A troubadour for Christ

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“St. Francis Preaching to the Birds” by Giotto

Since I teach Medieval and Renaissance literature, I am motivated to trace its zeitgeist – and, if possible, feel it in my bones. For help, I have turned to The Consolation of Philosophy by the 6th century Roman statesman and philosopher Boethius, which C. S. Lewis praised in The Discarded ImageTo acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalized in the Middle Ages.” I have turned to The Soul’s Journey into God and The Tree of Life by the 13th century Franciscan theologian, who, in the words of one scholar, “achieved for spirituality what Thomas did for theology and Dante for medieval culture as a whole.” No two figures may be more important for defining that age than Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas, both of whom received acclaimed biographical treatments by the early 20th century Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton. First, I am turning to St. Francis of Assisi. In the introductory chapter of Chesterton’s book, he crystallizes the man behind the saint:

A man will not roll in the snow for a stream of tendency by which all things fulfill the law of their being. He will not go without food in the name of something, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness. He will not do things like this, or pretty nearly like this, under quite a different impulse. He will do these things when he is in love. The first fact to realize about St. Francis is involved in the first fact with which his story starts; that when he said from the first that he was a Troubadour, and said later that he was a Troubadour of a newer and nobler romance, he was not using a mere metaphor, but understood himself much better than the scholars understand him. He was, to the last agonies of asceticism, a Troubadour. He was a Lover. He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men; possibly a much rarer mystical vocation. A lover of men is very nearly the opposite of a philanthropist; indeed the pedantry of the Greek word carries something like a satire on itself. A philanthropist may be said to love anthropoids. But as St. Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. . . . The reader cannot begin to see the sense of the story that may well seem to him a very wild one, until he understands that to this great mystic his religion was not a thing like a theory but a thing like a love-affair.   

While Anglicans commemorate the saints, which is more than most Protestant traditions, they prudently follow the Reformers by not praying to the departed since the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ intercede for us (Rom. 8:26-27, 34). Christians should recall and respect those who “practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, because we all belong to the “communion of the saints” and we all need models for growing in holiness. Francis of Assisi offers us one enticing model: a troubadour for Christ.

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One thought on “A troubadour for Christ

  1. Pingback: Saint Francis and the grammar of gratitude | Bensonian

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