THE LIFE AND LEGENDS OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF FATHER CANDIDE CHALIPPE, O.F.M.
REVISED AND RE-EDITED BY FATHER HILARION DUERK, O.F.M.
Imprimatur FATHER SAMUEL MACKE O.F.M. Min. Prov. St. Louis September 1, 1917
Nihil obstat ARTHUR J. SCANLAN, S.T.D. Censur Librarum
Imprimatur JOHN CARDINAL FARLEY New York
This Jubilee Edition of the Life and Legends of St. Francis of Assisi is Respectfully Dedicated to all Members of the Third Order in the City of Cleveland and Vicinity, above all, to the Nobel Patrons and Zealous Workers of Our Tertiary Branches.
The Life and Legends of St. Francis of Assisi by Father Candide Chalippe, O.F.M., need no apology. The work was first published at Paris in 1727. It is not only well written and reliable withal, but also instructive, elevating and inspiring. The facts and legends mentioned are drawn from the oldest and most reliable sources. The abundance of incidents and anecdotes not to be found elsewhere make the volume eminently interesting, while the reflexions and applications which the author now and then interweaves with the narrative are so replete with practical hints on spiritual life, that they will undoubtedly produce the best spiritual results in the reader. The style though simple, at times graphic, is very pleasing; the narrative flows on with equal ease and freedom.
In 1852 a priest from the Oratory of St. Philip Neri made a translation into English from what was then the latest French edition. This French edition came from the press in 1850. With the English translation the original work appeared in an abridged form. The original work is divided into six books, the English translation contains but half of these, so rearranged for the sake of clearness that they form five books. Most elucidations of the original work regarding characteristics of St. Francis, events and dates that are doubtful, are omitted, likewise most of the writings of St. Francis. The former were and still are undergoing changes, owing to new historical researches and discoveries made by students of Franciscan sources, while the latter were but lately again newly translated into English and edited as completely as possible with many critical notes and references of great value by the scholarly Father Paschal Robinson, O.F.M.—The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi by Father Paschal Robinson, O.F.M. The Dolphin Press, 1906.
The marvellous progress the Third Order of St. Francis is making in this country causes the story of the life of St. Francis that is herewith presented to the public in a newly revised edition to be especially welcome. For all Tertiaries know that mere devotion to St. Francis is of itself not sufficient to acquire the spirit of their Seraphic Father; all are aware that membership in the Third Order does not necessarily argue the possession of this spirit—and yet, every real Tertiary desires nothing more than to acquire the poor, humble, loving spirit of St. Francis. This spirit can scarcely be acquired, unless the life of St. Francis be well known, meditated upon and imitated as far as practicable. The Life and Legends of St. Francis of Assisi by Father Candide Chalippe, O.F.M., is peculiarly adapted to help Tertiaries to perform this task; the spirit of St. Francis breathes in every page. Not once, but several times may Tertiaries read this book to great advantage. With every reading new items of interest will be discovered, new lessons will present themselves to be learnt, new inspirations will be imparted to the soul from above. The more this book is read, the more it will be loved; the more it is studied, the more it will be admired. For Tertiaries a book of this kind is a necessity; it is as necessary for them as a text-book is for a scholar.
May this wonderful work spread in the future even more rapidly than before, may it receive the hearty welcome it deserves among the innumerable Tertiaries and clients of St. Francis of Assisi and be to them a sure guide to God's abundant graces in this world and to life everlasting in the next.
PREFACE BY THE AUTHOR
WHEREIN THE PREJUDICES OF CERTAIN PERSONS AGAINST MIRACLES WHICH ARE RECORDED IN THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS ARE SHOWN TO BE BOTH UNREASONABLE AND DANGEROUS, AND THAT THE MIRACLES ATTRIBUTED TO SAINT FRANCIS ARE VERY WELL AUTHENTICATED.
A very common failing amongst men is to adopt one extreme in the endeavor to avoid another, and sometimes not to perceive that the extreme into which they fall is greater than that which they had sought to flee from. To insure themselves against weak incredulity, some have imbibed such prejudice against the miracles in the Lives of the Saints, that they cannot endure to hear of them; the very ideas of miracles, revelations, ecstasies, visions, apparitions, are hateful and disgusting to them; all that is said on these subjects they look upon as fabulous and incredible; they call in question the most undeniable evidence, or attribute these wonders to natural and unknown causes. The wonders which are recorded in the Life of St, Francis, afford an opportunity of grappling with these prejudices.
In the first place, no man using his right reason will reject the wonders recorded in the Lives of the Saints, because of their impossibility. Miracles are extraordinary events, which break through the laws of nature, and exceed the force of all natural causes; it is only necessary to make use of our reason to be aware that God, whose power is infinite, having freely established these laws, may, whenever He thinks fit, break through them Himself by the ministry of His creatures, whom He makes use of as He pleases; that these suspensions may enter into the external designs of His wisdom and providence, and that they occur by successive acts, without there having been any change in Him, because it is an act of His will which causes them, as it does every other thing. Now this proves that miracles are possible, and that there is no impossibility in the wonders recorded in the Lives of the Saints.
In the second place, these wonders ought not to cause an incredulous surprise in any sensible person who pays due attention to the wonders of nature. "Man," says St. Augustine, "sees extraordinary things happen, and he admires them, while he himself, the admirer, is a great wonder, and a much greater miracle than any things which are done by the intervention of man. There is nothing more marvellous done in the world, which is not less wonderful than the world itself. All nature is full of what is miraculous; we seem unconscious of it, because we see those things daily, and because this daily repetition lowers them in our eyes. And this is one reason why God has reserved to Himself other things out of the common course of nature, on which He shows His power from time to time, in order that their novelty may strike us; but when we consider attentively, and with reflection, the miracles we constantly see, we find that they are far greater than others, however surprising and uncommon these may be."
The holy doctor admits that the prodigies which are out of the common course of nature, and which are properly called miracles, are to be viewed with astonishment, since they are works of God, worthy of admiration; he only requires that the surprise they cause shall be qualified by a consideration of the wonders of nature, to which he likewise gives the name of miracles, in a more extended sense: on the same principle, and a fortiori, what there is surprising in them should not make them appear to us incredible. An enlightened mind does not believe in miracles which are communicated to him, unless due proof of them is adduced; but it is not because what is wonderful in them renders him incredulous, because he sees more marvellous things in the universe and in himself. If men who apply themselves to the study of nature, are pertinacious in refusing to believe in the miracles of the saints, it is because they do not make use of the light they have received, and do not reason deductively; they have only sought to gratify their curiosity, or to gain credit for their discoveries; and do not some of them lose themselves in their speculations, and become impious, even so as to recognize no other God than nature itself?
In the third place, faith in the great mysteries of religion must incline us to believe in the wonders we read in the Lives of the Saints. Are we, then, not called upon to say to those whose prejudices we oppose: "As you belong to the society of the faithful, you not only believe that three Persons make only one God; that the Son of God was made man; that the dead shall rise again; but also, that Jesus Christ becomes every day present on our altars, under the species of bread and wine, at the words of consecration; and you believe all the other astonishing wonders that are proposed to you in our holy religion: why, then, do you find such repugnance in believing those of the Lives of the Saints, which are far inferior to the former"?
It is useless to say in answer, that these last are only based on human testimony, which we are not obliged to receive; that the mysteries are propounded to us by Divine authority, to which we are bound to submit; for this is not the question before us. We only compare one wonder with another, and we maintain that the belief in the one should facilitate the belief in the other. In fact, if we believe with a firm and unshaken faith what God, in His goodness, has been pleased to effect for the salvation of all men, and what He continues daily to effect in the Eucharist; may we not easily convince ourselves that He may have given extraordinary marks of His affection for his most faithful servants?
In the fourth place, similar wonders to those which are found in the Lives of the Saints are also found in the Holy Scriptures. Raptures, ecstasies, frequent visions and apparitions, continual revelations, an infinity of miracles, miraculous fasts of forty days, are things recorded in the Old and New Testaments. We believe all these wonderful circumstances, and we are obliged to believe them, although they far surpass our understanding; on what, then, shall we rely for maintaining that the wonders recorded in the Lives of the Saints are improbable, and that we may reasonably call them in question? Reason, on the contrary, marks them as so much the more probable and worthy of credit, as we know and believe similar ones which we may not doubt of. Christians should be accustomed to what is marvellous, and require nothing but proofs for the most unusual prodigies.
In the fifth place, the promise which Jesus made that the power of working miracles should be given to true believers, gives authority to the belief in miracles in the Lives of the Saints. "Amen, amen, I say to you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do he shall do also, and greater than these shall he do; because I go to the Father. And whatsoever you ask the Father in my name, that will I do." "And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover."
