The Canticle of Brother Sun

Last week I finished reading the excellent new biography of St. Francis of Assisi by Augustine Thompson. Ever since college, when I first came across The Little Flowers, I've been fascinated by St. Francis. Thompson's biography is noteworthy in being the best attempt we currently have of a critical picture of the "historical Francis." Most of us know the Francis of legend and hagiography.

Lovers of St. Francis revere one of his last writings, the Canticle of Brother Sun. Simply as literature, The Canticle of Brother Sun is the first great poem of the Italian vernacular. Spiritually speaking, the Canticle displays one of the traits so loved about Francis--his experience of God and brotherhood through the created order.
Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor and all blessing.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong
And no human is worthy to mention your name.

Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
and bears a likeness of you, Most High One.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear, and precious and wonderful.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom you give sustenance to all your creatures.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful, and humble, and precious, and chaste.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night.
And he is beautiful, and playful, and robust and strong.

Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces fruit with colored flowers and herbs.

Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks
and serve him with great humility.
In reading Thompson's biography I learned the following. Francis wrote the Canticle in the final years of his life when his health was declining rapidly. Among the symptoms Francis was struggling with was light sensitivity--sunlight, firelight and full moonlight caused him pain. More, Francis wrote the Canticle during the wintertime. The cold wind was also plaguing the ailing Francis who was living in a drafty cell.

And yet, despite these afflictions, praise pours forth for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, and Brother Wind. I've tended to imagine Francis walking serenely among the wildflowers as I've read the words of the Canticle. And in my own life the words come to me as I feel embraced by my Sister, Mother Earth.

But knowing the physical situation Francis was in when he wrote the Canticle takes the romantic, hippie tinge off the song and makes me appreciate the depth of Francis's praise even more.

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6 thoughts on “The Canticle of Brother Sun”

  1. Dr. Beck,

    This is totally irrelevant to Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Sister Water, Brother Fire, or Sister Mother Nature, BUT it''s pretty neat anyhow. 

    This is some of the most creative, funny, and provocative modern artwork based on the bible that I've seen. I think you'll like it.

  2. In at least this instance Frances was a winter Christian for sure! What a beautiful insightt and tribute to this gentle and mighty saint!

  3. I also enjoyed your 'Hippie tinge' comment, and must say The Canticle of Brother Sun sounds an awful lot like it could have been written by a Native American.

  4. one often has somebody in mind when one makes a statement perhaps another thinker or philosopher and this gives everything an adversarial overtone but St Francis happily marries his faith in a generous creator with appreciation of this world that pagans strive for.He is one of them and one of us.I could see him ar Stonehenge.

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