A. D. 1210
It was therefore in the small Church of Saint Mary of the Angels, or of Portiuncula, that Francis laid the foundations of the Order of Friars Minor, which spread over the whole earth with wonderful rapidity. This holy place was, as it were, the cradle of the Institute, and the nursery of the houses of the religious; the source which supplied a great river, which was divided into various channels; the citadel from whence numerous brave warriors went forth to encounter the enemies of the Church; the school which has produced a very great number of saints, and a multitude of learned men, whose doctrine and piety have been equally celebrated.
The new habitation, less confined than the hut of Rivo Torto, enabled the Patriarch to receive the postulants who had before presented themselves; among whom may be noticed, Leo, Rufino, Masseo of Marigan, and Juniper: – Leo, whom Francis chose for his confessor and secretary, and whom he generally called Pecorella Di Dio (the sheep of God), on account of his admirable candor. Rufino, of whom he said: “I learnt, by a revelation, that he is one of the most faithful and of the most pure souls that there is in this world, and I should have no fear of giving him, though in a mortal body, the title of Saint, since he is already canonized in heaven.” Masseo, whom he often sent, instead of going himself, to converse with persons of piety, in order not to be interrupted in his own meditations, because this religious added great mildness and suavity of manner to a rare talent of speaking about heavenly things. Juniper, whom he found so valuable for his evangelical simplicity, for his contempt of himself, and for his great desire to attract upon himself the contempt of the world, that, alluding to his name, he used to say good-humoredly: “I wish to God we had a wood full of such Junipers.”
The charitable father had all his children in his heart, and he brought them up with a tenderness truly maternal. He was the first to go from door to door, to ask charity to provide for their wants; sometimes he even went alone, to spare them the mortification of begging, under the impression that they might still retain the prejudices of the world on this head. But the weakness of his frame not admitting of his providing for all, and his religious being bound to subsist on charity alone, he resolved to teach them to solicit it for the love of God, and he made them the following exhortation, which they have recorded: –
“My very dear brethren and well-beloved children, be not ashamed of soliciting alms, since our Lord became poor in this world for the love of us, and that, following His example, we have chosen this state of the most perfect poverty. For, if we have made this choice for the love of Jesus Christ, we must not blush at begging in our quality of poor. Heirs of the kingdom of God should not blush at what is a pledge of their heirship. Yes, we are heirs of heaven; this is a benefit which our Lord has obtained for us, to which He has given us a right, as He has to all those who choose to live in a state of holy poverty. I make known to you as a truth, that a great number of the most noble of the age will become members of the Order, who will consider it an honor to solicit alms, and who will look upon it as a favor to be permitted to do so. You, therefore, who are the very first of the Order, do this cheerfully; do not refuse to practise what you will have to teach these saintly personages. Go, then, and with the blessing of God solicit alms, full of confidence and joy, more than would be felt by him who should offer a hundred for one. For it is the love of God you offer in asking, when you say, ‘For the love of God, bestow your charity on me;’ and in comparison with this divine love, heaven and earth are as nothing.”
To mitigate the reluctance still felt by some of them, he brought forward the two following motives: “The bread which holy poverty causes to be collected from door to door, is the bread of angels, because it is the good angels who inspire the faithful to bestow it for the love of God. It is thus that the words of the prophet, ‘Man ate the bread of angels,’ are fulfilled in these holy poor ones. God has given the Friars Minor to the world in these latter times, that the elect may have it in their power to practise what will cause them to be glorified by the Supreme Judge, when He will address them in these mellifluous words: ‘What you did to one of these, the least of My brethren, you did it to Me.’ It is pleasing to solicit charity in the capacity of a Friar Minor, whom our Master seemed to designate expressly by the appellation, ‘the least of My brethren.'”
The disciples, persuaded and moved by this appeal, went of their own accord to quest in the neighboring places, to get the better of the natural repugnance they felt to it. At their return they presented themselves to their Father with satisfied countenances, which delighted him, and by a holy emulation they were proud of the things they had collected for the love of God. One of them returning one day with much cheerfulness, singing loudly the praises of the great Benefactor of men, Francis took from him the weighty wallet, which was full of bits of bread, placed it on his own shoulders, kissed the shoulders of him who had carried it, and came and said publicly: “So it is that I wish my brethren to go always on the quest, and return from it: ever gay, and glorifying God for all the good which He does in our favor.”
The blessed founder employed himself day and night unceasingly in inspiring them with the love and practice of the most sublime virtues; he warned and exhorted each one of them in particular, and he made discourses to them when collected, on the most essential heads; and this again he enforced by his own good example; knowing that they were called by God to train up those who would embrace his rule in the different parts of the earth, and that on the instruction of the one depended that of the others.
Under such a master, with the powerful assistance which they received from Heaven, they made in a short time such considerable progress, that the latest comers were not less competent for the exercise of the Evangelical ministry than the first. Altogether animated with the same spirit, watching, fasting, praying, penetrated with the fear of God, full of holy desires, they resembled in a great degree the primitive Church confined in the supper-room. Francis, who was perfectly acquainted with their most inward feelings, and with the intentions of Divine Providence, thought that he ought not to delay sending them forth on missions according to the idea of Saint Chrysostom, who says that the Apostles, who were commissioned to labor in the conversion of the world, were necessarily separated, and that it would have been very prejudicial to the interests of the universe had they kept together longer.
But, as he had not yet heard them preach, he desired prudently to judge by his own experience of their respective talents. Having assembled them together, he desired Bernard de Quintavalle to speak on the mysteries of religion. He immediately obeyed, and spoke beautifully on the several points. Peter of Catania was directed to set forth the greatness of God, which he did with as much facility and learning as if he had been long perfect in the art of preaching. A third was called upon to give an exhortation on avoiding sin, and practising virtue, which he complied with in powerful language. In short, they all handled the subjects which were allotted to them, so as plainly to show that wisdom was given to them from on high.
After they had made this essay in preaching, or rather this masterpiece of eloquence, Jesus Christ, who had inspired their thoughts and words, appeared in the midst of them in the form of a very beautiful young man, and gave His blessing to each of them successively, with wonderful benignity. This astonishing vision threw them into a rapturous transport; after which, Francis addressed them as follows:
“My brethren, and dear children, give abundant thanks to God most powerful, and to His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for having deigned to have communicated celestial treasures through the speeches of the most simple of men; for it is God who causes infants to speak, who opens the mouths of little children, and makes the tongues of the most ignorant eloquent: His goodness renders Him compassionate to the world, which is loaded with crime. He has resolved to warn men of the woes into which they are plunging themselves; and in order to root out from amongst them the works of the devil, which are sins, He has chosen vile and despicable preachers, so that no one shall have reason to glorify himself before Him, and that every one shall acknowledge that all the good which is done comes from Him. Although there are few among you of whom it can be said that they have worldly wisdom, or are powerful or noble, yet it is you whom the Lord hath chosen for this important work. It is His will that you should go into all parts to honor Him by your actions and by your words, bringing to His fear and to His love such as have strayed into evil ways.”
“Prepare yourselves therefore to set forth; gird your loins according to the commands of Jesus Christ; be courageous; put on the armor of faith; be devoted to the service of the Gospel; always prepared to let yourselves be carried away as clouds, whithersoever the Spirit of God may direct you, by the guidance of obedience, to shed the dew of the divine word on the dry and arid soil of hardened hearts. For our Lord has not called you into this Institute to think of nothing but saving your own souls quietly, without any fatigue, in the hearts of your country, and in the bosom of your families; His intention is, that you carry His name and His faith into the nations, and before the kings of the earth. Now, lest we should appear to be slow in carrying His will into execution, we will divide Italy amongst us; and soon after, we will make other missions into more distant countries.”
To this discourse the disciples replied, that they were prepared for everything; that, having renounced their own will, they only waited the order to commence the journey; and that the distrust they had of themselves in consequence of their simplicity, was counterbalanced by the confidence they had in the assistance of the Almighty, which animated them.
The next morning Francis divided Italy among them, taking Tuscany for himself with Sylvester, who was the first priest in his Order, so that he might, by this arrangement, be at the shortest distance from Saint Mary of the Angels, where he left some of the brethren to guide the novices whom he should send there.
Two reasons induced him to make his beginning in Italy. The first was, that it appeared to him to be just that the Divine Word should be first spread in that country, of which the preachers were natives, as the Apostles had done in regard to the Jews. The second was, that he might judge from what they should effect among the Italians, what they were capable of effecting elsewhere: in which his judgment is to be admired.
He could not doubt but that the vocation of his children came from God; nevertheless, he used all the precautions which prudence dictated, because he knew that the Lord, who acts according to His good pleasure by secret and supernatural means, chooses that men on their part should pursue the ordinary course in all that depends on them. This is a sure ground-work, which is not only a rule in all that relates to salvation, but also is applicable to the affairs of this life.
The man of God, having commenced his route towards Tuscany, passed through Perugia, where he preached in the great square, as is customary in Italy. Some young gentlemen, of the first families of the place, came also there for the exercises of the tournament, and made so much noise that the preacher could be no longer heard. As they continued their lance exercises, notwithstanding the remonstrance of the people, the Saint, turning to the side in which they were, addressed them in the following words with great animation: –
“Pay attention, and learn what the Lord declares to you through me, who am His servant, and do not imagine to satisfy yourselves by saying, This is only a man from Assisi who speaks to you.” (A precaution he took because Perugia and Assisi, neighboring towns, were always opposed to each other.) “What I tell you, I do not tell you as man. God has raised you above all the adjacent countries; in gratitude for which you should humble yourselves, not merely in His eyes, but before all the world. But, on the contrary, your strength and your glory have so inflamed your pride, that you have pillaged and laid waste all that surrounds you, and you have killed no inconsiderable number. For which reason I declare to you that, unless you be speedily converted, and repair the damage you have done, the Lord, who suffers no evil to be committed with impunity, will take revenge on your sins. In order to create in you the greater dismay, He will suffer you to rise up one against the other, to excite a popular commotion, and to do yourselves much greater injury than any of your neighbors could do to you.”
He remained some time at Perugia, where they soon saw the effect of his threats. The nobles were irritated against the plebeians, the clergy joined the party of the nobles, and they came to blows; the people, who were the strongest, drove the others out of the town. The discomfited party, in order to be revenged, laid waste everything in the country which belonged to the people; who, by way of reprisals, pillaged the houses of the nobles, and massacred their servants and even their children. Indeed the disaster was so great, that, according to the prediction, armed neighbors could not have caused any greater.
The Perugians having thus, at their cost, discovered the holiness of the preacher, wished to retain him in their city, and entreated him to choose what place he pleased for his abode. Many young persons of pure morals joined his Order; one among others, whose vocation was very singular. As he was walking one day out of the town, his mind intent upon his wish to consecrate himself to God, Jesus Christ appeared to him, and said: “Man of desires, if you hope to be in the enjoyment of what you wish for, and to effect your salvation, take a religious habit and follow Me.” He immediately asked into what order he should enter. Our Lord answered him: “Join the new Order of Francis of Assisi.” He then made this further inquiry: “Lord, when I shall have joined that Order, what mode of life shall I follow, to be more agreeable to Thee?” and this is the answer he received: “Lead the usual life; enter into no particular intimacies with your brethren; take no notice of the defects of others, and form no opinion to their disadvantage.” These are admirable means for living holily and peaceably in a community. The young man came and offered himself to Francis, who knew that Jesus Christ had sent him, and he admitted him immediately, giving him the name of Brother Humble, on account of the humility he found in his heart.
At Crotona, to which place he next took the word of God, there was another young man named Guy, who, moved by his preaching, had invited him to dinner: “This young man,” said Francis, “will enter our militia to-day, and will sanctify himself in this town.” He was the oldest of his family, brought up in study and in virtue, and the excellence of his conduct exceeded even that of his education. He frequented the churches and the sacraments, he gave great alms, and visited the sick to assist them; he wore a hair-shirt, and chastised his body severely, to enable him to preserve his virginal purity. He had made a vow to do this. After the dinner, he knelt down and petitioned for the habit of a Friar Minor, which he received in the principal church of the town, in the presence of a numerous concourse of people, after having first fulfilled two conditions which the father had prescribed for him: The first was, to give to the poor all that he had inherited by his right of primogeniture; the second was, to renounce all the rest of his fortune. It was in the same town that he lived a most holy life, as had been foretold, honored by many miracles; now by permission of the Holy See, he is publicly invoked.
The love of prayer and retirement made Francis wish to find in the neighborhood of Crotona a fit place for building a house suitable for the education of his novices. Guy pointed one out to him in the valley, near a place called Celles. This location greatly pleased him, because it was solitary; and by the aid of some pious persons, he built a very poor dwelling, which he soon filled with novices, and where he received the celebrated Brother Elias, of whom we shall have much to say hereafter.
Having spent nearly two months in preaching at Crotona, and in forming his novices at the Convent of Celles, he was inspired to pass over to a desert island in the middle of the Lake of Perugia. Lent was drawing near. He recommended the care of the house to Sylvester, without letting him know what his own intention was; and on Ash-Wednesday he caused himself to be taken to the island by a boatman, having with him only two loaves of bread. The boatman was a worthy man and his friend. He begged him not to tell any one where he was, and only to come to him on the Wednesday of Holy-Week, to take him back to the shore.
Having made himself there a sort of hut in one of the thickets, to preserve himself from the cold, he had his intercourse with God alone during two and forty days; and his fast was so rigorous, that of the two loaves he brought with him he only ate half a one. – In ecclesiastical history we meet with examples of these miraculous fasts, of which the Holy Fathers have had an assured knowledge, and which the weakness of human nature was enabled to sustain by virtue of the Spirit of God, which supported them. The fruit which they were to derive from it, was to animate the faithful to keep, with as much exactness as was in their power, the fasts prescribed by the Church, and particularly the fast of Lent, which many principal motives of religion render so venerable.
On Wednesday in Holy-Week, the boatman went to fetch Francis and bring him back to Crotona. On the passage the Saint stilled a storm, by making the sign of the cross on the waves; and as soon as he had landed he went to the Convent at Celles, where he passed the remainder of the Holy-Week with his brethren. His confidant did not think it necessary to keep the secret of the marvellous fast. The rumor spread, and many persons went to the island to see and venerate the hut in which he had lived. The miracles which were wrought there by the merits of the Saint, induced some persons to build there; and gradually a small town arose, where later a church was built, with a convent of his Order, near a spring at which he had drunk; sick were afterwards cured there.
After the Easter solemnities, he placed a superior in the convent; then having tenderly embraced the religious, he made the sign of the cross on them, and separated himself from them to go to Arezzo.
This town was at that time greatly agitated by internal dissensions, which were likely to bring on its entire ruin. Francis being lodged in the suburbs, where he had been hospitably received, saw over the town, with the penetrating sight which the Almighty had given him, devils who excited the citizens to massacre each other, and who appeared to be transported with joy. To put these evil spirits to flight, he sent Sylvester, as his herald, and gave him this command: “Go to the gate of the town, and standing before it, order the devils, in the name of the Almighty God, and in virtue of obedience, instantly to retire.” Sylvester, who was a man of extraordinary simplicity, praising God beforehand for what was about to happen, went as fast as possible, and cried out with all his might: “All you devils who are here, begone, go far from hence. It is in the name of God and of His servant, Francis, that I call upon you to go.” At this very moment the citizens, who were on the point of flying to arms, came to an understanding on the points which were in dispute, and peace was restored to the town. On which Saint Bonaventure remarks, that the obedience and humility of Francis had obtained for him that absolute power over the proud spirits who fear and fly from the sublime virtue of the humble.
