After the chapter, Francis, notwithstanding the bad state of his health, actuated by his zeal, undertook to preach repentance in the towns adjacent to Assisi, where he dilated, in forcible language, on vice and virtue, and the sufferings and happiness of a future life. The inhabitants of Canaria were so moved by his preaching, that they followed him in crowds, forsaking their usual occupations. Many also, from the neighboring villages, joined them, and all together solicited him to teach them how to profit by his instructions.
Many married men were desirous of separating themselves from their wives, in order to embrace the religious state, and many married women were anxious to shut themselves up in cloisters; but the holy Patriarch, not wishing to break up well-assorted marriages, nor to depopulate the country, advised them to serve God in their own houses, and promised to give them a rule by which they might progress in virtue and live as religious, without practising the austerities of that state of life.
He was under the necessity of repeating the same injunctions in several towns in Tuscany, particularly in Florence, where similar views prevailed, and where they had already commenced building a monastery for females, who were desirous of renouncing the world. While he was yet ruminating on the mode of life he should prescribe for them, he assembled them all, and formed them into two congregations: the one of men, and the other of women; and having given each of them a president, they gave themselves separately up to exercises of piety and practices of mercy, with so much fervor, that a contemporary author compares them to the Christians whom Tertullian so eloquently eulogizes. With the alms which the two congregations collected, they built a hospital for the sick and aged, on the outskirts of the town where all the virtues of charity were assiduously exercised; an establishment which is extant to this day. Saint Antoninus, when Archbishop of Florence, removed these pious assemblies to a locality near the Church of Saint Martin, for the convenience of the poor. The vicinity of the church and their good works procured for them the name of the “Good Men of Saint Martin;” and they were afterwards called the “Penitents of Saint Francis,” because they followed the rule of the Third Order of Penance, which the Saint instituted.
One day Saint Francis having gone from Florence to Gagiano, near Poggibonzi, in Tuscany, met a shop-keeper of his acquaintance, whose name was Lucchesio, who had been very avaricious, and an enthusiastic partisan of the faction of the Guelphs, but who, having been converted a few months before, now lived a very Christian-like life, gave away great sums in alms, attended the sick in hospitals, received strangers hospitably into his house, and endeavored to instil similar sentiments into Bonadonna, his wife. They had already asked Francis to put them in a way of sanctifying their lives, which should be suitable to their position; and the holy man had given them this answer: “I have been thinking of late of instituting a Third Order, in which married persons might serve God perfectly; and I think you could not do better than to enter it.” After having given the subject serious consideration, Lucchesio and his wife entreated him to admit them into this new Order. He made them assume a modest and simple dress, of a grey color, also a cord with several knots in it for a girdle, and he prescribed verbally certain pious exercises, which they were to follow until such time as he should have composed the rule.
This was the beginning of the Third Order of Saint Francis, which many persons in the environs of Poggibonzi embraced, and which was soon established in Florence by the congregation of men and women of which we have just spoken. The following year, at latest, the Founder composed a rule for this Order, which he called the Order of the Brethren of Penance, in which the sisters were comprised, which was also called the Third Order, or the Order of Tertiaries, as relative to the two older Orders: the Order of Friars Minors, which is the first, and that of the Poor Clares, which is the second. This rule was subsequently confirmed by Pope Nicholas IV, and Leo XIII, with some changes, which they considered advisable as well in regard to the times as to the Order itself.
The holy Patriarch manifests therein not only the zeal which animated him in all that concerned the purity of the faith, but also the prudence which guided all his actions. He requires that all those who apply for admission into the Order shall be carefully examined in the Catholic faith, and their submission to the authority of the Church, and he directs that they shall only be received after having made profession of all the orthodox truths; and that great care shall be taken not to admit any heretic, nor any one suspected of heresy; and should any such be detected after having been admitted, he insists on their being immediately informed against. He, likewise, directs that their previous conduct may be inquired into, to ascertain whether any notorious crimes are imputed to them, or whether their morals are irreproachable, and he desires that they be warned to restore what they have which belongs to any other person; he also forbids receiving any married female into the Order without the consent of her husband.
The profession consists in a promise to keep all God’s commandments, and to perform such penances as the visitor shall enjoin for faults committed in breach of the practices required by the rule. The habit is similar to what was given to Lucchesio and his wife; but so, that this may be dispensed with, according to the state of life of the persons, and the customs of the country in which they may be. The spiritual exercises laid down in the rule, have nothing in them which can interfere with the different stations of persons living in the world. Days of fasting and abstinence are prescribed, but modified prudently for the infirm, for pregnant women, for travellers, and for laboring people; and it is clearly explained that these observances are not obligatory under pain of sin, and that they only bind the transgressor to perform the penance imposed on him, unless the transgression has at the same time contravened any law of God, or commandment of the Church.
Saint Francis, moreover, strenuously recommends to the brethren and sisters, to avoid all words tending to swearing or imprecation, the theatre, dancing, and all profane meetings; to undertake no law-suits, and to live in fraternal union; to take great care of the sick of the Order, to bury the dead, and to pray for them.
He adds to this, an article which is deserving of peculiar notice; it is, that all persons who enter the Order and have property over which they have the disposal, shall make their wills within a few months after their profession, lest they should die intestate. We see that his intention was to make them think on death, and to have their minds free for meditating on the important affair of their salvation, and to prevent those dissentions which frequently occur after the death of such as have not regulated their temporal affairs, before being called away. Wills which are made during a last illness are frequently exposed to deceit and fraud. They are never better made than when executed while the testator is in good health, in possession of all his faculties.
By the institution of the Third Order, Francis proposes to himself to reanimate the fervor of the faithful, to induce all the world, those in orders, laics, married persons of either sex, and such as were living in a state of celibacy, to a stricter observance of God’s commandments, to live a more Christian and Catholic life, and to add the practice of virtues to the duties of civil life. His views met with astonishing success; the Order was established, and spread with the greatest rapidity through all conditions of life.
Cardinals, bishops, emperors, empresses, kings, queens, considered themselves honored in being admitted into it, and it has given to the Church an infinite number of saints and blessed of either sex, who are publicly revered with her sanction. Wading says, that in his day, (that is in 1623,) there were at the court of Madrid more than sixty lords who belonged to the Third Order; and Cardinal Trejo, who had joined it, wrote to him in these terms on the subject of the works of Saint Francis, which that author was about to give to the public with learned notes.
“You praise me with some surprise, that wearing the purple of a cardinal, I should have taken the habit and made solemn profession to adhere to the rules of the Third Order of Saint Francis. Could I do less than devote myself wholly to his Order, I, who owe to him all that I have, and all that I am? Does not the cord of Saint Francis deserve to gird even royal purple? Saint Louis, King of France, Saint Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, wore it, as well as many other sovereigns and princesses. In our own day, Philip III, King of Spain, died in the habit of the blessed Father; Queen Elizabeth, wife of Philip IV, the reigning monarch of Spain, and the Princess Mary, his sister, have made their profession in the Third Order. Why, then, should it be a subject of astonishment to you, that a cardinal should cover his purple with a garment of ash color, and gird himself with a cord? If this dress seems vulgar and vile, I require it the more, because, finding myself raised to a high degree of honor, I must humble myself the more in order to avoid pride. But is not the garb of Saint Francis, which is of ash color, a real purple, which may adorn the dignity of kings and cardinals?
Yes, it is a true purple, dyed in the blood of Jesus Christ, and in the blood which issued from the stigmates of His servant. It gives, therefore, a royal dignity to those who wear it. What have I done, therefore, in clothing myself with this garment? I have added purple to purple, the purple of royalty, to the purple of the cardinalate; thus, far from being humiliated by it, I have reason to fear that I have done myself too much honor, and that I derive from it too much glory.”
These sentiments of this learned and pious cardinal, are well calculated to silence the proud and irreligious spirits who turn into ridicule practices which the Church approves, and which her most illustrious children embrace with fervor. We have seen Queen Ann of Austria receive, at Paris, the holy habit of a penitent, and make profession of the rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis; Queen Maria Theresa of Austria, wife of the renowned king, Louis XIV, follow this example, and even permit herself to be chosen superior of the sisters of the congregation, established in the church of the great convent of the Observance, under the protection of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, and assist at the various pious exercises with great edification.
The Holy See has loaded the brethren and sisters of the Third Order with many spiritual favors; and has granted them many privileges and indulgences. It has given to them a participation in all the merits which are gained in the other two Orders. What is singular is, that shortly after its institution, congregations of Tertiaries were formed, in which they lived in community of property, making the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and practising the works of mercy. God and the Sovereign Pontiff raised them to a religious body. Thus, besides the secular Third Order, there is now a religious one, of both sexes, which Pope Leo X confirmed and extended by his bull, dated 28th of January, 1521, in which he abridged the rule and adapted it to the observances of the religious state. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, being a widow, joined the three vows of religion to the profession of the Third Order of Saint Francis, three years after the death of the blessed Patriarch, which makes her to be justly considered as the mother of the religious of both sexes of the Third Order, since she was the first Tertiary who took these solemn vows.
Lucchesio and his wife, who were the first Tertiaries whom Saint Francis received, acquired by the exercise of prayer and good works, a holiness which God honored by many miracles during their life and after their death; but the wife was sanctified by the husband. Although she had embraced, after his example, the state of piety, she continued to disapprove the great donations of alms which he made, and to prevent them as much as was in her power, in consequence of that spirit of avarice and self-interest, which constantly induces such tempers to fear that they shall come to want.
One day, Lucchesio having given all the bread that was in his house to the poor, he begged his wife to give something to others who followed. She flew into a passion, like the wife of Tobias; and having reproached him with the care he took of strangers to the prejudice of those of his own household, she said that it was quite plain that his fasts and watchings had disordered his brain. The husband, as patient as he was charitable, was not irritated by these reproaches, but quietly requested his wife to look into the place where the bread was kept, thinking of Him, who by His power had satiated several thousand persons with a few loaves and fishes. She did so, and found a large quantity of fresh bread, sufficient to supply the wants of all the poor. This miracle had such an effect upon her, that from that time forward, he had no occasion to exhort her to the performance of works of mercy; both husband and wife gave themselves up to them with emulation, and devoted themselves to them until their deaths. The husband’s charity shows us that almsgiving does not impoverish; but that, on the contrary, God increases, even sometimes by miracles, the property of such as give liberally; and the conversion of Lucchesio’s wife shows that the spirit of interest and avarice, covered by pretence of economy, renders piety false and deceitful.
After having established his Third Order, Francis preached in several parts of Tuscany, and received an establishment at Columbario, in a very solitary situation, which was the more agreeable to him from the great attraction he had for contemplation.
He had it erected under the title of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, in honor of her Divine maternity; he then returned to Saint Mary of the Angels.
An abbess was requested from the Monastery of Saint Damian for that of Moncel, of the same institute, which was forming at Florence; he consulted thereon the cardinal protector, and by his advice he selected Agnes, the sister of Clare. Agnes, out of obedience, set out willingly; she found a very fervent, very united, and very submissive community, and the Sovereign Pontiff granted all that she required for their spiritual wants. But Agnes was seriously grieved to have to part from Clare, and to satisfy her heart, she wrote to her a most affectionate letter, full of the most tender sentiments, in which we see that the feelings of nature are elevated and sanctified by virtue, instead of being weakened.
At that time, about the month of October, Francis obtained the famous indulgence of Saint Mary of the Angels, or of Portiuncula, of which we shall here relate the circumstances.
The great lights and inspirations which this holy man received in prayer, discovered to him the wretched state of sinners; he deplored their blindness, and was moved to compassion, and he often prayed for them. One night, when he was soliciting their conversion from God with great fervor, he was directed by an angel to go to the church, where he would find Jesus Christ and his Blessed Mother, accompanied by a host of celestial spirits. Greatly rejoiced, he went and prostrated himself to render due homage to the Majesty of the Son of God. Our Saviour said to him: “Francis, the zeal which thou and thy followers have for the salvation of souls is such, that it entitles thee to solicit something in their favor, for the glory of my name.” In the midst of the marvels which enraptured him, he made the following prayer: “O Jesus, my Saviour, I entreat Thee, although I am but a miserable sinner, to have the goodness to grant to men, that all those who shall visit this church may receive a plenary indulgence of all their sins, after having confessed them to a priest; and I beg the Blessed Virgin, Thy Mother, the general advocate of humankind, to intercede that I may obtain this my request.” The Blessed Virgin did intercede, and Jesus Christ spoke the following words: “Francis, what thou askest is great, but thou wilt receive still greater favors; I grant thee this one; I desire thee, nevertheless, to go to my vicar, to whom I have given power to bind and to loose, and to solicit him for the same indulgence.” The companions of the Saint who were in their respective cells, heard all these things; they saw a great light which filled the church, and the multitude of angels; but a respectful fear prevented them from approaching nearer.
In the early morning, Francis assembled them, and forbade their speaking of this miraculous event, and then set out with Masse of Marignan for Perugia, where Pope Honorius then was.
When he came into his presence, he said to him: “Most Holy Father, some years ago I repaired a small church in your dominions; I beg you to grant to it a free indulgence, without any obligation of making an offering.” The Pope replied, that the request could not reasonably be granted, because it was but just that he who wished to gain an indulgence should render himself deserving of it by some means, particularly by some work of charity. “But,” added he, “for how many years do you ask me for this indulgence?” “Most Holy Father,” replied Francis, “may it please your Holiness, not to give me so many years but so many souls.” “And in what way do you desire to have souls?” rejoined the Pope. “I wish,” added Francis, “that it may be the good pleasure of Your Holiness, that those persons who enter the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels, are contrite, shall have confessed their sins, and have properly received absolution, may receive an entire remission of their sins, as well in this world as in the next, from their baptism, to the time of their so entering the church.” The Pope then said to him, “Francis, what you solicit is a thing of great importance. The Roman court has not been accustomed to grant any similar indulgence.” “Most Holy Father,” returned Francis, “I ask not this for myself, it is Jesus Christ who sent me; I come from Him.” Upon which, the Pope said publicly three times: “It is my desire that it be granted to you.”
The cardinals who were present, represented to him, that in granting so important an indulgence, he was subverting the throne of the holy law, and that of the sepulchre of the holy Apostles. “The concession is made,” replied the Pope, “nor is it right it should be revoked; but let us modify it.” And recalling Francis, he said to him: “We grant you this indulgence which you have solicited. It is for all years in perpetuity; but only during one natural day; from one evening including the night, to the evening of the following day.” At these words Francis humbly bowed down his head. As he went away, the Pope asked him: “Whither art thou going, simple man? What certitude hast thou of what thou hast just been granted?” “Holy Father,” he replied, “your word is sufficient for me. If this indulgence is the work of God, He will make it manifest. Let Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother, and the angels, be the notary, on this occasion, the paper, and the witnesses. I require no other authenticated document.” This was the effect of the great confidence he had in God.
He left Perugia to return to Saint Mary of the Angels, and midway he stopped at a village named Colle, at a leper hospital, where he rested awhile. On awaking, he had recourse to prayer; then he called Masse, and said to him with great exultation: “I can assure you that the indulgence which has been granted to me by the Sovereign Pontiff is confirmed in Heaven.” The day had not been fixed, however, until the beginning of the year 1223.
Clare wished to see once more the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels in which she had renounced the world, and to take another meal with Francis, her spiritual Father. He refused her his leave for some time; but his companions having represented to him that he treated a virgin whom he himself had consecrated to Jesus Christ, with too much harshness, he consented to what she wished. An appropriate day was fixed on, and she came to the convent of Portiuncula, accompanied by some of her nuns, and some Friars Minor who went on purpose to the convent of Saint Damian.
After having prayed fervently in the church, and visited the convent, the Friars and the nuns seated themselves round the reflection which Saint Francis had laid out on the ground, in pursuance of his usual practice of humility, which was his daily observance, whenever it was in his power. The first nourishment they took was for the soul. The holy Patriarch spoke of God, but in so moving a manner, and with so much unction and animation, that all who heard him were thrown into ecstasy, as he was himself. At the same time, the convent, the church, and the woods seemed to the inhabitants of Assisi and environs, to be on fire. Many ran thither to afford their aid; but finding everything in good order, they entered the convent, where they saw, with still greater surprise, the whole assembly in a state of ecstasy. By that they were made aware that what had seemed to them to be a fire, was the type of the fire which inflamed these holy bosoms, and they returned greatly edified.
By this marvel the Lord clearly showed that He approved the request, which Clare had made, to be allowed to come to the Portiuncula; as by another marvel He approved of the prayer which Saint Scholastica made to detain her brother, Saint Benedict, whom she wished to hear speak of the happiness of the future life, in the place in which they had just dined together. Such, was the condescension of His goodness for the consolation of these two saints, and it is thus that, according to the words of the Prophet, “He fulfils the wishes of those who fear Him.”
The repast finished without any one having chosen to eat anything, so much were they filled with celestial aliment; and Clare returned to the Monastery of Saint Damian, where her sisterhood received her with so much the more satisfaction, as they had been fearful that they would have given her the direction of some new establishment, as they had, a short time before, sent her sister Agnes to Florence as abbess. They knew that Francis had said to her on other occasions: “Be prepared to go wherever it may be necessary;” and that she had obediently answered, “My Father I am ready to go whithersoever you may send me.” Her having gone out seemed to them a preparation for some longer journey and their grief for having lost Agnes, their dear companion increased the fears they had, lest they should lose Clare, also, who was in their regard a most excellent mistress of spiritual life. But they had not, thereafter, any similar alarms; this was the only time in forty-two years that their holy mother left the enclosure.
Elias, the vicar general, gave Francis great uneasiness, by his erroneous views. Many of the Friars Minor came to see their Patriarch, who received them with every mark of kindness. The vicar made great distinction between them. He was very particular in honoring those whom science and dignities rendered considerable in the Order; he never failed giving them the first places, and he took care to satisfy all they needed; while he left the others in the lowest places, and often without attending to their necessary wants. In his station he did what the Apostle Saint James forbids all Christians to do.
Their common Father, who could not endure that so great a difference should be made, particularly amongst persons of the same Institute, affected, one day, at table, after grace had been said, to call two of the most simple of the brethren, and to place one on each side of him, without showing any attention to the merits of others.
He did this, not because he disapproved of peculiar consideration being shown to those to whom it is due, according to the maxim of Saint Paul, in consequence of their character, their dignity, or their personal qualifications, but because he did not choose that these considerations should be to the disadvantage of those who had not similar circumstances to recommend them, and to whom, according to the same apostle, besides the feelings of charity to which they and all others are entitled, a certain degree of honor should be shown.
