Excerpts from The First Life of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano

Excerpts from

The First Life of St. Francis


Thomas of Celano

Book 1


Chapter 4       How, after selling everything, he is contemptuous of the proceeds of the sale

Chapter 6       How, after his mother freed him, he strips himself in front of the Bishop of Assisi.

Chapter 7       How, after being captured by brigands, and thrown in the snow, he applies himself to serving the lepers.

Chapter 9       Francis repairs the church of Saint Mary of Porziuncola, then hearing the Gospel, he left everything and designed the habit for himself
                      and the brothers.

Chapter 13    When he had eleven brothers he wrote the first rule, which was approved by Pope Innocent III

Chapter 15    The fame of the blessed Francis and the conversion of many to God. How his order was called “Brothers Minor” and the formation of
                      those who entered.

Chapter 18.   The Chariot of fire and how the blessed Francis, while absent saw his brothers

Chapter 20    Desirous of martyrdom, Francis first tries to go as a missionary in Spain and then in Syria.

Chapter 21    Saint Francis preached to the Birds, and all the creatures obeyed him.

Chapter 22    St Francis preached in Ascoli, and by means of object touched by him, the sick were healed

Chapter 27    Purity and constancy of his spirit. Preaching before Pope Honorius III. Entrusts himself and his brothers to the protection of
                     Cardinal Hugo, Bishop of Ostia

Chapter 28    Spirit of charity and compassionate affection towards the poor. Episode of the sheep and the little lambs.

Chapter 29    His great love for all creatures through his love for their Creator. His physical and moral description.

Chapter 30    Of the manger Francis made on the day of the Lord’s birth


Book 2

Chapter 3     Concerning the vision of the man in the likeness of a crucified seraph.

Chapter 6     The virtue of the brothers that served Saint Francis and the projects of his life.

Chapter 8      His last words and acts before death.

Chapter 9     Weeping and praises of the brothers who admired him. The signs of the crucifixion. The wings of the seraph

Chapter 10   The mourning of the Poor Dames of San Damiano and the glorious burial of Saint Francis


Book 1


Chapter 4

How, after selling everything, he is contemptuous of the proceeds of the sale

8. Behold, the blessed servant of the most high was so disposed and strengthened by the holy spirit that the time had come for him to follow the blessed impulse of his soul, progressing to higher things and trampling worldly interests underfoot. It was unwise to delay any longer, for a deadly illness was spreading everywhere. It seized the joints and, if the physician delayed even for a bit, it shut off the vital spirit and snatched away life.

Francis rose, fortifying himself with the sign of the cross, and when his horse was ready he mounted. Taking some fine cloth with him, he rode to the city of Foligno. There, being a successful merchant, he sold all his cloth as usual and even left behind the horse he was riding, having received a good price for it. Then, having left all his baggage behind, he started back, wondering as he travelled what he should do with the money.

Soon, converted to God's work in a marvellous way, he felt it would be burdensome to carry the money for even an hour and, treating it as if it were sand, he decided to get rid of it as fast as possible. As he approached the city of Assisi, he passed the church built in honour of St. Damian long ago, but now about to collapse with age.

9. When the new soldier of Christ arrived at the church, he was stirred with pity for its condition and entered with fear and reverence. Finding a poor priest inside, Francis kissed his sacred hands and offered him the money he was carrying, telling the priest what he intended to do. The priest was stunned. Astonished by such an incredibly sudden conversion, he refused to believe what he heard. Since he thought he was being deceived, he refused to keep the money that had been offered him. He had seen Francis just the other day, so to speak, living riotously among his relations and acquaintances, acting even more stupidly than the rest.

Francis, stubbornly insistent, tried to prove he was sincere. He begged the priest to let him stay there for the sake of the lord. Finally the priest agreed that he could stay but, fearing Francis' parents, he would not accept the money. Francis, genuinely contemptuous of money, threw it on a windowsill, treating it as if it were dust. He wanted to possess wisdom, which is better than gold, and prudence, which is more precious than silver.


Chapter 6
How, after his mother freed him, he strips himself in front of the Bishop of Assisi.

15. When he had been led before the bishop, Francis neither delayed nor explained himself, but simply stripped off his clothes and threw them aside, giving them back to his father. He did not even keep his trousers, but stood there in front of everyone completely naked. The bishop, sensing his intention and admiring his constancy, rose and wrapped his arms around Francis, covering him with his own robe. He saw clearly that Francis was divinely inspired and that his action contained a mystery. Thus he became Francis' helper, cherishing and comforting him.


Chapter 7
How, after being captured by brigands, and thrown in the snow, he applies himself to serving the lepers.