It became known in Arezzo who the author was of so sudden a reconciliation, because the words which had been spoken by Sylvester had been heard. Francis was sought for and brought into the town in a sort of triumph, notwithstanding the efforts he made to escape from this honor. He preached in the great square on the love of peace, and on the means of preserving it; pointing out to them that dissensions and quarrels came from, and are promoted by, the evil spirit. The magistrates entertained him at the town-house, and had a convent built for his Order according to his wishes, that is to say, according to holy poverty; in which he placed some worthy subjects who had presented themselves to him. A child was brought to him who was quite distorted; he took it into his arms, and it forthwith became straight. This miracle, and several others which he performed during his stay, proved that God had given him as much power over bodily complaints as over the evil spirits.
From Arrezo he bent his steps to Florence, preaching with great success throughout the route. The lords of Ganghereto received him with great respect, and were so pleased with the holiness of his life, that they begged his acceptance of a field and a small wood for the service of his religious. He set up a hut there, where his infirmities compelled him to remain some time. After preaching and prayer, to which he daily gave some time, one after the other, he employed himself in building a small wall round a spring of water which he got miraculously, and which still flows, the water of which God was pleased to render salutary.
As soon as his health was in some degree restored, he continued his way towards Florence, where he went to lodge in the hospital. The following day he preached in the town, and was listened to as a saint. They gave him a small dwelling near the church of Saint Gall, about five hundred paces from the city, in which he received several novices, who rendered themselves illustrious by their exalted virtues; among whom John Parent is particularly noticed, who was a native of Carmignano, near Pistoria.
His conversion was attributable to a very peculiar circumstance. As he was walking one evening in the environs of the town, he saw a swineherd who was endeavoring to drive his pigs into a stable, and who, being in a great passion because, instead of going in, they dispersed themselves in all directions, called out to them in his anger: “Swine, get into this stable as judges get into hell.” He had scarcely said the words, when these animals went quietly in. That which might have appeared to this magistrate nothing but an impertinence, struck him, and made so strong an impression upon him, that, having seriously reflected on the dangers incurred by a judge (which are indeed very great) as to salvation, he threw up his magistracy, and retired to Florence. There he saw Francis, examined his conduct, admired his virtues, and felt himself called by God to imitate him. An only son of his had a similar vocation. The father and the son divided their all among the poor, and became disciples of the Saint, whose prophecy began thus to be fulfilled: that the wise and learned of the world would enter into his Order.
Such a conversion sets before us this important truth: that the Spirit breatheth where He will; that the Lord gives His grace sometimes to what is most common, most simple, and even most base, according to the notions of the world; that it is necessary to be attentive, that we may not receive the grace of God in vain; and that, little as it may seem at first, by being carefully attended to, it may have the most beneficial results. Not to be thankful for it, to neglect it, to resist it, is a heavy loss.
While Francis was at Saint Gall, he foretold a thing which the event justified a few years afterwards. Three men at Florence brought each a child to receive his blessing. As soon as he was apprised of it, he went into the garden and gathered five figs, then he came in, and gave one to the first of the children, one to the second, and three to the third, to whom he addressed the following words: “You will be my dear child.” That one, when he had attained the proper age, took the habit of the Friars Minor, and was called Brother Angel, which he deserved by his angelic life, which was the fruit of his great devotion to the Blessed Virgin, from whom he received very marked favors.
From the month of October, 1211, to the beginning of 1212, the man of God visited the Towns of Pescia, Pisa, San Miniato, Sarthiano, Cetona, and other places in Tuscany, where he made many wonderful conversions, and left some of his brethren to continue the work of God. We shall relate, at the end of his life, the great honors which were publicly shown him, – honors which he received with the greatest humility, and yet with the most generous sentiments.
The brethren whom he had dispersed in the other provinces of Italy, and who partook of his apostolic spirit, labored on their part with great zeal and success. They founded many establishments, and formed many disciples, whom they sent to the holy Founder in order to receive the habit of the Order from him.
They mention particularly what happened at Bologna to Bernard de Quintavalle. As soon as he made his appearance, his extraordinary and very poor habit made him looked upon as a person not worthy of notice. He went to the great square in order to preach the truth of salvation, and he went there several times without having collected an audience. Children and idle people surrounded him; some pulled him by the hood, others threw mud and stones at him; and he was daily assailed with fresh outrages, which he bore with exemplary patience.
A lawyer, having noticed this, made his reflections on it, and it occurred to him that his conduct might be attributed to virtue rather than insensibility. One day, then, he came up to Bernard and asked him who he was, and what he had come to do at Bologna. “You will know who I am,” replied Bernard, “if you will take the trouble to read what I now offer you.” It was the Rule of Francis, of which he had a copy, and which he placed in his hand. The lawyer having read it with astonishment, said to those who accompanied him: “I own I have never seen anything so perfect or so heroic as this mode of life. Those who ill-use this man are very criminal; he ought, on the contrary, to be loaded with honors, as a special friend of God.” Then, addressing himself to Bernard, he said: “If you will follow me, I will give you a place in which you may serve the Lord.” Bernard, having accepted the offer, was taken to the house of his benefactor, who received him with affection, and gave him a house, which he furnished with everything necessary, and promised to protect him and his companions. After this, Bernard was so highly respected in Bologna, that people considered themselves fortunate if they could get near him, touch him, or even see him. This truly humble man, mortified at the honor which was shown him, went to Francis, and said, “My Father, all is in good order at Bologna. But send any other religious thither rather than me, for I have no longer any hopes of being useful there: it is even to be feared that I may lose many graces on account of the great honors I receive.” This prudent mistrust of himself was as pleasing to the holy Father as the affection of the Bolognese, to which he responded by sending them several of his disciples, who subsequently spread the Order throughout all Romagna.
The holy Patriarch returned some time before Lent to Saint Mary of the Angels, where his first care was to examine rigidly whether in his Evangelical progress some worldly dust might not have adhered to him in consequence of his communications with seculars; and in those instances in which the extreme delicacy of his conscience gave him room for self-reproach, he purified himself by very severe penitential observances. He then applied himself carefully to the formation of the novices, whom he had collected from various places, and he preached during the Lent at Assisi.
His discourses, backed by his example, and his prayers and exhortations, animated by an ardent zeal, were so efficacious, that in the town and county of Assisi a very great number of persons was converted, and the fire of divine love was kindled in every heart. “Then,” says Saint Bonaventure, using the words of the Holy Scriptures, “the vine of the Lord spread its branches and bore flowers of a most agreeable odor, and produced fruits of glory in abundance.” There were many young girls who made vows of perpetual virginity; amongst whom, says the same holy doctor, the Blessed Clare appeared as the most beautiful plant in the garden of the Celestial Spouse, and as a star more brilliant than all the others.
This illustrious maiden was the daughter of a rich and noble family of Assisi. The Cavaliere Favorine, or Favarone, her father, was descended from the ancient and powerful houses of Scifi and Fiumi. Her mother, of equal high birth and exalted piety, was called Hortulana. She had the talent of joining the care of her household to the practice of good works, and to regulate her time so well, that she found enough in which to visit, with the consent of her husband, many holy places: she even made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. If this practice is no longer usual in these days, particularly as regards distant countries, it arises from the circumstances of the times being very different, and from there having been a great change in manners. But Christian piety does not permit us altogether to condemn (independently of abuses) voyages or journeys of devotion, since they are sanctioned by the examples of the saints, have been approved by the Fathers of the Church, and since at one time they were directed as sacramental penances for certain sinners.
Hortulana had three daughters, Clare, Agnes, Beatrix. Being about to be confined of the first, and praying to God before a crucifix in a church for a safe delivery, she heard a voice, which said to her: “Woman, fear not, thou wilt bring forth, without danger, a light which will illuminate a vast space.” This was the reason she gave the name of Clare to the daughter to whom she gave birth, in the hopes of seeing the accomplishment of what it might signify.
Indeed, from her earliest years, her virtue shone as an aurora, the prognostication of a fine day. She received with docility the instructions of her mother, and her whole conduct was the fruit thereof; the exercise of prayer became familiar to her; she every day recited the Lord’s Prayer a number of times, which she marked with small stones, in order to be exact in the daily number she had assigned for herself. In that she resembled the solitary of the Desert of Seethe, who kept an account of the number of his prayers, offering them to God three hundred times each day. Naturally tender and compassionate to the poor, she aided them voluntarily, and the opulence of her family enabled her to assist them abundantly. But, in order to render her charities more agreeable to God, she sent to the poor, by confidential persons, the nicest eatables which were served to herself. The love of God, with which these holy practices inflamed her heart, inspired her with a hatred of her own body, and showed her the vanity of all the things of this world. Under her own costly dresses, which her situation in society obliged her to wear, she constantly had a hair-shirt; and she cleverly refused a proposal of marriage which her parents wished her to accept, recommending to God her virginity, which she intended to preserve in entire purity. Although she was at that time confined in the bosom of her family, and solely intent on sanctifying herself in secret before the eyes of God, her virtue became the subject of admiration, without her being conscious of it, and drew down upon her the esteem and praise of the whole town.
The great celebrity which the sanctity of Francis gained in the world, could not be unknown to young Clare. – Aware that this wonderful man renewed a perfection on the earth which was almost forgotten, she wished much to see him and to have conversations with him. Francis also, having heard the reputation of Clare’s virtues, had an equal desire to communicate with her, that he might tear her from the world and present her to Jesus Christ. They saw and visited each other several times. Clare went to Saint Mary of the Angels with a virtuous lady, a relation of hers, whose name was Bona Guelfucci; Francis also came to see her, but always taking the necessary precautions to have the pious secret kept. She placed herself entirely under his guidance, and he soon persuaded her to consecrate herself to God. An interior view of eternal happiness inspired her with such contempt for the vanities of the world, and filled her heart with such divine love, that she had a complete loathing for finery, which it was not as yet permitted her to throw aside; and from that time she entered into engagements to live in a state of perpetual virginity.
The holy director did not choose that so pure a soul should continue longer exposed to the contagion of the world. She had herself come to him some days before Palm-Sunday to hasten the execution of her intention; he told her to assist at the ceremony of the delivery of palms dressed in her usual ornaments, to leave Assisi the following night, as our Blessed Saviour had left Jerusalem to suffer on Mount Calvary, and to come to the church of Saint Mary of the Angels, where she would exchange her worldly ornaments for a penitential habit, and the vain joys of the world for holy lamentations over the Passion of Jesus Christ.
On the 18th of March, being Palm-Sunday, Clare, magnificently dressed, went with other ladies to the Cathedral Church, and as she remained in her place out of bashfulness while the others crowded forward to receive the palms, the bishop came down from the altar, and carried a palm branch to her, as a symbol of the victory she was about to gain over the world.
The following night, accompanied as propriety required, she arranged her flight as her spiritual Father had directed, and according to the earnest wish of her soul. Not being able to get out by the front door, of which she had not the key, she had the courage and strength to break open a small door which had been blocked up with stones and wood, and she repaired to the church, where Francis and his brethren, who were saying their matins, received her with great solemnity, bearing lighted tapers in their hands. They cut off her hair before the altar, and after she had taken off her ornaments with the help of the females who accompanied her, she received the penitential habit, consecrating her virginity to Jesus Christ, under the protection of the Queen of Virgins, while the religious chanted hymns and canticles.
It was a touching scene to see a young noble lady, only eighteen years of age, in solitude, in the middle of the night, renounce all the advantages and allurements of the world, put on sackcloth and a cord, and devote herself to a rigorous system of penitential exercises, solely for the love of God. Similar sacrifices can only be made by a supernatural virtue; they prove that the religion which inspires them is divine; and justly does Saint Ambrose consider them to be far above the most heroical pagan virtues.
It must be remarked, moreover, that the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels, which was the cradle of the Order of the Poor Evangelical Brethren which Francis had just established, was also the place where Clare made profession of the same poverty, that she subsequently prescribed to the Order of Women, which she instituted together with the holy Patriarch. This gives to the two orders the pleasing consolation of knowing that they belong to the Mother of God from their origin, and that she is specially their mother.
As soon as the ceremony was over, Francis, who was always guided by the spirit of wisdom, took the new bride of Jesus Christ, followed by her companions, to the monastery of Benedictines of Saint Paul, there to remain until Divine Providence should provide a dwelling for her.
When morning dawned, and her parents learnt what had occurred during the night, they were overwhelmed with grief. They equally disapproved of what Clare had done, and of the manner in which she had carried her intention into execution; and they went in great numbers to the monastery of Saint Paul, to compel her to leave it. At first they spoke to her in mild and friendly terms; they represented to her that she was choosing a vile and contemptible state of life, which was disgraceful to her family, and that there was no precedent in the whole country of such an occurrence. After which they attempted by violence to force her from the monastery; which they might easily have done, because in those times the religious females did not keep strict enclosure, beside which her relations were all military men, accustomed to acts of violence.
Clare uncovered her head to show them that she was shorn; and she protested, clinging to the altar, that nothing in the world should tear her from Jesus Christ. Either because they had too much respect for religion to venture to violate so holy an asylum, or that God restrained them by His power, they molested her no farther. She had only to resist the fresh efforts they made to induce her to return to her father. But the love of God gave her courage to resist with such determined firmness, that, giving up all hopes of conquering her, they left her in peace.
A short time after, Francis removed her from the Monastery of Saint Paul to that of Saint Angelo de Panso, of the same Order of Saint Benedict, near Assisi, to which she drew her sister Agnes. The conformity of their inclinations and manners, which rendered them tenderly united, had made them sensibly feel their separation. Clare was greatly grieved that Agnes, at so tender an age, should be exposed to the dangers of the world. She prayed fervently to the Almighty to cause her sister to feel the sweets of His grace, so that she might grow disgusted with the world, and become her companion in the service of Jesus Christ. Her prayer was soon favorably heard, for, a fortnight after her consecration, Agnes came to her, and declared that she was decided to give herself wholly to God. “I return Him thanks,” replied Clare, “for that He has thus relieved me from the uneasiness I was in on your account.”
The indignation of the family was extreme, when it became known that one sister had followed the other. On the morrow, twelve of its principal members hastened to the Monastery of Saint Angelo. At first they feigned to have come in a peaceful mood; but, having been admitted, they turned to Agnes, for they had no longer any hopes of Clare, and said: “What business have you here? Come immediately home with us.” She replied that she did not choose to leave her sister, when one of the knights, forgetting himself altogether, attacked her furiously, struck her with his fist, kicked her, pulled her down by the hair, and the others carried her off in their arms. All that this innocent lamb could do, thus torn by the wolves, was to cry out: “My dear sister, come to my aid; do not let them separate me from Jesus Christ.” Clare could give her no assistance, but by praying to God to render her steadfast, and to check the violence of her ravishers. This prayer was followed by a miraculous effect, similar to what the Church records in the life of the illustrious virgin and martyr, Saint Lucia.
