte et j'étais destinée à rester dans une dure prison, parce que je n'avais pas encore confessé un péché que je vous découvrirai; mais saint François ayant prié pour moi, il  m’a été accordé de revenir à mon corps, afin qu'après avoir déclaré ce péché, je pusse en obtenir le pardon. Et je ne vous l’aurai pas plus tôt dit, que sous vos yeux je reposerai en paix. » Elle se confessa donc, reçut l’absolution ; après quoi, elle s'endormit dans le Seigneur. — Les frères de Vicéra demandèrent à un homme de leur prêter son chariot; il répondit, tout indigné : « J'aimerais mieux écorcher, deux d'entre vous et saint François en même temps, que de vous prêter mon chariot. » Mais, rentré en lui-même, il se reprocha sa conduite et se repentit de son blasphème, par la peur de la colère de Dieu. Peu après, son fils devint malade et, fut réduit à l’extrémité. Quand il vit son fils mort, il se roulait par terre, pleurait, et évoquait saint François, en disant : « C'est moi qui ai péché, c'est moi que vous auriez dû frapper. Rendez, ô saint, à celui qui vous supplie dévotement, ce que vous avez ravi à celui qui a blasphémé indignement. » Bientôt, son fils ressuscita, et fit cesser ses pleurs, en disant : « Quand je fus mort, saint François  m’a mené par un chemin long et obscur, jusqu'à ce, qu'il  m’eût placé dans un verger des plus beaux, et ensuite il  m’a dit : « Retourne vers « ton père je ne veux pas te retenir davantage. » — Un pauvre devait une certaine somme d'argent à un riche, qu'il pria, pour l’amour de saint François, de proroger son terme. Ce riche lui répondit avec orgueil : «Je t'enfermerai dans un endroit où ni saint François, ni personne ne pourra t'aider. » Et aussitôt il fit enfermer cet homme dans une prison obscure, après l’avoir enchaîné. Peu après, saint François vint, brisa la prison, rompit les chaînes de cet homme et le ramena sain et sauf à la maison. — Un soldat, qui se moquait des oeuvres de saint François et de ses miracles, jouait un jour aux dés, et, rempli de folie et d'incrédulité, il dit aux assistants : « Si François est saint, qu'il vienne un coup de dix-huit. » Et aussitôt les trois des apportèrent le nombre six, et jusqu'à neuf fois de suite; à chaque coup, il amena sur les trois dés le nombre six. Mais ce soldat, ajoutant  folie sur folie, dit encore : « S'il est vrai que ce François soit saint, que mon corps aujourd'hui tombe percé d'un coup d'épée; mais, s'il n'est pas saint, que je  m’en retire sain et sauf. » Quand la partie fut finie,: afin que sa prière aggravât son iniquité, il insulta son neveu qui, saisissant une épée, la plongea dans les entrailles de son oncle et le tua incontinent (Saint Bonaventure). — Un homme avait une jambe perdue, au point qu'il, ne pouvait faire aucun mouvement. Il invoqua saint François, en disant : « Saint François, venez à mon aide ; souvenez-vous de mon dévouement et des services que je vous ai rendus, car je vous ai porté sur mon âne; j'ai baisé vos saints pieds et vos mains, et voici que je meurs dans les tourments les plus affreux. » Aussitôt le saint lui apparut avec un petit bâton qui avait la forme d'un thau ; il toucha l’endroit malade, et un abcès creva; alors, il fut guéri, mais la marque du thau resta toujours en cet endroit. C'était avec ce caractère que saint François avait coutume de signer ses lettres. — A Castro-Pomérélo, dans les montagnes de la Pouille, une jeune fille unique vint à mourir. Sa mère, qui avait de la dévotion à saint François, était abîmée dans une tristesse profonde. Or, le saint lui apparut: «Ne pleurez pas, lui dit-il; car la lumière de votre, lampe, que vous pleurez comme éteinte, vous sera rendue à mon intercession. » La mère reprit donc confiance et ne laissa pas emporter le cadavre de sa fille, mais elle invoqua le nom de saint François, et prenant sa fille toute morte, elle la leva rendue à la vie. — Dans la ville de Rome, un petit enfant, tombé d'une fenêtre d'un palais, avait été, tué sur le coup. On invoque saint François, et l’enfant est aussitôt rendu à la vie. — Dans la ville de Sezza, une maison en s'écroulant écrasa un jeune homme, et déjà son cadavre était posé sur un lit pour être enseveli. La mère invoquait saint François, avec toute la dévotion dont elle pouvait être capable, quand, vers minuit, l’enfant bâilla, puis il se leva guéri et il s'épancha en paroles de louanges. — Frère Jacques de Riéti avait passé un fleuve dans une nacelle avec des frères, et déjà ses compagnons étaient descendus sur la rive; il se disposait lui-même à sortir du bateau, quand, la barque' venant à chavirer, il tomba au fond du fleuve. Les frères se mirent à invoquer saint François pour la délivrance du noyé qui, lui-même, implorait, selon son pouvoir et de tout coeur, le secours du bienheureux. Alors ce noyé, marchant au fond de l’eau comme sur la terre ferme, prit la nacelle submergée et vint avec elle au rivage. Ses vêtements ne furent même pas mouillés, et pas une goutte d'eau n'atteignit sa tunique.

* Cette légende est compilée d'après les Vies du Saint et les Chroniques de l’Ordre de Saint-François.

La Légende dorée de Jacques de Voragine nouvellement traduite en français avec introduction, notices, notes et recherches sur les sources par l'abbé J.-B. M. Roze, chanoine honoraire de la Cathédrale d'Amiens, Édouard Rouveyre, éditeur, 76, rue de Seine, 76, Paris mdcccci


François, fondateur des Franciscains


Qui était François d'Assise ? Connu aussi sous le nom de Poverello (Petit pauvre),il mit en œuvre avec ses frères, de manière immédiate et absolue, une pauvreté joyeuse, volontaire et ouverte au partage. Publié le 6 août 2015
Personnage majeur du Moyen Âge occidental, François d'Assise a proposé à la chrétienté un modèle de pauvreté, de simplicité évangélique et de contestation de l'ordre social fondé sur les privilèges et l'argent.

Un modèle de pauvreté
Fils d'un riche marchand italien. François rompt avec le monde en 1206 et fonde avec ses disciples la fraternité des Pénitents d'Assise vénérant le Christ crucifié. L'ordre des franciscains s'étendra sur toute l'Italie mais aussi en Allemagne, en France, en Hongrie, en Angleterre, au Maroc et jusqu'en Terre Sainte.François a su aller jusqu'au bout de ses idées sans jamais tricher ni vouloir triompher.
Tous ceux qui l'ont rencontré ont reconnu en lui un homme évangélique et un frère universel. Il a montré au monde que le message évangélique n'est pas lettre morte mais source de profonds renouveaux. Il Poverello d'Assise est, parmi les saints, le plus populaire et sans doute le mieux accueilli parmi les non-chrétiens. Ceci en raison de l'universalité de son message de respect de la Création, de réconciliation et de paix.
Une jeunesse dorée
François naît dans une famille bourgeoise d'Assise en 1181. Sa jeunesse sera dorée mais aussi guerrière. À 16 ans, la ville d'Assise se soulève pour se déclarer "ville libre". Il partira ensuite à la guerre contre la cité voisine de Pérouse. Fait prisonnier, il y passera deux ans en captivité. Libéré parce que malade, il mène ensuite la vie d'un jeune et riche bourgeois, aimant les fêtes et la compagnie des jeunes gens et des jeunes filles de son milieu.
Va et répare ma maison...
Un jour, tandis qu'il part pour une nouvelle expédition militaire, un songe l'invite à renoncer à la gloire des armes pour servir le Christ. De retour à Assise, commence alors un long chemin de conversion. Il se met à fréquenter les mendiants, les lépreux et se retire dans la vieille chapelle de Saint-Damien, aux environs d'Assise.
Là, le Christ peint sur une croix au-dessus de l'autel s'anime et lui parle : "François va et répare ma maison qui, tu le vois, tombe en ruines". François croit d'abord qu'il doit reconstruire la chapelle et se fait maçon. Mais parce que son père, un riche drapier, lui réclame devant le tribunal de l'évêque l'argent qu'il lui a pris pour cet ouvrage, il se dépouille de tout, y compris de ses vêtements.
Un succès foudroyant
François part alors dans la campagne pour y mener une vie d'ermite et de pénitent. Il prêche aussi l'Évangile avec des mots simples. Quelques compagnons (des camarades d'enfance et des jeunes du voisinage) le rejoignent pour partager ensemble cette vie de prédicateurs itinérants et de pauvreté radicale.
Ses premiers compagnons réunis, François a le souci de faire approuver son mouvement par le Pape, ce qui se fera non sans mal. Le succès est foudroyant car, quelques années plus tard, on compte déjà près de 5.000 Frères Mineurs.
Vivre la pauvreté de l'Évangile
François et les siens apportent un vent de liberté et de générosité, de fraternité et de spontanéité dans une Église vieillie et un monde austère dominés par les "puissants". Ils prêchent un évangile de paix. Connu aussi sous le nom de "Poverello", ce qui signifie "Petit pauvre", François veut appliquer de manière immédiate et absolue une pauvreté joyeuse, volontaire et ouverte au partage
Frère de toutes les créatures
François a aussi un amour extraordinaire pour la création. Innombrables sont les récits de ses rencontres amicales avec des oiseaux, poissons, lièvres, moutons, faucon, et même un loup Se comportant comme un frère de toutes les créatures, il en communique une grande joie du cœur. Sa prière est à la fois traditionnelle et renouvelée, fondée sur l'Écriture Sainte et la liturgie, mais aussi, familière, simple, émerveillée à l'égard de Dieu.
Elle contemple sans cesse l'amour de Dieu manifesté dans la création et le mystère de Jésus sauveur par sa Passion. Elle le marquera tant que son corps, les dernières années de sa vie, recevra les plaies du Christ. Dépouillé de tout, presque aveugle mais entouré de ses frères, il sera déjà considéré avant sa mort comme un saint. La rapide expansion de la famille franciscaine ne fera que contribuer à la diffusion large de ses idées et en imprégnera l'Église entière.
Petite bibliographie
- Eloi Leclerc
François d'Assise, le retour à l'Évangile ; éd. Desclée de Brouwer (2004)

- Thaddée Matura
François d'Assise: héritage et héritiers, huit siècles après ; éd. Cerf (2008)

- Michel Feuillet
Petite vie de François d'Assise ; éd. Desclée de Brouwer (2005)



Saint François d'Assise  

Fondateur de l'Ordre des Frères Mineurs ( 1226)

Né à Assise au foyer de Pierre Bernardone et de Dame Pica, François vit d'abord une jeunesse folle. Participant à la guerre entre Assise et Pérouse, il est fait prisonnier.

Plus tard, parti pour une autre guerre, il entend une voix lui dire: "Pourquoi sers-tu le serviteur et non le maître?"

C'est pour lui le début d'une nouvelle existence. Rentré à Assise, "le roi de la jeunesse" se tourne vers les pauvres et les lépreux.

Il a 24 ans. Dans la chapelle de Saint Damien, il entend le grand crucifix lui dire: "Répare ma maison qui, tu le vois, tombe en ruines."

Le voilà transformé en maçon. Pour réparer la chapelle, il dépense l'argent de son père qui l'assigne devant l'Évêque.

Il se dépouille alors de tous ses vêtements en déclarant qu'il n'a d'autre père que celui qui est aux Cieux.

Un matin, il entend l'évangile de l'envoi en mission des disciples. Appliquant l'Évangile à la lettre, il parcourt la campagne, pieds nus et une corde pour ceinture, en annonçant: "Que Le Seigneur vous donne sa Paix."

Des compagnons lui viennent et il leur rédige une Règle faite de passages d'Évangile. Quand ils seront douze, ils iront à Rome la faire approuver par le Pape Innocent III.

Parallèlement, Claire Favarone devient la première Clarisse.

Pour les laïcs, il fonde un troisième Ordre, appelé aujourd'hui "la Fraternité séculière." Il envoie ses Frères de par le monde et lui-même rencontre le sultan à Damiette pour faire cesser la guerre entre Chrétiens et Musulmans.

A son retour, il trouve l'Ordre en grandes difficultés d'unité. Il rédige une nouvelle Règle et se retire, épuisé, sur le mont Alverne où il reçoit les stigmates du Christ en Croix.

Il connaît ainsi dans son cœur l'infini de l'Amour du Christ donnant sa vie pour les hommes. En 1226, au milieu de très grandes souffrances, il compose son "Cantique des Créatures" et le 3 octobre, "nu, sur la terre nue", il accueille "notre sœur la mort corporelle."

Ce cantique a été composé par François d’Assise deux ans avant sa mort et achevé par Frère Pacifique.

Saint François d'Assise est le patron de tous les louveteaux.


La figure du Saint italien évoque un art de vivre et une manière d'être Chrétien.

Le Pape Grégoire IX l'a Canonisé en 1228. Amoureux de la nature, Jean Paul II l'a fait patron de l'écologie en 1979.

Il inspire aussi les non-violents. (Église catholique en France)

Prière de Saint François d'Assise: Seigneur, fais de moi un instrument de ta paix...

"Jean-Paul II, en 1979, un an après son accession au pontificat, évoque la volonté du Créateur de voir l'homme être en communion avec la nature et non en position d'exploiteur ou de destructeur.
Il désigne Saint François d'Assise comme patron des écologistes, sorte de Bénédiction à une époque où on les regardait souvent de travers." (Source: la sauvegarde de la création - Église catholique en France)

Le 4 Octobre, mémoire de Saint François d’Assise. Après une jeunesse légère, il choisit de vivre selon l’Évangile, en servant le Christ, découvert principalement dans les pauvres et les abandonnés, et en se faisant pauvre lui-même.



Il attira à lui et rassembla des compagnons, les Frères Mineurs. Sur les routes, jusqu’en Terre sainte, il prêcha à tous l’Amour de Dieu, cherchant par sa parole et ses gestes à suivre le mieux possible Le Christ, et voulut mourir sur la terre nue, en 1226.



Martyrologe romain


Loué sois-tu, mon Seigneur, avec toutes tes créatures, spécialement messire frère Soleil, par qui tu nous donnes le jour, la lumière ; il est beau, rayonnant d’une grande splendeur, et de toi, le Très-Haut, il nous offre le symbole



St. Francis of Assisi

Founder of the Franciscan Order, born at Assisi in Umbria, in 1181 or 1182 — the exact year is uncertain; died there, 3 October, 1226.

His father, Pietro Bernardone, was a wealthy Assisian cloth merchant. Of his mother, Pica, little is known, but she is said to have belonged to a noble family of Provence. Francis was one of several children. The legend that he was born in a stable dates from the fifteenth century only, and appears to have originated in the desire of certain writers to make his life resemble that of Christ. At baptism the saint received the name of Giovanni, which his father afterwards altered to Francesco, through fondness it would seem for France, whither business had led him at the time of his son's birth. In any case, since the child was renamed in infancy, the change can hardly have had anything to do with his aptitude for learning French, as some have thought.

Francis received some elementary instruction from the priests of St. George's at Assisi, though he learned more perhaps in the school of the Troubadours, who were just then making for refinement in Italy. However this may be, he was not very studious, and his literary education remained incomplete. Although associated with his father in trade, he showed little liking for a merchant's career, and his parents seemed to have indulged his every whim. Thomas of Celano, his first biographer, speaks in very severe terms of Francis's youth. Certain it is that the saint's early life gave no presage of the golden years that were to come. No one loved pleasure more than Francis; he had a ready wit, sang merrily, delighted in fine clothes and showy display. Handsome, gay, gallant, and courteous, he soon became the prime favourite among the young nobles of Assisi, the foremost in every feat of arms, the leader of the civil revels, the very king of frolic. But even at this time Francis showed an instinctive sympathy with the poor, and though he spent money lavishly, it still flowed in such channels as to attest a princely magnanimity of spirit.

When about twenty, Francis went out with the townsmen to fight the Perugians in one of the petty skirmishes so frequent at that time between the rival cities. The Assisians were defeated on this occasion, and Francis, being among those taken prisoners, was held captive for more than a year in Perugia. A low fever which he there contracted appears to have turned his thoughts to the things of eternity; at least the emptiness of the life he had been leading came to him during that long illness. With returning health, however, Francis's eagerness after glory reawakened and his fancy wandered in search of victories; at length he resolved to embrace a military career, and circumstances seemed to favour his aspirations. A knight of Assisi was about to join "the gentle count", Walter of Brienne, who was then in arms in the Neapolitan States against the emperor, and Francis arranged to accompany him. His biographers tell us that the night before Francis set forth he had a strange dream, in which he saw a vast hall hung with armour all marked with the Cross. "These", said a voice, "are for you and your soldiers." "I know I shall be a great prince", exclaimed Francis exultingly, as he started for Apulia. But a second illness arrested his course at Spoleto. There, we are told, Francis had another dream in which the same voice bade him turn back to Assisi. He did so at once. This was in 1205.

Although Francis still joined at times in the noisy revels of his former comrades, his changed demeanour plainly showed that his heart was no longer with them; a yearning for the life of the spirit had already possessed it. His companions twitted Francis on his absent-mindedness and asked if he were minded to be married. "Yes", he replied, "I am about to take a wife of surpassing fairness." She was no other than Lady Poverty whom Dante and Giotto have wedded to his name, and whom even now he had begun to love. After a short period of uncertainty he began to seek in prayer and solitude the answer to his call; he had already given up his gay attire and wasteful ways. One day, while crossing the Umbrian plain on horseback, Francis unexpectedly drew near a poor leper. The sudden appearance of this repulsive object filled him with disgust and he instinctively retreated, but presently controlling his natural aversion he dismounted, embraced the unfortunate man, and gave him all the money he had. About the same time Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome. Pained at the miserly offerings he saw at the tomb of St. Peter, he emptied his purse thereon. Then, as if to put his fastidious nature to the test, he exchanged clothes with a tattered mendicant and stood for the rest of the day fasting among the horde of beggars at the door of the basilica.

Not long after his return to Assisi, whilst Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix in the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damian's below the town, he heard a voice saying: "Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin." Taking this behest literally, as referring to the ruinous church wherein he knelt, Francis went to his father's shop, impulsively bundled together a load of coloured drapery, and mounting his horse hastened to Foligno, then a mart of some importance, and there sold both horse and stuff to procure the money needful for the restoration of St. Damian's. When, however, the poor priest who officiated there refused to receive the gold thus gotten, Francis flung it from him disdainfully. The elder Bernardone, a most niggardly man, was incensed beyond measure at his son's conduct, and Francis, to avert his father's wrath, hid himself in a cave near St. Damian's for a whole month. When he emerged from this place of concealment and returned to the town, emaciated with hunger and squalid with dirt, Francis was followed by a hooting rabble, pelted with mud and stones, and otherwise mocked as a madman. Finally, he was dragged home by his father, beaten, bound, and locked in a dark closet.

Freed by his mother during Bernardone's absence, Francis returned at once to St. Damian's, where he found a shelter with the officiating priest, but he was soon cited before the city consuls by his father. The latter, not content with having recovered the scattered gold from St. Damian's, sought also to force his son to forego his inheritance. This Francis was only too eager to do; he declared, however, that since he had entered the service of God he was no longer under civil jurisdiction. Having therefore been taken before the bishop, Francis stripped himself of the very clothes he wore, and gave them to his father, saying: "Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only 'Our Father who art in Heaven'." Then and there, as Dante sings, were solemnized Francis's nuptials with his beloved spouse, the Lady Poverty, under which name, in the mystical language afterwards so familiar to him, he comprehended the total surrender of all worldly goods, honours, and privileges. And now Francis wandered forth into the hills behind Assisi, improvising hymns of praise as he went. "I am the herald of the great King", he declared in answer to some robbers, who thereupon despoiled him of all he had and threw him scornfully in a snow drift. Naked and half frozen, Francis crawled to a neighbouring monastery and there worked for a time as a scullion. At Gubbio, whither he went next, Francis obtained from a friend the cloak, girdle, and staff of a pilgrim as an alms. Returning to Assisi, he traversed the city begging stones for the restoration of St. Damian's. These he carried to the old chapel, set in place himself, and so at length rebuilt it. In the same way Francis afterwards restored two other deserted chapels, St. Peter's, some distance from the city, and St. Mary of the Angels, in the plain below it, at a spot called the Porziuncola. Meantime he redoubled his zeal in works of charity, more especially in nursing the lepers.

