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  • Written by St. Francis of Assisi
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The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi

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With a new Preface by the noted writer Madeleine L'Engle, author of nearly fifty books of fiction and non-fiction, including A Wrinkle in Time. St. Francis of Assisi's ecstatic embrace of a life of poverty revolutionized Christianity even as it transformed the ethics of the West. In this luminous and lively book, St. Francis's followers preserved his legend and those of his first disciples, combining stories of miracles with convincing portraits of men who were no less human for having been touched by God.

"God is our home but many of us have strayed from our native land.  The venerable authors of these Spiritual Classics are expert guides--may we follow their directions home."
--Archbishop Desmond Tutu



In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ the Crucified, and of His Mother the Virgin Mary. In this book are contained certain Little Flowers, miracles and devout examples of the glorious mendicant of Christ, St. Francis, and of certain of his Holy Companions, to the praise of Jesus Christ. Amen.

First, it is to be considered that the glorious 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, became an apostate and finally hanged himself by the neck. To the elect this was a great example 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 marvelous sanctity and humility before all the world and full of the Holy Spirit, 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 seen such marvelous and holy men. One of them was caught into the third heaven, like St. Paul, and this was Friar Giles. One of them, to wit, Friar Filippo Lungo, was touched on the lips by an angel with a live coal, as was Isaiah the prophet. One of them, Friar Sylvester, spoke with God, as one friend speaks 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, and that was lowly Friar Bernard, who with very great understanding expounded the Holy Scriptures. One of them, Friar Ruffino, a gentleman of Assisi, was sanctified by God and canonized in heaven, while he still lived in the world. And in like manner every one of them was granted a singular seal of sanctity, as is described in what follows.

Chapter 2

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 (even though he had already renounced the world), lived utterly scorned and mortified for penance, in such a manner 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 always bore himself patiently, as one who is deaf and dumb, under every insult and derision. Wherefore it came to pass that Bernard of Assisi, who was among the most noble and rich and wise of that city, began to consider attentively St. Francis's very great patience of injuries under such extreme contempt of the world; and beholding how, after having been thus abhorred and despised by everyone for two years, he appeared ever more constant, he began to think and to say within himself, "Truly it is impossible that this Francis has 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 Bernard was minded to contemplate his sanctity, and so he had a bed prepared in his own chamber, where 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 sleep. In like manner, Bernard, after a little while, laid himself down and began to snore loudly as if he were fast asleep. Presently, believing that Bernard was really asleep, St. Francis rose from his bed and began to pray, lifting up his eyes and hands to heaven, and saying with great devotion and fervor, "My God, my God." And so saying and weeping continually, he remained until morning, always repeating: "My God, my God," and nothing else. And St. Francis said this as he contemplated and marveled 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. And so, illuminated by the Holy Spirit or else by the spirit of prophecy, and foreseeing the great things that God would do through him and through his Order, and mindful of his own insufficiency and little worth, he called unto God and prayed to Him that of His pity and omnipotence, without which human weakness can do nothing, He would supply, aid, and complete whatever St. Francis could not do by himself.

