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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Friday, 1 August 2014

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF ST SERAPHIM COMPARED WITH THE MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE OF ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI ON MOUNT


On this subject we find that there is a type of Orthodox writing that is characterised by an anti-Catholicism so strong that it becomes an intricate part of the very hermeneutic they use to interpret evidence.   Here is a good example from the Orthodox Information Center.   As far as I can see, it is anonymous, which was, perhaps, wise of the author.
Studying the biographical data of Francis of Assisi, a fact of the utmost interest concerning the mysticism of this Roman Catholic ascetic is the appearance of stigmata on his person. Roman Catholics regard such a striking manifestation as the seal of the Holy Spirit. In Francis' case, these stigmata took on the form of the marks of Christ's passion on his body.

The stigmatisation of Francis is not an exceptional phenomenon among ascetics of the Roman Catholic world. Stigmatisation appears to be characteristic of Roman Catholic mysticism in general, both before it happened to Francis, as well as after. Peter Damian, as an example, tells of a monk who bore the representation of the Cross on his body. Caesar of Geisterbach mentions a novice whose forehead bore the impress of a Cross. [1] Also, a great deal of data exists, testifying to the fact that after Francis' death a series of stigmatisations occurred which, subsequently, have been thoroughly studied by various investigators, particularly in recent times. These phenomena, as V. Guerier says, illuminate their primary source. Many of them were subjected to careful observation and recorded in detail, e.g.,, the case of Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727) who was under doctor's observation; Luisa Lato (1850-1883) described by Dr Varleman, [2] and Madelaine N. (1910) described by Janat. [3]
 ""Stigmatisation appears to be characteristic of Roman Catholic mysticism in general, both before it happened to Francis, as well as after."    

 This is utter nonsense.   It is only fair to look for Catholic ideals of sanctity among its recognised saints rather than elsewhere; and it must be noticed that none of the examples referred to by the author, apart from St Francis, have been canonised.;  Apart from St Francis and Padre Pio, I know of no other with the stigmata.   Certainly, Padre Pio is the very first priest with the stigmata ever to be canonised.   There have been many priest mystics in the history of the western Church; but, two thousand years after the foundation of the Church, not a single priest saint has had the stigmata, except for Padre Pio; and a study of his life shows that his stigmata was not actually welcomed by the Church authorities.   It could be truly said that he was canonised in spite of his stigmata, rather than because of it.   The stigmata of both saints were interpreted within the context of the saintly character of their lives rather than the other way round.   

The Church authorities at the time of St Francis considered his stigmata to be unique rather than typical, and many gave this an eschatalogical significance; while the authorities in the 20th century were  well aware that the presence of stigmata can have more than one explanation.   Another thing, I know of no Benedictine, saint or otherwise, who has ever had or claimed to have the stigmata.   It  largely belongs in a world inhabited by Franciscans, and even there, only two are canonised. Nevertheless, I argue that Saints Francis and Pio are true saints, every bit as holy and true brothers to St Seraphim and other Orthodox saints.

The stigmata of St Francis took place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.   I don't think we can truly see the connection between St Seraphim and St Francis without having a look at the intimate connection between the feasts of the Transfiguration and of the  Holy Cross.

The Feast of the Transfiguration is on August 6th because that is 40 days before the Feast of the Exaltation on September 15th.   The Fathers see an intimate connection between the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion, especially between the scene where Peter, James and John witness the Transfiguration and their presence in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The two feasts mutually interpret each other.

   In the Cross, the divine Light, the glory of God as seen at the Transfiguration, is nothing less than the kenotic Love of God made clearly manifest on the Cross.    The willing acceptance by Christ of the supreme suffering and degradation of the Cross out of love is seen in St John's Gospel as a revelation of God's true light and glory.   It is only in the resurrection that the suffering of Christ and his glory can be experienced as two sides of the same reality: he is the Lamb, both dead and standing.   The Cross is the revelation of what happens to God's true glory when it lovingly submits itself to a world dominated by sin.  The Orthodox priest, Father Stephen Freeman, in his article, "The Long Defeat" in his blog "Glory to God for All Things", says,