17. Then the holy lover of complete humility went to the lepers and lived with them, serving them most diligently for God's sake; and washing all foulness from them, he wiped away also the corruption of the ulcers, just as he said in his Testament: "When I was in sins, it seemed extremely bitter to me to look at lepers, and the Lord himself led me among them and I practiced mercy with them." So greatly loathsome was the sight of lepers to him at one time, he used to say, that, in the days of his vanity, he would look at their houses only from a distance of two miles and he would hold his nostrils with his hands. But now, when by the grace and the power of the Most High he was beginning to think of holy and useful things, while he was still clad in secular garments, he met a leper one day and, made stronger than himself, he kissed him. From then on he began to despise himself more and more, until, by the mercy of the Redeemer, he came to perfect victory over himself. Of other poor, too, while he yet remained in the world and still followed the world, he was the helper, stretching forth a hand of mercy to those who had nothing, and showing compassion to the afflicted. For when one day, contrary to his custom, for he was a most courteous person, he upbraided a certain poor man who had asked an alms of him, he was immediately sorry; and he began to say to himself that it was a great reproach and a shame to withhold what was asked from one who had asked in the name of so great a King. He therefore resolved in his heart never in the future to refuse any one, if at all possible, who asked for the love of God. This he most diligently did and carried out, until he sacrificed himself entirely and in every way; and thus he became first a practitioner before he became a teacher of the evangelical counsel: To him who asks of thee, he said, give; and from him who would borrow of thee, do not turn away.


Chapter 9
Francis repairs the church of Saint Mary of Porziuncola, then hearing the Gospel, he left everything and designed the habit for himself and the brothers.

21. Meanwhile this holy man, having changed his attire and repaired the aforesaid church, went to another place near Assisi and began to rebuild a certain dilapidated and nearly ruined church, ceasing only when the task was finished. Then he went to still another place called the Porziuncola, the site of a church dedicated to the blessed Virgin, the mother of God. This church, built long ago, was now deserted and cared for by no one. When the holy man of God saw how destroyed the church was, he was moved with pity and began to spend a great deal of time there, for he burned with devotion toward the mother of all good. It was in the third year of his conversion that he began to repair this church.

At that time he wore a sort of hermit's attire, a leather belt around his waist and a staff in his hands, and he went about wearing shoes.

22 But when on a certain day the Gospel was read in that church, how the Lord sent his disciples out to preach, the holy man of God, assisting there, understood somewhat the words of the Gospel; after Mass he humbly asked the priest to explain the Gospel to him more fully. When he had set forth for him in order all these things, the holy Francis, hearing that the disciples of Christ should not possess gold or silver or money; nor carry along the way scrip, or wallet, or bread, or a staff; that they should not have shoes, or two tunics; but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance, immediately cried out exultingly: "This is what I wish, this is what I seek, this is what I long to do with all my heart." Then the holy father, overflowing with joy, hastened to fulfil that salutary word he had heard, and he did riot suffer any delay to intervene before beginning devoutly to perform what he had heard. He immediately put off his shoes from his feet, put aside the staff from his hands, was content with one tunic, and exchanged his leather girdle for a small cord. He designed for himself a tunic that bore a likeness to the cross, that by means of it he might beat off all temptations of the devil; he designed a very rough tunic so that by it he might crucify the flesh with all its vices and sins; he designed a very poor and mean tunic, one that would not excite the covetousness of the world. The other things that he had heard, however, he longed with the greatest diligence and the greatest reverence to perform. For he was not a deaf hearer of the Gospel, but committing all that he had heard to praiseworthy memory, he tried diligently to carry it out to the letter.


Chapter 13.
When he had eleven brothers he wrote the first rule, which was approved by Pope Innocent III

32. Seeing that day by day the number of his followers was increasing, Francis wrote simply and in a few words a form of life and rule for himself and his brothers both present and to come. It mainly used the words of the gospel, for the perfection of which alone he yearned. Nevertheless, he did insert a few other things necessary for the pursuit of a holy life.

He came to Rome with all his brothers, hoping that Pope Innocent Ill would confirm what he had written. At that time the venerable bishop of Assisi, Guido, who honoured Francis and the brothers and prized them with a special love, also happened to be in Rome. When he saw Francis and his brothers there and did not know the cause, he was very upset, since he feared they were planning to desert their native city, in which God was now doing great things through his servants. He was pleased to have such men in his diocese and relied greatly on their life and manners. Having heard the cause of their visit and understood their plan, he was relieved and promised to give them advice and aid.

33. Saint Francis also went to the bishop of Sabina, John of Saint Paul, one of the great members of the Roman court who seemed to despise earthly things and love heavenly ones. Receiving Francis with kindness and love, the bishop praised him highly for his request and intention. Since he was a prudent and discreet man, the bishop began to question Francis about many things and tried to convince him that he should try the life of a monk or hermit. Saint Francis humbly refused his advice as well as he could, not because he despised what the bishop suggested but because, impelled by a higher desire, he devoutly wished for something else. The lord bishop marvelled at his fervour and, fearing that he might eventually slip back from such high intentions, tried to show him a path that would be easier to follow. Finally, won over by Francis' constancy, the bishop agreed to his petition and attempted to further his plan before the pope.

At that time the church was led by Innocent Ill, who was famous, very learned, gifted in speech, and burning with zeal for whatever would further the cause of the Christian faith. When he had discovered what these men of God wanted and thought the matter over, he assented to their request and did what had to be done. Exhorting and admonishing them about many things, he blessed Saint Francis and his brothers, saying to them, "Go with the Lord, brothers, and preach penance to all as the Lord will inspire you. Then, when the Lord increases you in number and in grace, return joyously to me. At that time I will concede more to you and commit greater things to you more confidently."