As the relations of Agnes dragged her down the mountain, tearing her clothes, and scattering her hair along the road, because she continued violently to resist, she became suddenly so heavy, that they were unable to raise her from the ground, even with the help of persons who flocked from the fields and the vineyards. They were blind to the finger of God in so extraordinary an event, and they even made a jest of it; for ill-disposed persons, like the Pharisees of the Gospel, do not submit to the evidence of miracles, but carry their impiety to the length of turning all miracles into ridicule. The one which God was pleased to perform in the person of Agnes, threw her uncle, whose name was Monaldi, into such a rage, that he raised his arm to strike her in such a manner as would have killed her, if the Divine power had not arrested the blow by bringing such an excessive pain into the limb as to disable it; this pain lasted a considerable time. This is a grand lesson for those parents who prevent their children from consecrating themselves to God in a religious state. If they do not experience in this world the effects of His anger, they ought to fear the consequences of the anathema in the next with which the Council of Trent menaces, not only them, but those also who compel their children to embrace a religious state.
Clare came to the field of battle, where she found her sister half dead. She entreated the relations to retire and to leave her in her care, which they regrettingly did. Agnes then rose with great ease, glad to have had a share in the cross of Jesus Christ. She returned to the monastery with her sister, to consecrate herself to God under the direction of Francis, who cut off her hair with his own hands, and instructed her in the duties of the state she was about to enter. Clare, not having her mind quite at ease in the Monastery of Saint Angelo, removed to the house which adjoined the Church of Saint Damian, the first of the three which he had repaired, and where he had foretold that there would be one day a monastery of poor females, who should lead a sanctified life, and whose reputation would cause our Heavenly Father to be glorified.
Clare had scarcely fixed herself there, when the fame of her sanctity spread all around, and produced wonderful effects. The influence of grace was so great, that there were many persons of all sexes and all ages, of all states of life, nobles and rich, who took to a religious life. They mutually incited each other in families, as Saint Jerome tells us that it occurred in all Africa, when the illustrious virgin, Demetrias, moved by the exhortation of Saint Augustine, took the holy veil. It was even seen that married persons separated by mutual consent, and entered separate convents: and those who could not do this, strove to sanctify themselves in the world. The virtues of the holy spouse of Jesus Christ, as a precious perfume, attracted pure and innocent souls, who made the house of Saint Damian a numerous community, and the cradle of the Order of the Poor Clares, or Poor Ladies, the second of the three orders which were established by Saint Francis. He appointed Clare Abbess of Saint Damian, although her humility made her wish to be the servant of the others, and he only overcame her repugnance by enforcing that obedience which she had promised him.
It was there that this holy abbess was enclosed during a period of forty-two years in the practice of the most eminent perfection, and which we shall have an opportunity of referring to, when we come to speak of her rule.
After Francis had regulated the spiritual exercises of these nuns, provided for the enclosure, and placed the house in good order, he turned in his mind things personal to himself, as to what should be his future way of life. In order to come to a decision, he consulted those of his brethren with whom he was in the habit of having familiar intercourse, and proposed to them his difficulties as follows:
“My brethren, what do you advise me? Which of the two do you think best: that I shall give myself to prayer, or that I shall go forth to preach? To me it seems that prayer is what is most advantageous to me, for I am a simple person, who am not a good speaker, and I have received the gift of prayer, rather than that of speech: moreover, we gain much by prayer; it is the source of graces; but, in preaching, we only distribute to others what God has communicated. Prayer purifies the heart and the affections; it unites us to the sole true and sovereign good, and strengthens us in virtue. Preaching renders the feet of the spiritual man dusty; it is an employment which dissipates and distracts, and which causes regular discipline to be relaxed. In fine, in prayer we speak to God, and we listen to Him; we converse with the angels, as if we lived an Evangelic life. In preaching we must have much condescension towards men, and, living with them, we must hear and see, speak and think, in some measure as they do, in a human way. But there is one thing which seems to prevail over all this before God, which is, that the Only Son, who is in the bosom of His Father, and is the Sovereign Wisdom, came down from heaven to save souls, to instruct mankind by His example and by His word, to redeem them by His blood, and to make of this precious blood a bath and a celestial beverage: all that He had He gave up liberally and without reserve for our salvation. Now, having bound ourselves to do all things according to the model given us in His person, it seems more in conformity to the will of God, that I should give up my own repose in order to labor for the benefit of others.”
After all these reflections, he continued in an anxious state of uncertainty as to the course he ought to take; and this man, who had wonderful knowledge through the spirit of prophecy, had no light thrown on his doubts by prayer: God permitting at that time that he should not be sensible to the evident proofs he had, that he was called to the apostolic life.
We have already seen that powerful attractions to a contemplative life had given rise to similar difficulties arising in his mind. As he wished in all things to act faithfully and perfectly, his principal care was to apply himself to the virtues which he knew, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to be most agreeable to God.
Saint Bonaventure says that this was the ground of his doubt, and he gives two reasons why God permitted that the Saint should not have been able to solve the difficulty, the solution of which appeared so easy. The first is, in order that the heavenly oracles which had announced that Francis was destined to preach the Gospel, should give a more exalted idea of the merits of that ministry; to this may be added, that it was of consequence that it should be known with certainty that the holy Founder and his disciples were destined by Heaven to labor for the salvation of souls, since in after times it has been found that some of their adversaries have contested it. Secondly, the doubt of the servant of God was useful in preserving his humility and rendering it still greater. In the capacity of a Friar Minor, he was not ashamed of seeking the advice of the least of his brethren, he who had been taught such elevated things from the Sovereign Master. It was likewise one of his maxims throughout his whole life, and of the principles of the sacred philosophy, of which he made profession, to address himself to the simple as well as to the learned, to the imperfect as well as to the perfect, to the young as to the old, with the ardent desire to find from intercourse with them in what way and by what means he could best serve God according to His good pleasure, and raise himself to the greatest perfection.
Finally, we must not be surprised that he entreated God to grant him additional proofs of his vocation, after having received such convincing ones by revelations, by miracles, and from the mouth of the Vicar of Jesus Christ; when we see in the Sacred Scriptures, that Gideon, having been chosen by God to fight the enemies of His people, and this choice having been manifested by the apparition of an angel, by a miracle and by a revelation, he nevertheless begged the Lord to give other miraculous signs, in order to be still further assured of it, and his prayer was granted. Would to God, that, without asking for miracles and without expecting them, all vocations, particularly those for the holy ministries, and other affairs of conscience, were examined on such sound principles, and weighed by means as likely to deserve the light of Heaven.
In order to know how finally to decide, Francis sent two of his religious, Philip and Masse, to Brother Sylvester the priest, who was then on the mountain near Assisi, continually intent on prayer, begging him to consult the Lord on the subject of his doubt, and to let him know the result. He made a similar application to Clare, recommending her to put the same question to her sisters, and particularly to the one who should appear to her to be the most pure and most single-minded. The venerable priest and the consecrated virgin gave similar answers, and pronounced that it was the will of God that Francis should go forth to preach.
When the two religious returned, Francis received them with great respect and affection; he washed their feet, embraced them, and gave them their meal. He then took them into the wood, where he knelt bareheaded and inclined, with his hands crossed upon his breast, and said to them: “Now tell me what my Lord Jesus Christ commands me to do?” “My very dear brother, and my Father,” replied Masse, “Sylvester and Clare received precisely the same answer from our Lord Jesus Christ, which is, that you set out to preach; because it is not for your salvation alone that He called you, but for the salvation of others also; and for them He will put His words into your mouth.”
Then Francis, moved by the Spirit of God, as the prophets had been, and inflamed by the fire of charity, rose up, saying: “Let us then go in the name of the Lord;” and he set out with two of his companions, Masse of Marignan, and Angelo of Rieti. He walked so fast to obey the words of Heaven, that it was easy to see that the Lord acted upon him, and that he had received fresh strength from above for the ministry of preaching. His companions were the more convinced of this by the very extraordinary wonders which were worked by him on the route.
The apostolical preacher went first to Bevagna, where he pronounced an excellent discourse on the love of God; after which, in presence of the whole audience, he restored the sight of a blind girl by putting spittle three times on her eyes in the name of the Blessed Trinity. This miracle had a salutary effect on a number of sinners, who were converted; and many of them joined him who was the instrument of the Divine Power.
So many souls gained to Jesus Christ in one place, stimulated him to carry the faith into the Levant. The triumph of martyrs, whose charity could not be extinguished by the violence of persecutions, excited in him a holy jealousy. Burning with similar fire, he wished to offer himself, as they had done, a sacrifice, in order to mark his gratitude in some measure, by the effusion of his blood, for the goodness of Jesus Christ, who vouchsafed to die for our salvation, thus the better to excite others to love Him. But he desired to have the sanction of the Sovereign Pontiff for this undertaking, and therefore bent his steps to Rome, preaching as he went the truths of salvation, which God confirmed by miracles.
Arrived at Rome, he sought an audience with the Pope. Innocent III still filled the Papal throne; he first communicated to him the wonderful extension of his Order, the holy lives of his brethren, and the design which God had to bring about a reformation of morals in the world, which was growing old, and was visibly in a state of decay. Then he disclosed the project he had of transporting himself to the lands of the Mahometans and Tartars, to endeavor to give them some knowledge of the Gospel. It must be remarked, that the Saint attributed to the world that decay which is the effect of old age, but he did not extend this to the Church, because he well knew that, although old, she was not infirm. Saint Augustine says, that her old age is always young, fresh, vigorous, and that she bears fruit in abundance. The Pope, who was very religious, was highly gratified at the fortunate success which he now learnt had attended the Saint’s labors; he willingly granted the servant of God leave to preach to the infidels, and he affectionately gave him his blessing.
Two sermons which Francis preached at Rome procured him two disciples, Zachary and William; the one was a Roman, the other was an Englishman. John de Capella, of whom we have before spoken, having left the Order about this time, and having had a similar end to that of Judas, William was substituted for him, as Saint Mathias had filled the place of the traitor in the Apostolate, and William was afterwards always considered as the twelfth of the first companions of the Patriarch.
A Roman widow, very noble and very rich, called Jacqueline de Settesoli, having heard the Saint preach, was very anxious to have an interview with him. He agreed to it, although reluctantly, and he gave her such salutary instructions, that she committed the care of all her affairs to her two sons, who were afterwards senators, in order that she might apply herself to the sanctification of her soul, employing the gift of tears which God had given her, to weep incessantly the neglects of her past life. This lady and Saint Clare were the only two persons of the female sex with whom the servant of Jesus Christ had any intimate relations on the subject of their salvation; which ought to serve as a caution for this sort of direction lest it be too greatly multiplied, – and be unholy.
As there is no affection more solid or more effective than that which is grounded on charity, the pious widow rendered to Francis and his brethren all the good offices in her power. When they came to Rome she provided them with lodgings, she fed them, clothed them, and assisted them in their sicknesses with the tenderness of a mother. It was she who procured for them from the Benedictines of the Abbey of Saint Cosmas beyond the Tiber, a refuge in the Hospital of Saint Blaise; and this hospital with its church was entirely ceded to them by the same religious order in the year 1229, at the request of Pope Gregory IX; it is to this day the Convent of Saint Francis of Ripa. Thus the Friars Minor are indebted to the children of Saint Benedict for the first establishment they had in Rome, as well as for that of Saint Mary of the Angels, or Portiuncula, the first of the whole Order.
Francis, having terminated his business at Rome, returned to Saint Mary of the Angels, where he communicated to his brethren his intention of proceeding to the Levant. He exhorted them in the strongest terms to perfect themselves in the exercises of a religious life; he left them Peter of Catania as superior during his absence, and set out with one companion for Ascoli. At that place they were extremely anxious to see and hear this admirable man, who was everywhere looked upon as a saint: he had scarcely arrived in the town when all flocked to him; whichever way he went, a crowd followed him; every one was anxious to get near him, and they pressed upon each other in order only to be able to touch his miserable habit. His presence and preaching in this town procured him thirty disciples, some priests, and some laymen, whom he placed in different houses of the Order.
The desire of martyrdom which he aspired to from the infidels, did not admit of a longer stay at Ascoli; he therefore made for the sea-side, and embarked on board a vessel which was bound for Syria. But on the passage the winds became adverse, and they were obliged to come to anchor off Sclavonia, where he remained some days in hopes of finding some other vessel bound to the Levant. Not finding any, and perceiving that his intention had been foiled, he applied to some seamen who were about to sail to Ancona, to take him on board their vessel for the love of God. They refused obstinately to do so, because he had no money wherewith to pay his passage; notwithstanding this, the holy man contrived to slip secretly on board with his companion.
An unknown person came on board the vessel and brought provisions with him, saying to one of the passengers: “Worthy man, I confide these provisions to you, for the use of two poor religious who are secreted in the vessel; take care of them, and give food to them when required.” Who could this charitable purveyor be? There is reason to think, with Saint Bonaventure, that he was sent by God to the assistance of these two poor religious, who were only poor for love of Him. Stormy weather rendered the passage disastrous; they could neither carry sail, nor return to land. All the sailors’ provisions were expended: there was nothing left but the provisions put on board for the two religious. Divine Providence was pleased to multiply these, inasmuch that they sufficed for all who were in the vessel for several days, during which they were still at sea, before they reached Ancona. The sailors, astonished at this miracle, were convinced that the poor man whom they had refused to receive on board, had, by his merits, saved their lives, and they returned thanks to God for His mercy.
After having landed, Francis went to several places, spreading the word of God as a precious seed, which produced an ample harvest. Many came to see him from afar, so greatly had his reputation been disseminated. A celebrated poet came amongst others, having heard his entire contempt for the things of this world spoken of. He was of the class of persons who were called in Provence _Troubadours_, who invented fables, and composed different pieces of poetry, which were sung in the houses of the nobles. The art of versifying in the vulgar tongue was uncommon in those times, and was only practised by the nobility. The Italians imitated the people of Provence, and translated into their language the best compositions of the _Troubadours_. The poet of whom we are speaking excelled in this art, and the Emperor Frederic II had crowned him as the Prince of Poets, which caused him to be usually called “The King of Verse.”
Coming then to see Francis, he passed through the Borough Town of San Severino, and entered the church of a monastery, where the Servant of God was preaching on the mystery of the Cross. He listened to him at first without knowing him; but God disclosed Francis to him in the course of the sermon, by two shining swords pierced through the Saint cross-wise, one from the head to the feet, and the other from one hand to the other through the breast; from this he became aware that the preacher was the holy man of whom so much was spoken. The first impression which the vision made upon him was, that he ought to lead a better life; but the words of the preacher filled him with such compunction, that he felt as if he had been pierced by the sword of the spirit which came out of his mouth. He went after the sermon to renounce in Francis’ hands all the vanities of the world, and to embrace his Institute. Francis, seeing him pass so perfectly from the agitations of the world to the peace of Jesus Christ, gave him the name of Brother Pacificus.
Saint Bonaventure adds, that he was a man of so much holiness that he received the additional favor from God of seeing on the forehead of his Blessed Father a great T, painted in a variety of colors, which threw a remarkable softness on his countenance. This letter, which represents the cross, showed the interior comeliness which the love of the cross gave to his soul.
Watchfulness and affection inspired the Father with the wish to return to Tuscany, to visit the establishments he had founded there the preceding year, and to learn from his own inspection how they progressed in the ways of God. The family of the Ubaldini, which is among the most illustrious of Florence, gave him a convent which had been built and founded by their ancestors for the religious of the Order of Saint Basil, in the sixth or seventh century, some leagues from the city, in the middle of a wood, and which had been since occupied by hermits. He put some of his companions into it, and returned towards the end of October to Saint Mary of the Angels, preaching, as was his custom, in all the places he passed through. The repose he allowed himself after so much fatigue, was that of applying himself to the instruction of his disciples, and addressing discourses to them full of wisdom.