Our Saviour, according to the doctrine of the Holy Fathers, has promised the gift of miracles, not to each one of the faithful in particular, but to the Church in general; and His promise is for all times, when the good of religion requires its accomplishment. Heretics pretend that it only related to the days of the apostles, and that miracles were only required for the establishment of the faith. What right have they to limit the words of the Son of God? Do they imagine that they understand the Scriptures better than the holy doctors? How will they prove that since the time of the apostles there have been no combinations of circumstances in which the good of religion shall have required that miracles should be performed? They were required for the infidels, to whom the Gospel has been preached in different centuries, as well as for the Greek and Roman idolaters, to whom it was first announced. The Church has required them to silence the heretics who have successively endeavored to impugn her dogmas, and to strengthen the faith of her own children. They have been always useful for manifesting the eminence of virtue, for the glory of God, for the conversion of sinners, for reanimating piety, for nourishing and strengthening the hopes of the good things of another life. We are, therefore, justified in saying that the promise of Jesus Christ is for all times, in certain occasions, and that the belief in the miracles in the Lives of the Saints is authorized thereby.
In the sixth place, that there have been miracles in the Lives of the Saints are facts, the proofs of which are unquestionable. The Acts of the Martyrs, which have always been read in the Church, and the genuineness of which has been admitted by the most talented critics, contain recitals of the most wonderful events: the confessors of the faith instantaneously cured, after having undergone the most cruel tortures; wild beasts tamed and crouching at their feet; lights and celestial voices, apparitions of Jesus Christ and His angels, and many other wonderful circumstances.
In the first six centuries there are scarcely any ecclesiastical writers and Holy Fathers who do not record miracles worked by the servants of God, and by their relics; and they speak of them as of things which they have either seen with their own eyes, or were of public notoriety.
Saint Justin Martyr, in the second century, speaking of the power of Jesus Christ over the demons, in his Apology, addressed to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, and to the Roman Senate, says: "You have proofs of what passes before your eyes, and in your city, and in all the rest of the world; for you know that many of those possessed, not having been able to be delivered by your exorcists, enchanters, and magicians, have been so by the Christians who have exorcised them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate."
Saint Ireneus assures us that in the same century some true disciples of Jesus Christ had received supernatural gifts, which they made use of advantageously for other men: "Some," says he, "drive away devils; and this is certain, that often those who have been delivered embrace the faith, and join the Church. To others it is given to know the future, and to have prophetic visions. Others cure the sick by the imposition of hands, and restore them to perfect health. Very often, even in every place, and for some requisite cause, the brethren solicit, by fasting and fervent prayers, the resurrection of a dead person, and obtain it; these dead, thus revived, have lived with us for several years afterwards. What shall I say further? It is not possible to enumerate the extraordinary gifts which the Church receives from God, and what she operates in every part of the world, in favor of the nations, in the name of Jesus Christ crucified."
"We can," says Origen, writing against Celsus, "show an immense multitude of Greeks and barbarians who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ; there are some who prove their faith by the power of working miracles. They cure the sick by invoking their God, the Creator and the Sovereign Lord of all things; and the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, of whose Gospel they recite a part. We ourselves have seen several sick persons delivered from the most formidable maladies, and the cured are too numerous to be counted."
Tertullian, in his Apology, and in another work, records plainly the miraculous fall of rain which was obtained from heaven by the prayers of the Christian soldiers, which saved the army of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, which was reduced to the last extremity. He proves the truth of this fact by the very letter of the emperor. We have also authentic proofs of this event in the authors and records of paganism itself. Tertullian, likewise, tells us that the pagans received extraordinary graces by means of the Christians, some of which he quotes, and he adds: "How many persons of distinction, without mentioning other people, have been thus delivered from the devil, and cured of their evils!"
St. Cyprian upbraided an idolater in the following terms, while refuting him: "The gods whom you adore we exorcise in the name of the true God, and they are compelled to leave the bodies which they possessed. Oh, if you chose to see and hear them, when suffering under the power of our words, as if they were spiritual scourges, and feeling the secret operation of the Divine Mastery! They howl terrifically, entreat of us to spare them, declare, in presence of their adorers, whence they came, and confess a future judgment. Come and be convinced of the truth of what we say; to be at least moved. Those whom you adore, fear us; those to whom you pray, entreat of us to spare them; those whom you revere as sovereigns, are as prisoners in our hands, and tremble as so many slaves. We interrogate them, and in your presence they declare what they are; they cannot dissemble the impostures which they make use of to deceive you."
Such are the miracles which many of God's servants operated in the second and third centuries, and which cannot be called in question. How many different kinds are recorded in subsequent times by St. Basil, and by St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the life of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus; by St. Athanasius in the life of St. Anthony; by Sulpicius Severus, in the life of St. Martin; by St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Paulinus, in many parts of their works; by Theodoret, in his religious history; by Pope St. Gregory, in his dialogues; by St. Hilary of Arles, St. Ouen, and very many others worthy of credit!
These saintly and learned Bishops, Avitus, Metropolitan of Vienne, Stephen of Lyons, Eon of Arles, conferring with the Arians, in presence of Gondebauld, King of the Burgundians, after having proved the consubstantiality of the Word, by the testimony of the Scripture, and by powerful arguments, offered to give additional proof thereof by miracles, if the heretics would promise to acquiesce in consequence; and quoted the example of St. Remigius, Apostle of the French, who was then living, and setting up the faith on the ruins of idolatry by a multitude of prodigies.
The miracles operated by means of relics are neither less well authenticated, nor less celebrated; they were known to the whole world. St. Augustine was an eyewitness of them; being at Milan when St. Ambrose discovered, by means of a revelation, the spot where the bodies of SS. Gervasius and Protasius reposed. He saw a great many miracles performed in Africa by the relics of St. Stephen, of which he makes mention in his book of the City of God, written for the confutation of the most learned of the pagans, wherein he says that, to quote only those operated in the Dioceses of Calame and Hippo, several books would not suffice. Nicetius, Bishop of Treves, writing to Clodosvinda, or Glotinda, Queen of the Lombards, to exhort her to solicit the conversion of King Alboin, her husband, advised her to make use of the visible miracles which were operated at the tomb of St Martin, and by the invocation of St. Germanus, St. Hilary, St. Lupus, St. Remigius, and St. Medardus. They were so evident, that the heretics dared not call them in question, and could not deprive them of their splendor. God made use of these for the conversion of kings, and of the entire nations.
In all ages after the six first centuries, the prodigies of the Lives of the Saints are noticed by numerous authors of all countries, whose talents, learning, probity, holiness, and dignity, render them respectable to the most searching critics. They are supported by incontrovertible evidence, by juridical depositions, by authentic acts, and by splendid monuments which have been erected to their memory by bishops, princes, magistrates, cities and kingdoms to perpetuate the recollections of these splendid achievements. We find that the saints have made numerous predictions, which have been justified by the event; and that, either moved by the Spirit of God, or compelled by obedience, they have admitted the supernatural operations which they felt in their souls. Finally, the prodigies which are found in the Lives of the Saints have always been considered as indubitable facts amongst the faithful; the Church recognizes them, and they form one of the objects of their piety and devotion; no one is placed in the catalogue of saints whose sanctity has not been attested from heaven, by means of miracles; and she takes such rigorous precautions, and carries their strictness so far, that, according to all human prudence, it is impossible she should be deceived.
We now ask whether it can be permitted to think and to say that such facts are absolutely false, and should only be looked upon as fables unworthy of credence? In such case it would be necessary to abrogate the rule judiciously and universally received in the world, that facts which have nothing incredible in themselves are not to be controverted when duly proved; it would be also necessary to refuse credence to all that is related in sacred and profane history; to lay down as a maxim to believe nothing but what we see, and to refuse to receive the testimony of the honorable people with whom we live. Now, this is what is requisite to prove and convince every man of good sense that the prejudice against the miracles of the Lives of the Saints is quite unreasonable; but this does not point out its quality sufficiently; it is senseless and ridiculous, it is rash, and, what is more, it is dangerous.
Whoever denies what the Fathers of the Church attest as having seen, or having been authentically informed of, must conclude that they were either very credulous, or deceived the people. To refuse to believe the marvels which have reached us by an uniform and universal tradition, is to call in question all tradition; to render all its channels suspicious, and to cause it to be looked upon as a questionable proposition. What can be thought of the saints, if the miraculous graces, which they certify that they have received from God, are to be treated as chimeras; if the accomplishment of what they have foretold, is to be attributed to chance? What even can be thought of their most heroic victims? What opinion will be formed of their acts? Will they be deemed more trustworthy in other matters? When it is asserted that there have been no miracles since the days of the apostles, it must be said, by a necessary consequence, that the Church, which grounds canonization on miracles, makes use of falsehood in that most solemn and religious act, and that the public worship which the Church directs is uncertain. Now this very much resembles heresy; for the great principles of religion teach us that on these occasions the Church receives peculiar enlightenment from the Holy Ghost, by which she can neither be deceived herself, nor can she deceive others.
These miracles, it is said, are not articles of faith, and the Church does not oblige us to believe them. As if nothing was believed in the world but such things as are of faith; as if it was not dangerous obstinately to reject those things which are sanctioned by the authority of the Holy Fathers, by reason and by piety, by tradition and by the Church, and which cannot be rejected without fatal consequences!
