The little flowers of Saint Francis are an inimitable collection of miracles from the life of the poor man of Assisi.
This work is required above all for the sincerity of the spoken language, for the candor of religious sentiment, for the high words of the moral teaching of Francis.
Messer St. Francis, and of certain of his Holy Companions
First, it is to be considered that the glorious Messer St. Francis in all the acts of his life was conformed to Christ the blessed: in that as Christ, at the beginning of His preaching, chose Twelve Apostles to despise every earthly thing and to follow Him in poverty and in the other virtues; so did St. Francis, at the beginning, choose for the foundation of his Order twelve companions, possessors of most high Poverty. And as one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ, being rejected of God, finally hanged himself by the neck; so likewise one of the twelve companions of St. Francis, whose name was Friar Giovanni della Cappella, apostatised and finally hanged himself by the neck. And unto the elect this is a great ensample and cause of humility and of fear; considering that no man can be certain that he will persevere unto the end in the grace of God. And as those Holy Apostles were of marvellous sanctity and humility before all the world and full of the Holy Ghost, so these most holy companions of St. Francis were men of so much sanctity, that, from the time of the Apostles until now, the world had never such marvellous and holy men; for one of them was caught up into the third heaven, like St. Paul, and this was Friar Giles; one of them, to wit Friar Filippo Lungo, was touched upon the lips by an angel with a live coal, as was Esaias the prophet; one of them, and he was Friar Sylvester, spake with God, as one friend speaketh with another, after the manner that Moses did; one, by reason of the subtlety of his intellect, soared even unto the light of the Divine wisdom, as did the eagle, to wit John the Evangelist; the which was the most lowly Friar Bernard, who with very great understanding expounded the Holy Scriptures; one of them was sanctified of God and canonised in heaven, while yet he lived in the world; this was Friar Ruffino, a gentleman of Assisi; and in like manner every each of them was granted a singular seal of sanctity, as is hereinafter set forth.
Of Friar Bernard of Quintavalle, first companion of St. Francis.
THE first companion of St. Francis was Friar Bernard of Assisi, who was converted after this manner. St. Francis, being still clothed with lay garments, albeit he had already renounced the world, lived utterly scorned and mortified for penance, on such wise that by many he was deemed mad and was scoffed at as a madman and driven away with stones and mud by kinsfolk and by strangers. Nevertheless, he ever bore himself patiently, as one who is deaf and dumb, under every insult and derision. Wherefore it came to pass that Messer Bernard of Assisi, who was among the most noble and rich and wise of that city, began to consider attentively St. Francis’ very great patience of injuries under such extreme contempt of the world; and beholding how, after having been thus abhorred and despised by every one for two years, he ever appeared more constant, he began to think and to say within himself: "Of a truth it is impossible that this Francis hath not great grace from God". And so he invited him to supper in the evening and to lodge in his house; and St. Francis accepted and supped with him and lodged. Then Messer Bernard was minded to contemplate his sanctity; and thereunto he caused a bed to be prepared in his own chamber, in the which, at night, a lamp was always kept burning. And St. Francis, to conceal his sanctity, having entered into the chamber, forthwith cast himself upon the bed and feigned to sleep; and in like manner, Messer Bernard, after a little while, laid himself down and began to snore loudly as if he were fast asleep. Whereupon, believing that in very truth Messer Bernard slept, St. Francis presently rose from his bed and betook himself to prayer, lifting up his eyes and hands to heaven, and saying, with great devotion and fervour: "My God, my God". And so saying and weeping continually, he abode even until morning, always repeating: "My God, my God," and nothing else. And this St. Francis said, contemplating and marvelling at the excellence of the Divine Majesty which vouchsafed to give grace to the perishing world, and, through His mendicant Francis, to provide a remedy of salvation for his soul and for the souls of others.
God would do through him and through his Order, and mindful of his own insufficiency and little worth, he called unto God and prayed Him that of His pity and omnipotence, without which human weakness can do nothing, He would supply, aid and complete that which, of himself, he (St. Francis) could not do. Now, when Messer Bernard had seen by the light of the lamp the very devout actions of St. Francis, and had reverently considered the words which he spake, he was touched and inspired by the Holy Ghost to change his life. Wherefore, when day was come, he called St. Francis and said unto him: "Friar Francis, I am altogether disposed in my heart to renounce the world and to follow thee in that which thou shalt command me". Hearing this St. Francis rejoiced in spirit and said: "Messer Bernard, this which you speak of is so great and difficult a work, that we ought to seek the counsel of our Lord Jesus Christ touching the same, and to pray Him to vouchsafe to show us His will therein and teach us how we may bring the same to good effect. Wherefore let us go together to the house of the bishop, where there is a good priest, and him will we cause to say Mass, and afterward we will continue in prayer until terce, beseeching God that, in three openings of the missal, He may show us the way which it is His will that we should choose." Thereto Messer Bernard made answer that he was well content. Wherefore they presently departed and gat them to the bishop's house; and after they had heard Mass and had continued in prayer until terce, the priest, at the request of St. Francis, took the missal, and having made the sign of the most holy cross, opened it three times in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the first opening, they found that saying which Christ spake in the Gospel to the young man which inquired the way of perfection: If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give the to poor and follow Me.