On a certain morning in 1208, probably 24 February, Francis was hearing Mass in the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, near which he had then built himself a hut; the Gospel of the day told how the disciples of Christ were to possess neither gold nor silver, nor scrip for their journey, nor two coats, nor shoes, nor a staff, and that they were to exhort sinners to repentance and announce the Kingdom of God. Francis took these words as if spoken directly to himself, and so soon as Mass was over threw away the poor fragment left him of the world's goods, his shoes, cloak, pilgrim staff, and empty wallet. At last he had found his vocation. Having obtained a coarse woolen tunic of "beast colour", the dress then worn by the poorest Umbrian peasants, and tied it round him with a knotted rope, Francis went forth at once exhorting the people of the country-side to penance, brotherly love, and peace. The Assisians had already ceased to scoff at Francis; they now paused in wonderment; his example even drew others to him. Bernard of Quintavalle, a magnate of the town, was the first to join Francis, and he was soon followed by Peter of Cattaneo, a well-known canon of the cathedral. In true spirit of religious enthusiasm, Francis repaired to the church of St. Nicholas and sought to learn God's will in their regard by thrice opening at random the book of the Gospels on the altar. Each time it opened at passages where Christ told His disciples to leave all things and follow Him. "This shall be our rule of life", exclaimed Francis, and led his companions to the public square, where they forthwith gave away all their belongings to the poor. After this they procured rough habits like that of Francis, and built themselves small huts near his at the Porziuncola. A few days later Giles, afterwards the great ecstatic and sayer of "good words", became the third follower of Francis. The little band divided and went about, two and two, making such an impression by their words and behaviour that before long several other disciples grouped themselves round Francis eager to share his poverty, among them being Sabatinus, vir bonus et justus, Moricus, who had belonged to the Crucigeri, John of Capella, who afterwards fell away, Philip "the Long", and four others of whom we know only the names. When the number of his companions had increased to eleven, Francis found it expedient to draw up a written rule for them. This first rule, as it is called, of the Friars Minor has not come down to us in its original form, but it appears to have been very short and simple, a mere adaptation of the Gospel precepts already selected by Francis for the guidance of his first companions, and which he desired to practice in all their perfection. When this rule was ready the Penitents of Assisi, as Francis and his followers styled themselves, set out for Rome to seek the approval of the Holy See, although as yet no such approbation was obligatory. There are differing accounts of Francis's reception by Innocent III. It seems, however, that Guido, Bishop of Assisi, who was then in Rome, commended Francis to Cardinal John of St. Paul, and that at the instance of the latter, the pope recalled the saint whose first overtures he had, as it appears, somewhat rudely rejected. Moreover, in site of the sinister predictions of others in the Sacred College, who regarded the mode of life proposed by Francis as unsafe and impracticable, Innocent, moved it is said by a dream in which he beheld the Poor Man of Assisi upholding the tottering Lateran, gave a verbal sanction to the rule submitted by Francis and granted the saint and his companions leave to preach repentance everywhere. Before leaving Rome they all received the ecclesiastical tonsure, Francis himself being ordained deacon later on.

After their return to Assisi, the Friars Minor — for thus Francis had named his brethren, either after the minores, or lower classes, as some think, or as others believe, with reference to the Gospel (Matthew 25:40-45), and as a perpetual reminder of their humility — found shelter in a deserted hut at Rivo Torto in the plain below the city, but were forced to abandon this poor abode by a rough peasant who drove in his ass upon them. About 1211 they obtained a permanent foothold near Assisi, through the generosity of the Benedictines of Monte Subasio, who gave them the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels or the Porziuncola. Adjoining this humble sanctuary, already dear to Francis, the first Franciscan convent was formed by the erection of a few small huts or cells of wattle, straw, and mud, and enclosed by a hedge. From this settlement, which became the cradle of the Franciscan Order (Caput et Mater Ordinis) and the central spot in the life of St. Francis, the Friars Minor went forth two by two exhorting the people of the surrounding country. Like children "careless of the day", they wandered from place to place singing in their joy, and calling themselves the Lord's minstrels. The wide world was their cloister; sleeping in haylofts, grottos, or church porches, they toiled with the labourers in the fields, and when none gave them work they would beg. In a short while Francis and his companions gained an immense influence, and men of different grades of life and ways of thought flocked to the order. Among the new recruits made about this time by Francis were the famous Three Companions, who afterwards wrote his life, namely: Angelus Tancredi, a noble cavalier; Leo, the saint's secretary and confessor; and Rufinus, a cousin of St. Clare; besides Juniper, "the renowned jester of the Lord".

During the Lent of 1212, a new joy, great as it was unexpected, came to Francis. Clare, a young heiress of Assisi, moved by the saint's preaching at the church of St. George, sought him out, and begged to be allowed to embrace the new manner of life he had founded. By his advice, Clare, who was then but eighteen, secretly left her father's house on the night following Palm Sunday, and with two companions went to the Porziuncola, where the friars met her in procession, carrying lighted torches. Then Francis, having cut off her hair, clothed her in the Minorite habit and thus received her to a life of poverty, penance, and seclusion. Clare stayed provisionally with some Benedictine nuns near Assisi, until Francis could provide a suitable retreat for her, and for St. Agnes, her sister, and the other pious maidens who had joined her. He eventually established them at St. Damian's, in a dwelling adjoining the chapel he had rebuilt with his own hands, which was now given to the saint by the Benedictines as domicile for his spiritual daughters, and which thus became the first monastery of the Second Franciscan Order of Poor Ladies, now known as Poor Clares.

In the autumn of the same year (1212) Francis's burning desire for the conversion of the Saracens led him to embark for Syria, but having been shipwrecked on the coast of Slavonia, he had to return to Ancona. The following spring he devoted himself to evangelizing Central Italy. About this time (1213) Francis received from Count Orlando of Chiusi the mountain of La Verna, an isolated peak among the Tuscan Apennines, rising some 4000 feet above the valley of the Casentino, as a retreat, "especially favourable for contemplation", to which he might retire from time to time for prayer and rest. For Francis never altogether separated the contemplative from the active life, as the several hermitages associated with his memory, and the quaint regulations he wrote for those living in them bear witness. At one time, indeed, a strong desire to give himself wholly to a life of contemplation seems to have possessed the saint. During the next year (1214) Francis set out for Morocco, in another attempt to reach the infidels and, if needs be, to shed his blood for the Gospel, but while yet in Spain was overtaken by so severe an illness that he was compelled to turn back to Italy once more.

Authentic details are unfortunately lacking of Francis's journey to Spain and sojourn there. It probably took place in the winter of 1214-1215. After his return to Umbria he received several noble and learned men into his order, including his future biographer Thomas of Celano. The next eighteen months comprise, perhaps, the most obscure period of the saint's life. That he took part in the Lateran Council of 1215 may well be, but it is not certain; we know from Eccleston, however, that Francis was present at the death of Innocent III, which took place at Perugia, in July 1216. Shortly afterwards, i.e. very early in the pontificate of Honorius III, is placed the concession of the famous Porziuncola Indulgence. It is related that once, while Francis was praying at the Porziuncola, Christ appeared to him and offered him whatever favour he might desire. The salvation of souls was ever the burden of Francis's prayers, and wishing moreover, to make his beloved Porziuncola a sanctuary where many might be saved, he begged a plenary Indulgence for all who, having confessed their sins, should visit the little chapel. Our Lord acceded to this request on condition that the pope should ratify the Indulgence. Francis thereupon set out for Perugia, with Brother Masseo, to find Honorius III. The latter, notwithstanding some opposition from the Curia at such an unheard-of favour, granted the Indulgence, restricting it, however, to one day yearly. He subsequently fixed 2 August in perpetuity, as the day for gaining this Porziuncola Indulgence, commonly known in Italy as il perdono d'Assisi.

Such is the traditional account. The fact that there is no record of this Indulgence in either the papal or diocesan archives and no allusion to it in the earliest biographies of Francis or other contemporary documents has led some writers to reject the whole story. This argumentum ex silentio has, however, been met by M. Paul Sabatier, who in his critical edition of the "Tractatus de Indulgentia" of Fra Bartholi has adduced all the really credible evidence in its favour. But even those who regard the granting of this Indulgence as traditionally believed to be an established fact of history, admit that its early history is uncertain. (See PORTIUNCULA.)

The first general chapter of the Friars Minor was held in May, 1217, at Porziuncola, the order being divided into provinces, and an apportionment made of the Christian world into so many Franciscan missions. Tuscany, Lombardy, Provence, Spain, and Germany were assigned to five of Francis's principal followers; for himself the saint reserved France, and he actually set out for that kingdom, but on arriving at Florence, was dissuaded from going further by Cardinal Ugolino, who had been made protector of the order in 1216. He therefore sent in his stead Brother Pacificus, who in the world had been renowned as a poet, together with Brother Agnellus, who later on established the Friars Minor in England. Although success came indeed to Francis and his friars, with it came also opposition, and it was with a view to allaying any prejudices the Curia might have imbibed against their methods that Francis, at the instance of Cardinal Ugolino, went to Rome and preached before the pope and cardinals in the Lateran. This visit to the Eternal City, which took place 1217-18, was apparently the occasion of Francis's memorable meeting with St. Dominic. The year 1218 Francis devoted to missionary tours in Italy, which were a continual triumph for him. He usually preached out of doors, in the market-places, from church steps, from the walls of castle court-yards. Allured by the magic spell of his presence, admiring crowds, unused for the rest to anything like popular preaching in the vernacular, followed Francis from place to place hanging on his lips; church bells rang at his approach; processions of clergy and people advanced to meet him with music and singing; they brought the sick to him to bless and heal, and kissed the very ground on which he trod, and even sought to cut away pieces of his tunic. The extraordinary enthusiasm with which the saint was everywhere welcomed was equalled only by the immediate and visible result of his preaching. His exhortations of the people, for sermons they can hardly be called, short, homely, affectionate, and pathetic, touched even the hardest and most frivolous, and Francis became in sooth a very conqueror of souls. Thus it happened, on one occasion, while the saint was preaching at Camara, a small village near Assisi, that the whole congregation were so moved by his "words of spirit and life" that they presented themselves to him in a body and begged to be admitted into his order. It was to accede, so far as might be, to like requests that Francis devised his Third Order, as it is now called, of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, which he intended as a sort of middle state between the world and the cloister for those who could not leave their home or desert their wonted avocations in order to enter either the First Order of Friars Minor or the Second Order of Poor Ladies. That Francis prescribed particular duties for these tertiaries is beyond question. They were not to carry arms, or take oaths, or engage in lawsuits, etc. It is also said that he drew up a formal rule for them, but it is clear that the rule, confirmed by Nicholas IV in 1289, does not, at least in the form in which it has come down to us, represent the original rule of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. In any event, it is customary to assign 1221 as the year of the foundation of this third order, but the date is not certain.

At the second general chapter (May, 1219) Francis, bent on realizing his project of evangelizing the infidels, assigned a separate mission to each of his foremost disciples, himself selecting the seat of war between the crusaders and the Saracens. With eleven companions, including Brother Illuminato and Peter of Cattaneo, Francis set sail from Ancona on 21 June, for Saint-Jean d'Acre, and he was present at the siege and taking of Damietta. After preaching there to the assembled Christian forces, Francis fearlessly passed over to the infidel camp, where he was taken prisoner and led before the sultan. According to the testimony of Jacques de Vitry, who was with the crusaders at Damietta, the sultan received Francis with courtesy, but beyond obtaining a promise from this ruler of more indulgent treatment for the Christian captives, the saint's preaching seems to have effected little.

Before returning to Europe, the saint is believed to have visited Palestine and there obtained for the friars the foothold they still retain as guardians of the holy places. What is certain is that Francis was compelled to hasten back to Italy because of various troubles that had arisen there during his absence. News had reached him in the East that Matthew of Narni and Gregory of Naples, the two vicars-general whom he had left in charge of the order, had summoned a chapter which, among other innovations, sought to impose new fasts upon the friars, more severe than the rule required. Moreover, Cardinal Ugolino had conferred on the Poor Ladies a written rule which was practically that of the Benedictine nuns, and Brother Philip, whom Francis had charged with their interests, had accepted it. To make matters worse, John of Capella, one of the saint's first companions, had assembled a large number of lepers, both men and women, with a view to forming them into a new religious order, and had set out for Rome to seek approval for the rule he had drawn up for these unfortunates. Finally a rumour had been spread abroad that Francis was dead, so that when the saint returned to Italy with Brother Elias — he appeared to have arrived at Venice in July, 1220 — a general feeling of unrest prevailed among the friars.

Apart from these difficulties, the order was then passing through a period of transition. It had become evident that the simple, familiar, and unceremonious ways which had marked the Franciscan movement at its beginning were gradually disappearing, and that the heroic poverty practiced by Francis and his companions at the outset became less easy as the friars with amazing rapidity increased in number. And this Francis could not help seeing on his return. Cardinal Ugolino had already undertaken the task "of reconciling inspirations so unstudied and so free with an order of things they had outgrown." This remarkable man, who afterwards ascended the papal throne as Gregory IX, was deeply attached to Francis, whom he venerated as a saint and also, some writers tell us, managed as an enthusiast.

That Cardinal Ugolino had no small share in bringing Francis's lofty ideals "within range and compass" seems beyond dispute, and it is not difficult to recognize his hand in the important changes made in the organization of the order in the so-called Chapter of Mats. At this famous assembly, held at Porziuncola at Whitsuntide, 1220 or 1221 (there is seemingly much room for doubt as to the exact date and number of the early chapters), about 5000 friars are said to have been present, besides some 500 applicants for admission to the order. Huts of wattle and mud afforded shelter for this multitude. Francis had purposely made no provision for them, but the charity of the neighbouring towns supplied them with food, while knights and nobles waited upon them gladly. It was on this occasion that Francis, harassed no doubt and disheartened at the tendency betrayed by a large number of the friars to relax the rigours of the rule, according to the promptings of human prudence, and feeling, perhaps unfitted for a place which now called largely for organizing abilities, relinquished his position as general of the order in favour of Peter of Cattaneo. But the latter died in less than a year, being succeeded as vicar-general by the unhappy Brother Elias, who continued in that office until the death of Francis.

The saint, meanwhile, during the few years that remained in him, sought to impress on the friars by the silent teaching of personal example of what sort he would fain have them to be. Already, while passing through Bologna on his return from the East, Francis had refused to enter the convent there because he had heard it called the "House of the Friars" and because a studium had been instituted there. He moreover bade all the friars, even those who were ill, quit it at once, and it was only some time after, when Cardinal Ugolino had publicly declared the house to be his own property, that Francis suffered his brethren to re-enter it. Yet strong and definite as the saint's convictions were, and determinedly as his line was taken, he was never a slave to a theory in regard to the observances of poverty or anything else; about him indeed, there was nothing narrow or fanatical. As for his attitude towards study, Francis desiderated for his friars only such theological knowledge as was conformable to the mission of the order, which was before all else a mission of example. Hence he regarded the accumulation of books as being at variance with the poverty his friars professed, and he resisted the eager desire for mere book-learning, so prevalent in his time, in so far as it struck at the roots of that simplicity which entered so largely into the essence of his life and ideal and threatened to stifle the spirit of prayer, which he accounted preferable to all the rest.

In 1221, so some writers tell us, Francis drew up a new rule for the Friars Minor. Others regard this so-called Rule of 1221 not as a new rule, but as the first one which Innocent had orally approved; not, indeed, its original form, which we do not possess, but with such additions and modifications as it has suffered during the course of twelve years. However this may be, the composition called by some the Rule of 1221 is very unlike any conventional rule ever made. It was too lengthy and unprecise to become a formal rule, and two years later Francis retired to Fonte Colombo, a hermitage near Rieti, and rewrote the rule in more compendious form. This revised draft he entrusted to Brother Elias, who not long after declared he had lost it through negligence. Francis thereupon returned to the solitude of Fonte Colombo, and recast the rule on the same lines as before, its twenty-three chapters being reduced to twelve and some of its precepts being modified in certain details at the instance of Cardinal Ugolino. In this form the rule was solemnly approved by Honorius III, 29 November, 1223 (Litt. "Solet annuere"). This Second Rule, as it is usually called or Regula Bullata of the Friars Minor, is the one ever since professed throughout the First Order of St. Francis (see RULE OF SAINT FRANCIS). It is based on the three vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity, special stress however being laid on poverty, which Francis sought to make the special characteristic of his order, and which became the sign to be contradicted. This vow of absolute poverty in the first and second orders and the reconciliation of the religious with the secular state in the Third Order of Penance are the chief novelties introduced by Francis in monastic regulation.

It was during Christmastide of this year (1223) that the saint conceived the idea of celebrating the Nativity "in a new manner", by reproducing in a church at Greccio the praesepio of Bethlehem, and he has thus come to be regarded as having inaugurated the popular devotion of the Crib. Christmas appears indeed to have been the favourite feast of Francis, and he wished to persuade the emperor to make a special law that men should then provide well for the birds and the beasts, as well as for the poor, so that all might have occasion to rejoice in the Lord.

Early in August, 1224, Francis retired with three companions to "that rugged rock 'twixt Tiber and Arno", as Dante called La Verna, there to keep a forty days fast in preparation for Michaelmas. During this retreat the sufferings of Christ became more than ever the burden of his meditations; into few souls, perhaps, had the full meaning of the Passion so deeply entered. It was on or about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) while praying on the mountainside, that he beheld the marvellous vision of the seraph, as a sequel of which there appeared on his body the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified which, says an early writer, had long since been impressed upon his heart. Brother Leo, who was with St. Francis when he received the stigmata, has left us in his note to the saint's autograph blessing, preserved at Assisi, a clear and simple account of the miracle, which for the rest is better attested than many another historical fact. The saint's right side is described as bearing on open wound which looked as if made by a lance, while through his hands and feet were black nails of flesh, the points of which were bent backward. After the reception of the stigmata, Francis suffered increasing pains throughout his frail body, already broken by continual mortification. For, condescending as the saint always was to the weaknesses of others, he was ever so unsparing towards himself that at the last he felt constrained to ask pardon of "Brother Ass", as he called his body, for having treated it so harshly. Worn out, moreover, as Francis now was by eighteen years of unremitting toil, his strength gave way completely, and at times his eyesight so far failed him that he was almost wholly blind.

During an excess of anguish, Francis paid a last visit to St. Clare at St. Damian's, and it was in a little hut of reeds, made for him in the garden there, that the saint composed that "Canticle of the Sun", in which his poetic genius expands itself so gloriously. This was in September, 1225. Not long afterwards Francis, at the urgent instance of Brother Elias, underwent an unsuccessful operation for the eyes, at Rieti. He seems to have passed the winter 1225-26 at Siena, whither he had been taken for further medical treatment. In April, 1226, during an interval of improvement, Francis was moved to Cortona, and it is believed to have been while resting at the hermitage of the Celle there, that the saint dictated his testament, which he describes as a "reminder, a warning, and an exhortation". In this touching document Francis, writing from the fullness of his heart, urges anew with the simple eloquence, the few, but clearly defined, principles that were to guide his followers, implicit obedience to superiors as holding the place of God, literal observance of the rule "without gloss", especially as regards poverty, and the duty of manual labor, being solemnly enjoined on all the friars.

Meanwhile alarming dropsical symptoms had developed, and it was in a dying condition that Francis set out for Assisi. A roundabout route was taken by the little caravan that escorted him, for it was feared to follow the direct road lest the saucy Perugians should attempt to carry Francis off by force so that he might die in their city, which would thus enter into possession of his coveted relics. It was therefore under a strong guard that Francis, in July, 1226, was finally borne in safety to the bishop's palace in his native city amid the enthusiastic rejoicings of the entire populace. In the early autumn Francis, feeling the hand of death upon him, was carried to his beloved Porziuncola, that he might breathe his last sigh where his vocation had been revealed to him and whence his order had struggled into sight. On the way thither he asked to be set down, and with painful effort he invoked a beautiful blessing on Assisi, which, however, his eyes could no longer discern. The saint's last days were passed at the Porziuncola in a tiny hut, near the chapel, that served as an infirmary. The arrival there about this time of the Lady Jacoba of Settesoli, who had come with her two sons and a great retinue to bid Francis farewell, caused some consternation, since women were forbidden to enter the friary. But Francis in his tender gratitude to this Roman noblewoman, made an exception in her favour, and "Brother Jacoba", as Francis had named her on account of her fortitude, remained to the last.

On the eve of his death, the saint, in imitation of his Divine Master, had bread brought to him and broken. This he distributed among those present, blessing Bernard of Quintaville, his first companion, Elias, his vicar, and all the others in order. "I have done my part," he said next, "may Christ teach you to do yours." Then wishing to give a last token of detachment and to show he no longer had anything in common with the world, Francis removed his poor habit and lay down on the bare ground, covered with a borrowed cloth, rejoicing that he was able to keep faith with his Lady Poverty to the end. After a while he asked to have read to him the Passion according to St. John, and then in faltering tones he himself intoned Psalm 141. At the concluding verse, "Bring my soul out of prison", Francis was led away from earth by "Sister Death", in whose praise he had shortly before added a new strophe to his "Canticle of the Sun". It was Saturday evening, 3 October, 1226, Francis being then in the forty-fifth year of his age, and the twentieth from his perfect conversion to Christ.