At the end of this year he had an attack of ague, which became quartan, and reduced him to a great state of languor. The bishop of Assisi, who was a most charitable prelate, and his particular friend, having heard of his illness, came to see him, and, notwithstanding his resistance, had him removed to his palace, where he attended to his recovery with the charity of a pastor and the affection of a parent. His religious came to him there to seek the light they required. They also brought to him such postulants as presented themselves, and those who were recommended to him (at times there were thirty or forty) by the missionaries he had in various parts of Italy; for none were then received who had not been examined by the founder himself. A young gentleman from Lucca came with tears in his eyes, to entreat him to give him the habit. “Unfortunate young man,” said the Saint, “why do you attempt to show by your eyes what is not in your heart? You have, without due consideration, formed a plan which you will soon as lightly give up.” In fact, a few days after he went home with two of his relations who had come in search of him, and he thought no more of becoming a religious.
The servant of God, having regained some portion of strength during his residence with the bishop, by relaxing in the severity of his abstinences, which were extreme, became irritated with his own body, and was inflamed with the desire of humbling himself: “It is not right,” he said, “that people should think me austere, while I am pampered in secret.” Upon which the spirit of humility suggested to him an act, which Saint Bonaventure records, not as an example, but as a prodigy, to be compared only with those extraordinary things which God commanded the Prophets to perform. He rose, and accompanied by a great number of his brethren, he went to the great Square of Assisi, assembled the people, and led them to the cathedral.
Then he caused himself to be dragged by the vicar of his convent from the church to the place of execution, stripped, and with a cord round his neck, as the Prophet Isaias. There, weak as he still was, and shivering with cold, he addressed the assembly with surprising energy, and said in a loud voice: “I assure that I ought not to receive honor as if I were a spiritual man. I am a carnal, sensual, and greedy man, whom you ought thoroughly to despise.” The hearers, who knew the austerity of his life, struck with such a scene, admitted that this extraordinary humility was more to be admired than imitated.
Nevertheless, the holy doctor, whom we have just named, finds in this some wholesome instruction. It teaches us, he says, that, in the practice of virtue, we must avoid with great care everything having any tendency to hypocrisy, repress the slightest approaches of vanity, and have a sovereign contempt for praise. The humble Francis, who strenuously labored for his interior sanctification, did many things with a view of rendering himself contemptible, endeavoring, above all, to prevent men from being deceived in the idea they might have formed of his sanctity. This is the characteristic of true devotion; it has no borrowed exterior; it is, or it endeavors to be, all that it seems.
The religious whom Francis had sent into Lombardy, fulfilled the mission in an admirable manner. They acquired so much esteem at Milan by their preaching and by their good example, that the archbishop of that city, Henry Satalas, gave them an establishment there, which became considerable later, by the liberality of the Milanese.
One of the fruits of their apostolic labors was the vocation of a young man of rank, who was rich and talented, and who solicited the habit of the Order. Upon their acquainting him that, to become a Friar Minor, it was requisite to renounce all temporal goods, he immediately disposed of all of which he was then master, and distributed the greater part to the poor, reserving the remainder to pay the expenses of his journey to Assisi, where he was told that it was necessary to present himself to the founder, who alone had the power of receiving novices.
He induced some of his relations and friends to accompany him, and took with him a considerable number of servants; one of the religious was also requested to go with them, in order to introduce the postulant, and favor his reception. When they arrived at Saint Mary of the Angels, Francis, seeing such a number of persons, and such an appearance of vanity, asked the religious who was with them, who these lords were, and what they wanted? He answered: “My Father, this is a young man, learned and rich, of one of the first families of Milan, who wishes to become your disciple.” Francis replied, before them all, smiling: “This young man does not seem to me to be fit for our Order, for, when people come with so much pomp, which is the mark of a proud spirit, to embrace a state of poverty, we are led to believe that they have not yet sufficient contempt and aversion for the world, and that they are not prepared wholly to relinquish it. But I will consult our brethren on the subject.”
He assembled them all, and asked their opinion, which was not to receive him, because he had still a fund of pride, and because the love for the splendor of the world was not yet eradicated from his heart.
The young man who was present burst into tears; and Francis, who was moved with compassion, said: “My brethren, will you receive him if he consents to serve in the kitchen? it will be the means of inducing him to renounce the vanities of the world.” They assented on this condition, which the postulant willingly agreed to, protesting that he was prepared to do anything that was required of him. The Father embraced him, after having returned to those who accompanied him his money and his equipage. He sent him to the hospital of Saint Blasius of Rome, there to act as cook; and the young novice attained to such perfection in that humble employment, that Francis judged him worthy to be placed over others, and made him superior of the same place.
The line adopted in respect to this young man shows evidently, that for the religious profession neither birth, nor riches, nor talents, are to be heeded, but that the essential qualifications principally to be considered for this holy state, are, to be sincerely prepared to die to the world and to self.
At the beginning of the year 1213, the fever of which Francis had been cured at the bishop’s palace of Assisi recurred; sometimes it was tertian, sometimes quartan, but always with great severity. He bore the suffering with great equanimity, because of the hatred he felt for his body, and from the patience taught by Jesus Christ. The violence of the fever which burned his body, was, in his opinion, a lesser evil than the fire of temptations which inflame the soul; his sufferings appeared to him a gain. All the saints have had a like way of thinking, and the principles of Christianity admit of no other. The only uneasiness the sickness gave to the holy man, was its having prevented him putting in force the intentions he had in view for the salvation of souls. But charity, which is ever active, suggested to him to exhort the faithful in writing, as he could not do so in person; he therefore addressed them a short letter, couched in the following terms: –
“O how happy are all those who love God, and who worthily practise all that Jesus Christ has taught in His holy gospel. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and thy neighbor as thyself. Let us love and adore God with great purity of mind and heart; for that is what He seeks for above all things. He has said that the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth, and that they who adore Him, must adore Him in spirit and truth. I salute you in our Lord.”
This short letter was still fresh from his hand, when an infinity of copies were made of it, so anxious were all people to see anything that came from the hand of so holy a person. In this simple and brief exhortation they admired the candor of his soul and the extent of his charity, and, in reading it, they were moved by a power which penetrated the soul; for the words of the saints have a secret unction which is not found elsewhere.
These spiritual services, and others which Francis rendered to his neighbor, with the continual instruction he gave to his brethren, were his occupations during his sickness, and until such time as returning health permitted him to do more. He was somewhat better in the spring, as is usually the case with those who have the quartan ague; but his extraordinary austerities had so weakened his constitution, that he never wholly recovered his health, and the remainder of his life was little else than a state of languor.
As soon as he could commence travelling, he committed the care of his Order to Peter of Cantania, and set out with Bernard of Quintavalle and some others, in order to go to Morocco, through Spain, to preach the Gospel to the Miramolin and to his subjects, in the hopes of attaining by this means the crown of martyrdom, which was the great object of his wishes.
The servant of God did not reach Spain till near the end of the year, because he had stopped in various places to preach, to visit the houses of his Order, and to receive accounts of others. His whole route was a succession of miracles, and other remarkable things, which contain admirable instructions.
At Foligno, the sign of the cross which he made on the house of his host, protected it from various accidents, and particularly from fire, which did no damage to that dwelling, although the adjoining houses were three or four times on fire: the flames were even seen to take a contrary direction. At Spoleto, knowing that a rich man thought ill of his Institute, and refused his brethren alms, he asked him only to give him a loaf; and, having received it, he divided it among his religious, and directed them to say the Lord’s Prayer and the Evangelical Salutation three times, for the person who had given it. Their scanty meal was scarcely finished, when this man came to ask forgiveness for the harshness he had shown them, and he was, after that, the best friend of their convent, so good an idea of their Institution had the saint impressed upon him.
At Terni, the bishop who had listened to one of Francis’ sermons, ascended the pulpit when he had done, and said to the people: – “My brethren, the Lord, who has often enlightened His Church by men illustrious for their science, has now sent you this Francis whom you have just heard, a poor illiterate man, and contemptible in appearance, in order that he may edify you by his word and his example. The less learned he is, the more does the power of God shine in his person, who chooses those who are foolish according to the views of the world, to confound all worldly wisdom. The care which God takes of our salvation obliges us to honor and glorify Him; for He has not done the like to other nations.”
Francis followed the prelate, fell on his knees, kissed his hand, and said: – “My lord, in very truth, no one has ever done me so much honor as I have this day received from you. Some attribute to me a sort of sanctity, which noway belongs to me, and which ought to be referred to God alone, the author of every perfect gift. But you, my lord, have wisely separated what is valuable from what is vile, the worthy from the unworthy, the saint from the sinner; giving the glory to God, and not to me, who am but a miserable mortal. It is, indeed, only to God, the King of Ages, immortal and invisible, that men should give honor and glory for ever and ever.” The bishop, even more pleased with this specimen of his humility than with his preaching, embraced him affectionately.
In the same city, by the sign of the cross he rendered some sour wine perfectly good, and that before persons who had tasted it in its acid state. But he performed a much greater miracle, which was universally admired, on a young lad who had been just crushed by the fall of a wall; having had him brought to him, he applied himself to prayer, and, extending himself on the corpse, as the Prophet Eliseus had done on the child of the Sunamite, he restored him to life.
In the County of Narni, he was lodged in the house of a worthy man who was in great affliction for the death of his brother, who had been drowned, and whose body could not be found, so that it might be buried. After having privately prayed for some time, he showed a spot in the river where he said that the body certainly was at the bottom; it had been stopped there by the entanglement of the clothes. They dived at that place and found the body, which he restored to life in the presence of the whole family.
The fever, and a severe stomach complaint, caused him to faint in a hermitage which had been given him near the Borough of Saint Urban, and he asked for some wine to recover from the weakness which had ensued. As there was none to be had there, he had some water brought to him, which he blessed, by making the sign of the cross over it, and it was instantly changed thereby into excellent wine. The little that he took of it renovated him so promptly, that it was a double miracle. Upon which Saint Bonaventure remarks, that this wonderful change is a type of the change he had effected in his heart, in casting off the old man to put on the new.
In the City of Narni, he cured a man who had lost the use of his limbs for five months from palsy, employing no other remedy than a sign of the cross, which he made over his whole body; this he did at the request of the bishop of the place, and by virtue of the same sign he restored the sight of a blind girl. Being at Orti, he straightened a child, who was so deformed that its head touched its feet. At San Gemini, he prayed, with three of his companions, for the wife of his host, whom the devil had possessed for a long while, and the evil spirit left her. Such evident miracles, publicly performed, and in great numbers, gave a wonderful splendor to his sanctity. In the archives of the Town of Poggibonsi, in Tuscany, the act of donation of a house given to him is preserved, which commences thus: – “We cede to a man named Francis, whom all the world considers as a saint,” etc.
The discourses of so holy a man, of one so gifted with the power of miracles, had the greatest effect upon the hearts of his hearers, and made the people very anxious to have houses of his Order established among them. He settled some of his religious at Foligno, at Trevi, at San Gemini, at Sienna, and in several other places.
Fresh disciples joined him from all quarters, but he did not receive any until he had strictly examined their vocation. A young gentleman, having heard him preach at Monte Casale, a town in the Appennines, came to acquaint him with the design he had long formed of entering his Order. “You must think seriously of it,” replied Francis; “for the kind of life we lead must appear very hard to those who have been tenderly brought up.” The young man answered courageously: “My Father, are not you and yours of the same nature as I am, and formed of the same earth? I hope, with God’s help, to bear without much inconvenience what my fellow-men can bear so willingly.” These ideas were very pleasing to the Patriarch, and the postulant was received. It must be admitted that man has resources of strength which he might make use of to imitate the saints in many things, if he were not wanting in exertion and confidence in God.
From Monte Casale Francis passed over the Appennines, and went through the Valley of Marecchia to reach Monte Feltro, or Saint Leo. He learnt on the road that the lord of that town was about to be knighted at his castle, where he was giving a grand feast, accompanied by games and theatricals, to a numerous assembly of the nobility, among whom was Count Orlando Catanio, lord of Chiusi Nuovo, and of all the Casentino. Being near the castle, and hearing the sound of the trumpets, which denoted that the revelry was about to begin, he said to his companions: – “Let us go hither also, and let us combat the devil with all our might, who never fails in these rejoicings to lay his snares into which many fall; for it is our duty to labor everywhere and in all places for the salvation of souls.” He went up to the castle, and heard the solemn mass with all those who accompanied the new knight. As soon as it was over, he took a position on a height near the church, in order to preach from thence, and the crowd gathered round him to listen.
He took the following Italian words for his text: – “Tanto e il ben che aspetto, che d’ogni pena mi diletto:” which means – “the good which I hope for is so great, that to obtain it all suffering is pleasurable.” He proved his text by this passage from Saint Paul: – “The sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come;” by the example of the apostles, who were filled with joy for having been found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus; by the example of the martyrs, who willingly exposed themselves to torments and death, that they might obtain heaven; and, finally by such cogent reasons, so pathetically set forth, that all the auditors admired the doctrine, and felt what he wished to inspire them with. They found in the preacher something divine, which commanded respect, and they fixed their looks upon his countenance as if it had been that of an angel.
Count Orlando, more impressed with what he had heard than the rest, went after the sermon to embrace the preacher, and he entreated him particularly to instruct him in the affairs of his salvation. Francis, who, in addition to his ardent zeal, had much discretion and suavity of manner, said: – “Count, go now and do honor to your friends whom you have invited, and we will talk of this affair at a more convenient time.” The count, complying with this advice, joined the nobility who waited for him, and did not forget to take care of the servants of God. The feast having ended, he returned to the prudent director, with whom he had a lengthened conversation, with which he was so much struck, that in order to have the comfort of seeing familiarly the religious of the Institute, he offered Francis the Mountain of Alvernia, with a promise, if he agreed to it, of building there a convent.
As this was a lonely place, very fit for contemplation, Francis gladly accepted the offer, and promised to send two of his brethren to Chiusi, before he should leave Italy. He did in fact send them, and the count having received them as angels sent from heaven, he took them to Mount Alvernia, where they fixed upon a spot which appeared to them an apt location for a church. Fifty soldiers who had been brought thither began immediately to fell timber, and a place was cleared, where hutting was set up to lodge the religious, in which they dwelt until the church and convent were built. These are the circumstances under which the Friars Minor were settled on this mountain, which subsequently became so celebrated in the Christian world by the stigmata of Saint Francis. The place was ceded to them by an authentic document which the count gave them, and which is preserved in the original in the archives of the convent. We shall speak further of this holy place when we come to relate the first visit the Saint paid it on his return from Spain.
He continued his journey through Bologna, from whence, after having visited his brethren, he came to Imola. He first went to offer his respects to the bishop, and asked permission to preach to his people. “I preach,” replied the bishop coldly, “and that is quite enough.” Francis bowed humbly, and retired; but an hour afterwards he returned, and the bishop, surprised and angered at seeing him again, asked him what he could possibly want? to which he replied, in a tone of sincere humility: “My lord, if a father drives his son out of the house by one door, it is right that the son should return through another.” The bishop mollified by this mild address, embraced him with affection, and said: “From henceforth you and your brethren may preach in my diocese. I give you a general leave, it is what your humility has merited.” Is there anything which can soften minds and obtain favors sooner than this virtue?
