The Little Flowers of St. Francis, tr. by W. Heywood, , at sacred-texts.com
p. xii p. xiii
FRANCIS, son of Peter Bernardone, a wealthy cloth merchant, was born at Assisi in or about the year 1182 during the absence of his father on business in France. From his mother he had received the name of John, but his father on his return changed it to Francis (Francesco, i.e., Frenchman), by which name he was ever afterwards called. Of his mother, whose name was Pica, scarcely anything is known. It is probable that she was of higher social standing than her husband, and certain that Francis was much more in sympathy with her than with his harsh, close-fisted father. Francis was taught some Latin, and also acquired a knowledge of French; and the Chansons de Geste fired his mind with a love of chivalrous adventure. He also learnt to write; but was not at any time a ready penman, and generally resorted to dictation. When he grew up he was put to his father's trade. Of a singularly genial, open-handed disposition, he was "given to sports and singing, going about Assisi by day and night with young fellows like himself". Indeed his extravagance, both in personal indulgence and in giving to the needy, made him conspicuous in the town and neighbourhood.
[paragraph continues] In 1202, Perugia having declared war against its smaller neighbour Assisi, a battle was fought in which Francis was taken prisoner, and he remained in captivity for about a year. Not long after his return he had a serious illness, by which he was first led to turn his thoughts to a change of life. The process of his conversion was slow, and it was a good two years before his path was made plain before him. This period was marked by several well-known incidents. Still thirsting for worldly renown, Francis had made costly preparations for joining a military expedition to Apulia, but had not proceeded farther than to Spoleto when he was turned back by a vision. Again, one night after a banquet, as he and his comrades were going through the town singing, he suddenly fell into an ecstasy and stayed behind, and in answer to the mocking inquiry "What he was thinking of?" and "Whether he was thinking of taking a wife?" he made the significant reply: "You have said the truth, for I have thought to take a bride nobler, richer and fairer than you ever saw." The incident of his changing clothes with a beggar and asking alms in French on the steps of St. Peter's at Rome also belongs to this period. His mental state at this time is thus described: "It repented him that he had so grievously sinned, nor could he take pleasure either in the past or in the present: for he had not yet received assurance that he would refrain from sin in the future" (Legenda Trium Sociorum, 12). The following passage tells us in his own words how he was put on the right track: "It was thus that the Lord
granted to me Brother Francis to begin repentance: for while I was in sin it seemed to me exceeding bitter to look upon lepers; but the Lord brought me among them and I showed them kindness. And as I withdrew from them, that which had seemed to me bitter was turned to sweetness of soul and body. And not long after I came out from the world" (Opuscula S. Francisci, p. 77, ed. Quaracchi). About this time, while he was praying in the little ruinous church of St. Damian, by Assisi, before a painted figure of the Crucified, he heard these words: "Francis, seest thou not that My house is being destroyed? Go, therefore, and repair it for Me." And he, trembling and astonished, said: "Gladly will I do it, O Lord". "From that hour his heart was bruised and melted within him, and ever after he bore the wounds of the Lord Jesus in his heart, as clearly appeared afterwards by the wondrous renewing of them in his body" (Legenda Trium Sociorum, 14). The close of the period of his conversion is marked by the memorable scene before the Bishop of Assisi's palace, when Francis renounced his father and all his possessions, stripped himself naked, and was covered by the Bishop's mantle while Peter Bernardone walked off with his son's clothes.