The vicar general, who was not impressed with a similar way of thinking, was highly indignant at this act of the Saint, and murmuring to himself, he said: “Ah! Brother Francis, it is quite certain that your extreme simplicity will be the ruin of the Order. You place alongside of you, men who have neither learning nor talents, and you affront those who are the support of the Order by their science.” Francis, who by a supernatural revelation, was made aware of what his vicar had passing in his mind, replied immediately to his thought: “And you, Brother Elias, you do much greater injury to the Order by your vanity, and by the prudence of the flesh, with which you are filled. The judgments of God are impenetrable; He knows you as you are, and nevertheless, He chose that you should be Superior of the Order; and it is His desire that I leave it in your hands. Alas! I fear that the people, and he who governs them, resemble each other, and that God has only given a pastor, such as He foresees the flock will be.” The holy Patriarch well knew that the whole of the flock would not be corrupted by Brother Elias, and that the majority of the members would resist him, as it came to pass. And thus the fear which he experienced in general terms, was a warning to keep them all to their duty. But what he added was a true prophecy: “Unhappy man, as you are, you will not die in this Order; God has so decreed. You have been weighed in the balances, and have been found wanting, because you are puffed up with the science of the world.”
The following is the way in which this matter is related in the ancient legend which is followed by Saint Antoninus. Francis, knowing by a revelation that Brother Elias would die out of the Order, and would be damned, avoided conversing with him, and even seeing him. Elias noticed this, and did not rest till he discovered the reason. Terrified and dismayed at such a prophecy, he threw himself at the feet of his kind master, and entreated him to intercede with God to prevent one of the flock committed to his care, from perishing eternally: “Let not the sentence which has been revealed to you, discourage you; for the Lord may change His decree, if the sinner corrects his sin. I have such confidence in your prayers, my very dear Father, that I should think they would mitigate my sufferings even if I were in hell, as you have been told I shall be. Pray for me, my Father; pray, and I have no doubt but that God will modify His decree, and that I shall be converted.” Francis prayed, and obtained from God that Brother Elias should not be damned, but he could not obtain the reversal of the decree which said that he should not die in the Order. It was, in fact, out of the Order that he died; but, previous to his death, he gave great signs of contrition.
Wading makes on this a judicious remark, worthy of a sound theologian. He says that Brother Elias, who was universally admitted to be a learned man, was not ignorant that the decrees of God which are absolute, are immutable, because He Himself is incapable of change; but he also knew that the Lord sometimes expressed Himself in absolute words against sinners, which decrees are merely threats, which may be changed by their repentance, without His changing, according to what He has said by the Prophet Jeremy: “I will suddenly speak against a nation, and against a kingdom, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy it. If that nation against which I have spoken shall repent of their evil, I also will repent of the evil that I thought to do them.” Jonas sent from God, had positively announced that in forty days Nineveh should be destroyed, and nevertheless the penitence of the Ninevites hindered the destruction of their city. Saint Gregory says, that in this sense God changed His decrees, but did not change His design; and Saint Thomas says, that God proposes the change of certain things, but that in His will no change takes place. Sinners, however, must not abuse this doctrine, and imagine that God only threatens them, and that He will not damn them, for He has an absolute will to damn eternally those who die in mortal sin, as well as to crown with immortal glory such as die in a state of grace. In truth, it is His wish that sinners should be converted, and He places the means in their power by His mercy: “But,” says Saint Augustine, “He has not promised a to-morrow to your delay;” and as the Apostle has it: “According to thy hardness and impenitent heart thou treasurest up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his works.”
The example of the holy Patriarch, who had sought three times, the crown of martyrdom, and the triumph of the five brethren martyred at Morocco, had inspired many with an ardent desire to die for Jesus Christ. Shortly after Elias had been restored as vicar general, Daniel, Minister in the Province of Calabria, asked leave to go and preach the faith to the Moors, with six other brethren, whose names were Samuel, Donule or Daniel, Leo, Hugolin, Nicholas, and Angelus. Having received the permission of the vicar general, and the blessing of Francis, they embarked in a port of Tuscany, from whence they sailed to Tarragona. Their first intention was to have gone to Morocco, to mingle their blood with that of their martyred brethren, but some reasons, probably favorable to their intention, induced them to go to Ceuta.
Daniel arrived first with three of his companions, the master of the vessel not having thought proper to take on board more. They lived out of the town, in a village inhabited by traders from Pisa, Genoa, and Marseilles, because Christians might not enter the town without a particular permission. Their occupation here was to preach to these traders, until they should be joined by their companions, who arrived there on the 29th of September.
The following Friday, which was the first of October, they consulted together as to their future plans, and the aids they should require in the formidable combat they were about to sustain. On the Saturday, they confessed and received the Holy Communion, without which, when it is possible to receive it, Saint Cyprian would not suffer confessors to be exposed to martyrdom for the faith, because it is the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ which gives the strength to endure it. Saint Chrysostom and Saint Bernard, also, say that it is the firmest defence which can be opposed to the temptations of the devil, and to the allurements of sin, which are powerful motives for having recourse to frequent Communion.
The seven brothers went forth from the holy table, according to the expression of Saint Chrysostom, “as roaring lions, breathing fire and flames,” and they could not restrain the zeal which animated them. On the evening of the same day, they washed each other’s feet, in order to follow the example of the Son of God, who washed His disciples’ feet before His Passion; and very early on the Sunday morning, before there were any persons in the streets, they entered the town, having their heads strewed with ashes, and commenced crying out with a loud voice, “There is no salvation but through Jesus Christ.”
The Moors soon collected, abused and beat them, and led them to the king. The missionaries then repeated, in presence of the learned in the law, what they had previously said to the people, “That it is requisite to believe in Jesus Christ; that there is no salvation in any other name than His,” which they proved by the most forcible arguments. The king, who fully understood that in thus upholding the name of Jesus Christ they rejected that of Mahomet, looked upon them as idiots, and thought that their shaven heads, with a crown of hair round them, was a proof of their folly. However, to prove their constancy, he had them confined in a loathsome jail, where he kept them eight days in irons, and where they were cruelly treated.
Their confinement did not prevent their finding means to write to the Christians who were in the vicinity of Ceuta. Their letter was addressed to Hugh, Cure of the Genoese, and to two religious, one of their own Order, and the other of the Order of Friars Preachers, who had just returned from the farthest part of Mauritania. They blessed, in the first instance, the Father of Mercies, who consoled them in their tribulation; and, after having quoted several passages from the Scriptures to justify their mission and to animate themselves to suffering, they assured their brethren that they had borne witness, and strongly argued in presence of the king, “that there is no salvation but in the name of Jesus Christ;” and they concluded by referring to God the glory of all that they had done.
The judge, whose name was Arbold, wishing to see what they did in prison, saw that they were no longer chained, that their faces shone with a splendid light, and that they sang the praises of God with extraordinary joy. The king, having been apprised of this, caused them to be brought before him on Sunday, the tenth of October, and offered them great wealth if they would become Mussulmen. They boldly replied, that they utterly despised all the things of this world and of the present life, in consequence of the happiness of the future life. They were then separated, and each was separately tempted, by promises and threats, but they were all found steadfast in their resolution. Daniel, speaking with great energy, one of the Moors cut him across the head with his scimitar, from which he did not even wince, and another exhorted him to embrace the law of Mahomet, to save his life with honor. “Wretch!” exclaimed Daniel, “your Mahomet and all his followers are but ministers of Satan, and your Koran is but a series of lies; be no longer misled, but embrace the Christian faith.”
As soon as the seven brothers were collected together, six of them threw themselves at Daniel’s feet, who had procured this mission for them, and who was their leader, and said to him with tears of joy: “We give thanks to God and to you, our father, for having procured for us the crown of martyrdom; our souls will follow yours; bless us and die; the struggle will be soon over, and we shall enjoy eternal peace.”
Daniel tenderly embraced them, gave them his blessing, and encouraged them by these words: “Let us rejoice in the Lord; this is for us a festival day; angels surround us, the heavens are opened to receive us; this day we shall receive the crown of martyrdom, which will last forever.”
In fact, the king, seeing that they were resolute, and not to be shaken, condemned them to be beheaded. They were stripped, had their hands tied behind them, and were taken to the place of execution, whither they went as to a banquet, preceded by a herald, who proclaimed the cause of their death, and where, after having recommended their souls to God, they were decapitated, on the tenth of October, in the year 1221.
Infidel children and adults broke their skulls to pieces, and mutilated the remains of the holy martyrs; but these precious relics were gathered up by the Christians, and removed into the storehouse of the Marseillese, and were afterwards buried in their dwellings beyond the walls of Ceuta. It is asserted that some years afterwards they were transferred to the Church of Saint Mary, near Morocco, and that God manifested them by miracles, and particularly by a splendid light, which even the Moors saw during the night; and that some time afterwards an Infant of Portugal, having obtained them from a King of Morocco, had them removed into Spain, where fresh miracles rendered them celebrated. Whatever truth there may be in the account of these translations, it is not known now where the relics of these seven martyrs are. This is certain – that the faithful had their memory in great veneration, and that in 1516, the Friars Minor solicited leave from Pope Leo X, to recite an office in their honor, which leave he most willingly granted to them, placing them in the number of martyrs recognized by the Church, as they are commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on the 13th of October.
We may imagine the satisfaction their triumph gave to Francis, from the ardent desire he always evinced for the crown of martyrdom, and the tender love he bore for his children. He had, moreover, in this year another great consolation on this subject. Pope Honorius sent to almost all the bishops of Europe, desiring them to send him four men from each province, or at least two, noted for their science and the integrity of their lives, whom it was his intention to commission to preach to the idolaters, and to the Saracens, for whose conversion he was most anxious, and amongst the number thus selected there were many Friars Minors, and Friars Preachers who generously exposed themselves to every sort of peril for the salvation of souls.
The intimate union which the love of God had formed between Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, induces us to note here, that the blessed Patriarch of the Dominicans died this year, on the sixth day of August at the age of fifty-one years. The eminent sanctity of his life, the great miracles he performed; the ardor and splendor of his zeal for the destruction of heresy; his inviolable attachment to the holy See; his tender piety to the Blessed Virgin, whom he causes to be generally and daily honored in the devotion of the Rosary; and the establishment of his Order, so useful by its science, by its piety, and by the great service it still renders to the Church, cause him to be illustrious through the entire Church. Among the Friars Minor, there is not one who, if animated by the spirit of Saint Francis, must not have a special devotion for Him, and a respectful affection for those of his order.
Charity, which inflamed the breast of Francis, soon drew him from his retreat. He set out at the beginning of the year 1222, for the Terra di Lavoro, Apulia and Calabria, and, in the course of this journey, God worked many splendid miracles by his hand.
Passing, first, through the Town of Toscanella, on the road to Rome, he received hospitality from a knight, whose only son was lame in both legs, and was in a state of suffering through his whole body. The afflicted father asked him to procure the cure of his son from God; he abstained from doing this for some time out of humility, esteeming himself unworthy of being loved by others, but being prevailed upon by reiterated entreaties, he placed his hands upon him, and made the sign of the cross upon the boy, who, at the same moment, stood upright and firm on his legs, and was entirely cured, to the great astonishment of his whole family.
At Rome, he made acquaintance, and became intimate with a nobleman, named Mathew de Rubeis, of the illustrious family of the Orsini. One day, on which he had been invited to dinner there, and having got there at the appointed hour, not finding his host yet returned from town, he joined, unperceived, the poor to whom they were giving a meal, and he received the alms with them. The nobleman arrived shortly after, and inquired where Brother Francis was, and as they did not find him, he declared he would not eat his dinner, if he did not come. While they were looking for him, he saw him seated in the yard with a group of poor. He went to him, and said: “Brother Francis, since you won’t dine with me, I am come to dine with you;” which he did, placing himself on the ground near him, and in the group, where he found himself very comfortable in that company. When he heard that the holy man had established a Third Order for secular persons of all ranks, he prayed for admission into it, and had himself instructed in the practices to be observed. The consideration which his rank in life gave him in the world, threw great splendor on the new institution, and drew many persons to it.
There was a little child called John whom he requested Francis to bless; the servant of God gave him his blessing; he took him in his arms and foretold to all there that he would bring great glory to his house, and that he would be Sovereign Pontiff. Then, fixing his eyes upon the child, he spoke to him as if he had had the use of reason; he entreated him seriously, and in most affectionate terms, to be favorable to his Order; after which the prophet continued as follows: “He will not be a religious of our Order, but he will be its protector; he will not be reckoned among its children, but he will be acknowledged as its father; and our brethren will be delighted at seeing themselves under his shadow. I consider the immense benefits we shall receive from this child, I see them already in his little hands.” Such a prediction caused as much pleasure as surprise to the lord of the family of the Orsini, but he never spoke of it till he saw its fulfilment, which happened fifty-five years afterwards.
His son, cardinal, under the title of Saint Nicholas, was chosen Pope in the year 1277, and took the name of Nicholas III. His singular benevolence for the Order of the Friars Minor showed that its holy Founder had not spoken in vain to him in his infancy.
From Rome Francis went to visit the Grotto of Saint Benedict. He considered with great attention the bush covered with thorns, into which the great Patriarch of the monastic life had the courage to throw himself, in order to overcome a temptation of the flesh. In admiration of such extraordinary fervor, he touched this bush as a sacred relic; he kissed it, and made on it the sign of the cross. God, in order to honor his two servants, changed it immediately into a beautiful rose-tree, the flowers of which have served in many cases for the cure of the sick; the place has since been held in greater respect. In a chapel which is near it, and which was consecrated by Gregory IX, we see that Pope, with Francis on his left hand, who holds a scroll of paper, on which these words, taken from the Gospel of Saint Luke, are written, “Peace be to this house,” words which he constantly used as a salutation.
The remainder of his journey was remarkable for many other wonders which were worked through his means, in announcing the word of God. While preaching at Gaeta, on the border of the sea, seeing that a crowd of people were anxious, from a devotional feeling, to touch him, he threw himself into a boat to avoid these demonstrations of respect, which were disagreeable to him. The boat, which had no sailors in it, floated to a certain distance out to sea, and then became stationary; from thence he gave instruction to those who were on the shore, and the crowd dispersing after having received his blessing, the boat returned of itself to its former place. Saint Bonaventure thereupon says: – “Who, after this, will have a heart so hardened and so irreligious as to despise the preaching of Francis, to which inanimate things lent their aid, as if they had reasoning faculties?”
The inhabitants of Gaeta, admiring the power which God gave to His servant, entreated him to stay some time in their town, and to permit them to build there a convent for his Order. He assented to this, and the work was commenced forthwith. While the church was in progress, a carpenter was crushed by the falling of a beam. As the other workmen were carrying him home, Francis, who was returning from the country, met them, and directed them to lay the dead man on the ground; he then made the sign of the cross on him, took him by the hand, called him by his name, and commanded him to arise. The dead man rose immediately and went back to his work. This is well-known in the country by successive tradition, and a small chapel has been erected, under due authority, on the spot where the miracle was performed, in order to perpetuate the memory thereof.
The earliest authors of the life of our Saint record a very singular miracle which he performed on his route, in the house of a gentleman. All the inhabitants of the place were gone to the great square to hear him preach. A female servant who had been left in a house to take care of a child, wishing to hear the sermon, left the child alone. On her return, she found the child dead, and half-boiled in a copper of hot water, into which it had fallen. She took it out, and in order to hide the disaster from the father and mother, she shut it up in a trunk; the parents, however, learnt their misfortune, which was the more afflicting as this was their only child. The husband entreated his wife not to let her distress appear, out of respect for the servant of God, who was to dine with them. During dinner, Francis endeavored to inspire them with a holy joy, knowing what the Almighty had in store for their consolation, and at the end of the dinner he feigned a wish to eat some apples. They expressed their regret that they had none to offer him; but pointing to the trunk in which the child was shut up, he said: “Let them look there, and some will be found.” It was in vain that they assured him that there were none there; he insisted on having the trunk opened. The gentleman, to oblige him, and with a view of hiding the object of their grief, opened the trunk, when, judge of his astonishment on finding his child alive and well, and, with a smiling countenance, holding an apple in each hand. Transported with joy, he carried the child and placed it in the arms of the holy man.
The people of Capua were so moved by his preaching, and by the miracles he performed, particularly on his having saved from the waters a woman whom the river Volturnus had carried off, that the town made him the offer of a convent. Saint Anastasius, Bishop of Civita di Penna, gave him another, with great marks of regard, after having gone out to meet him, on an inspiration he had in his sleep that Francis would come the next day to his town, a circumstance which is recorded by a painting in the church, and is explained in two Latin verses.
The servant of God having preached during the entire day at Montella, went to pass the night in a wood in the vicinity of that town, where he seated himself with his companion under an evergreen oak. Some persons who passed by, in the morning, perceived that there was no snow where the two religious sat, although there had been a heavy fall in the night, and they related the circumstance to the Lord of Montella, who sent for Francis, and entreated him to remain in that country, or to leave some of his companions amongst them, for the instruction of the people. He left two, for whom they built a house on the very spot where heaven had been so favorable to him.
The force which God gave to his discourses, and the miracles of which He made him the instrument, converted sinners, and animated the piety of the good. Both the one and the other were anxious to retain him amongst them, or, at least, to have some of his religious. In this journey alone, he founded more than twenty houses, among which was one at Amalfi, whither his devotion had led him to honor the relics of the Apostle Saint Andrew. The inhabitants of Acropoli, who at first had been deaf to his instruction, were penetrated with contrition, and gave him a convent, after having been reproached with the hardness of their hearts by a multitude of fish, that God caused to collect round a rock from which Francis preached those truths which this people had refused to listen to.
The Emperor Frederic II was, at that time, with his court at Bari. The servant of God went there, no doubt, to venerate the relics of the great bishop Saint Nicholas; he preached in the town, and as his discourses were always made suitable to the wants of his auditors, he spoke energetically on the dangers of the court, and particularly against impurity.
On leaving Bari, he found on the road a purse, which appeared to be full of money. His companion, who was aware of his great charity, said that he ought to take it for the poor. Francis refused to do so, saying that it was only a snare of the devil, and that, if it was really money which had been lost, it would not be right to take what belonged to others to give away in alms; so they continued their route. His companion was not satisfied; he thought that an opportunity was lost of doing a good action, and he tired Francis with his remonstrances. The holy man, who was very mild and very obliging, returned to the spot where the purse was, not intending to do what his companion wished, but to expose to him the artifice of the evil spirit. A young man was passing at the time, in whose presence he told his companion to take up the purse; he, trembling from a secret misgiving of what was about to happen, would have been glad not to have anything to do with it; but, obliged to obey, he put his hand to it, which he had no sooner done than he saw a large snake slide out, which disappeared with the purse. On which, Francis said to his companions: “Brother, money is, as regards the servants of God, but as a venomous serpent, and even the devil himself.” We may here add, that it is the same thing for those who are too fond of it, and who avariciously keep it, or make it serve for the gratification of their passions. A chapel, which has been built in that place, is a memorial of the teaching of the Patriarch to the poor of Jesus Christ.
