Life of St. Francis of Assisi
by Paul Sabatier
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Quivere monachus est nihil reputat esse suum nisi citharam

GIOACCHINO DI FIORE in Apoc. 182 a 2





Copyright, 1894, by Charles Scribner's Sons, for the United States of America.

Printed by the Scribner Press New York, U.S.A.

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At last here is this book which I told you about so long ago. The result is small indeed in relation to the endeavor, as I, alas! see better than anyone. The widow of the Gospel put only one mite into the alms-box of the temple, but this mite, they tell us, won her Paradise. Accept the mite that I offer you to-day as God accepted that of the poor woman, looking not at her offering, but at her love, Feci quod potui, omnia dedi.

Do not chide me too severely for this long delay, for you are somewhat its cause. Many times a day at Florence, at Assisi, at Rome, I have forgotten the document I had to study. Something in me seemed to have gone to flutter at your windows, and sometimes they opened.... One evening at St. Damian I forgot myself and remained long after sunset. An old monk came to warn me that the sanctuary was closed. "Per Bacco!" he gently murmured as he led me away, all ready to receive my confidence, "sognava d'amore o di tristitia?" Well, yes. I was dreaming of love and of sadness, for I was dreaming of Strasbourg.

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In the renascence of history which is in a manner the characteristic of our time, the Middle Ages have been the object of peculiar fondness with both criticism and erudition. We rummage all the dark corners of the libraries, we bring old parchments to light, and in the zeal and ardor we put into our search there is an indefinable touch of piety.

These efforts to make the past live again reveal not merely our curiosity, or the lack of power to grapple with great philosophic problems, they are a token of wisdom and modesty; we are beginning to feel that the present has its roots in the past, and that in the fields of politics and religion, as in others, slow, modest, persevering toil is that which has the best results.

There is also a token of love in this. We love our ancestors of five or six centuries ago, and we mingle not a little emotion and gratitude with this love. So, if one may hope everything of a son who loves his parents, we must not despair of an age that loves history.

The Middle Ages form an organic period in the life of humanity. Like all powerful organisms the period began with a long and mysterious gestation; it had its youth, its manhood, its decrepitude. The end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth mark its full expansion; it is the twentieth year of life, with its poetry, its dreams, its enthusiasm, its generosity, its daring. Love overflowed with vigor; men everywhere had but one desire—to devote themselves to some great and holy cause.

Curiously enough, though Europe was more parcelled out than ever, it felt a new thrill run through its entire extent. There was what we might call a state of European consciousness.

In ordinary periods each people has its own interests, its tendencies, its tears, and its joys; but let a time of crisis come, and the true unity of the human family will suddenly make itself felt with a strength never before suspected. Each body of water has its own currents, but when the hurricane is abroad they mysteriously intermingle, and from the ocean to the remotest mountain lake the same tremor will upheave them all.

It was thus in '89, it was thus also in the thirteenth century.

Never was there less of frontier, never, either before or since, such a mingling of nationalities; and at the present day, with all our highways and railroads, the people live more apart.[1]

The great movement of thought of the thirteenth century is above all a religious movement, presenting a double character—it is popular and it is laic. It comes out from the heart of the people, and it looks athwart many uncertainties at nothing less than wresting the sacred things from the hands of the clergy.

The conservatives of our time who turn to the thirteenth century as to the golden age of authoritative faith make a strange mistake. If it is especially the century of saints, it is also that of heretics. We shall soon see that the two words are not so contradictory as might appear; it is enough for the moment to point out that the Church had never been more powerful nor more threatened.

There was a genuine attempt at a religious revolution, which, if it had succeeded, would have ended in a universal priesthood, in the proclamation of the rights of the individual conscience.

The effort failed, and though later on the Revolution made us all kings, neither the thirteenth century nor the Reformation was able to make us all priests. Herein, no doubt, lies the essential contradiction of our lives and that which periodically puts our national institutions in peril. Politically emancipated, we are not morally or religiously free.[2]

The thirteenth century with juvenile ardor undertook this revolution, which has not yet reached its end. In the north of Europe it became incarnate in cathedrals, in the south, in saints.

The cathedrals were the lay churches of the thirteenth century. Built by the people for the people, they were originally the true common house of our old cities. Museums, granaries, chambers of commerce, halls of justice, depositories of archives, and even labor exchanges, they were all these at once.

That art of the Middle Ages which Victor Hugo and Viollet-le-Duc have taught us to understand and love was the visible expression of the enthusiasm of a people who were achieving communal liberty. Very far from being the gift of the Church, it was in its beginning an unconscious protest against the hieratic, impassive, esoteric art of the religious orders. We find only laymen in the long list of master-workmen and painters who have left us the innumerable Gothic monuments which stud the soil of Europe. Those artists of genius who, like those of Greece, knew how to speak to the populace without being common, were for the most part humble workmen; they found their inspiration not in the formulas of the masters of monastic art, but in constant communion with the very soul of the nation. Therefore this renascence, in its most profound features, concerns less the archaeology or the architecture than the history of a country.

While in the northern countries the people were building their own churches, and finding in their enthusiasm an art which was new, original, complete, in the south, above the official, clerical priesthood of divine right they were greeting and consecrating a new priesthood, that of the saints.

The priest of the thirteenth century is the antithesis of the saint, he is almost always his enemy. Separated by the holy unction from the rest of mankind, inspiring awe as the representative of an all-powerful God, able by a few signs to perform unheard-of mysteries, with a word to change bread into flesh and wine into blood, he appeared as a sort of idol which can do all things for or against you and before which you have only to adore and tremble.

The saint, on the contrary, was one whose mission was proclaimed by nothing in his apparel, but whose life and words made themselves felt in all hearts and consciences; he was one who, with no cure of souls in the Church, felt himself suddenly impelled to lift up his voice. The child of the people, he knew all their material and moral woes, and their mysterious echo sounded in his own heart. Like the ancient prophet of Israel, he heard an imperious voice saying to him: "Go and speak to the children of my people." "Ah, Lord God, I am but a child, I know not how to speak." "Say not, I am but a child, for thou shalt go to all those to whom I shall send thee. Behold I have set thee to-day as a strong city, a pillar of iron and a wall of brass against the kings of Judah, against its princes and against its priests."

These thirteenth-century saints were in fact true prophets. Apostles like St. Paul, not as the result of a canonical consecration, but by the interior order of the Spirit, they were the witnesses of liberty against authority.

The Calabrian seer, Gioacchino di Fiore, hailed the new-born revolution; he believed in its success and proclaimed to the wondering world the advent of a new ministry. He was mistaken.

When the priest sees himself vanquished by the prophet he suddenly changes his method. He takes him under his protection, he introduces his harangues into the sacred canon, he throws over his shoulders the priestly chasuble. The days pass on, the years roll by, and the moment comes when the heedless crowd no longer distinguishes between them, and it ends by believing the prophet to be an emanation of the clergy.

This is one of the bitterest ironies of history.

Francis of Assisi is pre-eminently the saint of the Middle Ages. Owing nothing to church or school he was truly theodidact,[3] and if he perhaps did not perceive the revolutionary bearing of his preaching, he at least always refused to be ordained priest. He divined the superiority of the spiritual priesthood.

The charm of his life is that, thanks to reliable documents, we find the man behind the wonder worker. We find in him not merely noble actions, we find in him a life in the true meaning of the word; I mean, we feel in him both development and struggle.

How mistaken are the annals of the Saints in representing him as from the very cradle surrounded with aureole and nimbus! As if the finest and most manly of spectacles were not that of the man who conquers his soul hour after hour, fighting first against himself, against the suggestions of egoism, idleness, discouragement, then at the moment when he might believe himself victorious, finding in the champions attracted by his ideal those who are destined if not to bring about its complete ruin, at least to give it its most terrible blows. Poor Francis! The last years of his life were indeed a via dolorosa as painful as that where his master sank down under the weight of the cross; for it is still a joy to die for one's ideal, but what bitter pain to look on in advance at the apotheosis of one's body, while seeing one's soul—I would say his thought—misunderstood and frustrated.

If we ask for the origins of his idea we find them exclusively among the common people of his time; he is the incarnation of the Italian soul at the beginning of the thirteenth century, as Dante was to be its incarnation a hundred years later.