The saint had, in his humility, it is said, expressed a wish to be buried on the Colle d'Inferno, a despised hill without Assisi, where criminals were executed. However this may be, his body was, on 4 October, borne in triumphant procession to the city, a halt being made at St. Damian's, that St. Clare and her companions might venerate the sacred stigmata now visible to all, and it was placed provisionally in the church of St. George (now within the enclosure of the monastery of St. Clare), where the saint had learned to read and had first preached. Many miracles are recorded to have taken place at his tomb. Francis was canonized at St. George's by Gregory IX, 16 July, 1228. On that day following the pope laid the first stone of the great double church of St. Francis, erected in honour of the new saint, and thither on 25 May, 1230, Francis's remains were secretly transferred by Brother Elias and buried far down under the high altar in the lower church. Here, after lying hidden for six centuries, like that of St. Clare's, Francis's coffin was found, 12 December, 1818, as a result of a toilsome search lasting fifty-two nights. This discovery of the saint's body is commemorated in the order by a special office on 12 December, and that of his translation by another on 25 May. His feast is kept throughout the Church on 4 October, and the impression of the stigmata on his body is celebrated on 17 September.

It has been said with pardonable warmth that Francis entered into glory in his lifetime, and that he is the one saint whom all succeeding generations have agreed in canonizing. Certain it is that those also who care little about the order he founded, and who have but scant sympathy with the Church to which he ever gave his devout allegiance, even those who know that Christianity to be Divine, find themselves, instinctively as it were, looking across the ages for guidance to the wonderful Umbrian Poverello, and invoking his name in grateful remembrance. This unique position Francis doubtless owes in no small measure to his singularly lovable and winsome personality. Few saints ever exhaled "the good odour of Christ" to such a degree as he. There was about Francis, moreover, a chivalry and a poetry which gave to his other-worldliness a quite romantic charm and beauty. Other saints have seemed entirely dead to the world around them, but Francis was ever thoroughly in touch with the spirit of the age. He delighted in the songs of Provence, rejoiced in the new-born freedom of his native city, and cherished what Dante calls the pleasant sound of his dear land. And this exquisite human element in Francis's character was the key to that far-reaching, all-embracing sympathy, which may be almost called his characteristic gift. In his heart, as an old chronicler puts it, the whole world found refuge, the poor, the sick and the fallen being the objects of his solicitude in a more special manner.

Heedless as Francis ever was of the world's judgments in his own regard, it was always his constant care to respect the opinions of all and to wound the feelings of none. Wherefore he admonishes the friars to use only low and mean tables, so that "if a beggar were to come to sit down near them he might believe that he was but with his equals and need not blush on account of his poverty." One night, we are told, the friary was aroused by the cry "I am dying." "Who are you", exclaimed Francis arising, "and why are dying?" "I am dying of hunger", answered the voice of one who had been too prone to fasting. Whereupon Francis had a table laid out and sat down beside the famished friar, and lest the latter might be ashamed to eat alone, ordered all the other brethren to join in the repast. Francis's devotedness in consoling the afflicted made him so condescending that he shrank not from abiding with the lepers in their loathly lazar-houses and from eating with them out of the same platter.
But above all it is his dealings with the erring that reveal the truly Christian spirit of his charity. "Saintlier than any of the saint", writes Celano, "among sinners he was as one of themselves". Writing to a certain minister in the order, Francis says: "Should there be a brother anywhere in the world who has sinned, no matter how great soever his fault may be, let him not go away after he has once seen thy face without showing pity towards him; and if he seek not mercy, ask him if he does not desire it. And by this I will know if you love God and me." Again, to medieval notions of justice the evil-doer was beyond the law and there was no need to keep faith with him. But according to Francis, not only was justice due even to evil-doers, but justice must be preceded by courtesy as by a herald. Courtesy, indeed, in the saint's quaint concept, was the younger sister of charity and one of the qualities of God Himself, Who "of His courtesy", he declares, "gives His sun and His rain to the just and the unjust". This habit of courtesy Francis ever sought to enjoin on his disciples. "Whoever may come to us", he writes, "whether a friend or a foe, a thief or a robber, let him be kindly received", and the feast which he spread for the starving brigands in the forest at Monte Casale sufficed to show that "as he taught so he wrought".

The very animals found in Francis a tender friend and protector; thus we find him pleading with the people of Gubbio to feed the fierce wolf that had ravished their flocks, because through hunger "Brother Wolf" had done this wrong. And the early legends have left us many an idyllic picture of how beasts and birds alike susceptible to the charm of Francis's gentle ways, entered into loving companionship with him; how the hunted leveret sought to attract his notice; how the half-frozen bees crawled towards him in the winter to be fed; how the wild falcon fluttered around him; how the nightingale sang with him in sweetest content in the ilex grove at the Carceri, and how his "little brethren the birds" listened so devoutly to his sermon by the roadside near Bevagna that Francis chided himself for not having thought of preaching to them before. Francis's love of nature also stands out in bold relief in the world he moved in. He delighted to commune with the wild flowers, the crystal spring, and the friendly fire, and to greet the sun as it rose upon the fair Umbrian vale. In this respect, indeed, St. Francis's "gift of sympathy" seems to have been wider even than St. Paul's, for we find no evidence in the great Apostle of a love for nature or for animals.

Hardly less engaging than his boundless sense of fellow-feeling was Francis's downright sincerity and artless simplicity. "Dearly beloved," he once began a sermon following upon a severe illness, "I have to confess to God and you that during this Lent I have eaten cakes made with lard." And when the guardian insisted for the sake of warmth upon Francis having a fox skin sewn under his worn-out tunic, the saint consented only upon condition that another skin of the same size be sewn outside. For it was his singular study never to hide from men that which known to God. "What a man is in the sight of God," he was wont to repeat, "so much he is and no more" — a saying which passed into the "Imitation", and has been often quoted.

Another winning trait of Francis which inspires the deepest affection was his unswerving directness of purpose and unfaltering following after an ideal. "His dearest desire so long as he lived", Celano tells us, "was ever to seek among wise and simple, perfect and imperfect, the means to walk in the way of truth." To Francis love was the truest of all truths; hence his deep sense of personal responsibility towards his fellows. The love of Christ and Him Crucified permeated the whole life and character of Francis, and he placed the chief hope of redemption and redress for a suffering humanity in the literal imitation of his Divine Master. The saint imitated the example of Christ as literally as it was in him to do so; barefoot, and in absolute poverty, he proclaimed the reign of love. This heroic imitation of Christ's poverty was perhaps the distinctive mark of Francis's vocation, and he was undoubtedly, as Bossuet expresses it, the most ardent, enthusiastic, and desperate lover of poverty the world has yet seen. After money Francis most detested discord and divisions. Peace, therefore, became his watchword, and the pathetic reconciliation he effected in his last days between the Bishop and Potesta of Assisi is bit one instance out of many of his power to quell the storms of passion and restore tranquility to hearts torn asunder by civil strife. The duty of a servant of God, Francis declared, was to lift up the hearts of men and move them to spiritual gladness. Hence it was not "from monastic stalls or with the careful irresponsibility of the enclosed student" that the saint and his followers addressed the people; "they dwelt among them and grappled with the evils of the system under which the people groaned". They worked in return for their fare, doing for the lowest the most menial labour, and speaking to the poorest words of hope such as the world had not heard for many a day. In this wise Francis bridged the chasm between an aristocratic clergy and the common people, and though he taught no new doctrine, he so far repopularized the old one given on the Mount that the Gospel took on a new life and called forth a new love.

Such in briefest outline are some of the salient features which render the figure of Francis one of such supreme attraction that all manner of men feel themselves drawn towards him, with a sense of personal attachment. Few, however, of those who feel the charm of Francis's personality may follow the saint to his lonely height of rapt communion with God. For, however engaging a "minstrel of the Lord", Francis was none the less a profound mystic in the truest sense of the word. The whole world was to him one luminous ladder, mounting upon the rungs of which he approached and beheld God. It is very misleading, however, to portray Francis as living "at a height where dogma ceases to exist", and still further from the truth to represent the trend of his teaching as one in which orthodoxy is made subservient to "humanitarianism". A very cursory inquiry into Francis's religious belief suffices to show that it embraced the entire Catholic dogma, nothing more or less. If then the saint's sermons were on the whole moral rather than doctrinal, it was less because he preached to meet the wants of his day, and those whom he addressed had not strayed from dogmatic truth; they were still "hearers", if not "doers", of the Word. For this reason Francis set aside all questions more theoretical than practical, and returned to the Gospel.

Again, to see in Francis only the loving friend of all God's creatures, the joyous singer of nature, is to overlook altogether that aspect of his work which is the explanation of all the rest — its supernatural side. Few lives have been more wholly imbued with the supernatural, as even Renan admits. Nowhere, perhaps, can there be found a keener insight into the innermost world of spirit, yet so closely were the supernatural and the natural blended in Francis, that his very asceticism was often clothed in the guide of romance, as witness his wooing the Lady Poverty, in a sense that almost ceased to be figurative. For Francis's singularly vivid imagination was impregnate with the imagery of the chanson de geste, and owing to his markedly dramatic tendency, he delighted in suiting his action to his thought. So, too, the saint's native turn for the picturesque led him to unite religion and nature. He found in all created things, however trivial, some reflection of the Divine perfection, and he loved to admire in them the beauty, power, wisdom, and goodness of their Creator. And so it came to pass that he saw sermons even in stones, and good in everything.

Moreover, Francis's simple, childlike nature fastened on the thought, that if all are from one Father then all are real kin. Hence his custom of claiming brotherhood with all manner of animate and inanimate objects. The personification, therefore, of the elements in the "Canticle of the Sun" is something more than a mere literary figure. Francis's love of creatures was not simply the offspring of a soft or sentimental disposition; it arose rather from that deep and abiding sense of the presence of God, which underlay all he said and did. Even so, Francis's habitual cheerfulness was not that of a careless nature, or of one untouched by sorrow. None witnessed Francis's hidden struggles, his long agonies of tears, or his secret wrestlings in prayer. And if we meet him making dumb-show of music, by playing a couple of sticks like a violin to give vent to his glee, we also find him heart-sore with foreboding at the dire dissensions in the order which threatened to make shipwreck of his ideal. Nor were temptations or other weakening maladies of the soul wanting to the saint at any time.

Francis's lightsomeness had its source in that entire surrender of everything present and passing, in which he had found the interior liberty of the children of God; it drew its strength from his intimate union with Jesus in the Holy Communion. The mystery of the Holy Eucharist, being an extension of the Passion, held a preponderant place in the life of Francis, and he had nothing more at heart than all that concerned the cultus of the Blessed Sacrament. Hence we not only hear of Francis conjuring the clergy to show befitting respect for everything connected with the Sacrifice of the Mass, but we also see him sweeping out poor churches, questing sacred vessels for them, and providing them with altar-breads made by himself. So great, indeed, was Francis's reverence for the priesthood, because of its relation to the Adorable Sacrament, that in his humility he never dared to aspire to that dignity.

Humility was, no doubt, the saint's ruling virtue. The idol of an enthusiastic popular devotion, he ever truly believed himself less than the least. Equally admirable was Francis's prompt and docile obedience to the voice of grace within him, even in the early days of his ill-defined ambition, when the spirit of interpretation failed him. Later on, the saint, with as clear as a sense of his message as any prophet ever had, yielded ungrudging submission to what constituted ecclesiastical authority. No reformer, moreover, was ever, less aggressive than Francis. His apostolate embodied the very noblest spirit of reform; he strove to correct abuses by holding up an ideal. He stretched out his arms in yearning towards those who longed for the "better gifts". The others he left alone.

And thus, without strife or schism, God's Poor Little Man of Assisi became the means of renewing the youth of the Church and of imitating the most potent and popular religious movement since the beginnings of Christianity. No doubt this movement had its social as well as its religious side. That the Third Order of St. Francis went far towards re-Christianizing medieval society is a matter of history. However, Francis's foremost aim was a religious one. To rekindle the love of God in the world and reanimate the life of the spirit in the hearts of men — such was his mission. But because St. Francis sought first the Kingdom of God and His justice, many other things were added unto him. And his own exquisite Franciscan spirit, as it is called, passing out into the wide world, became an abiding source of inspiration. Perhaps it savours of exaggeration to say, as has been said, that "all the threads of civilization in the subsequent centuries seem to hark back to Francis", and that since his day "the character of the whole Roman Catholic Church is visibly Umbrian".

It would be difficult, none the less, to overestimate the effect produced by Francis upon the mind of his time, or the quickening power he wielded on the generations which have succeeded him. To mention two aspects only of his all-pervading influence, Francis must surely be reckoned among those to whom the world of art and letters is deeply indebted. Prose, as Arnold observes, could not satisfy the saint's ardent soul, so he made poetry. He was, indeed, too little versed in the laws of composition to advance far in that direction. But his was the first cry of a nascent poetry which found its highest expression in the "Divine Comedy"; wherefore Francis has been styled the precursor of Dante. What the saint did was to teach a people "accustomed to the artificial versification of courtly Latin and Provencal poets, the use of their native tongue in simple spontaneous hymns, which became even more popular with the Laudi and Cantici of his poet-follower Jacopone of Todi". In so far, moreover, as Francis's repraesentatio, as Salimbene calls it, of the stable at Bethlehem is the first mystery-play we hear of in Italy, he is said to have borne a part in the revival of the drama. However this may be, if Francis's love of song called forth the beginnings of Italian verse, his life no less brought about the birth of Italian art. His story, says Ruskin, became a passionate tradition painted everywhere with delight. Full of colour, dramatic possibilities, and human interest, the early Franciscan legend afforded the most popular material for painters since the life of Christ. No sooner, indeed did Francis's figure make an appearance in art than it became at once a favourite subject, especially with the mystical Umbrian School. So true is this that it has been said we might by following his familiar figure "construct a history of Christian art, from the predecessors of Cimabue down to Guido Reni, Rubens, and Van Dyck".

Probably the oldest likeness of Francis that has come down to us is that preserved in the Sacro Speco at Subiaco. It is said that it was painted by a Benedictine monk during the saint's visit there, which may have been in 1218. The absence of the stigmata, halo, and title of saint in this fresco form its chief claim to be considered a contemporary picture; it is not, however, a real portrait in the modern sense of the word, and we are dependent for the traditional presentment of Francis rather on artists' ideals, like the Della Robbia statue at the Porziuncola, which is surely the saint's vera effigies, as no Byzantine so-called portrait can ever be, and the graphic description of Francis given by Celano (Vita Prima, c. lxxxiii). Of less than middle height, we are told, and frail in form, Francis had a long yet cheerful face and soft but strong voice, small brilliant black eyes, dark brown hair, and a sparse beard. His person was in no way imposing, yet there was about the saint a delicacy, grace, and distinction which made him most attractive.

The literary materials for the history of St. Francis are more than usually copious and authentic. There are indeed few if any medieval lives more thoroughly documented. We have in the first place the saint's own writings. These are not voluminous and were never written with a view to setting forth his ideas systematically, yet they bear the stamp of his personality and are marked by the same unvarying features of his preaching. A few leading thoughts taken "from the words of the Lord" seemed to him all sufficing, and these he repeats again and again, adapting them to the needs of the different persons whom he addresses. Short, simple, and informal, Francis's writings breathe the unstudied love of the Gospel and enforce the same practical morality, while they abound in allegories and personification and reveal an intimate interweaving of Biblical phraseology.

Not all the saint's writings have come down to us, and not a few of these formerly attributed to him are now with greater likelihood ascribed to others. The extant and authentic opuscula of Francis comprise, besides the rule of the Friars Minor and some fragments of the other Seraphic legislation, several letters, including one addressed "to all the Christians who dwell in the whole world," a series of spiritual counsels addressed to his disciples, the "Laudes Creaturarum" or "Canticle of the Sun", and some lesser praises, an Office of the Passion compiled for his own use, and few other orisons which show us Francis even as Celano saw him, "not so much a man's praying as prayer itself".

In addition to the saint's writings the sources of the history of Francis include a number of early papal bulls and some other diplomatic documents, as they are called, bearing upon his life and work. Then come the biographies properly so called. These include the lives written 1229-1247 by Thomas of Celano, one of Francis's followers; a joint narrative of his life compiled by Leo, Rufinus, and Angelus, intimate companions of the saint, in 1246; and the celebrated legend of St. Bonaventure, which appeared about 1263; besides a somewhat more polemic legend called the "Speculum Perfectionis", attributed to Brother Leo, the state of which is a matter of controversy. There are also several important thirteenth-century chronicles of the order, like those of Jordan, Eccleston, and Bernard of Besse, and not a few later works, such as the "Chronica XXIV. Generalium" and the "Liber de Conformitate", which are in some sort a continuation of them. It is upon these works that all the later biographies of Francis's life are based.

Recent years have witnessed a truly remarkable upgrowth of interest in the life and work of St. Francis, more especially among non-Catholics, and Assisi has become in consequence the goal of a new race of pilgrims. This interest, for the most part literary and academic, is centered mainly in the study of the primitive documents relating to the saint's history and the beginnings of the Franciscan Order. Although inaugurated some years earlier, this movement received its greatest impulse from the publication in 1894 of Paul Sabatier's "Vie de S. François", a work which was almost simultaneously crowned by the French Academy and place upon the Index. In spite of the author's entire lack of sympathy with the saint's religious standpoint, his biography of Francis bespeaks vast erudition, deep research, and rare critical insight, and it has opened up a new era in the study of Franciscan resources. To further this study an International Society of Franciscan Studies was founded at Assisi in 1902, the aim of which is to collect a complete library of works on Franciscan history and to compile a catalogue of scattered Franciscan manuscripts; several periodicals, devoted to Franciscan documents and discussions exclusively, have moreover been established in different countries. Although a large literature has grown up around the figure of the Poverello within a short time, nothing new of essential value has been added to what was already known of the saint. The energetic research work of recent years has resulted in the recovery of several important early texts, and has called forth many really fine critical studies dealing with the sources, but the most welcome feature of the modern interest in Franciscan origins has been the careful re-editing and translating of Francis's own writings and of nearly all the contemporary manuscript authorities bearing on his life. Not a few of the controverted questions connected therewith are of considerable import, even to those not especially students of the Franciscan legend, but they could not be made intelligible within the limits of the present article. It must suffice, moreover, to indicate only some of the chief works on the life of St. Francis.

The writings of St. Francis have been published in "Opuscula S. P. Francisci Assisiensis" (Quaracchi, 1904); Böhmer, "Analekten zur Geschichte des Franciscus von Assisi" (Tübingen, 1904); U. d'Alençon, "Les Opuscules de S. François d' Assise" (Paris, 1905); Robinson, "The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi" (Philadelphia, 1906).


Robinson, Paschal. "St. Francis of Assisi." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 4 Oct. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06221a.htm>.



St. Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. Volumes could be written about this most holy man and no short biography can truly give justice to the humble and inspiring life that he led.

Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi’s youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: “Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy.”

From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, “Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down.” Francis became the totally poor and humble workman.

He must have suspected a deeper meaning to “build up my house.” But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor “nothing” man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis’ “gifts” to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, “Our Father in heaven.” He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking.

But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: “Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff” (see Luke 9:1-3).

Francis’ first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church’s unity.

He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade.

During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, “Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death.” He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.

Perhaps the most beloved of all saints, St. Francis is the patron of Italy, Animals, Ecology & Environmentalism,, Merchants, against dying alone, against fire, birds, Catholic Action, families, Franciscan Order, peace, zoos, and many cities and diocese around the world.

SOURCE : http://www.ucatholic.com/saints/saint-francis-of-assisi/



Orazio Gentileschi (1563–1639). Saint François et l’Ange, 1613,
 huile sur toile, 133 X 98, Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica

October 4

St. Francis of Assisium, Confessor


        
From his life written by St. Bonaventure, with the notes of Sedulius, and F. Wadding, a learned Irish Franciscan, who flourished in Spain and Italy. See also F. Helyot, Hist. des Ordres Relig. t. 7, p. 1, and the life of this saint very well compiled, and illustrated with accurate Dissertations, by F. Candidus Chalippe, a French Recollect, in two volumes, 12mo, in 1736. Suysken the Bollandist gives us a life of St. Francis never before published, written in a great detail of circumstances by his disciple Thomas de Celano, whom he had received into his Order. This life was compiled before that by St. Bonaventure, and before the translation of the saint’s body in 1230.

A.D. 1226.