Taking in a literal sense the command to "repair God's house," Francis went to live with the priest of St. Damian, and began to beg in the city for stones (which he carried on his shoulders) for the reparation of the church; withal "praising God and uttering
simple words in fervour of spirit," so that some mocked at him for a madman, and others were moved to tears of compassion. Now, too, he began the wooing of Lady Poverty, and set himself to live on the scraps of food which he could beg from door to door. At first he looked with loathing at the food he gathered in this way; but he conquered himself and at last preferred such fare to any dainties. By the year 1208 the repair of St. Damian was finished, and Francis set about repairing the little church of S. Maria de Portiuncula (or degli Angeli) below Assisi, which work was completed by the early part of 1209. In this church (probably on 24th February, 5209), hearing in the Gospel for the day the passage Matt. x. 9, 10 ("Provide neither gold nor silver," etc.), Francis committed it to memory and resolved to fulfil it to the letter. He had been wearing a hermit's dress with a leathern girdle, and shoes, and a staff in his hand. These he discarded, and made himself a single tunic of coarsest stuff, substituting a cord for the girdle, and going barefoot. Forthwith he began to preach repentance, always beginning his address with the greeting "The Lord give you peace"; and soon his first few disciples joined him, giving up all their worldly possessions to the poor (see below, p. 222), and dwelling in hovels round the church of Portiuncula and at Rivo Torto (also in the neighbourhood of Assisi).
Before long, when his disciples numbered eleven, Francis determined to obtain the Pope's sanction for his work. He and his little band of laymen, devoted
though they were to the Church, had no locus standi as preachers, and were liable to be confounded with the many sectaries, also professing evangelic poverty, by whom Christendom was infested at this time (see Sabatier, Vie de S. François, c. 3): without the support of the Church's authority his efforts must be sorely hampered. This is his own account of his action: "After that the Lord gave me brethren no one showed me what I ought to do; but the Most High revealed to me that I should live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel. And I got this written down simply and in few words; and the Lord Pope confirmed it to me" (Opusc., p. 79). This was in 1210; the "Lord Pope" was that Innocent III. before whom the Kings of England and Aragon had grovelled in the dust; his "confirmation" of the rule was verbal only, and in some sort provisional; he authorised Francis and his disciples to preach repentance; blessed them, and caused them all to receive the tonsure, which conferred on them the status of clerks. Francis, it may be mentioned, never proceeded to priest's orders. On their way back to Umbria Francis and his brethren tarried for a while at a solitary place near Orte. Speaking of their brief sojourn here, Thomas of Celano says (i., 35): "Great was their exaltation at neither having, nor seeing, anything which might give them carnal delight. Here they began to have intercourse with holy Poverty, and being exceedingly comforted in the want of all things that are of the world, they determined to cleave to her everywhere and
always." Indeed, they even discussed the question whether they should not altogether forsake the society of men, and dwell in solitude. "But holy Francis . . . chose not to live for himself alone, but for Him who died for all, knowing that he had been sent to win souls for God". 1 And so, fixing their abode in a deserted lepers’ hospital at Rivo Torto, they went forth to preach "repentance for the remission of sins". Fortified by the Pope's commission they preached with confidence and vast numbers were converted. In 1211 the church of S. Maria de Portiuncula (or degli Angeli) was given them by the Benedictines, and this tiny chapel (now engulfed in the Palladian church of S. Maria degli Angeli) with a few poor huts round it became the headquarters of the new Order. In 1212 the Benedictines also gave them the little church of St. Damian, which soon afterwards became the abode of St. Clara, who had forsaken the world at the preaching of Francis, and the Poor Ladies her companions. The incident related below (pp. 143-6) of the gift of the mountain of La Verna (otherwise La Vernia or Alvernia) to Francis belongs to the year 1213, and not, as there stated, to 1224. The numbers of the Brethren rapidly increased, and the Order began to assume a settled organisation. Twice a year, at Whitsuntide and Michaelmas, the Brethren met in Chapter General; and at the Whitsuntide Chapter of 1217 Brethren