Now, when Bernard had seen by the light of the lamp the very devout actions of St. Francis and had reverently considered the words which he had spoken, he was touched and inspired by the Holy Spirit to change his life. And so, when day was come, he called St. Francis and said to him: "Friar Francis, I am altogether disposed in my heart to renounce the world and to follow you in that which you shall command me." Hearing this, St. Francis rejoiced in spirit and said: "Bernard, the work you speak of is so great and difficult, that we ought to seek the counsel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to pray Him to vouchsafe to show us His will concerning this work and teach us how we may bring it to good effect. And so, let us go together to the house of the bishop, where there is a good priest, and we will cause him to say Mass, and afterward we will continue in prayer until terce, beseeching God that, in the openings of the missal, He may show us the way He wills that we should choose." To this Bernard answered that he was well content. And so they presently departed and went 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 spoke in the Gospel to the young man who inquired the way of perfection: If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor and follow Me. At the second opening, they found that saying which Christ spoke 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 spoke: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Then said St. Francis to Bernard: "Behold the counsel which Christ gives us. Go then, and do thoroughly what you have heard, and blessed be our Lord Jesus Christ who has vouchsafed to show us His evangelic way." When he had heard this, 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 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, "You did not pay me in full for those stones which you bought from me to repair the church. Now that you have money, pay me." Then St. Francis, marveling at his greed and not wishing to contend with him, as a true follower of the Holy Gospel, put his hands into the bosom of Bernard and, having filled them with money, put them into the bosom of Sylvester, saying that if he wanted more he would give him more. Sylvester, being content with that which he had received, departed and went to his house. In the evening, thinking over what he had done during the day and considering the zeal of Bernard and the sanctity of St. Francis, he repented of his avarice. That night and on the two following nights, he had a vision from God, in which he beheld how from the mouth of St. Francis issued a cross of gold, the top of which reached to heaven, and the arms of which extended from the East all the way to 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 spoke with God even as one friend speaks with another, as St. Francis many times attested, and as shall be described in what follows. In like manner Bernard had so much grace from God that he was often carried away in contemplation to God; and St. Francis said of Bernard 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. Let this be blessed by us forever and ever. Amen.

Chapter 3

How for an evil thought which St. Francis had against Friar Bernard, he commanded the said Friar Bernard to tread with his feet three times upon Francis's throat and upon his mouth

The most devout servant of the Crucified, St. Francis, by the severity of his penance and by his continual weeping, had become almost blind and saw but little. On one such 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 Friar Bernard 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. St. Francis had often noted that Friar Bernard had singular grace in speaking with God, and for this reason he wished to speak with him. After waiting a little, he called him a second time and a third time, and in the same manner, and never once did Friar Bernard hear him, and therefore he neither answered him nor went to him, so that St. Francis departed thence, somewhat cast down and marveling and lamenting within himself that Friar Bernard, although he had been called three times, had not come to him. Departing with this thought, St. Francis, after he had gone a little way, said to his companion, "Wait for me here," and he went to a solitary place nearby, and casting himself upon his knees, beseeched God to 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 spoke thus: "0 poor little man, why are you disquieted? Should a man leave God for a creature? Friar Bernard, when you called him, was 'joined unto Me, and therefore he could not come to you, nor could he answer you. Marvel not then if he could not answer you, because he was beside himself and heard nothing of your 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 toward 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. Then he made an end of speaking after this manner, "I command you in the name of holy obedience to do that which I bid you." 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 and so made this answer, "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 what you wish me to do." Then said St. Francis: "I command you in the name of holy obedience that, to punish my presumption and the arrogance of my heart, when now I shall cast myself down on my back on the earth, you shall 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 to me: 'Lie there, you churl, son of Peter Bernardone, whence have you so much pride, you who are a most abject creature?'" Hearing this, Friar Bernard, although it was exceedingly hard for him to do so, for the sake of holy obedience, did what St. Francis commanded, as courteously as he could. When he had finished, St. Francis said, "Now command me that which you would have me do unto you; for I have promised you obedience." Friar Bernard said, "I command you in the name of holy obedience that every time that we are together you shall rebuke me and correct me harshly for my faults." At this St. Francis marveled much because Friar Bernard was of such great sanctity that he held him in exceeding reverence and did not deem him blameworthy in anything. And so, from then on, St. Francis was careful to avoid being much with him by reason of the said obedience, so that he might speak no word of correction to one whom he knew to be of such great sanctity. However, when he desired to see him or to hear him speak of God, he went to him as quickly as possible. And it was an exceedingly edifying thing to see with what love and reverence and humility St. Francis, the father, conversed and spoke with Friar Bernard, his firstborn son. To the praise and glory of Jesus Christ and of the mendicant Francis. Amen.
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

"God is our home but many of us have strayed from our native land. The venerable authors of these Spiritual Classics are expert guides--may we follow their directions home."--Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The Vintage Spiritual Classics present the testimony of writers across the centuries who have pondered the mysterious ways, unfathomable mercies, and deep consolations afforded by God to those who call upon Him from out of the depths of their lives. These writers are our companions, even our champions, in a common effort to discern the meaning of God in personal experience.