At the second opening, they found that saying which Christ spake to the Apostles, when He sent them forth to preach: Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor scrip, nor shoes, nor money; intending thereby to teach them that they ought to set all their hope of living upon God, and to turn all their thoughts to preaching the Holy Gospel. At the third opening of the missal they found that saying which Christ spake: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Then said St. Francis to Messer Bernard: "Behold the counsel which Christ gives us. Go then, and do thoroughly that which thou hast heard, and blessed be our Lord Jesus Christ who hath vouchsafed to show us His evangelic way". When he had heard this, Messer Bernard departed and sold all that he had; and he was very rich. And with great rejoicing he gave everything to widows, to orphans, to prisoners, to monasteries, to hospitals and to pilgrims; and in everything St. Francis faithfully and providently aided him. Now a certain man whose name was Messer Sylvester, when he saw that St. Francis gave and caused to be given so much money to the poor, was moved by avarice and said: "Thou didst not pay me in full for those stones which thou boughtest of me to repair the church; wherefore, now that thou hast money, pay me". Then St. Francis, marvelling at his avarice and not wishing to contend with him, as a true follower of the Holy Gospel, put his hands into the bosom of Messer Bernard and, having filled them with money, put them into the bosom of Messer Sylvester, saying that if he wanted more he would give him more. Messer Sylvester, being content with that which he had received, departed and went to his house; and in the evening bethinking him of that which he had done during the day, and considering the zeal of Messer Bernard and the sanctity of St. Francis, he repented him of his avarice; and on the night thereafter and on the two following nights, he had a vision from God, wherein he beheld how from the mouth of St. Francis issued a cross of gold, the top whereof reached to heaven, and the arms whereof extended from the East even unto the West. By reason of this vision he gave away all that he had for love of God and became a minor friar; and he was of such holiness and grace in the Order, that he spake with God even as one friend speaketh with another, according as St. Francis many times approved, and as shall be hereinafter set forth. In like manner Messer Bernard had so much grace from God that he was ofttimes carried away in contemplation to God; and of him St. Francis said that he was worthy of all reverence, and that he had founded this Order, because he was the first who had left the world, keeping back nothing for himself, but giving everything to Christ's poor; and, when he began evangelic poverty, offering himself naked in the arms of the Crucified; the which be blessed by us for ever and ever. Amen.
How for an evil thought which St. Francis had against Friar Bernard
THE most devout servant of the Crucified, Messer St. Francis, by the severity of his penance and by his continual weeping, had become almost blind and saTHE most devout servant of the Crucified, Messer St. Francis, by the severity of his penance and by his continual weeping, had become almost blind and saw but little. Upon one occasion among others, he left the Place where he was and went to the Place where Friar Bernard was, to speak with him of Divine things; and on reaching the Place, he found that he was in the wood in prayer, all uplifted and joined with God. Then St. Francis went into the wood and called him. "Come," said he, "and talk to this blind man;" and Friar Bernard answered him never a word; because, being a man of great contemplation, his mind was transported and raised to God; and because he had singular grace in speaking of God, as St. Francis had ofttimes proved, he therefore desired to speak with him. After waiting a little, he called him a second and a third time, in the same manner, and never a time did Friar Bernard hear him, and therefore he answered him not neither went unto him, so that St. Francis departed thence, somewhat cast down and marvelling and lamenting within himself that Friar Bernard, albeit he had been called three times, had not come unto him. Departing with this thought, St. Francis, after he had gone a little way, said unto his companion: "Await me here"; and he betook himself to a solitary place hard by, and casting himself upon his knees, besought God that He would reveal to him the reason why Friar Bernard had not answered him; and, while he yet prayed, there came to him a voice from God which spake thus: "O poor manikin, why art thou disquieted? Should a man leave God for a creature? Friar Bernard, when thou calledst him, was joined unto Me; and therefore he could not come to thee nor answer thee; marvel not then if he could not answer thee; because he was beside himself, and heard nothing of thy words.