[Founder of the Friar Minors.]  THE LIFE of the glorious St. Francis, which was a miracle of humility, loudly condemns the wise ones of this world, to whom the sincere practice of this virtue, and the imitation of the cross of Christ appears a scandal and a folly, as the cross itself did to the Jews and Gentiles; for, among Christians, they who walk enemies to the cross, are strangers to the spirit of Christ, glory in vain in his name, and falsely call themselves his followers. He communicates himself, and imparts the riches of his graces and holy love to those whose hearts are most perfectly disengaged from all earthly things, and on souls which are grounded in sincere humility and simplicity of heart, his divine Spirit rests. The blessed St. Francis was one of these happy little ones, whom God chose to enrich with spiritual knowledge and heavenly gifts of virtue. He was born at Assisium, in Umbria, in the Ecclesiastical State, in 1182. His father, Peter Bernardon, was descended of a gentleman’s family originally settled at Florence, but was himself a merchant, and lived at Assisium, a town situated on the brow of a hill called Assi. The saint’s mother was called Pica. Both his parents were persons of great probity. They were in good circumstances, but so taken up with their business as to neglect giving their son any tincture of learning. Their trade lying in part with the French, they made him learn that language; and from the readiness with which he acquired and spoke it, he was called Francis, though the name of John had been given him at his baptism. In his youth he was too much led away with vain amusements, and was very intent on temporal gain; but he never let loose the reins of his sensual appetites, nor placed his confidence in worldly riches: and it was his custom never to refuse an alms to any poor man who asked it of him for the love of God. One day being very busy about his affairs, he let a beggar go away without an alms; but, immediately reproaching himself with want of charity, ran after the poor man, gave him an alms, and bound himself by a vow never to refuse it to any poor man that should ask it for the love of God: this vow he kept to his death. Francis, whilst he yet lived in the world, was meek, patient, very tractable, and liberal to the poor beyond what his circumstances seemed to allow of. Whenever he heard the love of God named, he felt in his soul an interior spiritual jubilation. His patience under two accidents which befel him, contributed greatly to the improvement of his virtue. The one was, that in a war between the cities of Perugia and Assisium, he, with several others, was carried away prisoner by the Perugians. This affliction he suffered a whole year with great alacrity, and comforted his companions. The second was a long and dangerous sickness, which he suffered with so great patience and piety, that by the weakness of his body his spirit gathered greater strength, and improved in the unction of the Holy Ghost and the divine gift of prayer. After his recovery, as he rode out one day in a new suit of clothes, meeting on the road a decayed gentleman then reduced to poverty and very ill clad, he was touched with compassion to the quick, and changed clothes with him. The night following, he seemed to see in his sleep a magnificent palace, filled with rich arms, all marked with the sign of the cross: and he thought he heard one tell him that these arms belonged to him and his soldiers, if they would take up the cross and fight courageously under his banner. After this, he gave himself much to prayer; by which he felt in his soul a great contempt of all transitory things, and an ardent desire of selling his goods, and buying the precious jewel of the gospel. He knew not yet how he should best do this, but he felt certain strong inspirations by which our Lord gave him to understand that the spiritual warfare of Christ is begun by mortification and the victory over one’s self. These interior motions awakened him, and inflamed him every day more and more to desire to attain to the perfect mortification of his senses, and contempt of himself. Riding one day in the plains of Assisium he met a leper whose sores were so loathsome, that at the sight of them he was struck with horror, and suddenly recoiled; but overcoming himself he alighted, and as the leper stretched forth his hand to receive an alms, Francis, whilst he bestowed it, kissed his sores with great tenderness.

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  Resolving with fresh ardour to aim at Christian perfection, he had no relish but for solitude and prayer, and besought our Lord with great fervour to reveal to him his will. Being one day wholly absorbed in God, he seemed to behold Christ hanging upon his cross; from which vision he was so tenderly affected, that he was never afterwards able to remember the sufferings of Christ without shedding many tears, and, from that time, he was animated with an extraordinary spirit of poverty, charity, and piety. He often visited the hospitals, served the sick, as if in them he had served Christ himself, and kissed the ulcers of the lepers with great affection and humility. He gave to the poor sometimes part of his clothes, and sometimes money. He took a journey to Rome to visit the tombs of the apostles, and finding a multitude of poor before the door of St. Peter’s church, he gave his clothes to one whom he thought to be most in need amongst them; and clothing himself with the rags of that poor man, he remained all that day in the company of those beggars, feeling an extraordinary comfort and joy in his soul. Having interiorly the cross of Christ imprinted on his heart, he endeavoured earnestly to mortify and crucify his flesh. One day as he was praying in the church of St. Damian, without the walls of Assisium, before a crucifix, he seemed to hear a voice coming from it, which said to him three times: “Francis, go and repair my house, which thou seest falling.” The saint seeing that church was old, and ready to fall to the ground, thought our Lord commanded him to repair it. He therefore went home and by an action which was only justifiable by the simplicity of his heart, and the right of a partnership with his father in trade, (for he was then twenty-five years old,) took a horse-load of cloth out of his father’s warehouse, and sold it, with the horse, at Foligni, a town twelve miles from Assisium. The price he brought to the old poor priest of St. Damian’s, desiring to stay with him. The priest consented to his staying, but would not take the money, which Francis therefore laid in a window. His father hearing what had been done, came in a rage to St. Damian’s, but was somewhat pacified upon recovering his money, which he found in the window. Francis, to shun his anger, had hid himself; but, after some days spent in prayer and fasting, appeared again in the streets, though so disfigured and ill-clad, that the people pelted him, and called him madman; all which he bore with joy. Bernardon, more incensed than ever, carried him home, beat him unmercifully, put fetters on his feet, and locked him up in a chamber till his mother set him at liberty while his father was gone out. Francis returned to St. Damian’s and his father following him thither, insisted that he should either return home, or renounce before the bishop all his share in his inheritance, and all manner of expectations from his family. The son accepted the latter condition with joy, gave his father whatever he had in his pockets, told him he was ready to undergo more blows and chains for the love of Jesus Christ, whose disciple he desired to be, and cheerfully went with his father before the Bishop of Assisium, to make a legal renunciation to his inheritance in form. Being come into his presence, Francis, impatient of delays, while the instrument was drawing up, made the renunciation by the following action, carrying it in his fervour further than was required. He stripped himself of his clothes, and gave them to his father, saying cheerfully and meekly: “Hitherto I have called you father on earth; but now I say with more confidence, Our Father, who art in heaven, in whom I place all my hope and treasure.” He renounced the world with greater pleasure than others can receive its favours, hoping now to be freed from all that which is most apt to make a division in our hearts with God, or even to drive him quite out. The bishop admired his fervour, covered him with his cloak, and shedding many tears, ordered some garment or other to be brought in for him. The cloak of a country labourer, a servant of the bishop, was found next at hand. The saint received this first alms with many thanks, made a cross on the garment with chalk or mortar, and put it on. This happened in the twenty-fifth year of his age, in 1206. 1


Francis went out of the bishop’s palace in search of some convenient retirement, singing the divine praises along the highways. He was met by a band of robbers in a wood, who asked him who he was? He answered with confidence: “I am the herald of the great king.” They beat him, and threw him into a ditch full of snow. He rejoiced to have been so treated, and went on singing the praises of God. He passed by a monastery, and there received an alms as an unknown poor man. In the city of Gubbio, one who knew him, took him into his house, and gave him an entire suit of clothes, which were decent though poor and mean. These he wore two years with a girdle and shoes, and he walked with a staff in his hand like a hermit. At Gubbio he visited the hospital of lepers, and served them, washing their feet, and wiping and kissing their ulcers. For the repairs of the church of St. Damian, he gathered alms and begged in the city of Assisium, where all had known him rich. He bore with joy the railleries and contempt with which he was treated by his father, brother, and all his acquaintance, and if he found himself to blush upon receiving any confusion, he endeavoured to court and increase his disgrace, in order to humble himself the more, and to overcome all inclinations of pride in his heart. For the building of St. Damian’s he himself carried stones, and served the masons, and saw that church put in good repair. Having a singular devotion to St. Peter, he next did the same for an old church which was dedicated in honour of that great apostle. After this, he retired to a little church called Portiuncula, belonging to the abbey of Benedictin monks of Subiaco, who gave it that name, because it was built on a small estate or parcel of land which belonged to them. It stands in a spacious open plain, almost a mile from Assisium, and was at that time forsaken, and in a very ruinous condition. The retiredness of this place was very agreeable to St. Francis, and he was much delighted with the title which this church bore, it being dedicated in honour of our Lady of Angels; a circumstance very pleasing to him for his singular devotion to the holy angels, and to the queen of angels. Francis repaired this church in 1207, in the same manner he had done the two others; he fixed his abode by it, made it the usual place of his devotions, and received in it many heavenly favours. He had spent here two years in sighs and tears, when hearing one day those words of Christ: Do not carry gold, or silver, or a scrip for your journey, or two coats, or a staff, 2 read 3 in the gospel at mass, he desired of the priest after mass, an exposition of them: and applying them literally to himself, he gave away his money, and leaving off his shoes, staff, and leathern girdle, contented himself with one poor coat, which he girt about him with a cord. This was the habit which he gave to his friars the year following. It was the dress of the poor shepherds and country peasants in those parts. The saint added a short cloak over the shoulders, and a capuche to cover the head. St. Bonaventure, in 1260, made this capuche or mozetta a little longer to cover the breast and shoulders. Some of the very habits which the saint wore, are still shown at Assisium, Florence, and other places. In this attire he exhorted the people to penance with such energy, that his words pierced the hearts of his hearers. Before his discourses he saluted the people with these words: “Our Lord give you peace;” which he sometimes said he had learned by divine revelation. They express the salutation which Christ and St. Paul used. God had already favoured the saint with the gifts of prophecy and miracles. When he was begging alms to repair the church of St. Damian, he used to say: “Assist me to finish this building. Here will one day be a monastery of holy virgins, by whose good fame our Lord will be glorified over the whole church.” This was verified in St. Clare five years after, who inserted this prophecy in her last will and testament. 4 Before this, a man in the duchy of Spoletto was afflicted with a horrible running cancer, which had gnawn both his mouth and cheeks in a hideous manner. Having, without receiving any benefit, had recourse to all remedies that could be suggested, and made several pilgrimages to Rome for the recovery of his health, he came to St. Francis, and would have thrown himself at his feet; but the saint prevented him, and kissed his ulcerous sore, which was instantly healed. “I know not,” says St. Bonaventure, “which I ought most to admire, such a kiss, or such a cure.” The sufferings of our Divine Redeemer were a principal object of our saint’s devotions, and, in his assiduous meditation on them, he was not able to contain the torrents of his tears. A stranger passing by the Portiuncula, heard his sighs, and stepping in, was astonished to see the abundance of tears in which he found him bathed; for which he reproached him as for a silly weakness. The saint answered: “I weep for the sufferings of my Lord Jesus Christ. I ought not to blush to weep publicly over the whole earth at the remembrance of this wonderful mystery.” Does not a Christian die of grief and shame, who feels not these sentiments of love, gratitude, and compunction in this contemplation? Only the impious can be insensible at this great spectacle. “For my part,” says St. Austin to his flock, “I desire to mourn with you over it. The passion of our Lord calls for our sighs, our tears, our supplications. Who is able to shed such abundance of tears as so great a subject deserves? Certainly no one, though a fountain was placed in his eyes. 5 Let us consider what Christ suffered; that we may accompany him with more vehement sighs and abundant tears.” 6 It was from the passion of Christ that St. Francis learned his perfect sentiments of Christian humility and piety.

  3
  Many began to admire the heroic and uniform virtue of this great servant of God, and some desired to be his companions and disciples. The first of these was Bernard of Quintaval, a rich tradesman of Assisium, a person of singular prudence, and of great authority in that city, which had been long directed by his counsels. Seeing the extraordinary conduct of St. Francis, he invited him to sup at his house, and had a good bed made ready for him near his own. When Bernard seemed to be fallen asleep, the servant of God arose, and falling on his knees, with his eyes lifted up, and his arms across, repeated very slow, with abundance of tears, the whole night: Deus meus et Omnia. “My God and my All.” The ardour with which he poured forth his soul in these words, by most fervent acts of adoration, love, praise, thanksgiving, and compunction, was admirable, and the tender and vehement manner of his prayer, expressed strongly how much the divine love filled the whole capacity of his heart. Bernard secretly watched the saint all night, by the light of a lamp, saying to himself, “This man is truly a servant of God;” and admiring the happiness of such a one, whose heart is entirely filled with God, and to whom the whole world is nothing. After many other proofs of the sincere and admirable sanctity of Francis, being charmed and vanquished by his example, he begged the saint to make him his companion. Francis recommended the matter to God for some time; they both heard mass together, and took advice that they might learn the will of God. The design being approved, Bernard sold all his effects, and divided the sum among the poor in one day. Peter of Catana, a canon of the cathedral of Assisium, desired to be admitted with him. The saint gave his habit to them both together on the 16th of August, 1209, which is called the foundation of this Order, though some date it a year sooner, when the saint himself, upon hearing the gospel read, embraced this manner of life. The third person who joined them was Giles, 7 a person of great simplicity and virtue. They first joined St. Francis in his cell at the Portiuncula; the two first soon after he had changed his habit: upon which he went to Rome and obtained a verbal approbation of his Order from Innocent IV. in the same year 1209, a little before Otho IV. was crowned emperor at Rome about the close of September. The saint at his return settled at Rivo-Torto near Assisium, where he inhabited with his disciples an abandoned cottage. After an excursion into the marquisate of Ancona to preach penance, he brought back his disciples to the Portiuncula. When their number was augmented to one hundred and twenty-seven, St. Francis assembling them together, spoke to them in a most pathetic manner, of the kingdom of God, the contempt of the world, the renouncing their own will, and the mortification of their senses; adding, in the end of his discourse: “Fear not to appear little and contemptible, or to be called by men fools and madmen; but announce penance in simplicity, trusting in Him who overcame the world by humility; it is He who will speak in you by his spirit. Let us take care that we do not lose the kingdom of heaven for any temporal interest, and that we never despise those who live otherwise than we do. God is their master, as he is ours, and he can call them to himself by other ways.”

  4
  The saint composed a rule for his Order, consisting of the gospel counsels of perfection, to which he added some things necessary for uniformity in their manner of life. He exhorts his brethren to manual labour, but will have them content to receive for it things necessary for life, not money. He bids them not to be ashamed to beg alms, remembering the poverty of Christ; and he forbids them to preach in any place without the bishop’s license. He carried his rule to Rome, to obtain the pope’s approbation. Innocent III. who then sat in St. Peter’s chair, appeared at first averse, and many of the cardinals alleged that the orders already established ought to be reformed, but their number not multiplied; and that the intended poverty of this new institute was impracticable. Cardinal Colonna, bishop of Salina, pleaded in its favour, that it was no more than the evangelical counsels of perfection. The pope consulted for some time, and had the affair recommended to God. He afterwards told his nephew, from whom St. Bonaventure heard it, that in a dream he saw a palm-tree growing up at his feet; in another vision some time after, he saw St. Francis propping up the Lateran church, which seemed ready to fall; as he saw St. Dominic, in another vision, five years after. He therefore sent again for St. Francis, and approved his rule, but only by word of mouth, in 1210, and he ordained him deacon. 8 The first design of St. Francis and his companions was, to form a holy society with no other view than that of studying most perfectly to die to themselves, that they might live only by the life of Jesus Christ, in holy solitude, having no commerce but with God; but it pleased God afterwards to inspire the zealous founder with an earnest desire of labouring to bring sinners to repentance. He deliberated with his brethren upon this subject, and they consulted God by devout prayer. The result was, that St. Francis was persuaded that God had manifested his will to him by his holy inspiration during his fervent prayers, that he had called him and his brethren to preach penance to the world by word and example.

  5
  St. Francis having obtained of his holiness an oral approbation of his institute, left Rome with his twelve disciples, and returned with them, first to the valley of Spoletto, and thence to Assisium, where they lived together in a little cottage at Rivo Torto, without the gates of the town; and they sometimes went into the country to preach. Soon after, the Benedictins of Monte Soubazo bestowed on the founder the church of the Portiuncula, upon condition that it should always continue the head church of his Order. The saint refused to accept the property or dominion, but would only have the use of the place; and, in token that he held it of the monks, he sent them every year, as an acknowledgment, a basket of little fish, called laschi, of which there is great plenty in a neighbouring river. The monks always sent the friars, in return, a barrel of oil. St. Francis would not suffer any dominion or property of temporal goods to be vested even in his Order, or in any community or convent in it, (as in other religious Orders,) that he might more perfectly and more affectionately say in his heart, that the house in which he lived, the bread which he ate, and the poor clothes which he wore, were none of his; and that he possessed nothing of any earthly goods, being a disciple of Him who, for our sakes, was born a stranger in an open stable, lived without a place of his own wherein to lay his head, subsisting by the charity of good people, and died naked on a cross in the close embraces of holy poverty, in order to expiate our sins, and to cure our passions of covetousness, sensuality, pride, and ambition. The motives which recommended to St. Francis so high an esteem of holy poverty, and made him so great a lover of that virtue, were, first, the resemblance which we bear by this state to the life of our divine Redeemer, who was pleased to become voluntarily poor for us, and lived in extreme poverty from his first to his last breath in his mortal life. Secondly, the spiritual advantage which this state affords for the perfecting in our souls the habits of humility, patience, meekness, and other heroic virtues, by their repeated acts, which are exercised under the inconveniences, privations, sufferings, and humiliations which attend that condition. Thirdly, the powerful remedies which holy poverty offers for the cure of our irregular desires, especially of all inordinate love of the world; but this virtue consists not in an exterior poverty, which may be very vicious, and full of irregular desires; but in that poverty which is called holy, that is, in the spirit and love of poverty, and of its privations and humiliations, resulting from perfect motives of virtue. It is this alone which deserves the recompense promised by Christ, extirpates the passions, and is the mistress of many other virtues. This spirit and love of holy poverty our saint learned by assiduous humble meditation on the life and passion of Christ, the great book of a spiritual life; and this is the poverty which he assiduously and most earnestly recommended to his followers. When they one day asked him which of all virtues is the most agreeable to God, he answered, “Poverty is the way to salvation, the nurse of humility, and the root of perfection. Its fruits are hidden, but they multiply themselves infinite ways.” He speaks of the spirit of poverty as the root of humility and divine charity, in the same sense that some others speak of humble obedience, inasmuch as both spring from and reciprocally entertain a sincere and cordial affection of humility. St. Francis called the spirit of holy poverty the foundation of his Order, and in his habit, in every thing that he used, and in all his actions, he carried his affection for it to the greatest nicety. He sometimes ordered houses already built for his religious to be pulled down, because he thought them too large and sumptuous for their state of the most evangelical poverty. Returning once from a journey to the Portiuncula, he found a new building made there, which he judged to be too neat and commodious. He therefore insisted that it should be demolished; till the citizens of Assisium declared that they had built it for the lodgings of strangers, who must otherwise lie in the fields, and that it was no way intended for his Order. In his rule he prescribed that the churches of his religious should be low and small, and all their other buildings of wood; but some persons representing to him that in certain countries wood is dearer than stone, he struck out this last condition, requiring only that all their buildings should be suitable to that strict poverty which they professed. God is glorified by every spirit that is founded upon sincere motives of humility, penance, and charity; and this saint’s admirable love of holy poverty, which confounds the sensuality, pride, and avarice which reign so much among men, derogates not from the merit of their virtue, who make a just and holy use of the things of this world to the glory of God, so as still to maintain a disengagement of heart, and a true spirit of poverty, compunction, penance, humility, and all other virtues, which are never perfect, if any one in the whole train be wanting or imperfect.

  Holy poverty was dearer to St. Francis through his extraordinary love of penance. He scarcely allowed his body what was necessary to sustain life, and found out every day new ways of afflicting and mortifying it. If any part of his rough habit seemed too soft, he sewed it with packthread, and was wont to say to his brethren that the devils easily tempted those who wore soft garments. His bed was ordinarily the ground, or he slept sitting, and used for his bolster a piece of wood or a stone. Unless he was sick, he very rarely ate anything that was dressed with fire, and, when he did, he usually put ashes or water upon it; often his nourishment was only a little coarse bread, on which he sometimes strewed ashes. He drank clear water, and that very moderately, how great thirst or heat soever he suffered. He fasted rigorously eight lents in the year. Seculars were much edified that, to conform himself to them, he allowed his religious to eat flesh meat; which the end of his institute made necessary. 9 He called his body brother Ass, because it was to carry burdens, to be beaten, and to eat little and coarsely. When he saw any one idle, eating of other men’s labours, he called him brother Fly, because he did no good, but spoiled the good which others did, and was troublesome to them. As a man owes a discreet charity to his own body, the saint, a few days before he died, asked pardon of his for having treated it perhaps with too great rigour, excusing himself that he had done it the better to secure and guard the purity of his soul, and for the greater service of God. Indiscreet or excessive austerities always displeased him. When a brother, by immoderate abstinence, was not able to sleep, the saint brought him some bread, and, that he might eat it with less confusion, began himself to eat with him.

