"O imbecile ambition of mortality!
What ill-directed reasoning syllogistical!
Weight down thy wings to mundane triviality!"
We are still in the Sphere of the Sun and Dante begins by pointing out the futility of chasing after intellectual success, commerce, pleasure or idle dissipation. We are made for Paradise yet many make their final goal a temporal good which will never satisfy the desire for complete happiness.
"Even as I shine, resplendent with His rays,
So, I contemplate the Light eterne,
I see what hidden doubts they mind amaze." (Canto XI. 19-21)
St. Thomas in the Summa discusses the question, "Whether the saints, seeing God, see all that God sees? He reaches the conclusion that in heaven we see God's essence not as God sees himself but according to our mode as a finite being. Therefore, our knowledge of "God's vision of all things" can only be proportional to our clarity of vision of His essence which will always be limited. So, St. Thomas sees that Dante is puzzled over the words in the previous canto "Where's good fattening, and again, None ever rose". "Good fattening" is to be had along the road of St. Domenic. By this he meant that the Dominicans had grown greedy for honors and preferments. This leads Dante to reflect on the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
"And unto her he pledge his wedded faith
In spiritual court and coram patre too,
And loved her more each day that he drew breath."
(Canto XI. 61-63)
Here Dante recalls that Frances divested himself of all earthly goods to follow the poverty of Christ. We know that his Father Pietro Bernardone brought Francis before the Bishop and town people demanding that he give back the money he had given to the priest to rebuild the Church of San Damiano. Francis not only gave back the money but also took off his clothes and gave them to his father. And from that day Francis could really call God "his Father". His first followers Bernard, Sylvester and Giles "fling off their shoes" meaning that they followed Francis' poor way. Bernard of Qunitavalle was a wealthy merchant of Assisi who became convinced of the sincerity of Francis. He sold all he had and gave it to the poor. When Francis died Bernard became the head of the Franciscan order.
"To Innocent, who blessed it, and enrolled
His order, setting the first seal thereon." (Canto XI. 92-93)
It was Pope Innocent III who approved the Rule of life of St. Francis had written. The night before meeting Francis, Pope Innocent had a dream where he saw the Lateran Basilica crumbling and a man dressed in rags supporting the Church. This most surely was an influential factor in his approval of the Franciscan way of life. Since the order consisted of uneducated men, the Pope limited their preaching to penance and morality. Dante observes that Poverty had been obscured and scorned from the time of Christ or for 12th centuries, with never a lover till Francis came.
"And when, urged by a thirst for martyrdom,
He preached Christ and His blest company
In the Soldan's proud presence,
Because he found that folk unripe to be Converted... Homeward to reap his sheaves in Italy." (Canto XI. 100-106)
In 1219 Francis joined the Fifth Crusade with the intention of converting the Moslems to Christ. He was allowed to pass freely through enemy lines and to speak to the Sultan Melek-al-Kamil.
Francis explained his faith in Christ and urged the Sultan and his people to convert. The Sultan observed that they were just as strongly convinced of their faith in Allah. At this point Francis proposed a test. Let a fire be built through which he would walk with a Muslim. The Sultan hesitated because he was unsure if he could find a Muslim willing to do this. So, Francis offered to walk into the fire alone but the Sultan declined.
However, the Sultan was impressed with Francis and accepted his help in drawing up a proposal for reconciliation. The Sultan offered to return all of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to the Christians, with the exception of two castles, plus a thirty year truce. In return for this, the Christians should evacuate Egypt immediately and agree not to attack it again for the same period of time." Cardinal Pelagius who was in charge of the Crusade refused the offer. Francis then returned to Italy.
"Then he received Christ, upon the bare
Ridge between the Tiber and Arno, that last seal
Which two years long his body lived to wear."
The "last seal" refers to the reception of the wounds of Christ upon the body of Francis and this happened on a "bare ridge" upon Mt. La Verna where Francis had gone to pray and fast before the feast of St. Michael. It happened on a bitter cold morning at the light of dawn as Francis was praying outside his hut.
Brother Leo left us a description of what happened. It tells us that with a fiery burst of light a fiery figure appeared on a rock in front of St. Francis " with wings, nailed to a cross of fire. Two flaming wings rose straight upward, two others opened out horizontally, and two more covered the figure. And the wounds in the hands and feet and heart were blazing rays of blood. The sparkling features of the Being wore an expression of supernatural beauty and grief. It was the face of Jesus, and Jesus spoke.
Then suddenly streams of fire and blood shot from His wounds and pierced the hands and feet of Francis with nails and his heart with the stab of a lance. As Francis uttered a mighty shout of joy and pain, the fiery image impressed itself into his body, as into a mirrored reflection of itself, with all its love, its beauty, and its grief. And it vanished within him. Another cry pierced the air. Then, with nails and wounds through his body, and with his soul and spirit aflame, Francis sank down, unconscious, in his blood." (Webpage: www.cin.org/franstig.html)
"His glorious soul returned to its own realm,
And for his corse would have no other bier." (Canto XI. 116-117)
St. Francis died in 1226, two year after receiving the stigmata. Before he died, Francis asked to be stripped naked, laid on the bare ground and sprinkled with ashes.
"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."
(St. Francis: Canticle to the Sun)
9_St. Dominic: Mighty "Doctor"