"St. Francis, having received this answer from God, immediately and with great haste returned toward Friar Bernard, to accuse himself humbly of the thought which he had had concerning him. And when Friar Bernard saw him coming towards him, he went to meet him and cast himself down at his feet; then did St. Francis lift him up, and with great humility he told him of the thought and tribulation which he had had concerning him, and of the answer which God had given him touching the same; and he made an end of speaking after this manner: "I command thee in the name of holy obedience to do that which I bid thee." Now Friar Bernard, fearing lest St. Francis should command something excessive, as he was wont to do, sought a way to escape from that obedience honestly; wherefore he made answer on this wise: "I am ready to do your obedience, if you promise me to do that which I shall command you". And when St. Francis had promised him, Friar Bernard said: "Now, father, tell me that which you wish me to do". Then said St. Francis: "I command thee in the name of holy obedience that, to punish my presumption and the arrogance of my heart, when now I shall cast myself down upon my back upon the earth, thou shalt set one foot on my throat and the other on my mouth and so pass over me three times, from one side to the other, crying shame and infamy upon me, and especially say thou unto me: 'Lie there, thou churl, son of Pietro Bernardoni, whence hast thou so much pride, thou that art a very abject creature?'" Hearing this, Friar Bernard, albeit it was exceeding hard for him to do so, for the sake of holy obedience, fulfilled that which St. Francis had commanded him, as courteously as he was able; and when he had so done, St. Francis said: "Now do thou command me that which thou wouldest that I should do unto thee; for I have promised thee obedience".
Said Friar Bernard: "I command thee in the name of holy obedience that every time that we are together thou shalt rebuke me and correct me harshly for my faults". Thereat St. Francis marvelled much because Friar Bernard was of so great sanctity that he held him in exceeding reverence and deemed him not blameworthy in anything. Wherefore, from thenceforward, St. Francis was careful to avoid being much with him by reason of the said obedience, to the end that he might speak no word of correction to one whom he knew to be of so great sanctity; but when he desired to see him or to hear him speak of God, he left him as quickly as possible and gat him thence. And it was a passing edifying thing to see with what love and reverence and humility, St. Francis, the father, conversed and spake with Friar Bernard, his first-born son. To the praise and glory of Jesus Christ and of the mendicant Francis. Amen. But little. Upon one occasion among others, he left the Place where he was and went to the Place where Friar Bernard was, to speak with him of Divine things; and on reaching the Place, he found that he was in the wood in prayer, all uplifted and joined with God. Amen.
AT the beginning and commencement of the Order, when there were few friars and the Places were not yet taken, St. Francis, for his devotion, went to St. James of Galicia, and took with him certain friars, among whom one was Friar Bernard; and, as they thus journeyed together, he found in a town a sick mendicant, upon whom he had compassion, and he said unto Friar Bernard: "Son, I desire that thou abide here to tend this sick man"; and Friar Bernard, humbly kneeling and bowing his head, received the obedience of the holy father, and remained in that place. And St. Francis with his other companions went to St. James. Now, when they had arrived there, while they passed the night in prayer in the Church of St. James, it was revealed by God to St. Francis that he would take many Places throughout the world, inasmuch as his Order would increase and grow into a great multitude of friars; and, by reason of this revelation, St. Francis began to take Places in those regions.
Thereafter, returning by the way whereby he had come, St. Francis found Friar Bernard and the sick man, with whom he had left him, perfectly healed. Wherefore St. Francis gave leave to Friar Bernard to go to St. James in the following year; and so St. Francis returned to the Val di Spoleto, and abode in a desert place, he and Friar Masseo and Friar Elias and others, all of whom were exceeding careful not to annoy or interrupt St. Francis when he was at prayer; and this they did for the great reverence which they bore him, and because they knew that God revealed great things to him in his prayers. Now it befel upon a day that, while St. Francis was at prayer in a wood, a goodly youth, clad as for a journey, came to the door of the Place and knocked thereon so impatiently and loudly, and for so long a time, that the friars marvelled greatly at such unwonted knocking. Friar Masseo went and opened the door and said to that youth: "Whence comest thou, my son, for it seemeth that thou hast never been here before, in so unwonted a manner hast thou knocked?" The youth replied: "And how ought one to knock?" Friar Masseo said: "Knock three times with an interval between each knock, and then wait long enough for the friar to say the Paternoster and to come unto thee, and, if in this space he cometh not, knock again".