  The care with which he watched over himself to preserve the virtue of purity, ought not to be passed over. In the beginning of his conversion, finding himself assailed with violent temptations of concupiscence, he often cast himself into ditches full of snow. Once, under a more grievous assault than ordinary, he presently began to discipline himself sharply: then with great fervour of spirit he went out of his cell, and rolled himself in the snow; after this, having made seven great heaps of snow, he said to himself: “Imagine these were thy wife and children ready to die of cold; thou must then take great pains to maintain them.” Whereupon he set himself again to labour in the cold. By the vigour and fervour with which he on that occasion subdued his domestic enemy, he obtained so complete a victory, that he never felt any more assaults. Yet he continued always most wary in shunning every occasion of danger; and, in treating with women, kept so strict a watch over his eyes, that he scarcely knew any woman by sight. It was a usual saying with him, that, “by occasions the strong become weak. To converse too frequently with women, and not suffer by it, is as hard as to take fire into one’s bosom, and not to be burnt. What has a religious man to do,” says he, “to treat with women, unless it be when he hears their confessions, or gives them necessary spiritual instructions? He who thinks himself secure, is undone; the devil finding somewhat to take hold on, though it be but a hair, raises a dreadful war.”

  With extreme austerity, St. Francis joined the most profound humility of heart. He was in his own eyes the basest and most despicable of all men, and desired to be reputed such by all; he loved contempt, and sincerely shunned honour and praise. If others commended him, and showed any esteem of his virtue, he often said to himself: “What every one is in the eyes of God, that he is, and no more.” He frequently commanded some friar to revile him with reproachful language. Thus he once repeated: “O brother Francis, for thy sins thou hast deserved to be plunged into hell.” And ordered brother Leo as often to reply: “It is true, you have deserved to be buried in the very bottom of hell.” When he was not able to avoid the esteem of others he was overwhelmed with secret confusion. “I refer honours and praises,” said he once to another, “entirely to God, to whom they are due. I take no share in them, but behold myself in the filth of my own baseness and nothingness, and sink lower and lower in it. Statues of wood or stone take nothing to themselves, and are insensible to the respect and honour which is given them, not at all on their own account, but for the sake of those whom they represent; and if men honour God in his creatures, even in me the last and vilest among them, I consider him alone.” When he preached, he often published his own faults, that he might be despised. He was very careful to conceal the gifts of God; and to those who seemed to express an esteem for his person, he would sometimes say: “No one can justly be praised who is not yet secure of himself, and whilst we know not what he will be.” At other times he said: “No one can boast, because he does those things which a sinner can do, as fasting, weeping, and chastising his flesh. There is one thing which no sinner does; which is, if we faithfully serve the Lord, and ascribe purely to him whatever he gives us.” A certain holy friar, and companion of St. Francis, was favoured with a vision at prayer, in which he saw a bright throne prepared in heaven, and heard a voice telling him, that it was for the humble Francis. After having received this vision, he asked the saint how he could with truth think and call himself the greatest sinner in the world? To which the saint answered: “If God had bestowed on the greatest sinner the favours he has done me, he would have been more grateful than I am; and if he had left me to myself, I should have committed greater wickedness than all other sinners.” From this humility it was that he would not be ordained priest, but always remained in the degree of deacon; he bore the greatest reverence to all priests. An effect of the same humility was his extreme love of obedience, and his often asking counsel of his lowest subjects, though he had the gift of prophecy, and was endued with an extraordinary heavenly discretion and light. In his journeys from place to place he used to promise obedience to the brother whom he took with him for his companion. He said once, that among the many favours God had done him, one was, that he would as willingly and as diligently obey a novice who had lived but one hour in a religious state (if he was set over him by his warden or guardian) as he would the most ancient and discreet among the fathers, because a subject is not to regard the person whom he obeys, but God, whose place every superior holds with regard to us. Being asked how one that is truly obedient ought to behave, he said, he ought to be like a dead body. He was a great enemy to all singularity. In a certain convent of his Order he was told, that one of the friars was a man of admirable virtue, and so great a lover of silence, that he would only confess his faults by signs. The saint did not like it, and said: “This is not the spirit of God, but of the devil; a foul temptation, not a divine virtue.” It afterwards appeared, by the misconduct of this poor religious man, by how deceitful a singularity he separated himself from the conversation of his brethren. Like instances happened on other occasions. The saint’s extreme aversion to the least shadow of dissimulation or hypocrisy appeared in his whole conduct. In the greatest sicknesses he would not allow himself the least indulgence which was not made public; and refused to wear any clothing to cover his breast in a dangerous cold, unless it was visible to others.

  This saint, who by humility and self-denial was perfectly crucified and dead to himself, seemed by the ardour of his charity to be rather a seraph incarnate than a frail man in a mortal state. Hence he seemed to live by prayer, and was assiduously employed in holy contemplation; for he that loves much, desires to converse with the person whom he loves; in this he places his treasure and his happiness, and finds no entertainment or delight like that of dwelling upon his excellencies and greatness. St. Francis retired every year, after the feast of the Epiphany, in honour of the forty days which Christ spent in the desert, and shutting himself up in his cell, he spent all that time in rigorous fasting and devout prayer. He communicated very often, and ordinarily with ecstacies, in which his soul was rapt and suspended in God. He recited the canonical hours with great devotion and reverence, always standing with his head bare, and usually with his eyes bathed in tears, never leaning upon anything, even when he was very weak and sick. When he travelled he always stopped at the canonical hours of prayer, for the sake of greater recollection and attention; and he used to say, that if the body, when it eats corruptible food desires to be at rest, why should not this be granted the soul when it takes heavenly sustenance. Out of tender devotion and reverence to the names of God and of Jesus Christ, if he found them written in any paper thrown on the ground, he took it up, and put it in some decent place; for his trial, God once abandoned him to a violent desolation of soul and spiritual dryness during two months, till, by assiduous prayer, he suddenly found himself again replenished with the delights of the Holy Ghost, and his sensible presence. Though he felt a wonderful tenderness of devotion to all the mysteries of the life of our Saviour; yet he was most affected next to those of his sacred passion, with that of his holy nativity, by reason of the poverty, cold, and nakedness in which the divine infant made his appearance in the stable and crib at Bethlehem. One Christmas night the saint having sung the gospel at mass, preaching to the people on the nativity of the poor king, he was not able to satiate the tender affection of his heart by repeating often with incredible sweetness his holy name under the appellation of the Little Babe of Bethlehem. He never spoke, or heard mention made of the holy mystery of the Incarnation without feeling the most tender affection of devotion. He was particularly affected with those words: The Word was made flesh. He had a singular devotion to the Mother of God (whom he chose for the special patroness of his Order), and in her honour he fasted from the feast of SS. Peter and Paul to that of her Assumption. After this festival he fasted forty days, and prayed much, out of devotion to the angels, especially the Archangel Michael; and at All Saints he fasted other forty days. Under the name of these Lents he spent almost the whole year in fasting and prayer, though he at no time interrupted his penitential austerities and devout recollection. Notwithstanding many great troubles which the devils, both interiorly, and sometimes visibly, raised to disturb him, and withdraw him from prayer, he always persevered constant in that heavenly exercise; nor were they ever able to make him interrupt his devotion. According to the measure of his great affection and tenderness for God, he was favoured by him with the abundance of his spiritual comforts and graces. Many times being in prayer he fell into raptures; often on the road as he travelled, he was visited by our Lord with a ravishing inexpressible sweetness with which his soul was quite overwhelmed; and he usually made those who went with him to go before, both for the sake of closer recollection, and to conceal the visits and favours of the Lord. Because he humbled himself, and his heart was disengaged from the love of all creatures, God exalted him above others. He illuminated the understanding of his servant with a light and wisdom not taught in books, but which comes down from heaven, and he infused into him an uncommon knowledge of the holy scriptures, and of the ineffable mysteries of our divine religion. He moreover gave him the spirit of prophecy; for St. Francis foretold many things which happened a long time after. He was endowed with an extraordinary gift of tears. His eyes seemed two fountains of tears, which were almost continually falling from them, insomuch that at length he almost lost his sight. When physicians advised him to repress his tears, for otherwise he would be quite blind, the saint answered: “Brother physician, the spirit has not received the benefit of light for the flesh, but the flesh for the spirit: we ought not for the love of that sight which is common to us and flies, to put an impediment to spiritual sight and celestial comfort.” When the physician prescribed that, in order to drain off the humours by an issue, he should be burnt with a hot iron, 10 the saint was very well pleased, because it was a painful operation, and a wholesome remedy. When the surgeon was about to apply the searing iron, the saint spoke to the fire, saying: “Brother fire, I beseech thee to burn me gently, that I may be able to endure thee.” He was seared very deep, from the ear to the eye-brow, but seemed to feel no pain at all.

  10
  Whatever he did, or wherever he was, his soul was always raised to heaven, and he seemed continually to dwell with the angels. He consulted God before every thing he did, and he taught his brethren to set a high value upon, and by humility, self-denial, and assiduous recollection, to endeavour to obtain the most perfect spirit of prayer, which is the source of all spiritual blessings, and without which a soul can do very little good. The practice of mental prayer was the favourite exercise which he strongly recommended. Persons who laboured under any interior weight of sadness, or spiritual dryness, he vehemently exhorted to have recourse to fervent prayer, and to keep themselves as much as possible in the presence of their heavenly Father, till he should restore to them the joy of salvation. Otherwise, said he, a disposition of sadness, which comes from Babylon, that is, from the world, will gain ground, and produce a great rust in the affections of the soul, whilst she neglects to cleanse them by tears, or a spiritual desire of them. After extraordinary visits of the Holy Ghost, the saint taught men to say: “It is you, O Lord, who by your gracious goodness, have vouchsafed to give this consolation to me a sinner, most unworthy of your mercy. To you I commend this favour, that you preserve its fruit in my heart; for I tremble lest by my wretchedness I should rob you of your own gift and treasure.” He was accustomed to recite the Lord’s prayer very slowly, with singular gust in each petition, and in every word. The doxology, Glory be to the Father, &c., was a beloved aspiration of this saint, who would repeat it often together at work, and at other times, with extraordinary devotion, and he advised others to use the same. A certain lay-brother once asking him leave to study, the saint said to him: “Repeat assiduously the doxology, Glory be to the Father, &c., and you will become very learned in the eyes of God.” The brother readily obeyed, and became a very spiritual man. St. Francis sometimes cried out in the fervour of his love: “Grant, O Lord, that the sweet violence of thy most ardent love may disengage and separate me from every thing that is under heaven, and entirely consume me, that I may die for the love of thy infinite love. This I beg by thyself, O Son of God, who diedst for love of me. My God, and my All! who art thou, O sweetest Lord? and who am I, thy servant, and a base worm? I desire to love thee, most holy Lord, I have consecrated to thee my soul and my body with all that I am. Did I know what to do more perfectly to glorify Thee, this I would most ardently do. Yes: this I most ardently desire to accomplish, O my God.” St. Francis sometimes expressed his pious breathings in Canticles. St. Teresa writes: 11 “I know a person who, without being a poet, has sometimes composed, upon the spot, stanzas of very exact metre, on spiritual subjects, expressing the pain which her soul felt in certain transports of divine love, and the joy with which she was overwhelmed in this sweet pain.” Several among the sacred writers, under the influence of the divine inspiration, delivered the heavenly oracles in verse. St. Francis, in raptures of love, poured forth the affections of his soul, and of the divine praises sometimes in animated verse. Two such canticles composed by him 12 are still extant, and express with wonderful strength and sublimity of thought, the vehemence and tenderness of divine love in his breast, in which he found no other comfort than, could it be gratified, to die of love, that he might be for ever united to the great object of his love. His thirst of the conversion of souls was most ardent. He used to say, that for this, example has much greater force than words, and that those preachers are truly to be deplored, who, in their sermons, preach themselves rather than Christ, seeking their own reputation more than the salvation of souls; and much more those who pull down by their wicked and slothful lives, what they build by their good doctrine. He prayed and wept continually for the conversion of sinners with extraordinary fervour, and recommended to his religious to do the same, saying that many sinners are converted and saved by the prayers and tears of others; and that even simple laymen, who do not preach, ought not to neglect employing this means of obtaining the divine mercy in favour of infidels and sinners. So great was the compassion and charity of this holy man for all such, that, not contenting himself with all that he did and suffered for that end in Italy, he resolved to go to preach to the Mahometans and other infidels, with an extreme desire of laying down his life for our Lord. With this view he embarked, in the sixth year after his conversion, for Syria, but straight there arose a tempest, which drove him upon the coast of Dalmatia; and finding no convenience to pass on further, he was forced to return back again to Ancona. Afterwards, in 1214, he set out for Morocco, to preach to the famous Mahometan king Miramolin, and went on his way with so great fervour, and desire of martyrdom, that though he was very weak and much spent, his companion was not able to hold pace with him. But it pleased God that in Spain he was detained by a grievous fit of sickness, and afterwards by important business of his Order, and various accidents, so that he could not possibly go into Mauritania. But he wrought several miracles in Spain, and founded there some convents; after which he returned through Languedoc into Italy.

  11
  It will be related below how, in the thirteenth year after his conversion, he passed into Syria and Egypt. In the mean time, upon motives of the same zeal, he laboured strenuously to advance the glory of God among Christians, especially in his own Order. With incredible pains he ran over many towns and villages, instructing and exhorting all persons to the divine love. He often said to his brethren, especially in his last sickness: “Let us begin to serve the Lord our God; for hitherto we have made very little progress.” No man in this life ever arrived at perfection; and that Christian has climbed the highest towards it who labours the most strenuously and with the most sincere humility to advance higher. St. Francis, preaching penance to all the world, used often to repeat the following words, with inimitable fervour and energy: “My love is crucified,” meaning that Christ is crucified, and we ought to crucify our flesh. The holy founder out of humility gave to his Order the name of Friars Minors, desiring that his brethren should be disposed, in the affection of sincere humility, to strive, not for the first, but for the last and lowest places. Many cities became suitors that they might be so happy as to possess some of his disciples animated with his spirit, and St. Francis founded convents at Cortona, Arezzo, Vergoreta, Pisa, Bologna, Florence, and other places; and in less than three years his Order was multiplied to sixty monasteries. In 1212 he gave his habit to St. Clare, who, under his direction, founded the institute of holy virgins, which was called the second Order of St. Francis. He took upon himself the care of her monastery at St. Damian’s in Assisium, but would never consent that his friars should serve any other nunnery of this or any other Order, in which resolution he persisted to his death; though Cardinal Hugolin, the protector of his Order was not so scrupulous in that particular. The founder carried his precaution and severity so far, in imitation of many ancient saints, the better to secure in his religious a perfect purity of heart, which a defect in any small circumstance may sometimes tarnish. All familiar or unnecessary conversation is certainly to be cut off in such stations, and by the strictest watchfulness all dangerous sparks are to be prevented. To give his brethren to understand this, when, by the authority of the protector, one of them had visited a nunnery, St. Francis ordered him to plunge into the river, and afterwards to walk two miles in his wet clothes. This spirit was inherited by that holy disciple and priest whom the founder had sent with some others into Spain, and in whose favour the princess Sancia, sister to Alfonsus II., then king of Portugal, had given her own house at Alenquer for a convent. A lady of honour, belonging to the court of that princess, desired to speak to the holy man in the church about the affairs of her conscience, and when he refused to come, burst into tears and cries almost of despair. The holy priest therefore went to her, but carried in one hand a wisp of straw, and in the other a burning torch, with which he set the straw on fire as soon as he came into her presence, saying: “Though your conversation be on piety and devotion, if it be frequent, a religious man ought to dread lest it should have on his heart the same effect this fire produced in the straw. At least he will lose by it the fruit of conversing with God in prayer.” Notwithstanding the reluctancy of the holy founder, several houses of the Poor Clare’s found means to procure, through powerful mediations, directors out of this Order, to be allowed them, especially after the death of St. Francis. St. Dominic being at Rome in 1215, met there St. Francis, and these two eminent servants of God honoured each other, had frequent spiritual conferences together, and cemented a close friendship between their Orders, which they desired to render perpetual, as we are informed by contemporary writers of the life of St. Dominic: some say that St. Dominic assisted at St. Francis’s chapter of Matts and some others; but this is not supported by ancient vouchers, and is denied by the most judicious Dominican historians.

  12
  Ten years after the first institution of his Order, in 1219, St. Francis held near the Portiuncula, the famous general chapter called of Matts, because it was assembled in booths in the fields, being too numerous to be received in any building of the country. We are assured by four companions of St. Francis, and by St. Bonaventure, that five thousand friars met there, though some remained at home who could not leave their convents. In this chapter several of the brethren, prayed St. Francis to obtain for them of the pope a license to preach every where without the leave of the bishops of each diocess. The saint, shocked at the proposal, answered: “What, my brethren! do not you know the will of God? It is that by our humility and respect we gain the superiors, that we may by words and example draw the people to God. When the bishops see that you live holily, and attempt nothing against their authority, they will themselves entreat you to labour for the salvation of the souls committed to their charge. Let it be your singular privilege to have no privilege which may puff up the hearts of any with pride, or raise contests and quarrels.” St. Francis had sent some of his friars into Germany in 1216, where they met with small success. Afterwards from this chapter he commissioned some to go into Greece, others into Africa, others into France, Spain, and England, to all whom he gave zealous instructions. He reserved for himself the mission of Syria and Egypt, in hopes of receiving there the crown of martyrdom; but the affairs of his Order obliged him to defer his departure some time.

  13
  The Orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic had been approved by word of mouth, by Innocent III., who died in 1219, having sat eighteen years. 13 Honorius III., who succeeded him, confirmed that of St. Dominic by two bulls dated the 22nd of December, 1216. St. Francis obtained of this pope an approbation of his missions; and in 1219 set sail with B. Illuminatus of Reate and other companions from Ancona, and having touched at Cyprus landed at Acon or Ptolemais, in Palestine. The Christian army in the sixth crusade lay at that time before Damiata in Egypt, and the soldan of Damascus or Syria, led a numerous army to the assistance of Meledin, soldan of Egypt or Babylon; for so he was more commonly called, because he resided at Babylon in Egypt, a city on the Nile, opposite to the ruins of Memphis; Grand Cairo rose out of the ashes of this Babylon. St. Francis with brother Illuminatus hastened to the Christian army, and upon his arrival endeavoured to dissuade them from giving the enemy battle, foretelling their defeat as we are assured by three of his companions; also by St. Bonaventure, 14 Cardinal James of Vitri, who was then present in the army, 15 and Marin Sanut. 16 He was not heard, and the Christians were driven back into their trenches with the loss of six thousand men. However, they continued the siege, and took the city on the 5th of November the same year. In the mean time St. Francis, burning with zeal for the conversion of the Saracens, desired to pass to their camp, fearing no dangers for Christ. He was seized by the scouts of the infidels, to whom he cried out: “I am a Christian; conduct me to your master.” Being brought before the soldan, and asked by him his errand, he said with wonderful intrepidity and fervour: “I am sent, not by men, but by the most high God, to show you and your people the way of salvation, by announcing to you the truth of the gospel.” The soldan appeared to be moved, and invited him to stay with him. The man of God replied: “If you and your people will listen to the word of God, I will with joy stay with you. If yet you waver between Christ and Mahomet, cause a great fire to be kindled, and I will go into it with your Imams (or priests) that you may see which is the true faith.” The soldan answered, that he did not believe any of their priests would be willing to go into the fire, or to suffer torments for their religion, and that he could not accept his condition for fear of a sedition. He offered him many presents, which the saint refused. After some days, the soldan, apprehending lest some should be converted by his discourse, and desert to the Christians, sent him, escorted by a strong guard, to their camp before Damiata, saying to him privately: “Pray for me, that God may make known to me the true religion, and conduct me to it.” The soldan became from that time very favourable to the Christians, and according to some authors was baptized a little before his death.

  14
  St. Francis returned by Palestine into Italy, where he heard with joy that the five missionaries, whom he had sent to preach to the Moors, had been crowned with martyrdom in Morocco. 17 But he had the affliction to find that Elias, whom he had left vicar-general of his Order, had introduced several novelties and mitigations, and wore himself a habit of finer stuff than the rest, with a longer capuche or hood, and longer sleeves. St. Francis called such innovators bastard children of his Order, and deposed Elias from his office. Resigning the generalship that year, 1220, he caused the virtuous Peter of Cortona to be chosen minister general, and after his death, in 1221, Elias to be restored. 18 But Peter, and after him Elias, out of respect for the saint, were only styled vicars-general till his death, who, by the sole weight of his authority, continued always to direct the government of his Order so long as he lived. In 1223 he obtained of Pope Honorius III. the confirmation of the famous indulgence granted a little time before to the church Portiuncula. 19 His Order, as has been mentioned, was verbally approved by Innocent III. in 1210; a like approbation was given it in 1215, by the fourth Lateran council, to which St. Francis repaired for that purpose, as F. Helyot mentions, though this does not appear in the acts of that council, because it was no more than a verbal declaration. The founder, therefore, revised his rule, which breathed throughout the most profound humility, and an entire renunciation of the world, and presented it to Pope Honorius III. who confirmed it by a bull dated the 29th of November 1223. 20 On which occasion the saint preached extempore, at the suggestion of the dean of the cardinals, before the pope and the consistory of cardinals, with great dignity and energy, so as to move the whole audience to compunction.

