A Book of the Praises of Saint Francis (1277-1283) - 28 

The use of discipline guides the spirit to virtue, while virtue itself leads to beatitude. For this, there must be a beginning to the practice of discipline, the perfection of virtue, and the reward of virtue in eternal beatitude.14

From this starting point, Bernard's Mirror develops a two-part treatise on self-discipline in which he considers its nature, scope, and practice. With each paragraph Bernard conveys his sensitivity to the tension between the spirit and the law and approaches Gospel life with remarkable insights into the struggles of human nature. A thread stitching together the thoughts of the Mirror is a quote from Hebrews 13:9: "It is best that the heart be stabilized with grace;" with it, Bernard encourages his readers to look deeply into the role of grace in their lives.15

This is clear in the second chapter of Bernard's Book of Praises as Bernard describes Francis's formation of his followers. The chapter draws attention to many of those attitudes described in Bernard's Mirror of Discipline: respect for one another, patience, avoidance of hypocrisy, and a simplicity that promotes unity. At the conclusion of the third chapter, moreover, Bernard underscores an attitude that permeates his portrait of Francis, his ability to look deeply into another's heart. "He was truly endowed with outstanding discernment and the grace of simplicity," he writes, "so that with a true dove-like simplicity, he possessed the prudence of a serpent."16

A similar attitude emerges in the chapters describing Francis's approach to poverty, humility, and use of time. Throughout these surprisingly straightforward descriptions, the compiler seems eager to walk a middle road between a rigid interpretation of Francis's lofty ideals and one that is more flexible. From this more moderate perspective, Bernard weaves his sources together so that the towering characterizations of the Gospel life are clearly evident; at the same time, however, he gently prods each reader to discover an interpretation best suited for daily life. In light of this, Bernard emerges as an interpreter of Franciscan hagiography conscious of the extremes, of the literalism of "we who were with him," and their successors who used the saint's life for their own purposes.

In another way, the first and seventh chapters of Bernard's Book of Praises provides different lenses for examining the early history of the movement. Brothers are mentioned in the first chapter whose names have never appeared: Brother Soldanerio, John de Laudibus, Leo, the Archbishop of Milan, Simon, William of England, and Christopher. Moreover, Bernard provides some insights into their ministries and identifies their resting places. In doing so, his Book of Praises is a prelude to future works such as The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions and The Chronicle of the Twenty-Four General Ministers, both of which devote sections to detailing the exploits of these newly mentioned disciples of Francis. The seventh chapter, moreover, concisely describes the purpose of each of the three Orders. Understandably, Bernard devotes most of this chapter to the Lesser Brothers; his lengthy description of "miracles and divine approbation" has a twofold purpose: to revive them in




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 28