The humility of Francis was accompanied with great courage, which rendered him firm and confident in the most imminent dangers, this was owing to the great confidence he had in God. Night overtook him once when he was in company with Leo, between Lombardy and the Trevisan Marshes, on a road having on one side the Po, one of the most considerable rivers in Italy, and on the other a deep morass. Leo, much alarmed, exclaimed: “Father, pray to God to deliver us from the danger we are in.” Francis, full of faith, replied: “God can, if it is His good pleasure, give us light to dissipate the darkness of the night.” These words were hardly spoken, when they found themselves surrounded by a brilliant light, which not only made the way clear to them, but enabled them to see many things on either side of the way, although the darkness was very dense everywhere else. They pursued their route, singing the glories of God; the celestial torch served them as a guide till they reached the place where they were to be lodged, which was then very far off. This miraculous light was a notification to the Saint that it was God’s pleasure that he should have a dwelling in the place to which His goodness had led him, and he told this to his companion. The inhabitants made no difficulty in assigning him one, after having heard him preach, and he gave the convent the name of The Holy Fire, as it is still called.
In Piedmont, where he was well received, his preaching, with the reputation of his sanctity, confirmed by many miracles, converted a considerable number of persons, and procured him several houses. From thence he went into Spain, but the writers of his life have not recorded by what route. Now, it is scarcely to be doubted that he went by land, and through France; ancient documents show that he entered Spain through Navarre, and that he arrived in the year 1213 at Logrono, a Town of Old Castile, which had formerly belonged to Biscay.
On the road he came up with a poor and abandoned invalid, for whom he felt so much pity that he directed Bernard de Quintavalle, one of his companions, to stay with him and take care of him, which Bernard willingly undertook to do. At Logrono he miraculously cured a young gentleman who was on the point of death; then he went on to Burgos, where Alphonso IX., (or VIII., according to some,) father of Blanche Queen of France and mother of Saint Louis, then was. Francis presented himself before the king, he showed him the rules of his Institute, and entreated him to receive the Friars Minor into his states. This monarch, who, in addition to his political and military talents, had a great fund of goodness and piety, received the holy man very favorably; he condescended to read the rules, and after having conversed with him for some time, gave him leave to build houses in Spain.
Francis now fixed his thoughts only on advancing towards the sea-side in order to embark for Morocco, there to suffer martyrdom, for this was the great object of his wishes. If we only formed our opinion of things by the ordinary rules of prudence, we should be surprised, that a man, visibly sent by God for the institution of a new order of religious, should leave it so short a time after its birth, to seek for death among the infidels. But the saints only thought of following the impulses which the Spirit of God suggested to them, with reference to the works which they had commenced by God’s order. Saint Anthony, father of a great number of Cenobites, left his monastery, and followed at Alexandria certain confessors of the faith; he attended upon them in prison, and exhorted them under torment to procure for himself the palm of martyrdom. Saint Dominic, animated by a similar spirit, had formed the intention of going among the Saracens, only two years after the institution of his order. Francis, thus inspired from above, desired to meet death for Jesus Christ, and left to God the care of his rising family.
This disposition, which was the fruit of ardent charity, was very pleasing to God; it entered into the economy of His providence for the salvation of souls and for the aggrandizement of the new Order, for the Saint did not cease his labors when he took the route which was to lead to martyrdom. Nevertheless, God did not choose that his design should be carried into execution; and His will was made known to His Servant by a violent illness, which put it out of his power to embark for Morocco. Francis gave up his wishes, obeying what was thus signified to him. and came to the resolution to return to Italy for the guidance of his flock, however, he did not set out till the close of the year.
The authors of the Order are agreed in saying that he went to visit the tomb of the Apostle Saint James, at Compostella, the capital of Galicia, to which place devotion has attracted, for many centuries past, crowds of pilgrims, and that an angel appeared to him there, and assured him that it was God’s will that he should return to Italy, after having founded some establishments in Spain. They also say that he went into Portugal, where he raised to life the daughter of his host at Guimaraens, a town of the diocese of Braganza, which caused him to be spoken of as a saint throughout the whole country; and that he went through nearly the whole of the Kingdom of Arragon and the adjacent provinces; and, finally, they relate the following most extraordinary circumstance:
Francis being one evening on the banks of the River Orbego, with his companions, where there was no food, a young man of the Town of Novia overtook them, and carried them over on some horses he had with him, and received them hospitably. The gratitude the Saint had was shown by saying: “May the Lord reward you for the kindness you have shown us, when He rewards the just.” Some short time after this, the young man, having gone to Rome out of devotion, and having endeavored to put his conscience in a good state, prayed fervently to God, to take him out of this world before he should commit a mortal sin. His prayer was heard; he died. His father desired to have a funeral service said for him, and thirty Friars Minor attended to it without having been asked; none knew from whence they came, nor whither they afterwards went, which made it thought that the assistance was miraculous; and as it was known what the holy man Francis had said to the deceased, it was understood that he had, by this means, procured the reward of the just for him whose hospitality he had received.
Gonzagues, Bishop of Mantua, who had been General of the Order of Saint Francis, says, that it is held as certain that Saint Francis commenced the establishments of Gasta, Arevalo, Avila, Madrid, Tudela, and caused several other convents to be built. It is easily understood that in the eight or nine months in which he remained in Spain after his illness, he arranged much by himself and by his companions; the old inscriptions which are still seen on the tombs of many Minors are an additional proof. Moreover, it is certain that his holy life and his preaching were of the greatest benefit to souls, and that his Order was received in Spain with an affection which has passed from age to age, from fathers to sons; so that Spain is one of the countries of the world in which we find the greatest veneration for Saint Francis, and the greatest consideration for the Order of Friars Minor.
The same bishop tells us, on the testimony of universal and unvaried tradition, of many miracles performed by the Almighty, through the ministry of the holy man. We shall satisfy ourselves by relating one of them, which is warranted by manuscripts and documents.
Francis was lodged at Compostella, at the house of a poor dealer in charcoal, whose name was Cotolai, and he often went to pass the night in contemplation on a neighboring mountain. God made known to him, that it was His will that he should build a convent between two valleys, the one of which was commonly called the Valley of God, and the other the Valley of Hell. He knew that this ground belonged to the Benedictines of Compostella, of the Abbey of Saint Pay, or Pelagius, since transferred to that of Saint Martin; and, bearing in mind the favors which the religious of this holy order had done him in the gifts of Saint Mary of the Angels, and at Rome, he called upon the Abbot and asked unhesitatingly for permission to build a convent between the two valleys. “What will you give me in payment?” said the abbot. Francis replied: “As I am very poor, I have neither money, nor anything else to give you, if you grant me what I ask. Yet what will be most precious to me, I will give you in quit rent yearly – a small basket of fish if they can be caught in the river.” The abbot who was a very pious man, admiring his simplicity and his confidence, granted him his request on the condition proposed, and an act to that effect was prepared and signed by both.
The holy man came to Cotolai and told him what had passed between the Abbot of Saint Pay and himself, and added: “My dear host, it is God’s will that you should build this convent; therefore prepare yourself for the work.” “Oh, how shall I be able to do that,” answered Cotolai, “I who am so poor, and who live by my daily labor?” “Take courage,” said Francis, “take a pickaxe, and go to the spring which is close by; make a hole a little in front of it, and you will find a treasure which will enable you to execute the order of Heaven.” Cotolai, relying on the Saint’s word, searched as he was bidden, found the treasure, and built the convent, which is known by the name of Saint Francis to this day. This fact is narrated in an authentic manuscript in the archives of the Abbey of Saint Martin, from whence this is copied; and in two very old inscriptions, one of which is on the tomb of Cotolai and his wife, whose name was Mary de Bicos, and the other over the gate of the church of the convent in which their tomb is. The deed which was executed by Francis and the Abbot of Saint Pay, is preserved in the original in the archives of the Abbey of Saint Martin of Compostella. The Prince of Spain, Philip the Second, saw it in the year 1554, when he was about to embark at Corunna, to espouse the Queen of England. However, the marvel has nothing in it which should be the cause of much surprise: our Saviour, who made Saint Peter find in the mouth of a fish wherewithal to pay the tribute for his Master and himself, could easily cause a treasure of money to be found sufficient to build a house for his faithful Servant Francis.
When the Apostolical man had terminated his mission in Spain, he went to rejoin Bernard de Quintavalle, whom he had left on entering it, in charge of the poor sick man, who was perfectly cured. Francis came through Aragon into Catalonia. The magistrates of Barcelona, where he stopped for a short time, were so pleased with his poverty, his humility, and his other virtues, that, for the sake of having some religious of his Order, they converted the hospital where he was lodged into a convent, the church and cloister of which are still extant, and are venerable from the remembrance of the Saint.
At San Saloni, a small town between Barcelona and Gerona, an adventure occurred to him which seemed purely accidental, but which God turned to good. As he walked by the side of a vineyard, his companion gathered a bunch or two of grapes to refresh himself. He who had charge of the vineyard, perceiving it, came violently upon the religious, beat him and abused him in no measured terms, and took from him his poor cloak. Francis asked to have the cloak back, alleging mildly, that what had been taken had done no injury to the vineyard; and that good feeling required that this assistance should be given to a passer-by who needed it. But, not having succeeded in procuring its restoration, he went to the proprietor of the vineyard, from whom he had no difficulty in getting it back, after having told him what had happened. He then conversed with him on heavenly things with such effect, that the man, devoting himself from that moment to his service, promised to receive hospitably all the Friars Minor who should pass through San Saloni, and furnish them with whatsoever they might require, as far as his means would allow; which he never failed to do as long as he lived. Francis, in return, granted him participation in all the spiritual merits of his Order, and gave him the name of Father of the Friars Minor.
It is from this precedent that the superiors of the Order give letters of filiation, as they are called, in virtue of which the holders participate in the merits of all the practices of the community. This is grounded on the communion of saints, one of the articles of the apostolic symbol by which each member of the faithful who is not excommunicated, and principally if he be in a state of grace, participates in the good works of others. Besides this general communication, the faithful may assist each other by their prayers, and their own merits, as is done in confraternities and all pious associations. This is the way in which the Order of Saint Francis, and all other religious orders, manifest their gratitude to their benefactors; in this they do that which Saint Augustine says of the ministers of Jesus Christ in regard to the faithful who support them; “They give spiritual things, and only receive temporal ones; they give gold, and only receive brass.” Those who know what the communion of saints is, and who neglect nothing which can contribute to their salvation, have great esteem (as, indeed, they ought) for letters of filiation, and strive to live in a Christian-like manner in order to profit by them.
From Catalonia, Francis continued his route through Roussillon, and it is believed that he placed some of his religious at Perpignan, the capital. He then entered Languedoc, which the errors and arms of the Albigenses had alike tended to desolate. The Catholics at that time enjoyed some calm by the valor of the illustrious Simon, Count of Montfort, who had just overthrown the heretics, principally by the celebrated victory obtained, at Muret, over Peter, King of Aragon, whom ill-understood interests had made protector of the Albigenses, to the detriment of religion, and who was killed in that battle. The saintly traveller did not make any stay in Languedoc; perhaps because it was the field destined by Providence to be cultivated by Saint Dominic, whose preaching and miracles had made an infinity of conversions, and who was then at Carcassonne, where he gave the nuptial benediction to the marriage of Amaury de Montfort, the son of Simon, with the Princess Beatrice, the daughter of the Dauphin, Count of Viennois. Francis arrived at Montpellier at the time when they were about to open the council, at which Simon of Montfort was loaded with praises, and chosen to be possessor of the City of Toulouse, and the other conquests of the Crusaders; he preached there, and foretold that a convent would be built soon for his brethren at the hospital where he lodged; a prophecy which was fulfilled in the year 1220.
His bad health, the fatigues of his journey, and the rigor of the season, had brought him into a state of great languor, and compelled him to stop one day. His malady gave him a disgust for all sorts of food, and he thought that he could only relish some wild fowl. As he was speaking of it to his companion Bernard, a well-appointed cavalier brought him one ready dressed, saying, “Servant of God, take what the Lord sends thee,” after which he disappeared. Francis, admiring the goodness of God, who fulfils the desires of those who fear Him, ate willingly of this celestial food, and was so strengthened by it, that he rose up immediately and continued his journey through Dauphiny and Piedmont; from whence he went to Saint Mary of the Angels, continuing to perform the functions of an Apostle and Patriarch of the Order on his way, but not without having to endure the honors which his miracles and the reputation of his sanctity procured him from all parts.
His return was the subject of great rejoicing to his children, to Clare in particular, and to a number of young men, among whom were many nobles and many learned persons who were waiting to be received into the Order.
He was surprised to find a building which Peter of Catania, his own vicar had constructed during his absence; he inquired the reason of it, and Peter having replied, “that it was for the accommodation of their guests, where they might say the divine office more commodiously,” He said: – “Brother Peter, this place is the rule and the model of the Order; I choose that those who come to it shall suffer the inconveniences of poverty as well as those who live in it, in order that they may tell others how poorly we live at Saint Mary’s of the Portiuncula; for if the guests see that they are provided with everything they can wish for, they will expect the same thing in their provinces, and will say, that they only do as they do at Portiuncula, which is the original place of the Institution.” He was desirous that the building should be pulled down, and he even directed it to be done; but, upon the representations of the need they had of it, he consented to let it stand. They could not do without room to lodge the number of people who were drawn thither by the rumor of his great virtues, and the multitudes of his religious who came from various parts to consult him.
Those whom he had destined for Mount Alvernia, having come with several others to congratulate him on his return, informed him that Count Orlando had loaded them with favors; that they were settled on the mountain, and that it was the place, of all others, proper for contemplation. This gave him a wish to go thither, and he set out with three companions, Leo, Masse, and Angelo of Rieti. It was his custom in travelling to name one of those who accompanied him as guardian and leader, and he obeyed him humbly in all things. On this occasion, he gave this commission to Masse, desiring him not to disquiet himself about their food, and giving no other instructions, except that the divine office should be punctually and piously recited, that silence should be rigidly observed, and that their deportment should be reserved. He preached, as usual, wherever he went, and performed many miracles.
One night he went into a church which was deserted, in order to pass the night in prayer, knowing from experience that the Spirit of God was communicated more freely to the soul in quiet solitary places. At the beginning of the night, the devils used every sort of artifice to interrupt his prayers and to disturb him. Then they attacked him in person, as Saint Athanasius relates that they did Saint Anthony, so that they seemed to come to blows with him. The more they annoyed him, the more fervently he prayed, and the more strenuously he invoked Jesus Christ with confidence, in the words of the prophet: – “Protect me under the shadow of thy wings from these wicked ones who pursue me;” and he said to the devils: – “Spiteful and deceitful spirits, do all you can against me, for you can do nothing but what God permits, and here I am, ready to suffer with pleasure all the afflictions it is His pleasure to send me.” Then the devils cast themselves upon him with still greater violence; they pushed him about on all sides, they dragged him along the ground and beat him severely. In the midst of his sufferings, he exclaimed: – “My Lord Jesus Christ, I give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits; this is not one of the least; it is an assured mark of the goodness Thou hast for me. Thou punishest my sins in this world to spare me in the next. My heart is ready, O my God, my heart is ready to suffer still more if such be Thy holy will.” Saint Bonaventure says, that he was often tormented in this manner by demons; but that these proud spirits, not being able either to overcome him, or to bear his constancy, retired in confusion. Such a resistance would repress all the efforts of the tempter when he attacks us invisibly.
In the morning, he could not disguise from his companions what had happened to him, and the extreme weakness which it had brought on obliged him to desire his companions to go to the neighboring village, to procure for him, in God’s name, some means of riding on with them. The farmer to whom they applied, having learnt that it was for Francis of Assisi, of whom he had heard so much good spoken, went to fetch his own ass to carry him on, during the journey.