His devotion induced him also to visit the grotto consecrated by the apparition of the Archangel Michael, on Mount Gargano. They wished, out of respect, to take him to the very spot where the blessed spirit was manifested, and where mass is offered up, a privilege which is not allowed to all. But through humility he stopped at the door, and, as he was urged to enter, he said: “I dare not go farther; this place is awful; it is the dwelling of angels, whom men should respect in all ways.” The place where he stopped to pray is shown to this day. These sentiments of humility should abash those Christians who crowd round our altars in unbecoming postures, and particularly those worldly women who, in immodest postures and in an air of vanity, approach contemptuously the sanctuary in which the Sacred Body of Jesus reposes.
Francis placed some of his religious near Mount Gargano and in some other parts, after which he came to Gubbio, where he cured a woman, the sinews of whose hands were contracted.
Near Gubbio, a soldier called Benvenuto, asked to be admitted into the Order; he was admitted as a lay-brother, with directions to wait upon the lepers. Profound humility, implicit obedience, an ardent charity, the love of poverty and of silence, assiduity in prayer, perfect patience in sickness, and a tender devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, rendered this soldier an excellent religious. God honored him with so many miracles during his lifetime and after his death, which happened in the year 1232, that Pope Gregory IX had information taken on the subject, in 1236, through the Bishops of Malfi, Molfetta, and Venosa, and permitted these three dioceses to allot to him an office, which is now said by the whole Order of Friars Minor.
There lived, between Gubbio and Massa, an old advocate of the Roman court, called Bartholomew Baro, who had retired thither to avoid the tumults and dangers of the world, and lived in great reputation of sanctity. Francis, delighted at what he had heard of him, wished to see him. They discoursed on spiritual things, and Bartholomew, hearing that there was a Third Order, willingly entered it. The holy Founder who saw that great prudence was associated with his consummate piety, placed confidence in him regarding the affairs of his Order, and left some of his religious with him.
Saint Antoninus relates, that Bartholomew had in his hermitage a man possessed by the devil, who was incessantly talking, but who did not speak a word during the three days that Francis was there. After his departure he recommenced talking, and Bartholomew having asked him why, during the stay of Francis, he had kept silence: “It was,” he said, “because God had so tied his tongue that it was out of his power to speak a single word.” “How is it, then,” replied Bartholomew: “is Francis so great a man, that his presence has such an effect?” “Truly,” rejoined the demoniac, “his virtue is so great, that all the world will see in him most wonderful things. It is not long since our prince called us all together, and told us that God, who in all times had sent men for the conversion of sinners, has similar designs in regard to this man, and that Jesus Christ proposes to renew His passion in Francis, in order to imprint it in the hearts of men from whence it is obliterated.”
As this was said two years before Francis received the stigmata, it would seem that the prince of darkness had some knowledge of the favors which Jesus Christ intended to confer on Francis. Saint Augustine says, that the Son of God made Himself known to the demons on earth, making certain signs to them of His presence; but that it was only as far as He thought proper; that He made use of it, when necessary to inspire them with terror; and that, at other times, He left them in doubt as to His divinity. According to this doctrine, it might be said that God, to confound the demons, had made known to their chief His intention to renew the Passion of Jesus Christ in the person of Francis, without informing him in what manner this was to happen, for it is certain that this spirit of darkness, neither by his natural lights, nor by conjectures, had the means of discovering a favor which solely depended on the Divine will.
At length, having labored for the salvation of souls with great fatigue, nearly the whole year, the holy Patriarch returned to his dear home, Saint Mary of the Angels, to attend more immediately to his own sanctification. He there received Brother Casar of Spire, who had returned from Germany, and the subject of whose mission we must now resume, having lost sight of it since the year 1221.
This zealous missionary left Italy with twenty-seven companions, divided into small parties, and before the Feast of Saint Michael, they arrived successfully at Trent, where they remained fifteen days, during which the bishop provided liberally for all their wants. On the day of the festival, Casar preached to the clergy, and Barnabas to the people. An inhabitant of the town, named Pellegrino, was so moved by Barnabas’s discourse, that he had all the brethren newly clothed, and shortly afterwards he sold all his property, gave it to the poor, and took the same habit himself.
Casar left some of the brethren at Trent, exhorting them to the practice of patience and humility, and then set out with the remainder. On their way they attended with greater interest to spiritual than temporal wants, although they had commissioned some of their companions to provide what was necessary for them. The Bishop of Trent, whom they found at Posen, detained them for some days, and gave them leave to preach in the whole of his diocese. From thence they went to Brixen, where the bishop received them very charitably; but from thence they had much to suffer in the mountains, where they could procure nothing to eat, after long and fatiguing marches, and were reduced to feed upon wild fruits, and even then they had a scruple of tasting these on Friday morning, because it was, by their rule, a fast, although they had slept in the open air, and had had scarcely anything to eat the preceding day. But God supported them, and they reached Augsburg, where the bishop embraced them all, and gave them special marks of his benevolence.
In 1221, near the Feast of Saint Gall, which is on the sixteenth of October, Casar assembled the first chapter of the Order which had been held in Germany; there were about thirty of his brethren, whom he distributed in several provinces of this vast country. Some were sent to Wurtzburg, Mentz, Worms, Spire, and Cologne, where they exerted themselves with much success for the salvation of souls, and built convents. Giordano was sent with two companions to Saltzburg, and the archbishop of that city received them with great benevolence. Three others went to Ratisboa, where they founded an excellent establishment. The provincial followed them, animating them by word and example. While at Wurtzburg, he gave the habit of the Friars Minor to a young man of good family, named Hartmod, who had enjoyed a good education. He called him Andrew, because the day of his reception was that of the holy Apostle. Andrew, having taken holy orders some time after, became a celebrated preacher, and was the first warden in Saxony. Rodinger was also admitted into the Order, who was afterwards warden of the convent of Halberstad, and director of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, before Dr. Conrad of Marburg.
In 1222, Casar, having received a great number of novices, some of whom were made priests, assembled a chapter at Worms, and finding that the Order was taking firm root in Germany, he instituted as vice-provincial, Thomas de Celano, and returned into Italy with Simon de Collazon, who had preferred the humble state of Friar Minor to the nobility of his birth. The reason of Casar’s return was the anxious desire he had to see once more his holy Patriarch, and his companions in the Valley of Spoleto, with whom he was intimately united through virtue. He was a man greatly attached to contemplation, very zealous for holy poverty, and highly esteemed by his brethren, who, after their holy Father, looked up to him above any other.
The religious whom he had left in Germany pursued their mission with great success. Even in this year, or shortly after, they penetrated, with the Friars Preachers, into the Kingdom of Sweden, and into some other countries of the North, according to the testimony of John the Great. Archbishop of Upsal, and Legate of the Holy See, who notices this circumstance in the history of his church.
This prelate remarks that one of the first who entered the Institute of the Friars Minor, was Laurence Octavius, an illustrious man, whose conversion made such a sensation, that it drew into the Order many persons of high rank. The poor habit which he wore, and which he honored by his splendid virtues, and particularly by love of suffering, did not render it less venerable than his sciences.
Octavius could not avoid giving his consent, in the year 1244 or 1245, to the election which was unanimously made of his person, by the clergy and people, for the Archbishopric of Upsal, which was confirmed by Innocent IV. In this dignity, he continued to live the life of a true Friar Minor, and did so much for the salvation of his flock, as well as for the benefit of the whole kingdom, that, if heresy had not destroyed in Sweden all sentiments of piety with the light of faith, his memory would still be honored there as one of their greatest as well as holiest persons. He died a saintly death, in the year 1267, and chose to be buried among the Friars Minor, with whom he would have gladly spent his life.
While the Institute of Saint Francis thus flourished in Germany and in the North, a treasure was discovered in Italy, which had been up to this time overlooked. It was the great Saint Anthony of Padua, who was leading a hidden life in the Hermitage of Saint Paul near Bologna.
His superior sent him, with some others, to Forli, in Romagna, to take orders. Some Friars Preachers were also present. Being assembled together at the hour of conference, the superior of the place requested the Friars Preachers to give them an exhortation. As they excused themselves because they were not prepared, he turned to Anthony, and without being aware of the depth of his learning, he ordered him to say whatever the Holy Spirit should suggest to him. Anthony replied with great humility that he was ill fitted for such a task, and that he was much more qualified for cleaning the plates than for preaching. However, yielding to the superior’s reiterated order, he began to discourse with simplicity and timidity; but God, proposing to place conspicuously the lamp which was hidden under the bushel, he continued his discourse with so much eloquence, and showed himself to possess so profoundly learned a doctrine, that the audience was most agreeably surprised, and admitted that they had never heard anything to equal it; and they did not know which most to admire, his learning or his humility.
It was, indeed, requisite to be possessed of rare and extraordinary humility, to hide with so much care such sublime learning, and talents so varied; for Anthony had earnestly requested the guardian of the convent in which he was, to employ him in cleaning the plates and dishes, and in sweeping the house. This man, who, according to the saying of the Apostle, was “A vessel of honor, sanctified and profitable to the Lord, prepared unto every good work,” treated himself, and wished to be considered by his companions, as one of the vilest amongst men. He was deserving of the highest place, and took the very lowest. He was so deeply versed in the Holy Scriptures, that his memory served him as a book; and he penetrated so well into the most obscure passages that he was the admiration of the most profound theologians; but he was more anxious to be confounded with the unlearned, and to be unknown, than to let his learning be discovered, and to appear capable of instructing others.
We may here notice a reflection of Saint Bernard on a somewhat similar case: “Let this passage be remarked by those who undertake to teach what they have not learnt themselves; seeking for scholars, without having had masters, they are the blind leading the blind. But justice is done them; although it is admitted that they have some talent, it is soon found that they have nothing solid, and they are treated with contempt.”
The fortunate discovery that was thus made of the talents of Anthony, soon reached the ears of Francis, who ordered him to apply himself to the pulpit. He desired, however, that the preacher, in order to exercise his ministry with the greatest effect, should study theology at Vercelli, under the Abbot of Saint Andrew, who gave lessons with great reputation, and who is supposed to have been the celebrated Doctor Thomas, a canon regular of the Abbey of Saint Victor of Paris. He was sent to be the first abbot at the Abbey of Saint Andrew of Vercelli, which was founded about the year 1220. Anthony had as a fellow-student another Friar Minor, named Adam de Marisco, an Englishman, who was afterwards a doctor of the University of Oxford, the holiness of his life, his learning, and his writings rendered him famous throughout the whole realm of England. He was subsequently elected Bishop of Ely.
The application which Anthony gave to the study of theology did not prevent his preaching during all Lent at Milan, and at other times in some parts of the duchy. But his preaching was no hindrance to his studies, because the lights he had previously acquired, and those he received from above, together with his splendid talents, gave him an insight into the most sublime truths. His progress was so quick and so great, that his master often declared, that he learnt many things from his scholar. Speaking of the book of the celestial hierarchy which he was explaining, he said that his scholar ran over the several orders of blessed spirits with so much precision, and a penetration so surprising, that it might have been thought that the whole heavenly host passed before him. This exalted wisdom, joined to his eminent virtues, induced his illustrious preceptor to give him the name of Saint, and to apply our Blessed Lord’s eulogy of Saint John the Baptist to him: “He was a burning and a shining light.” Anthony was requested by his fellow-students to communicate to them the learning in which he abounded, and to give lessons in the convent, but he would not take upon himself to exercise the functions of master, without having first consulted the holy Founder of the Order. He wrote to him on the subject, and received the following answer:
“To my dear Brother Anthony, Brother Francis sends greeting in Jesus Christ.
“I entirely approve of your teaching the brethren sacred theology; in such a manner, however, that the spirit of prayer be not extinguished in you or in them, according to the rule which we profess. Adieu.”
This is a proof that Francis was not hostile to study, but that he only wished it to be conducted in a religious manner, without prejudice to piety. Anthony, having obtained leave, taught first at Montpellier, and then at Bologna, where studies were again set on foot, to which disobedience had put a stop, as has been said; then he taught at Padua, at Toulouse, and in other places where he was stationed: always joining to this holy exercise, that of preaching with wonderful success.
At the time when he began taking lessons from the Abbot of Vercelli, the most celebrated doctor of the University of Paris took the habit of the Friars Minor. This was Alexander d’Hales or d’Hels, or Hales, thus named from the place of his birth in the County of Gloucester, where, from the year 1246, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, had founded a convent of the Order of Citeaux. Having gone through his course of humanities in England, he came to Paris, where he studied philosophy and theology, took a doctor’s degree, taught, and was universally admired.
Saint Antoninus believes that what led to his vocation was this: having made a vow to grant, if he possibly could, whatever should be asked of him for the love of the Blessed Virgin, for whom he had a singular devotion, a person who was questing for the Friars Minor, came and said to him: “It is now long enough that you have been laboring for the world, and you have acquired celebrity in it. I entreat you, for the love of God, and of the Blessed Virgin, to enter into our Order, which you will honor, and you will sanctify yourself.” The doctor was surprised at this request, but God touched his heart, and he replied to the brother: “I shall follow you very soon; and shall do as you wish,” and shortly after, he took the habit of a Friar Minor. Others, however, are of opinion, that he was induced to quit the world by the example of his fellow-countryman, John of Saint Gilles, an illustrious doctor, who, preaching one day to the clergy, with great energy, on voluntary poverty, in the convent of the Friars Preachers, descended from the pulpit in the middle of his sermon, and in order to give force to his words by his example, he took the habit of Saint Dominic, and returned to the pulpit to finish his discourse.
However this may be, the holy life and happy death of Alexander Hales in the Order of Saint Francis, bore testimony to his having been called by God. It is said that, at first, the practices were difficult to him, and that some interior suffering made him think of leaving the Order, but that, in this agitation, he saw in spirit Francis bearing a heavy wooden cross, and endeavoring to carry it up a very steep hill; that he offered to assist him, but that the holy Patriarch spurned his aid indignantly, saying: “Begone, you feeble man; you have not the courage to bear your own light cross, and you would attempt to bear this heavy one!” This vision having enlightened the doctor who was a novice, he was delivered entirely from the temptation under which he labored.
He continued to teach with the same repute; and the faculty of theology, to do honor to his merits, gave him the privilege of presenting one of his brethren and disciples for a doctor’s degree; which he did the first time by an interior revelation, in favor of Brother John de la Rochelle, who afterwards became very celebrated. Alexander had many other disciples distinguished both for their learning and their piety, but there are none who have done more honor to his instructions than Saint Bonaventure, and, according to the opinion of many authors, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Among his writings, which are very numerous, and on all sorts of subjects, his Summa is much esteemed, in which, by order of Pope Innocent IV, he arranged methodically the theological subjects. This is the first Summa which was compiled, and it has served as a model for all others. Pope Alexander IV spoke in the highest terms, both of the author and of his work.
Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris, in speaking of Alexander’s doctrine, expresses himself as follows: “It is not to be told how many excellent things it contains. I declare to have read in a treatise, that some one having asked Saint Thomas what was the best mode of studying theology, he replied, ‘To study the works of a single theologian;’ and being asked what theologian it was desirable to fix on, he named Alexander Hales. Thus,” continues Gerson, “the writings of Saint Thomas, and principally the Seconda Seconda, show how familiar the works and doctrine of Alexander were to him.”
So then learned men entered the Order of Friars Minor, as Saint Francis had foretold; and this is the reason why he recommended that prayer should be joined to study, lest learning should obliterate piety.
The indulgence granted to Saint Mary of the Angels, or the Portiuncula, two years previous to this time, had not yet had the day fixed on which the faithful could gain it. Francis waited till Jesus Christ, who first conceded so precious a boon, should Himself mark the day, nor was he disappointed. It occurred as follows:
One night, when he was praying in his cell, at Saint Mary of the Angels, in the beginning of the year 1223, the tempter suggested to him not to watch and pray so much, but rather to adopt other modes of penance, because, from his age, more sleep and rest was absolutely necessary for him, and these watchings would be his death. Being aware of the malice of his infernal enemy, he retired to the woods, and threw himself down into a bush of briars and thorns, till he was covered with blood. “For,” said he to himself, “it is much better that I should suffer these pains with Jesus Christ, than that I should follow the advice of an enemy who flatters me.”
A brilliant light which surrounded him, disclosed to him a great number of white and red roses, although it was the month of January, and the winter was very severe. This was an effect of the power of God, who had changed the briars into rose-trees, which have ever since been evergreen and without thorns.
Angels, who appeared in great numbers, said to him: “Francis, hasten to return to the Church, Jesus Christ is there, together with His Blessed Mother.” At the same time, he perceived himself miraculously clothed with a new habit of pure white; he gathered twelve roses of each color, and went to the church. After a profound adoration he addressed the following prayer to Jesus Christ, under the protection of the most Blessed Virgin: “Most holy Father, Lord of heaven and earth, Saviour of man, deign, through Thy great mercy, to fix the day of the indulgence which Thou hast been pleased to grant to this sacred place.”
Our Lord answered him, that it was His desire that it should be from the evening of the vigil of the day when Saint Peter the Apostle was delivered from his chains, to the evening of the following day. Francis, again asking in what manner this should be publicly made known, and whether his own assertion would be given credit to, he was directed to present himself before the vicar of Jesus Christ, to take with him some white and red roses as testimonials of the truth of the fact, also a number of his own brethren, who would testify to what they had heard; for, from the cells which were near the church, they had, indeed, heard all that had been said. Then the angels sang the hymn “Te Deum laudamus.” Francis took three roses of each color in honor of the Most Blessed Trinity, and the vision disappeared.
Francis, accompanied by Brothers Bernard de Quintavalle, Peter of Catania, and Angelus of Rieti, set out for Rome, where he related to the Pope all that had happened at Saint Mary of the Angels, in proof whereof, he presented to him the roses he had brought, and his companions testified to what they had heard. The Pope, astonished to see such beautiful and sweet-smelling roses in the depth of winter, said: “As to myself, I believe the truth of what you tell me, but it is a matter which must be submitted to the cardinals for their opinions.” In the meantime, he directed his attendants to see that they should not want for anything.