were first sent out to foreign countries. The success of the Order began to arouse ill-will, especially on the part of the prelates and the secular clergy. In 1217 Cardinal Ugolino, Bishop of Ostia (afterwards Pope Gregory IX.), who was warmly attached to Francis and the Brethren, sent for Francis, bidding him come to Rome and plead his own cause before Pope Honorius III., who had succeeded Pope Innocent III. the year before. Thomas of Celano (i., 73) has left us a graphic description of Francis’ audience of the Pope and Cardinals, of the simple earnestness of his address, and of the agonised suspense of his patron Cardinal Ugolino, who feared that the holy man's simplicity might only arouse contempt. In 1218 was held the Chapter General described below (p. 45). In the following year Francis, who had twice before essayed to go and preach the faith of Christ to the unbelievers, first in Syria and afterwards in Morocco, accomplished his purpose and preached before the Soldan in Egypt (see below, p. 60). He remained abroad for more than a year, returning to Italy in the summer of 1220. During his absence there had been serious trouble in the Order, and the two Brethren whom he had left in charge had begun "to mitigate the vow of poverty and to multiply observances " (Sabatier, Vie de S. François, 268). On 22nd September the Pope issued a Bull imposing a year's novitiate on all who would enter the Order. This Bull marks the close of the first phase of the Franciscan movement. The old happy days at Orte and Rivo
[paragraph continues] Torto, where Francis and his companions did indeed form a family, were gone for ever. The Order was now spreading its branches over all the world; and the time was come when a closer organisation and a more direct connection with the Holy See were become inevitable. Francis himself felt that he could no longer control the situation, and at the Michaelmas Chapter of 1220 resigned his office of Minister-General to Peter dei Cattani, flinging himself at his successor's feet with touching humility and promising him obedience. Peter died a few months later, and was succeeded by Brother Elias. On 29th November, 1223, the Rule of the Order, which had undergone various modifications since its verbal approbation by Innocent III., was confirmed by a Bull of Honorius III. After the Whitsuntide Chapter of 1224 Francis withdrew to the mountain of La Verna for that fast of forty days during which those transcendent experiences were vouchsafed to him which are described at length below (p. 151 ff.). From this time St. Francis’ health began rapidly to fail, though he was still able to go about preaching. The incident related below (Chapter XIX.) belongs to the following year, 1225, when Francis, much against his will, had been induced by Brother Elias to go to Rieti (where the Papal court then was) for the cure of his eyes. Subsequently he went to Siena to consult a physician there; but his condition became so alarming that he was brought back to Assisi. At first he lodged at the Bishop's palace, where he was nursed by his loved companions
[paragraph continues] —Leo, Angelo, Rufino and Masseo. For several months he lingered in great suffering; at last, as his end was approaching, they took him to Portiuncula, where, on 3rd October, 1226, he died. 1 Very shortly before his death he had caused himself to be placed on the bare ground; then he stripped off his poor garments, and received them back as a loan from one of the Brethren, who said to him: "That thou mayest know that thou hast no property in these garments, I deprive thee of the power of giving them away to any one." Whereat the holy man rejoiced, for he had kept faith with his Lady Poverty even till the end (2 Cel., 215). On 26th July, 1228, he was canonised by Pope Gregory IX.
The influence of St. Francis has been very grew. and far-reaching, but its manifestations have not always been such as he expected, and have often been such as he would have sternly condemned. The dominant note in his character after his conversion was absolute devotion to the person of his Lord and Master; and his espousal of Poverty signified the getting free from all worldly preoccupations so that nothing might stand between him and the literal fulfilment of the commands and counsels of the Gospel (see below, p. 34). On those who perceived what he was really aiming at the fascination of his character wrought with extraordinary
power. Many instances of this occur in the Little Flowers, but special reference may be made to the humiliation of Friar Masseo (below, Chapters XI., XII.), and to the strange scenes of Friar Bernard, a man of mature age and high standing in the world, sitting in the piazza of Bologna to be mocked at as a madman by the rabble of the place (below, p. 15), and of Friar Rufino, compelled to preach naked in a church at Assisi (below, p. 83). But the true significance of Francis’ life and example was apprehended by few. The ideal of a life of voluntary poverty was no new invention of St. Francis: it was generally diffused at that period; and was carried into practice by the Cathari and other heretics whose influence threatened irreparable damage to the Church (see Sabatier, Vie de S. François, 45, 51). Hence it may be surmised that many of Francis’ contemporaries deemed that destitution in itself constituted "a title clear to mansions in the skies" and joined the Order, though "their hearts were not right with God". The realisation of Francis’ intentions was in fact to a great extent frustrated by the very success of the movement. He did not intend that all the world should take upon themselves the vows of Religion (see below, p. 40). If, instead of assuming the habit of the Order, the more part of those who crowded into it had been content to live the Gospel life in the world as "brethren of penitence" (sec Sabatier, op. cit., 307), the lamentable events which followed on Francis’ death would have been averted.