Chapter 15
The fame of the blessed Francis and the conversion of many to God. How his order was called “Brothers Minor” and the formation of those who entered.

39. During the day those who knew how laboured with their hands, staying in the houses of lepers, or in other decent places, serving all humbly and devotedly. The did not wish to exercise any position for which scandal might arise, but always doing what is holy and just, honest and useful, they led all with whom they came in contact to follow their example of humility and patience.


Chapter 18.

The Chariot of fire and how the blessed Francis, while absent saw his brothers

47. Since they walked with simplicity before God and with courage before men, in that time the holy brothers merited the grace of a supernatural revelation. Animated by the fire of the Holy Spirit, they prayed, singing the «Pater noster» on a religious melody, not only in the prescribed moments, but at every hour, because they were not worried by the material cares.

Once, when Francis was absent, toward midnight, while some slept and others prayed devoutly in silence, a luminous chariot of fire entered by the small door of the house. It wheeled around inside making two or three circuits around the room; a great globe of bright light rode above it illuminating the nocturnal darkness like the sun. The friars who were awake were full of astonishment, those that slept were started into waking, feeling themselves overcome by that light, not only in the body, but also in the spirit. Gathered together in wonder, they asked themselves the meaning of that mysterious phenomenon; then by the grace of the light, each one’s mind was open to the others. Then they understood and they were certain that it was the soul of their holy father, radiant with such great splendour, and that he had merited from God that extraordinary gift of benediction and grace, above all because of his purity and for his fatherly solicitude towards his children.

48. Very often they had had precise and clear signs that Francis, for his holiness, could read the secret of their soul. How many times in fact, for revelation of the Holy Spirit, he knew the vicissitudes of the distant brothers, penetrating their hearts and their consciences! How often warned in dreams of what he had to do or what to avoid! How much, that seemed straight outwardly, foretold the danger of perdition, while to others, knowing the term of their evil works, foretold the grace of the salvation! Someone rather, particularly pure and simple, had indeed the gift and the special comfort of the apparition of the Saint in truly singular way.

Among so many facts of the kind, here is one learned from witnesses worthy of faith. Friar Giovanni from Florence, elected by Saint Francis, minister of the Brothers Minor in Provence, collected his friars to chapter. The Lord God conceded to him, in his goodness, the grace to speak with much zeal to conquer all to a benevolent and attentive audience. A Friar priest named Monaldo, famous especially for a virtuous life, founded on humility, fortified by frequent prayer and defended by the patience, was present among them; and also the friar Anthony to whom God gave «the intelligence of the sacred Scriptures »(Lc 24,45) and the gift to preach of Christ to the whole world with words sweeter than the honey. Now, while Anthony preached to the friars with fervour and great devotion on the theme: «Jesus of Nazareth, the Jews' King» (John 19,19), the aforesaid friar Monaldo, looking toward the door of the capitulary room, saw the blessed Francis lifted aloft, with the extended arms in the form of the cross, in order to bless those present. And all those present, feeling themselves invested by the consolation of the Holy Spirit, and full of salutary joy, found the story of the apparition and the presence of the glorious Father believable enough .

49. As for the knowledge that he had some secret of the hearts, among many proofs that many knew, I will report on an indubitable one on all accounts. A friar named Riccerio, noble of family and more so of customs, a true lover of God and contemptuous of himself, had the pious desire and the strong wish to assure the full benevolence of the holy father Francis; but on the other hand the fear that Saint Francis secretly detested him, depriving him of his affection, tormented him. This monk was convinced, conscientiously enough, that whoever was loved with a particular love by Saint Francis, was also worthy of meriting divine grace, and that vice versa, it was sign of sentence of the divine Judge, if he were not welcomed by him with benevolence and friendship. But he did not reveal his anxious and persistent thought to anybody.

One day, however, the blessed father, while he was praying in the cell and that brother, distressed by the usual doubt, was approaching that place, he perceived his arrival and the disturbance that he had in his mind. He immediately called him, and told him: «Do not let yourself be upset by any temptation, my son; let no thought torment you, because you are very dear to me. Know that you are among those most beloved to me, and well worthy of my affection and of my friendship. You can come to me when you want, freely as a friend». Friar Riccerio remained astonished, and from then on, full of the greatest veneration, the more he saw the love of Saint Francis for him grow, the more his trust in the divine mercy expanded.

How very painful your absence must be, Holy Father, for those who despair to find on the earth another similar to you! Help with your intercession, we beg of it, those people whom you see wrapped up in the deadly stain of sin, you who, while you were being already full of the spirit of the just, both foresaw the future and knew the present realities, despite this, putting to flight every form of ostentation, covered yourself with the mantle of holy simplicity. But we return back, resuming the historical order of the narration.


Chapter 20
Desirous of martyrdom, Francis first tries to go as a missionary in Spain and then in Syria.