The next day, they came before the consistory, where Francis, by the Pope’s desire, said, in presence of the cardinals: “It is the will of God that whoever shall, with a contrite and humble heart, after having confessed his sins, and received absolution by a priest, enter the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels, in the Diocese of Assisi, between the first vespers of the first day of August and the vespers of the second day, shall obtain an entire remission of all the sins he may have committed from his Baptism until that moment.” The Sovereign Pontiff, seeing that the words of Francis were not thought to have any deceit in them, having conferred with the cardinals thereon for some time, confirmed the indulgence. And he subsequently ordered the Bishops of Assisi, Perugia, Todi, Spoleto, Foligno, Nocera, and Gubbio, to meet at the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels, on the first of August of that year, and there solemnly to publish this indulgence.
All these prelates met on the day specified, and having mounted a large platform, which had been prepared outside of the church, they made Francis mount there also, to explain to the assembly, which was very numerous and gathered from all parts of the country, the cause of their meeting. He spoke with so much fervor that it seemed to be rather an angel who addressed the meeting than a man, and he ended his discourse by announcing the plenary and perpetual indulgence which God and the Sovereign Pontiff granted to this church every year on that day. The bishops were not satisfied with his publishing it to be in perpetuity. “Brother Francis,” they said, “although the Pope desires us to do on this occasion whatever you wish, it is not, however, his intention that we should do things which are not suitable; therefore you must give notice that the indulgence is only to last for ten years.” The Bishop of Assisi was the first to restrict it to this time, but he could not help saying, as Saint Francis had, “in perpetuity.” The other bishops endeavored successively to announce this restriction, but God permitted that, without intending it, they should all say, “in perpetuity.” By this, they were made sensible of the will of God, and willingly proclaimed the indulgence to be perpetual.
Many of those who were at the sermon preached by Francis, have left testimony in writing to the effect, that he had in his hand a small scroll on which was written these words: “I wish you all to go to Paradise. I announce to you a plenary indulgence which I have obtained from the goodness of our Heavenly Father, and from the mouth of the Sovereign Pontiff. All you who are assembled here to-day, and with a contrite and humble heart have confessed with sincerity, and have received absolution from a priest, will have remission of all your sins; and in like manner, those who come every year with similar dispositions, will obtain the same.”
Such is the way in which the famous indulgence of Saint Mary of the Angels, or of Portiuncula, was published on the second day of August; an indulgence which the Sovereign Pontiffs have since extended to all the churches of the Order of Saint Francis.
The seven prelates consecrated the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels, and performed a similar ceremony for the Church of Saint Damian, at the request of Francis and Clare. The remembrance of this is commemorated yearly at Assisi, on the ninth of August.
The benevolent feeling which Honorius III expressed to the holy Patriarch, when he was at Rome, for the indulgence of the Portiuncula, induced him to wish that this Pontiff would authorize solemnly the Rule of the Order, which Innocent III had only verbally approved. He had in the night the following revelation, which is thus recorded by Saint Bonaventure:
It seemed to him that he had taken up from the ground some very small crumbs of bread, in order to distribute them to the half-starved brethren who surrounded him, and how, fearful lest such small crumbs should fall out of his hands, a heavenly voice said to him: “Francis, collect all these crumbs and make a host of them, and give of it to such as wish to eat of it.” He did so, and all those who did not partake of it devoutly, or treated it contemptuously, after having received it, seemed to be infected with leprosy. In the morning, he related all this to his companions, and was distressed at not comprehending the mystery. The following day, while he was at prayer, a voice from heaven said to him: “Francis, the crumbs of last night are the words of the Gospel, the host is the Rule, and the leprosy is iniquity.”
The term of Host, to designate the Rule, is worthy of particular consideration. Its import is that, as bread without leaven, which is called the Host, is made of the finest flour, so the Rule is composed of what is most perfect in the Gospel; and as this bread, by the words of consecration, is changed into the Body of Jesus Christ, the true Host immolated on the altar, so those who make profession of the Rule, must be transformed into hosts, or victims, and immolate themselves to God. It is thus that Saint Paul warns Christians, “To become as a new paste without leaven,” and to pass the whole time of their lives as a continual festival, “presenting their bodies a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing unto God.” Saint Peter also says to them, that they are a “Spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
The oracle of Heaven communicated to Francis that the Rule which he sought to have approved, and which was composed of sentences from the Gospel, required abridgment, and putting into order with greater precision. In order to effect this, he was inspired, after the publication of the indulgence, to go to Mount Columbo, near Rieti, where he retired into an opening in the rock, with Brothers Leo and Bonzio, fasting on bread and water; and this fast, according to the statement of Marianus, lasted forty days. There he wrote the Rule, according to the dictation of the Holy Spirit manifested to him, in prayer. On his return to Saint Mary of the Angels, he put it into the hands of his vicar, Brother Elias, to read it, and keep it. Elias thought it too severe, and some days afterwards, in order to suppress it, he feigned to have lost it by negligence. The holy men returned to the same place, and wrote it out a second time, as if God had dictated it to him with His own mouth.
The vicar-general communicated to some of the provincial ministers what had happened, and told them that the Founder was desirous of imposing upon them a stricter mode of life than that to which they had hitherto adhered. They concerted together what they should do to avert this, and it was agreed that Elias, as vicar-general, should go and represent to him the inconvenience of such increased austerity, and the objections of his brethren. Elias, who was aware of the firmness of Francis in these matters, and had been severely rebuked by him on other occasions, acknowledged that he did not dare execute this commission alone, but he offered to accompany them for the common cause, and they consented to this arrangement.
While they were drawing near to the mountain, Francis had a revelation of what was passing. When they had reached the top, he left the opening of the rock quickly, and demanded of Elias what he and all these minsters who were with him wanted. Elias, with downcast eyes, and trembling, said, in a low tone of voice: “These ministers, having learnt that you were about to give them a new Rule above the strength of man to endure, have engaged me to come here, in my capacity of vicar-general, to entreat you to modify it, because they will not receive it, if it is too austere.”
At these words, the Saint, in great emotion and shuddering, raised his eyes to heaven and exclaimed: “Lord, did I not say that these people would not believe me? As to myself, I will keep this Rule to the day of my death, with those of my companions who love poverty; but I shall not have it in my power to compel those who do not choose it, and who make so much resistance.”
Jesus Christ appeared in a luminous cloud above Francis, and said, so that all heard him: “Little man, why are you discontented, as if this is your work? – It is I who have dictated the Rule; no part of it is yours. I insist on its being literally observed to the very letter – to the very letter, without gloss or comment. I know what frail man can endure, and what support I can and will give him. Let those who will not keep the Rule leave the Order; I will raise up others in their place; and if it be requisite, I will bring them forth from these stones.”
Then Francis, from the top of the rock on which he had knelt down, addressed these words to the vicar-general and to the others, who were greatly alarmed: “You now know that your conspiracy has been solely an opposition to the will of God, and that instead of taking into consideration what He can do for us, you have only consulted the feeble light of your human prudence. Have you heard, have you, yourself, heard the voice which came forth from the cloud, and which spoke so audibly? If it did not resound in your ears, I will take steps to cause you to hear it once more.” Upon this, Elias and his companions, astounded and beside themselves, retired without saying a single word.
The holy Patriarch having returned to join his faithful children in the small fissure of the rock, in which they lay prostrate at the voice of the Lord, said to them: “Rise up now, and fear nothing, but as true soldiers of Jesus Christ put on the armor of God, in order to be on your guard against the snares which the devil will not fail to throw in the way of your following Him.” He left the mountain and went to the nearest convent to show the Rule to his brethren, intending to communicate it afterwards to the others, in order to know what each one thought of it. His countenance, animated and shining, was a manifestation that God himself had dictated to him the rule of life which he proposed to them. It was a striking representation of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, his face shining brightly. The resemblance cannot be too much admired in its several relations. Moses, after a fast of forty days, received, on a mountain, the Law which God gave him. Jesus Christ having fasted forty days, was on a mountain when He taught that doctrine which embraces, as Saint Augustine observes, all the perfection of the Christian life. And it was on a mountain that it was His pleasure to give His servant Francis, who fasted rigorously, a Rule in which the perfection of the evangelical life is contained.
Some having read the Rule, said to Francis, that it was necessary that his Order should have something in common, as the other religious orders had; seeing that the number of the brethren was already very great, and that, according to all appearance, the Order would be so extended; that it would not be possible to exist in so restricted a state of poverty. The Saint returned to the place he had left, and having had recourse to prayer, he consulted Jesus Christ, the true Legislator, who gave the following reply: “It is I who am their portion and their inheritance, I do not choose that they should be encumbered with the things of this world. Provided they adhere strictly to the Rule, and that they place their confidence in me, I will take care of them; I will not suffer them to stand in need of anything necessary to life; the more their numbers increase, the more will I manifest my providence to them.”
We must here render to that adorable and loving Providence the justice due to it. It has never been wanting to the Order of Saint Francis, and they have never had greater proofs of His care than when they have chosen to live most poorly. We see verified to the letter, in these poor evangelical brethren, the imitators of Jesus Christ crucified, what is said in the twenty-first psalm, in which the Son of God has clearly foretold His Passion: “The poor shall eat and shall be filled, and they shall praise the Lord that seek Him, their hearts shall live forever and ever.” Were He now to ask the Religious of Saint Francis, as He asked the Apostles: “When I sent you without purse, or scrip, and shoes, did you want for anything?” There is not one who would not answer as they did: “No, we have not wanted for anything.” For a poor evangelical brother is bound to consider himself as not wanting anything while he lives, and to look upon having nothing but what is necessary as the treasure of his state of life.
A religious order which, without any revenue, maintains many thousand men, was a subject of admiration for an infidel prince, and the Founder was considered by him as a very great man. He was not aware of the cause of this wonderful effect, but religion teaches us that it is God himself who provides for the wants of His servants, by the charity with which He inspires the faithful.
Francis communicated to the ministers what our Lord had said to him. They submitted to everything, and returned with him to Saint Mary of the Angels, where the Rule was approved by the brethren who were there, and was then sent into the provinces to be examined before it was submitted for confirmation.
Speaking of the Rule, he said to his children: “I have not put anything into it of my own; I caused it all to be written as God revealed it to me;” and he adduced this motive to incite them the better to keep it. He confirmed the revelation in his will, in the following terms: “When the Lord confided to me the guidance of the brethren, no one communicated to me how I was to behave towards them, but the Almighty Himself revealed to me that I ought to live according to the form prescribed by the Gospel; I caused it to be written out in few and simple words,” etc.
This is the eulogium he passed on it: “My brethren and my dear children, a very great favor was done to us in giving us this Rule; for it is the book of life, the hope of salvation, the pledge of glory, the marrow of the Gospel, the way of the cross, a state of perfection, the key of Paradise, and the bond of our eternal alliance. None of you is ignorant how greatly advantageous to us holy religion is. As the enemy who fights against us is extremely clever in inventing and executing everything which is malicious, and strews in our way all sorts of snares to effect our perdition, there are many whose salvation he would have brought into great peril, if religion had not been their shield. Study, therefore, your Rule, all of you, not only for alleviating your pains, but in order that it may remind you of the oath you have taken to keep it. It is necessary that you should employ yourselves in meditating on it, that it may sink into your hearts, and be always before your eyes, so that you may observe it with exactness, and hold it fast at your deaths.”
Saint Bridget being in prayer at Jerusalem; where she was interceding for a Friar Minor who had some conscientious scruples on the subject of the Rule, our Saviour caused her to hear the following words: “The Rule of Saint Francis was not the composition of the human mind; it is I who made it; it does not contain a single word which was not inspired by my spirit; and thus Francis gave it to the others.”
Pope Nicholas III says, that it bears on the face of it, the evidence of the Trinity; that it is descended from the Father of Light, that it was taught to the apostles by the example, and by the doctrine of His Son, and that the Holy Ghost inspired it to the blessed Francis and to those who had followed him. He also declares, as Gregory IX had done before, that it is established on the word of the Gospel, authorized by the life of Jesus Christ, and supported by the actions and words of the Apostles, who founded the Church Militant. It consists, according to the remark of Saint Bonaventure, in observing the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, because all its substance is taken from the pure source of the Gospel. It is, therefore, no new rule; it is only a renewed rule; literally the same as what the Son of God laid down for the Apostles, when He sent them forth to preach; and that ought always give great spiritual consolation to those who keep it. This holy doctor considers the impressions of the wounds of Jesus Christ, which Francis received from the hand of the living God, some time after the revelation of the Rule, as a bull of Jesus Christ, by which that High Pontiff confirmed it; and Pope Nicholas III was of the same opinion, in his decrial.
Finally, the Rule of the Friars Minor, given by Saint Francis, is wholly Evangelical, and wholly Apostolical; there never was one which was so universally and so promptly followed. Men illustrious by their birth, by their knowledge, by their talents, by their virtue, embraced it and have followed it, during a number of centuries, in all parts of the Christian world; it has given to the Church a new family, in numbers most extensive, whose fecundity does not become exhausted, and it has produced a great galaxy of saints.
The children of the Patriarch, having most willingly received it, he left them in the month of October, in order to solicit the approval of the Sovereign Pontiff. When at Rome, he was invited to dine with Cardinal Ugolino, the Protector of the Order, who had a sincere affection for him; but he did not come to the invitation, until he had begged some pieces of bread, as he was accustomed to do, when he was to dine with persons of rank. Being at table, he drew this bread from his sleeve and began to eat of it, and he gave some to the other guests, who partook of it from devotion.
After dinner, the cardinal embraced him, and said, smiling: “My good man, why, as you were to dine with me, did you put the affront on me, to go and beg bread first and bring it to my table?” “My Lord,” replied Francis, “far from doing anything to affront you, I did you honor, in honoring, at your board, a much greater Lord than you are, to whom poverty is very agreeable, especially that which goes as far as voluntary mendicancy, for the love of Jesus Christ. I have resolved not to give up in favor of false and passing riches, this virtue which is of royal dignity, since our Lord Jesus Christ became poor for us, in order that, by His poverty, we might become rich and heirs to the kingdom of heaven.”
An admirable reply, which is quite in unison with what was said by Saint Gregory Nazianzen. “If I am reproached for my poverty, I am sure that it is my treasure;” and with these words of Saint Ambrose, on the birth of Christ: “His poverty is my patrimony; lie chose to want for everything, in order that all others might be in abundance.”
The cardinal presented Francis to the Pope, that he might solicit the confirmation of his Rule. The Holy Father read it, and, finding it too severe, he desired some changes might be made in it; but, the man of God protesting by everything that was most sacred, that he had not put a single word into it, and that Jesus Christ had dictated it, as it there stood, the Pontiff, after discussing it with the cardinals, confirmed it.
His bull commences thus:
“Honorius, bishop, the servant of the servants of God. To our dearly beloved sons, Brother Francis, and other brethren of the Order of Friars Minor, health and apostolical benediction. The Apostolic See is accustomed to assent to pious intentions and to favor the laudable wishes of those who solicit her favors. For which reason, our dear children in Jesus Christ, we confirm by apostolical authority, and we strengthen by this present writing, the Rule of your Order, which was approved by Pope Innocent, of glorious memory, our predecessor, expressed in these terms, etc.”
After having gone through it all, he concludes as follows: “Let no person, therefore, have the temerity to violate the contents of our present confirmation, or to contravene it. Should any one dare to do so, let him know that he will incur the indignation of Almighty God, and that of His blessed Apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Given in the Lateran palace, the twenty-ninth day of November, 1223, the eighth of our pontificate.”
The original of this bull, with its leaden seal, is preserved as Assisi, in the Convent of Saint Francis, where Wading saw it, in 1619, with a copy of the Rule written by Saint Francis’ own hand.
While Francis was still at Rome, he proposed to himself to celebrate the Festival of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ at Grecio, with all the solemnity possible, in order to awaken the devotion of all in that vicinity. He wrote a letter on the subject to his friend, John Velita, begging him to prepare all things; and in order that there should be no room for censuring what he was about to do, he spoke to the Pope about it, who approved highly of this pious ceremony, and granted indulgences to those who should assist at it.
Saint Bonaventure informs us that, before his departure from Rome, he went to pay his respects to Cardinal Leo Brancaleone, titular of Santa Croce, with whom his friendship began in 1210, when he first came to have his Rule approved.
This cardinal invited him to stay some days in his palace, because the severity of the weather and the floods might impede his journey; it was the month of December. He retained, to remain with him, with Francis’ leave, Brother Angelo Tancredi, whose miraculous conversion we have related; at that time, there were but few of the cardinals who did not wish to have some of the Friars Minor in their company; such was the veneration they had for their virtue at the Roman court. Francis, however, found excuses for not spending more than two or three days in the palace of Brancaleone, saying that it was not fitting for the poor to dwell in the palaces of princes.
The cardinal told him that he would receive him as a pauper, and give him a bed, not in his palace, but in an adjacent tower near the city walls quite out of the way of any noise, where he might repose from his fatigue for some time. Tancredi entreated him not to refuse this satisfaction to a prince of the Church, who was a person of great piety, and a generous benefactor to the Order; therefore, out of respect, and from gratitude, he consented to stay, and with his companion took up his abode in the tower.
The following night, when he was about to take some repose, the devils came and beat him so long, and so violently, that they left him half- dead. He called his companion, and told him what had happened, and he added: “Brother, I believe that the devils, who can do nothing without the leave of the Almighty, have ill-used me to this degree, because of my having remained with great people, here; if so, it augurs no good. My brethren who dwell in very poor houses, knowing that I am the guest of cardinals, might suspect that I enter willingly into the concerns of the world, that I glory in honors, and that I am living daintily. I therefore think that a man who is to be an example to others, should leave the court, and dwell humbly with the humble, in places adapted to the profession of humility, in order that he may inspire those with fortitude, who suffer the inconveniences of a life of poverty, by suffering with them.” In the morning, he took leave of the cardinal, and set out for Grecio.
It is necessary here to remark that Saint Francis, who permitted some of his brethren to remain with the cardinals, did not think that he himself, who was the superior, ought to spend a single night in their palaces, lest others should be disedified thereby, and that it was his duty to give good example to all. This shows how much persons in power should strive not to do anything calculated to give bad examples, and to abstain from certain things which, though irreprehensible in themselves, and which would not be noticed in a lowly individual, might be a cause of scandal in one of high station, who ought to be a model of virtue. On this principle, Saint Paul said to the Christians: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify. I do all for your edification.” He recommended his disciples, Timothy and Titus, whom he had ordained bishops, to be “an example to the faithful, in word, in conversation, in charity, in faith, in chastity, in the practice of good works.” Saint Gregory, Saint Bernard, and all the Holy Fathers have always required of prelates, as a primary qualification, that they should greatly edify; which is the more necessary in the superiors of religious communities, as their example is under more immediate observation.
