Saint Francis and Dante in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter “Candor lucis aeternae”

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter “Candor lucis aeternae“, published 25 March 2021, marking the 700th anniversary of the death of the poet, Dante Alighieri, dedicates a part of the text to Saint Francis of Assisi:

Francis, the spouse of Lady Poverty

In the pure white rose of the blessed, with Mary as its radiant centre, Dante places a number of saints whose life and mission he describes. He presents them as men and women who, in the concrete events of life and despite many trials, achieved the ultimate purpose of their life and vocation. Here I will mention only Saint Francis of Assisi, as portrayed in Canto XI of the Paradiso, the sphere of the wise.

Saint Francis and Dante had much in common. Francis, with his followers, left the cloister and went out among the people, in small towns and the streets of the cities, preaching to them and visiting their homes. Dante made the choice, unusual for that age, to compose his great poem on the afterlife in the vernacular, and to populate his tale with characters both famous and obscure, yet equal in dignity to the rulers of this world. Another feature common to the two was their sensitivity to the beauty and worth of creation as the reflection and imprint of its Creator. We can hardly fail to hear in Dante’s paraphrase of the Our Father an echo of Saint Francis’s Canticle of the Sun:

“Praised be thy name and thine omnipotence

By every creature… ” (Purg. XI, 4-5).

In Canto XI of the Paradiso, this comparison becomes even more pronounced. The sanctity and wisdom of Francis stand out precisely because Dante, gazing from heaven upon the earth, sees the crude vulgarity of those who trust in earthly goods:

“O Thou insensate care of mortal men,

How inconclusive are the syllogisms

That make thee beat thy wings in downward flight!” (1-3).

The entire history of Saint Francis, his “admirable life”, revolved around his privileged relationship with Lady Poverty:

“But that too darkly I may not proceed,

Francis and Poverty for these two lovers

Take thou henceforward in my speech diffuse” (73-75).

The canto of Saint Francis recalls the salient moments of his life, his trials and ultimately the moment when his configuration to Christ, poor and crucified, found its ultimate divine confirmation in his reception of the stigmata:

“And, finding for conversion too unripe

The folk, and not to tarry there in vain,

Returned to fruit of the Italic grass,

On the rude rock ‘twixt Tiber and the Arno

From Christ did he receive the final seal,

Which during two whole years his members bore” (103-108).

 

Read the complete Apostolic Letter: Vatican.va