Thursday, October 4, 2012

Christ was like St. Francis

October 4th, Feast of St. Francis
The Poor Man of Assisi is often called the Mirror of Christ, for he was as another Christ (alter Christus) present among us. St. Francis was a true Christian, “Christ-like” to the core.
G.K. Chesterton, in his excellent work on the Saint, makes the following observation (very much in his classic, witty fashion): If St. Francis is said to be like Christ, then Christ must necessary be just so much like St. Francis.
The following paragraphs are excerpts from the eighth chapter of G.K. Chesterton’s excellent biography of St. Francis (which can be read online [here]).

St. Francis like Christ, Christ like St. Francis
The difference between Christ and Saint Francis was the difference between the Creator and the creature; and certainly no creature was ever so conscious of that colossal contrast as Saint Francis himself. But subject to this understanding, it is perfectly true and it is vitally important that Christ was the pattern on which Saint Francis sought to fashion himself; and that at many points their human and historical lives were even curiously coincident; and above all, that compared to most of us at least Saint Francis is a most sublime approximation to his Master, and, even in being an intermediary and a reflection, is a splendid and yet a merciful Mirror of Christ.
If Saint Francis was like Christ, Christ was to that extent like Saint Francis. And my present point is that it is really very enlightening to realise that Christ was like Saint Francis. What I mean is this; that if men find certain riddles and hard sayings in the story of Galilee, and if they find the answers to those riddles in the story of Assisi, it really does show that a secret has been handed down in one religious tradition and no other. It shows that the casket that was locked in Palestine can be unlocked in Umbria; for the Church is the keeper of the keys.
Sister moon is easier to gaze upon than brother sun
Now in truth while it has always seemed natural to explain Saint Francis in the light of Christ, it has not occurred to many people to explain Christ in the light of Saint Francis. Perhaps the word "light" is not here the proper metaphor; but the same truth is admitted in the accepted metaphor of the mirror. Saint Francis is the mirror of Christ rather as the moon is the mirror of the sun. The moon is much smaller than the sun, but it is also much nearer to us; and being less vivid it is more visible. Exactly in the same sense Saint Francis is nearer to us, and being a mere man like ourselves is in that sense more imaginable. Being necessarily less of a mystery, he does not, for us, so much open his mouth in mysteries.
Yet as a matter of fact, many minor things that seem mysteries in the mouth of Christ would seem merely characteristic paradoxes in the mouth of Saint Francis. It seems natural to reread the more remote incidents with the help of the more recent ones.
It is a truism to say that Christ lived before Christianity; and it follows that as a historical figure. He is a figure in heathen history. I mean that the medium in which He moved was not the medium of Christendom but of the old pagan empire; and from that alone, not to mention the distance of time, it follows that His circumstances are more alien to us than those of an Italian monk such as we might meet even to-day. I suppose the most authoritative commentary can hardly be certain of the current or conventional weight of all His words or phrases; of which of them would then have seemed a common allusion and which a strange fancy. This archaic setting has left many of the sayings standing like hieroglyphics and subject to many and peculiar individual interpretations.
Yet it is true of almost any of them that if we simply translate them into the Umbrian dialect of the first Franciscans, they would seem like any other part of the Franciscans story; doubtless in one sense fantastic, but quite familiar.

St. Francis, Pray for us!


Chatto said...

My favourite GK remark about the Seraphic Father is actually from his book on St. Thomas Aquinas:

"He was what American millionaires and gangsters call a live wire. It is typical of the mechanistic moderns that, even when they try to imagine a live thing, they can only think of a mechanical metaphor from a dead thing. There is such a thing as a live worm; but there is no such thing as a live wire. St. Francis would have heartily agreed that he was a worm; but he was a very live worm. Greatest of all foes to the go-getting ideal, he had certainly abandoned getting, but he was still going."

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