The bad health of Francis, the beating which he had received from the devils, and a constant fall of rain, compelled him to ride on an ass. During his journey he dismounted to say the Divine Office, standing; he remained on the same spot without paying attention to the rain, and did not mount till he had quite finished.
Having reached Grecio, he found all things prepared for the celebration of the festival by his friend Velita. They had prepared a crib in the wood, in which was represented the Nativity of our Saviour; they had placed straw there, and, during Christmas-night, also took there an ox and an ass. Many Friars Minor had arrived at the wood from the neighboring convents, and the people of the environs came in crowds to the ceremony. The wood was lit up by numerous torches, and resounded melodiously from the sound of a thousand voices which sang the praises of God with untiring zeal. Francis, full of devotion, and with his eyes bathed in tears of holy joy, knelt before the manger, above which an altar had been placed, where mass was celebrated at midnight; he acted as deacon, and after having sung the Gospel, he preached on the birth of the newborn King, became poor.
Velita, who had prepared the ceremonial, assured them that he had seen a most beautiful child in the manger, who was asleep, and whom Francis tenderly embraced in order to awaken it. There is so much the more reason for giving credit to this marvel, says Saint Bonaventure, since he who relates it, having been an eye-witness thereof, was a very holy man, and since it was confirmed by many miracles; for the straw on which the child appeared to be sleeping, had the virtue of curing various maladies amongst cattle; and, what is still more wonderful, those who came to visit the spot, however tepid and indevout they may have been, were inflamed with the love of God. After the death of the Saint, a chapel was erected on the spot, and the altar was placed at the manger, in order that the flesh of the man-Cod immolated on the cross, might be eaten on the spot on which He had chosen to appear as a sleeping infant.
After the ceremony, Francis retired to the convent of Grecio, where some of the provincial ministers had collected, who had come thither to communicate to him the affairs of their respective provinces. The refectory had been set out in a better style than usual, with napkins and glasses, not only on account of the solemnity of the day, but to show respect to the guests. Francis was displeased at this, and, during dinner, he went to the door of the convent, and took the hat and staff of a pilgrim who was soliciting alms, and then, in this garb, came to the refectory to beg as a poor pilgrim. The superior, who knew him by his voice, said to him, smiling: “Brother pilgrim, there are here very many religious, who stand in great need of what has been bestowed upon them out of charity; however, come in, and they will give you what they can.” Francis came in and sat himself on the ground, where he ate very contentedly some scraps of bread and other things which they gave him on a platter, without choosing to have anything else.
Francis remained some time at Grecio, where, one night, when he intended to lay himself down to sleep, he felt a severe headache, and a shivering over his whole body, which quite impeded his resting. Thinking that this might be caused by a feather pillow which his friend Velita had compelled him to accept, in consequence of his infirmities, he called his companion, who was near his cell, and said: “Take away this pillow: I believe the devil is in it.” His companion, who took it away, found it extremely heavy, and he had hardly left the cell, when he found himself motionless and dumb. The Father, not doubting of the malignity of the devil, ordered the brother, under obedience, to come back directly; the wicked spirit having immediately left him, he came back and related the state in which he had found himself. The Saint, confirmed by this in the idea with which he had been impressed, that what he had suffered had been brought on by his enemy, said: – “It is true that yesterday, when reciting Compline, I perceived that the devil was approaching, and I prepared to resist him. He is full of malice and artfulness; as he could not sully a soul which God protects by His grace, he endeavored to injure the body, and to prevent the necessary aid being afforded to it; desiring to induce it to commit some fault, at least of impatience, and prevent its having recourse to prayer.” The holy man was delivered from his sufferings, and got the rest he could not obtain, when his head was laid upon a feather pillow. To what a height of perfection did not God propose to raise this His faithful Servant? He did not even allow him to have a small relief from his sufferings. He is a holy God, jealous of the sanctity of souls, who desires to have them purified by all sorts of sacrifices; but, then, His rewards are great.
Whilst Francis was at Grecio and in its environs, Peter of Catania, his first vicar-general, died in the Convent of Saint Mary of the Angels, on the 2d day of March, 1224. As soon as he was in the tomb, God bore witness to his merit by many miracles. The people crowded to his grave, and left valuable offerings, which greatly disturbed the quiet of the religious, and caused them much uneasiness on account of their strict poverty. Francis, having been informed of it, went to the tomb, and, moved by holy zeal, he addressed the dead man in a commanding tone, with which God alone could have inspired him: “Brother Peter, whilst you were living, you always obeyed me punctually: I command you to obey me similarly now. Those who come to your grave are very troublesome to us. Our poverty is offended, and our quiet infringed on, so that our discipline becomes relaxed; thus, I command you, by your vow of obedience, to refrain from performing any more miracles.” His order was obeyed. From that moment no more miracles were performed at the tomb of Brother Peter.
An ancient manuscript chronicle which is preserved in the Vatican, mentions that Francis, having directed the body of Brother Peter to be removed sometime afterwards, it was found that it was turned and kneeling, the head bowed down, and in the posture of one who obeys a command given him. To mark the value of obedience and the respect due to it, God was pleased to permit a dead person to obey the orders of a superior, as if he had been living.
A similar prohibition from performing miracles after death, is recorded in the life of Saint Bernard. Gosvin, Abbot of Citeaux, who was at his funeral with many other abbots of his order, seeing the commotion caused by the numerous miracles which were worked there, and fearing this would become prejudicial to regular discipline, approached respectfully to the coffin, and forbade the saint from performing any more miracles, in virtue of his obedience. And, in fact, from that time, there were no more performed at that shrine publicly, although God performed others privately by his invocation. The author adds, that Saint Benedict requires in his rule, an obedience without reserve, according to the example of Jesus Christ, who was obedient unto death, and that the soul of Saint Bernard rendered itself obedient even after death to a mortal man.
Clare, and her daughters of the Monastery of Saint Damian, now asked Francis to give them a written rule, and a form of life similar to that of the Friars Minor, in order that, in his absence and after his death, they and those who should succeed them, might live up to it. These Religious of Saint Damian, did not wish to receive the rule of Saint Benedict, nor the constitutions prepared by Cardinal Ugolino, which the other monasteries, established on the plan of Saint Damian, had willingly accepted, and which were of great severity: these nuns desired to have a rule which should be of even greater rigor.
The holy Patriarch consulted the same cardinal on this subject, he being the protector of both Orders; and they jointly composed a rule in twelve chapters, which was similar in all respects to that of the Friars Minor, with modifications and usages proper for females. If anything made Francis hesitate, the cardinal gave his opinion either to modify certain parts, or to take precautions on others. He also used some articles from the constitutions which had before been drawn up. While he was writing, he could not help shedding tears, in reflecting that young females were willing to practise austerities of such a nature.
Saint Clare says in her will, addressing herself to the sisters: “Our blessed Father, Saint Francis, has written for us a form of life, principally that we may ever persevere in the practice of holy poverty, to which he has exhorted us, not only by his word and example, but by many writings which he has left us. Pope Innocent IV expressly declares in the bull which he issued at the earnest entreaty of Saint Clare, three days before her death, that the rule which he confirms was given them by Saint Francis. All is his, except some very trifling things, in no way essential, which seem to have been added to it by Cardinal Ugolino, by Saint Clare, and by the Pope.
“It was in the year, 1224, that the marvellous apparition recorded by Wading was seen, which is noted as follows in the legend of Saint Bonaventure:
“Although Francis could not attend the provincial chapters, the order which he had laid down for these assemblies, the fervent prayers which he put up for their success, and the influence of the blessing which he gave them, were as if he were present at them. Sometimes even, God, by His almighty power, caused him to appear among them in a sensible manner, as it happened at the chapter at Arles. While that excellent preacher Anthony was discoursing to the brethren on the Passion of the Son of God, and on the inscription on His cross, ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS,’ one of the religious, named Monald, a man of exemplary virtue, moved by the Spirit of God to look towards the door of the chapterhouse, saw the blessed Francis, raised into the air with his arms extended as a cross, giving his blessing to the assembly. They then became filled with great spiritual consolation, which was an interior testimonial assuring them of the presence of their Father, and confirming what Monald had seen. This became more certain, afterwards, by the avowal which Francis made respecting it.”
“We should have no difficulty in believing this,” continues Saint Bonaventure, “for God, by His almighty power, rendered the holy Bishop Saint Ambrose, during a mysterious sleep, present at the funeral obsequies of Saint Martin; in a similar manner it was His pleasure that the truths announced by His preacher Anthony, on the subject of the Cross of Jesus Christ, should receive greater weight by the presence of His Servant Francis, who carried the cross with such exemplary courage, and preached it with such zeal.”
Having given a rule to the sisters of Saint Damian, and transacted all that related to the three orders, Francis recommended strongly to Brother Elias, to attend carefully, and to see that everything was carried into effect, and then thought it necessary to take some time to attend to his own interior. For it was his custom to go from one good work to another, in which he imitated, Saint Bonaventure says, the angels whom Jacob saw in his dream, going up and down the mysterious ladder, the feet of which rested on the earth, but its summit reached the heavens. This angelic man so employed the time which was given him, in which to amass treasures of merit, that he was constantly occupied either in descending to his neighbor by the laborious ministries of charity, or in elevating himself to God in the quiet exercise of contemplation. When circumstances had compelled him to give more time to the service of souls, he afterwards retired to some lonely and noiseless place, to remove from himself, by giving his thoughts solely to God, all the filth which might have attached itself to him in his intercourse with men. Our Lord often gave His apostles examples of retreats, and they cannot be too often recommended to those who labor for the salvation of their neighbors.
Francis, therefore, went with some of his brethren to meditate in the convent of Celles, near Cortona. He met on the road a lady of good family, who was very pious and in great affliction, having a husband who used her cruelly, and prevented her from serving God. She told him that she was come to pray to God for the conversion of her husband, and he made her this answer: “Go in peace; and rest assured that your husband will soon afford you consolation; only tell him from God and from me, that now is the time of mercy, and that afterwards will be the time of justice.” The lady received the Father’s blessing, and said what she had just learned to her husband. The Holy Ghost descended at the same moment on this man, and he became so changed, that he said to his wife in a mild tone of voice, “Madam, let us serve God and work out our salvation.” He passed thus many years with her in continence, with which she had inspired him, and they died most holily on the same day.
We saw in the first two Tertiaries, a wife sanctified by her husband. This is precisely what Saint Paul says: The one may contribute to the sanctification of the other. In fact, Saint Chrysostom thinks that a virtuous woman who is mild and prudent, is more likely to bring back a profligate husband to the service of God, than any other person; and that the solid piety of a husband, with good manners and discreet firmness, may soften the asperity of an ill-tempered woman, or at least render her less fractious.
All that Francis did at Celles, was to give himself up to contemplation; and, in order that the place itself should be favorable to meditation, he resolved, after having been there a short time, to retire to the desert of Mount Alvernia; it was the Holy Ghost who inspired him with the desire to go thither, where he was to receive the glorious privilege of the stigmata. As he passed through the country of Arezzo, his great infirmities compelled him to ask for an ass to continue his journey. There was not one in the village, but a person offered him a horse, which he was under the necessity of accepting: it was the only time that he had been on horseback since his conversion; for, whenever he had been forced to ride, he took the most despicable animal, in order to set an example to his brethren. In the village to which the horse was sent back, there was a woman who, for several days, was suffering cruelly from labor-pains, without being able to be delivered, so that no human hope remained of saving her life. The people of the place, seeing the horse brought back which had carried the Saint, took the bridle and placed it on the woman’s bed, in full confidence that he who had had the use of it, would come to her aid; and, in fact, she was immediately, most fortunately, delivered. This fact is one of those related by Saint Bonaventure.
On Mount Alvernia Francis reaped extraordinary consolations in meditation; he was filled with ardent desires of heaven, and, at the same time, he felt that the celestial gifts were communicated to him in greater abundance. These interior feelings which threw his soul into ecstasies, raised his body into the air to greater or less height, in proportion to their degree, as if an extreme disgust for every thing that was connected with the earth, gave him a stimulus to raise himself to his celestial home.
Brother Leo, his secretary and his confessor, attests to have seen him raised sometimes to the height of a man, so that one could touch his feet, sometimes, above the tallest beech-trees, and sometimes so high, that he was elevated out of sight. When he was not raised higher than the height of a man, Leo kissed his feet and watered them with his tears, with tender devotion, saying the following prayer: “My God, be merciful to me, a sinner such as I am, by the merits of this holy man, and deign to communicate to me some small portion of Thy grace.” When he lost sight of him, he prostrated himself and prayed, on the spot on which he had seen him elevate himself.
Saint Thomas and many others believed that Saint Paul in his rapture may have been elevated in body and soul into the third heaven, that is, into the Empyrean, into Paradise, into the place where the angels and the blessed are; and we must not call this in question, since the apostle himself says, that he does not know whether he was raised up in the body or out of the body. Saint Theresa, whose works are published by authority, says that she had sometimes raptures in which she was raised from the ground by a supernatural power, whatever resistance she might make; that others saw her in this state, and she saw herself in it. We may therefore believe that God raised the body of His Servant Francis, while his soul was in raptures by interior operations; more particularly, as the fact is attested by so trustworthy a witness as Leo, who certifies having seen it with his own eyes. “God,” says Saint Theresa, “grants extraordinary favors to a soul, to detach it entirely from everything that is earthly, by the body itself, so that life becomes burthensome to it, and that it suffers a sort of torment brought on by a violent desire of possessing God, which is a martyrdom both agreeable, and, at the same time, painful; but we must be under the conviction, that with ordinary grace, which God increases in proportion to faithfulness, we may attain to an entire disengagement from worldly affairs, and to that longing for heaven which, as Christians, we are obliged to feel.”
One day, when Francis was restored from one of the ecstasies which had raised him from the ground, Jesus Christ appeared seated at a low stone table, where the Saint was in the habit of taking his meals, and speaking to him with the familiarity of a friend, as to the protection which He proposed to give to the Order, after his death, He made known to him the following points: first, that the Order would last to the end of the world; secondly, that those who should persecute the Order, would not be long-lived, unless they became converted; the third and fourth points, related to favors which our Saviour promised not only to the Friars Minor, but to those who were sincerely attached to them.
When our Lord had disappeared from the table, Brother Leo, not knowing what had happened, was about to prepare it, as usual, for their meal, but Francis stopped him, saying: “It must be washed with water, with wine, with milk, with oil, and with balm, for Jesus Christ has condescended to sit on it, and to make known to me from thence what will be communicated to you hereafter.” As Brother Leo had not the articles he required, he only took oil, as Jacob had done, to consecrate this table to the Lord, and, having poured oil on it, he pronounced these words: “This is the altar of God.” He then told his companion the four favors which had been promised and added that there was a fifth which he should not repeat: it was thought that it was out of humility; for, after his death, it was revealed to Brother Leo, that it consisted in that God, in consequence of the merits of the Saint, had deferred punishing the country by famine, to give sinners time to be converted; and, as they did not avail themselves of it, after his death, this scourge fell on the land, and was followed by a great mortality.
Towards the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, he retired into the most secret part of the mountains, where his companions built for him a small and unpretentious cell. He remained there with Leo, having forbidden the others to return to him till the Feast of Saint Michael, and on no account to permit any persons whomsoever to have access to him. It was then the time of the fast which he prescribed for himself, in honor of the archangel; one of the nine periods of fasting he observed during the year, which will be noticed elsewhere. Proposing to fast this year more rigorously than in the preceding years, he directed Brother Leo to bring him nothing but bread and water once a day, and that, towards evening, and place it at the threshold of his cell. “And when you come to me for Matins,” he added, “don’t come into the cell, but only say in a loud voice, ‘Domine, labia mea aperies;’ and if I answer, ‘Et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam,’ you will come in, otherwise you will go back.” His pious companion, who had nothing more at heart than to obey him, and be useful to him, complied minutely with all he said; but he was often obliged to return in the night, because the holy man was in ecstasy, and did not hear him.
The reward of his solicitude was to be freed from a mental agitation, which he had found very troublesome; although it was not a temptation of the flesh, he nevertheless was ashamed of it, and did not dare make his Father acquainted with it; he only wished to have something written by him, which he thought would enable him to overcome the temptation, or at least enable him to bear it with less difficulty. The Father, knowing by revelation the state of his mind and his wish, desired him to bring him paper and ink, and he put on the top of the paper, in large characters, the letter “T,” after which he wrote some praises of God, with his blessing: “May the Lord bless you and take you into His keeping, may He show you His countenance, and take pity on you, may He turn His eyes towards you, and give you His peace. May God bless Brother Leo.” “Take this paper,” he said, “and keep it carefully all your life.” Leo had no sooner received it than his temptation left him; he preserved it carefully till his death, knowing the virtue that was attached to it. This writing is still extant at Assisi, in the sanctuary of the Church of Saint Francis, and God has permitted it to be frequently used for the cure of diseases. Saint Bonaventure says that, in his days, it had been the means by which several miracles were effected.
Francis experienced on Mount Alvernia, what had occurred to Saint Anthony in the Desert of Thebais: after having been the means of freeing others from the attacks of the devil, he was exposed to them himself. The subtle spirit often suggested evil thoughts to him. He placed horrid spectres before him, and he even visibly struck him severe blows. Once in a very narrow path, and on the edge of a deep precipice, he appeared to him in a hideous figure, and threw himself upon him to cast him down; as there was nothing by which he could support himself, Francis placed his two hands on the rock, which was very hard and slippery, and they sank into it, as if it had been soft wax, and this preserved him from falling. An angel appeared to him to put away his fright, and to console him, causing him to hear celestial music, the sweetness of which in so far suspended the powers of his soul, that it seemed to him that his soul would have been separated from his body, had the music lasted much longer.
He resumed his prayer in which he returned thanks for having escaped the danger, and for the consolation he had received; then he set about considering what might be the will of God. He was not, as Saint Bonaventure remarks, like to those inquisitive minds, who rashly endeavor to scrutinize the ways of God, and who are overwhelmed with His glory; but as a faithful and prudent servant, he endeavored to discover the intention of his Master, only from the anxiety he felt to conform himself to it in all things. A divine impression induced him to think that, if he opened the Book of the Gospel, he would learn from Jesus Christ what in him and for him would be most agreeable to God. Having, therefore, again prayed with great fervor, he told Brother Leo to take the New Testament from the altar, and open it; Leo opened it three times in honor of the most Holy Trinity, and, each time, he opened it at the Passion of our Blessed Lord. Francis, who was filled with the Spirit of God, understood from this, that, as he had imitated Jesus Christ in the actions of His life, he must now conform himself to His sufferings, and in the pains of His Passion.