56. Still, though the branch of the Gospel produced an abundance of the choicest fruits, the sublime purpose of attaining martyrdom and the ardent desire for it in no way grew cold in him. After a not very long time he started on a journey toward Morocco, to preach the gospel of Christ to Miramamolin and his people. He was carried along by so great a desire, that at times he left his companion on the trip behind and hurried to accomplish his purpose, drunk, as it were, in spirit. But the good God, whom it pleased in his kindness to be mindful of me and of many others, withstood him to his face (Gal. 2; 11), when he had travelled as far as Spain; and, that he might not go any farther, he recalled him from the journey he had begun by a prolonged illness.

57. But he was not able to rest without following even more fervently the impulse of his soul. Accordingly in the thirteenth year of his conversion, he set out for Syria, at a time when great and severe battles were raging daily between the Christians and the pagans; he took with him a companion, and he did not fear to present himself before the sultan of the Saracens. But who can narrate with what great steadfastness of mind he stood before him, with what strength of spirit he spoke to him, with what eloquence and confidence he replied to those who insulted the Christian law? For before he gained access to the sultan, though he was captured by the sultan’s soldiers, was insulted and beaten, still he was not frightened; he did not fear the threats of torture and, when death was threatened, he did not grow pale.

But though he was treated shamefully by many who were quite hostile and hateful toward him, he was nevertheless received very honourably by the sultan. The sultan honoured him as much as he was able, and having given him many gifts, he tried to bend Francis’ mind toward the riches of the world. But when he saw that Francis most vigorously despised all these things as so much dung, he was filled with the greatest admiration, and he looked upon him as a man different from all others. He was deeply moved by his words and he listened to him very willingly.

Still, in all these things the Lord did not fulfil Francis’ desire for martyrdom, reserving for him the prerogative of a singular grace.


Chapter 21.
Saint Francis preached to the Birds, and all the creatures obeyed him.

58. Francis came to a certain place near Bevagna where a very great number of birds of various kinds had congregated - namely, doves, crows, and some others popularly called daws. When the most blessed servant of God, Francis, saw them, being a man of very great fervor and great tenderness toward lower creatures, he left his companions in the road and ran eagerly toward the birds. When he was close enough to them, seeing that they were waiting expectantly for him, he greeted them in his usual way. Not a little surprised that the birds did not rise in flight, as they usually do, he was filled with great joy and humbly begged them to listen to the word of God. Among the things he spoke to them were these words: " My brothers, birds, you should praise your creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part." At these words, Francis himself used to say and those too who were with him, the birds, rejoicing in a wonderful way according to their nature, began to stretch their necks, extend their wings, open their mouths, and gaze at him. And Francis, passing through their midst, went on his way and returned, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic. Finally he blessed them, and them after he had made the sign of the cross over them, he gave them permission to fly away to some other place. Francis went his way with his companions, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, whom all creatures venerate with humble acknowledgement.

But now that he had become simple by grace, not by nature, he began to blame himself for negligence in not having preached to the birds before, seeing that they had listened to the word of God with such reverence. And so it happened that, from that day on, he solicitously admonished all birds, all animals and reptiles, and even creatures that have no feeling, to praise and love their creator daily, when the name of the saviour has been invoked, for he saw their obedience by personal experience.

59. One day he came to a town called Alviano to preach the word of God. Ascending to where he could be seen by all, he asked for silence. The people became quiet and waited reverently, but a flock of swallows building nests in that place continued to chatter away, making it impossible for the people to hear. Francis spoke to them, "My sisters the swallows, it's my turn to speak now, because you've already said enough. Listen to the word of God. Stay still and be quiet until it's over." To the people's amazement, the little birds immediately stopped chattering and did not move until Francis had finished preaching. Those who witnessed this sign were filled with wonder and said, "truly this man is holy and a friend of the Most High." Praising and blessing God, they devoutly hurried at least to touch his clothing. And it is marvellous how those irrational creatures recognized his affection for them and sensed his love.

60. Once when St. Francis was staying at the town of Greccio, a little rabbit that had been caught in a trap was brought alive to him by a certain brother. When the most blessed man saw it, he was moved to pity and said: "Brother Rabbit, come to me. Why did you allow yourself to be tricked like this?" And as soon as the rabbit had been let go by the brother who held it, it fled to the saint, and without being forced by anyone, it lay quietly in his lap as the safest place possible. After he had rested there a little while, the holy father, caressing it with motherly affection, released it so it could return free to the woods. But when it had been placed upon the ground several times and had returned each time to the saint's lap, he finally commanded it to be carried by the brothers to the nearby woods. Something similar occurred with a rabbit, a very undomesticated creature, on an island in the lake of Perugia.

61. Francis was moved by similar pity toward fish. When they had been caught and he had the chance, he threw them back into the water warning them to be careful not to get caught again. Once, as he was sitting in a boat near a harbor on the lake of Rieti, a certain fisherman caught a big fish commonly called a tench and brought it to Francis. He received it joyfully and kindly, took to calling it "brother," and, having placed it in the water next to his boat, began to bless the name of the Lord. For some time, while Francis tended to his prayer, the fish played in the water near the boat, nor did he leave the area until the holy man of God, his prayer completed, gave him permission to go. For glorious father Francis, walking the path of obedience and donning perfectly the yoke of obedience, received from God the great honour of having creatures obey him.

