Tuesday, January 24, 2006

St. Francis of Assisi

GIOTTO di Bondone
Fresco, 270 x 230 cm
Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi

In Thomas of Celano's biography of the saint, Francis visited the Sultan of the Egyptians in 1219. He was recieved by the Sultan with highest honors. The sultan offered Francis fine gifts, but the saint refused them. This won him the greatest respect. When he returned to the crusaders, he advised them to make peace with the Muslims, but to no avail.
Some of his companions expressed a desire to participate in the fight against the Muslims. This angered Francis and he said, "If in these days there is success in the encounter, then, as the Lord has shown me, it will not come to a good end for the Christians. If I say this, I will be considered a fool, but if I remain silent, I will not give up that of which I am certain...." They told him to fear God more than men and to teach. He jumped up and preached in a strong voice to the Christians. In order to prevent war, he predicted defeat. However, the truth was mocked. They hardened their hearts and would not pay attention to him. The biographer writes, "May the princes of the earth know this and understand, that it is not easy to fight against God, that is, against the will of the Lord." (II, 29).
Francis prayed three times for a vision and finally was shown that in the entire struggle with the Muslims, the Christians would run away and the war would bring shame rather than triumph.
See Thomas von Celano, Leben und Wunder des Heiligen Franziskus von Assisi, tr. Englelbert Grau, O Fr, 4th ed. Werl/Westfallen: Dietrich-Coelde Verlag, 1988.
The painting depicts a legend found in St. Bonaventure as follows:
In the thirteenth year of his conversion, Francis journeyed to the regions of Syria, constantly exposing himself to many dangers in order to reach the presence of the Sultan of Babylon. Taking a companion with him, a brother named Illuminato, he came upon two lambs. Overjoyed to see them, he said, "Trust in the Lord, brother, for the Gospel is being fulfilled in us: Behold, I am sending your forth like sheep in the midst of wolves."
When they proceeded farther, the Saracen sentries fell upon them like wolves swiftly overtaking sheep. By divine providence they were led to the Sultan, just as Francis had wished. When the Sultan inquired by whom, why and how they had been sent, Francis replied with an intrepid heart that the Most High God had sent him to point out to the Sultan and his people the way of salvation and to announce the Gospel of truth.
Inspired from heaven, Francis continued: "If you wish to be converted to Christ along with your people, I will most gladly stay with you for love of him. But if you hesitate. . .then command that an enormous fire be lit and I will walk into the fire along with your priests so that you will recognize which faith deserves to be held as holier and more certain."
The Sultan replied that he did not dare accept this choice because he feared a revolt among his people. Nevertheless, he offered Francis many gifts, which the man of God spurned as if they were dirt. Seeing that Francis so completely despised worldly possessions, the Sultan was overflowing with admiration and developed an even greater respect for him. Thus it came about that the divine fire burned still more perfectly in Francis' heart, so that later it would be clearly seen in his flesh.

Selections from Saint Bonaventure, The Major Legend of Saint Francis, Chapter 9.

Also see: http://www.satucket.com/lectionary/Francis_Assisi.htm


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