Although his body was greatly weakened by the austerities he practised, by which he incessantly carried the cross of the Son of God, he was not alarmed at the idea of having new sufferings to endure; on the contrary, he put on fresh courage for martyrdom, in which, he thought, conformity to the Passion of Jesus Christ consists – hence the pious wish he had three times entertained of exposing himself to it. For the love he had for the good Jesus, remarks Saint Bonaventure, was so lively, that the following words of the Canticles seemed to be applied to him: “His lamps are lamps of fire and flame.” The charity which inflamed his heart was so ardent and forcible, that all the waters of tribulation, and all the fury of persecution would have been unable to extinguish it. It is in this sense that Saint Paul said: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword?” Such is the exalted love which Christians should have for God, if they desire to love Him eternally; their hearts must be ready and willing to make every sacrifice, and to suffer everything in order to preserve this divine love.
Some days after the opening of the book of the Gospel, Leo had come at midnight to say aloud, at the door of Francis’ cell, “Domine labia mea aperies,” according to the order he had received; and receiving no reply, he had the curiosity to advance a step further, and to look through the chinks of the door, to see what was going on. He saw the cell entirely illuminated, and a bright ray of light come from heaven, and rest upon the head of the Saint; he heard voices which made questions and answers; and he remarked that Francis, who was prostrate, often repeated these words: “Who art Thou, O my God, and my dear Lord? and whom and I? a worm, and Thy unworthy servant.” He also saw him put his hand out three times into his bosom, and each time stretch it out to the flame.
The light disappeared, the conversation ceased, and Leo wished to retire quickly; but the Father heard him, and rebuked him severely for having watched him, and thus seen what ought to have been secret. Leo asked pardon, and having obtained it, humbly entreated his master to explain to him, for the greater glory of God, the things he had seen, which Francis did in these terms: -
“God manifested Himself to me in the flame which you saw; He explained many mysteries to me, by His infinite goodness, and He communicated to me an immense knowledge of Himself, and I was so overpowered with admiration, that I exclaimed: ‘Who art Thou, Lord, and who am I?’ For nothing has tended more to my knowledge of what I am, than the contemplation of the infinite and incomprehensible abyss of the perfections of God, although from afar, and under obscure veils.
“The Lord then having condescended to disclose to me, as much as I am capable of knowing of His infinite greatness, I could not avoid making this reflection; that it is certain that every creature is a mere nonentity before God. While I was thus meditating, it was His pleasure to direct that, for all the good He had done me, I should make Him some offering; I replied that my poverty was so great, that except the poor habit which I wore, I had nothing in the world but my body and my soul, which I had long since dedicated to Him. The Lord then urged me to offer Him what was in my bosom, and I was surprised to find there a beautiful piece of gold, which I immediately offered to Him; I found three pieces successively, which I presented to Him in the same manner; it was when you saw me extend my hand in the flame. I gave thanks to God for His many benefits, and for the means He put in my power to make Him some acknowledgment. He gave me to understand that the three pieces of gold, which were highly agreeable to Him, represented the three modes of life which it had been His will that I should institute, and also the three vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity.”
When he said that nothing had tended so much to the knowledge of what he was, as the contemplation of the infinite perfections of God, he well knew that the best mode to attain the knowledge of God is to know one’s self, as Saint Augustine and Saint Bernard teach us; that is to say, that in order to our obtaining peculiar lights which open to us the grandeur of God, it is necessary to be thoroughly impressed with our own vileness, be sensible of our misery, and annihilate ourselves, because the Divine Majesty only communicates itself to the humble. But Saint Francis proposed to himself to explain that, when it pleases God to manifest Himself in some manner to a soul which is duly sensible of its nothingness, it is better impressed with its own nothingness, by the disproportion it sees between the Sovereign Being and His creature, which discovers to it a thousand imperfections which it was not previously aware of, as a ray of the sun penetrating into a room, discovers a multitude of atoms of which we were previously unaware. We may also form to ourselves an idea of this by our knowledge of human ignorance; an ignorant man is less sensible of his ignorance and sometimes he is not at all aware of it; he thinks he knows everything; but a very learned man knows that he is ignorant of an infinity of things, and finds his mind very confined. So also souls which are interiorly enlightened as to the greatness of the Divinity, are more perfectly aware of their own nothingness, and are more humble than those who have not similar views. The mode adopted by the former is to dive into his own nothingness by the light of faith, to humble himself continually, in order to attain to a more exalted idea of the greatness of God and to repeat frequently this prayer of Saint Augustine: “O God, who art always the same! may I know myself, may I know Thee.”
The self-knowledge which Saint Francis possessed in such perfection, prepared him sufficiently for the signal favor which God proposed to confer upon him, according to the principle of Saint Augustine, that deep foundations are requisite for a building of great height.
About the Festival of the Exaltation of the Cross, which is on the fourteenth of September (it is believed that it was on the eve), an angel appeared to him and gave him notice as he afterwards communicated to some of his companions, to prepare himself for all that God would do for him. “I am prepared for everything,” he replied, “and I shall not in any way oppose His holy will, provided he condescends to assist me with His grace. Although I am a useless man, and unworthy that God should cast a thought on me, nevertheless, as I am His servant, I beg He may act by me, according to His good pleasure.”
This generous concurrence, which had martyrdom in its view, was the last disposition which the Almighty required previous to giving to Francis the peculiar and signal prerogative of the stigmata, that is to say, previous to imprinting on his body the five wounds of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We are about to put on record this marvellous event as nearly as possible in the very words of Saint Bonaventure, which we have extracted from his two legends. He does not name the precise day, but Wading assigns good reasons for thinking it occurred on the Festival of the Exaltation of the Cross.
“Francis, the servant and truly faithful minister of Jesus Christ, being one morning in prayer on one side of the Mountain of Alvernia, elevating himself to God by the seraphic fervor of his desires and by the motives of tender and affectionate compassion, transforming himself into Him who, by the excess of His charity, chose to be crucified for us; he saw, as it were, a seraph, having six brilliant wings, and all on fire, descending towards him from the height of heaven. This seraph came with a most rapid flight to a spot in the air, near to where the Saint was, and then was seen between his wings the figure of a crucified man, who had his hands and feet extended and fastened to a cross. His wings were so arranged that he had two of them on his head, two were stretched out to fly with, and he covered his whole body with the two others.
“At the sight of such an object, Francis was extraordinarily surprised; joy, mingled with grief and sorrow, spread over his soul; the presence of Jesus Christ, who manifested himself to him under the figure of a seraph in so marvellous a mariner, and with such familiarity, and by whom he found himself considered so favorably, caused in him an excess of pleasure; but the sorrowful spectacle of His crucifixion filled him with compassion, and his soul felt as if it was pierced through with a sword. Above all, he admired with deep concern that the infirmity of His sufferings should appear under the figure of a seraph, well knowing that this does not agree with His state of immortality; and he could not comprehend the intention of the vision, when our Lord, who appeared outwardly, communicated to him interiorly, as to His friend, that He had been placed before him in order to let him know that it was not by the martyrdom of the flesh, but by the inflammation of the soul, that he was to be wholly transformed into a perfect resemblance to Jesus Christ crucified.
“The vision vanished, after having had a secret and familiar conference with him, leaving his soul filled with seraphic ardor, and imprinting on his body a figure similar to that of the crucifix, as if his flesh, like softened wax, had received the impression of the letters of a seal. For the marks of the nails immediately began to show themselves on his hands and feet, such as he had seen them on the figure of the crucified man. His feet and hands were seen to be perforated by nails in their middle; the heads of the nails, round and black, were on the inside of the hands, and on the upper parts of the feet; the points, which were rather long, and which came out on the opposite sides, were turned and raised above the flesh, from which they came out. There was, likewise, on his right side a red wound, as if it had been pierced with a lance, and from this wound there often oozed a sacred blood, which soaked his tunic, and anything he wore round his body.”
This is the new prodigy which Jesus Christ chose to exhibit in favor of Francis, in order to render him more like to himself. He marked him and ornamented him with His own wounds, by a singular and glorious prerogative which had never, previously, been conceded to any one, and which justly excites the admiration of the Christian world. Saint Bonaventure is of opinion that all human encomium falls short of what it deserves. In fact, in the midst of all the marvels which we find in the life of Saint Francis, we are compelled to admit that this is the one which, without any exaggeration, may be termed incomparable. What can there be so beautiful as to be visibly clothed with Jesus Christ, to bear on the body the lively resemblance of those wounds which are the price of our redemption, the source of life, and the pledge of salvation? What interior conformity must the Servant have had with his Master, to have deserved to have so marked a one exteriorly, for, no doubt, the one was in proportion to the other! This faithful Servant having embraced the cross from the very commencement of his conversion, he carried it in his heart, in his mind, in his body, and in all his senses; all his love, all his desires, were centred in the cross, it was the standard of his militia. Therefore did Jesus Christ, whose goodness appears with magnificence towards those who love Him, after having honored the zeal of Francis by various apparitions in His crucified state, choose, as a crowning of all His favors, that he should be himself crucified, in order that, as the love of the cross constituted his merit before God, the glory of being so miraculously fastened to it, should render him admirable in the sight of mankind.
Such was the sort of torment which God reserved for him in order to satisfy the extreme desire he had to suffer martyrdom, on which Saint Bonaventure exclaims: “O truly fortunate man, whose flesh not having been tortured by the racks of a tyrant, has nevertheless, borne the impress of the Lamb that was slain! O fortunate soul, thou hast not lost the palm of martyrdom, and yet thou art not separated from the body by the sword of the persecutor!” Must we not also admit that the impression of the five wounds of our Savior Jesus Christ on his body was a true martyrdom – a precious martyrdom; rigorous in one sense, and the more so, as it was not the consequence of the cruelty of executioners, but was owing to the darts of divine love, and to the very influence of the Son of God, the operation of which is most powerful; sweet and delicious in another sense, and the more so, as it was the effect of a most affectionate communication, and brought about more intimate relations? Out Savior, thus, in some degree, represented in His creature the situation in which He had been on the cross, enjoying sovereign beatitude, while He suffered all the pains and violence of the execution.
It was in all probability after this favor of the stigmata, that Francis composed the two Italian canticles which are found amongst his works. In the first, the burden of which is, “In foco l’amor mi mise, in foco l’amor mi mise,” he describes very practically, with figurative and very lively expressions, the struggle he had with divine love, and the attacks he had himself made on that love, the wounds which he received, the flames by which his heart was kindled, and the state of languor and faintness to which he found himself reduced, and, finally, the strength, with a tranquillity of feeling exceedingly refreshing, which Jesus Christ had imparted to him. In the second, which is much longer than the first, he describes the strength, elevation, and tenderness, the vehemence of the divine love in his heart; he enters into conversation with Jesus Christ, who answers him; and this love constantly increasing, he declares that he can resist no longer, that he consents to everything, and that he wishes no other relief than to die of love.
Saint Theresa, speaking of her situation at prayer, in which she often found herself, as it were, intoxicated with the love of God, and quite beside herself, said: “I know a person who, without being a poet, sometimes made very good extempore verses in spiritual canticles, which expressed beautifully her sufferings. It was not from her mind that they originated; but, by order of the glory so delicious a suffering caused her; she laid her complaint in this manner before God. She would have wished to tear herself to pieces to show the pleasure she experienced in this delightful pain.” These spiritual and divine emotions are neither known nor relished by profane minds and hearts, who only learn from their own corruption, and from the pestiferous books which encourage it, the extravagances and transports of criminal love; but pure minds, who know what it is to love God, and to be loved by Him, are not astonished at the effects which this holy reciprocated love produced in a Saint Francis, in a Saint Theresa, and in many others. Neither is it surprising that the saints who are full of the thoughts of God, should have had recourse to poetry to express the feelings of their hearts, since the sacred writers, inspired by the Spirit of God, have composed many of the sacred books in poetry; this also is practised by the universal Church in her Divine Office.
The precious wounds which Francis had received, were a subject of great embarrassment to him; for, in the first place, he wished to conceal them wholly, well knowing that it is “proper to conceal the secrets of the king,” as the angel said to Tobit; and, in the second place, he saw that the wounds were too conspicuous to remain long hidden from those of his companions who had familiar intercourse with him. His hesitation was, whether he should tell them what had occurred, in confidence, or whether he should be silent on the subject, for fear of making known the secrets of the Lord. He called some of them to him and laid before them his difficulty in general terms, and solicited their advice. Brother Illuminatus, he from whom he had received such excellent advice in the camp before Damietta, opining, from the look of astonishment which he remarked in him, that he had seen something wonderful, said: “Brother, you ought to know that it is not only for your own edification, but for that of others also, that God sometimes discovers his secrets to you, for which reason you should be fearful of being reprimanded for having hidden the talent, unless you make known what is to be of service to many.”
Francis was struck with this advice, and although on other occasions he was in the habit of saying with Isaiah, “My secret is to myself,” he communicated to them all what had passed in the apparition, but always with great fear; adding, that He who had appeared to him, had communicated things to him which, while he lived, he never would disclose to any one. We must believe, as Saint Bonaventure remarks, that the seraph whom he saw attached to the cross in so wonderful a manner, or rather, Jesus Christ Himself in the appearance of a seraph, had said to him, as he had to Saint Paul, “Secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter;” either because there are no words in which they can be expressed, or, as a respected author thinks, because there are no souls sufficiently disengaged from sensible objects, and sufficiently pure, to understand them.
The confidence which Francis had reposed in his companions, did not prevent his taking every precaution possible to hide, as much as it was in his power, the sacred marks with which the King of kings had secretly favored him. From that time forward, he kept his hands covered, so that the nails should not be seen, and he wore slippers, which covered those of his feet. Wading saw in the Monastery of the Poor Clares at Assisi, the sort of slippers which Saint Clare made for her spiritual Father, so neatly contrived that the upper part covered the heads of the nails, and, the underneath being somewhat raised, the points did not prevent his walking; for these miraculous nails did not take from him the use of his hands and feet, although it was painful to him to use them.
But all the precautions which his humility had suggested, became useless; it is God’s providence to reveal, for His greater glory, the wonderful things which He does. The Lord Himself, who had secretly marked on Francis the impressions of His Passion, by their means worked miracles, which manifestly disclosed their hidden and marvellous virtue. Moreover, the Saintly Man could not prevent his wounds from being seen and touched by persons whose veracity cannot be called in question, and who rendered public testimony thereto; besides which, after his death, all the inhabitants of Assisi saw, touched, and kissed them. The Sovereign Pontiffs of those days were so convinced of this admirable event, that they issued bulls to exalt it by their praise, and to repress by their authority those who refused credence to the fact, because they had not seen it with their own eyes. Pope Alexander IV certified it, as having been an eye-witness to it, in a sermon and in a bull; and Saint Bonaventure says that the proofs then collected made it so certain, that they were sufficient to dispel every shade of doubt. This degree of certainty is still further enhanced and rendered more respectable, since Popes Benedict XI, Sixtus IV, and Sixtus V have consecrated and extolled the impression of the stigmata on the body of Saint Francis, by having instituted a particular festival in their honor, which is found in the Roman Martyrology, on the 17th of September, and which is kept in the universal Church.
The forty days which Francis had resolved to pass in solitude and fasting having terminated on Michaelmas Day, this new man, whom perfect love had transformed by a lively resemblance into Him whom he loved, descended from the mountain, carrying with him the image of Jesus Christ crucified, not modelled by the hand of a workman on wood or stone, but stamped on his very flesh by the finger of the living God Himself, as Saint Bonaventure expresses it. He became more partial than ever to Mount Alverno, where he had received this sacred image, and recommended to his brethren to cherish great respect for this holy place.
As he descended the mountain, he met a number of the country people who had already heard of the marvellous occurrence; it is probable that God had informed the people of it by some extraordinary manifestation. At the time when it occurred, they saw at break of day the mountain illuminated by a most brilliant light, and what they heard, informed them of the reason. They wished to kiss his hands; but they were tied round with bandages, and he only offered them the tips of his fingers.
In a village near Arezzo, they brought him a child of about eight years of age, who had been dropsical for four years, whom he cured instantaneously by touching him. He went afterwards to Montaigne, where Count Albert, the lord of that place, who was his good friend, and at whose house he often took his bed, received him with great pleasure. But the count was distressed to hear him say that his infirmities would not allow him to return there any more, and that the time of his death was hastening on. To mitigate the grief of such melancholy tidings, he entreated the Saint to leave him some memorial of their friendship; to which Francis replied, that he had nothing to give but the miserable habit he had on, but that he would willingly leave it him, provided he could get another.
The change was soon effected; and it cannot be told how much Albert prized the habit in which Francis had received the impression of the precious pledges of our redemption. After the death of Saint Francis he enfolded this poor habit in rich stuffs of silk and gold, and he placed it with great veneration on the altar of the church. The Lords of Montaigne, from father to son, had it long in their possession; and it, at length, came in the manner related by Wading, into the possession of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, who preserve it as a precious relic.
The great infirmities which the man of God suffered, obliged him to take an ass to carry him from Montaigne to Mount Casal, through the borough of Saint Sepulchre. When he reached the latter place, which is very populous, the crowd surrounded him, touched him, and pressed upon him, but he was insensible of it; he was as a dead person, in no way aware what was doing, insomuch that, having proceeded a good way from thence, and coming to himself, as one returned from the other world, he inquired of some lepers at the door of the hospital, whether they would soon get to Saint Sepulchre. His mind, contemplating, says Saint Bonaventure, with deep attention the brilliant lights of heaven, had not noticed the difference of time, place, or persons; so penetrated was he with divine communications, that he was not aware of what passed around him.
On reaching Mount Casal, he learned that one of his religious was suffering under an extraordinary disorder, which some considered to be epilepsy, and others thought it a true case of possession by the devil, for he had all the violent contortions of those possessed. The Father, who was full of tender compassion for the suffering, was greatly afflicted at seeing one of his children in this deplorable state, and he sent him a mouthful of the bread he was eating, the virtue of which was so great that, as soon as the sick man had swallowed it, he was cured, and thenceforward had no relapse into the disorder.