For even water was turned into wine for him when he was seriously ill at the hermitage of Saint Urban. When he tasted it he became well so quickly that all believed it to be a miracle, as indeed it was. And he whom creatures obey in this way, at whose nod the elements change themselves to other uses, is certainly a holy man.


Chapter 22
St Francis preached in Ascoli, and by means of object touched by him, the sick were healed

62. During the time when, as we have seen, the venerable father Francis preached to the birds, he went about through cities and towns scattering the seeds of his blessing everywhere. Coming to the city of Ascoli, he preached the word of God fervently as usual. Through a change wrought by the right hand of the Most High, the people were filled with so much love and devotion that they trampled one another hurrying to see and hear him. And thirty men, clerics and laymen, received the habit at that time.

So great was the faith of men and women, and so great was their devotion to the holy man of God, that they considered fortunate anyone who could at least touch his clothes. When he entered a city, the clergy rejoiced, the bells rang, men exulted, women cheered, children applauded, and often, taking branches from the trees, they went to meet him singing. Heretical depravity was confounded, the faith of the church was extolled, and while the faithful engaged in jubilation heretics went into hiding. For so many signs of sanctity appeared in him that no one dared to oppose his words. Indeed, the attention of the crowd was directed at him alone. He felt that the faith of the Holy Roman Church should be observed, honoured and imitated above all things, since in it alone lies the salvation of those who are to be saved. He felt great affection for priests and every ecclesiastical order.

63. The people offered him bread to bless, stored it away for a long time, then were cured of various illnesses when they ate it. In their overwhelming faith they often cut off parts of his clothes, so much that he was often left nearly naked. And what is even more marvellous, if the Holy Father touched some object, it in turn became the means by which health was restored to others.

Thus a certain woman from a little town near Arezzo was pregnant, and when it was time for her to deliver she remained in labour for several days in incredible pain, hanging between life and death. Her neighbours and family heard that Saint Francis was to pass that way as he journeyed to a certain hermitage. They waited, but he went by another route.

He had gone on horseback because he was ill. When he arrived at his destination, he entrusted the horse to a brother named Peter, who was to bring it back to the man who had loaned it. On his way, Peter passed through the village where the woman lay suffering. When the men of the village saw him, they hurried up to him thinking he was Francis, but they soon learned the truth and were deeply disappointed.

Finally they began to ask one another if something might be found which Francis had touched with his hand. After searching for a long time, they came upon the reigns of the bridle, which he had held while riding. Removing the bridle from the horse's mouth, they placed the reigns on the woman. Immediately the danger passed. She bore the child safely and joyfully.


From Chapter 27
Purity and constancy of his spirit. Preaching before Pope Honorius III. He entrusts himself and his brothers to the protection of Cardinal Hugo,

Bishop of Ostia

73. Lord Hugo, bishop of Ostia, brought Francis before the lord pope and reverend cardinals, and standing before such great princes, after receiving their blessing, Francis began to speak fearlessly. In fact he spoke with such enthusiasm that he was unable to contain himself for joy. When he spoke the words with his mouth, his feet moved, too, as if he were dancing to his song, burning with the fire of divine love. Many of the great men were pierced to the heart in admiration of divine grace within him, but the bishop prayed to the Lord with all his strength that they would not ridicule Francis' simplicity. The saint's glory or disgrace would reflect upon the bishop, since he had charge over him like a father


From Chapter 28
Spirit of charity and compassionate affection towards the poor. Episode of the sheep and the little lambs.

79. Once when Francis was travelling, he met a stranger who had two little lambs hanging bound up over his shoulder. When the saint heard them bleating, he was filled with pity. He approached and he touched them gently as a mother caresses her weeping children. He asked the man, 'Why are you torturing my brother lambs in this way?' The man answered: 'I am taking them to market because I need the money.' Francis asked: 'But then what will happen to them?' He answered: 'Those who buy them will kill them and eat them, I suppose.' 'God forbid!' the saint replied. 'This must not happen. Give the lambs to me, and take this mantle that I am wearing as their price.' The stranger gladly gave him the lambs and took the cloak, for the cloak was worth much more money.

Now Francis had borrowed this cloak earlier that day from a certain faithful man to keep warm on his journey. On the return trip, he considered what should be done, and finally he agreed with a suggestion made by a travelling companion. Francis gave the lambs to the man who had loaned him the cloak, and he instructed the man never to sell them or do them any harm but to keep them, feed them, and always care for them.


Chapter 29
His great love for all creatures through his love for their Creator. His physical and moral description.

