Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saint Francis of Assisi

Several church calendars mark October 4 as the Feast of Saint Francis. He was born Giovanni di Bernardone in 1182, and named for John the Baptist, though he was generally called Francesco because his mother was French, and his father had been away in France when he was born.

Francis was the founder of the religious order of
Franciscans, devoted to lives of poverty and service. As a young man, he had seen a vision of the crucified Christ, which is why he is often depicted in art as carrying a crucifix. He was named the patron saint of animals because of various stories of his preaching to birds and taming a wolf. Many people know Francis today due to the widespread popularity of pet blessings that are now held in many churches.

Francis's great hymn depicting God's creation singing God's praises, the Canticle of the Sun, comes down to us in various forms, but this version is probably the most familiar. The Reverend William Henry Draper translated and adapted the text and joined it to this tune in The Public School Hymn Book (1919). It has since appeared in dozens of hymnals, with various alterations.

All creatures of the earth and sky,
With gladness lift your voices high,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
Ye clouds that sail in heav'n along,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy God to hear,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest us both warmth and light:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blesings on our way,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
The flow'rs and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them thy glory also show:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

All ye of understanding heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let all things their Creator bless,
Worshipping God in humbleness:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Francis of Assisi, 1225;

paraphrase William H. Draper, 1919; alt.
Geistlische Kirchengesang, 1623

The modern-day popularity of Francis of Assisi as the patron saint of animals and the environment (perhaps helped by the 1972 film Brother Sun, Sister Moon) is challenged a bit in the Oxford Dictionary of Saints (1977).

This resulted in caricatures of a sentimental nature lover or a hippy 'drop out' from society, which omit the real sternness of his character and neglect his all-pervasive love of God and identification with Christ's sufferings, which alone make sense of his life.

One Year Ago: Harriet Auber


Leland Bryant Ross said...

I notice you used a Seattle Catholic example; in our neighborhood of Fremont, you didn't have to endorse Romanist papal authority or be guilty of anti-GLBT lobbying by association to get your pet blessed. COTA (The Church of the Apostles, a joint ELCA/TEC congregation) held a Pet Blessing at the Fremont Troll, a scant block from Fremont Baptist. We were going to take His Wholliness Admiral Sir Harry (Pope John XX) our Cat to church and then take him over to bless and be blessed, but we were both under the weather (in my wife's case, with an actual fever of over 102ยบ) Saturday and decided to forego morning worship as a precaution. Maybe Harry will make it to church next year. (For a pope, he's not much of a churchgoer, he'd rather laze around the Catican and discipline his acolytes, especially the monkey.) Did I mention he's Pope of the Indoor [as opposed to Roamin'] Catlick Church?

For a couple of years Fremont Baptist had a garden statue, maybe 2½ feet tall, of Francis, in the lower side yard, but a couple of months ago someone removed it. We're hoping to get another.

Back to the hymn. Although I don't have problems with monarchicalness, I also don't have problems with getting away from it on occasion, especially when it's extraneous to the original, and in this case I think it is. My only serious objection to your emendations is your omission of gentle Sister Death. I'm apparently not the only one who feels this way, witness the apparatus to the version in the current issue of The Hymn, and also the post at Semicolon's blog, where it came in at number 23.

C.W.S. said...

For whatever reason, that Seattle example was the top "pet blessing" story on Google News, so I snagged it, not even thinking about your being nearby, for some reason. Of course the blessing rites were being done all over the place, in several different denominations, all part of the spreading popularity of St. Francis