The questions, discussion topics, and background information that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of the six works that make up the first series in Vintage Spiritual Classics. We hope they will provide you with a variety of ways of thinking and talking about these ancient and important texts.

We offer this word about the act of reading these spiritual classics. From the very earliest accounts of monastic practice--dating back to the fourth century--it is evident that a form of reading called lectio divina ("divine" or "spiritual" reading) was essential to any deliberate spiritual life. This kind of reading is quite different from that of scanning a text for useful facts and bits of information, or advancing along an exciting plot line to a climax in the action. It is, rather, a meditative approach, by which the reader seeks to taste and savor the beauty and truth of every phrase and passage. There are four steps in lectio divina: first, to read, next to meditate, then to rest in the sense of God's nearness, and, ultimately, to resolve to govern one's actions in the light of new understanding. This kind of reading is itself an act of prayer. And, indeed, it is in prayer that God manifests His Presence to us.

About the Guide

More than a century after his death in 1226, a collection of stories about the life of St. Francis of Assisi was translated from original Latin accounts into Italian and became known as "The Little Flowers." While their form is often borrowed from medieval tales, their surface charm is belied by the deep truths of the spiritual life they can still reveal to us.

Surrendering to God in complete obedience; embracing poverty to free oneself from the claims of this world; taking to heart the Gospel mandate to "Go forth and preach to all nations"; acquiring a deepening love for all God's creatures--these are among the lessons that the adventures of St. Francis and his first companions can provide.

Discussion Guides

1. St. Francis is famously associated with the birds and animals. Which anecdotes here are particularly informative about his approach to the animals and the natural world? Focusing particularly on his "Canticle of the Sun" [p. 117-18), how would you describe his attitude toward God's creation?

2. What does it mean to be "a fool for Christ"? Which stories most powerfully illustrate this philosophy of St. Francis? Is its purpose largely evangelical and theatrical--the behavior of the "fool" persuades others to follow Christ--or does its purpose have more to do with the individual's relationship with Christ and the effort to abnegate the self?

3. What is the attitude toward the body that was embraced by St. Francis and his followers? Notice that in several stories a cure from illness is shortly followed by a happy death [see p. 101, for instance]. How does St. Francis attempt to instruct us in our attitude toward death?

4. Medieval narratives about the lives of the saints are quite different from what the modern reader is used to, since the medieval author was writing for an audience which believed completely in the miraculous. What aspects of this book seem particularly "naive" in style? What role do visions and miracles play in these tales? In order to be proper readers of this text, do we need to makes ourselves receptive to the miraculous, to suspend our disbelief? Medieval narratives often have a strong moral or didactic purpose. How does the author of these tales attempt to change the lives of his readers? How does he use stories of punishment and reward to warn his readers?

5. The trials of Father John [pp. 104-8] are reminiscent of the story of Job in the Hebrew Bible, in which God tests a seemingly perfect man. What does this story tell us about God's seeming fickleness and cruelty? If you have read Job, how does this story differ from it? In what other tales does the author draw upon precedents from the Bible as a model?

Suggested Readings

Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity; T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets; The Epistles of Saint Paul; Edward Gibbon, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire; The Gospels; Sue Halpern, Migrations to Solitude; Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step, Living Buddha, Living Christ; Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are; Thomas Merton, The Seven-Storey Mountain; Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul; Norvene Vest, No Moment Too Small: Rhythms of Silence, Prayer, and Holy Reading; Clifton Waters (trans.), The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works.

  • The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Francis
  • March 24, 1998
  • Religion - Spirituality
  • Vintage
  • $14.00
  • 9780375700200

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