[paragraph continues] The personal fascination of the founder swept into the Order many who were not prepared to act up to the stringency of his Rule. Hence a relaxation of it was inevitable, and the only cause for wonder is the rapidity with which the Order was transformed. As to the permanent results of the preaching of St. Francis it is impossible to speak with certainty. Very many no doubt were turned to God; but the age was one of crass superstition, and what appealed to the people were too often the accidents rather than the substance of Francis’ life. His ecstatic visions, his personal austerities, the miracles which he wrought in his life and those which he was expected to work after his death—these were the things which caused him to be canonised by the popular voice even in his lifetime. When he was brought back to Assisi to die "the city held high festival on the arrival of the blessed father . . . and the tongues of all the people praised God for it: for all the multitude foresaw that the saint of God would shortly die; and this was the subject of such great rejoicing" (1 Cel., 105). All they cared for was to secure possession of his corpse. The transient character of St. Francis’ spiritual influence is only too apparent from the most cursory survey of Italian history. Had his gospel of love really taken root among the people there would have been an end to the civil strife and bloodshed which had so long prevailed in every part of the country; but even in Assisi itself after his death "the story of the city becomes, as it had never been before, a list of murders,
of struggles to the death for individual power, and of wars which made the fair Umbrian country a desolate and cruel waste for months and even years" (The Story of Assisi, by L. Duff Gordon, p. 59). Still, though the visible result of Francis’ life fell so far short of his aim, something was achieved. The heretical sects were combated with their own weapons and lost much of their influence; the secular clergy were forced by the example of Francis and his friars to preach, a duty they had long neglected; and in Southern Umbria, the Abruzzi and the March of Ancona (see below, Chapter XLII.) his simple teaching was kept alive by a race of Brethren whom he would have owned as his "Knights of the Round Table who lurk in deserts and remote places that they may the more diligently attend to prayer and meditation, living a simple life, men of humble conversation" (Spec. Perf., 72). The mission of St. Francis was in large measure a failure; but if Italy was no better disposed to receive the spiritual liberty he preached than it was a hundred years later to acknowledge the righteous government of the Emperor Henry VII. (see Dante, Par., xxx., 137, 138), the charm of St. Francis’ character, the devotion of his life, seized at once on the hearts of the Italian people who to this day have never forgotten him and never ceased to love him; and the spread of this affection to other nations also is witnessed by the extraordinary multiplication of Franciscan literature of late years in England and elsewhere.
One aspect of St. Francis’ influence cannot be entirely passed over, and that is, its effect on Italian art. This is surely the result of his life which would have amazed and displeased him more than any other. In violation of his expressed wishes, Brother Elias immediately after his death set himself to rear that splendid basilica at Assisi, which is one of the most notable examples of mediæval architecture in Italy. Here, some seventy years later, Giotto executed his famous frescoes illustrating St. Francis’ life and miracles, and from thenceforth the "little poor man" becomes one of the most familiar figures in Italian painting. "To the painters the life of St. Francis came as a new inspiration, full of dramatic possibilities, and offering an entirely new field for original and imaginative treatment" (Franciscan Legends in Italian Art, by E. G. Salter, p. 2).
Of the earlier writings about St. Francis the most important are the Speculum Perfectionis (Mirror of Perfection), first published as a separate work by M. Paul Sabatier in 1898; the Legenda Trium Sociorum (Legend of the Three Companions); the two Lives of St. Francis by Brother Thomas of Celano; and the Life by St. Bonaventura. Of these five works the first two are unofficial; they are written without any pretension to literary elegance and with absolute simplicity, and bring us into direct personal contact with St.