  15
  When St. Francis returned from Spain, and laid aside the thoughts of his intended mission to Morocco in 1215, Count Orlando of Catona bestowed on him a close agreeable solitude on mount Alverno, a part of the Apennines not very far from Camaldoli and Vale Umbrosa. This virtuous count built there a convent and a church for the Friar Minors, and St. Francis was much delighted with the retirement of that high mountain. The solitude of the valley of Fabriano also pleased him much, and he frequently hid himself there. The raptures and other extraordinary favours which he received from God in contemplation, he was careful to conceal from men. St. Bonaventure and other writers of his life assure us, that he was frequently raised from the ground at prayer. F. Leo, his secretary and confessor, testified, that he had seen him in prayer sometimes raised above the ground so high, that this disciple could only touch his feet, which he held and watered with his tears; and that sometimes he saw him raised much higher. 21 Towards the festival of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, in 1224, St. Francis retired into a most secret place in Mount Alverno, where his companions made him a little cell. 22 He kept Leo with him, but forbade any other person to come to him before the feast of St. Michael; it was then the Lent which he kept before the feast of that archangel, and he desired to devote himself in it entirely to the delights of heavenly contemplation. He ordered Leo to bring him a little bread and water every evening, and lay it at the entry of his cell; “And when you shall come to matins,” said he, “do not come in, only say, Domine, labia mea aperies. If I answer, Et os meum annunciabit laudem tuam, you shall come in; otherwise you will go away again.” The pious disciple was very punctual in obeying; but was often obliged to go back again, the saint being in raptures, as he did not doubt; and once when he did not answer, he saw him lying prostrate on the ground, encompassed with a bright light, and heard him often repeat these words: “Who are you, O my God, and my most sweet Lord? And who am I, a base worm, and your most unworthy servant?” The saint afterwards told Leo, that nothing gave him so perfect a knowledge and sense of his own nothingness as the contemplation of the abyss of the divine perfections; for nothing so much improves the knowledge of ourselves as the clear knowledge of God’s infinite greatness and goodness, and his spotless purity and sanctity. Heavenly visions and communications of the Holy Ghost were familiar to our saint; but in this retreat on Mount Alverno, in 1224, he was favoured with extraordinary raptures, and inflamed with burning desires of heaven in a new and unusual manner. Then it was that this saint deserved, by his humility, and his ardent love of his crucified Saviour, to be honoured with the extraordinary favour of the marks of his five wounds imprinted on his body by the vision of a seraph.

  16
  About the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, on the 15th day of September, Francis being in prayer on the side of the mountain, raised himself towards God with the seraphic ardour of his desires, and was transported by a tender and affective compassion of charity into Him, who, out of love, was crucified for us. In this state he saw, as it were, a seraph, with six shining wings blazing with fire, bearing down from the highest part of the heavens towards him, with a most rapid flight; and placing himself in the air near the saint. There appeared between his wings the figure of a man crucified, with his hands and feet stretched out, and fastened to the cross. The wings of the seraph were so placed, that two he stretched above his head, two others he extended to fly, and with the other two he covered his whole body. At this sight, Francis was extremely surprised; a sudden joy, mingled with sorrow, filled his heart. The familiar presence of his Lord under the figure of a seraph, who fixed on him his eyes in the most gracious and tender manner, gave him an excessive joy; but the sorrowful sight of his crucifixion pierced his soul with a sword of compassion. At the same time he understood by an interior light, that though the state of crucifixion no way agreed with that of the immortality of the seraph, this wonderful vision was manifested to him, that he might understand he was not to be transformed into a resemblance with Jesus Christ crucified by the martyrdom of the flesh, but in his heart, and by the fire of his love. After a secret and intimate conversation, the vision disappearing, his soul remained interiorly inflamed with a seraphic ardour, and his body appeared exteriorly to have received the image of the crucifix, as if his flesh, like soft wax, had received the mark of a seal impressed upon it. For the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet, resembling those he had seen in the vision of the man crucified. His hands and feet seemed bored through in the middle with four wounds, and these holes appeared to be pierced with nails of hard flesh; the heads were round and black, and were seen in the palms of his hands, and in his feet in the upper part of the instep. The points were long, and appeared beyond the skin on the other side, and were turned back as if they had been clenched with a hammer. There was also in his right side a red wound, as if made by the piercing of a lance; and this often threw out blood, which stained the tunic and drawers of the saint. This relation is taken from St. Bonaventure, who (chap. 13.) calls the wound of the side a scar; but means not a scar covered, but a wound left visible and open; for he calls it (chap. 14.) a wound, and a hole in his side; and such he again describes it as seen after the saint’s death. (chap. 15.) The circumstance of its often bleeding confirms the same; which does not agree to a wound that is healed and covered, or to a callous scar raised after the healing of a wound, as Baillet and many others mistake this to have been. 23 This wonderful miracle was performed whilst the saint’s understanding was filled with the strongest ideas of Christ crucified, and his love employed in the utmost strength of his will in entertaining its affections on that great object, and assimilating them to his beloved in that suffering state; so that in the imaginative faculty of his soul he seemed to form a second crucifix, with which impression it acted upon, and strongly affected the body. To produce the exterior marks of the wounds in the flesh, which the interior love of his burning heart was not able to do, the fiery seraph, or rather Christ himself, in that vision (by darting bright piercing rays from his wounds represented in the vision) really formed them exteriorly in him, which love had interiorly imprinted in his soul as St. Francis of Sales explains it. 24

  St. Francis endeavoured nothing more than to conceal this singular favour of heaven from the eyes of men; and for this purpose he ever after covered his hands with his habit, and wore shoes and the feet of stockings on his feet. 25 Yet having first asked the advice of brother Illuminatus and others, by their counsel, he, with fear, disclosed to them this wonderful vision, but added, that several things had been manifested to him in it, which he never would discover to any one; secrets, says St. Bonaventure, which perhaps could not be expressed by words, or which men, who are not supernaturally enlightened, are not capable of understanding. Notwithstanding the precautions of the saint, these miraculous wounds were seen by several during the two years which he survived, from 1224 to 1226, and by great multitudes after his death. The account of them the vicar general of his Order published in a circular letter addressed to all his brethren, immediately after St. Francis’s death; the original copy of which was seen by Wadding. Luke of Tuy, bishop of that city in Spain, published his work against the Albigenses in 1231, in which 26 he tells us, that he went to Assisium the year after the saint’s death, and that this vision was attested to him by many religious men and seculars, clergymen and laymen, who had seen these nails of flesh in the saint’s hands and feet, and the wound in his side, and with their hands had felt them; he infers from them that Christ was fastened on the cross with four nails, and that it was his right side which was opened with the lance. He confirms this wonderful miracle from the life of the saint, written by F. Thomas de Celano, a disciple and companion of the saint, by the order of Pope Gregory IX., 27 from which work St. Bonaventure took his relation. When some in Bohemia called it in question, Pope Gregory IX. rebuked them by a bull in 1237, attesting the truth of those miraculous wounds upon his own certain knowledge, and that of his cardinals. The same he affirms in two letters recited by Wadding and Chalippe; and says, these wounds, after his death, were publicly shown to every one. Pope Alexander IV., in a sermon to the people in 1254, declared that he had been himself an eye-witness of those wounds in the body of the saint whilst he was yet living. St. Bonaventure, who with other friars was present at this discourse, heard this authentic declaration made by his holiness. That pope declares the same in a bull in 1255, addressed to the whole church. 28 St. Bonaventure, who wrote his life in 1261, and who had lived long with the most familiar disciples of the servant of God, says, that whilst the saint was alive, many of his brethren and several cardinals saw the marks of the nails in his hands and feet; some also, by secret artifices, found the means to see and feel the wound in his side. After his death, every one openly saw it and the other four wounds. Fifty friars, St. Clare and all her sisters, and an innumerable multitude of seculars, saw and kissed them; and some, for greater certainty, touched them with their hands. St. Bonaventure relates many miracles, and a vision of St. Francis to Pope Gregory IX., by which the truth of these miraculous wounds was confirmed. In honour of this miracle, and to excite in the hearts of the faithful a more ardent love of our crucified Saviour, and devotion to his sacred passion, Pope Benedict XI., in 1304, instituted a festival and office in memory of them; which were extended to the whole church by Sixtus IV. in 1475, Sixtus V. and Paul V. in 1615, the 17th of September, being the day chosen for this annual commemoration. 29 The ancient church of St. Francis on Mount Alverno, with another new one more spacious, and a large convent, are places of great devotion on account of this miracle, and enjoy great privileges by the grants of several popes and emperors. 30

  It appears manifest that this wonderful favour was in part a recompense of the great love which St. Francis bore to the cross of Christ. From the beginning of his conversion his heart was so inflamed with this divine love, that the sufferings of his Saviour almost continually filled his thoughts, in which meditation, sighs and tears frequently expressed the sentiments of his soul. It was to render himself more perfectly conformed to his crucified Jesus, that he with great fervour stript himself of everything, made of his body a victim of penance, and thrice sought an opportunity of giving his life for Christ by martyrdom. This adorable object was all his science, all his glory, all his joy, all his comfort in this world. To soothe the sharp pains of a violent distemper, he was one day desired to let some one read a book to him; but he answered: “Nothing gives me so much delight as to think on the life and passion of our Lord; I continually employ my mind on this subject, and were I to live to the end of the world, I should stand in need of no other books.” In the school of his crucified Lord, he learned so vehement a love of holy poverty, that meeting one day a beggar almost naked, he with sighs said to his companion: “Here is a poor man, whose condition is a reproach to us. We have chosen poverty to be our riches; yet in it he outdoes us.” He called poverty his lady, his queen, his mother, and his spouse, and earnestly begged it of God as his portion and privilege. “O Jesus,” said he, “who was pleased to embrace extreme poverty, the grace I beg of you is, that you bestow on me the privilege of poverty. It is my most ardent desire to be enriched with this treasure. This I ask for me and mine, that for the glory of thy holy name we never possess anything under heaven, and receive our subsistence itself from the charity of others, and be in this also very sparing and moderate.” He extended also his rule of poverty to what is interior and spiritual, fearing lest any one among his friars should regard his science as his own property and fund, for so it feeds self-love, and produces inordinate complacency in itself, and secret attachments, very contrary to that entire disengagement of the heart which opens it to the divine grace. The saint indeed exhorted those who were best qualified, to apply themselves to sacred studies; but always with this caution, that they still spent more time in prayer, and studied not so much how to speak to others, as how to preach to themselves, and how to practise virtue. Studies which feed vanity rather than piety he abhorred, because they utterly extinguish charity and devotion, and drain and puff up the heart. Humiliations, reproaches, and sufferings he called the true gain, and the most perfect joy of a religious man, especially a friar minor, who, according to this saint, ought to be not so much in name, as in spirit, the lowest among men.

  19
  St. Francis came down from Mount Alverno, bearing in his flesh the marks of the sacred wounds, and more inflamed than ever with the seraphic ardours of divine charity. The two years that he survived his heavenly vision, seemed a martyrdom of love. He was moreover much afflicted in them with sickness, weakness, and pains in his eyes. In this suffering state he used often to repeat, that the most rigorous appointments of Providence are often the most tender effects of the divine mercy in our favour. In 1225, his distemper growing dangerous, Cardinal Hugolin and the Vicar-general Elias obliged him to put himself in the hands of the most able surgeons and physicians of Rieti, wherein he complied with great simplicity. In his sickness he scarcely allowed himself any intermission from prayer, and would not check his tears, though the physician thought it necessary for the preservation of his sight; which he entirely lost upon his death-bed. Under violent pains, when another exhorted him to beg of God to mitigate them, notwithstanding his extreme weakness, he arose, and falling on the ground, and kissing it, prayed as follows: “O Lord, I return thee thanks for the pains which I suffer; I pray that thou add to them a hundred times more, if such be thy holy will. I shall rejoice that thou art pleased to afflict me without sparing my carcass here; for what sweeter comfort can I have, than that thy holy will be done!” He foretold his death long before it happened, both to several of his brethren, and in a letter which he dictated on Sunday, the 28th of September, to a pious lady of Rome, his great friend. The saint earnestly requested that he might be buried at the common place of execution, among the bodies of the malefactors, on a hill then without the walls of the town of Assisium, called Colle d’Inferno. 31 St. Francis, a little before his death, dictated his testament to his religious brethren, in which he recommends to them, that they always honour the priests and pastors of the church as their masters, that they faithfully observe their rule, and that they work with their hands, not out of a desire of gain, but for the sake of good example, and to avoid idleness. “If we receive nothing for our work,” says he, “let us have recourse to the table of the Lord, the begging alms from door to door.” He orders, that they who do not know how to work, learn some trade. Pope Nicholas III. declared, that this precept of manual labour does not regard those who are in holy orders, and are employed in preaching, and in other spiritual functions, which is clear from the rule itself, the example of St. Francis, and the apology written by St. Bonaventure. Having finished his testament, the saint desired a spiritual song of thanksgiving to God for all his creatures, which he had composed, to be sung. Then he insisted upon being laid on the ground, and covered with an old habit, which the guardian gave him. In this posture he exhorted his brethren to the love of God, holy poverty, and patience, and gave his last blessing to all his disciples, the absent as well as those who were present, in the following words: “Farewell, my children: remain always in the fear of the Lord. That temptation and tribulation which are to come, are now at hand; and happy shall they be who shall persevere in the good they have begun. I hasten to go to our Lord, to whose grace I recommend you.” He then caused the history of the passion of our Lord in the gospel of St. John to be read; after which he began to recite the hundred and forty-first psalm: I have cried with my voice to the Lord, &c. Having repeated the last verse: Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the just wait for me till thou reward me; he yielded up his soul on the 4th of October in the year 1226, the twentieth after his conversion, and the forty-fifth of his age, as de Calano assures us. Great multitudes flocked to see and kiss the prints of the sacred wounds in his flesh, which were openly shown to all persons. A certain learned man of rank, named Jerom, doubted of the reality of these miraculous wounds till he had touched and examined them with his hands, and moved the nails of flesh backwards and forwards; by which he was so evidently convinced, that he confirmed by a solemn oath his attestation of them, as St. Bonaventure mentions. The next morning, which was Sunday, the saint’s body was carried with a numerous and pompous procession from the convent of the Portiuncula to Assisium. The procession stopt at St. Damian’s, where St. Clare and her nuns had the comfort of kissing the marks of the wounds in his flesh. St. Clare attempted to take out one of the nails of flesh, but could not, though the black head was protuberant above the palm of the hand, and she easily thrust it up and down, and dipped a linen cloth in the blood which issued out. The body was carried thence, and buried at St. George’s. Pope Honorius III. dying in 1227, Cardinal Hugolin was chosen pope the same year, and took the name of Gregory IX. Two years after the saint’s death, this pope went to Assisium, and after a rigorous examination and solemn approbation of several miraculous cures wrought through the merits of St. Francis, he performed the ceremony of his canonization in the church of St. George, on the 16th of July, 1228, and commanded his office to be kept in 1229. His holiness gave a sum of money for building a new church on the place which he would have called from that time Colle del Paradiso. Elias the general, by contributions and exactions, much increased the sum, and raised a most magnificent pile, which was finished in 1230, and that year the body of the saint was translated thither on the 25th of May. Pope Gregory IX. came again to Assisium in 1235; but the ceremony of the dedication of this church was not performed by him, as some mistake, but by Pope Innocent IV. in 1253, when he passed the summer in this convent, as is related at length by Nicolas de Curbio, a Franciscan, that pope’s confessarius and sacristan, in his life. 32 Pope Benedict XIV. in 1754, by a prolix and most honourable bull confirms the most ample privileges granted to this church by former popes, and declares it a patriarchal church and a papal chapel with apostolic penitentiaries. 33 The body of the saint still lies in this church, and it is said under a sumptuous chapel of marble, curiously wrought, standing in the middle of this spacious church, which is dedicated in honour of St. Francis. In the sacristy, among many other relics, was shown, in 1745, some of the writings of St. Francis, and also of St. Bonaventure. Over this church is a second, adorned with rich paintings, dedicated in honour of the twelve apostles. We are told there is a third subterraneous church under it, like that under St. Peter’s on the Vatican-hill, made in vaults; but that of St. Francis is not open. The body of St. Francis has never been discovered or visited since the time of Gregory IX. and was concealed in some secret vault, for the better securing so precious a treasure. 34 In this patriarchal convent the general of the Conventual Franciscans resides. 35

  Who can consider the wonderful examples of St. Francis, and not cry out with our divine Redeemer, I confess to thee, eternal Father, Lord and king of heaven and earth, because thou hast hidden these things from the wise and the prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. Thus it is, O Father; because it is pleasing in thy eyes. 36 Thou resistest the proud, and hast dismissed them empty; but thou givest grace to the humble, taking pleasure to communicate thyself to those that are simple of heart, thy little ones, whose hearts are disengaged from earthly things. Thou art truly a hidden God, who dwellest in inaccessible light, unknown to the world; but thou impartest thyself abundantly and lovingly to those who, having purified their souls from the spots of earthly filth and attachments, express and show forth in their hearts and bodies Jesus Christ crucified. Yes, Father, so it hath pleased Thee. This interior crucifixion of the heart, this perfect simplicity and disengagment of the affections, consists not in the exterior renunciation of the world, (which is indeed often a help to it, or its effect,) but in the spirit, and is compatible with the state and employments of every lawful condition in the world, as many saints have shown, who, on thrones, in courts, or armies, learned to die to the world and themselves, used the things of this world as stewards only, and as if they used them not, living as strangers and pilgrims on earth.
  21


Note 1. The Three companions in their life of St. Francis say, he stripped himself of the clothes which were his father’s, not all, so as to remain quite naked; for they add, he was found to have on under them a hair shirt, and doubtless coarse drawers, which he had procured or bought himself. [back]


Note 3. Read in some old Latin missals, on the feast of St. Matthias, 24 Feb. This happened in 1209. [back]

Note 4. Extant in Wadding, ad an. 1253. [back]

Note 5. S. Aug. Præf. Enar. 2. in Ps. xxi. n. 1. [back]

Note 6. Ib. n. 4. [back]

Note 7. See his life in a note, vol. 7, p. 166. [back]

Note 8. The first rule of St. Francis is called very short by Celano and others. It is not now extant, for that which Wadding gives as the first (inter opuscula S. Francisci, p. 133. et in Annal. ad. ann. 1210) is longer than the last, and contains twenty-three chapters in nine pages in folio; whereas the last approved by Honorius III. fills only four pages and a half. (in the same Annals, ad ann. 1223.) All his historians mention that he had made several rules before this last; one of which must have been that first recorded by Wadding. The order soon grew so numerous, that in one of the chapters which St. Francis held, St. Bonaventure assures us about five thousand friars were assembled, besides those who staid at home to attend the duties. [back]

Note 9. This indulgence the historian of the university of Paris unjustly makes a reproach to so austere an institute, as if it introduced this relaxation in monastic discipline. The rule of perpetual abstinence from flesh, though general, was not absolutely indispensable among the ancient monks, though the Orientals mostly observe it to this day. [back]

Note 10. This method was used before the invention of blistering plasters, or even that more ancient of cupping-glasses. [back]

Note 11. Her own life, chap. 6. [back]

Note 12. They are extant in Italian, together with a Latin translation, among his works published by F. Wadding, in 1623. The first begins as follows:

“In foco l’amor mi mise,
In foco l’amor mi mise,” &c.

Some part of the sentiments are expressed in the following verses, a translation of the whole being too long for this place.

