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with God, and the wound in his side he hid with special care; but we are assured that the curiosity of his disciples penetrated every concealment. Pope Alexander IV. publicly declared that with his own eyes he had beheld the stigmata on the saint's dead body. It became an article of the Franciscan creed, and though the rival Dominicans hinted their doubts, it became the creed of nearly all Christendom.
What then, in this rationalistic age, which reduces everything to the test of scientific proof, what shall we say about it? Was it all a delusion? The evidence is cumulative, but not wholly satisfactory,—shall we pronounce the statements of Bonaventura, and the Tres Socii, and Alano to be fictitious? Were there any marks? We incline to believe that there were; and to readers indisposed to accept the miraculous, we would suggest that they may have been self-inflicted, either deliberately, as a penance, or in one of those uncontrollable mental and spiritual ecstasies to which, during the last ten years of his life, the saint was subject. His imagination spurned the bonds of reason; the mind, acted upon by a physical condition which could not have been healthy, a condition of exhaustion induced by immense labour, an ascetic life, and intense devotional exercise,—wandered into dreams and delirious visions, the true character of which it was no longer able to determine.1
After his seclusion at Monte Averno, Francis returned to Assisi, but though he continued to work and pray as
1 "Were we to treat the story as proved arid authentic, we should find ourselves plunged into a whole world of unexplored wonders, which we can neither ignore nor interpret. It is a truism to say that every great religious movement is attended by some demonstration of power, unknown and mysterious, which baffles all the explanations of philosophy. The age of miracles, we say, is past; but there are a hundred wonders, more surprising than absolute miracle, which spring up about us, whenever we endeavour to understand the history of religion in the world, and its action upon men. Signs and portents attend every crisis of that history. From Savonarola to Wesley, and from Wesley to our own day, every great spiritual awakening has been accompanied by phenomena which are quite incomprehensible, which none but the vulgar mind can attribute to trickery or imposture, and which we find it difficult enough to ascribe solely to the highly strained feeling and nervous excitement which might be supposed to be working in the hearts of its subjects. Every explanation that has ever been given of the Tongues, before, it was evident that his energies were failing, and that the day of his departure was near at hand. He was still in the very prime of manhood, at that epoch when the body reaches its highest vigour, and the mind attains its greatest elasticity. It was not the weight of years that bowed and broke him, but the weight of the labour he had crowded into those years, and the constant spiritual excitement under which that labour had been accomplished. With some difficulty he was persuaded to take the medicine and nourishment which his condition required; Fra Elias, who attended upon him; being compelled to adjure him in the Name of Jesus Christ. His strength, however, continued to decline, and his eyesight giving way to such an extent as to threaten blindness, he journeyed to Rieti to consult a celebrated oculist, at the invitation of Cardinal Ugolino.
On the way he stopped at S. Damian's, to comfort and console S. Chiara. And while he was there, the night following his eyes grew worse, so that he could not even see the light; wherefore, since he was unable to depart, S. Chiara made him a little hut of rushes, that he might rest the better. But, between his physical pain, and the multitude of mice which disturbed him greatly, he was unable to gain the slightest repose, by night or day. And as his sufferings increased he began to think and to know that they were God's punishment upon his sins, and so he thanked God with all his heart and mouth; and he cried with a loud voice, saying :—" O my Lord, worthy am I of this, and of far worse. O my Lord Jesus Christ, Who hast shown Thy mercy on us sinners in divers pains and torments of the body, grant grace and strength to me, Thy lamb, that through no weakness or torment or pain I may fall from
of the trances of the Exstatics, of the cries and struggles of those newly bronght into the Church, of all the vague mysterious wonders which attend every spiritual crisis, has failed to make them comprehensible. It is difficult to attribute to the direct interposition of God incidents which are really not moral incidents at all, and which have no results important enough to justify such an agency. Yet we cannot assert, without a rare amount of disbelief in human nature, and cynical disdain of our fellow-creatures, that the volition of man has had to do with these extraordinary phenomena."—Mrs. Oliphant, S. Francis of Assist, pp. 267, 268.
Thee." And at this prayer a voice came from heaven, saying :—" Francis, answer Me: were all the earth gold, and all the seas and springs and streams balm, and all the mountains and hills and rocks precious stones; and thou hadst found another treasure more precious than these things, as gold is more precious than earth, and balm than water, and precious stones than mountains and rocks—and with this weakness that far more precious treasure were given thee, oughtest thou not to be with it well content and very light of heart?" S. Francis replied :—" Lord, I am unworthy of so precious a treasure." And the voice Divine said to him :—" Be of good cheer, Francis, for this is the treasure of life eternal, which I have in store for thee; and now from henceforth I invest thee with it, and thy weakness and affliction are but an earnest of that blessed treasure."