He was of the people and the people recognized themselves in him. He had their poetry and their aspirations, he espoused their claims, and the very name of his institute had at first a political signification: in Assisi as in most other Italian towns there were majores and minores, the popolo grasso and the popolo minuto; he resolutely placed himself among the latter. This political side of his apostolate needs to be clearly apprehended if we would understand its amazing success and the wholly unique character of the Franciscan movement in its beginning.

As to its attitude toward the Church, it was that of filial obedience. This may perhaps appear strange at first as regards an unauthorized preacher who comes speaking to the world in the name of his own immediate personal inspiration. But did not most of the men of '89 believe themselves good and loyal subjects of Louis XVI.?

The Church was to our ancestors what the fatherland is to us; we may wish to remodel its government, overturn its administration, change its constitution, but we do not think ourselves less good patriots for that.

In the same way, in an age of simple faith when religious beliefs seemed to be in the very fibre and flesh of humanity, Dante, without ceasing to be a good Catholic, could attack the clergy and the court of Rome with a violence that has never been surpassed. St. Francis so surely believed that the Church had become unfaithful to her mission that he could speak in his symbolic language of the widowhood of his Lady Poverty, who from Christ's time to his own had found no husband. How could he better have declared his purposes or revealed his dreams?

What he purposed was far more than the foundation of an order, and it is to do him great wrong thus to restrict his endeavor. He longed for a true awakening of the Church in the name of the evangelical ideal which he had regained. All Europe awoke with a start when it heard of these penitents from a little Umbrian town. It was reported that they had craved a strange privilege from the court of Rome: that of possessing nothing. Men saw them pass by, earning their bread by the labor of their hands, accepting only the bare necessities of bodily sustenance from them to whom they had given with lavish hands the bread of life. The people lifted up their heads, breathing in with deep inspirations the airs of a springtime upon which was already floating the perfume of new flowers.

Here and there in the world there are many souls capable of all heroism, if only they can see before them a true leader. St. Francis became for these the guide they had longed for, and whatever was best in humanity at that time leaped to follow in his footsteps.

This movement, which was destined to result in the constitution of a new family of monks, was in the beginning anti-monastic. It is not rare for history to have similar contradictions to record. The meek Galilean who preached the religion of a personal revelation, without ceremonial or dogmatic law, triumphed only on condition of being conquered, and of permitting his words of spirit and life to be confiscated by a church essentially dogmatic and sacerdotal.

In the same way the Franciscan movement was originally, if not the protest of the Christian consciousness against monachism, at least the recognition of an ideal singularly higher than that of the clergy of that time. Let us picture to ourselves the Italy of the beginning of the thirteenth century with its divisions, its perpetual warfare, its depopulated country districts, the impossibility of tilling the fields except in the narrow circle which the garrisons of the towns might protect; all these cities from the greatest to the least occupied in watching for the most favorable moment for falling upon and pillaging their neighbors; sieges terminated by unspeakable atrocities, and after all this, famine, speedily followed by pestilence to complete the devastation. Then let us picture to ourselves the rich Benedictine abbeys, veritable fortresses set upon the hill-tops, whence they seemed to command all the surrounding plains. There was nothing surprising in their prosperity. Shielded by their inviolability, they were in these disordered times the only refuge of peaceful souls and timid hearts.[4] The monks were in great majority deserters from life, who for motives entirely aside from religion had taken refuge behind the only walls which at this period were secure.

Overlook this as we may, forget as we may the demoralization and ignorance of the inferior clergy, the simony and the vices of the prelates, the coarseness and avarice of the monks, judging the Church of the thirteenth century only by those of her sons who do her the most honor; none the less are these the anchorites who flee into the desert to escape from wars and vices, pausing only when they are very sure that none of the world's noises will interrupt their meditations. Sometimes they will draw away with them hundreds of imitators, to the solitudes of Clairvaux, of the Chartreuse, of Vallombrosa, of the Camaldoli; but even when they are a multitude they are alone; for they are dead to the world and to their brethren. Each cell is a desert, on whose threshold they cry

O beata solitudo. O sola beatitudo.

The book of the Imitation is the picture of all that is purest in this cloistered life.

But is this abstinence from action truly Christian?

No, replied St. Francis. He for his part would do like Jesus, and we may say that his life is an imitation of Christ singularly more real than that of Thomas a Kempis.

Jesus went indeed into the desert, but only that he might find in prayer and communion with the heavenly Father the inspiration and strength necessary for keeping up the struggle against evil. Far from avoiding the multitude, he sought them out to enlighten, console, and convert them.

This is what St. Francis desired to imitate. More than once he felt the seduction of the purely contemplative life, but each time his own spirit warned him that this was only a disguised selfishness; that one saves oneself only in saving others.

When he saw suffering, wretchedness, corruption, instead of fleeing he stopped to bind up, to heal, feeling in his heart the surging of waves of compassion. He not only preached love to others; he himself was ravished with it; he sang it, and what was of greater value, he lived it.

There had indeed been preachers of love before his day, but most generally they had appealed to the lowest selfishness. They had thought to triumph by proving that in fact to give to others is to put one's money out at a usurious interest. "Give to the poor," said St. Peter Chrysologus,[5] "that you may give to yourself; give him a crumb in order to receive a loaf; give him a shelter to receive heaven."

There was nothing like this in Francis; his charity is not selfishness, it is love. He went, not to the whole, who need no physician, but to the sick, the forgotten, the disdained. He dispensed the treasures of his heart according to the need and reserved the best of himself for the poorest and the most lost, for lepers and thieves.

The gaps in his education were of marvellous service to him. More learned, the formal logic of the schools would have robbed him of that flower of simplicity which is the great charm of his life; he would have seen the whole extent of the sore of the Church, and would no doubt have despaired of healing it. If he had known the ecclesiastical discipline he would have felt obliged to observe it; but thanks to his ignorance he could often violate it without knowing it,[6] and be a heretic quite unawares.

We can now determine to what religious family St. Francis belongs.

Looking at the question from a somewhat high standpoint we see that in the last analysis minds, like religious systems, are to be found in two great families, standing, so to say, at the two poles of thought. These two poles are only mathematical points, they do not exist in concrete reality; but for all that we can set them down on the chart of philosophic and moral ideas.

There are religions which look toward divinity and religions which look toward man. Here again the line of demarcation between the two families is purely ideal and artificial; they often so mingle and blend with one another that we have much difficulty in distinguishing them, especially in the intermediate zone in which our civilization finds its place; but if we go toward the poles we shall find their characteristics growing gradually distinct.

In the religions which look toward divinity all effort is concentrated on worship, and especially on sacrifice. The end aimed at is a change in the disposition of the gods. They are mighty kings whose support or favor one must purchase by gifts.

Most pagan religions belong to this category and pharisaic Judaism as well. This is also the tendency of certain Catholics of the old school for whom the great thing is to appease God or to buy the protection of the Virgin and the saints by means of prayers, candles, and masses.

The other religions look toward man; their effort is directed to the heart and conscience with the purpose of transforming them. Sacrifice disappears, or rather it changes from the exterior to the interior. God is conceived of as a father, always ready to welcome him who comes to him. Conversion, perfection, sanctification become the pre-eminent religious acts. Worship and prayer cease to be incantations and become reflection, meditation, virile effort; while in religions of the first class the clergy have an essential part, as intermediaries between heaven and earth, in those of the second they have none, each conscience entering into direct relations with God.

It was reserved to the prophets of Israel to formulate, with a precision before unknown, the starting-point of spiritual worship.

Bring no more vain offerings; I have a horror of incense, Your new moons, your Sabbaths, and your assemblies; When you multiply prayers I will not hearken. Your hands are full of blood, Wash you, make you clean, Put away from before my eyes the evil of your ways, Cease to do evil, Learn to do well.[7]

With Isaiah these vehement apostrophes are but flashes of genius, but with Jesus the interior change becomes at once the principle and the end of the religious life. His promises were not for those who were right with the ceremonial law, or who offered the greatest number of sacrifices, but for the pure in heart, for men of good will.

These considerations are not perhaps without their use in showing the spiritual ancestry of the Saint of Assisi.

For him, as for St. Paul and St. Augustine, conversion was a radical and complete change, the act of will by which man wrests himself from the slavery of sin and places himself under the yoke of divine authority. Thenceforth prayer, become a necessary act of life, ceases to be a magic formula; it is an impulse of the heart, it is reflection and meditation rising above the commonplaces of this mortal life, to enter into the mystery of the divine will and conform itself to it; it is the act of the atom which understands its littleness, but which desires, though only by a single note, to be in harmony with the divine symphony.

