St Francis and the Canticle to the Sun

St Francis

Today I learnt for the first time about St Francis’s Canticle to the Sun, one of the world’s oldest poems or songs. It was written by St Francis in 1224 when recovering from an illness. I imagine that it’s well known to Catholics, but I learnt about in a book by an atheist—Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy.

Russell thinks St Francis “one of the most lovable men known to history,” prompting the thought that there must be many lovable men and women, probably the most lovable, lost to history. St Francis and his followers took a vow to complete poverty, having no house or church but wandering and begging for their food. Russell thinks St Francis had equals as saints but what set him apart was “his spontaneous happiness, his universal love…his gifts as a poet…[and that] his goodness seems devoid of effort.”

Unfortunately, his successor as head of the Franciscans “wallowed in luxury” and the Franciscans constituted most of the Inquisition.

Such are the ways of men.

But here is the poem, which lists the blessings of living from Brother Sun through Sister Moon and the Stars, Brothers Wind and Air, and eventually to Our Sister Bodily Death.

Canticle to the Sun

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

 

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.

No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,

especially through my lord Brother Sun,

who brings the day; and You give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!

Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;

in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,

and clouds and storms, and all the weather,

through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;

she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,

through whom You brighten the night.

He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,

who feeds us and rules us,

and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;

through those who endure sickness and trial.

 

Happy those who endure in peace,

for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

 

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,

from whose embrace no living person can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin!

Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.

The second death can do no harm to them.

 

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,

and serve Him with great humility.

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