83. 0 how beautiful, how splendid, how glorious did he appear in the innocence of his life, in the simplicity of his words, in the purity of his heart, in his love for God, in his fraternal charity, in his ardent obedience, in his peaceful submission, in his angelic countenance! He was charming in his manners, serene by nature, affable in his conversation, most opportune in his exhortations, most faithful in what was entrusted to him, cautious in counsel, effective in business, gracious in all things. He was serene of mind, sweet of disposition, sober in spirit, raised up in contemplation, zealous in prayer, and in all things fervent. He was constant in purpose, stable in virtue, persevering in grace, and unchanging in all things. He was quick to pardon, slow to become angry, ready of wit, tenacious of memory, subtle in discussion, circumspect in choosing, and in all things simple. He was unbending with himself, understanding toward others, and discreet in all things.

He was a most eloquent man, a man of cheerful countenance, of kindly aspect; he was immune to cowardice, free of insolence. He was of medium height, closer to shortness; his head was moderate in size and round, his face a bit long and prominent, his forehead smooth and low; his eyes were of moderate size, black and sound; his hair was black, his eyebrows straight, his nose symmetrical, thin and straight; his ears were upright, but small; his temples smooth. His speech was peaceable, fiery and sharp; his voice was strong, sweet, clear, and sonorous. His teeth were set close together, even, and white; his lips were small and thin; his beard black, but not bushy. His neck was slender, his shoulders straight, his arms short, his hands slender, his fingers long, his nails extended; his legs were thin, his feet small. His skin was delicate, his flesh very spare. He wore rough garments, he slept but very briefly, he gave most generously. And because he was very humble, he showed all mildness to all persons, adapting himself usefully to the behaviour of all. The more holy amongst the holy, among sinners he was as one of them. Therefore, most Holy Father, help the sinners, you who loved sinners, and deign, we beg of you, most kindly to raise up by your most glorious intercession those whom you see lying in the mire of their sins.

Chapter 30
Of the manger Francis made on the day of the Lord’s birth.

84 Francis´ highest intention, his chief desire, his uppermost purpose was to observe the holy Gospel in all things and through all things and, with perfect vigilance, with all zeal, with all the longing of his mind and all the fervour of his heart, "to follow the teaching and the footsteps of our lord Jesus Christ." He would recall Christ’s word through persistent meditation and bring to mind his deeds through the most penetrating consideration. The humility of the incarnation and the charity of the passion occupied his memory particularly, to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything else.

What he did on the birthday of our lord Jesus Christ near the little town called Greccio in the third year before his glorious death should especially be noted and recalled with reverent memory. In that place there was a certain man by the name of John, of good reputation and an even better life, whom blessed Francis loved with a special love, for in the place where he lived he held a noble and honourable position in as much as he had trampled upon the nobility of his birth and pursued nobility of soul.

Blessed Francis sent for this man, as he often did, about fifteen days before the birth of the lord, and he said to him: "If you want us to celebrate the present fast of our lord at Greccio, go with haste and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I wish to do something that will recall to memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem and set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manager, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed. "When the good and faithful man heard these things, he ran with haste and prepared in that place all the things the saint had told him.

85 But the day of joy drew near; the time of great rejoicing came. The brothers were called from their various places. Men and women of that neighbourhood prepared with glad hearts, according to their means, candles and torches to light up that night that has lighted up all the days and years with its gleaming star. At length the saint of God came, and finding all things prepared, he saw it and was glad.

The manger was prepared, the hay had been brought, the ox and ass were led in. There simplicity was honoured, poverty was exalted, humility was commended, and Greccio was made, as it were, a new Bethlehem. The night was lighted up like the day, and it delighted men and beasts. The people came and were filled with new joy over the new mystery. The woods rang with the voices of the crowd and the rocks made answer to their jubilation. The brothers sang, paying their debt of praise to the lord, and the whole night resounded with their rejoicing. The saint of God stood before the manger, uttering sighs, overcome with love, and filled with a wonderful happiness. The solemnities of the Mass were celebrated over the manger and the priest experienced a new consolation.

86 The saint of God was clothed with the vestments of the deacon, for he was a deacon, and he sang the holy Gospel in a sonorous voice. And his voice was a strong voice, a sweet voice, a clear voice, a sonorous voice, inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to the people standing about, and he spoke charming words concerning the nativity of the poor king and the little town of Bethlehem.

Frequently too, when he wished to call Christ Jesus, he would call him simply the Child of Bethlehem, aglow with overflowing love for him; and speaking the word Bethlehem, his voice was more like the bleating of a sheep, His mouth was filled more with sweet affection than with words. Besides, when he spoke the name Child of Bethlehem or Jesus, his tongue licked his lips, as it were, relishing and savouring with pleased palate the sweetness of the word.

The gifts of the Almighty were multiplied there, and a wonderful vision was seen by a certain virtuous man. For he saw a little child lying in the manger lifeless, and he saw the holy man of God go up to it and rouse the child as from a deep sleep. This vision was not unfitting, for the Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of his grace, he was brought to life again through his servant St. Francis and stamped upon their fervent memory. At length the solemn night celebration was brought to a close, and each one returned to his home with holy joy.

87 The hay that had been placed in the manger was kept, so that the lord might save the beasts of burden and other animals through it as he multiplied his holy mercy. And in truth it so happened that many animals throughout the surrounding region that had various illnesses were freed from their illnesses after eating of this hay. Indeed, even women labouring for a long time in a difficult birth, were delivered safely when some of this hay was placed upon them; and a large number of persons of both sexes of that place, suffering from various illnesses, obtained the health they sought.