Ecce adsum Domine, ut faciam voluntatem tuam.

When we reach these heights we belong not to a sect, but to humanity; we are like those wonders of nature which the accident of circumstances has placed upon the territory of this or that people, but which belong to all the world, because in fact they belong to no one, or rather they are the common and inalienable property of the entire human race. Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Michael Angelo, Rembrandt belong to us all as much as the ruins of Athens or Rome, or, rather, they belong to those who love them most and understand them best.

But that which is a truism, so far as men of genius in the domain of imagination or thought are concerned, still appears like a paradox when we speak of men of religious genius. The Church has laid such absolute claim to them that she has created in her own favor a sort of right. It cannot be that this arbitrary confiscation shall endure forever. To prevent it we have not to perform an act of negation or demolition: let us leave to the chapels their statues and their relics, and far from belittling the saints, let us make their true grandeur shine forth.

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It is time to say a few words concerning the difficulties of the work here presented to the public. History always embraces but a very feeble part of the reality: ignorant, she is like the stories children tell of the events that have occurred before their eyes; learned, she reminds us of a museum organized with all the modern improvements. Instead of making you see nature with its external covering, its diffuse life, its mysterious echoes in your own heart, they offer you a herbarium.

If it is difficult to narrate an ordinary event of our own time, it is far more so to describe the great crises where restless humanity is seeking its true path.

The first duty of the historian is to forget his own time and country and become the sympathetic and interested contemporary of what he relates; but if it is difficult to give oneself the heart of a Greek or a Roman, it is infinitely more so to give oneself a heart of the thirteenth century. I have said that at that period the Middle Age was twenty years old, and the feelings of the twentieth year are, if not the most fugitive, at least the most difficult to note down. Everyone knows that it is impossible to recall the feelings of youth with the same clearness as those of childhood or mature age. Doubtless we may have external facts in the memory, but we cannot recall the sensations and the sentiments; the confused forces which seek to move us are then all at work at once, and to speak the language of beyond the Rhine, it is the essentially phenomenal hour of the phenomena that we are; everything in us crosses, intermingles, collides, in desperate conflict: it is a time of diabolic or divine excitement. Let a few years pass, and nothing in the world can make us live those hours over again. Where was once a volcano, we perceive only a heap of blackened ashes, and scarcely, at long intervals, will a chance meeting, a sound, a word, awaken memory and unseal the fountain of recollection; and even then it is only a flash; we have had but a glimpse and all has sunk back into shadow and silence.

We find the same difficulty when we try to take note of the fiery enthusiasms of the thirteenth century, its poetic inspirations, its amorous and chaste visions—all this is thrown up against a background of coarseness, wretchedness, corruption, and folly.

The men of that time had all the vices except triviality, all the virtues except moderation; they were either ruffians or saints. Life was rude enough to kill feeble organisms; and thus characters had an energy unknown to-day. It was forever necessary to provide beforehand against a thousand dangers, to take those sudden resolutions in which one risks his life. Open the chronicle of Fra Salimbeni and you will be shocked to find that the largest place is taken up with the account of the annual expeditions of Parma against the neighboring cities, or of the neighboring cities against Parma. What would it have been if this chronicle, instead of being written by a monk of uncommonly open mind, a lover of music, at certain times an ardent Joachimite, an indefatigable traveller, had been written by a warrior? And this is not all; these wars between city and city were complicated with civil dissensions, plots were hatched periodically, conspirators were massacred if they were discovered, or massacred and exiled others in their turn if they were triumphant.[8] When we picture to ourselves this state of things dominated by the grand struggles of the papacy against the empire, heretics, and infidels, we may understand how difficult it is to describe such a time.

The imagination being haunted by horrible or entrancing pictures like those of the frescos in the Campo Santo of Pisa, men were always thinking of heaven and hell; they informed themselves about them with the feverish curiosity of emigrants, who pass their days on shipboard in trying to picture that spot in America where in a few days they will pitch their tent.

Every monk of any notoriety must have gone through this. Dante's poem is not an isolated work; it is the noblest result of a condition which had given birth to hundreds of compositions, and Alighieri had little more to do than to co-ordinate the works of his predecessors and vivify them with the breath of his own genius.

The unsettled state of men's minds was unimaginable. That unhealthy curiosity which lies at the bottom of the human heart, and which at the present day impels men to seek for refined and even perverse enjoyments, impelled men of that time to devotions which seem like a defiance to common sense.

Never had hearts been shaken with such terrors, nor ever thrilled with such radiant hopes. The noblest hymns of the liturgy, the Stabat and the Dies Irae, come to us from the thirteenth century, and we may well say that never has the human plaint been more agonized.

When we look through history, not to find accounts of battles or of the succession of dynasties, but to try to grasp the evolution of ideas and feelings, when we seek above all to discover the heart of man and of epochs, we perceive, on arriving at the thirteenth century, that a fresh wind has blown over the world, the human lyre has a new string, the lowest, the most profound; one which sings of woes and hopes to which the ancient world had not vibrated.

In the breast of the men of that time we think sometimes we feel the beating of a woman's heart; they have exquisite sentiments, delightful inspirations, with absurd terrors, fantastic angers, infernal cruelties. Weakness and fear often make them insincere; they have the idea of the grand, the beautiful, the ugly, but that of order is wanting; they fast or feast; the notion of the laws of nature, so deeply graven in our own minds, is to them entirely a stranger; the words possible and impossible have for them no meaning. Some give themselves to God, others sell themselves to the devil, but not one feels himself strong enough to walk alone, strong enough to have no need to hold on by some one's skirt.

Peopled with spirits and demons nature appeared to them singularly animated; in her presence they have all the emotions which a child experiences at night before the trees on the roadside and the vague forms of the rocks.

Unfortunately, our language is a very imperfect instrument for rendering all this; it is neither musical nor flexible; since the seventeenth century it has been deemed seemly to keep one's emotions to oneself, and the old words which served to note states of the soul have fallen into neglect; the Imitation and the Fioretti have become untranslatable.

More than this, in a history like the present one, we must give a large place to the Italian spirit; it is evident that in a country where they call a chapel basilica and a tiny house palazzo, or in speaking to a seminarist say "Your Reverence," words have not the same value as on this side of the Alps.

The Italians have an imagination which enlarges and simplifies. They see the forms and outlines of men and things more than they grasp their spirit. What they most admire in Michael Angelo is gigantic forms, noble and proud attitudes, while we better understand his secret thoughts, hidden sorrows, groans, and sighs.

Place before their eyes a picture by Rembrandt, and more often than not it will appear to them ugly; its charm cannot be caught at a glance as in those of their artists; to see it you must examine it, make an effort, and with them effort is the beginning of pain.

Do not ask them, then, to understand the pathos of things, to be touched by the mysterious and almost fanciful emotion which northern hearts discover and enjoy in the works of the Amsterdam master. No, instead of a forest they want a few trees, standing out clearly against the horizon; instead of a multitude swarming in the penumbra of reality, a few personages, larger than nature, forming harmonious groups in an ideal temple.

The genius of a people[9] is all of a piece: they apply to history the same processes that they apply to the arts. While the Germanic spirit considers events rather in their evolution, in their complex becoming, the Italian spirit takes them at a given moment, overlooks the shadows, the clouds, the mists, everything that makes the line indistinct, brings out the contour sharply, and thus constructs a very lucid story, which is a delight to the eyes, but which is little more than a symbol of the reality.

At other times it takes a man, separates him from the unnamed crowd, and by a labor often unconscious, makes him the ideal type of a whole epoch.[10]

Certainly there is in every people a tendency to give themselves a circle of divinities and heroes who are, so to say, the incarnation of its instincts; but generally that requires the long labor of centuries. The Italian character will not suffer this slow action; as soon as it recognizes a man it says so, it even shouts it aloud if that is necessary, and makes him enter upon immortality while still alive. Thus legend almost confounds itself with history, and it becomes very difficult to reduce men to their true proportions.

We must not, then, ask too much of history. The more beautiful is the dawn, the less one can describe it. The most beautiful things in nature, the flower and the butterfly, should be touched only by delicate hands.

The effort here made to indicate the variegated, wavering tints which form the atmosphere in which St. Francis lived is therefore of very uncertain success. It was perhaps presumptuous to undertake it.