This incredulity attacks, moreover, one of the proofs of the divinity of Jesus Christ, which the fathers adduced against the pagans. St. Chrysostom having asserted, on the subject of the miracles of the martyr, St. Babylas, that our Saviour, on the night of His Passion, had promised to those who should believe in Him, the power of working these miracles, adds: "It had been antecedently seen that many had taken upon themselves the character of masters, who had disciples, and who boast of performing wonders; nevertheless, we do not hear of any who had ventured to promise their disciples the same power. The insolence of their impostures did not go so far, because they knew that no one would believe them; all the world being convinced that it is only given to God to make a similar promise, and to fulfil it." On this principle the holy doctor proves that Jesus Christ is God, since He has given to those who believe in Him the power of working miracles, which His disciples actually did, and which His servants now do. St. Augustine makes use of the same proofs, in his book of the City of God. Thus the miracles of the saints have in all ages been adduced as proofs of the Divinity of our Saviour; and this is what those endeavor to do away with, who, without reflection, consider them as fables.
Another danger is, that they speak of these marvels according to their own prejudices. They openly say that they do not believe them, and that persons ought not to have the weakness to believe them; they speak contemptuously of the books in which they are recorded; they cannot endure that they should form part of panegyrics of the saints. They make use of impious derisions, and turn into ridicule the faithful who credit them, and they censure the conduct of the Church which consecrates them. Such discourse sanctions heresy and licentiousness; worldlings and the indevout applaud it, the tepid seem to consent to it, and the falsely devout approve it; it is a scandal to the weak, and a dishonor to religion.
It is also to be feared that prejudices against what is wonderful in the Lives of the Saints may spread to other subjects, if we only judge from the principles which are the cause of them. For, in what do these principles consist? They are not grounded on reason or religion; they must, therefore, have a basis of incredulity for everything which they do not understand: the foolish vanity of being thought singular; ignorance, which boldly repudiates what it knows nothing of; keeping company with libertines; a conformity of feeling with heretics, and the spirit of the world, which is the enemy of all piety. Such calamitous causes give room to fear the most fatal effects.
In general, the liberty only to believe those things which we choose, on points in which religion is concerned, is very dangerous; it often makes a destructive progress, for its first attempts embolden it. Persons are easily persuaded that all miraculous narratives are false, though the Church guarantees the truth of many; and when this same Church pronounces on dogmatical facts, declaring: such and such propositions to be heretical which are in such and such a book, and exacts an interior submission of heart and mind, do these doubters show more docility? Do they not cloak their disobedience by a respectful silence, always ill kept and finally broken through by open rebellion? Do we not see persons in the world speaking irreverently of relics, purgatory, indulgences, and even of the holy mysteries, after having treated contemptuously the marvels of the Lives of the Saints?
Certain critics admit these marvels, but have imbibed the idea that falsehood is so mixed up with the truth, that they cannot be separated but by using certain rules, which they take upon themselves to lay down. This prejudice is not less dangerous, nor less unreasonable than the other.
Because some inconsiderate writers, who cannot be too severely censured, have given scope to their imagination in certain legends, and have employed fiction for the embellishment of their narratives, the doubters pretend that the whole history of the saints is full of impostures; nevertheless, pure sources have been the basis of their authentic acts, in the works of the Fathers, and in an infinity of authors well worthy of credit, and in the Bulls of Canonization. An Asiatic priest, as related by St. Jerome, who quotes Tertullian, composed false acts of St. Thecla through an ill-understood sentiment of devotion:—does it follow from that that the truth of many other acts which were there read, and which we still possess, is to be set aside? Moreover, the Church has remedied the evil; she has rejected the false prodigies; she has expunged from the legends the indiscreet additions; a new edition has been long since placed in the hands of the faithful, which only contains the well-authenticated and certain miracles.
A learned man has demonstrated that the rules of these critics for the elucidation of these miracles are not judicious; that they are extravagant, and that it would be risking too much to follow them; that they are contradictory, and not in unison with each other; that it often happens that they reject or admit miracles against their own principles. If they find splendid ones, and many of them in the same legend, they hold them to be suppositions or altered, although, the oldest and most authentic documents contain similar ones; they reject them as false, without assigning any reason in proof of their having been falsified; they pretend that the authors who have recorded them were too credulous, though they received other articles on the testimony of these same authors. In order to believe them, they require perfect certainty, although they give credit to many circumstances in ecclesiastical and profane history on mere probabilities. One of them professes not to omit a single miracle which is vouched for by good authority, nevertheless, he suppresses many of the most considerable; and many of those which he feels compelled to bring forward, he does so in terms which mark doubtfulness, to say nothing more.
Thus, the ultra-critics while admitting the wonders of the Lives of the Saints, reduce them to nothing by rules, which they invent for separating truth from falsehood, as those who profess to believe an infallible authority in the Church make that infallibility to depend on so many conditions, that they may always maintain that the Church, dispersed or assembled, has never come to any decision in opposition to their errors.
It is, they say, the love of truth which induces them to examine most scrupulously the miracles of the saints; nothing should be believed, or be proposed to belief, but what is true. But Bossuet said of bad critics: "They are content, provided they can pass for more subtle observers than others, and they find themselves sharper, in not giving credit to so many wonders." The love of truth does not consist in denying its existence, where so many persons of first-rate genius have found it; it does not depend on rendering obscure the light it sheds, nor in giving to the public Lives of Saints accompanied by a dry, bitter, and licentious criticism, calculated to throw doubt on all that is extraordinary in them, and thereby to give scandal. The learned Jesuits, the continuators of Bollandus, show, by the precision of their researches, that they are sincere lovers of truth, but we do not see that they endeavor to diminish the number of miracles: "They have no idea of taking them for fictions; nothing astonishes them in the lives of the friends of God, provided it be well attested." Father Thomassen, of the Oratory, in his treatise on the Celebration of Festivals, speaks of a miraculous event which occurred in the sixth century, and which is reported by Bollandus, and he adds: "These sorts of miracles are by no means articles of faith, but nevertheless, they are not to be rejected by sage and considerate persons. Upon reading the works of St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. Jerome, and those of St. Gregory of Nyssa, of St. Basil, and St. Athanasius, we can have no doubt that these fathers had no difficulty in believing similar occurrences, similarly attested. St. Augustine, indeed, has related several much more incredible; and it is greatly to be feared that to set one's self above the Augustines, the Jeromes, the Gregories, and the most learned Fathers of the Church, must be the effect of a most dangerous pride."
It is objected that the multitude is credulous; that it likes the marvellous, and should not be exposed to believe untruths. But credulity is far less dangerous than incredulity; the one admits of cure much easier than the other; the former, in proper limits, may be very useful, the latter engenders nothing but evil. Some one has said, that the love of the marvellous is the ancient malady of mankind; it would, perhaps, be more accurate to say, that it is a remainder of their original greatness; and that, being created to witness the marvels of the Divinity, they are impelled, by an interior impulse, to believe whatsoever seems to them to approach to them, until such, time as their visions shall be fully gratified. This impulse only becomes a malady when it receives wonderful things which are absurd, or without any foundation. Aversion from the marvellous, which has its origin in the weakness of a mind oppressed by sin, is a much greater malady, and may have most dangerous consequences, in a wholly marvellous religion which we must love. These marvels are displeasing in pious narratives, where they are fully proved, and they are sought for in theatrical compositions, where they are mere fictions: the distinction is dishonorable to Christians. Finally, as to the falsehood: What risk does the pious multitude run, in believing the miracles of the Lives of the Saints? They find nothing in them which is not proved, or worthy of belief; nothing but what may very prudently be believed; nothing but what is edifying; and this, according to St. Augustine, is a sufficient guarantee from falling into any dangerous credulity.
We should be very dangerously credulous, if we put our faith in false and deceitful miracles, which only tend to seduce the mind, and corrupt our belief. We are warned in the Gospel, that "there shall arise false christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if it be possible) even the elect;" and St. Paul teaches us that Antichrist, "that man of perdition, will come according to the working of Satan in all power, and signs, and lying wonders." The father of lies has often inspired the heretics to produce miracles, which they have asserted to have been performed by persons of their party, living or dead, from whence they inferred that God authorized the doctrines they taught. Ecclesiastical history furnishes many examples of this, and there are some very recent ones.
But Jesus Christ has furnished us with a sure and infallible rule to avoid the contagion: it is to hear the Church; it is to consider those only as true miracles of which she approves, and of which she sanctions the publication; it is to believe firmly that no one who is in revolt against the Church will ever perform a miracle favorable to his sect, whatever appearance of austerity, piety, charity, or sanctity, he may put on; which St. Thomas bases mainly on this principle: that it is impossible that God, who alone can give the power of working a true miracle, shall ever communicate that power to confirm a false doctrine; from whence it follows, that all the miracles produced by sectarians, notwithstanding all their evidence, and all their pretended attestations, must neither be examined nor listened to, and must only be looked upon as purely natural effects, or as impostures, or as delusions and diabolical operations. This is the way in which St. Augustine expresses himself on the subject of the miracles which the Donatists claimed to have performed, and claimed as evidence in favor of their schism. Let Catholics, therefore, reject with horror the false prodigies of sectarians, but let them piously give credit to the miracles of the saints, without paying attention to the ultra-criticism which strives to throw doubts upon them; and let them be intimately persuaded that the Church, which approves of them, has founded that approval on evidence irreproachable.
