St. Francis Of Assisi
( Originally Published 1883 )
A short account will now be given of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi. The existence of these miraculous wounds on the body of St. Francis is a fact as well authenticated as the battle of Hastings. What renders these miraculous manifestations more satisfactory to the Catholic mind is to know that they who receive them are subjected to several severe tests before the heavenly origin of the appearance is admitted, such as :—Have they induced the disposition to hide such favours ? Is the recipient more humble than before—more obedient to his superiors—more filled with charity and love for the sufferings of our Lord ? Let the readers of the beautiful life of this Saint, by Mrs. Oliphant, decide these questions and then proceed. The Roman Breviary says :
" Upon the feast day of the uplifting of the Holy Cross, as St. Francis was praying upon the side of the mountain, he saw a vision of a crucified seraph which left in his hands and feet holes with nails therein, and in his side a great wound. Holy Bonaventura hath left it in writing that he once heard Pope Alexander IV., when preaching, testify that he himself had seen these marks. It was a sign of such love of Christ towards him as stirred up the great wonder of all men." —Translation by the Marquess of Bute, St. Francis, October 4. And Butler says :—
After a sweet and intimate conversation, the vision of the seraph disappearing, his soul remained interiorly inflamed with a seraphic ardour, and his body appeared exteriorly to have received the image of the crucifix, as if his flesh like soft wax had received the mark of a seal impressed upon it. For the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet, resembling those he had seen in the vision of the man crucified. His hands and feet seemed bored through in the middle, with four wounds, and these holes appeared to be pierced with nails of hard flesh, the heads were round and black, and were seen in the palms of his hands and in his feet, in the upper part of the instep. The prints were long and appeared beyond the skin, on the upper side, and were turned back as if they had been clenched with a hammer. There was also, in his right side, a red wound as if made by the piercing of a lance, and this often threw out blood, which stained the tunic and drawers of the saint." Then an Encyclical Letter of our most holy father Leo XIII., written for the 700th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis, says :
" We here recall a fact, no less striking as a miracle than considered famous, by the voice of hundreds of years. One day St. Francis was absorbed in ardent contemplation of the wounds of Jesus crucified, and was seeking to take to himself and drink in their exceeding bitterness, when an angel from heaven appeared before him, from whom some mysterious virtue emanated ; at once St. Francis feels his hands and feet transfixed as it were, with nails, and his side pierced by a sharp spear. Thenceforth was begotten an immense charity in his soul ; on his body he bore the living tokens of the wounds of Jesus Christ."
Of the authors of the life of St. Francis, and of their veracity Mrs. Oliphant says :
" The first is by Thomas of Celano, a brother of the Franciscan Order, a man of distinguished attainments, and to whom the noble Latin hymn " Dies Irae " has been often attributed, and was written only three years after the death of Francis. The second is by three of his disciples, calling themselves the three companions of Francis. Its authors were Ruffino, Angelo, and Leo, brethren in constant communication with Francis, the sharers of his life, and his attendants to the very moment of his death—witnesses, accordingly, of the most trustworthy description. The third narrative, written 37 years after his death, is by the distinguished and eloquent Bonaventura, one of the greatest ornaments of the Franciscan Order. It will be apparent that there are very few historical personages of whom we have such full and trustworthy records.
Most miracles grow visibly as the stream of history flows on, and come to a very simple germ indeed if we trace them back to the fountain head. But the honours of the stigmata are as fully claimed for Francis, in the memoir written three years after his death, as in the half-idolatrous romances of his order made centuries later. The great central fact remains unenlarged, unchanged.
The Three Companions give the story in almost the same words, the only difference in their narrative being that the seraph does not itself display the form of the cross, but " carried within its wings the form as of a beautiful man crucified, the hands and feet extended, as on a cross, showing forth most clearly the image of our Lord Jesus When this vision disappeared," they add, " a wonderful ardour of love remained in his soul, and in his flesh, still more marvellously, appeared the stigmata of the Lord Jesus Christ, which the man of God carried concealed to his death, not willing to publish the secret of God.
Celano, we have already said, wrote three years after the death of Francis, and must have been in possession of everything then known and believed on the subject. The Three Companions did not compose their narrative until 20 years after his death, but they were his constant companions during his life, and two out of the three are reported to have been with him on the Monte Alverno. Bonaventura's description of the stigmata themselves coincides exactly with every other account."