Happily we are no longer in the time when historians thought they had done the right thing when they had reduced everything to its proper size, contenting themselves with denying or omitting everything in the life of the heroes of humanity which rises above the level of our every-day experience.

No doubt Francis did not meet on the road to Sienna three pure and gentle virgins come from heaven to greet him; the devil did not overturn rocks for the sake of terrifying him; but when we deny these visions and apparitions, we are victims of an error graver, perhaps, than that of those who affirm them.

The first time that I was at Assisi I arrived in the middle of the night. When the sun rose, flooding everything with warmth and light, the old basilica[11] seemed suddenly to quiver; one might have said that it wished to speak and sing. Giotto's frescos, but now invisible, awoke to a strange life, you might have thought them painted the evening before so much alive they were; everything was moving without awkwardness or jar.

I returned six months later. A scaffold had been put up in the middle of the nave; upon it an art critic was examining the paintings, and as the day was overcast he threw upon the walls the beams of a lamp with a reflector. Then you saw arms thrown out, faces grimacing, without unity, without harmony; the most exquisite figures took on something fantastic and grotesque.

He came down triumphant, with a portfolio stuffed with sketches; here a foot, there a muscle, farther on a bit of face, and I could not refrain from musing on the frescos as I had seen them bathed in sunlight.

The sun and the lamp are both deceivers; they transform what they show; but if the truth must be told I own to my preference for the falsehoods of the sun.

History is a landscape, and like those of nature it is continually changing. Two persons who look at it at the same time do not find in it the same charm, and you yourself, if you had it continually before your eyes, would never see it twice alike. The general lines are permanent, but it needs only a cloud to hide the most important ones, as it needs only a jet of light to bring out such or such a detail and give it a false value.

When I began this page the sun was disappearing behind the rains of the Castle of Crussol and the splendors of the sunset gave it a shining aureola; the light flooded everything, and you no longer saw anywhere the damage which wars have inflicted upon the old feudal manor. I looked, almost thinking I could perceive at the window the figure of the chatelaine ... Twilight has come, and now there is nothing up there but crumbling walls, a discrowned tower, nothing but ruins and rubbish, which seem to beg for pity.

It is the same with the landscapes of history. Narrow minds cannot accommodate themselves to these perpetual transformations: they want an objective history in which the author will study the people as a chemist studies a body. It is very possible that there may be laws for historic evolution and social transformations as exact as those of chemical combinations, and we must hope that in the end they will be discovered; but for the present there is no purely objective truth of history.

To write history we must think it, and to think it is to transform it. Within a few years, it is true, men have believed they had found the secret of objectivity, in the publication of original documents. This is a true progress which renders inestimable service, but here again we must not deceive ourselves as to its significance. All the documents on an epoch or an event cannot usually be published, a selection must be made, and in it will necessarily appear the turn of mind of him who makes it. Let us admit that all that can be found is published; but alas, the most unusual movements have generally the fewest documents. Take, for instance, the religious history of the Middle Ages: it is already a pretty delicate task to collect official documents, such as bulls, briefs, conciliary canons, monastic constitutions, etc., but do these documents contain all the life of the Church? Much is still wanting, and to my mind the movements which secretly agitated the masses are much more important, although to testify to them we have only a few fragments.

Poor heretics, they were not only imprisoned and burned, but their books were destroyed and everything that spoke of them; and more than one historian, finding scarcely a trace of them in his heaps of documents, forgets these prophets with their strange visions, these poet-monks who from the depths of their cells made the world to thrill and the papacy to tremble.

Objective history is then a utopia. We create God in our own image, and we impress the mark of our personality in places where we least expect to find it again.

But by dint of talking about the tribunal of history we have made most authors think that they owe to themselves and their readers definitive and irrevocable judgments.

It is always easier to pronounce a sentence than to wait, to reserve one's opinion, to re-examine. The crowd which has put itself out to be present at a trial is almost always furious with the judges when they reserve the case for further information; its mind is so made that it requires precision in things which will bear it the least; it puts questions right and left, as children do; if you appear to hesitate or to be embarrassed you are lost in its estimation, you are evidently only an ignoramus.

But perhaps below the Areopagites, obliged by their functions to pronounce sentence, there is place at the famous tribunal for a simple spectator who has come in by accident. He has made out a brief and would like very simply to tell his neighbors his opinion.

This, then, is not a history ad probandum, to use the ancient formula. Is this to say that I have only desired to give the reader a moment of diversion? That would be to understand my thought very ill. In the grand spectacles of history as in those of nature there is something divine; from it our minds and hearts gain a virtue at once pacifying and encouraging, we experience the salutary sensation of littleness, and seeing the beauties and the sadnesses of the past we learn better how to judge the present hour.

In one of the frescos of the Upper Church of Assisi, Giotto has represented St. Clara and her companions coming out from St. Damian all in tears, to kiss their spiritual father's corpse as it is being carried to its last home. With an artist's liberty he has made the chapel a rich church built of precious marbles.

Happily the real St. Damian is still there, nestled under some olive-trees like a lark under the heather; it still has its ill-made walls of irregular stones, like those which bound the neighboring fields. Which is the more beautiful, the ideal temple of the artist's fancy, or the poor chapel of reality? No heart will be in doubt.

Francis's official historians have done for his biography what Giotto did for his little sanctuary. In general they have done him ill-service. Their embellishments have hidden the real St. Francis, who was, in fact, infinitely nobler than they have made him to be. Ecclesiastical writers appear to make a great mistake in thus adorning the lives of their heroes, and only mentioning their edifying features. They thus give occasion, even to the most devout, to suspect their testimony. Besides, by thus surrounding their saints with light they make them superhuman creatures, having nothing in common with us; they are privileged characters, marked with the divine seal; they are, as the litanies say, vials of election, into which God has poured the sweetest perfumes; their sanctity is revealed almost in spite of themselves; they are born saints as others are born kings or slaves, their life is set out against the golden background of a tryptich, and not against the sombre background of reality.

By such means the saints, perhaps, gain something in the respect of the superstitious; but their lives lose something of virtue and of communicable strength. Forgetting that they were men like ourselves, we no longer hear in our conscience the command, "Go and do likewise."

It is, then, a work of piety to seek behind the legend for the history. Is it presumptuous to ask our readers to try to understand the thirteenth century and love St. Francis? They will be amply rewarded for the effort, and will soon find an unexpected charm in these too meagre landscapes, these incorporate souls, these sickly imaginations which will pass before their eyes. Love is the true key of history.

A book has always a great number of authors, and the following pages owe much to the researches of others; I have tried in the notes to show the whole value of these debts.

I have also had colaborers to whom it will be more difficult for me to express my gratitude. I refer to the librarians of the libraries of Italy and their assistants; it is impossible to name them all, their faces are better known to me than their names, but I would here say that during long months passed in the various collections of the Peninsula, all, even to the most humble employees, have shown a tireless helpfulness even at those periods of the year when the number of attendants was the smallest.

Professor Alessandro Leto, who, barely recovered from a grave attack of influenza, kindly served as my guide among the archives of Assisi, deserves a very particular mention. To the Syndic and municipality of that city I desire also to express my gratitude.

I cannot close without a warm remembrance to the spiritual sons of St. Francis dispersed in the mountains of Umbria and Tuscany.

Dear dwellers in St. Damian, Portiuncula, the Carceri, the Verna, Monte Colombo, you perhaps remember the strange pilgrim who, though he wore neither the frock nor the cord, used to talk with you of the Seraphic Father with as much love as the most pious Franciscan; you used to be surprised at his eagerness to see everything, to look at everything, to thread all the unexplored paths. You often tried to restrain him by telling him that there was not the smallest relic, the most meagre indulgence in the far-away grottos to which he was dragging you, but you always ended by going with him, thinking that none but a Frenchman could be possessed by a devotion so fervent and so imprudent.

Thank you, pious anchorites of Greccio, thank you for the bread that you went out and begged when I arrived at your hermitage benumbed with cold and hunger. If you read these lines, read here my gratitude and also a little admiration. You are not all saints, but nearly all of you have hours of saintliness, flights of pure love.

If some pages of this book give you pain, turn them over quickly; let me think that others of them will give you pleasure, and will make the name you bear, if possible, still more precious to you than it now is.