The marvels which are found in the Life of St. Francis are perfectly well attested. That Life was first written by Thomas de Celano, one of his companions, who was directed by Pope Gregory IX. to compile it, and who afterwards added a second part on additional memoirs. John or Thomas de Ceperano, Apostolic Notary, who was a staunch friend of the Saint, published at the same time what he knew of his actions. Crescentius de Jesi, General of the Order of the Friars Minors, gave directions, by circular letters, to collect and transmit to him whatever had been seen or learnt, relative to the sanctity and miracles of the blessed Father. He addressed himself particularly to three of his twelve first companions: Leo, his secretary and his confessor; Angelus and Rufinus: all three joined in compiling what is called "The Legend of the Three Companions." The others noted separately what they had themselves seen, and the things which they had learnt from others. Saint Bonaventure, being at the head of the Order, was urgently entreated, by the general chapter, to write the life of their holy Patriarch. With the intention of learning, with certainty, the truth of the facts, he went expressly to Assisi, "There," he says, in the preface to his work, "I had frequent and serious conferences with those who had been in the confidence of the great man, and who were still living; and principally with those who were most intimately consociated with him, and who have become the most faithful imitators of his holy life, to whose testimony we must undoubtedly give credit, because their acknowledged sanctity assures us that they have spoken truth." Now, what can the most exact and severe criticism wish more, in order to give warranty to the marvels in the Life of St. Francis, than contemporaries, ocular witnesses, holy persons, his own companions, who lived with him and enjoyed his confidence?
The legend of Saint Bonaventure was spread everywhere, as soon as it appeared, and was everywhere highly approved: there are many manuscripts of it. Lipoman, Bishop of Verona, caused it to be printed in 1556. No one ever attempted to call its accuracy in question. Octavian quoted it, in his petition to Pope Sixtus IV. for the canonization of the holy doctor, in 1482.
The first legends have been preserved in manuscript; the celebrated annalist of the Order of Friars Minors, Luke Wading, saw them and made use of them. He was one of the most learned men of his time, and all other learned men have been loud in his praise, not only on account of his profound erudition, but because he was so ardent a lover of truth, which he sought for with great care, and having developed it, nothing could hinder him from publishing it and committing it to writing.
The uprightness of his heart was conspicuous on a certain occasion, which is too honorable to him for us to pass it over in silence. He had been one of the examiners nominated by Pope Innocent X. to inquire into the writings of Jansenius, Bishop of Ypres, and he had convinced himself that the five propositions which appeared to be censurable in those writings might be tolerably explained in a certain theological sense. Those who are themselves upright are not easily brought to think ill of others, particularly in difficult affairs, and they sometimes endeavor to justify them, through charitable feelings, which are praiseworthy in principle, but which may have evil consequences, when a doctrine is in question which has been widely spread, and which is supported by a cabal. Wading, seeing that the five propositions were censured by various constitutions of the Pope, made a report on the whole affair, with the following beautiful declaration, worthy of a truly Catholic Doctor: "If, before this decision, any one shall have been of a different opinion (as to the five propositions) on whatever reasonings, or whatsoever authority of doctrine, he is now obliged to bend his mind to the yoke of faith, according to the advice of the apostle. I declare it to be what I do with all my heart, condemning and anathematizing all the aforesaid propositions, in all and every sense in which His Holiness has proposed to condemn them, although, before this decision, I thought they might have been maintained in a certain sense, in the manner I have explained in the suffrage which has been just seen."
We may feel assured that a man of this upright character, such a lover of truth, and, moreover, one of such eminent talents, would not have made use of the two Legends of Thomas de Celano and that of the Three Companions, without having ascertained their correctness. Moreover, the critics of his time, who were particular, and in great numbers, had it in their power to examine them as those of our times have, also, since they are still extant in the convent of St. Isidore at Rome.
The first, which was composed under the Pontificate of Gregory IX., was quoted by Luke, Bishop of Tuy, when he wrote against the Albigenses, in 1231. It is to be found in the Abbey of Longpont, of the Order of Citeaux, in the diocese of Soissons, and in the Abbey of Jouy, of the same order, in the Diocese of Sens. The Legend of the Three Companions is in the king's library, at the Recollets of Louvain, and in their convent at Malines.
These are the principal sources which were consulted by Wading for writing the Life of St. Francis, which forms part of the first tome of his Annals. He also consulted the acts and public monuments, the constant tradition, and some manuscripts of the thirteenth century, which contain other testimonials from the companions of St. Francis, and were published by contemporaries who lived with them, who collected their very words, and who are worthy of credence. But the most marvellous thing which he relates, relative to the actions of the Saint, he has taken from the legends, as well as a great number of the splendid miracles which were operated by his intercession after his death, and of which Pope Gregory IX. was fully informed, as he declares in the Bull of Canonization.
All modern authors who have given the Life of St. Francis in various languages, have adhered mostly to Wading; in this work, also, we have made a point of following him; and the learned, who have so much esteem for that great man, will agree that we could not have taken a better guide. Baillet admits that, among the writers of the Life of St. Francis, Luke Wading is one of the most careful and most accurate; and yet he taxes him with not having written methodically, when he adds: "After all the labors of so many persons, who have been zealous for his glory, we are still compelled to wish for a methodical history of his life." Whoever may read the Annals of Wading, and his notes on the works of St. Francis, will find in them as much method as research and accuracy; but according to some ultra-critics, it is not considered writing methodically, when marvels which they dislike are permitted to find their way into history.
Baillet might have said that it has been long a subject of complaint that we have not in our language a complete and methodical Life of St. Francis. This complaint is the more just, as the saint had a particular liking for France; he had learned the language with so much facility, and spoke it so readily, that they gave him the name of Francis, although he was baptized John. Paris was one of the first objects of his zeal; he would even have gone thither, if a cardinal had not detained him in Italy for reasons which related to his Order. Not having it in his power to undertake this mission, which he had much at heart, he destined for it some of his principal followers.
There are some who affect to think that, in the Lives of the Saints, their example should alone be proposed to the public, imagining that the miracles they have performed can nowise contribute to the edification of souls; and two authors of this century have ventured to suppress all miracles in the Lives of Saints which they have published. The Church, nevertheless, causes them to be recited in the Divine Office, and they are carefully related by the holy fathers; neither does any author of repute, of the centuries preceding, fail to bring them forward. In fact, no one can deny that they add great resplendency to the merits of the saints, and, consequently, give great weight to the example they afford us. They uphold and increase the idea we have of the power of God, of His providence, His justice, His bounty, and His mercy, by which they excite us to glorify, love, and serve Him; and, in showing His special good-will to His servants, they induce us to invoke their mediation with confidence. Moreover, miracles strengthen the faithful in their faith, because, being performed in the bosom of the Catholic Church, they confirm the truth she teaches. Now, it is not of less consequence to strengthen faith, than to propose that which tends to the correction of morals, particularly when incredulity makes as much progress as licentiousness. Moreover, the miraculous actions of the saints frequently contain most salutary instructions, and are always accompanied by virtues which may be imitated, which will be very apparent in the Life of St. Francis.
Some may, perhaps, think that his virtues are too transcendent for imitation, and content themselves with admiring them, without gathering any fruit from them. A celebrated heresiarch admired them in this manner, in the last century. Bossuet remarks, in his excellent "History of the Variations," that "Luther reckoned among the saints not only St. Bernard, but also St. Francis, St. Bonaventure, and others of the thirteenth century; and that St. Francis, amongst all the rest, appeared to him to be an admirable character, animated with wonderful fervor of mind." But the faithful in admiring his virtues, must not think them not to be imitated, for they consisted in following the Gospel; and they are all obliged to live according to the precepts of the Gospel.
REV. CANDIDE CHALIPPE, O.F.M.
