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St Francis and the Canticle of the Creatures
Perhaps you know the hymn “All creatures of our God and King”? It’s based on an 800-year old song written by St Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226), called “The Canticle of the Creatures”, which is thought to be one of the earliest poems written in the Italian language. It is a glorious hymn of praise to God through his creatures, and includes the lines:
Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day, and through whom You give us light….
Later stanzas ask that God be praised through Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire, and Sister Mother Earth. It is a song about relating to all of creation, and to all creatures, as brothers and sisters, a message that is still relevant today.
Remarkably, St Francis composed this song of joy and praise while he was in pain and suffering towards the end of his life. After he had finished the first version of the Canticle, and while he was still on his sickbed, the news came to him of a serious rift between the Bishop and the Mayor of Assisi. In a spirit of peacemaking, St Frances added an extra stanza to his song:
Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
And bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
For by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
St Francis asked his companions to sing the Canticle, with the new stanza, to the Bishop and the Mayor and the town dignitaries, all gathered together in the Bishop’s palace. You can guess what happened: the Mayor and the Bishop were so moved and overcome with remorse that they immediately begged forgiveness of each other and were reconciled that very day.
In the hymn “All creatures of our God and King”, the verse corresponding to the additional stanza is
All ye who are of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O praise Him, Alleluya!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on him cast your care:
O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluya, Alleluya, Alleluya!
This verse is starred and so it is often omitted, but I would like to make a small plea that it be sung. When I sing it, I imagine St Francis’ companions are singing alongside me, just as they sang to the Bishop and the Mayor all those years ago in Assisi, and I like to imagine the resulting reconciliation. This verse also speaks to me about the need for forgiveness and peacemaking today, both in our own hearts and personal lives, and in the world at large.