[1] The mendicant orders were in their origin a true International. When in the spring of 1216 St. Dominic assembled his friars at Notre Dame de la Prouille, they were found to be sixteen in number, and among them Castilians, Navarese, Normans, French, Languedocians, and even English and Germans.

Heretics travelled all over Europe, and nowhere do we find them checked by the diversity of languages. Arnold of Brescia, for example, the famous Tribune of Rome, appeared in France and Switzerland and in the heart of Germany.

[2] The Reformation only substituted the authority of the book for that of the priest; it is a change of dynasty and nothing more. As to the majority of those who to-day call themselves free-thinkers, they confuse religious freedom with irreligion; they choose not to see that in religion as in politics, between a royalty based on divine right and anarchy there is room for a government which may be as strong as the first and a better guarantee of freedom than the second. The spirit of the older time put God outside of the world; the sovereignty outside of the people; authority outside of the conscience. The spirit of the new times has the contrary tendency: it denies neither God nor sovereignty nor authority, but it sees them where they really are.

[3] Nemo ostendebat mihi quod deberem facere, sed ipse Altissimus revelavit mihi quod deberem vivere secundem formam sancti Evangelii. Testamentum Fr.

[4] The wealthiest monasteries of France are of the twelfth century or were enlarged at that time: Arles, S. Gilles, S. Sernin, Cluny, Vezelay, Brioude, Issoire, Paray-le-Monial. The same was the case in Italy.

Down to the year 1000, 1,108 monasteries had been founded in France. The eleventh century saw the birth of 326 and the twelfth of 702. The convents of Mount Athos in their present state give us a very accurate notion of the great monasteries of Europe at the close of the twelfth century.

[5] St. Petrus Chrysologus, sermo viii., de jejunio et eleemosyna. Da pauperi ut des tibi: da micam ut accipias totum panem; da tectum, accipe coelum.

[6] By what right did he begin to preach? By what right did he, a mere deacon, admit to profession and cut off the hair of a young girl of eighteen? That is an episcopal function, one which can only devolve even upon priests by an express commission.

[7] Isaiah i. 10-17. Cf. Joel 2, Psalm 50.

[8] The chronicles of Orvieto (Archivio, storico italiano, t. i., of 1889, pp. 7 and following) are nothing more than a list, as melancholy as they are tedious of wars, which, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, all the places of that region carried on, from the greatest to the smallest.

[9] Do not forget that in the thirteenth century Italy was not a mere geographical expression. It was of all the countries of Europe the one which, notwithstanding its partitions, had the clearest consciousness of its unity. The expression profectus et honor Italiae often appeared from the pen of Innocent III. See, for instance, the bull of April 16, 1198, Mirari cogimur, addressed particularly to the Assisans.

[10] Note what the Fioretti say of Brother Bernard: "Stava solo sulle cime dei monti altissimi contemplando le cose celesti." Fior., 28. The learned historian of Assisi, Mr. Cristofani, has used similar expressions; speaking of St. Francis, he says: "Nuovo Christo in somma e pero degno d'essere riguardoto come la piu gigantesca, la piu splendida, la piu cara tra le grandi figure campeggianti nell' aere del medio evo" (Storia d'Assisi, t. i., p. 70, ed. of 1885).

[11] It remains open all night.

* * * * *


* * * * *



Assisi is to-day very much what it was six or seven hundred years ago. The feudal castle is in ruins, but the aspect of the city is just the same. Its long-deserted streets, bordered by ancient houses, lie in terraces half-way up the steep hill-side. Above it Mount Subasio[1] proudly towers, at its feet lies outspread all the Umbrian plain from Perugia to Spoleto. The crowded houses clamber up the rocks like children a-tiptoe to see all that is to be seen; they succeed so well that every window gives the whole panorama set in its frame of rounded hills, from whose summits castles and villages stand sharply out against a sky of incomparable purity.

These simple dwellings contain no more than five or six little rooms,[2] but the rosy hues of the stone of which they are built give them a wonderfully cheerful air. The one in which, according to the story, St. Francis was born has almost entirely disappeared, to make room for a church; but the street is so modest, and all that remains of the palazzo dei genitori di San Francesco is so precisely like the neighboring houses that the tradition must be correct. Francis entered into glory in his lifetime; it would be surprising if a sort of worship had not from the first been centred around the house in which he saw the light and where he passed the first twenty-five years of his life.

He was born about 1182.[3] The biographies have preserved to us few details about his parents.[4] His father, Pietro Bernardone, was a wealthy cloth-merchant. We know how different was the life of the merchants of that period from what it is to-day. A great portion of their time was spent in extensive journeys for the purchase of goods. Such tours were little short of expeditions. The roads being insecure, a strong escort was needed for the journey to those famous fairs where, for long weeks at a time, merchants from the most remote parts of Europe were gathered together. In certain cities, Montpellier for example, the fair was perpetual. Benjamin of Tudela shows us that city frequented by all nations, Christian and Mohammedan. "One meets there merchants from Africa, from Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Greece, Gaul, Spain, and England, so that one sees men of all languages, with the Genoese and the Pisans."

Among all these merchants the richest were those who dealt in textile stuffs. They were literally the bankers of the time, and their heavy wagons were often laden with the sums levied by the popes in England or France.

Their arrival at a castle was one of the great events. They were kept as long as possible, everyone being eager for the news they brought. It is easy to understand how close must have been their relations with the nobility; in certain countries, Provence for example, the merchants were considered as nobles of a second order.[5]

Bernardone often made these long journeys; he went even as far as France, and by this we must surely understand Northern France, and particularly Champagne, which was the seat of commercial exchange between Northern and Southern Europe.

He was there at the very time of his son's birth. The mother, presenting the child at the font of San Rufino,[6] had him baptized by the name of John, but the father on his return chose to call him Francis.[7] Had he already determined on the education he was to give the child; did he name him thus because he even then intended to bring him up after the French fashion, to make a little Frenchman of him? It is by no means improbable. Perhaps, indeed, the name was only a sort of grateful homage tendered by the Assisan burgher to his noble clients beyond the Alps. However this may be, the child was taught to speak French, and always had a special fondness for both the language and the country.[8]

These facts about Bernardone are of real importance; they reveal the influences in the midst of which Francis grew up. Merchants, indeed, play a considerable part in the religious movements of the thirteenth century. Their calling in some sense forced them to become colporters of ideas. What else could they do, on arriving in a country, but answer those who asked for news? And the news most eagerly looked for was religious news, for men's minds were turned upon very different subjects then from now. They accommodated themselves to the popular wish, observing, hearkening everywhere, keeping eyes and ears open, glad to find anything to tell; and little by little many of them became active propagandists of ideas concerning which at first they had been simply curious.

The importance of the part thus played by the merchants as they came and went, everywhere sowing the new ideas which they had gathered up in their travels, has not been put in a clear enough light; they were often, unconsciously and quite involuntarily, the carriers of ideas of all kinds, especially of heresy and rebellion. It was they who made the success of the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Humiliati, and many other sects.

Thus Bernardone, without dreaming of such a thing, became the artisan of his son's religious vocation. The tales which he brought home from his travels seemed at first, perhaps, not to have aroused the child's attention, but they were like germs a long time buried, which suddenly, under a warm ray of sunlight, bring forth unlooked-for fruit.

The boy's education was not carried very far;[9] the school was in those days overshadowed by the church. The priests of San Giorgio were his teachers,[10] and taught him a little Latin. This language was spoken in Umbria until toward the middle of the thirteenth century; every one understood it and spoke it a little; it was still the language of sermons and of political deliberations.[11]

He learned also to write, but with less success; all through his life we see him take up the pen only on rare occasions, and for but a few words.[12] The autograph of Sacro-Convento, which appears to be entirely authentic, shows extreme awkwardness; in general he dictated, signing his letters by a simple [Greek: tau], the symbol of the cross of Jesus.[13]

That part of his education which was destined to have most influence upon his life was the French language,[14] which he perhaps spoke in his own family. It has been rightly said that to know two languages is to have two souls; in learning that of France the boy felt his heart thrill to the melody of its youthful poetry, and his imagination was mysteriously stirred with dreams of imitating the exploits of the French cavaliers.

But let us not anticipate. His early life was that of other children of his age. In the quarter of the town where his house is still shown no vehicles are ever seen; from morning till night the narrow streets are given over to the children. They play there in many groups, frolicking with an exquisite charm, very different from the little Romans, who, from the time they are six or seven years old, spend hours at a time squatting behind a pillar, or in a corner of a wall or a ruin, to play dice or "morra," putting a passionate ferocity even into their play.

