Aflame with Seraphic Fire

From “Prologue,” The Major Life of St. Francis (1260)

Francis was “poor and lowly” (Isa. 66:2), but “the most high God looked upon him” with such condescension and kindness that he not only “lifted him up in his need from the dust” of a worldly life, but made him a practitioner, a leader, and a herald of gospel perfection (Job 36:22, 1 Sam. 2:8). He “set him up as a light” for believers (Isa. 49:6), that by “bearing witness to the light” (John 1:7), he might “prepare for the Lord a way” of light and “peace” into the hearts of his faithful (Luke 1:76, 79).

Shining with the splendor of his life and teaching, “like the morning star in the midst of clouds” (Ecclus. 50:6), by his resplendent rays he guided into the light those “sitting in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79), and like “the rainbow shining amid the clouds of glory” he made manifest in himself “the sign” of the Lord’s “covenant” (Ecclus. 50:8, Gen. 9:3).

He preached “the gospel of peace” and salvation (Rom 10:15), being himself “the angel of” true “peace” (Isa. 33:7). Like John the Baptist, he was appointed by God “to prepare in the desert a way” of the highest poverty (Isa. 40:3), and to “preach repentance” by word and example (Luke 24:47). First endowed with gifts of divine grace, he was then enriched by the merits of unshakeable virtue, and “filled with the spirit” of prophecy (Luke 1:67). He was assigned an angelic ministry and was totally aflame with seraphic fire….He was lifted up in “a fiery chariot” (2 Kgs. 2:11), as will be seen quite clearly in the course of his life. Therefore it can be reasonably proved that he came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).

Even while he lived among men, he imitated angelic purity so that he was held up as an example for those who would be perfect followers of Christ. We are led to hold this firmly and devoutly because of his ministry “to call men to weep and mourn, to shave their heads, and to put on sackcloth” (Isa. 22:12), and “to mark with a Tau the foreheads of men who moan and grieve” (Ezek. 9:4), signing them with the cross of penance and clothing them with his habit, which is in the form of a cross.

But even more is this confirmed with the irrefutable testimony of truth by the “seal of the likeness” (Ezek. 28:12) of the living God, namely of Christ crucified, which was imprinted on his body not by natural forces or by human skill, but by the wondrous power of the Spirit of the living God.

Bonaventure (1218-1274), a Franciscan friar, was among the greatest theologians of his age. He became Minister General of the Franciscans in 1254, and reorganized the order, bringing greater stability to the movement and encouraging study and teaching. His Major Life of Francis was commissioned by the order and depicts Francis as a model of the spiritual life. This excerpt is adapted from the translation of Ewert Cousins (Classics of Western Spirituality, 1978). Bonaventure was declared a doctor of the Church after his death and is commemorated on July 15.


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