His birth—Prediction of his future greatness—His studies—He applies himself to commerce—His purity, and affection for the poor—He is taken prisoner—He falls sick—His charity increases towards the poor—He has a mysterious dream—He wishes to go to the war—Jesus Christ dissuades him—He is rapt in spirit—His conversion—He kisses a leper—Jesus Christ crucified appears to him—Salutary effects of this apparition—He goes to Rome—Mingles with the poor—Is tempted by the devil—A voice from heaven commands him to restore the Church of S. Peter Damian—His devotion to the passion of Jesus Christ—He takes some pieces of cloth from his father's house, and sells them, to restore the Church of S. Damian—He escapes from the anger of his father, and retires to a cave—He appears in Assisi, where he is ill-treated—His father confines him—His mother delivers him, and he returns to S. Damian—He manifests his intention to his father, who appeals to justice, and cites him before the Bishop of Assisi—He renounces his inheritance, and gives back his clothes to his father—The poverty of his clothing—He is beaten by robbers—Retires to a monastery—They give him a hermit's habit—He devotes himself to the leprous—Receives the gift of healing, and returns to Assisi, where he searches for stone to restore the Church of Assisi—He toils at building as a laborer—He lives on alms—His father and brother exercise his patience—The victories he gains over himself—People begin to esteem and honor him—He predicts something which is fulfilled—He restores the Church of S. Peter and that of S. Mary of the Angels, or the Portiuncula—Dwells at S. Mary of the Angels, and is favored there with heavenly apparitions—He is called to the apostolical life—Renounces money and goes discalced—His poor and humble habit—God inspires him to preach—He weeps bitterly over the sufferings of Jesus Christ—Receives three disciples, and retires with them to a deserted cottage—He goes on a mission, and his disciples accompany him—the way they are treated—He receives three other disciples—He makes them beg for alms—What he said to the Bishop of Assisi, on renouncing all his possessions—He predicts to the Emperor Otho the short duration of his glory—It is revealed to him that his sins are remitted—He is rapt in ecstasy, and predicts the extension of his Order—He makes several other predictions, and receives a seventh disciple—He proposes a new mission to them—The address he makes them on their preparation for, and conduct during, the mission—He returns near to Assisi, where he receives four more disciples—He assembles all his disciples—Composes a Rule, and goes to obtain the Pope's approval—He makes a marvellous conversion—He knows miraculously what will happen to him at Rome—He is at first repulsed by Pope Innocent III., but is afterwards received favorably—Difficulties on the approbation of his Rule—He overcomes them by an address he makes the Pope—The Pope approves his Rule, and accumulates favors on it—He leaves Rome with his friars for the valley of Spoleto—God provides for his necessities—He stops at a deserted church—Consults God on his mission, and returns to the cottage of Rivo-torto—His sufferings there—The instructions he gives—God shows him to his brethren under a most marvellous aspect—The church of S. Mary of the Angels is given to him—He establishes himself there with his Friars
He receives many novices—Instructs and models them—Sends them to different provinces of Italy—What he says on this occasion—He departs for Tuscany, and passes by Perugia, where he makes a prediction which is accomplished—Many young men enter his Order—They build a house for him near Cortona—His miraculous fast during Lent—He commands the devils, and they obey him—He cures many miraculously—He preaches at Florence—Makes a prediction—Preaches in various places in Tuscany—What his friars are doing in other places—He preaches the Lent at Assisi, with great fruit—He consecrates, to Jesus Christ, Clare, and, Agnes, her sister—Establishes Clare and Agnes in the Church of S. Damian—He erects a monastery there, the first one of his second Order, which he then instituted—He is troubled by a serious doubt, on which he consults his brethren—His doubt is cleared up by an oracle from heaven—He goes out to preach—Restores a blind girl to sight, and converts many worldly people—He sighs for martyrdom—Asks permission of the Pope to preach to the infidels—Makes conversions at Rome, and establishes his Order there—Returns to Assisi and leaves for the Levant—Embarks, but is obliged to put into a harbor in Sclavonia—Goes by sea to Ancona—A miracle which God performs in his favor—He converts a celebrated poet—Returns to Tuscany, and to S. Mary of the Angels—He falls sick—Wonderfully humbles himself—Tries a vocation—Falls sick again and writes to all Christians—Departs for Spain and Africa, in search of martyrdom—His miracles and other particulars of his journey—His profound humility—He raises the dead—Count Orlando gives him Mount Alverna—God miraculously protects him—He preaches in Piedmont and passes into Spain—Works a miraculous cure there—The king, Alphonso IX, permits him to establish his Order there—He receives houses there—A violent sickness prevents him going to Morocco—His actions whilst he is delayed in Spain—He returns to Italy—His route thither—He arrives at S. Mary of the Angels, and disapproves a building there—He goes to Mount Alverna—Is beaten by devils—Mortifies his sense, and taste—Makes water spring from a rock—Visits the mountain—Converts there a celebrated brigand—Leaves for Rome—Discovers some relics by revelation—Makes predictions, and performs miracles and conversions—Arrives at Rome whilst the Council of Lateran is sitting—The Pope declares to the Council that he has approved the Rule—He appoints a general chapter at S. Mary of the Angels, whither he returns—He holds the chapter and sends his friars to various countries—He thinks of going to Paris—Reunites an illustrious family that had been divided—Rejoices in his poverty and asks of God a greater love of holy poverty—SS. Peter and Paul appear to him at Rome—His alliance with S. Dominic—He goes to Florence, where Cardinal Hugolin dissuades him from going to Paris—He returns to the Valley of Spoleto, and sends three of his disciples to France—A celestial vision induces him to ask of the Pope a cardinal protector for his Order—What he says on this subject—He preaches before the Pope—What happened to him in the pulpit—The Pope gives him Cardinal Hugolin, as protector of the Order—He preaches in the Valley of Rieti—Delivers the country from two plagues, and makes some conversions there—The houses he builds there—He appoints a general chapter at S. Mary of the Angels, for the year 1219—What he did during the year 1218—Efficacy of his prayers—He wishes to pull down a new house which he found at S. Mary of the Angels
He goes to Perugia, to consult the cardinal protector—His opinion on the promotion of his friars to ecclesiastical dignities—He returns to S. Mary of the Angels—His thoughts on these dignities—More than five thousand Friars Minors are present at the chapter he had appointed—He addresses the assembly, and forbids them troubling themselves about their food—Assistance comes to him from all sides—He receives more than five hundred novices during this chapter—He forbids indiscreet mortifications—The devils are incensed against him and his Order—He cautions his friars, and upon that gives them some instruction—He humbles them to preserve them from vainglory—He confounds those who wish the Rule mitigated—He wishes not for privileges which can engender disputes—He gives his friars instructions about their conduct to ecclesiastics—He obtains from the Pope letters apostolical confirming the approval of the Order—What he decrees in the chapter—He sends his friars through the whole world—The travels of his Friars in various parts of the world—In Greece—In Africa—In Spain and Portugal—In France—In the Low Countries—He himself prepares to go to the Levant—On the government of the monastery of S. Damian, and other houses of the same order—He sends six of his friars to Morocco—What he says to them—He starts on his voyage to Syria, with twelve companions—He rejects a postulant too much attached to his parents—A house at Ancona is given to him—He appoints, by means of a child inspired by God, those who are to accompany him to Syria—He embarks at Ancona and anchors at the isle of Cyprus—Arrives at Acre—Distributes his companions in different parts of Syria, and comes to the army before Damietta—He arrives at the camp before Damietta, and predicts the ill-success of the battle the Crusaders are about to give—His prediction is accomplished—He finds out the sultan of Egypt—Announces to him the truths of the faith, and offers to throw himself into the fire to prove them—He refuses the sultan's presents—Is esteemed and respected—The good dispositions with which he inspires the sultan—He obtains permission to preach in his States—He receives some disciples from the army of the Crusaders—Visits the holy places—Some whole monasteries of religious embrace his Institute—He returns to Italy—Establishes his Order in various places—Preaches at Bologna with great success—What he says and does on seeing a house of his Order too much ornamented—He makes a retreat at Camaldoli—Returns to S. Mary of the Angels—Reads the thoughts of his companion—Confounds the vanity of Brother Elias—Abolishes the novelties introduced into the Order by Brother Elias—In a vision the fortunes of his Order are made known to him—He holds the chapter in which he deposes Brother Elias, and in his place substitutes Peter of Catania—He renounces the generalship—Will not receive anything from novices entering his Order—He learns the news of the martyrdom of the friars he had sent to Morocco—What he says on the subject of their martyrdom—The martyrdom of these friars is the cause of the vocation of S. Antony of Padua—His friars pass into England—He visits some convents—Receives the Vicar General's resignation, and re-appoints, by the command of God, Brother Elias to his place—He holds a chapter, and sends missionaries to Germany
S. Francis begins his Third Order of Penance—Draws up the rule for it—What his idea was in founding this Order—He returns to S. Mary of the Angels—Sends Agnes, the sister of Clare, to Florence, to be Abbess there—He obtains from Jesus Christ the Indulgence of S. Mary of the Angels or of the Portiuncula—Pope Honorius III. grants him the same indulgence—Clare and others, hearing him talk of God, are ravished in ecstasy—He cannot bear the distinction of persons which Brother Elias made—Makes a terrible prediction—He gives his blessings to seven of his brethren, to go and preach the faith to the Moors, and they are martyred—He makes a journey, which is attended with remarkable circumstances—Cures a cripple—Mixes with the poor, and eats with them—Foretells of an infant, that he would one day be Pope—He changes the bed of thorns into which S. Benedict had thrown himself, into a rose-bush, and performs other great miracles—Goes to honor the relics of S. Andrew, and those of S. Nicholas—Discovers a trick of the devil—He visits Mount Garganus—His presence silences a demoniac—He learns at S. Mary of the Angels the success of the German mission—Bids Antony preach—Gives Antony permission to teach theology to the brethren—Alexander Hales enters the Order—Jesus Christ appoints the day for the Indulgence of the Portiuncula—He obtains from the Pope a confirmation of the same day—Promulgates it, with seven bishops—He has a revelation about his Rule—God makes known to him that he must abridge it—The Holy Spirit dictates it to him—Some entreat him to moderate it—Jesus Christ tells him it must be kept to the very letter—His brethren receive it—He declares it comes from Jesus Christ, and speaks in praise of it—He obtains a bull from the Pope, in confirmation of the Rule—Is attacked by devils— Celebrates the feast of Christmas with much fervor—Our Lord appears to him as an infant—His sentiments on the celebration of feasts—Discovers a stratagem of the devil—He commands one of