[paragraph continues] Francis. The two Lives by Celano are official works, the first having been composed by order of Pope Gregory IX. in 1228, and the second (first part) at the instance of the Chapter General held at Genoa in 1244. In 1247 the author was invited by John of Parma (who had just been appointed Minister-General) to continue his work, and the second part of the second Life was accordingly added. These Lives show greater literary skill than the Speculum Perfectionis and the Legenda Trium Sociorum, but are less spontaneous, and the author makes considerable use of the material of other informants. 1 They occupy, in fact, a position intermediate between the Speculum Perfectionis and the Legenda Trium Sociorum, on the one hand, and the Life by St. Bonaventura on the other. This last was written by order of the Chapter General at Narbonne in 1260; and six years later the Chapter at Paris ordered the suppression of all former "Legends". St. Bonaventura's Life thenceforth remained the official record of St. Francis. The "Seraphic Doctor's" ornate and rather luscious style is strangely out of keeping
with the story of the "little poor man of Assisi"; and though the book is not to be neglected, it is of far less value in helping us to picture St. Francis as he was than the works previously referred to.
One other work must be mentioned, the Sacrum Commercium B. Francisci cum domina Paupertate, in which the espousals of Francis and Poverty are narrated in allegorical form. This little book, one of the gems of mediæval literature, is believed to have been written in July, 1227, by John Parenti, who had just been elected Minister-General of the Order in the room of Brother Elias; and consequently to be the earliest work about St. Francis.
The Little Flowers have more of the character of legend (in the modern sense of the word) than the writings already mentioned; but though facts are here embellished with fabulous additions, the narratives are
to a great extent based on authentic tradition, written and oral. Account must, however, be taken of the strong antipathy displayed towards Brother Elias. Thus the story of the "blessing of the firstborn" in Chapter VI. is in flat contradiction with 1 Celano, 108 (written before the apostasy of Elias, where St. Francis lays his right hand on Elias’ head. Chapter IV. also, in which we read how Brother Elias slammed the door in the face of an angel, is manifestly fabulous (see also Chapters XXXI. and XXXVIII.). Still, in spite of inaccuracies and of the prominence given to miraculous occurrences, the Fioretti, as Sabatier remarks, do set forth with a vivid colouring not to be found elsewhere the atmosphere and surroundings amid which St. Francis and his companions lived.
The Italian text, of which a translation is given in the present volume, is itself a translation of more ancient records. The translator is not known, but there is some ground for thinking that he was Friar John of S. Lorenzo, a Florentine of the Marignoli family, who was Bishop of Bisignano, in Calabria, from 1354 to 1357. As regards the original material, the fifty-three chapters to which the title Fioretti strictly belongs are selected from a Latin compilation, the Actus B. Francisci et sociorum ejus. This compilation dates from the first half of the fourteenth century, and was probably the work of Ugolino, of the noble family of Brunforte, a Franciscan friar, generally described as Ugolino of Monte Giorgio, after the name of the convent (near Fermo, in the
[paragraph continues] March of Ancona) wherein he spent part of his life. He was appointed Bishop of Teramo, in the Abruzzi, by the hermit-Pope Celestine V., but this appointment was annulled by Celestine's successor, Boniface VIII., in 1295. The fifty-three chapters of the Fioretti divide themselves into two parts, the first comprising Chapters I.-XL., which are concerned with St. Francis and his first companions; the second comprising Chapters XLI.-LIII., which are concerned with the brethren of the March of Ancona. In the first part Ugolino founds himself on oral and written tradition, and especially on information given to Brother James of Massa by Brother Leo, St. Francis’ beloved companion. In the second part the author relates what he saw, or rather what he admired, among the brethren dwelling in the convents in the neighbourhood of Monte Giorgio.