On the way, Francis bethought himself of stopping for a short time at this farmer’s to recruit his strength by some poultry and other delicacies of the country; but, wishing to punish himself for having merely listened to such a suggestion, he took up a half-rotten fowl from a dunghill, and smelt at it, saying to himself: – “Here, glutton! here is the flesh of the poultry that you so anxiously wished for; satisfy your longing, and eat as much as you like.” To support himself, he ate nothing but bread, on which he sprinkled ashes, and he drank nothing but water. He blessed the house of his host, and promised him very long lineage, who should be neither poor nor very rich. The remembrance of this prediction has been carefully preserved in this place, and the house still exists, bearing the name of Saint Francis, where the religious of his Order are always charitably received. This lesson is taught by the apostle: – “That God, by His blessing, gives to charitable persons the means of continuing and multiplying their good works.”
The invalid was replaced on the ass, and they took the road to Chiusi which they reached by noon. Count Orlando was greatly pleased to see them, and would have been but too glad to detain them, if only for that day; but Francis would go as soon as dinner was done to Mount Alvernia, whither the count accompanied him.
“The Mountain Alvernia is on the confines of Tuscany, not far from Camaldoli and Val Ombrosa; it is part of the Apennines, and it rises higher than the adjacent mountains from which it is separated: two rivers flow at its foot, the Tiber and the Arno. On their sides it has rocks so perpendicular and so smooth that they might be mistaken for walls; and on the side on which the top may be reached, no one would dare to attempt the ascent but for the number of beech trees and underwood which hide the precipices. These trees, which are very lofty, hide some extensive and beautiful pasturages. There also an abundance of plants is found called carline or Caroline which is a cure for the plague.”
The farmer, who was their guide, made bold to address Francis thus: “Brother, I hear much good spoken of you, and I understand that God has shown you great favors, for which you are greatly indebted to Him; strive, then, to be what it is said you are, and never to change in order that those who have confidence in you may not be deceived; this is a piece of advice I give you.” Francis, delighted at what he had heard, dismounted, kissed the man’s feet, thanked him, acknowledging the great mercy of God, who had been pleased to cast His eyes on the lowliness of His servant. Although this advice came from a poor countryman, it was nevertheless the very best that could be given to a saint. So true it is that no one should be despised, and that the most simple-minded persons often say more sensible and more spiritual things than men of the greatest genius.
The same man being very thirsty at the steepest part of the mountain, exclaimed loudly: “I shall die, if I cannot get something to drink.” Francis immediately alighted, threw himself on his knees, raised his hands to heaven, and prayed until he knew that he had been heard. Then, pointing out a large stone to the man, he said, “Go there quickly, and you will find some living water: it is Jesus Christ who, out of His great mercy, makes it spring from this rock that you may drink.” The man ran directly, found water, and drank as much as he required.
No spring had ever been known to be in that place, and no water was ever found there afterwards. Wonderful goodness of the Almighty, exclaims Saint Bonaventure, who thus with so much benevolence grants the prayers of His servants. The birds seeing Saint Francis and his companions approaching came in great numbers to welcome him to their home.
At length they reached the top of Mount Alvernia, where the religious resided. The father was well pleased with their dwelling, because everything was on a small scale and poor.
Count Orlando returned in the evening and came back next day, bringing something for their dinner. After they had finished their meal, he gave orders for the construction of a small chapel under a very tall beech tree, and a cell, which Francis had asked him for, and, calling the others aside, he said: “Since your founder has given his consent to the donation I made you two years ago of this mountain, you may consider it as yours, and hence both myself and mine will be always devoted to your service whenever you shall need it. You will not be able to please me more than by addressing yourselves to me, looking upon me as your servant; and even, if you will do me that favor, considering me as one of your brethren.” After the departure of the count, the holy Patriarch made them the following discourse, relative to the count’s kindness, which they took care to commit to writing:
“My dear children, it is God who thus turns the hearts of the faithful towards His little and useless servants, in which He does us a very great favor. On what we have hitherto received let us place our hopes for what is to come; if that seems but little, the Lord, who is infinitely liberal, will add to it by His goodness still greater benefits, provided we are faithful to Him. Let us, then, leave to Him the care of all that relates to you, and He Himself will feed you, as He fed Elias, Paul, and Anthony in the desert. The birds of the air neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, yet your Heavenly Father nourishes them; how much more will He do this for His servants? If He tries you, it will be only for a time, for it is written, that He will not suffer the just to waver forever; the eyes of the Lord are on them that fear Him, and on them that hope in His mercy to deliver their souls from death and feed them in famine. Trust not to the princes of the earth, nor to the charitable offers made you by our benefactor, Count Orlando, for cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm. This lord has acted nobly by us, and according to his piety; let us do on our parts what depends on us, and fail not therein; that is to say, let us not have recourse to his generosity, as to a treasure of which we are the masters, and in that regard let us have the greatest reserve that we may not in any respect trench upon holy poverty. Be sure, my dear children, that our best resource for providing for our wants, is to have none to provide for. If we are truly evangelical poor, the world will have compassion upon us, and will generously give us all that is necessary for our subsistence; but if we swerve from holy poverty, the world will shun us; the illicit means which we might take for avoiding indigence, would only make us feel it the more.” Is not such a discourse sufficient to show us, that Saint Francis had great talents and judgment, joined to great knowledge of the practice of virtue?
Count Orlando had a church built on Mount Alvernia, according to the plan which the Saint had given him, which, it was confidently said, had been given to Francis by the Blessed Virgin, who appeared accompanied by Saint John the Baptist, and Saint John the Evangelist.
While they were at work at this building and at the cells for the brethren, Francis explored the mountain on all its sides, to discover the sites best adapted for contemplation. He found one, where there were some large openings in the rock, great masses overhanging them, deep caverns, and frightful pits; and what seemed to him to be most curious, there was a rock so split that the interior formed a room with a smooth flooring, and a sort of ceiling which had a small opening which admitted the light. He was anxious to know whether this was the natural formation of the rock, or whether it was not the effect of an earthquake; and, after having recited the seven penitential psalms, he begged God to grant him information on this head. An angel acquainted him, in an apparition, that this had happened at the death of Jesus Christ, when the earth shook and the rocks were rent asunder. This circumstance gave Mount Alvernia additional value in the eyes of the servant of Jesus Christ crucified. He never afterwards saw these openings without thinking of the sufferings his Divine Master endured on the cross, and without wishing that his feelings of compassion might break his heart. In the opinion of the holy Fathers, the rocks which were rent when Jesus Christ expired were reproaches to the Jews for the hardness of their hearts, and this reproach falls equally on Christians who are insensible to His sufferings.
We can have no difficulty in thinking, with Cardinal Baronius, that the rocks on Mount Alvernia were split at the death of our Saviour, since the earthquake was universal, according to the opinions of Eusebius, Saint Jerome, and many others, and even according to the testimony of pagan authors.
It is also very credible that the Son of God has manifested to His special servants, some of the effects of this motion of the earth, in order to impress more vividly on their minds the remembrance of His Passion; and may we not think that the Lord, who is the beholder of all ages, as the wise man says, and who had selected Mount Alvernia as the place in which He would do His Servant Francis the favor of imprinting the stigmata on him, as we shall see further on, was pleased to give this mountain some resemblance to that of Calvary, where Saint Cyril of Jerusalem assures us, that in his time the rents caused by the earthquake were seen?
Among the masses of rock on Mount Alvernia, there is one much more elevated and much larger than the rest, and which is separated from them by precipices, to which there is no access but by throwing a bridge across. There, as in an insulated citadel, a celebrated brigand had his stronghold, who was called the Wolf, on account of the plunder and murders he committed in the surrounding country, either by himself, or by the gang of which he was the chief. He often, also, by means of a flying bridge, confined travellers in this place, whom he had surprised on the high-roads, and whom he detained till their ransom was paid. The establishment of Francis and his brethren displeased him greatly: people of that sort do not like having neighbors. He gave them several times notice to begone, and he threatened them should they not obey. Their great poverty gave them nothing to fear from thieves, but there was just cause for apprehending that the murderer might massacre them all. Divine Providence, however, saved them by a change which might well be called the work of the Most High. The villain came one day determined upon expelling them, and used the most atrocious language to them. Francis received him with so much mildness, listened to him with so much patience, and induced him by degrees to hear reason, so that his anger entirely fell, and he not only consented to their remaining, but he begged that they would admit him into their poor dwelling. He witnessed during several days their angelic mode of life, and he became so changed, that he determined upon adopting a similar plan. The Saint perceiving that from a ravenous wolf he was become a gentle lamb, gave him the habit of the Order, and the name of Brother Agnello, under which he expiated his crimes by religious penance, of which he rigidly fulfilled all the duties. This fact was of such notoriety, that the rock to which he used to retire has always been called since, and is still known, by the name of Brother Wolf’s prison.
All things being put in order at Mount Alvernia, he left it to go to Rome. He passed through Monte Casale, Fabriano, Osimo, Ancona, Macerata, Ascoli, Camerino, and many other places, preaching in all the truths of salvation, gaining disciples, founding houses for his Order, prophesying and working miracles; we shall only put on record here the most remarkable, and those that are most edifying.
God favored him, as He had done Saint Ambrose, with power of discovering relics which were hidden. He knew by revelation that there were some in a certain church in which he had prayed, and some business calling him away from thence, he communicated the circumstance to his brethren, desiring them to take them from thence and place them in a more suitable situation; but they either through forgetfulness or neglect did not do so. One day as they were preparing the altar for Mass, they found under the altar-cloth some beautiful bones, from which a sweet perfumed smell issued, and they immediately recollected that these were the relics of which their Father had spoken. At his return he inquired whether they had been disinterred, and the religious, having told him exactly what had occurred, he said: “Blessed be the Lord, my God, who, of His goodness, has done what you ought to have done out of obedience;” but he imposed a penance upon them in expiation of their fault. At the Monastery of Monte Maggiore, a joy and interior consolation which he felt on entering the church, made him sensible that the high altar contained something which had been used by the Blessed Virgin. He spoke of it to the religious, who searched closely, and found that it was true. In ecclesiastical history we find that God had often caused the relics of His saints to be discovered, in order to do them honor, and the Holy Fathers have taught the faithful to venerate them and to preserve them with great care.
While he was preaching at Fabriano in the middle of the market-place, some workmen who were employed at a palace made so much noise, that it prevented his being heard. Having entreated them to be quiet for a short time, to which they paid no attention, he said that the work of those who were building the house would be of no use, because the Lord did not build it, but that it would soon fall; however, that neither man nor beast would be injured by it; and this happened but a few days after it had been finished, as he had foretold. He assured the people at the same town, that at a place called the Poor Valley, his brethren, who were poor, would some day have a habitation. And, in fact, in the year 1292, the town of Fabriano placed Friars Minor there.
Among the most considerable establishments which he placed on his route, was that of Saint Mary of the Stony Valley, so called from its being situated in a very rocky valley, between two mountains, four miles distant from Fabriano. It was a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, with a monastery, which the Religious of Saint Benedict had abandoned in order to take refuge in the town, on account of the wars, and it is one of the most beautiful solitudes of all Italy. Devotion to the Mother of God, and the love of retreat, had induced Francis to ask for this place; and it was given him by those who were its proprietors. The first time he went there, he lost his way, with his companion, and asked a ploughman to take him to the valley. “What,” says the man, “shall I leave my plough and lose my time, to serve you?” However, he took him to the place, mollified by Francis’ mildness, and by his promising him that he should be no loser by so doing: on returning, after receiving the Father’s blessing, he found his field quite ploughed.
Some workmen who were employed repairing a house which had been given him, at a place called Trabe Bonata, being very tired, asked him to give them some wine. He sent two of his brethren to procure some in a neighboring village, from some charitable benefactor; but the workmen being very urgent, out of compassion for them he went to a spring, made the sign of the cross over it, and in an instant, instead of water, wine issued from it, which flowed for a whole hour. Those who drank of it published in all places the miraculous effect of the Saint’s charity.
In a parish called La Citta, he was very well received by the curate, whose name was Raniero, with whom he became very intimate, so that he was in the habit of visiting him, and going to confession to him. One day after confession he gave him, in a very humble manner, notice, that he, the curate, would become one of his brethren, because they had become too closely united to live different kinds of lives: “But,” he said, “this will not happen till after my death.” The event verified the prediction: as soon as the curate learnt that his friend Francis shone by an infinity of miracles, and was just canonized, he entered the Order of Friars Minor, and adhered to the rules with great regularity.
The holy man coming to Osimo, was greeted, notwithstanding his great humility, and brought into the town, with great honors. The next day he preached on the vanity of the world, in so persuasive a strain, that all his hearers, penetrated with compunction, turned their thoughts seriously to their reformation, and thirty young men entered his Institute.
On the same journey, he and his companions lodged at the house of a gentleman, the greatness of whose soul equalled the antiquity of his nobility, and whose politeness was joined to piety. The welcome he received there was followed by this open-hearted proffer: “Man of God,” he said, “I place my person at your disposal, and all that I possess, all is yours, do as you please with it; if you want clothing, or a cloak, or books, or whatever it may be, take it, and I will pay for it. Be assured that I am wholly at your service. God has given me wealth; I have wherewithal to assist the poor, and it is but just that I do not fail in so doing.”
Francis merely at the time contented himself with making those grateful acknowledgments which so handsome and obliging an offer required; but when he left him, he could not refrain from admiring the generosity of this gentleman, and he said to his companion: “Indeed, brother, he would be an excellent subject for our Order; he is humbly thankful for what he has received from God; he loves his neighbor very sincerely; he gives willingly to the poor; and he exercises hospitality from his heart; he is extremely affable and polite; and politeness is sister to charity; it puts down contention and promotes concord; he is naturally benevolent; and this feeling is highly pleasing to our Father who is in Heaven, who causes the sun to rise on the good and on the wicked. So many excellent qualities which I see in this young man, make me wish to have him to be one of us, and I should admit him with pleasure. We must pay him another visit, and exhort him to devote himself to the service of God; perhaps the Holy Ghost may incline him to do so; meanwhile let us implore the Lord to grant our wish, if He judges it right.” In fact, they did pray for this purpose.
Some days afterwards they returned to this person’s house, who had the curiosity to watch what Francis did in the night; he saw him in prayer, and in an ecstasy raised from the ground, and surrounded by a splendid light, and he felt interiorly a certain celestial fire, which inspired him with an ardent desire to imitate his mode of life. In the morning, he communicated his feelings to the Saint, who was already made aware of them by revelation, and who thanked the Giver of all good gifts for them. The postulant gave all he had to the poor, took the habit of a Friar Minor, and lived holily; preserving always the same affable and polite manners, with which he received the guests of the convents in which he resided. This endeared him still more to the Patriarch, who was very zealous in the exercise of hospitality. The duties of hospitality, lauded by the pagans, taught by the Gospel, enforced by the Apostles, and all the Holy Fathers, are exercised in the Order of Saint Francis with so much the more care as, being totally dependent on charity, they consider themselves bound to give all in the same manner, and they apply to themselves these words of the Son of God to the Apostles, on the gift of miracles: “Freely you have received, freely give.” This is what draws down the blessing of God, and which makes so many houses subsist, without any revenue, by the charity of the faithful.