his dead brethren to cease working miracles—Draws up a rule for Clare and her daughters—Appears with his arms stretched out in the form of a cross while S. Antony was preaching—Foretells a conversion which immediately came about—He goes into retreat on Mount Alvernus—His contemplation and raptures—Jesus Christ promises him special favors—He fasts rigorously—A piece of his writing delivers his companion from a temptation—What he had to suffer from the devil—He prepares for martyrdom—He receives extraordinary favors in prayer—His perfect conformity to the will of God—Jesus Christ crucified appears to him under the figure of a Seraphim—Receives the impression of the wounds of Jesus Christ—He composes canticles full of the love of God—Tells his brethren of the Stigmata—They are seen and touched—He leaves Mount Alvernus, to return to S. Mary of the Angels—Cures a child of dropsy—Other miracles which he performed on the way—He strengthens himself with new fervor in the service of God—His patience in great sufferings—His desires for the salvation of souls—His prayer in suffering—God assures him of his salvation—He thanks Him in a canticle—He learns the time of his death, and rejoices at it—He has various illnesses, and suffers extreme pain—He multiplies the grapes in a vineyard—God gives him sensible consolation—A heated iron is applied to the temple, and he feels no pain from it—He weeps incessantly, and says he does so to expiate for his sins—He prefers the danger of losing his sight to restraining his tears—His gratitude towards his physician—A miracle is worked by some of his hair, in favor of this physician—He miraculously heals a canon—His sufferings diminish—Goes to preach—Drives away a devil—Foretells a sudden death, and it comes about—Cures St. Bonaventura in his infancy—All his sufferings increase—Causes to be found for the love of God what could not be found for money—They take him back to Assisi—They take him to Sienna—He answers difficult questions, and foretells several things—He causes the blessing which he gave to his brethren to be written—They take him to Celles, and thence to Assisi—The bishop has him taken to his palace—The state of his Order at the time of his last illness
The violence of his illness does not prevent him from exhorting his brethren—He is touched at the fatigue which his illness caused them— Thanks God for the pains he suffered—Dictates a letter to Clare and her daughters—Rejoices and thanks God for his approaching death—Blesses his children—Has himself carried to S. Mary of the Angels—Blesses the town of Assisi—Informs a pious widow of his approaching death—Blesses his brethren a second time, and makes them eat a bit of bread, blessed by his hand—Gives a special blessing to Bernard, the eldest of his children—What we may presume were his dispositions in receiving the last sacraments—He stretches himself naked on the bare ground—Desires to be buried in the place of execution—Exhorts his brethren—He has the praises of God sung when at the point of death—He speaks to his children, and blesses them for the last time—Has the passion of Jesus Christ read to him—He recites the 141st psalm, and dies after the last verse—Miraculous proofs of his beatitude—State of his body after death—The Stigmata are seen and touched publicly—His obsequies—Clare and her daughters see and kiss the Stigmata—He is buried at Assisi, in the church of S. George—The circular written after his death—His canonization—The Church of S. Francis at Assisi—He is buried there—Researches are made to find the sacred body—The mission of St. Francis—The fruits of his labor.
Devotion of S. Francis towards Jesus Christ crucified—To what a degree he loved poverty—How great was the austerity of his life—His humility—His obedience—His gift of prayer and contemplation—His love of God—His sentiments of filial love on the mystery of the Incarnation—On the fast of Jesus Christ in the desert—On the mystery of the Eucharist—S. Francis, in his humility, would not be made priest—His devotion towards the Mother of God—Towards the angels and saints—His charity towards his neighbor—His zeal for the salvation of souls—His affection for the poor—The affection of his heart for all creatures—The pains he took to lead his brethren to perfection—His tender charity towards his brethren—His discretion and wisdom in the government of the Order—His supernatural and acquired knowledge—The efficacy of his words—His supernatural and miraculous gifts—He drives away devils—Brings the dead to life—Heals the sick—Has the gift of prophecy and discernment of spirits—He commands animals, and is obeyed—He performs many other miraculous actions—The great honors which were paid to him—His character and appearance—In what sense he was simple
THE LIFE AND LEGENDS OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
We here offer, to the pious reflections of the faithful, the life of a man who proposed to himself to practise literally the precepts of the Gospel, to conform himself entirely to Jesus Christ crucified, and to inspire the whole world with God's love.
Such a purpose must seem great to all those who can appreciate true grandeur by the light of religion. In its contempt of the goods of the world, it manifests an elevation of mind far above the ostentation of the ancient philosophers; in its deep humiliations, an heroical courage; in its extreme simplicity, the most exalted sentiments; in its weakness, and in the apparent foolishness of the cross, the strength and wisdom of God. The infidels themselves admired all this, and it will be not less meet to revive the fervor of Christians, and to increase the veneration they have always entertained for St. Francis.
He was born at Assisi, a town of Umbria, in Italy, in the year 1182, under the Pontificate of Lucius III. Peter Bernardo, his father, was a rich merchant, whose principal commercial transactions were with France. His mother, whose name was Pica, had only two sons, Francis and Angelo. The latter married at Assisi, and some of his descendants were still at Assisi in 1534.
God, who has often condescended to usher in His saints by portents, was pleased, at the birth of Francis, to give signs of what he would be during his life. For some days Pica had suffered great pains, without being able to give birth to her child, when a man, dressed as a pilgrim, came to tell her that she would only be delivered of her infant in a stable; he would be born on straw. Although this communication appeared most strange, relatives, nevertheless, acted upon it. The patient was removed to the nearest stable, where she was successfully delivered; an event which may well be looked upon, as in the intention of Providence, thereby to mark the conformity of the holy man to Jesus Christ, poor and humble; as much, at least, as the creature can be in conformity with the Creator, and the servant with the Master of the universe.
This stable has been turned into a chapel, called in Italian, "San Francesco il piccolo"—"St. Francis the Little." Over the door the following words, in very old writing, are inscribed:
"This chapel was the stable of the Ox and the Ass, Where Francis was born, the mirror of the world."
His mother had the name of John given to him at his baptism, his father being then absent in France. A stranger presented himself as his godfather, and he was accepted as such; whether it was that something extraordinary was perceived in this person, or that they had been struck with astonishment at the first event. The uniform tradition at Assisi is, that this stranger disappeared after the ceremony, and that he left the impression of his knees on a marble step of the altar, which is shown in the cathedral church, with the baptismal font, on which these words in Italian are engraved:—"This is the fountain in which the Seraphic Father, St. Francis, was baptized."
At the return from the baptismal ceremony, a man, who seemed to have been sent by God, as well as the other two, or rather an angel in human form, came to beg that he might be allowed to see the child and hold it. He took it in his arms, caressed it a good deal, and impressed upon its right shoulder a well-formed cross, as a mark of his consecration, recommending the nurse to take particular care of the child, not to expose him to the snares of the devils, who had a foresight that he would one day wage a severe war against them. One of these evil spirits was obliged to confess by the mouth of one possessed, whom they were exorcising, that the princes of darkness, alarmed at the birth of Francis, had tried various ways to take away his life; and it was the Saint himself who expelled this devil afterwards. These portents, marvellous as they are, are less surprising, when we consider the singular and marked favors which heaven destined for him.
His parents brought him up with great care, and he was put to study with the clergy of the Parish of St. George. After he had acquired some knowledge of letters, he was initiated in commercial affairs, the correspondence of which necessitated his learning the French language; he acquired it with so much ease, that his father gave him the name of Francis, a name which he bore ever after.
Bernardo and Francis pursued their avocation in a very different manner. The first, with no other object than his worldly interest, thought of nothing but his profits, and had no other care than that of accumulating. Francis, who had not a particle of avarice, and had less thought of his profit than of dealing with honor, traded with nobler and more elevated feelings. But he loved the world, he frequented society, and spent a good deal in dress, festivities, and parties of pleasure. His father frequently reprimanded him on the subject of his expenses, but his remonstrances had little effect, because he had no consideration of the value of money, and he wished to be distinguished amongst his young companions, who always considered him as their leader. His mother, who was tender and generous, had more patience with him; and she said to those who spoke to her of his profusion, that from what she remarked in his conversation, in his actions, and even in his amusements, she had reasons to hope something great when he should come to maturer years.
Indeed, in all his demeanor, excellent prognostics for the future were observable: his temper was exquisite, mild, and condescending, his manners were agreeable and very polite; he was lively, and had great good sense: he was brave, and had a strong inclination to be generous, even to give beyond his means. Although he plunged into the vain amusements of the world, there was nothing blamable in his moral conduct. By the special protection of heaven, he avoided the rocks on which youth is too often wrecked; he preserved the inestimable treasure of purity; it was also remarked that he was distressed at any licentious expressions, and never made any reply to them.
God had imprinted in his heart great feelings of compassion for the poor, which increased from his infancy, and which induced him to afford them liberal aid, so that, following the Gospel precept, "Give to every one that asketh thee," he made a resolution to give to all who should ask alms of him, and principally if they should solicit it for the love of God. This feeling for the love of God had its effect upon him, even then, notwithstanding his dissipation; he could seldom hear the expression made use of, as he has since admitted, without being sensibly affected. It having once happened to him, in the hurry of business, to turn away a poor person who had asked a charity for the love of God, his conscience smote him immediately, and he ran after the poor man, relieved him amply, and made a promise to God that he would never refuse a single individual as long as it was in his power, when an alms should be asked for His love,—a promise which he faithfully kept to his death, and which, as St. Bonaventure remarks, was of essential service in increasing the grace and love of God in his heart. What is there more likely to bring down the grace of conversion and sanctification, and increase the love of God, than the practice of works of mercy?