The youth replied: "I am in great haste and therefore do I knock so loudly, because I have a long journey to make, and hither am I come to talk with Friar Francis; but he is now in the wood in contemplation, and therefore I would not disturb him; but go and send me Friar Elias whom I wish to ask a question, because I hear that he is very learned". Thereupon, Friar Masseo went and told Friar Elias to go and speak to that youth, and thereat was he wrath and would not go. Wherefore Friar Masseo knew not what to do, nor what answer to carry back, in that, if he said: Friar Elias cannot come, he lied; and if he said that he was angered and would not come, he feared to set a bad example. And because Friar Masseo delayed to return the youth knocked again as at the first, and after a while Friar Masseo returned to the door and said unto him: "Thou hast not observed my teaching with regard to knocking". The youth replied: "Friar Elias is not willing to come to me. Go therefore and tell Friar Francis that I have come to speak with him; but, because I would not hinder him from prayer, bid him send Friar Elias to me." Then Friar Masseo went to St. Francis, who was praying in the wood with his face upraised to heaven, and told him of the message of the youth and the reply of Friar Elias; and that youth was the angel of God in human form. Then, St. Francis, neither moving from his place nor lowering his face, said: "Go and tell Friar Elias, for obedience sake, to go at once to that youth".
Now when Friar Elias had heard the commandment of St. Francis, he went to the door in great wrath and opened it with much fury and noise, and said to the youth: "What dost thou want?" The youth made answer: "Look to it, friar, that thou art not wrath, as thou seemest to be, because anger clouds the mind and prevents the discernment of the truth". Said Friar Elias: "Tell me what thou wantest with me". The youth replied: "I ask thee whether it be lawful for those who observe the Holy Gospel to eat that which is set before them even as Christ said to His disciples; and I ask thee further whether it be lawful for any man to prefer anything contrary to the liberty of the Gospel".
Friar Elias answered haughtily: "This I know well, but I will not answer thee. Go about thy business". Said the youth: "I could answer this question better than thou". Then was Friar Elias wrath and he slammed the door and departed. Thereafter he began to think over the said question and to doubt thereof within himself; and he knew not how to answer it, because he was vicar of the Order and had commanded and made an ordinance beyond the Gospel and beyond the Rule of St. Francis, that no friar of the Order should eat meat; so that the said question was expressly intended for him. Wherefore, not knowing how to decide the matter himself, and considering the modesty of the youth and that he had said that he knew how to answer that question better than he, he returned to the door and opened it to inquire of the youth touching the aforesaid question; but he was already gone, because the pride of Friar Elias was not worthy to speak with an angel. This done, St. Francis, to whom everything had been revealed by God, returned from out the wood and sternly and with a loud voice rebuked Friar Elias, saying: "Ill do you, proud Friar Elias, that you drive away from us the holy angels who come to teach us.
I tell thee that I fear much lest thy pride should make thee end thy days outside this Order". And so it befel thereafter, even as St. Francis had said unto him, in that he died outside the Order. On that same day, and in that hour wherein the angel departed, he appeared in that same form to Friar Bernard who was returning from St. James; and he had reached the bank of a great river; and he saluted him in his own tongue, saying: "God give thee peace, O good friar"; and the good Friar Bernard, marvelling greatly at the beauty of the youth and at hearing the speech of his native country, with salutation of peace and with joyful countenance, asked of him: "Whence comest thou, good youth?" The angel made answer: "I come from the Place where St. Francis dwells; and I went thither to have speech with him and was not able to do so, because he was in the wood, wrapped in contemplation of Divine things, and I desired not to disturb him. And, in that Place dwell Friar Masseo and Friar Giles and Friar Elias: and Friar Masseo hath taught me how to knock at the door after the manner of a friar; but Friar Elias, because he would not answer the question which I asked him, afterward repented, and wished to hear me and to see me, and could not." After these words, the angel said to Friar Bernard: "Wherefore dost thou not pass over to the other side?" Friar Bernard answered: "Because I am fearful of danger by reason of the depth of the waters which I see". Said the angel: "Pass we over together; doubt thou not"; and he took him by the hand and in the twinkling of an eye he set him on the other side of the river. Then Friar Bernard knew that it was the angel of God, and, with great reverence and joy, he cried in a loud voice: "O blessed angel of God, tell me thy name". The angel made answer: "Why askest thou my name, which is Wonderful?" And when the angel had thus said he vanished away and let Friar Bernard greatly comforted, insomuch that he made all that journey with rejoicing, and he gave thought to the day and the hour when the angel appeared unto him. And, when he arrived at the Place where was St. Francis with the aforesaid companions, he told them everything in order, and they knew certainly that that same angel in the day and hour in which he had appeared unto them appeared also unto him.