Into love’s furnace I am cast;
Into love’s furnace I am cast;
I burn, I languish, pine and waste.
O love divine, how sharp thy dart!
How deep the wound that galls my heart!
As wax in heat, so, from above
My smitten soul dissolves in love.
I live; yet languishing I die,
Whilst in thy furnace bound I lie.
This heart has one bright flame become;
From me ’tis fled, to Thee ’tis won:
Fond toys and worlds invite in vain:
In vain they seek to please or gain.
Should gold and sceptres stand in view;
My heart would loathe the hateful hue.
The world’s delights are bitter pain;
Irksome its beauty, glories vain.
The tree of love its roots hath spread
Deep in my heart, and rears its head:
Rich are its fruits: they joy dispense;
Transport the heart, and ravish sense.
In love’s sweet swoon to thee I cleave,
Bless’d source of love: base toys I leave.
False, vain is earth; e’en fairest rays
Of sun their lustre lose, and bays
Of Eden fade: nor cherubs bright,
Nor glowing seraphs glad the sight,
While throbbing pangs I feel: my breast
Finds love its centre, joy, and rest.
Love’s slave, in chains of strong desire
I’m bound; nor dread edg’d steel nor fire.
No tyrant’s frowns, no arts of hell,
My bands shall loose, nor torments fell.
Hills shall melt, rivers backward roll,
Heav’ns fall, ere love forsake my soul.
All creatures love aloud proclaim;
Heav’ns, earth, and sea increase my flame.
Whate’er I see, as mirror bright
Reflects my lover to my sight:
My heart all objects to him raise;
Are steps to the Creator’s praise.
With piteous eyes, Jesus divine;
King of love, with looks benign,
Behold my tears; oh! hear my moan;
A wounded heart look down upon.
Behold the wound made by thy dart:
Too weak my frame, too fierce the smart.
I ask’d thy love, the soul’s sweet balm,
The bliss of heav’n, the sea’s great calm.
But with its joy find pain combin’d,
The deepest wound of human mind.
O Love, thy absence is a sting;
Thy presence sweet relief will bring.
Hasten this comfort to afford;
Complete my joy, O dearest Lord.
My heart is thine: its pow’rs then fill
Consume whate’er resists thy will.
Conquer, subdue; thy pow’r display;
Let each affection own thy sway;
Let this whole soul thy grace obey.
Almighty grace, with heaven-born art,
Can cleanse, and heal, and strength impart.
Correct, restore whate’er’s amiss
In this weak frame, this frail abyss.
Then make my heart of love divine the throne,
Or furnace kindled by thy love alone.
As iron bar bright flame imbibes.
And glowing shines with fire it hides:
Or solar rays which pierce our sight,
Dark air oft brighten into light:
So may thy beams all film remove,
And fill my soul with purest love.
O love, may thy omniscient art,
Which formed the heav’ns, now change my heart;
In thy bright furnace melt my frame,
Transform it whole into thy flame.
In love’s great triumph vanquish’d Thee
Its captive, cloth’d with flesh I see,
Great Lord of glory, man to save,
Hung on a tree, laid in the grave
Omnipotent eternal Son,
Love’s victim, prostrate thou’rt become.
O Love itself, O Father dear,
My wounds regard and lend an ear,
May sighs and tears thy pity move;
Grant one request of dying love:
Grant, O my God, who diedst for me,
I sinful wretch may die for Thee
Of love’s deep wounds; love to embrace.
To swim in its sweet sea: Thy face
To see: then join’d with thee above,
Shall I myself pass into love.
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Note 13. Pope Innocent III. is famous for many great actions, learned letters, and pious tracts, and, according to some, the excellent prose, Veni sancte spiritus. In the fourth council of Lateran, in 1215, held by his authority, the discipline of the church was regulated by seventy wholesome decrees or canons, very famous in the canon-law. By the twenty-first, yearly confession, and the Paschal communion, are commanded; by the twenty-second, physicians are commanded, under pain of being forbidden the entrance of the church, to put all persons dangerously sick in mind before they prescribe them physic, to call in their confessor; by the thirteenth, it was forbidden to establish any new religious Orders, which was to be understood, unless the pope approved it upon very urgent reasons. [back]

Note 14. S. Bonav. Vit. S. Fra. c. 9. [back]

Note 15. Jac. Vitr. Hist. Occid. c. 37, et ep. ad Lothar. [back]

Note 16. Mar. Sanut, Secret. fidel. Cruc. l. 3, par. 1, c. 7, 8. [back]

Note 17. See January 16. [back]

Note 18. Elias of Cortona was an ambitious man, full of the prudence of this world, though a person of learning and abilities; by his hypocrisy he imposed on St. Francis, and continued vicar-general till his death; after which he was chosen minister-general, the first after the founder. In that office he solicited the canonization of St. Francis; but built a most magnificent church at Assisium, where St. Francis was buried, introduced into his order the use of money, distinction, pomp, and state; and had so much regard to worldly advantages and learning, that the ensigns and practice of humility and poverty became odious to him. For these and other abuses, by which the spirit of this order was extinguished, he was impeached by St. Antony of Padua and Adam de Marisco, an Englishman, and at length deposed by Pope Gregory IX. in 1230. He was re-chosen general in 1236, but, for greater excesses, deposed again, and excommunicated by the same pope. He filled the whole order with great troubles and schisms both before and after his deposition: though he died extremely penitent in 1253. These disturbances in the order were not extinguished till St. Bonaventure was chosen general. See Helyot, t. 7, Chalippe, t. 2, Fleury, &c. [back]

Note 19. This retired church was the favourite place in which St. Francis spent much time at his devotions, and its dedication was celebrated by him with great solemnity. Here Christ in a vision, whilst the saint was praying with great earnestness, bade him go to the pope, who would give a plenary indulgence to all sincere penitents who should devoutly visit that church. This vision happened in 1221, and the saint repaired to Honorius III., who was then at Perugia, and granted the indulgence at that time verbally. Two years after, at the saint’s repeated request, his holiness commissioned seven bishops to go and publish this indulgence at the Portiuncula, which they accordingly did. Seven authentic certificates of these bishops, and of certain companions of St. Francis, which are extant, are original proofs of this indulgence, and of the saint’s declaration of the aforesaid revelation; it is moreover mentioned, that the saint had been assured by a revelation that Christ himself ratified the grant of this indulgence. See on this subject the solid dissertation of F. Candidus Chalippe, in his life of St. Francis, t. 2, p. 418; and Suysken the Bollandist, Analecta de gloria posthuma S. Fran. § xi. p. 915. The original indulgence obtained by St. Francis is confined to the day itself, the 2d of August, and to the chapel of the Portiuncula. Pope Innocent XII. in 1695, granted a plenary indulgence to all who with due conditions visit the church in which this chapel stands any day in the whole year. The indulgence of the Portiuncula on the 2d of August is extended to all the churches and chapels of the whole order by the grants of Alexander IV., Martin IV., Clement V., Paul III., and Urban VIII. See Bened. XIV. de Canoniz. l. 3, c. 10, l. 4. et de Syn. Diœces. l. 13, c. 18. Suysken, Analect. de S. Fran., p. 879 ad 918. Marentinus Diss. de Indulg. Portiunculæ vindicanda. Venet. 1760. Grouwelus, Antv. 1726. Amort, Hist. Indulgent., p. 150. The Portiuncula is a very famous place for devout pilgrimages: the number of those who resort to it on the feast of its dedication on the 2d of August, is said generally not to be much under twenty thousand. The old little church of the Portiuncula, like the holy chapel at Loretto, is inclosed in the middle of a spacious church, annexed to a large convent in the hands of Recollects, or Reformed Franciscans; it is the head or mother house of this branch of the order. [back]

Note 20. This Order was favoured with great privileges by several popes, especially by the bull of Sixtus IV. called Mare Magnum, published in 1474; which privileges Leo X., in 1519, extended to all the Mendicant Orders.

  The first Order of St. Francis, which has produced forty-five cardinals and five popes, (Nich. IV., Alex. V., Sixtus IV. and V., and Clem. XIV.,) is divided into Conventual Friars, and those of the Observance. The Conventuals began from the time of Elias, soon after the founder’s death, and with the leave of their generals, and afterwards of the popes, mitigated their rule by admitting rents and foundations; they were so called because they lived in great convents, whereas those friars who maintained the severity of their rule dwelt in hermitages or low mean houses and oratories. These, from their strict observance of the rule, were called Observantins or Friars of the Regular Observance. This name was particularly given to those who followed the reformation according to their original institute established by St. Bernardin of Sienna, in 1419. Reforms having been multiplied in this Order, Leo X. in 1517, reduced them all to one under the denomination of the Reformed Franciscans, whom he allowed to have their own general. The Observantins in France are called Cordeliers, from the cord which they wear. Among the Observantins, certain more severe reformations either maintained themselves, notwithstanding the union made by Leo X. or have been since established. These are called Observantins of the Stricter Observance. Among these are, The bare-footed Franciscans in Spain, of whom, see the life of St. Peter of Alcantara. In Italy these are called, The Reformed Franciscans. They are a distinct congregation, flourishing chiefly in Spain, but have convents in Italy, one of which is in Rome on the Palatine hill; also in Mexico, the Philippine Islands, &c. The numerous reformations called of the Recollects or Grey Friars, was first set on foot by F. John of Guadeloupe in Spain in 1500; was received in Italy in 1525, and in France in 1584. This name was given them, because they were first instituted in certain solitary convents devoted to the strictest retirement and recollection. The Capuchin Friars’ reformation was begun in Tuscany in 1525, by Matthew Baschi, of Urbino; not by Bernardin Ochin, as some pretend, who only entered this Order in 1534, nine years after its institution, became a famous preacher and general of his Order; but apostatizing to Lutheranism, preached polygamy, married several wives at once, and at length died miserably in Poland, being, for his profligate morals, abandoned by the whole world. Such are, frequently, the dismal fruits and blindness of pride. The Capuchins wear a patch on the back of their habits, (such as St. Francis recommends in his testament,) and their beards, not shaved close, but long and clipped. Wadding, Chalippe, and others, prove that St. Francis wore a beard, but always exceeding short, and he made his disciples who had long beards shave them. The reformation of Capuchins was approved by Clement VII. in 1528. The Recollects and Capuchins wear grey habits, but the Cordeliers and Conventuals black. The Portiuncula is possessed by the Reformed or Grey Friars; but the great patriarchal convent of the Order at Assisium, where St. Francis was buried, is occupied by the Conventuals.

  The second Order of St. Francis is that of the Poor Clares, on which see the life of St. Clare. St. Isabel, sister to St. Lewis, having obtained of Urban IV. in 1263, leave for the nuns of St. Clare, whom she founded at Longchamp, to enjoy settled revenues, those who receive this bull are called Urbanists, the rest Poor Clares. B. Colette introduced a severe reform in several houses of the latter. That of the Capuchinesses was begun by the venerable mother, Mary Laurence Longa, at Naples, in 1558. They were established at Paris by the duchess of Mercœur in 1602. The convent of the Ave Maria in Paris was of the third Order, till, in 1485, the nuns, renouncing their revenues, embraced a most severe reformation of St. Clare’s Order, which surpasses in austerity all other reforms of the same. (See Du Breüil, Antiquités de Paris, &c. The Nuns of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin were founded at Toledo in 1484, by the Ven. Beatrice de Sylva, and their institute was approved by Innocent VIII. in 1489. By the means of the famous cardinal Ximenes, who was himself a Francisican, this Order was united to that of the Clares, and adopted their rule with certain mitigations. Pope Julius II. gave the Conceptionists a particular rule in 1511, leaving them still incorporated with the Clares.

  The third Order of St. Francis was instituted by him in 1221, at Poggi Bonzi in Tuscany, and at Carnerio in the valley of Spoletto, for persons of both sexes, married or single, living in the world, united by certain rules and exercises of piety compatible with a secular state, none of which oblige, under sin, but are laid down as rules for direction, not binding by any vow or precept. The saint himself wrote the rule for the third Order, as Celano, &c. assure us; though Nicholas IV. made some additions to it. St. Francis left it only a congregation or confraternity, not a religious Order. Some call B. Angelina de Corbare foundress of the religious state in this third Order; but she only added the fourth vow of inclosure; and there were monasteries of the third Order of St. Francis, and among these many made the three solemn vows of a religious state, and were approved by several popes from Nicholas IV. The convent of Toulouse was founded in 1287. See Helyot, Hist. des Ord. Relig. t. 7, p. 234, &c. This institute of St. Francis in favour of secular persons was imitated by the Dominicans, Austin Friars, Carmelite Friars, Minims, and Servites. After the death of St. Francis several persons of this third Order have, at different times and places, associated themselves in communities, keeping inclosure, and binding themselves by the solemn religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These are strictly religious persons; they call St. Elizabeth of Hungary, duchess of Thuringia, who died in 1231, their foundress; but are of both sexes, divided into several branches, of which many devote themselves to serve the sick in hospitals. The nuns, called in Flanders Sœurs Grises or Grey Sisters, formerly wore a grey habit; though they have now changed it in some places for white, in others for black or a dark blue. In some houses these Grey Sisters make solemn vows, but in most they content themselves with simple vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. The nuns of this third Order, who are called Penitents, were instituted at Foligni by the Blessed Angela, countess of Civitella, in 1397, and are very numerous. A reformed branch of these in the Low Countries takes the name of Recollectines. The brethren of the third Order of St. Francis, who serve lunatics or other sick persons, for the most part make only simple vows of chastity, poverty, serving the sick, and obedience to the bishops of the places where they are settled. They observe the third rule of St. Francis, and live in hospitals or in societies which they call Families. Such in Spain are the Infirmarians Minims, called also Obregons, from Bernardin Obregon, a gentleman of Madrid, of an ancient family, who was their founder; also in Flanders the Penitent Brothers, or Bons Fieux, that is, Bons Fils, founded by five pious tradesmen, at Armentiers, Lille, &c. In some places there are founded religious men, called Penitents of the third Order, who are devoted to the instruction of the people, and other pastoral functions like the Friar Minors. Of these the Congregation called Piquepuce is most famous in France. It was instituted by Vincent Mussart, a pious religious man, a native of Paris, in 1595; the first religious consisted of secular persons of the third Order, of both sexes, whom he assembled together; their first monastery was erected at Franconville, between Paris and Pontoise; the second, from which they took their name, is a place at Paris, in the suburb of St. Antony, called Piquepuce. They are multiplied in France into four provinces in above sixty monasteries.
See Histoire des Ordres Monastiques, Religieux et Militaires, par. le P. Hippolyte Helyot, Pénitent du Tiers Ordre de S. Francois. de la Province de France, t. 7. Also Bonnani’s Italian history of the same, Chalippe, t. 2, &c.

  As to the settlements of the Friar Minors in England, St. Francis, from his great chapter, in 1219, sent hither brother Agnellus or Angelus of Pisa with eight others, who landed at Dover in 1220, and founded their first convent at Canterbury, and soon after another at Northampton, which flourished exceedingly. Their convent in London near Newgate was built by Queen Margaret, second wife to Edward I. in 1306. Its great library was the gift of Sir Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, in 1429. At the dissolution of monasteries it was converted into Christ-church hospital, for the education of four hundred blue-coat boys. The Franciscan Friars in England were possessed of about fourscore convents, besides those of women, which do not seem to be very numerous, says Bishop Tanner. The chief house of the Clares in England stood near Aldgate; it was built by Blanche, Queen of Navarre, and her husband Edmund, earl of Lancaster, Leicester, and Darby, son to Henry III. and brother to Edward I. These nuns were Urbanists, and enjoyed revenues. They were called Clares or Minoresses, and their house the Minorics; it was converted at the dissolution, first into a store-house of arms, and its name remains to that part of the town, and is communicated to the new buildings extended into the adjacent fields; on which see Stow’s Survey of London, and Maitland’s History and Antiquities of that city. An account of the ancient flourishing state of the Franciscan Order in England, and the eminent men which it produced among us, see in the exact and complete History of the English Province of Franciscans, quarto. And F. Davenport or Francis of St. Clare’s Supplem. Historiæ Provinciæ Anglicanæ. Also Stevens, Monasticon Anglic. t. 1, p. 89 to 160.

  This ancient province was restored by F. John Jennings, who laid the foundation of a celebrated convent at Douay about the year 1617. Among those in this Order who seemed most perfectly to have revived in themselves the spirit of their founder in these later ages, few perhaps have equalled the venerable martyr F. Paul of St. Magdalen, or Henry Heath, as appears from his edifying life and pious writings. He suffered for the faith at London on the 27th of April, 1643.

  F. Helyot (t. 7,) and F. Chalippe (t. 2, p. 296,) say there are of the first and third Orders of St. Francis above seven thousand convents of men, and near one hundred and twenty thousand religious men; and of women, comprising all the branches both of the second and third Orders, above nine hundred monasteries, and in them twenty-eight or thirty thousand nuns, subject to the superiors of the Franciscan Order, besides great numbers that are subject to their diocesans. Their numbers were much greater before the demolition of monasteries in England and the northern kingdoms. Sabellicus, in 1380, reckoned of the Francisican Order one thousand five hundred monasteries, and ninety thousand Minorites. The office of general of the Franciscan Order was anciently for life; but since the year 1506 the generals are renewed every six years. See Helyot, Bonnani, and the short history of religious Orders printed at Amsterdam, in four volumes. 
[back]

Note 21. See the lives of St. Philip Neri, St. Teresa, &c. also Chalippe in that of St. Francis. [back]

Note 22. Mount Alverno is situated in the Apennines near Borgo di San Sepulcro, an episcopal city, formerly subject to the pope, now to the grand duke of Tuscany, fifty miles east from Florence, on the frontiers of the pope’s territories. The old chapel of St. Francis is there still standing; out of respect, it has not been changed; but near it is built a new church with a small convent favoured by popes with great privileges, and resorted to by pilgrims. [back]

Note 23. See F. Chalippe, t. 2, p. 351. [back]

Note 24. St. Francis of Sales on the Love of God. [back]

Note 25. Wadding saw, in the convent of the poor Clares at Assisium, a pair of these half stockings, made by St. Clare for St. Francis, with the parts raised above and below for the heads and points of the nails. Blood from his side is kept in the cathedral at Recanati. See Chalippe, t. 2, p. 361. [back]

Note 26. Luc. Tud. adv. Albig. l. 2, c. 11, Bibl. Patr. t. 15. [back]

Note 27. Greg. IX. Constit. 12. [back]

Note 28. Alex. IV. Constit. 4. [back]

Note 29. This miraculous impression of the sacred wounds is mentioned by F. Elias in the encyclical letter, by which he gave notice of the saint’s death to the Order; by Celano and all the original writers of his life, and many other incontestable monuments collected by Suysken, Comm. prævio, § 24. p. 648, et § 25, p. 653, Bened. XIV. de Canoniz. &c. [back]

Note 30. See Chalippe, t. 2. p. 336. [back]

Note 31. This place being judged commodious for building a convent, a great monastery was erected there; and four years after the saint’s death his body was removed thither, and the name of the hill changed into that of Colle del Paradiso, by an order of Pope Gregory IX. [back]

Note 32. Apud Buluz. Miscell. t. 7, p. 391. [back]

Note 33. Bened. XIV. in Bullar. suo, t. 4, p. 82. [back]

Note 34. See Chalippe, l. 5, t. 2, p. 252, et Suysken’s Analecta de gloria posthuma S. Francisci, part 4, p. 919, ad p. 995. [back]

Note 35. That the body of St. Francis remains entire, and stands upright in a subterraneous vault under the high altar of the rich chapel of St. Francis in this church, is affirmed from a popular tradition among the Conventual Friars of the house, but denied by many others. Only an authentic visitation of the vaults can ascertain the truth; probably the shrine is deposited, for greater safety, under a great load of marble ornaments and walls so as not to be accessible. Relics of his clothes, writings, &c. are shown; none of his body, no division having been made, unless we believe his heart and bowels, according to his desire, to have been taken out, and laid under the altar which bears his name in the Portiuncula. This is first affirmed by F. Bartholomew of Pisa, in his Conformities, which he wrote in 1399, one hundred and seventy years after his death; but for which he appeals to a tradition of the ancients of that house, and is followed by other writers; yet Wadding doubts, and many among the Conventuals deny this division. [back]


Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.

SOURCE : http://www.bartleby.com/210/10/041.html



Partie supérieure du plus ancien portrait de François d'Assise
peinture murale du Sacro Speco à Subiaco.

Francis of Assisi, Founder (RM)

Memorial


Born in Assisi, Umbria, Italy, c. 1181; died at Porziuncola, October 3, 1226; canonized 1228; declared patron of ecologists in 1979 by John Paul II.


"Our friends, then, are all those who unjustly afflict us with trials and ordeals, shame and injustice, sorrows and torments, martyrdom and death; we must love them greatly for we all possess eternal life because of them."

--Saint Francis

"Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society"

--Saint Francis

One of the greatest saints God ever gave us was the son of Peter Bernadone, a wealthy silk merchant, and his wife Pica. He was born while his father was away on business and his mother christened him with the name John (Giovanni). When his father returned, he insisted that the child be renamed Francesco (the Frenchman). And so it happened.

Like most privileged youth, Francis of the small hands, broad body, and liquid eyes indulged himself in extravagant living and pleasure-seeking. He wasn't interested in his father's business or study. Influenced by the ideals of chivalry, Francis went gaily to war, and was taken prisoner by the nearby Perugians in 1202. Upon his release he resumed his dissolute ways and became seriously ill for a time. Upon his recovery in 1205, he decided to join the forces of Walter (Gualtier) de Brienne, who was fighting in southern Italy. Francis outfitted himself with expensive new equipment, but, according to some, he met a poorly clothed man to whom he gave his finery.

A vision of Christ (urging him to turn back) during another illness in Spoleto, followed by another on his return to Assisi, caused him to change his lifestyle. At home he was faced with accusations of cowardice. In 1206, he went on pilgrimage to Rome in rags. There he met a leper and not only gave him money but went so far as to kiss the man's diseased hand--an unthinkable act at a time when this was a debilitating, communicable disease. On his return home he devoted himself to a life of poverty and care of the sick and the poor.