The holy Patriarch of the Friars Minor arrived at Rome when everything was preparing for the opening of the Twelfth Ecumenical Council, the 4th of Lateran, one of the most numerous ever held in the Church. Innocent III had convoked it for the extinction of heresies, for the reformation of morals, for regulating the discipline of the Church, and for the recovery of the Holy Land by the union of the Christian princes.
Francis came to Rome to induce the Sovereign Pontiff to give a public approval to the Rule of his Order, which was of the highest importance in order that the prelates might have it in their power to distinguish the poor of Jesus Christ, true children of the Church, from certain sectaries of those times who affected, as has been already said, to bear the marks of Apostolic poverty.
What the Servant of God required was put in force; the Pope declared before all the Fathers of the Council, that he approved the Order and the Rule of Saint Francis, although he had hitherto issued no bull. This is a fact which is related by the companions of the Saint who wrote his life, and by two authors of the Order of Saint Dominic, Jordan of Saxony, a disciple of that blessed Patriarch, and Saint Antoninus. Moreover, in order to avoid too great a variety of religious orders, the council prohibited the formation of any new ones, and directed that the existing ones should be considered sufficient. Yet it is clear that the Pope could not, in this instance, avoid making known the approbation he had given to an Order so new and peculiar as was that of the Friars Minor, which in the last five years, had spread over Italy, and was established in Rome.
The holy friendship which was subsequently formed between Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, renders it proper that we should here record that Saint Dominic came also to this Lateran Council, together with Fulke, Bishop of Toulouse, in order to propose to the pope an intention he had of instituting an order of preachers, and that the Pope had seen in a dream Saint Dominic supporting the Lateran Church, which was falling, in the same way as he had seen Francis supporting it five years before. He praised his undertaking, but told him, according to the decree of the council, to return with his brethren, and prepare a rule for the guidance of the order, and then come back to have the order confirmed, which the holy patriarch complied with.
The Council of Lateran having terminated its labors, Francis left Rome at the beginning of December to return to Saint Mary of the Angels.
When he had reached his convent, Clare, who, being very humble, had accepted only through obedience the quality of Abbess of Saint Damian, wished to lay it down into his hands, to which he would by no means assent, because he knew that by the disposition of Divine Providence, she was to form the disciples who were to establish his Order in various places, from whence it was to spread throughout the Church.
Clare had admitted many virgins during the three years she had presided over Saint Damian, among whom were some of her own relatives. Beatrice, the youngest of her sisters, came a short time afterwards; and Hortolona, her mother, as soon as she became a widow, decided upon consecrating herself to God, with her three daughters, in the same monastery, where miracles testified to the holiness of her life. Finally, the virtues of Clare were so resplendent, and the miracles which it pleased the Almighty to work by her means, threw so much splendor around her, that, according to the remark of Pope Alexander IV, in the bull of her canonization, the truth of the prediction which was made to her mother, was clearly seen: – “That she would give to the world a light which would even enlighten the world.” The sequel of the life of the Father will afford further opportunity for speaking of the daughter.
The Benedictines of Mount Soubazo, in this year, gave the holy Patriarch a convent on this very mountain, two miles from Assisi. It has been called the prison of Saint Francis, because he often shut himself up there in contemplation after his Apostolical labors. His oratory is still there, also: his cell, the stone and the wood which served him for bed and pillow, and a copious spring which, by his intercession, he obtained from God.
From the beginning of the following year, 1216, to the 30th of May, the Festival of Whitsuntide, the day on which the general chapter was held, which was the first of the Order, he had as much leisure as he could desire for conversing with God, for giving instruction to his brethren at Saint Mary of the Angels, and to the Town of Assisi and its environs. In the assembly, provincial ministers were appointed, to whom power was given for admitting postulants into the Order; which the Founder had previously reserved to himself. One whose name does not appear, was sent into Apulia, and John de Strachia was sent into Lombardy; Benedict of Arezzo, into the Marches of Ancona; Daniel the Tuscan, into Calabria; Augustin of Assisi, into the Terra di Lavoro; Elias of Cortona, into Tuscany. Evangelical laborers were chosen for different nations. Bernard de Quintavalle, for Spain; John Bonella, a Florentine, with thirty companions, for Provence; John de Penna, and sixty of his brethren, for Upper and Lower Germany; Francis took for his share Paris and what is properly called France and the Low Countries.
The Apostolic laborers being all assembled at the feet of their Father, to receive his orders, he addressed them with paternal tenderness, in the following discourse: –
“In the name of the Lord, go forth modestly, two and two, observing strict silence from the morning till after the hour of Tierce, praying to God from your hearts. Let no idle or useless words be heard among you; although you are travelling, your deportment should be as humble and as decorous as if you were in a hermitage, or in your cells. For wherever we are, and, whithersoever we may be going, we have always our vocation with us; our brother, the body, is our cell, and the soul is the hermit, who dwells in it to think of God and to pray to Him. If a religious soul does not dwell quietly in the cell of the body, the external cells will be of little use to him. Behave, then, in such manner in the world, that whosoever may see or hear you, may be moved to devotion, and praise our Heavenly Father to whom alone all glory belongs. Proclaim peace to all men, but have it in your hearts, as well as in your mouths. Give to no one cause for anger, nor for scandal; on the contrary, by your own mildness, induce every one to feel benignly, and draw them to union and to concord. We are called to heal the wounded, console the afflicted, and to bring back those who err; many may seem to you to be members of the devil, who will one day be disciples of Jesus Christ.” What Francis said of the inutility of exterior cells, where the soul is not at ease in the cell of the body, is in conformity to these words of Saint Bernard: – “You may be alone when you are in the midst of the world, as it may so happen that you may be in the midst of the world when you are alone.”
The children of the holy Patriarch received his blessing; and having recommended themselves to the prayers of their companions, they set out for those places to which obedience sent them. The success of the several labors will be adverted to further on. The missionaries for Provence remained some days after the breaking up of the chapter, to receive further instructions relative to their mission. The day of their departure, there were only three loaves of bread in the convent, two of which had been sent there by Clare; these were found sufficient for more than thirty who were present, and there was a great deal to spare, a circumstance which was considered to be a good omen.
Francis, having animated all the others by his zeal, prepared himself for setting out for Paris. Besides the natural affection he had for France, of which he liked the language, as it was familiar to him, he chose this city preferably to many others, because he knew that their devotion was great towards the blessed sacrament, and this was a great attraction for his piety.
May the Parisians ever entertain and transmit to their posterity this fervent devotion of their ancestors, which Pope Urban IV, who was a native of France, stirred up in the hearts of the faithful forty-six years afterwards, by the institution of the Feast of the Most Holy Sacrament, which is celebrated throughout the Church, with so much solemnity. The bull which he issued on this occasion, enters into the strongest and most moving arguments calculated to inspire veneration, love, and the zeal which the precious memorial of the goodness of the Son of God calls for, and to invite to a frequent and worthy participation in the divine mystery, which the Council of Trent has since expressed its anxiety to see reestablished.
Before his departure, Francis undertook to reconcile the members of the illustrious family of the Baselennesi, a long time disunited by unhappy family dissensions, and he succeeded to the satisfaction of all parties. Out of gratitude they had built for him, on one of their estates on a spot near the Tiber, surrounded with very beautiful trees, a convent called Saint Angel of Pantanellis.
He chose to go once more to Rome to recommend to the holy Apostles his journey to France. On the road, having seated himself close to a spring to take his meal, he put some pieces of bread, which had been given to him on his quest, and which were very hard and mouldy, on a stone near him; he expressed much satisfaction, and he pressed his companion Masse to give thanks to God for so great a treasure; and he repeated several times the same thing, elevating his voice more and more. “But of what treasure are you talking” said Masse, “at a time when we are in want of many things?” “The great treasure is,” replied Francis, “that, being in want of so much, God has had the goodness to furnish us by His providence with that bread and this spring, and to find us this stone to serve as a table.”
He went shortly after into a church, where he prayed to God to give him and his children the love of holy poverty; and his prayer was so fervent that fire seemed to issue from his countenance. Full of this celestial ardor, he went towards Masse with open arms, calling him by name with a loud voice; Masse, in great astonishment, going to throw himself into the arms of his Father, was raised into the air several cubits high, and felt such sweetness in his soul, that he frequently afterwards declared that he had never experienced anything like it. After this ecstasy, Francis spoke to him on the subject of poverty in an admirable strain.
When at Rome, in a chapel of the Church of Saint Peter, while he was praying with tears that the holy Apostles would give him instructions on the subject of holy poverty and of an Apostolic life, they appeared to him surrounded by lights, and, after tenderly embracing him, said: “Brother Francis, our Lord Jesus Christ has sent us to tell you that He has favorably heard your prayers and tears on the subject of holy poverty, which He Himself had followed, as well as His Blessed Mother, and we, who are His Apostles, after his example. This treasure is granted to you for yourself and for your children; those who shall carefully adhere to it, will have the kingdom of heaven for their reward.” The Servant of God, filled with consolation, went to his companion Masse, to whom he communicated what had passed, and they went together to give thanks at the place which is called the Confession of Saint Peter, which is his tomb.
While Francis was at Rome, Pope Innocent III died at Perugia. He was of the illustrious house of the Counts of Segni, which has given five popes to the Church, the last of whom was Innocent XIII, of blessed memory. It was at the University of Paris that his merit was first noticed; he shone there above the many who were its honor and its ornament. It was his rare and transcendent qualities which induced the cardinals unanimously to elect him to the pontificate; and these qualities shone with additional splendor when his humility urged his resistance to the election, from which he prayed with unaffected tears to be released. His government and the works he has left to posterity, show, that he had great genius, great science, prudence, and probity, with solid piety, and ardent zeal. “He was,” says a French contemporary writer “a man of great courage and great wisdom, who had no equal in his day, and who did marvellous things.” He was indeed one of the most eminent men who have filled the chair of Saint Peter. The affection he bore to Francis, and the favors he conferred on his Order, have compelled us to do this justice here to his memory.
On the 18th of July, they elected for his successor Cardinal Savelli, who took the name of Honorius III. He was a learned and worthy man. He generally followed the designs of his predecessor, and had a similar affection for the religious orders, of which he gave substantial proofs in the favors he bestowed on that of Saint Francis.
Some months after his election, he gave his approval of the Order of Saint Dominic. This holy patriarch having returned to his companions to fix upon a rule, as had been recommended to him by Pope Innocent at the Lateran Council, and having adopted the rule of Saint Augustine, to which he had added some more austere regulations, came back to Rome to procure the approval of the Holy See. While he solicited it from Honorius, who had arrived from Perugia, he made acquaintance and contracted an intimacy with Francis, in consequence of a miraculous vision which he had in the Church of Saint Peter, where he prayed unceasingly with great fervor for the success of his enterprise.
He saw the Son of God seated on the right hand of His Father, who rose up greatly irritated against sinners, holding three darts in His hand, for the extirpation of the proud, the avaricious, and the voluptuous. His holy Mother threw herself at His feet, and prayed for mercy, saying that she had persons who would remedy the evil; and she at the same time introduced to Him Dominic and Francis, as being proper persons for reforming the world, and reestablishing piety; this pacified Jesus Christ.
Dominic, who had never seen Francis, met him next day, recognized him, ran to him and embraced him, saying: “You are my companion; we will work in concert with each other; let us be strictly united, and no one will be able to master us.” Francis himself communicated this favor of Heaven to the children of Dominic: and Saint Vincent Ferrer, and some other authors quoted by Wading, say that Francis had received a similar favor from Heaven. The event proved the truth of the Vision. Dominic alone, without any human aid, having nothing to command success but poverty, humility, and prayer, obtained the approbation of his order, which was an affair of great difficulty, particularly at the commencement of a Pontificate, when the Pope is occupied by most important affairs.
We may here notice the groundwork of the ardent zeal of the Friars Preachers and the Friars Minor for the glory of the Mother of God. Persuaded that their orders were established under her protection, and that she is especially the mother of their holy patriarchs, they strive by every means in their power to restore the devout veneration due to her. It is the common interest of all the faithful who see that she is, according to the expression of the Holy Fathers, their advocate and their mediatrix; that she prays and solicits for them; that she interposes between them and the wrath of her Son, and appeases Him: this affords great room for confidence in her, and should induce them to invoke her for their conversion and sanctification.
Dominic and Francis, confident of the protection of the Blessed Virgin, entered into a strict friendship and resolved to spare no pains in their exertions for the glory of God, and concerted together as to the best means for attaining their object. Upon which an author quoted by Wading, makes a most appropriate reflection: “It was,” he says, “something admirable to see two men, who were poor, badly clad, without power or interest despicable in the eyes of the world, divide between them the world itself, and undertake to conquer it. Who would not have turned their plans into ridicule hearing them seriously consult together on such an undertaking, since they seemed to have so little means of carrying them into execution? Nevertheless, they succeeded; because God selected by their means to confound what is strong.” They resembled Saint Peter and Saint Paul, proposing to themselves, in the same City of Rome, to convert the universe by the preaching of the Gospel; this shows that God made use of means for reanimating the faith, similar to those which He had employed to establish it.
It is reported, that while Dominic and Francis were still at Rome, Angelus, of the Order of the Carmelites, who was afterwards martyred in Sicily, was also there; that, preaching in the Church of Saint John Lateran, where the two others were among the hearers, he foretold that they would become two great pillars of the Church; that when the sermon was finished, they foretold to one another what would happen to each of them, and even that Francis would receive the stigmata; then the three together cured a man afflicted with leprosy, and passed a day and a night together in prayer and conversing on holy subjects.
Francis left Rome at the end of the year, intending to continue his journey into France. He passed through Sienna and by Mount Alvernia and arrived at Florence in the month of January, 1217, to pay his dutiful respects to Cardinal Ugolino, who was Papal Legate there. This cardinal, who had declared himself his protector and his friend, when he went to request the approbation of his rule from Pope Innocent III., in 1210, received him with great kindness, detained him some days, inquired into the affairs of his Order, and said to him on the subject of his journey: “Francis, your Order is still in its infancy. You know the opposition it met with in Rome, and you have still there some secret enemies; if there is not some one there to watch over your interests, it will be an easy matter to cause all you have obtained to be revoked. Your presence will go a great way in upholding your work, and those who are attached to you will have a greater stimulus for giving you their support. As to myself, I am from this moment wholly yours.”
The holy man, after having thanked the cardinal, replied: “I have sent many of my brethren into far distant countries. If I remain quietly in our convent, without taking any share in their labors, it will be a great shame for me; and these poor religious, who are suffering hunger and thirst, will have great reason to murmur and complain; but instead of that, if they find that I work as much as they do, they will bear their fatigues more willingly, and I shall more easily persuade them to undertake similar missions.”
The cardinal, feeling for the sufferings of these missionaries, said: “But why, brother, have you the harshness to expose your disciples to such arduous journeying and to so much suffering?” “My Lord,” replied Francis, who was urged by a prophetic spirit, “you think that God has sanctioned the Institute for this country only; but I tell you that He has formed it for the good of the universe, and for the salvation of all men, without excluding the infidels: for religious of this Order will go into their territories; and provided they live in conformity to the Gospel, God will provide amply for all their wants, even among the enemies of His name.”
These words made a great impression on the cardinal, who was a very holy man, and increased his affection for Francis, whom he again exhorted in stronger language than before, to remain in Italy to consolidate an Institute which was to have such beneficial results. The Saint having yielded to the reasoning of the cardinal, entreated him to be the protector of the Friars Minor, according to his promise, and to be so good as to be present at the next general chapter; after which he took the road to the Valley of Spoleto.