From Mount Casal Francis went to Castello, and at the house where he went to lodge, he was required to lend his aid to a female whom the devil possessed, and compelled to talk without ceasing. The servant of God with great prudence first sent one of his companions to see and hear her, to examine into the case, to see whether it was really one of possession, or whether the woman was not counterfeiting. She gnashed her teeth, – she imitated the cry of an elephant with a dreadful countenance; she affected to laugh when she saw the religious, and ordered him to go away, saying that she did not care about him, but she was afraid of him who hid himself. The Saint, who was in prayer, having heard this, came into the room, where this woman was speaking without any reserve, before many who were there. As soon as she saw him, she fell on the ground, trembling. He reproached the demon with his cruelty in thus torturing one of God’s creatures, and ordered him to leave her, which he did instantly, but with so much noise as manifested his wrath. In the same town he cured a child who had an ulcer, by making the sign of the cross on the dressing which covered it. When the parents of the child took off the dressing, they saw with surprise, in lieu of the ulcer, a fleshy excrescence, like a red rose, which remained during the whole of the child’s life, as a sensible proof and memorial of the miracle which had been performed.
After an abode of a month at Castello, the man of God set out on his return to Saint Mary of the Angels. Brother Leo, who accompanied him, assures us, that during the whole way, and until his arrival in the convent, he saw a beautiful golden cross, shining – with various colors, preceding him, which stopped where he stopped, and advanced as he went on. This pious companion understood from this, that God had chosen to give to His Servant the consolation of seeing with the eyes of his body that cross which he had always in his heart, and which he likewise bore in his flesh by the wounds of Jesus Christ.
Nothing is more affecting than what Saint Bonaventure says of the feelings of Saint Francis after having received the impression of these sacred wounds. These are the words of the holy doctor: -
“Francis, being crucified with Jesus Christ in mind and body, not only burned with the ardent love of a seraph, but he likewise participated in the thirst for the salvation of souls which the Son of God felt on the Cross. As he could not go, as he usually had done, into the towns and villages, on account of the large nails he had on his feet, he had himself carried thither, to animate every one, although he was in a deplorable state of languor and half dead with his infirmities, to carry the cross of our Saviour. He used to say to his brethren: ‘Let us now begin to serve the Lord our God, for up to this time we have made but little progress.’”
“He was also ardently desirious of returning to his first practices of humility, – to attend the lepers, and to bring his body into subjection, as he had done in the first days of his conversion. Although his limbs were enfeebled by his exertions and sufferings, that did not prevent his hoping that, as his mind was yet vigorous and active, he should still combat and be victorious over his enemy. Under the guidance of Jesus Christ, he proposed to perform some extraordinary things; for when love is the spur, which admits of no neglect nor slackness, it urges to the undertaking of things of greater importance. His body was in such unison with his mind, so submissive, so wholly obedient, that, far from resisting, it was forward in some measure, and went as it were of itself towards the attainment of the great elevation of sanctity to which he aspired.”
It being God’s will that he should acquire the summit of merit, which is only attained by great patience, He tried him by many sorts of maladies, so grievous, that there was scarcely any part of his body in which he did not suffer excruciating pains. These reduced him to such a state, that he was scarcely more than skin and bone, almost all his flesh was wasted away; but these sufferings he did not consider as such, he denominated them his sisters, to show how much he cherished them.
These words of Saint Francis to his brethren, “Let us begin to serve the Lord our God, for until now we have made little progress,” contain one of the most important lessons of all spiritual life. The Wise Man says of the knowledge of the works of God: “When a man hath done, then he shall begin,” Saint Augustine applies this sentence to the obscurity of the sacred writings, when he says that, the deeper they are searched, the more hidden mysteries are found in them; and it is equally applicable to Christian and religious perfection. It is an error condemned by the Church to believe that a man is capable of attaining in this life such a degree of perfection, as not to be able to increase it; but it would be a deplorable illusion to make use of the language condemned by Saint Bernard; “I have done enough, I will remain as I am: neither become worse, nor better.” The just man never says, “It is enough;” he has always hunger and thirst after justice; as the apostles, “He forgets the things that are behind, and stretches himself to those that are before, to press towards the mark.” To believe that we have made progress is not to do so; not to strive to advance is to go back, and to lose one’s self. What instruction do we find here for the most perfect, in the example of a saint who deems himself to have made little progress in the service of God, and who wishes to begin all afresh, at a time when he is found deserving to bear on his body the wounds of Jesus Christ!
His disorders were only afflicting to Francis inasmuch as related to the vast projects he unceasingly formed for the good of souls. He was most grieved at the state of his eyes, which made his sight begin to fail. Notwithstanding his other infirmities, whenever he could, he mounted on an ass, and went about, preaching penance, announcing the kingdom of God, and addressing these words to all his hearers: “Jesus Christ, my Love, was crucified.” He spoke with so much fervor, and with such assiduity, visiting sometimes five or six towns in the course of a single day, that it might be paid that God gave him, as to the prophet, the agility of a deer. However, although in the person of Saint Francis the interior man was renewed from day to day, yet it necessarily followed that the exterior man, borne down by so much, austerity and fatigue, began rapidly to decay. The acute pains in his eyes, and the tears he constantly shed, brought on blindness, besides it was impossible for him to preach any longer, however desirous he was to do so. Moreover, he would not have recourse to remedies, although his brethren urged him to avail himself of them, because, being already in heaven in mind and heart, he wished, as the Apostle had done, “to have his conversation in heaven.”
Brother Elias, vicar-general, who felt the loss which the death of his holy founder would be to the Order, was most anxious to procure him relief. His feelings also induced him to wish it; for, with all his faults, he was tenderly attached to his father, and was as a mother to him by the care he took of him: of this all the first writers of the life of Saint Francis bear testimony. He used entreaties and argument to induce him to have recourse to medicine for his disorders, and quoted the following Scriptural texts: “The Most High hath created medicines out of the earth, and a wise man will not abhor them.” He also on this occasion made use of the power he had received from the Saint: he commanded him, on his obedience, not to resist his cure.
The sick man yielded to the advice of his friends. He was removed to a small and poor cell, very near the Convent of Saint Damian, that he might be nearer to Clare and her sisterhood, who loved him as their father, and who prepared the medicines for him. He remained there forty days with the Brothers Masse, Ruffin, Leo, and Angelo of Rieti; but the disorder of his eyes became so painful, that he could get no rest night or day; when he endeavored to procure a little sleep, he was prevented by a number of rats, which infested the hut, and ran over his table and bed so daringly, that it was thought to be a stratagem of the evil one.
Seeing himself overwhelmed by an accumulation of disorders, he made the following prayer humbly to God: “My Lord and God, cast Thine eyes upon me, and lend me Thine aid; grant me grace to bear with patience all these ills and infirmities.” A voice forthwith made him this answer: “Francis, what price should be set upon that which shall obtain a kingdom which is above all price? Know that the pains you suffer are of greater value than all the riches of the world, and that you ought not to be rid of them for all that is in the world, even though all the mountains should be changed into pure gold, all its stones into jewels, and all the waters of the sea into balsam.” “Yes, Lord,” exclaimed Francis, “it is thus that I prize the sufferings Thou sendest me; for I know that it is Thy will that they should be in this world the chastisements of my sins, in order to show me mercy in eternity.” “Rejoice, then,” added the voice, “it is through the way in which you are, that heaven is reached.” At these words he rose up full of fervor; and wishing that Clare, who was almost always ill, should benefit by what he had just heard, he sent to her, and informed her of the tender goodness of God to man, even in the dispositions of His Providence, which have the appearance of being the most severe.
Men who are enlightened by the light of faith, – must they not be convinced of these Christian truths: that the most perfect have some sins to expiate; that the saints can only attain to heaven by suffering; that the Kingdom of Heaven, which is invaluable, cannot be purchased at too great a price; and that God never manifests His paternal regard in our favor more evidently than when lie afflicts us in this world in order to show us His mercy in the next? What fruit might not be gathered from sicknesses and other sufferings; what alleviations, what consolations, and even what joy, might not be found, if these holy truths were but reduced to practice, which unfortunately are only viewed theoretically, and with little or no application!
Francis being one day at dinner, and beginning to eat, stopped suddenly, and, with his eyes raised to heaven, exclaimed in a loud voice: “May God be blessed, glorified, and exalted above all!” Then leaving the room in an unusual manner, he threw himself on the ground, where he remained motionless in ecstasy during a whole hour.
When he came to himself, one of the brethren whose name was Leonard, who had witnessed what had passed, and had heard what he had exclaimed, spoke to him of it, as if what he had done had been very unbecoming. “My dear brother,” said Francis, “I had great cause for what I did, which I will communicate to you confidentially, upon condition that you will tell no one of it during my lifetime. If a king promised to give a kingdom to one of his subjects, would not that person have great reason to rejoice? What, then, did I do that was unseemly, – I whom the Almighty assured of His kingdom? I was so overpowered with joy, that I could not control the emotions of my heart; you must excuse the excess in the expressions of my satisfaction, whatever it may have been, and however it may have seemed to transgress the rules of decorum. But what I did is not enough, I will praise God still more; I will unceasingly praise His holy name. I will sing hymns to His glory during the remainder of my days.”
After which he sat down, and after having reflected a little, he got one of his companions to write an Italian canticle, which begins thus: “Altissimo, Omnipotente, bon Signore; tue son le laude, la gloria, l’onore, ed ogni benedizione,” etc. “O God, most high, most powerful, most good! to Thee belong praise, honor, glory, and every blessing: these are solely to be referred to Thee; neither is any man worthy to pronounce Thy holy name. Praise be to Thee, O Lord, my God! by all thy creatures.” He speaks of the sun as the most brilliant of all, of the moon, the stars, the air, the wind, the clouds, the seasons, the water, the fire, the earth and all that it contains; giving praise to God for each of His creatures, whose beauties and properties He recites.
This canticle resembles that which was sung at Babylon, in the fiery furnace, by the three young men who were thrown into it, for not having adored the statue of Nebuchodonosor. They called upon all creatures, inanimate and irrational, to praise God, as David had done before; and Saint Francis calls upon all to praise Him, because of His creatures. This has the same result; for inanimate creatures, as Saint Jerome observes, only praise God by making Him known to men, and by placing before them His magnificence. “When they are considered as His work,” says Saint Augustine, “we find in them numberless reasons for singing hymns to His glory; and if His greatness is manifested in His glorious works, He is not less great in those which are less so. Whatsoever God has made, praises God; there is only sin, of which He is not the author, which does not praise Him. “It was Francis’s desire that all his brethren should learn his canticle, and recite it daily, and that Brother Pacificus, the famous poet, of whom we have before spoken, and who was then in France or in the Low Countries, should put it into well-sounding verse. He called it the Canticle of the Sun, because of the preeminence of that beautiful planet, in which, David says, God seemed to have taken up His abode, in order to show Himself to us.
As his malady did not show symptoms of amelioration, Elias had him removed from the Convent of Saint Mary of the Angels to Foligno, in hopes that change of air might be of service to him. And he was in fact somewhat relieved by it; but God made known, by an extraordinary revelation, that he would continue to suffer until death. Elias found himself overpowered with sleep, and in his slumber he saw a venerable old man, clothed in white, with pontifical ornaments, who told him that Francis must prepare himself to suffer patiently for two years more, after which, death would deliver him, and would cause him to pass into perfect repose, free from all pain. He communicated this to Francis, who said that the same thing had been communicated to him; and then, filled with joy, not only on account of the eternal felicity again promised him, but because the time was fixed when his soul was to be released from the prison of his body, he added this further couplet to his canticle: “Be Thou praised, my Lord, for death our sister, from which no living man can escape,” etc. “Blessed are they who, at the hour of death, are found conformed to Thy holy will, for they will not be overtaken by the second death. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! May all creatures praise and bless God, obey Him and serve Him with great humility!” If we are surprised to find Saint Francis call death our sister, we must bear in mind that the holy man, Job, said to rottenness: “Thou art my father; and to the worms, you are my mother and sister.”
The whole of the year 1225, Francis passed in various illnesses and in great sufferings. Towards autumn, Cardinal Ugolino and Brother Elias induced him to be removed to Rieti, where there were able physicians and surgeons who could attend to the state of his eyes. As soon as it was known in the town, all the inhabitants met, and went to meet him; but, in order to avoid all the honors preparing for him, he had himself taken to Saint Fabian, a village two miles from Rieti, where he lodged at the cure’s.
The Pope was at Rieti, with all his court, at that time: many of the principal persons of the court, and even cardinals, came to Saint Fabian to visit the holy man. While they were in conversation with him, the persons of their suite went into the cure’s vineyard to eat grapes, and they gathered so many that the vineyard was nearly stripped. The cure was much displeased at this, and complained to Saint Francis, who asked him, how much he thought he had lost? “I usually,” replied the cure, “have made fourteen measures of wine, which were sufficient for the consumption of my house.” “I am sorry,” said Francis, “that they should have done you so much damage, but we must hope that God will find a remedy for it, and I firmly believe He will, and that, from the grapes which remain in your vineyard, He will give you fourteen measures of wine and more.” The cure saw this prophecy fulfilled, for he made twenty measures from the few grapes which had been left. The magistrates of Rieti caused, at a subsequent period, a convent to be built for the Friars Minors on this spot; and the same Pope, Gregory IX, out of respect for the Saint, chose to consecrate the church himself, in which are still seen representations of the miracle.
After some days Francis could no longer avoid going to Rieti, where the persons of the court received him with honors, which he gladly would have dispensed with. – He lodged there with a pious citizen, named Theobald, a Saracen, who had settled in the town.
The dejection of spirits which his sufferings had brought upon him, made him desirous of having instrumental music to cheer him; “but,” says Saint Bonaventure, “decorum did not allow him to ask for it, and it was God’s pleasure that he should receive this agreeable consolation by means of an angel. The mere sound, which was marvellously harmonious, raised his mind so entirely to God, and filled his soul with so much delight, that he thought himself in the enjoyment of the joys of the other world. His intimate companions perceived it, and they frequently observed that God gave him extraordinary consolations, for the effects they produced on him were so manifest, that it was impossible for him to disguise them, and then he admitted to them from whence they arose.”
This shows that, if the saintly sufferer wished to hear some instrumental music, it was in order to listen to it for the glory of God, as Saint Augustine observes was the case with David, and not for any purely human gratification, nor to take any ordinary pleasure therein, nor even for the assuagement of his violent sufferings.
It is true that harmonious sound will procure this relief; and without referring to what ancient writers say on this head, without noticing Saul, we know that there are feelings of the body and mind, in which we experience what the wise man supposes to be a common occurrence, “that music rejoices the heart.” Man being born with a taste for proportion, and finding himself full of concert and harmony, it is no way surprising that the harmony and proportion of sounds should cause strong and vivid impressions on him.
Saint Francis, who may have been naturally more affected by music than others, may also have reasonably wished for its solace, more from a desire to prevent the depression of his spirits, than from the violence of his sufferings, or from being deprived of its solace by a principle of mortification. For he was too spiritual a man not to have us convinced that his wish proceeded from a purer and more noble motive. He desired to prevent his mind from being too greatly depressed, in order to render himself more equal to interior operations, and to unite himself more easily and more intimately to God – as the Prophet Eliseus, who, having been greatly excited against the King of Israel, caused a canticle of the temple to be sung to him, with a harp accompaniment, in order to calm his irritated mind, and to prepare him for the lights of the Lord, as to the knowledge of future events. Saint Augustine also observes, that, after his baptism, the chant of the hymns and psalms sung in the church excited in his heart tender sentiments of piety, and drew from his eyes floods of tears.
We may say: Music is a science given to men by the liberality of the Creator, to represent to them the admirable harmony by which He governs the world, in order to guide them by the channel of the senses, and melody of sounds, to the knowledge and love of immutable truth. This is also the true use of music, and it is only with this view that the Church permits it in the Divine Service. That which is soft and effeminate, which is calculated to excite the passions, by multitudes of ambiguous expressions, (not the less dangerous for being so cloaked) should be considered by Christians as an abuse the more deplorable, as it has even been censured and condemned by the pagans.
All the skill of the physicians and surgeons of Rieti not having had any effect towards the cure of their patient, he had himself taken to his Convent of Fonte Colombo, where they were to continue their remedies; and it was their opinion that a hot iron should be applied above his ear, from which it was expected he would obtain relief. For this reason his brethren urged him to give his consent, which he willingly did, in hopes to recover his sight thereby, and then to continue his exertions for the salvation of souls; and also because, the operation being very painful, he would have an opportunity of voluntary suffering.
When they were about to apply the red-hot iron, he could not avoid feeling a natural sense of fear; in order to overcome it, he addressed the fire as we should speak to a friend: “My brother,” said he, “the Most High has given you great beauty, and has made you most useful; be favorable to me on this occasion. I entreat the great God who created you, to temper your heat, so that I may be able to bear it.” He then made the sign of the cross on the instrument, and without any fear presented himself to receive the impression. His companions, not having courage to witness the operation, left the room. The physician and surgeon remained alone with him, and the hot iron was pressed from over his ear to his eyebrow, into his flesh.
After the operation, the brothers having returned, he said to them: “Praise the Lord, for I assure you I neither felt the heat of the fire, nor any pain.” Then he reproached them mildly in these words: “Why did you fly, you pusillanimous men, and of little faith? He who preserved the three young men in the furnace of Babylon, could He not temper in my favor the heat of my brother, the fire?” We shall see further what an exalted principle it was which induced him to qualify all creatures by the names of his brothers and sisters. He said to the physician: “If the flesh is not sufficiently burnt, replace the hot iron.” The physician, struck with so much fortitude in so feeble a body, saw that it was miraculous, and said to the religious: “I see truly to-day a most wonderful occurrence.”
Saint Bonaventure, who relates this, makes the following observation: That Francis having attained so high a degree of perfection, his body was subject to his mind, and his mind to God; with admirable harmony it followed from thence, by a peculiar disposition of Divine Providence, that inanimate creatures which obey God, obeyed His servant also, and forebore from hurting him, according to the words: “O Lord! the creature being subject to Thee, as to its Creator, renovates its strength to torment the wicked, and softens it to contribute to the good of those who trust in Thee.”
It is, moreover, remarkable that Saint Francis feared when he saw the red-hot iron, – he who had consented to have the remedy applied, because it was severe, and who had offered, when in Egypt, to cast himself into the fire to prove the truth of the Christian religion. It is thus that God permits His saints to become sensible of their natural weakness in trifling things, in order that they may be sensible that in greater things all their strength depends upon His grace.