Two passages in which the sources of the book are referred to may here be noticed. In Chapter XLV. (below, p. 116), after telling how Friar John of Penna prevented a novice from leaving the Order, the author states that "Friar John himself told all this to me Ugolino". 1 Again, in Chapter LII. (below, p. 136), reference is made to the experience of "that friar who first wrote of these things". The Considerations on the Stigmata, the Lives of Friars Juniper and Giles, and the Sayings of the latter form a sort of appendices to the Fioretti. Their compiler is unknown. "In
the first, the compiler has divided into five chapters all the information he could collect touching the Stigmata. . . . The second, entitled the Life of Friar Juniper, is but very indirectly related to St. Francis; it deserves, however, to be studied, for it presents the same kind of interest as the principal collection, than which it is doubtless but a little later. . . . The third, the Life of Friar Giles, appears to be the most ancient document we possess on the life of the famous ecstatic. . . . The first seven chapters form a complete whole; the last three are doubtless a first attempt to complete them. The fourth appendix comprises the favourite Sayings of Friar Giles; they are only important as showing the tendencies of primitive Franciscan teaching" (Sabatier, Vie de S. François d’Assise, pp. cxi.-cxiii.).
The most ancient extant MS. of the Fioretti in Italian is believed to be that in the National Library at Florence which was written by Amaretto Manelli in 1396. It contains the Considerations on the Stigmata, but not the Lives of Juniper and Giles nor the Sayings of the latter. It is described, together with forty-three other MSS., by Luigi Manzoni in his Studi. The popularity of the Little Flowers began even from the first: the book was printed at a very early date, and the subsequent editions have been extremely numerous. The earliest dated edition was printed at Vicenza in 1476; other editions, undated, I appeared at about the same time, and no less than sixteen were published before 1500. None of these
contain the Lives of Juniper and Giles or the Sayings of the latter. At least thirteen editions appeared in the sixteenth century. Of the later editions reference may be made to that edited by the Senator Filippo Buonarroti (Florence, 1718), to the highly esteemed edition of Antonio Cesari (Verona, 1822), and to the recent illustrated editions of Passerini (Florence, 1903) and of Luigi Manzoni (second edition, Rome, 1902). Passerini follows the text of a fifteenth century MS. in the Riccardi Library at Florence, and includes certain "examples and miracles" of St. Francis contained in that MS. and not before printed. Manzoni prints the text of the MS. of Amaretto Manelli (above mentioned). Owing to the lamented death of Signor Manzoni, only the first volume of his edition, containing the Fioretti proper and the Considerations on the Stigmata, has appeared.
A. G. FERRERS HOWELL
xviii:1 Cf. below, pp. 40, 45. The incidents there related are referred by Sabatier to the year 1215.
xxi:1 4th October, according to the style of Assisi.
xxvi:1 The authorship, date and subject-matter of the Speculum Perfectionis and the Legenda Trium Sociorum, and the relation of these works to one another and to Celano's Lives, furnish problems of extreme intricacy, of which the solutions have not yet been attained. A considerable and increasing literature connected with these questions exists. Reference may be made to a useful article by Mr. A. G. Little on the "Sources of the History of St. Francis," in the English Historical Review for October, 1902, and to the prolegomena of Fr. E. d’Alençon's edition of Celano's Lives (Rome, 1906).
xxvii:1 The information given in this section is founded on Luigi Manzoni's Studi sui Fioretti, published in vols. 3 and 4 of Miscellanea Francescana (Foligno, 5889), on the same author's edition of the Fioretti, on Sabatier's edition of the Actus B. Francisci (Paris, 1902), and on Sabatier's Vie de S. François d’Assise (31st ed., Paris, 5904). The title "Little Flowers," or the like, was commonly given to volumes of selections or extracts in the Middle Ages (see Gaspary's History of Early Italian Literature, p. 183, Œlsner's translation; Manzoni, Studi, p. 551).
xxix:1 I quote from the Actus (p. 200), the Italian text of the Fioretti being ambiguous.