The amiable qualities of Francis rendered him a favorite throughout the town, where he was looked up to as the flower of the youth, and great hopes were entertained for the future in his regard. A man of simple manners, but enlightened from above, caused a still greater esteem to be entertained for him. When he met him in the streets, he spread his cloak on the ground before him, and as a reason for showing him so unusual a mark of respect, exclaimed:—"This young man will soon do great things: he will deserve all sorts of honors, and will be revered by the faithful." Francis, who was unconscious of the designs of God, did not understand the meaning of this prediction. He knew not that these honors were to be rendered him only after severe humiliations, according to the words of the Gospel. Engrossed by the affairs of the world, and attached to its vanities, he thought little of this Divine truth, and he had less taste for it; nevertheless he hoped that he should some day receive the honors which others foretold, and which God permitted him likewise to predict of himself in an affliction which came upon him.
The towns of Assisi and Perugia were at war with each other; he was taken prisoner with some of his fellow-citizens: whether it was that he had taken up arms in the service of his country, or that he was beyond the limits of the town of his commercial affairs. His captivity, however, did not affect his spirits, he preserved his cheerfulness and good humor. His companions, who were dejected and cast down, were offended at this, and upbraided him with it, saying that he might, at least out of feeling for them, disguise them, disguise his satisfaction. "I am very sorry for you" he replied, "but as to myself, my mind is at ease and I am thankful that it is so. You see me now a prisoner, but at a future period, you will see me honored by the whole world." There was one among the prisoners whose quarrelsome temper and extreme ill humor caused him to be shunned by the others. Francis entreated them to draw a distinction between his person and his defects, and to bear with him: not being able to induce them to do so, he had the charity to keep him company himself, and by his good advice, he rendered him more gentle. All were so delighted with his goodness of heart, that they sought his friendship.
Liberated from captivity, he returned to Assisi, where God visited him with a long and severe illness, which reduced him to a state of great weakness. This was to prepare his soul for the influence of grace. As soon as he could walk, he wished to enjoy the beauty and air of the country; but he failed to be pleased therewith, and was even disgusted with what he had previously liked the most; he felt contempt for what he had before esteemed, and his own conduct appeared to him to be senseless. This change surprised him much, but it did not as yet make any alteration in his heart. The return of health renewed his attachment to the world, his ambition and vanity revived; he entertained fresh hopes of greatness, and paid once more great attention to his dress. Thus it frequently happens that when God sends illness to worldly persons with a view to their conversion, these have no other effect than momentary reflections and promises, which are soon forgotten on the return of strength.
However, Francis became more and more charitable, and gave to all the poor either money or his clothes. Having met a poor and ill-clad officer who was of a noble family, he saw in him the poverty of Jesus Christ, the King of kings, and being moved to pity, he gave him the new suit of clothes he had on.
The following night God showed him in his sleep a great and magnificent palace, full of warlike arms, all marked with the sign of the cross, to give him an idea of the reward his charity was to receive. He asked whom all that belonged to; and he was answered, that the arms were for his soldiers.
Not as yet understanding the meaning of mysterious dreams, he took this as a token of the success he was to have in warlike achievements, without suspecting that the crosses he had seen had a totally different signification. At that time Walter, Count of Brienne, in Champagne, was waging active war against the emperor, in the kingdom of Naples, on the subject of the claims of his wife Alberia, the eldest daughter of Tancred, King of Cicily, who had been some years dead. Francis resolved to offer him his services, in the hope of gaining military honors. He attached himself to an officer of distinction, who belonged to the count's army, and he set out with a good retinue, after having assured his friends that he was sure of acquiring great renown.
He first went to Spoleto, and there Jesus Christ addressed these benevolent words to him during the night: "Francis, which of the two, think you, can be of the greatest service to you: the master or the servant, the rich or the poor?" "It is the master and the rich," he answered without any hesitation. "Why then," continued our Lord, "do you leave God who is the master and rich, to seek man, who is the servant and poor?" "O Lord!" exclaimed Francis, "what is it your pleasure I should do?" Jesus Christ then said to him: "Return to your town; what you have seen signifies nothing but what is spiritual. It is from God, and not from man, that you will receive their accomplishment." The very next morning he retraced his steps towards Assisi, to await the orders of the Lord, without troubling himself as to what the world should say as to this precipitate return.
His friends came as usual to propose a party of pleasure. He received them, as was his custom, with great politeness, and feasted them magnificently to bid them, thus honorably, an eternal adieu. On parting from them, he found himself suddenly struck with the vanity of all terrestrial things, and with the grandeur of all that is heavenly, by a communication from the Spirit of God, full of mildness, but so internal, and so forcible, that his senses were brought into a state of inaction, and he himself remained motionless. He afterwards told his confessor, that, if he had been torn to pieces in this state of rapture, he would not have felt it; that, in that moment, he could only feel at the bottom of his soul. The company, quite alarmed, drew near him; and when he had recovered his usual serenity, they enquired of him, laughing, what had occasioned his extraordinary reserve; if, perhaps, he was not thinking of taking a wife? "It is so," he replied: "I shall take one, but one so noble and so beautiful, that such another will not be found in the whole world." Evangelical poverty, which he afterwards embraced, was the spouse to which the Holy Ghost inspired him to allude.
After this divine favor he disembarrassed himself as much as possible of his commercial affairs, to beg of God to know what He would have him do; and he usually went to pray in a grotto with a confidential friend, who left him there in entire liberty. The frequent recourse to prayer excited in his heart so ardent a desire for the celestial country, that he already looked upon everything that was earthly as nothing. He felt that this happy disposition contained a treasure, but he did not as yet know how to possess himself of the hidden prize. The Spirit of God merely insinuated to him that the spiritual life, under the idea of traffic, must begin by a contempt of the world,—and under the idea of warfare, by a victory over self.—All spirituality not based upon these two Divine lessons, will never have anything solid in it.
Francis had soon occasion to put these lessons in practice. As he was riding across the plains of Assisi, he perceived a leper coming straight to him. At first he felt horror-stricken, but calling to mind that he had formed a resolution to labor to attain perfection, and that, in order to be a soldier of Jesus Christ, it was necessary to begin by obtaining a victory over self, he dismounted, kissed the leper, and gave him an alms. When he again mounted his horse, he no longer saw any one, though he looked all round the plain. Filled with astonishment, and transported with joy, he fell on his knees to thank God, and formed a firm resolution to aim at still greater perfection. This is the effect of generous and courageous efforts, they draw down fresh graces, and reanimate our courage. He acquired also more inclination for retirement, he had no longer any liking but for solitude, for those places which were adapted to the holy sorrow of penance, where he unceasingly addressed himself to God in fervent prayer, accompanied by lamentations, which cannot be described: God at length favorably heard him.
His fervor daily increasing, insomuch that he was wholly absorbed in God, Jesus Christ appeared to him as if attached to the cross. His soul, at this stupendous scene, was wholly penetrated, and, as it were, dissolved, and the image of his crucified Saviour became from that time so strongly and intimately imprinted on his heart, that every time it recurred to his mind, he had a difficulty in restraining his sobs and tears.
In this marvellous apparition he was made aware that these words of the Gospel were personally addressed to him: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me." He received from them that foretaste of poverty and humility which became his characteristics, and so ardent a charity inflamed his heart, that he had the courage to devote himself to the service of the lepers. Before this day they were so much his horror, that, far from allowing them to be in his presence, as soon as he saw them, at whatever distance, he turned away from them, and if they were near he passed on quickly, holding his nose. But for the love of Jesus crucified, who was pleased to represent Himself to the Prophet Isaias under the despised figure of a leper, he lowered himself to attending upon them in their hospitals, where, having abundantly supplied them with alms, he made their beds, dressed their sores, and performed for them the most abject services; he often even kissed their hands and their faces with great feelings of commiseration. The words which our Saviour one day addressed to him while at prayer, stimulated him to continue this charitable exercise, notwithstanding his natural repugnance: "Francis, if thou desirest to know My will, thou must despise and hate all that thou hast loved and wished for till now. Let not this new path alarm thee, for, if the things which now please thee must become bitter and distasteful, those which now displease thee, will become sweet and agreeable." Shortly before his death he declared that what had seemed to him most bitter in serving the lepers, had been changed into what was pleasing both for soul and body; and all those who strive to overcome themselves for the love of God feel, as he did, that the severest practices are soon softened down by the unction of grace.
The sight of Jesus Christ fastened to the cross made him feel the misery of the poor so intensely, that he would have wished to employ all he had, and his own person, in their relief. Sometimes he did strip himself to clothe them; and when he had not enough to satisfy them all, he unsewed or tore his clothes to divide among them. In the absence of his father he caused much more bread to be brought to table at their meals than was necessary; and when his mother asked the reason, he said, "that it was in order to give more quickly to those who came to ask for food." This pious mother saw with pleasure the charity of her son; and far from endeavoring to check it, she was not displeased at his leaving her alone at table, while he took to the neighboring sick the viands of which he stinted himself. An equally lively and respectful zeal induced him to come to the aid of such priests as were in want; he took particular care to provide for the decoration of the altars, in order the better to assist at the divine service. He bought the finest linen, and distributed it to the poor country churches to be employed at the sacrifice of the mass; and when this august sacrifice was about to be celebrated, if anything was wanting, or if the altar was not properly found in everything requisite, he would offer himself to the officers of the church, in order to supply what was required either from his purse or by his personal assistance.