In Umbria, as in Tuscany, children love above all things games in which they can make a parade; to play at soldiers or procession is the supreme delight of Assisan children. Through the day they keep to the narrow streets, but toward evening they go, singing and dancing, to one of the open squares of the city. These squares are one of the charms of Assisi. Every few paces an interval occurs between the houses looking toward the plain, and you find a delightful terrace, shaded by a few trees, the very place for enjoying the sunset without losing one of its splendors. Hither no doubt came often the son of Bernardone, leading one of those farandoles which you may see there to this day: from his very babyhood he was a prince among the children.

Thomas of Celano draws an appalling picture of the education of that day. He describes parents inciting their children to vice, and driving them by main force to wrong-doing. Francis responded only too quickly to these unhappy lessons.[15]

His father's profession and the possibly noble origin of his mother raised him almost to the level of the titled families of the country; money, which he spent with both hands, made him welcome among them. Well pleased to enjoy themselves at his expense, the young nobles paid him a sort of court. As to Bernardone, he was too happy to see his son associating with them to be niggardly as to the means. He was miserly, as the course of this history will show, but his pride and self-conceit exceeded his avarice.

Pica, his wife, gentle and modest creature,[16] concerning whom the biographers have been only too laconic, saw all this, and mourned over it in silence, but though weak as mothers are, she would not despair of her son, and when the neighbors told her of Francis's escapades, she would calmly reply, "What are you thinking about? I am very sure that, if it pleases God, he will become a good Christian."[17] The words were natural enough from a mother's lips, but later on they were held to have been truly prophetic.

How far did the young man permit himself to be led on? It would be difficult to say. The question which, as we are told, tormented Brother Leo, could only have suggested itself to a diseased imagination.[18] Thomas of Celano and the Three Companions agree in picturing him as going to the worst excesses. Later biographers speak with more circumspection of his worldly career. A too widely credited story gathered from Celano's narrative was modified by the chapter-general of 1260,[19] and the frankness of the early biographers was, no doubt, one of the causes which most effectively contributed to their definitive condemnation three years later.[20]

Their statements are in no sense obscure; according to them the son of Bernardone not only patterned himself after the young men of his age, he made it a point of honor to exceed them. What with eccentricities, buffooneries, pranks, prodigalities, he ended by achieving a sort of celebrity. He was forever in the streets with his companions, compelling attention by his extravagant or fantastic attire. Even at night the joyous company kept up their merrymakings, causing the town to ring with their noisy songs.[21]

At this very time the troubadours were roaming over the towns of Northern Italy[22] and bringing brilliant festivities and especially Courts of Love into vogue. If they worked upon the passions, they also made appeal to feelings of courtesy and delicacy; it was this that saved Francis. In the midst of his excesses he was always refined and considerate, carefully abstaining from every base or indecent utterance.[23] Already his chief aspiration was to rise above the commonplace. Tortured with the desire for that which is far off and high,[24] he had conceived a sort of passion for chivalry, and fancying that dissipation was one of the distinguishing features of nobility, he had thrown himself into it with all his soul.

But he who, at twenty, goes from pleasure to pleasure with the heart not absolutely closed to good, must now and then, at some turning of the road, become aware that there are hungry folk, who could live a month on what he spends in a few hours on frivolity. Francis saw them, and with his impressionable nature for the moment forgot everything else. In thought he put himself in their place, and it sometimes happened that he gave them all the money he had about him and even his clothes.

One day he was busy with some customers in his father's shop, when a man came in, begging for charity in the name of God. Losing his patience Francis sharply turned him away; but quickly reproaching himself for his harshness he thought, "What would I not have done if this man had asked something of me in the name of a count or a baron? What ought I not to have done when he came in the name of God? I am no better than a clown!" Leaving his customers he ran after the beggar.[25]

Bernardone had been well pleased with his son's commercial aptitude in the early days when the young man was first in his father's employ. Francis was only too proficient in spending money; he at least knew well how to make it.[26] But this satisfaction did not last long. Francis's bad companions were exercising over him a most pernicious influence. The time came when he could no longer endure to be separated from them; if he heard their call, nothing could keep him, he would leave everything and go after them.[27]

All this time political events were hurrying on in Umbria and Italy; after a formidable struggle the allied republics had forced the empire to recognize them. By the immortal victory of Legnano (May 29, 1176) and the Peace of Constance (June 25, 1183) the Lombard League had wrested from Frederick Barbarossa almost all the prerogatives of power; little was left to the emperor but insignia and outward show.

From one end of the Peninsula to the other visions of liberty were making hearts beat high. For an instant it seemed as if all Italy was about to regain consciousness of its unity, was about to rise up as one man and hurl the foreigner from its borders; but the rivalries of the cities were too strong for them to see that local liberty without a common independence is precarious and illusory. Henry VI., the successor of Barbarossa (1183-1196), laid Italy under a yoke of iron; he might perhaps in the end have assured the domination of the empire, if his career had not been suddenly cut short by a premature death.

Yet he had not been able to put fetters upon ideas. The communal movement which was shaking the north of France reverberated beyond the Alps.

Although a city of second rank, Assisi had not been behind in the great struggles for independence.[28] She had been severely chastised, had lost her franchise, and was obliged to submit to Conrad of Suabia, Duke of Spoleto, who from the heights of his fortress kept her in subjection.

But when Innocent III. ascended the pontifical throne (January 8, 1199) the old duke knew himself to be lost. He made a tender to him of money, men, his faith even, but the pontiff refused them all. He had no desire to appear to favor the Tedeschi, who had so odiously oppressed the country. Conrad of Suabia was forced to yield at mercy, and to go to Narni to put his submission into the hands of two cardinals.

Like the practical folk that they were, the Assisans did not hesitate an instant. No sooner was the count on the road to Narni than they rushed to the assault of the castle. The arrival of envoys charged to take possession of it as a pontifical domain by no means gave them pause. Not one stone of it was left upon another.[29] Then, with incredible rapidity they enclosed their city with walls, parts of which are still standing, their formidable ruins a witness to the zeal with which the whole population labored on them.

It is natural to think that Francis, then seventeen years old, was one of the most gallant laborers of those glorious days, and it was perhaps there that he gained the habit of carrying stones and wielding the trowel which was destined to serve him so well a few years later.

Unhappily his fellow-citizens had not the sense to profit by their hard-won liberty. The lower classes, who in this revolution had become aware of their strength, determined to follow out the victory by taking possession of the property of the nobles. The latter took refuge in their fortified houses in the interior of the city, or in their castles in the suburbs. The townspeople burned down several of the latter, whereupon counts and barons made request of aid and succor from the neighboring cities.

Perugia was at this time at the apogee of its power,[30] and had already made many efforts to reduce Assisi to submission. It therefore received the fugitives with alacrity, and making their cause its own, declared war upon Assisi. This was in 1202. An encounter took place in the plain about half way between the two cities, not far from Ponte San Giovanni. Assisi was defeated, and Francis, who was in the ranks, was made prisoner.[31]

The treachery of the nobles had not been universal; a few had fought with the people. It was with them and not with the popolani that Francis, in consideration of the nobility of his manners,[32] passed the time of his captivity, which lasted an entire year. He greatly astonished his companions by his lightness of heart. Very often they thought him almost crazy. Instead of passing his time in wailing and cursing he made plans for the future, about which he was glad to talk to any one who came along. To his fancy life was what the songs of the troubadours had painted it; he dreamed of glorious adventures, and always ended by saying: "You will see that one day I shall be adored by the whole world."[33]

During these long months Francis must have been pretty rudely undeceived with respect to those nobles whom from afar he had so heartily admired. However that may be, he retained with them not only his frankness of speech, but also his full freedom of action. One of them, a knight, had always held aloof from the others, out of vanity and bad temper. Francis, far from leaving him to himself, always showed him affection, and finally had the joy of reconciling him with his fellow-captives.