At Rieti the saint was welcomed by admiring crowds. The oculist pronounced that the disease of the eyes was due to excessive weeping, Francis being persuaded that whoever would attain to a life of perfection must cleanse his conscience daily with abundant tears. He was solicited to refrain from the injurious practice:—" It is not meet, Brother Physician," he exclaimed, "that for love of that light which we share here below with the flies, we should shut out the least ray of the Eternal Light which visits us from above; for the soul receives not the light for the sake of the body, but the body for the sake of the soul. I would rather lose the light of the body, therefore, than repress those tears by which the inner eyes are purified, that so they may receive God." The exaggeration here will be at once detected by the reader, but it was natural enough to the fervid imagination that scorned and abhorred the body as interposing, like a curtain, between the soul and its God. The oculist pronounced an operation necessary, that of cautery; and the saint bore it with almost more than human courage. When he saw the iron on the fire, being heated, he exclaimed, with a touch of mingled pathos and humour—" O Brother Fire, before all other things the Most High hath created thee of exceeding comeliness, powerful and beauteous and useful; be thou to me, in this my hour, merciful and gentle. I beseech the Great Lord Who hath
created thee, that He may temper for me thy heat, so that I may be able patiently to endure thy burning me." As the oculist withdrew the iron, glittering with white heat, he made the sign of the cross, and sat steadfast and unflinching. Into the tender flesh plunged the hissing instrument, until from ear to eyebrow the cautery was drawn! He was asked if the pain were not severe. "Praise ye the Most High," he answered; "for truly I tell you that I felt neither heat of fire nor pain of body." And, turning to the physician, he said:—" If it be not well burnt, thrust in again." Beholding in the weakness of the flesh such wonderful strength of spirit, the physician marvelled, and extolled the miracle of God, saying :—" I tell you, brethren, I have seen strange things to-day."
Little benefit was derived from this agonizing operation; and Francis grew so blind and feeble that four brethren, "men of fortitude and devout spirit," were ordered to attend him constantly, lest haply he should meet with some misadventure. His infirmities daily increased; his flesh was consumed; there remained "nothing more than the skin attached to the bones." Still he caused himself to be carried about in a litter that he might preach to the people who flocked lovingly around him. A certain simple brother grieved deeply to see him so cruelly tortured :—" Brother," he said, "pray to God to deal more gently with thee, for His hand is heavier upon thee than thou hast deserved." "If I did not know thy innocence and simpleness," retorted Francis, gravely, " I should from henceforth abhor thy company, because thou hast dared to blame the Divine judgments which are executed upon me." As the signs of coming dissolution multiplied, he grew anxious to return to Assisi; nor were the people of Assisi less anxious for his return, inasmuch as they feared he might die elsewhere, and so deprive their town of the infinite glory that would attach to the possession of his relics. He reached his native town in safety; and its familiar air, pure, bland, yet refreshing, temporarily rekindled the flickering lamp of life. We find that he paid a visit to Cortona, in the vicinity of the shining waters of the ■*« of Perugia. But again he experienced a desire to return to Assisi. The whole town came forth to meet him; ■■If in sorrow at his sufferings, half in joy that his bones would be laid in their midst. He rested awhile—dying slowly—at the Episcopal Palace; and then went on to the Portiuncula, "the holy house of God," which he charged the brethren never to abandon. Before he passed into the convent he turned towards Assisi, which shone brightly among the green foliage on the hill, and blessed it. He saw it never more.
He occupied his last days in dictating his testament or will, in which he bequeathed his solemn dying injunctions to the members of the Order, and urged upon them the duty of implicit obedience to the Rule, and the principles on which it was founded. Prostrate on the bare earth, clothed only in a hair-shirt, with ashes sprinkled upon him, he there awaited the coming of the awful Shadow. It would seem, however, that after having thus emblematically renounced the things of this life, he was re-conveyed to his humble pallet, when he called his disciples around him, and extending his hands and crossing his arms "in the form of that sign which he had ever loved," he blessed them, whether present or absent, in the name and in the power of the Crucified. "Farewell," he said; "farewell, my children in the fear of the Lord. Great tribulation and temptations will come upon you; but blessed are they who persevere in the work which they have begun. And now I go to God, to Whom I commend you all."
He then desired them to bring the Gospels and to read the beginning of the 13th chapter of S. John:—"Ante diem festum paschae." When they had ended, with weak accents, faltering and gasping often, he began to sing the 142nd Psalm :—" Voce mea ad Dominum clamavi." They were his last words. As the voice failed and sank into silence, the soul of Francis of Assisi passed into the rest of God.
It was Saturday, the 4th of October, 1422. And all the brethren and children of the holy father who had been called to witness his departure, with a great multitude who had voluntarily come together, spent the night in praising God, So that it seemed not to be a requiem for the dead, but the rejoicing of angels. And the next day they reverently interred the body in the cathedral of Assisi.
The later years of the saint are thus sketched by Dante:—