The disorder in the eyes of Saint Francis was caused by the tears he continually shed. His physician told him he ought to restrain them, unless he wished to lose his entire sight; and this is the reply he gave him: “My dear Brother Doctor, for the love of corporal sight, which we enjoy in common with flies, we must not set aside for a single instant the Divine illustrations; for the mind has not received the favor on account of the body, it has been granted to the body on account of the mind.” He liked better, says Saint Bonaventure, to lose corporal sight than to check for a single moment that tender and affectionate devotion which calls forth tears, by which the interior sight is purified and rendered competent to see an infinitely pure God.
In order to show some gratitude to the physician for the trouble he took in his regard, Francis one day desired the brethren, in his presence, to take him to dine with them. They represented to him that their poverty was such that they had nothing which was fit to place before a person of his consideration, for this physician was in great estimation, and very rich. “Men of little faith,” replied the Saint, “why have you these doubts? Why have you not considered more favorably the merit of obedience? Go and take to the refectory our honorable brother, the doctor.” They took him, seeing that he would consent to partake of their poor fare out of devotion, but, just as they were sitting down to table, there was a ring at the bell; it was a woman, who brought, in a basket, several dishes exceedingly well dressed, which a lady, who lived at a country house, six miles off, sent to the servant of God. He desired that these might be offered to the physician, and that he might be told that the Lord took care of His own. The doctor admired the hand of Providence, and said to the religious: “My brethren, we do not sufficiently understand the holiness of this man; and even you who live with him, have no conception of the secret virtue with which his mind is replenished.”
This physician was not less charitable than learned; he had great pleasure in prescribing for this sick man, he frequently visited him, and paid the expense of the medicines he required. God, who considered as done to Himself what was done to His servant who could not repay him, rewarded him in this world by a miracle worked in his favor.
He had laid out all his ready money in building a house which was only just finished, when one of the principal walls was found to have a large crack in it from the top to the bottom, which no human art could make good. Full of faith and confidence in the merits of Francis, he begged his companions to give him something which the holy man had touched. After many entreaties they gave him some of his hair, which he placed at night in the fissure in the wall. He came back in the morning, and found the whole so completely closed, that it was not only impossible to get back the hair, but it was no longer perceivable that there had been any rent in the wall. The good offices which he had manifested to a worn-out body prevented, says Saint Bonaventure, the ruin of the house he had just built.
Some days after, Francis was taken to Rieti, where the bishop lodged him in his palace; they brought to the foot of his bed, upon a tressel, one of the canons, who was dangerously ill; he had been a very worldly man, who had lived a dissipated life, but who, struck with the fear of approaching death, entreated the Saint to make the sign of the cross upon him. “How,” said Francis, “shall I make the sign of the cross on you, who, without any fear of the judgments of God, have given yourself up to the lusts of the flesh? I will do it, however, because of the pious persons who have interceded in your favor. But, bear in mind that you will suffer much greater ills, if, after your cure, you should return to your vomit, for the sin of ingratitude and relapse makes the last state of man worse than the first.” He then made the sign of the cross upon the sick man, who immediately arose, praised God, and exclaimed, “I am healed.” All the bystanders heard his bones crack, as when dry sticks are broken. That unhappy man, however, did not remain long without plunging again into vice; and one night, as he was in bed at the house of a canon where he had supped, the roof of the house fell in and crushed him, without hurting any one else.
“It was,” says the same holy doctor, “by a just judgment of God; for the sin of ingratitude is a contempt of the graces of God, for which we ought to be most thankful; and the sins into which we again fall after repentance, displease Him more than any others. Will it never be understood that, in the diseases of the soul, as in those of the body, there is nothing so dangerous as a relapse?”
The pains felt by Francis were in some degree assuaged, his sight was restored, and he made use of this interval to have himself taken into several parts of Umbria, of the Kingdom of Naples, and of the adjacent provinces, in order to work for the salvation of souls. At Penna, a young religious who was naturally good, and of great promise, came to ask his pardon for having left the Order, which he had only done at the instigation of the evil spirit, who persuaded him that by living privately, he could better sanctify himself. As soon as the Saint saw him, he fled to his cell, and shut the door; when he came out again, his companions expressed their surprise at what he had done: “Do not be astonished,” he said, “at my having fled; I saw on this young man a frightful demon, who was endeavoring to throw him down a precipice, and I acknowledge to you that I could not bear his presence. I have prayed as earnestly as I could for the deliverance of this poor brother from such a seducer, and God has heard my prayer.” Then, having sent for him, and telling him what he had seen, he exhorted him to be on his guard against the snares of the devil, and not to separate himself again from his brethren: “For, if you do otherwise,” he added, “you will not fail to fall into the precipice from which the mercy of God has preserved you.” The docile and faithful religious passed the remainder of his days in great piety, and in the exercises of a regular life.
At Calano, a town of the Duchy of Marsi, in the farther Abruzzo, where Francis was come to preach, a common soldier pressed him so earnestly to come and dine with him, that he could make no excuse. He therefore went, with one companion, who was a priest, – a circumstance which was very serviceable. The poor family of the soldier having received them with great joy, the Saint began to pray, as was his custom, and he had his eyes constantly raised to heaven. He then said to the soldier, privately, “My brother and my host, you see I have acceded to your request in coming to dine with you. Now, follow my advice, and make haste; for it is not here, but elsewhere, that you will dine. Confess your sins with as much exactness and sorrow as you can; the Lord will reward you for having received His poor ones with such good religious intentions.” The soldier, placing confidence in what the servant of God said to him, made his confession to Francis’ companion, regulated his temporal affairs, and prepared himself, as well as he could, for death. When that was done, he sat down with the others at table, and a minute afterwards he expired suddenly. Then were the words of the Gospel fulfilled, that he who should receive a prophet as a prophet, that is to say, not seeing in him any other qualification, receives also the reward of the prophet, inasmuch as the prediction of Francis enabled him to fortify himself by penance against death, which he did not think to be so near at hand.
It was probably in this apostolic tour that the Servant of God performed a miracle on the person of Saint Bonaventure, who, under the dispositions of Divine Providence; was to become one of the most illustrious of his children. He was born at Bagnarea in Tuscany, a town belonging to the Ecclesiastical States, in the year 1221, and he was baptized by the name of John. His father, John Fidenza, and Ritella, his mother, joined to the nobility of their birth a large fund of piety. In his infancy he was seized with a mortal illness, of which he was cured by Saint Francis, which was one of the reasons why he determined to write his Life. “I should fear,” he says in his preface to his Legend, “that I should be accused of criminal ingratitude if I neglected to publish the praises of him, to whom I acknowledge that I owe the life of my body and my soul.”
It is reported, with the circumstances which he himself may have told, and the memory of which may have been preserved by tradition, that his mother, having no further hopes of saving him by means of medicaments, came and presented him to Saint Francis, who was renowned in Italy, at that time, for the splendor of his sanctity and his miracles; she implored the aid of his prayers, and made a vow that, if the child was saved, she would give him to his Order. The holy man consoled the afflicted mother, and obtained from God the cure of her son, to the astonishment of the physicians, who had deemed his disorder incurable. At the sight of this miraculous cure, he said, in the Italian language: “O buona ventura!” “How fortunate!” from whence came the name of Bonaventure; and finally, he foretold that the child would become a great light in the Church of God, and that through him his Order would receive great increase of sanctity.
In the year 1243, being then twenty-two years old, he proposed to fulfil his mother’s vow, and take the habit of a Friar Minor. This is not the place to narrate his illustrious actions, but we must notice two remarkable circumstances which are connected with Saint Francis.
The first is, that, as this blessed Patriarch bears the name of Seraphic, because of the Divine love with which he was inflamed, when Jesus Christ, under the figure of a seraph, imprinted on him the sacred stigmata, so Saint Bonaventure has been called the Seraphic Doctor, “because his whole doctrine, as well as his whole life, breathes the fire of charity.” It is a torch which burns and illuminates; it influences while instructing; whatever truths he expounds, he brings back all to God by love, and, to define him properly, he should be styled the Seraphic and Cherubic Doctor. Tis thus that Gerson, the Chancellor of the University of Paris, expresses himself.
“If I am asked,” he continues, “who amongst the doctors seems to me the best calculated to instruct, I answer, without detracting from any other, it is Bonaventure, because he is sure, solid, exact, and devout, at one and the same time; and separating from his theology all questions foreign from the purpose, all superfluous dialectic, and that obscurity of terms with which so many others load their works, he turns into piety all the beautiful lights he gives to the mind. In a word, there is not a doctrine more mild, more salutary, more sublime, than his; and in devotion alone can neglect it. As to me,” he adds, “having recommenced studying it since I am grown old, the more I advance the more I am confounded, and I say to myself:
“What is the use of so much talking, and so much writing? Here is a doctrine which is quite sufficient of itself, and it is only necessary to transcribe and to spread it into facts.’” – Such is the opinion of the celebrated Gerson as to Saint Bonaventure, before he was canonized, declared a Doctor of the Church, and honored by the title of Seraphic, which he shares with his blessed Father. The Abbot Tri-themius, of the Order of Saint Benedict, passes a similar eulogium on him, to which the Sovereign Pontiffs, Sixtus IY. and Sixtus V., have added the crowning point in their bulls, the one for his canonization, the other for his doctorship.
The second particularity of his life, which had relation to Saint Francis, is, that he gloriously verified his prediction as to the fruits of sanctity which he was to bring to the Order. Having been elected general when he was five and thirty years of age, in consequence of his great talents and eminent virtues, he governed his brethren for eighteen years with so much zeal, light, mildness, and wisdom, that he perfectly made amends for the evil which the relaxation of some and the perplexity of others had occasioned. He prepared such judicious regulations for the form of government, for the recital of the Divine Office, for the regularity of discipline, that they have served as a basis and foundation for all the statutes which have since been introduced into the Order.
He decided on the difficulties which occurred as to the observation of the rules, and this with so much precision, that, in order to follow them exactly and conscientiously, without scruple, it is only necessary to practise what he has clearly laid down. He composed spiritual treatises, so elevated, so instructive, and so affecting, that they are alone sufficient to guide the Friars Minors, or all other persons of piety, to the sublimest perfection. He answered, with so much strength and judgment, the philosophers of his day, who attacked the Mendicant Orders, despite of the Sovereign Pontiffs, by whom they were approved, that his works, with those of the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, will ever cover with confusion whosoever may attempt to renew the former disputes on this head.
The exertions which Saint Francis made, during a short interval from pain, for the salvation of souls, in an unfavorable season of the year, increased all his maladies. His legs became inflamed, and he was obliged to lie by in a small hamlet near Nocera. When this was known at Assisi, the fear they had lest he should die on the way, and lest his country should be deprived of his precious remains, induced the authorities to send means to bring him into town.
This deputation, returning with the patient, arrived at the dinner hour in the Village of Sarthiano, where they found nothing to be purchased for their meal, although they offered a double price for every thing they wanted. Upon their complaining of this, Francis said: “You have not found anything, because you have had greater confidence in your flies than in your Lord” (he called their money flies); “but return to the houses where you have been, and ask them humbly for alms, offering to pray to God for them in payment. Don’t think, under false impressions, that there is anything mean or shameful in this, for, since sin came into the world, all the good which God so liberally bestows on man, on the just, and on sinners, on the worthy and unworthy, is done by means of alms, and He is the chief almsgiver.” These men overcame their bashfulness, and went cheerfully to beg for the love of God, and got whatever they wanted, although they had not been able to obtain it for money; God having so touched the hearts of the inhabitants, that, in giving what they had, they even offered spontaneously every service.
The Bishop of Assisi had the man of God brought to his palace, and kept him there till the spring of the year 1226, providing him with everything he required, with great affection. One day, when his stomach loathed everything, he expressed a wish for a particular sort of fish, which the severity of the winter made it difficult to procure, but, at the very moment, a messenger sent by Brother Gerald, the guardian of the convent of Rieti, brought three large fishes of this species, with certain sauces which were calculated to sharpen the appetite and strengthen the patient. Thus it is that it sometimes pleases the Lord to give sensible relief to His friends who have neglected their health and crucified their flesh for His sake.
The children of the holy patriarch, and particularly Elias, his vicar- general, who saw that there was no amelioration in the state of his health, but that, on the contrary, his disorders increased with the renewal of the year, entreated him to allow himself to be removed to Sienna, where the mild climate and the excellence of the physicians might afford him some relief, if there were no hopes of a cure. And they urged this so energetically, that, as he was mild and obliging, he consented to be taken thither at the beginning of April, But all his ills continued, and the disorder of his eyes was greatly increased. A red-hot iron was again applied to both sides of his head, from the ears to the eyebrows, but this had no good effect, though he suffered no pain from it, God having renewed the miracle He had before performed in his favor.
So the mild air of Sienna, and the kind care of the physicians, did not prevent the sufferings of Francis from continuing and increasing. During one night he vomited so much blood, and he was to such a degree weakened from it, that it was thought he was about to expire. His children, cast down and in tears, came to him, like the disciples of Saint Martin, when he was on the point of death, and said to him, sobbing: -
“Dear Father and Master, we are greatly distressed to see you suffer so intensely, but we are likewise afflicted for ourselves. After all your labors you are about to go to the enjoyment of eternal repose, but we shall remain without our Father and Pastor, you have begotten us in Jesus Christ by the doctrine of the Gospel, and we are scarcely born before we lose you. Who will instruct us? Who will console us? You have been everything to us, your presence has been our happiness. To whom do you consign us, in the desolate state in which we are? Alas! we foresee that after your departure ravenous wolves will invade your flock. Leave us, at least, something of yours to remind us of your instructions, in order that we may follow them when you are no more; and give us your blessing, which may be our shield against our enemies.”
The holy patriarch, casting his eyes affectionately on his children, called out to Brother Benedict of Piratro, who was his infirmarian, and who, during his illness, said Mass in his room: “Priest of God,” said he, “commit to writing the blessing I give to all my brethren, as well to those who are now in the Order, as to those who shall embrace it to the end of the world. As my great sufferings and extreme weakness prevent me from speaking, here are in a few words my intentions and last wishes: ‘May all the brethren love each other as I have loved them, and as I now love them. May they always cherish and adhere to poverty, which is my lady and my mistress; and never let them cease from being submissive and faithfully attached to the prelates and all the clergy. May the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost bless and protect them! Amen.’”
His sufferings being in some degree modified, and his weakness no longer so intense, his zeal induced him to think of instructing and exhorting the absent, for, by the example of the Son of God, he loved his own even to the last.
As soon as Brother Elias, the vicar-general, learnt the extreme danger in which the Father was, he came in great haste to Sienna, and proposed to him to be removed to the convent of Celles, near Cortona. Francis was very glad to see him, and was quite willing to be removed to Celles, where he was attended with great care by the relations and friends of Elias, who were of that country. But, as he became swollen, and the sufferings of his stomach and liver were greatly increased, he requested to be taken to Assisi; which the vicar-general had done with all the care and precaution possible. His return was a source of extraordinary gratification to the inhabitants, who had been fearful of being deprived of so great a treasure had he died elsewhere. They went in crowds to meet him, with great expressions of pleasure, and the bishop received him again into his palace.
Before we put on record the last acts and precious death of Saint Francis, it will be proper to notice the state in which his Order was at that time. There were some of his brethren in all parts of the known world. In Europe, they filled all Italy. Greece furnished them a province. The esteem of the great, and the love of the people, procured for them, daily, new houses in Spain, Portugal, France, the Low Countries, and England. They had spread into Scotland, and began to be received in Ireland. Brother Albert, of Pisa, had sent missioners into Upper and Lower Germany, with great success. They had penetrated into Poland, and into the countries of the North. In Asia, those whom the holy Patriarch had left, with others who followed, multiplied the missions among the Saracens. In Africa they continued to preach Jesus Christ to the Mohammedans, and we see by letters dated from Rieti, the 7th October, 1225, which Pope Honorius addressed to the Friars Preachers and Minors, destined by the Apostolic See for the mission into the kingdom of the Miramolin, “that they renounced themselves, and desired to sacrifice their lives for Jesus Christ, in order to gain souls for Him.”
The Second Order instituted by Francis, and called that of the Poor Dames, spread itself also throughout Europe, and the Third Order of Penance made stupendous progress.
The children of this holy Patriarch, being thus spread in all parts, preached the Gospel to the infidels, repressed heresies, attacked vice, inspired virtue, and gave admirable examples of poverty, humility, penance, and all perfection.
Anthony, of Padua, preached in Italy and France with so much lustre, that he has ever been considered as one of the most marvellous preachers whom Italy ever saw. The strength and the unction of his discourses, the eminent sanctity of his life, the evidence of his miracles, changed the face of the towns in which he announced the word of God. His auditors, penetrated with conjunction, and bursting into tears, excited each other to works of penance; the revengeful, the lascivious, the avaricious, the usurers became converted, and resorted so to the tribunals of penance that the number of priests were insufficient to hear the confessions.
In the year 1225 he came to Toulouse, and visited other towns of France, where his principal object was to confront the heretics. Animated with the same spirit which inspired his Father, Francis, with so perfect an attachment to the Roman Church, and the Holy See, he was the declared enemy of all errors, and he labored with all his strength to root them out. By quotations from the Holy Scriptures, with which he was intimately conversant, and the sense of which he perfectly understood, and by the solidity of his reasoning, he confounded the sectarians, and created a great horror of the false doctrines they taught. With admirable tact he discovered their artifices and frauds, which he laid before the people, to preserve them from their seduction; and, in fine, he pursued them with so much vigor and perseverance, that the faithful gave him the name of the indefatigable mallet of the heretics; none of them ventured to enter the lists with him, not even to say a word in his presence.
God favored him by converting a very great number of their supporters, and, what is very singular, many of the heads of their party.
At Bourges a man whose name was Guiald, and whom the historian calls an heresiarch, was so convinced by the power of his words, and by a marked miracle of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, that he persevered till death in the Catholic faith, and in submission to the Church. Another named Bonneville, or Banal, who is also stated to have been an heresiarch, who had been thirty years buried in the darkness of errors, was converted in a similar manner at Rimini by the sermons of Saint Anthony, and had a like perseverance.
The state in which, as we have just shown, Saint Francis left his Order when on the point of death, must be looked upon as one of the principal marvels of his life. God had predestined him for this great work; he labored at it for eighteen years without ceasing, with all possible assiduity, and, on the eve of quitting this world, he might say, in conforming himself to Jesus Christ, after having profited by His grace: “I have glorified Thee on earth; I have finished the work Thou gavest me to do, I now go to Thee.” Happy the Christian whose conscience bears him thus out on the bed of death, who can say that he has endeavored to do what God required of him, and fulfilled the duties of his profession.