There he learnt that some of his brethren had been seriously ill-treated by several prelates, and that at the court of Rome there were persons who spoke against his Order. This news confirmed him in the resolution he had taken to remain in Italy; and he named three of his disciples for the French mission, to wit: Pacificus of the Marches of Ancona, the celebrated poet, whose conversion we have related; Angelus, and Albert, both of Pisa.
He likewise intended to request the Pope to nominate a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, to protect his Order against all who should attack it. Three of his companions, the writers of his life, say, that he was induced to this by a celestial vision in his sleep. He saw a hen endeavoring to gather all her chickens under her wings, to protect them from a hawk; she could not cover them all, and many were about to become its prey; but another large bird appeared, spread its wings over them, and preserved them from the danger. On awaking, Francis prayed our Lord to explain to him the meaning of this, and he learnt that the hen represented himself, and the chickens were his disciples, that the bird with the large wings represented the cardinal, whom they were to solicit for their protector. He told all this to his brethren, and addressed them as follows: –
“The Roman Church is the mother of all the churches, and the sovereign of all religious orders. It is to her that I shall address myself to recommend to her my brethren, in order that her authority may silence those who are hostile to them, and that she may procure for the children of God full and perfect liberty to advance quietly in the way of eternal salvation; for when they shall be under her protection, there will be no more enemies to oppose them, nor disturb them; there will not be seen among them any son of Belial to ravage with impunity the vineyard of the Lord. The holy Church will be zealous for the glory of our poverty; she will not suffer that the humility which is so honorable to her, shall be obscured by the clouds of pride. It is she who will render indissoluble among us, the bonds of charity and peace, rigorously punishing the authors of dissensions. Under her eyes, the holy evangelical observance will ever flourish in its pristine purity; she will never permit these holy practices to flag even momentarily, those practices which shed around them a vivifying light. May the children, then, of that holy Church be very grateful for the great favors which they receive from their mother; let them kiss her feet with profound veneration, and remain forever inviolably attached to her.”
The first words of this discourse show that Saint Francis was perfectly cognizant of the prerogatives of the Church of Rome, and of the extent of the authority of the Holy See, It was not in vain that he sought her protection, since his Order was established, extended, supported, and sometimes even renovated under this powerful authority; and the attachment to the Holy See, which he so strongly recommended to his brethren, has been so visibly manifested during five centuries, that it has procured for them the esteem and love of all Catholics, as well as the hatred of the heretics, so that they have the honor of having some share in the eulogiums which Saint Jerome passed on Saint Augustine: “The Catholics esteem and respect you, and, what enhances your glory, all the heretics detest you. They hold me in equal hatred; and if they durst not put both the one and the other of us to death, they have at least the wish to do so.” This wish of the heretics has not been without effect as regards the children of Saint Francis, for of a thousand martyrs which they reckon in his Order, a very great number of them were put to death with greater cruelty in this and latter times by the sectarians than by idolatrous tyrants. Heresy will be ever so, the daughter of a parent, who, according to the words of Jesus Christ, was a murderer from the beginning.
The holy Patriarch went then to Rome, where he found Cardinal Ugolino, who was returned from Tuscany, to whom he communicated the intention he had of soliciting the pope for a protector.
The cardinal at the same time expressed his wish to hear him preach before the pope and the sacred college. Francis excused himself from this as much as he could, assigning for reasons, his ignorance, his simplicity, and his uncultivated mind, which unfitted him for speaking in the most august assembly in the world. But he was obliged to yield to the pressing instances of the cardinal, who entreated him as a friend to comply, and even ordered him to prepare himself for the task, recommending him to compose carefully a sermon wherein there should be as much erudition and reasoning as such an audience required.
Up to that time, the Servant of God had never prepared himself for preaching; he only spoke from the pulpit what the Holy Ghost inspired. Nevertheless, he, in this instance, obeyed the cardinal; he prepared a sermon as carefully as he could, and learned it by heart. When he came into the presence of the Pope, he forgot every part of the discourse, and could not utter a syllable of it. But after having humbly explained the circumstance, and implored the aid of the Holy Ghost, words flowed copiously from his mouth, and he spoke with so much eloquence and animation, that the Pope and cardinal were deeply affected.
Having been admitted to an audience of the Pope in presence of Cardinal Ugolino, he said: “Most Holy Father, I am not in fear of becoming importunate for the interests of your lowly servants, the Friars Minor, while you are occupied with so many important affairs which regard the whole Church. I entreat you to give us this cardinal, to whom we may have recourse in our wants, always under your sanction, since it is from you, the Head of the mystical Body, that all power emanates.” The Pope granted his request with alacrity, and recommended the cardinal to take great care of the Order. From that time, the Orders of Friars Minor have always had a cardinal protector, whose powers are extended as the Pope shall see fit; the terms of the Rule, which oblige the Order by obedience to apply for one, show, that it was the intention of Francis, that his powers should be most ample.
Cardinal Ugolino was one of the most accomplished men of the City of Rome; his person well made, his countenance mild and majestic, his genius quick, with great memory and eloquence, possessing in perfection all human sciences, civil and canon-law, and particularly the Holy Scriptures; he was very expert in all public business; a lover of virtue and order, and of a pure and exemplary life.
His first care in undertaking the office of protector, which he did willingly, was, to defend the Friars against all those who attacked them, to conciliate the prelates in their favor and to spread them into all parts for the salvation of souls; his great authority silenced their enemies. As often as his affairs admitted of it, he assisted at their general chapters; then he officiated pontifically. Francis acted as his deacon, and preached. He conformed to the rule of the Institute as much as was in his power, and was, when with them, as one of themselves, and even endeavored to appear as the lowest among them.
A contemporary author, who was an ocular witness, expresses himself thus: “O how often has he been seen humbly to divest himself of the marks of his high dignity; put on the poor habit, and, with bare feet, join the religious in the regular exercises, in order to imitate their evangelical life!” A lively and enlightened faith, a solid and fervent piety, and a superior mind, convinced him that since the time of the abasement of the Son of God, humiliation is honorable, and adds to the splendor of the highest dignities; a truth which is not understood by persons of little faith, by the proud, the indevout, and those of little mind.
This great cardinal respected Francis as much as he loved him; looking upon him as a man sent down from heaven. His presence was a source of pleasure to him, and he often admitted, as the above-quoted author states, that from the time he had made acquaintance with this holy man, as soon as he saw him and heard him speak, all that caused in him uneasiness of mind, or grief at heart was dispelled; his countenance became serene, and his soul was filled with fervor.
Francis, on his side, had great veneration for the cardinal.
He insisted on his brethren considering him as the Pastor of the Flock, and, with an attachment as tender as that of an infant for its mother’s breast, he gave him in all things marks of the profoundest deference. One day, hearing that he was about to receive a visit from him he ran away and hid himself in the thickest part of the wood.
The cardinal had him sought for, and went himself in search for him. Having found him he asked Francis as his friend to tell why he avoided him. “My Lord and my Father,” answered the humble Francis, “as soon as I knew that your Grandeur intended to honor me with your presence, me who am the poorest and the most despicable of men, I was covered with confusion, and I blushed at the thought of my baseness, finding myself wholly unworthy to receive so distinguished an honor, for I truly revere you as my Lord and my Father.” These feelings were partly owing to a vision he had, which revealed to him that this cardinal would be Pope; he foretold it to him, – this is recorded by Saint Bonaventure; and in the private letters which he wrote to him, he put on the heading: To my Reverend Father and Lord Ugolino, who is one day to be the Bishop of the whole world, and the Father of all nations.
The respectful gratitude of the Friars Minor required that we should insert all these anecdotes in memory of Cardinal Ugolino, who honored the holy Patriarch of his Order, as well as that of Saint Clare, with his affection, his protection, and his liberality, and who surpassed all his former favors ten years afterwards, when he was Pope under the name of Gregory IX.
When Francis had obtained from the Pope so powerful a protector, and had put his various affairs in order, he set out on his return to Saint Mary of the Angels, but he spent the remainder of the year in the Valley of Rieti, where he performed many wonderful things, of which one of his companions has given a very ample account.
At Grecio, or Grecchia, a very dissolute town in which he first preached, no one frequented the Sacraments; no one listened to the Word of God, and marriages within the prohibited degrees were of ordinary occurrence. – By word and example he urged them to repentance and made such an impression that they entreated him to make some brothers stay among them. He willingly agreed to do so, in the hope of their conversion, which took place in a short time; meanwhile he retired to a mountain, from whence he came to Grecio and other places to preach.
On returning one day from Cotanello, a neighboring town, and not being able to find the way to the mountain, he asked a farmer to be his guide. This man excusing himself, saying that there were wolves in that direction that committed great havoc, Francis promised him, and pledged himself as his surety, that he should not be attacked by any wolf either in going or coming back; he found that the Saint was correct, for, in returning, two wolves which were in the way, played with him as dogs do, and followed him to his house without doing him any harm. The farmer reported this over all his neighborhood, and said that, assuredly, the man to whom he had served as guide, must be a great favorite with God, who gave him such absolute command over the wolves. Upon this they assembled in great numbers, and came to the Man of God, entreating him to deliver them from their calamities.
“Two sorts of calamities bore hard upon them,” says Saint Bonaventure, “wolves and hail.” The wolves were so ravenous in the environs of Grecio, that they devoured both cattle and men; and the hail fell every year in such quantity and of such large size, that their crops of corn were destroyed, and their vineyards sorely damaged. Francis preached on this subject, and pointed out to them that scourges of this nature were the punishment of sin; and he ended by saying: “For the honor and for the glory of God, I pledge my word to you, that if you choose to give credit to what I say, and have pity on your own souls, by making a good confession, and showing worthy fruits of repentance, God will look upon you with a favorable eye; will deliver you from your calamities, and render your country abundant in all sorts of good things. But I also declare to you that if you are ungrateful for these benefits, if, like the dog, you return to the vomit, God will be still more irritated against you, and you will feel the effects thereof twofold by the fresh afflictions He will then send.” They believed the preacher, and did penance; from that moment the scourges ceased; nothing more was heard of wolves, and there was no more hail; and, what seemed most remarkable, continues Saint Bonaventure, was, that when it hailed in the vicinity, the cloud, on nearing their lands, either stopped or went off in another direction. This lasted as long as those people remained faithful to God.
Four authors, in different centuries, who have written the history of the Valley of Rieti, assure us, that when dissoluteness recommenced in that country, the wolves returned and made great havoc. Wading, who wrote in Italy in the 17th century, says, that the inhabitants of the valley admitted this to be the case. It is certain by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, that the sins of the people call down not unfrequently the scourges of the wrath of God, which may be averted by repentance, or be rendered useful to salvation. But how many afflicted sinners are there, of whom it may be said with the prophet: “O Lord, Thou hast struck them, and they have not grieved; Thou hast bruised them, and they have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than the rock, and they have refused to return.”
A knight, whose name was John Velita, who was converted by the preaching of Francis, became his intimate friend, and used often to go to see him and consult him in his hut, which was made of the branches of two large hornbeams intertwined. As he was an elderly man, and very corpulent, whom the steepness of the road greatly fatigued, he begged Francis to come nearer to the town: this would be agreeable to all, and he offered to build him a convent on any spot he should select. The Servant of God assented to the proposal, and, smiling, promised the knight not to settle farther from the town than the distance to which a child could throw a lighted brand. Upon this they went together down the mountain, and when they reached the gates of Grecio, the knight sent the first child he met to fetch a lighted brand, and desired him to throw it as far as he could, not thinking he could throw it very far. But the child, with a strength surpassing that of men, threw the brand to a distance of more than a mile, and it fell on a hill belonging to the knight, and set fire to the wood which covered it, and lit at length on a very stony spot. This prodigy made it clear that God desired that a convent should be built there, and it was cut out of the rock. The oratory, the dormitory, and the refectory, which are still extant, on the ground floor, are only thirty feet long by six broad; precious remains, which show us the love of poverty which planned them.
The Saint founded three other establishments in the Valley of Rieti, at Saint Mary of the Woods, at Monte Raniero, or Monte Columba, and at Pui Buscone. These four houses, which are situated on eminences on the four sides of the valley, formed together a cross. In each of them, as in the Town of Rieti, and all around the lake which surrounds it, traces are shown of several miracles which were performed by the man of God.
He returned to Saint Mary of the Angels in the Month of January, 1218, and he determined upon convoking a general chapter, which he proclaimed by circular letters, to be held on Whitsuntide of the year 1219, in order that he might be made acquainted with the state of the missions intrusted to his disciples, and that he might send missionaries into parts where there had hitherto been none.
While he was thus occupied by his important projects for the salvation of souls, God, in order to prevent any emotions of pride stealing into his heart, and to maintain in him a profound humility, was pleased to permit that he should be attacked by a violent temptation; it was an extraordinary depression of spirits, which lasted several days. He made every effort to surmount it by his prayers and his tears; and one day when he was praying with more than ordinary fervor, a celestial voice said to him: “Francis, if thou hadst the faith of a grain of mustard-seed, and thou wert to say to this mountain, go thither from hence, it would go.” Not understanding the meaning of these words, he asked “what is the mountain”; and he was answered: “The mountain is the temptation.” He immediately replied, weeping and humbling himself: “Lord, Thy will be done.” And from that moment the temptation ceased, and his mind became perfectly at ease.
The year 1218 was divided between the stay he made at Saint Mary of the Angels, for the instruction of his brethren, and some excursions he made to Mount Alvernia and to some other places, where new dwellings were made over to him. His route was always marked by the fruits of his preaching, and by the splendor of his miracles. Passing by Montaigu, above the Valley of Caprese, before a Church of Saint Paul, which was being repaired, and seeing that two of the masons could not succeed in lifting a stone, which was to be placed as a jamb for the door, his compassion and zeal induced him to lift it and place it as required, which he did alone, and with a strength which was not that of a mortal. The Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Justin, in the Diocese of Perugia, met him, and alighted from his horse to compliment him, and to speak to him on some matters of conscience. After a conversation replete with unction, the abbot, recommended himself humbly to his prayers. Francis replied: “I will pray with all my heart;” and they parted. At a little distance from thence, the Saint said to his companion: “Wait a little, brother, I will here perform my promise.” He knelt to pray; and while he was so doing, the abbot, who was riding on, felt his mind inflamed with a suavity of devotion, such as he had never before experienced. He stopped, and the vivid impressions with which God favored him, threw him into an ecstasy. But when he came to himself again, he became aware that it was entirely owing to the prayers of Francis.
On his return from his last journey in 1218, which was much longer than any of the others had been, Francis found that another building, large and commodious, had been erected in his absence, close to the Portiuncula convent. Displeased at seeing this infringement of the rules of holy poverty, he took some of his brethren with him, and went on the roof, to begin to break it down, which he certainly would have carried through, had not some of the people from Assisi, who were there, informed him that the building belonged to the town; that it had been built by them for the foreign religious, who daily arrived there, it being dishonorable to the town to see them compelled, in consequence of the want of room in the convent, to sleep outside, and even in the fields; that the town had destined this building for their accommodation, and that they would be received there in its name. On hearing this he came down, and said: – “If that, then, is your house, I leave it, and shall not meddle with it; we shall have nothing to do with it, neither myself nor my brethren; take care of it yourselves.” It was decided in consequence by a deliberation of the municipality, that the magistrates should provide for the repairs.