Francis and the wild things

Of Saint Francis’s ability to lure birds and beasts there can hardly be any question. But the modern reader may well inquire as to the nature of his alluring power and may ask science for an explanation.

Unfortunately science seems to refuse a comprehensive answer, or hides it in inaccessible periodicals. Of course, men have been talking with birds since the time of King Solomon, and modern ethologists aplenty penetrate their intimate lives. Konrad Lorenz’s goslings followed him, quacking “Mama! Mama!” and Lorenz quacked back in their language. And Indian fakirs pipe to their swaying cobras, while commercial moose calls summon amorous moose, and ornithologists with tape-recorded bird voices befool the birds.

—Saint Francis of Assisi (about 1181 – 1226), founder of the Franciscan order, is shown contemplating a crucifix. His meditations on Christ’s suffering on the cross were so intense that Christ’s wounds, known as the stigmata, were miraculously transferred to his body during one of his visions. The stigmata can be seen in his side, hands and feet.
Words from a hymn to Saint Francis, and the date 1492, were once written along the lower edge. The painting has recently been attributed to Botticelli. The simple, devout style of the painting, with the figure silhouetted against a gold background is in imitation of much earlier pictures. The painting is interesting evidence of a Franciscan commission from Botticelli’s workshop, despite the Dominican sympathies of the master—Read More:

But the scientists deny that they have any magic faculty, mesmeric power, radar, or smell; they say they depend on free food and immobility and patience; especially patience. Animals, they say, are very inquisitive creatures. Sit quiet and barely move, they say, and the wild things will come to find out what is going on. In Tanzania, Jane Goodall made the chimpanzees her friends through infinite patience, not by any magical gift of communication. And if Saint Francis possessed any secret for attracting his little brothers and sisters he never revealed it. Or perhaps by inference he ascribed his power only to love, which science cannot reproduce under laboratory conditions.

—ISENBRANT, Adriaen Archangel St Michael, St Andrew and St Francis of Assisi – Oak panel, 127,3 x 81,2 cm Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest —Read More:


Chesterton:Rossetti makes the remark somewhere, bitterly but with great truth, that the worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank. The converse of this proposition is also true; and it is certain that this gratitude produced, in such men as we are here considering, the most purely joyful moments that have been known to man. The great painter boasted that he mixed all his colours with brains, and the great saint may be said to mix all his thoughts with thanks. All goods look better when they look like gifts. In this sense it is certain that the mystical method establishes a very healthy external relation to everything else. But it must always be remembered that everything else has for ever fallen into a second place, in comparison with this simple fact of dependence on the divine reality. in so far as ordinary social relations have in them something that seems solid and self-supporting, some sense of being at once buttressed and cushioned; in so far as they establish sanity in the sense of security and security in the sense of self-sufficiency, the man who has seen the world hanging on a hair does have some difficulty in taking them so seriously as that. In so far as even the secular authorities and hierarchies, even the most natural superiorities and the most necessary subordinations, tend at once to put a man in his place, and to make him sure of his position, the man who has seen the human hierarchy upside down will always have something of a smile for its superiorities….

…But even apart from any miraculous powers, men of that magnetic sort, with that intense interest in animals, often have an extraordinary power over them. Saint Francis’s power was always exercised with this elaborate politeness. Much of it was doubtless a sort of symbolic joke, a pious pantomime intended to convey the vital distinction in his divine mission, that he not only loved but reverenced God in all his creatures. In this sense he had the air not only of apologising to the cat or to the birds, but of apologising to a chair for sitting on it or to a table for sitting down at it. Any one who had followed him through life merely to laugh at him, as a sort of lovable lunatic, might easily have had an impression as of a lunatic who bowed to every post or took off his hat to every tree. This was all a part of his instinct for imaginative gesture. He taught the world a large part of its lesson by a sort of divine dumb alphabet. But if there was this ceremonial element even in lighter or lesser matters, its significance became far more serious in the serious work of his life, which was an appeal to humanity, or rather to human beings.

I have said that Saint Francis deliberately did not see the wood for the trees. It is even more true that he deliberately did not see the mob for the men. What distinguishes this very genuine democrat from any mere demagogue is that he never either deceived or was deceived by the illusion of mass-suggestion. Whatever his taste in monsters, he never saw before him a many-headed beast. He only saw the image of God multiplied but never monotonous.Read More:

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