Later, the place on which the manger had stood was made sacred by a temple of the Lord, and an altar was built in honour of the most blessed father Francis over the manger and a church was built, so that where once the animals had eaten the hay, there in the future, men would eat unto health of soul and body the flesh of the lamb without blemish and without spot, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in highest and ineffable love gave himself to us, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God, eternally glorious, forever and ever. Amen. Alleluja, Alleluja.

Here ends the first book about the life and acts of Blessed FRANCIS."


Book 2


Chapter 3
Concerning the vision of the man in the likeness of a crucified seraph.

94. Two years before Francis gave his soul back to heaven, while he was living in the hermitage which was called Alverna, after the place on which it stood, he saw in the vision of God a man standing above him, like a seraph with six wings, his hands extended and his feet joined together and fixed to a cross. Two of the wings were extended above his head, two were extended as if for flight, and two were wrapped around the whole body. When the blessed servant of the Most High saw these things, he was filled with the greatest wonder, but he could not understand what this vision should mean. Still, he was filled with happiness and he rejoiced very greatly because of the kind and gracious look with which he saw himself regarded by the seraph, whose beauty was beyond estimation; but the fact that the seraph was fixed to a cross and the sharpness of his suffering filled Francis with fear. And so he arose, if I may so speak, sorrowful and joyful, and joy and grief were in him alternately. Solicitously he thought what this vision could mean, and his soul was in great anxiety to find its meaning. And while he was thus unable to come to any understanding of it and the strangeness of the vision perplexed his heart, the marks of the nails began to appear in his hands and feet, just as he had seen them a little before in the crucified man above him.

95. His hands and feet seemed to be pierced through the middle by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing in the inner side of the hands and on the upper sides of the feet and their pointed ends on the opposite sides. The marks in the hands were round on the inner side, but on the outer side they were elongated; and some small pieces of flesh took on the appearance of the ends of the nails, bent and driven back and rising above the rest of the flesh. In the same way the marks of the nails were impressed upon the feet and raised in a similar way above the rest of the flesh. Furthermore, his right side was as though it had been pierced by a lance and had a wound in it that frequently bled so that his tunic and trousers were very often covered with his sacred blood. Alas, how few indeed merited to see the wound in his side while this crucified servant of the crucified lord lived! But happy was Elias who, while the saint lived, merited to see this wound; and no less happy was Rufino who touched the wound with his own hands. For when this Brother Rufino once put his hand upon the bosom of this most holy man to rub him, his hand fell down to the right side of Francis, as it can happen; and it happened to touch the precious wound. The holy man of God was not a little grieved at this touch, and pushing his hand away, he cried out to the lord to forgive Rufino. For he made every effort to hide this wound from those outside the order, and he hid it with such great care from those close to him that even the brothers who were always at his side and his most devoted followers did not know of this wound for a long time. And though the servant and friend of the Most High saw himself adorned with so many and such great pearls, as with the most precious gems, and endowed in a wonderful manner above the glory and honour of all other men, he did not become vain in heart nor did he seek to please anyone out of thirst for vainglory; but, lest human favour should steal any of the grace given him, he strove in every way he could to hide it.

96. It was Francis’ custom to reveal his great secret but rarely or to no one at all, for he feared that his revealing it to anyone might have the appearance of a special affection for him, in the way in which special friends act, and that he would thereby suffer some loss in the grace that was given him. He therefore carried about in his heart and frequently had on his lips this saying of the prophet: Thy words have I hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against thee. Francis had given a song to his brothers and sons who lived with him, that whenever any lay people would come to him and he wanted to refrain from speaking with them, he would recite the aforementioned verse and immediately they were to dismiss with courtesy those who had come to him. For he had experienced that it is a great evil to make known all things to every one, and that he cannot be a spiritual man whose secrets are not more perfect and more numerous than the things that can be read on his face and completely understood by men. For he had found some who outwardly agreed with him but inwardly disagreed with him, who applauded him to his face, but ridiculed him behind his back, who acquired credit for themselves, but made the upright suspect to him. For wickedness often tries to blacken purity, and because of a lie that is familiar to many, the truth spoken by a few is not believed.


Chapter 6
The virtue of the brothers that served Saint Francis and the projects of his life.

In the material preceding this passage Celano recounts the physical afflictions Francis suffered toward the end of his life. The paragraph preceding this one recounts how Francis was well received in the town of Rieti by the local bishop who tried to help by providing the best of medical attention, which included blood-letting and several cauterizations on his head. But his eyesight and overall physical health continued to deteriorate.