A compromise was finally arrived at between the counts and the people of Assisi. In November, 1203, the arbitrators designated by the two parties announced their decision. The commons of Assisi were to repair in a certain measure the damage done to the lords, and the latter agreed, on their part, to make no further alliances without authorization of the commons.[34] Rural serfage was maintained, which proves that the revolution had been directed by the burghers, and for their own profit. Ten years more were not, however, to elapse before the common people also would succeed in achieving liberty. In this cause we shall again see Francis fighting on the side of the oppressed, earning the title of Patriarch of religious democracy which has been accorded him by one of his compatriots.[35]

The agreement being made the prisoners detained at Perugia were released, and Francis returned to Assisi. He was twenty-two years old.


[1] Eleven hundred and one metres above the level of the sea; the plain around Assisi has an average of two hundred, and the town of two hundred and fifty, metres above.

[2] As in the majority of Tuscan cities the dimensions of the houses were formerly fixed by law.

[3] The biographies say that he died (October 3, 1226) in his forty-fifth year. But the terms are not precise enough to make the date 1181 improbable. For that matter the question is of small importance. A Franciscan of Erfurt, about the middle of the thirteenth century, fixes the date at 1182. Pertz, vol. xxiv., p. 193.

[4] A number of different genealogies have been fabricated for Francis; they prove only one thing, the wreck of the Franciscan idea. How little they understood their hero, who thought to magnify and glorify him by making him spring from a noble family! "Quae rero," says Father Suysken, S. J., "de ejus gentilitio insigni disserit Waddingus, non lubet mihi attingere. Factis et virtutibus eluxit S. Franciscus non proavorum insignibus aut titulis, quos nec desideravit." (A. SS. p. 557a.) It could not be better said.

In the fourteenth century a whole cycle of legends had gathered about his birth. It could not have been otherwise. They all grow out of the story that tells of an old man who comes knocking at the parents' door, begging them to let him take the infant in his arms, when he announces that it will do great things. Under this form the episode certainly presents nothing impossible, but very soon marvellous incidents begin to gather around this nucleus until it becomes unrecognizable. Bartholomew of Pisa has preserved it in almost its primitive form. Conform., 28a 2. Francis certainly had several brothers [3 Soc., 9. Mater ... quae cum prae ceteris filiis diligebat], but they have left no trace in history except the incident related farther on. Vide p. 44. Christofani publishes several official pieces concerning Angelo, St. Francis's brother, and his descendants: Storie d'Assisi, vol. i., p. 78 ff. In these documents Angelo is called Angelus Pice, and his son Johannectus olim Angeli domine Pice, appellations which might be cited in favor of the noble origin of Pica.

[5] Documentary History of Languedoc, iii., p. 607.

[6] The Cathedral of Assisi. To this day all the children of the town are baptized there; the other churches are without fonts.

[7] 3 Soc., 1; 2 Cel., 1, 1. Vide also 3 Soc., edition of Pesaro, 1831.

[8] The langue d'oil was at this epoch the international language of Europe; in Italy it was the language of games and tourneys, and was spoken in the petty princely courts of Northern Italy. Vide Dante, De vulgari eloquio, lib. I., cap. x. Brunetto Latini wrote in French because "the speech of France is more delectable and more common to all people." At the other end of Europe the Abbot of Stade, in Westphalia, spoke of the nobility of the Gallic dialect. Ann. 1224 apud Pertz, Script. xvi. We shall find St. Francis often making allusions to the tales of the Round Table and the Chanson de Roland.

[9] We must not be led astray by certain remarks upon his ignorance, from which one might at first conclude that he knew absolutely nothing; for example, 2 Cel., 3, 45: Quamvis homo iste beatus nullis fuerit scientiae studiis innutritus. This evidently refers to science such as the Franciscans soon came to apprehend it, and to theology in particular.

The close of the passage in Celano is itself an evident proof of this.

[10] Bon., 219; Cf. A. SS., p. 560a. 1 Cel., 23.

[11] Ozanam, Documents inedits pour servir a l'histoire litteraire d'Italie du VIIIe au XIIIe siecle. Paris, 1851, 8vo, pp. 65, 68, 71, 73. Fauriel, Dante et les origines de la litterature italienne. Paris, 1854, 2 vols., 8vo, ii., p. 332, 379, 429.

[12] V. 3 Soc., 51 and 67; 2 Cel., 3, 110; Bon., 55; 2 Cel., 3, 99; Eccl., 6. Bernard de Besse, Turin MS., fo. 96a, calls Brother Leo the secretary of St. Francis.

[13] See page 357, n. 8. Bon., 51 and 308.

[14] 1 Cel., 16; 3 Soc., 10; 23; 24; 33; 2 Cel., 1, 8; 3, 67. See also the Testament of St. Clara and the Speculum, 119a.

[15] Primum namque cum fari vel balbutire incipiunt, turpia quaedam et execrabilia valde signis et vocibus edocentur pueri ii nondum nati: et cum tempus ablactationis advenerit quaedam luxu et lascivia plena non solum fari sed et operari coguntur.... Sed et cum paulo plusculum aetate profecerint, se ipsis impellentibus, semper ad deteriora opera dilabuntur. 1 Cel., 1.

[16] 2 Cel., 1. Cf. Conform., 14a, 1. There is nothing impossible in her having been of Provencal origin, but there is nothing to indicate it in any document worthy of credence. She was no doubt of noble stock, for official documents always give her the title Domina. Cristofani I., p. 78 ff. Cf. Matrem honestissimam habuit. 3 Soc., Edition of Pesaro, 1831, p. 17.

[17] The reading given by the Conform., 14a, 1, Meritorum gratia dei filium ipsum noveritis affuturum, seems better than that of 2 Cel., 1, 1, Multorum gratia Dei filiorum patrem ipsum noveritis affuturum. Cf. 3 Soc., 2.

[18] Bernardo of Besse, Turin MS., 102 b.: An integer carne desiderans ... quod non extorsisset a Sancto ... meruit obtinere a Deo quod virgo esset. Cf. Conform., 211a, 1, and A. SS., p. 560f.

[19] "In illa antiphona quae incipit: Hic vir in vanitatibus nutritus insolenter, fiat talis mutatis: Divinis karismatibus preventus est clementer." Archiv., vi., p. 35.

[20] Vide p. 395, the decision of the chapter of 1263 ordaining the destruction of legends earlier than that of Bonaventura.

[21] 1 Cel., 1 and 2; 89; 3 Soc., 2. Cf. A. SS., 560c. Vincent of Beauvais, Spec. hist. lib., 29, cap. 97.

[22] Pierre Vidal was at the court of Boniface, Marquis of Montferrat, about 1195, and liked his surroundings so well that he desired to establish himself there. K. Bartsch, Piere Vidal's Lieder, Berlin, 1857, n. 41. Ern. Monaci, Testi antichi provenzali, Rome, 1889, col. 67. One should read this piece to have an idea of the fervor with which this poet shared the hopes of Italy and desired its independence. This political note is found again in a tenzon of Manfred II. Lancia, addressed to Pierre Vidal. (V. Monaci, loc. cit., col. 68.)—Gaucelme Faidit was also at this court as well as Raimbaud of Vacqueyras (1180-1207).—Folquet de Romans passed nearly all his life in Italy. Bernard of Ventadour (1145-1195), Peirol of Auvergne (1180-1220), and many others abode there a longer or shorter time. Very soon the Italians began to sing in Provencal, among others this Manfred Lancia, and Albert Marquis of Malaspina (1162-1210), Pietro della Caravana, who in 1196 stirred up the Lombard towns against Henry VI., Pietro della Mula, who about 1200 was at the court of Cortemiglia. Fragments from these poets may be found in Monaci, op. cit., col. 69 ff.

[23] Soc., 3; 2 Cel., 1, 1.

[24] Cum esset gloriosus animo et nollet aliquem se praecellere, Giord. 20.

[25] 1 Cel., 17; 3 Soc., 3; Bon., 7. Cf. A. SS., p. 562.

[26] 1 Cel., 2; Bon., 6; Vit. sec. apud, A. SS., p. 560.

[27] 3 Soc., 9.

[28] In 1174 Assisi was taken by the chancellor of the empire, Christian, Archbishop of Mayence. A. Cristofani, i., p. 69.

[29] All these events are related in the Gesta Innocentii III. ab auctore coaetaneo, edited by Baluze: Migne, Inn. op., vol. i., col. xxiv. See especially the letter of Innocent, Rectoribus Tusciae: Mirari cogimur, of April 16, 1198. Migne, vol. i., col. 75-77. Potthast, No. 82.

[30] See Luigi Bonazzi, Storia di Perugia, 2 vols., 8vo. Perugia, 1875-1879 vol. i., cap. v., pp. 257-322.

