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 The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano - 177 

of miracle accounts, and differs in style from the other two. While the first and second books focus on Francis’s life, the third recounts events in the Church after the death of Francis.

The theme of “the humility of the incarnation” uniquely identifies Book One, as Thomas summarizes the conversion, life, teaching and example of Francis. Humility enabled Francis to celebrate the birth of the Incarnate Word that he heard, preached, and lived throughout his life. Book One concludes with a vivid description of the great midnight Christmas liturgy of the cave at Greccio in which there is a wondrous vision: “. . . a little child lying lifeless in the manger . . . is awakened and impressed on their loving memory by His own grace through His holy servant Francis.”28 The gospel word heard and proclaimed through Francis’s life of conversion brought about a marvelous vision of the Incarnation. Thomas explains through the life of Francis, how the Church, with all of creation, is renewed because the Word made flesh, long forgotten, comes to life again.

In Book Two the “charity of the Passion” predominates. The gospel word is no longer the commission to sell and give all goods to the poor. Rather, the Word is Christ on the Cross. This Word is experienced in a vision on La Verna. Francis sees what he hears. He comes to the mystical experience of both, the Word and the vision, in his own flesh, the stigmata. By the Word and the vision, Francis is transformed into the Incarnate and Crucified Christ. By employing the biblical image of the Seraph, an image rich in the contemplative tradition, Thomas identifies Francis’s transformative experience as one of burning and intimate love.29 The “charity of the Passion” is incarnated in Francis’s own flesh, transporting him into the heavenly liturgy. In the prayer that concludes Book Two, Francis places his stigmata before Jesus Christ, Son of the most high Father. This is a form of intimate intercessory prayer that has salvific significance for all. In response, Christ Crucified is moved to “bear his own wounds to the Father, and because of this the Father will ever show us in our anguish His tenderness.”30

Book Three, in the account of the canonization and the miracles, describes the liturgy of Francis that continues to be celebrated on earth. It captures that exuberance: “a new spirit was placed in the hearts of the elect and a holy anointing has been poured out in their midst.”31 There is new joy and power among those Francis left behind. As Francis is canonized, Christians of every vocation rejoice and the whole region is filled with new life and enthusiasm. At his tomb there is new life. Many people are healed and find consolation. The third book is a “Pentecost” experience. From this perspective, it flows from the first two books. After celebration of Francis’s conversion leading to renewal of the Incarnation in Greccio and after the celebration of new life in the transformation of Francis in his stigmata and his transitus to the heavenly throne, there is new faith, healing and life in the community left behind. In the third book, the Church reaps the fruit of Francis’s conversion and conformity to Christ Crucified. Even in that time of crisis, a new grace of the Spirit is alive in the Church.

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Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 177

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