102 These things Francis bore for almost two years with all patience and humility, giving thanks to God in all things. But that he might direct his intention more freely to God and, in frequent ecstasy, wander about and enter the workshops of the blessed mansions of heaven and present himself with an abundance of grace on high before the most kind and serene Lord of all things, he committed the care of himself to certain brothers who were deservedly very dear to him. For these were men of virtue, devoted to God, pleasing to the saints, acceptable to men, upon whom the blessed father Francis leaned, like a house upon its four columns. Their names, however, I will not mention to spare their modesty, which is a familiar friend to them since they are spiritual men. For modesty is an ornament of all ages, the witness of innocence, the sign of a virtuous mind, the rod of correction, the special glory of conscience, the guardian of reputation, and the badge of all uprightness. This virtue adorned all these brothers and made them lovable and kind to men; this grace was common to all of them, but a special virtue adorned each one. One was known for his outstanding discretion, another for his extraordinary patience, the third for his great simplicity, and the last was robust of body and gentle of disposition. These tried with all vigilance, with all zeal, with all their will to foster the peace of mind of their blessed father, and they cared for the infirmity of his body, shunning no distress, no labors, that they might give themselves entirely to serving the saint.

103. But, though the glorious father had been brought to the fullness of grace before God and shone among men of this world by his good works, he nevertheless thought always to begin more perfect works and, like the most skilled soldier in the camps of God, the enemy having been challenged, to stir up new wars. He proposed, under Christ the prince, to do great things, and, with his limbs failing and his body dying, he hoped for a victory over the enemy in a new struggle. For true virtue knows not a limit of time, since the expectations of a reward is eternal. Therefore he was afire with a very great desire to return to the first beginnings of humility and, by reason of the immensity of his love, rejoicing in hope, he though to recall his body to its former subjection, even though it had already come to such an extremity. He removed from himself completely the obstacles of all cares, and he fully silenced the clamorings of all anxieties. Though he found it necessary to moderate his early rigor because of his infirmity, he would still say: “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have made little or no progress.” He did not consider that he had laid hold of his goal as yet, and persevering untiringly in his purpose of attaining holy newness of life, he hoped always to make a beginning. He wished to go back again to serving lepers, to be held in contempt, as he once had been. He proposed to shun companionship with men and to retire to the most remote places, so that, having thus put off all cares and laid aside all solicitude for others, only the wall of the flesh would stand between him and God.

104. For he saw many pursuing offices of authority, and despising their rashness, he sought to recall them from this pestilence by his example. He used to say that it was a good and acceptable thing before God to exercise the care of others and that it was becoming that they should undertake the care of souls who would seek in it nothing of themselves but who would attend always to the divine will in all things. Those, namely who would put nothing ahead of their own salvation and who would pay no heed to the applause of their subjects but only to their advancement; who would seek not display before men, but glory before God; who do not strive after a prelacy, but who fear it; who are not puffed up by such a thing when they have it, but are humbled, and who are not dejected when it is taken away, but are filled with joy. But he said that it was dangerous to rule, especially at this time when wickedness had grown so greatly and increased so abundantly; and he said that it was better to be ruled. He was filled with sorrow that some had left their former works and had forgotten their earlier simplicity after they had found new things. Wherefore he grieved over those who were once intent upon higher things with their whole desire but who had descended to base and vile things, and had left the true joys to roam and wander amid frivolous and inane things in the field of empty freedom. He prayed therefore that God’s mercy might free these sons and asked most earnestly that they might be kept in the grace that had been given to them.


From Chapter 8
His last words and acts before death.

110. One of the brothers and disciples, a man of some renown, whose name I think I should not mention here because while he lives in the flesh he prefers not to glory in so great a privilege, saw the soul of the most holy father ascend over many waters directly to heaven. It was a star, having in some way the immensity of the moon, but to a certain extent the brightness of the sun, and it was borne upward on a little white cloud.


From Chapter 9
Weeping and praises of the brothers who admired him. The signs of the crucifixion. The wings of the seraph

112. They had never read or heard in Scriptures what was set before their eyes, what they could hardly believe if it had not been proved to them by such evidence. There appeared in Francis a true image of the cross and of the passion of the lamb without blemish that washed away the sins of the world. He seemed as though he had recently been taken down from the cross, his hands and feet pierced as though by nails and his side wounded as though by a lance. They saw his flesh, which before had been dark, now gleaming with a dazzling whiteness and giving promise of the rewards of the blessed resurrection by its beauty. They saw that his face was like the face of an angel, as though he were living and not dead. And the rest of his members had taken on softness and pliability like an innocent child's body. His limbs were not contracted as they generally are in the dead. His skin had not become hard, and his members were not rigid but could be turned this way and that, as one wished.


From Chapter 10
The mourning of the Poor Dames of San Damiano and the glorious burial of Saint Francis

117. Sighing and looking upon him with deep sorrow of heart and many tears, they began to lament: “Father, father, what shall we do? Why do you forsake us in our misery? To whom do you leave us in our desolation? Why did you not send us rejoicing ahead of you to the place where you are going? What do you want us to do, shut up here in this prison where you never will visit again? All our consolation goes with you. No comfort remains. You loved poverty, but who will help us in our poverty now? You overcame temptation, but who will strengthen us against our temptations now? You were our guide, but who now will lead us through our troubles? O, bitter separation! Unfriendly leave-taking! Dreadful death, this day you bereave thousands of sons and daughters. You take our father forever, in whom was our strength.”

Here ends the second book about the life and acts of Blessed FRANCIS."



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