While praying one day in the ruined chapel of San Damiano near the gates of Assisi, three times Francis heard a voice say from the crucifix before which he was praying: "Francis, go and repair my house which you see is now close to ruin." Characteristically, Francis took these words literally and set out to repair the chapel, but eventually he got it right. At that time he rushed to his father's warehouse, took as much cloth as a horse could carry, sold the cloth and gave the money to the priest in charge of the ruined chapel. He asked permission to remain with the priest. The priest agreed but refused Francis' donation.

His irate father sought him out but Francis hid. After days of fasting and prayer, Francis came out of hiding. His looks were so altered that people threw things at him and called him mad. His father treated him as such: He took Francis home, beat him, bound him up, and locked him in a room. While his father was away from home, Pica released Francis, who promptly returned to San Damiano.

He was followed by his father, angrily denounced as a madman, and disinherited in one of the most dramatic scenes in religious history. When his father summoned him before the bishop of Assisi, who instructed Francis to return the money from the cloth and to trust in God. The saint solemnly took off all his clothes and gave them back to his father. The bishop gave him a cloak for which Francis thanked him for his first alms. Upon the cloak the saint marked the cross in chalk.

Francis said he now had only one father, his Father in heaven and singing the divine praises, Francis went in search of shelter. En route his met a band of robbers, who asked him to identify himself. Francis responded: "I am the herald of the great King." The beat him and left him in a ditch of snow. Undeterred he continued singing. At a monastery he received alms and work. In Gubbio, an acquaintance gave him the shabby tunic, belt, and shoes that Francis wore for the next two years before returning to Assisi and San Damiano.

Francis begged for alms to restore the church and was mocked by the townspeople who had known him as a rich man's son. After repairing several churches in Assisi, he retired to a little chapel, the Porziuncola (Portiuncula) at Santa Maria degli Angeli, and devoted himself completely to his life's work of poverty and preaching. Porziuncola belonged to the abbey founded by the great Saint Benedict, Monte Subiaco, about two miles from Assisi. The chapel was neglected and in disrepair until Francis restored it with his own hands while living nearby.

On the feast of Saint Matthias in 1209, Francis really heard the way for his life: "Do not possess gold . . . nor two coats nor shoes nor a staff. . . ." Francis understood and undertook to live the rule of poverty in Saint Matthew's Gospel literally. He gave away his shoes, the walking staff he had used in his travels, and his girdle. He kept his undyed, woolen cloak--the dress of shepherds and peasants--which he tied with a cord.

The saint's preaching soon attracted numerous disciples who agreed that Christ's disciples should have virtually nothing of their own. Among those drawn to the severe Gospel were several leading citizens, Bernard da Quintavalla, a rich merchant, and Peter of Cattaneo, a canon of the cathedral, whom he robed on April 16, 1209, thus founding the Friars Minor. The third to join them was Brother Giles, a simple, wise man.

In 1210, he received verbal approval of a rule he had drawn up from Pope Innocent III as well as authorization for Francis and 11 companions to be roving preachers of repentance. They lived together in a little cottage at Rivo Torto until a dispute with a peasant who wanted the cottage to shelter his donkey. In 1212 they moved their headquarters to the Porziuncola chapel, which the abbot of Monte Subiaco gave them on the condition that it should always remain the motherhouse for the Friars Minor.

Many more men were attracted to this saint for whom poverty was his "lady"; any illness, a "sister"; and his body, "brother donkey." Soon so many recruits flocked in that another friary was built in Bologna. Throughout Italy the brothers called the people of all stations to faith and repentance. The brothers refused even corporate ownership of property, human learning, and ecclesiastical preferment (initially few of them were in holy orders).

Also in 1212, Saint Clare joined him over the violent objections of her family. Together they founded the first community of Poor Ladies (later known as the Poor Clares).

Obsessed with the desire to preach to the Saracens, Francis set out for Syria in the fall of 1212, but was shipwrecked along the coast of Dalmatia on the way. They returned to Ancona as stowaways. Francis preached for a year in central Italy during which the lord of Chiusi placed the Apennine retreat of Monte Alvernia at the disposal of the order. A second attempt was made to evangelize the Islamics in 1213-14, but it also failed when Francis fell ill in Spain while on the way to Morocco and was forced to return to Italy.

Francis obtained the famous Porziuncola indulgence or pardon of Assisi from Pope Innocent III in 1216. The following year (when he probably met Saint Dominic in Rome), Francis convened the first general chapter of his order at the Porziuncola to organize the huge number of followers he had attracted to his way of life. Francis wanted to preach in France, but Cardinal Ugolino advised against it. By 1217 the order's many members were divided into provinces and groups of friars were sent to countries outside Italy, including Brothers Pacifico and Agnello to England.

In 1219, he sent his first missionaries to Tunis and Morocco from another general chapter, attended by some five thousand friars. He himself went to Egypt to evangelize the Islamics in Palestine and Egypt with 12 friars under the protection of Gautier de Brienne. In the camp of the Crusaders, he was shocked by the immoral lifestyle. He requested permission, was warned against, and finally allowed to meet with Sultan Malek al-Kamel at Damietta, Egypt, which was being besieged by Crusaders. The sultan was interested in their discussions and asked Francis to stay with him. A few days later the sultan sent him back to camp. His mission was a failure both among the Saracens and the Crusaders, so Francis went on pilgrimage to Akka (Acra).

He was obliged, however, to hasten back to Italy to combat a movement in his order to mitigate his original rule of simplicity, humility, and poverty led by Matthew of Narni and Gregory of Naples. When Francis found the brothers of Bologna living in a fine monastery, he castigated the superior and ordered the friars to leave. Having secured the appointment of Cardinal Ugolino as protector of the order from Pope Honorius III, Francis presented a revised rule to a general chapter at the Porziuncola in 1221, which maintained his ideals of poverty, humility, evangelical freedom, respect and obedience to Church authorities, and doctrinal orthodoxy.

Friars slept on the ground, used no tables or chairs, and had very few books. It was not until later that they became an order whose theology won attention in universities. A movement in the order toward mitigating his rule, led by Brother Elias, began to spread and was met by Francis with still another slight revision, but this time he secured for it the approval of Pope Honorius III in 1223.

Francis and his adviser Cardinal Ugolino may have drawn up a rule for the lay people who associated themselves with the Friars Minor--the Franciscan tertiaries. This became a massive movement and source of much of the piety and sanctity of the age--a re-evangelization throughout Europe.

By this time Francis had retired from the practical activities of the order, and its direction was mainly in the hands of Brother Elias. At Christmas of 1223, Francis built a crèche at Grecchia in the valley of Rieti. It is probably not the first time the scene in Bethlehem was acted out, but Francis' doing it established the manager scene as a Christmas custom observed all over the Christian world to the present day.

Two years before his death at the beginning of a 40-day fast, while praying in his cell on Mount Alverna (Monte La Verna) in the Apennines on September 14 and long after his reputation was well-established, Francis received the marks which were to confirm his sanctity. They did not bleed, but were instead impressions of the heads of nails, round and black and standing clear from the flesh. These wounds were one of the sources of the physical pain and weakness he suffered increasingly until he welcomed "Sister Death." Francis kept these stigmata a secret by wearing shoes and stockings and covering his hands with his habit. He is the first known saint to have experienced the stigmata.

In 1225, Cardinal Ugolino and the vicar Elias convinced Francis to see the pope's physician at Rieti. En route he stopped to see Saint Clare at San Damiano for the last time. In terrible discomfort, he wrote the Canticle of Brother Sun, set it to music, and taught the brothers how to sing it. At Mount Rainerio he underwent primitive surgery and a painful treatment that brought him some relief.

In Assisi, doctors told him he had only a few weeks to live. Francis asked to be taken to Porziuncola on a stretcher and that they send to Rome for Lady Giacoma di Settesoli, an old friend. She was asked to bring candles and a gray gown for his burial and some favorite cakes. She arrived before the messenger started out. As he wished, Francis died lying on the ground covered with an old habit.

Brother Elias described the five wounds of the stigmata in a letter shortly after Francis's death. Blood often trickled from his side. Brother Leo wrote, "The blessed Francis, two years before his death, kept a Lent in the hermitage of Alverna in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God, and Blessed Michael the Archangel, from the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary the Virgin to the Feast of St. Michael in September. . . . After the vision and speech he had of a seraph, and the impression in his body of the Stigmata of Christ, he made these praises . . . giving thanks to God for the favor that had been conferred on him." Others claim he received the marks only a few weeks before his death.

The saint asked to be buried in the criminals' cemetery on the Colle d'Inferno, but his body was taken to the Church of Saint George in Assisi. It remained there until 1230, when it was secretly removed to the basilica built by Brother Elias. His relics were rediscovered in 1818 and reburied, first in an ornate tomb, and then, in 1932, in a very simple one.

Though never ordained, Francis' impact on religious life since his times has been enormous. Probably no saint has affected so many in so varied ways as the gentle saint of Assisi who, born to wealth, devoted his life to poverty, concern for the poor and sick, and so delighted in God's creation. His cultus has grown enormously in the last hundred years among Christians of all denominations and others. There is a compelling appeal in his Canticle of the sun and in what we are told about him by the Little flowers of Saint Francis and the Mirror of perfection (Attwater, Bentley, Chesterton, Cuthbert, Delaney, Harrison, Holland-Smith, Moorman, Roeder, Sherley-Price, White).

Like most of the popular saints, legends grew up around Francis. Below are three found in The encyclopedia of Catholic saints (October). It appears that some of each story may be missing:

The Conversion of Sir Renard of the Fable, who was Miraculously Cured

Early one morning St. Francis was walking with three of his brother friars: Boniface, Bonace, and Pancreas (who was the monastery's doctor). The saint, with his hands in his pockets, was sluggish, trailed along behind, occasionally encouraged and comforted by the professional advice that Brother Pancreas whispered to him. Just as they came to a turn in the path, St. Francis suddenly said: "Ah, Sir Renard (French for "fox") of the Fable is waiting for us down there!"

Brother Boniface murmured something about Francis seeing things that weren't there and followed it with a sharp little laugh. Pancreas also laughed, but more seriously, and, full of charitable zeal, produced a bottle of elixir from his scrip.

"Don't bother, Pancreas," said Francis, "I can see perfectly well." He was going to add: "I can see more than you, for God has given me eyesight as sharp as that of our brother the eagle." But he swallowed his words, no doubt because he wished to avoid the sin of pride. "I can see him quite clearly," he continued. "Sir Renard of the Fable is down there under that vine. His head is raised, as if he has his eye on something."

"He is doubtless gazing at God in heaven," said Brother Boniface, who was the most pious of the converts. He made an eloquent gesture, and then crossed himself devoutly.

"Don't you think it's more likely that he's watching a hen?" said Brother Pancreas. "Chicken is excellent for stomachs that have been upset by overeating. . . ."

They continued to chat until they came to the place where they found Sir Renard of the Fable sitting patiently on his tail. As they neared him, he shouted loudly: "These grapes are too sour, they are not worth eating."

"Oh, what a hypocrite!" cried Brother Boniface, "he's only saying that out of spite."

"Come, come," said Sir Renard, who was a little put out and was trying to keep calm. "What do you mean? Me, talking out of spite?"

"Are you daring to contradict the Fable?" asked Boniface, but then Saint Francis intervened and greeted Sir Renard with a friendly pun, calling him "affable," whereupon Sir Renard bowed to him politely.

"But think of your liver," interrupted Pancreas. "Don't you realize that those grapes are much too wet with dew?"

But St. Francis gently drew him aside and said, "Brother, what does the liver matter when compared with the soul?" And turning back to Sir Renard he said: "You were going to commit a grave sin by your gluttony, Brother Affable."

"You're not like the others," said Renard, touched by the friendly name Francis had given him.

"Thank you," said Francis with humility. "But I would be even more grateful if you were to abandon your gluttony."

Francis drew him aside and confessed him under a hazel tree. Then, in front of the other brothers, one of them holding a candlestick, another a censer, and a third an aspergillus, he solemnly received the abjuration of Sir Renard of the Fable. Accompanied by all four of them, Sir Renard hurried off to the nearest bishop to whom he repeated his request to take orders.

He progressed rapidly up the hierarchy and became a cardinal. It is no accident that cardinals wear purple, the color of gluttony, nor that a collection is taken up in churches, a symbolic act in honor of the pious dignitary who collected chickens and eggs in the countryside.

The Little Miracle of the Black Paracletes

One fine morning, a little after the six o'clock Mass, St. Francis was standing in a forest facing his brothers, whom he had arranged in the form of a crescent, and was preaching against the errors of Islam. He did not preach hate, as do so many others under the convenient guise of holy war, but confined himself to advocating missionary zeal. Standing straight and motionless, he spoke so well that neither the brothers who were rapt in attention nor he himself who was carried away by love noticed the approach of a woodpecker. After circling the group for a few times the bird, either out of absent-mindedness, or else guided by the hand of God, who guides all creatures, settled down on the gentle preacher's back as if it were an ordinary tree trunk and immediately began to peck away with its beak. He pecked vigorously, sometimes uttering little cries of impatience and flapping his green and red wings, but it was not until the twentieth peck that St. Francis realized what was happening. He was about to shudder with pain when, O Charity, he suddenly realized how greatly the woodpecker would be disturbed by any movement and stood perfectly still, then continued to preach against the error of Islam while the bird continued to hammer away at him briskly.

But because the woodpecker was a female, her drilling was only the first step; after that there was a nest to be built and eggs to be laid. After a quick glance the other brothers realized what was happening to Francis and withdrew, going into raptures over the greatness of his heart and also praying fervently for the safety of is shoulder blades. In the monastery they lit 20 candles to the Virgin, and another 20 in the back of St. Joseph. Then they waited to see what would happen and sent a messenger every afternoon to make a report.

It takes about 40 days for an ordinary woodpecker to build a nest, lay her eggs, hatch them, and look after the young birds until they can fly. However, this particular woodpecker, perhaps because she was moved by the divine spirit, took only 19 days, at the end of which time the eggs were hatched and from the nest there came a gentle murmuring like that of nuns at prayer. St. Francis picked up his ears, but then wondered whether the devil was trying to tempt him with a false miracle.

Brother Amable, whose turn it was to report on what was happening, approached on tiptoe and took a quick look into the nest. "Heavens!" he exclaimed. "Good heavens! They're evangelical eggs, the first that anyone's ever seen in the world!" (And no doubt they were also the last.) For out of the shells had come two little black paracletes.

They were brought up on bread crumbs and ants' eggs, and as soon as they were able to fly they were released in the monastery; and there, by constantly chasing faults and imperfections, they helped to keep alive the spirit of poverty. Unfortunately, their breed existed only in the time of St. Francis and has since disappeared.

The Miraculous Resurrection of the Humblest of our Fellow Creatures, Brother Donkey

Someone was playing a drum. Sometimes it sounded like a car back-firing, sometimes like thunder in a valley, sometimes like a cheerful fusillade. It throbbed and thumped and banged, and the man who was playing the drum looked like a canon, though there was something unusual and shifty about him. Open-mouthed spectators were crowding round the platform, deafened by the music and watching young men and girls whirling around in a waltz.

St. Francis arrived and Brother Gaudissart invited him to join in the gaiety and to bless the couples who were dancing, on the grounds that dancing was good exercise. Francis politely shook his head and refused, but when Brother Gaudissart kept urging him on, he suddenly burst out:

"Brother Gaudissart, are you a servant of the Devil?"

"The Devil?" said Brother Gaudissart, looking around with wide eyes. "I can't see him anywhere."
"And what about that drummer?"

"Why he's just from the local village," said Brother Gaudissart. "He's a good family man and he does this just to make a bit of extra money."

"He's the Devil in disguise," said St. Francis, and raising his voice he called loudly to the drummer: "Take your drumsticks and be off with you, you fiend."

"But . . .," said Brother Gaudissart. St. Francis interrupted him: "How much longer should we let Brother Donkey be maltreated? It is Satan and his henchmen who martyr animals and drum on the flanks of Brother Donkey. Go on," he called to the drummer, "be off with you." And then to the drum, he said: "Brother Donkey, by the grace of our gentle Lord Jesus Christ, I command you to return from the dead."

Dazed, and braying loudly in astonishment, Brother Donkey emerged from the drum over which his skin had been stretched for the delight of music-lovers. St. Francis quickly put him at his ease, whereupon he at once resumed his usual character and began to complain loudly of a terrible pain in his back; however, this was soon cured with a poultice of fresh poppy seeds. After reciting the Benedicite in chorus, Brother Donkey took a light snack. Then, on St. Francis' advice, he went to Rome, where he became a verger. He is still there today (Encyclopedia).

The Little Flowers of St Francis or Fioretti is full of anecdotal stories such as How St. Francis taught Brother Leo that perfect joy is only in the Cross:

One winter day St. Francis was coming to St. Mary of the Angels from Perugia with Brother Leo, and the bitter cold made them suffer keenly. St. Francis called to Brother Leo, who was walking a bit ahead of him,and he said: "Brother Leo, even if the Friars Minor in every country give a great example of holiness and integrity and good edification, nevertheless write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that."

And when he had walked on a bit, St. Francis called him again, saying: "Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor gives sight to the blind, heals the paralyzed, drives out devils, gives hearing back to the deaf, makes the lame walk, and restores speech to the dumb, and what is still more, brings back to life a man who has been dead four days, write that perfect joy is not in that."

And going on a bit, St. Francis cried out again in a strong voice: "Brother Leo, if a Friar Minor knew all languages and all sciences and Scripture, if he also knew bow to prophesy and to reveal not only the future but also the secrets of the consciences and minds of others, write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that."

And as they walked on, after a while St. Francis called again forcefully: 'Brother Leo, Little Lamb of God, even if a Friar minor could speak with the voice of an angel, and knew the courses of the stars and the powers of herbs, and knew all about the treasures in the earth, and if be knew the qualities of birds and fishes, animals, humans, roots, trees, rocks, and waters, write down and note carefully that true joy is not in that."

And going on a bit farther, St. Francis called again strongly: "Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor could preach so well that be should convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that perfect joy is not there."

Now when he had been talking this way for a distance of two miles, Brother Leo in great amazement asked him: "Father, I beg you in God's name to tell me where perfect joy is."

And St. Francis replied; "When we come to St. Mary of the Angels, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the Place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: 'Who are you?' And we say: 'We are two of your brothers.' And he contradicts us, saying: 'You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away!' And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls-then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that the porter really knows us and that God makes him speak against us, oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there!

'And if we continue to knock, and the porter comes out in anger, and drives us away with curses and hard blows like bothersome scoundrels, saying; 'Get away from here, you dirty thieves-go to the hospital! Who do you think you are? You certainly won't eat or sleep here!--and if we bear it patiently and take the insults with joy and love in our hearts, Oh, Brother Leo, write that it is perfect joy!

And if later, suffering intensely from hunger and the painful cold, with night falling, we still knock and call, and crying loudly beg them to open for us and let us come in for the love of God, and he grows still more angry and says: 'Those fellows are bold and shameless ruffians. I'll give them what they deserve!' And he comes out with a knotty club, and grasping us by the cowl throws us onto the ground, rolling us in the mud and snow, and beats us with that club so much that he covers our bodies with wounds--if we endure all those evils and insults and blows with joy and patience, reflecting that we must accept and bear the sufferings of the Blessed Christ patiently for love of Him, oh, Brother Leo, write: that is perfect joy!

'And now hear the conclusion, Brother Leo. Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to His friends is that of conquering oneself and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations, and hardships for the love of Christ. For we cannot glory in all those other marvelous gifts of God, as they are not ours but God's, as the Apostle says: What have you that you have not received?' But we can glory in the cross of tribulations and afflictions, because that is ours, and so the Apostle says: 'I will not glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ"'To whom be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

In art, Saint Francis is generally depicted in the drab habit of his order, usually with the stigmata and a winged crucifix before him. At times he may be shown:

Preaching to the birds (anonymous 13th century)
Propping up a falling church
Kneeling before a crèche (White)
As a young layman giving his coat to a poor gentleman (Giotto)
Returning his father's goods before the bishop (anonymous 13th century)
As the pope dreams of him and St. Dominic holding up the Lateran
Marrying Lady Poverty
Dictating a contract with a wolf before the gates of Gubbio
Surrounded by animals
Walking through fire before the sultan
Receiving the stigmata (Federico Fiori Barocci)
Crowned with thorns
Hearing angelic music
As the Virgin appears before him
As the Virgin points him out to Christ
Contemplating a skull
Embracing St. Dominic
Clothing St. Clare as a novice
As St. Clare visits his funeral (Giotto)
Other paintings of Saint Francis by:
Mar gaitone di Arezzo
Benozzo Gozzoli
Francisco de Zurbarán
Caravaggio's St. Francis in Ecstasy
El Greco's St. John the Evangelist with St. Francis

Francis is the patron saint of Italy, Italian merchants (due to his family's business), animals, animal welfare societies, ecology, and ecologists (Roeder, White).


SOURCE : http://www.saintpatrickdc.org/ss/1004.shtml