[31] 3 Soc., 4; 2 Cel., 1, 1. Cristofani, op. cit., i., p. 88 ff.; Bonazzi, op. cit., p. 257.

[32] 3 Soc., 4.

[33] 3 Soc., 4; 2 Cel., 1, 1.

[34] See this arbitration in Cristofani, op. cit., p. 93 ff.

[35] Cristofani, loc. cit., p. 70.

* * * * *



Spring 1204-Spring 1206

On his return to Assisi Francis at once resumed his former mode of life; perhaps he even tried in some degree to make up for lost time. Fetes, games, festivals, and dissipations began again. He did his part in them so well that he soon fell gravely ill.[1] For long weeks he looked death so closely in the face that the physical crisis brought about a moral one. Thomas of Celano has preserved for us an incident of Francis's convalescence. He was regaining strength little by little and had begun to go about the house, when one day he felt a desire to walk abroad, to contemplate nature quietly, and so take hold again of life. Leaning on a stick he bent his steps toward the city gate.

The nearest one, called Porta Nuova, is the very one which opens upon the finest scenery. Immediately on passing through it one finds one's self in the open country; a fold of the hill hides the city, and cuts off every sound that might come from it. Before you lies the winding road to Foligno; at the left the imposing mass of Mount Subasio; at the right the Umbrian plain with its farms, its villages, its cloud-like hills, on whose slopes pines, cedars, oaks, the vine, and the olive-tree shed abroad an incomparable brightness and animation. The whole country sparkles with beauty, a beauty harmonious and thoroughly human, that is, made to the measure of man.

Francis had hoped by this sight to recover the delicious sensations of his youth. With the sharpened sensibility of the convalescent he breathed in the odors of the spring-time, but spring-time did not come, as he had expected, to his heart. This smiling nature had for him only a message of sadness. He had believed that the breezes of this beloved country-side would carry away the last shudders of the fever, and instead he felt in his heart a discouragement a thousand-fold more painful than any physical ill. The miserable emptiness of his life suddenly appeared before him; he was terrified at his solitude, the solitude of a great soul in which there is no altar.

Memories of the past assailed him with intolerable bitterness; he was seized with a disgust of himself, his former ambitions seemed to him ridiculous or despicable. He went home overwhelmed with the weight of a new suffering.

In such hours of moral anguish man seeks a refuge either in love or in faith. Unhappily the family and friends of Francis were incapable of understanding him. As to religion, it was for him, as for the greater number of his contemporaries, that crass fetichism with Christian terminology which is far from having entirely disappeared. With certain men, in fact, piety consists in making one's self right with a king more powerful than any other, but also more severe and capricious, who is called God. One proves one's loyalty to him as to other sovereigns, by putting his image more or less everywhere, and punctually paying the imposts levied by his ministers. If you are stingy, if you cheat, you run the risk of being severely chastised, but there are courtiers around the king who willingly render services. For a reasonable recompense they will seize a favorable moment to adroitly make away with the sentence of your condemnation or to slip before the prince a form of plenary absolution which in a moment of good humor he will sign without looking at it.[2]

Such was the religious basis upon which Francis had lived up to this time. He did not so much as dream of seeking the spiritual balm which he needed for the healing of his wounds. By a holy violence he was to arrive at last at a pure and virile faith; but the road to this point is long, and sown thick with obstacles, and at the moment at which we have arrived he had not yet entered upon it, he did not even suspect its existence; all he knew was that pleasure leads to nothingness, to satiety and self-contempt.

He knew this, and yet he was about to throw himself once more into a life of pleasure. The body is so weak, so prone to return to the old paths, that it seeks them of itself, the moment an energetic will does not stop it. Though no longer under any illusion with respect to it, Francis returned to his former life. Was he trying to divert his mind, to forget that day of bitter thought? We might suppose so, seeing the ardor with which he threw himself into his new projects.[3]

An opportunity offered itself for him to realize his dreams of glory. A knight of Assisi, perhaps one of those who had been in captivity with him at Perugia, was preparing to go to Apulia under orders from Count Gentile.[4] The latter was to join Gaultier de Brienne, who was in the south of Italy fighting on the side of Innocent III. Gaultier's renown was immense all through the Peninsula; he was held to be one of the most gallant knights of the time. Francis's heart bounded with joy; it seemed to him that at the side of such a hero he should soon cover himself with glory. His departure was decided upon, and he gave himself up, without reserve, to his joy.

He made his preparations with ostentatious prodigality. His equipment, of a princely luxury, soon became the universal subject of conversation. It was all the more talked about because the chief of the expedition, ruined perhaps by the revolution of 1202 or by the expenses of a long captivity, was constrained to order things much more modestly.[5] But with Francis kindliness was much stronger than love of display. He gave his sumptuous clothing to a poor knight. The biographies do not say whether or not it was to the very one whom he was to accompany.[6] To see him running hither and thither in all the bustle of preparation one would have thought him the son of a great lord. His companions were doubtless not slow to feel chafed by his ways and to promise themselves to make him cruelly expiate them. As for him, he perceived nothing of the jealousies which he was exciting, and night and day he thought only of his future glory. In his dreams he seemed to see his parents' house completely transformed. Instead of bales of cloth he saw there only gleaming bucklers hanging on the walls, and arms of all kinds as in a seignorial castle. He saw himself there, beside a noble and beautiful bride, and he never suspected that in this vision there was any presage of the future which was reserved for him. Never had any one seen him so communicative, so radiant; and when he was asked for the hundredth time whence came all this joy, he would reply with surprising assurance: "I know that I shall become a great prince."[7]

The day of departure arrived at last. Francis on horseback, the little buckler of a page on his arm, bade adieu to his natal city with joy, and with the little troop took the road to Spoleto which winds around the base of Mount Subasio.

What happened next? The documents do not say. They confine themselves to reporting that that very evening Francis had a vision which decided him to return to Assisi.[8] Perhaps it would not be far from the truth to conjecture that once fairly on the way the young nobles took their revenge on the son of Bernardone for his airs as of a future prince. At twenty years one hardly pardons things like these. If, as we are often assured, there is a pleasure unsuspected by the profane in getting even with a stranger, it must be an almost divine delight to get even with a young coxcomb upon whom one has to exercise so righteous a vengeance.

Arriving at Spoleto, Francis took to his bed. A fever was consuming him; in a few hours he had seen all his dreams crumble away. The very next day he took the road back to Assisi.[9]

So unexpected a return made a great stir in the little city, and was a cruel blow to his parents. As for him, he doubled his charities to the poor, and sought to keep aloof from society, but his old companions came flocking about him from all quarters, hoping to find in him once more the tireless purveyor of their idle wants. He let them have their way.

Nevertheless a great change had taken place in him. Neither pleasures nor work could long hold him; he spent a portion of his days in long country rambles, often accompanied by a friend most different from those whom until now we have seen about him. The name of this friend is not known, but from certain indications one is inclined to believe that he was Bombarone da Beviglia, the future Brother Elias.[10]

Francis now went back to his reflections at the time of his recovery, but with less of bitterness. His own heart and his friend agreed in saying to him that it is possible no longer to trust either in pleasure or in glory and yet to find worthy causes to which to consecrate one's life. It is at this moment that religious thought seems to have awaked in him. From the moment that he saw this new way of life his desire to run in it had all the fiery impetuosity which he put into all his actions. He was continually calling upon his friend and leading him apart into the most sequestered paths.

But intense conflicts are indescribable. We struggle, we suffer alone. It is the nocturnal wrestling of Bethel, mysterious and solitary. The soul of Francis was great enough to endure this tragic duel. His friend had marvellously understood his part in this contest. He gave a few rare counsels, but much of the time he contented himself with manifesting his solicitude by following Francis everywhere and never asking to know more than he could tell him.

Often Francis directed his steps to a grotto in the country near Assisi, which he entered alone. This rocky cave concealed in the midst of the olive trees became for faithful Franciscans that which Gethsemane is for Christians. Here Francis relieved his overcharged heart by heavy groans. Sometimes, seized with a real horror for the disorders of his youth, he would implore mercy, but the greater part of the time his face was turned toward the future; feverishly he sought for that higher truth to which he longed to dedicate himself, that pearl of great price of which the gospel speaks: "Whosoever seeks, finds; he who asks, receives; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened."

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