But all these good works did not come up to what he had figured to himself as requisite for perfection. He could have wished to withdraw into some distant country, there to practise voluntary poverty, which had already inflamed his heart. At first he resolved to go to Rome, to visit the tomb of St. Peter, moved by that grand devotion which God has often inspired in His saints, and which has been so frequent since the fourth century. He also proposed to himself to solicit from the Almighty, by the intercession of the Prince of the Apostles, the grace to carry out the resolution he had come to of leading an Apostolic life. After having recited his prayer in this holy place, he noticed that in the crowd of people some made but a slender offering, while others made no donation whatever. "What then," said he, "is devotion grown so cold? How is it that men do not offer all they have, and do not even offer themselves on a spot where the ashes of the Prince of the Apostles repose? How does it happen that they do not decorate with all possible magnificence this Peter, on whom Jesus Christ has founded His Church?" He contributed to the best of his power, leaving a considerable sum for that purpose; and what he had wished was subsequently executed. The Sovereign Pontiffs, and in particular Sixtus V, who was a religious of his Order, have rendered the Basilica of St. Peter so sumptuous and magnificent, that it is now the admiration of the universe.
On going out of the church, he saw a multitude of poor, whom he immediately joined, as much for the affection he had for them, as for the love of poverty. He gave his clothes to him who appeared to be the most necessitous. The following day, having dressed himself with propriety, he set out on his return to Assisi, praying God to guide him in the ways of holy poverty.
The devil, who was sensible that the young man would become confirmed in his intention if he persevered in prayer, appeared to him under a most terrific form, and threatened him, if he persisted, to render him a dreadful deformity like unto an old woman of the town, who was so hideous that he could not even look at her. But the newly-enlisted soldier of Jesus Christ, who began to be inured to warfare, laughed at the threats of the tempter, and was more urgent in his prayers, for which purpose he chose underground places, where he could better defend himself against the snares of his enemy. The fruit of these holy exercises was a lively sorrow for the use he had made of the first years of his youth, and a great perseverance in the mortification of his senses, in order to bear the cross of Jesus Christ in his body, as he bore it in his heart.
It was thus that Francis acted before having changed his habit, or quitted the world. St. Bonaventure says that he had then no other master from whom he received instructions than Jesus Christ; nevertheless, an author quoted by Wading, assures us that he sometimes consulted the Bishop of Assisi. We may here say, in order that there may be no seeming contradiction between the two, that he received instructions from Jesus Christ only because he was inspired by Him, but that he communicated with the bishop on the points on which he had been inspired; and we may be the more assured of this, as we shall see hereafter that this prelate had his confidence, and that there is reason to think that he was his spiritual Father.
The servant of God, walking and meditating one day out of Assisi, near the church of St. Damian, which was very old and falling into ruin, was moved by the Holy Spirit to enter it to pray. There, prostrated before the crucifix, he repeated three times the following beautiful words, which gave him great interior consolation, and which he subsequently made frequent use of: "Great God, full of glory, and Thou, my Lord Jesus Christ! I entreat you to enlighten me and to dispel the darkness of my mind, to give me a pure faith, a firm hope, and an ardent charity. Let me have a perfect knowledge of Thee, O God! so that I may in all things by guided by Thy light, and act in conformity to Thy will." He cast his eyes, filled with tears, upon the crucifix, when a voice came forth from it, and he heard distinctly these words repeated three times, not interiorly, but loudly pronounced: "Francis, go and repair my house, which thou seest is falling into ruin." So wonderful a voice, in a place where he was alone, alarmed him greatly, but he felt immediately the salutary effects of it, and he was transported with joy.
The sense of these words chiefly related to the state of the Church which Jesus Christ had purchased at the price of His blood, which the holy man was to repair in all its defects by his ministry and the labors of his disciples, according to the explanation which the Holy Spirit gave to him of them subsequently, which he communicated to his brethren, as St. Bonaventure tells us.
Nevertheless, the powerful protection which he received from heaven for the repair of the church of St. Damian, was an indication that the same words were to be understood to relate to that building also: as the sacred oracles had a twofold literal sense in the mouths of the Prophets, one of which related to events which were at hand, and the other to a distant time, and to mysteries wholly spiritual.
Francis came to himself; he left the church fully resolved to undertake its repair, and left money in the hands of a priest named Peter, who did the parochial duties of it, to keep a lamp burning before the crucifix, promising to give more, and to employ all he had for the use of this holy place.
The voice which had issued from the crucifix renewed in his mind and heart the impression of the mystery of the Passion. He felt himself interiorly wounded through the wounds of Jesus Christ, and he shed such burning tears, that his eyes were quite inflamed, and, as it were, full of blood, when he returned from prayer. To make his body participate in the sufferings which penetrated his very soul, and to punish himself for the levities of his youth, he imposed on himself a very rigorous abstinence, with various other kinds of mortification.
The eagerness he felt to commence the repair of St. Damian's church, suggested to him means by which the work might be begun. After having fortified himself by the sign of the cross, he took from his father's stores several pieces of cloth, which he sold at Foligno, together with his horse. He came back on foot, and offered the money respectfully to the priest of St. Damian for the repair of the church, and in aid of the poor; humbly entreating him to allow him to remain some time with him. The priest consented to receive Francis, but refused the money, fearing the displeasure of his father; and Francis, who had utter contempt for money, not valuing it more than so much dust, when it was of no use for good works, threw it upon one of the windows of the church.
The heretics of the last century, who calumniated the Saint for many things, have deemed it criminal in him to have taken these pieces of cloth from his father's stores. St. Bonaventure is of a different way of thinking; he has not thought that this action required justification; on the contrary, he calls the sale of the cloth and of the horse a fortunate bargain. And, indeed, without going into the right which the son may have had in the commercial affairs of his father, in consequence of their partnership, and of his age of twenty-five, had he not reason to think that, having received orders from heaven to repair a church, God, who is the Master and Dispenser of all goods, permitted him to employ a portion of the goods which were under his paternal roof, since he had no other means of obeying the injunction? But it is an extraordinary case, which must not be drawn into precedent. The general rule of Christian morality is, that children may not dispose of anything without the permission of their parents even under the pretext of piety.
Bernardo on his return from a journey, having heard what his son had done, came in great wrath to St. Damian's with several members of his family; and Francis, who had not yet sufficient strength of mind to encounter the storm, and wished to avoid the first ebullition, went and hid himself in the priest's room. Three contemporary authors assure us that, having placed himself behind the door, and pressing himself against the wall, when the door was opened he was miraculously let into the wall, so that he was not seen by those who were looking for him.
When his father was gone, he retired secretly into a cavern, which was known only to one servant, from whom he received what was necessary for his immediate sustenance, and where he occupied himself in continual prayer, shedding abundance of tears, in order that he might be delivered from those who pursued him, and be able to accomplish the work which God had inspired him to undertake.
After having passed a month in this place, he considered that it was in God alone that he ought to hope, without putting any confidence in his own exertions, and this thought filled him with interior joy, and raised his depressed spirits. Reproaching himself, therefore, with his pusillanimity, he left his cavern and went straight to the town, as a soldier, who, feeling ashamed of having fled, returns intrepidly to the charge. Of what is not he capable, who is fully persuaded that he can do nothing of himself towards his salvation, but that he can do all through God who imparts strength to him? On these two principles the saints have undertaken, and carried into execution, the greatest things.
The inhabitants of Assisi, who saw his face all pale and wan, and who remarked how changed were his conversation and opinions, thought that his mind was disturbed. He was called a madman, they threw mud and stones at him, and followed him, hooting and calling after him. But, without paying attention to these insults, and being on the contrary well pleased to bear these marks of the holy folly of the cross, the servant of God continued his way as if he had been deaf and insensible.
Bernardo being told that his son had returned, and was made the object of public derision, went immediately in pursuit of him, reproached him bitterly with his conduct, seized him and dragged him to his house, where he beat him severely, and confined him in a hole under the staircase. This severity had no effect in shaking the resolution of the holy prisoner; he even acquired more firmness, and encouraged himself to suffer by the words of the Gospel: "Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
A short time after, when his father was on a journey, his mother, who did not approve of the severity with which he was treated, and who moreover had no hope of overcoming his constancy, set him at liberty. He gave thanks to God for it, and made use of it, to return to the church of St. Damian. Bernardo, not finding him in his confinement at his return, was not content with upbraiding his wife in the severest terms, but went off to St. Damian's to drive him out of the country if he should not succeed in bringing him back. Francis, to whom God had given strength, presented himself boldly to his father, and told him decidedly that he cared not for his blows, nor for his shackles—that he was prepared willingly to suffer all sorts of evils for the name of Jesus Christ. His father, seeing that there was nothing more to hope in his case, thought of nothing further than to get back the money for the cloth and the horse. He found it in the window where Francis had thrown it, when the priest refused its acceptance, and then his wrath was somewhat appeased.