 The tendency of many (particularly among contemporary Christians) to relegate the Cross to a historical moment, renders that “defeat” to the past and writes the remainder of subsequent history and the coming future under the heading of the resurrection. Christ died – but now He’s risen – having taken away any need for the Cross.
But this is utterly contrary to the preaching of Christ and the witness of the Scriptures. The Cross is more than historical moment – it is a revelatory moment as well – one that makes known the way of God and the manner of our salvation – always and everywhere.
"Our adversary understands only that our defeat means his victory. In this he is utterly mistaken and it is the resurrection that assures us and encourages us not to fear the Cross.But the resurrection is never anything apart from the Cross. There is no Resurrected Christ who is not always the Crucified Christ. Nor will there ever be a victorious Church that is not always the defeated Church. "
 There is no Transfiguration without the Cross, and no cross voluntarily undertaken out of love that is not a true transfiguration: and the proof of this is the Resurrection.   It is only within this context that we can compare and contrast the mystical experience of St Seraphim and St Francis or even the liturgical emphasis in both East and West on the Resurrection and the popular Western devotion to the Passion. The Passion is not opposed to the Resurrection: it is the other dimension of the same Christian Mystery. Devotion centred on the Passion would make no sense if Christ had not risen, just as the Resurrection makes no sense if Christ had not been crucified.  Because of this, I have been able to collect posts for the feast of the Transfiguration about God's glory shining through broken people and failure as well as through contemplation, light and beauty. 
 What all these experiences have in common is that they manifest the kenotic love of God. Thus, the Orthodox contributor to this magazine on the Transfiguration writes:
 The gate of the Kingdom of God is the Cross, and the Glory of God in the world begins with the Cross. Every revelation of the Glory of God within history, whether before or after the coming of Christ, constitutes a model or an extension of the Cross of Christ. Every experience of the Glory of God during this present life presages or accompanies an experience of the Mystery of the Cross.

Of course, there is a difference between the experience of St Seraphim and that of St Francis.   It is the same difference as there is between the Transfiguration of Christ and his Crucifixion.   As the Fathers interpreted it, the Transfiguration manifested to his disciples the continual presence of Christ's divinity in his humanity.   The new element in the Transfiguration was not something that happened to Christ, but what was granted to his three disciples to see: they saw him for the first time as he really was.   Their eyes were opened, and they saw what was not granted to others to see, the glory that belonged to him permanently.   They saw the divine light that was his self-giving, self-forgetting love in complete harmony and union with the Love that is God's nature, being the life of the Holy Trinity.   In contrast, his Crucifixion was a historical event, even though it was the supreme revelation of that permanent love which, at a human level, reached its maximum growth on the Cross, even though that historical event entered eternity as a dimension of his Resurrection.   

In the same way, when St Seraphim was transformed before Motovilov, it was not a new event in his life: God was revealing to Motovilov the continuing effect on us of receiving the Holy Spirit. Thus, Motovilov saw St Seraphim transfigured, but St Seraphim told him that he too was transformed by light, even though he was not aware of it.On the other hand, St Francis receiving the stigmata was a one-off event, an experience proper only to himself, even if it had lasting consequences for St Francis and his followers.   



We can now look at the account by St Bonaventure of St Francis receiving the stigmata, and will then go on to see the popular account of the same event as told us in the Fioretti.  Both are as much theological statements as they are objective accounts of what happened.   We will examine the theological presuppositions of each.   We will then be in a position to compare the two mystical experiences, that of St Francis with that of St Seraphim.

Here is an account given by St Bonaventure:
Chapter XIII
(my source: e-Catholic 2000)


OF THE SACRED STIGMATA1. It was the custom of that angelic man, Francis, never to be slothful in good, but rather, like the heavenly spirits on Jacob’s ladder, to be ever ascending toward God, or stooping toward his neighbour. For he had learnt so wisely to apportion the time granted unto him for merit that one part thereof he would spend in labouring for the profit of his neighbours, the other he would devote unto the peaceful ecstasies of contemplation. Wherefore, when according unto the demands of time and place he had stooped to secure the salvation of others, he would leave behind the disturbances of throngs, and seek a hidden solitude and a place for silence, wherein, giving himself up more freely unto the Lord, he might brush off any dust that was clinging unto him from his converse with men. Accordingly, two years before he yielded his spirit unto heaven, the divine counsel leading him, he was brought after many and varied toils unto an high mountain apart, that is called Mount Alverna. When, according unto his wont he began to keep a Lent there, fasting, in honour of Saint Michael Archangel, he was filled unto overflowing, and as never before, with the sweetness of heavenly contemplation, and was kindled with a yet more burning flame of heavenly longings, and began to feel the gifts of the divine bestowal heaped upon him. He was borne into the heights, not like a curious examiner of the divine majesty that is weighed down by the glory thereof, but even as a faithful and wise servant, searching out the will of God, unto Whom it was ever his fervent and chief desire to conform himself in every way.


2. Thus by the divine oracle it was instilled into his mind that by opening of the Book of the Gospels it should be revealed unto him of Christ what would be most pleasing unto God in him and from him. (Wherefore, having first prayed very devoutly, he took the holy Book of the Gospels from the altar, and made it be opened, in the name of the Holy Trinity, by his companion, a man devoted unto God, and holy. As in the threefold opening of the Book, the Lord’s Passion was each time discovered, Francis, full of the Spirit of God, verily understood that, like as he had imitated Christ in the deeds of his life, so it behoved him to be made like unto Him in the trials and sufferings of His Passion before that he should depart from this world. And, albeit by reason of the great austerity of his past life, and continual sustaining of the Lord’s Cross, he was now frail in body, he was no whit afeared, but was the more valorously inspired to endure a martyrdom. For in him the all-powerful kindling of love of the good Jesu had increased into coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame, so that many waters could not quench his love, so strong it was.When, therefore, by seraphic glow of longing he had been uplifted toward God, and by his sweet compassion had been transformed into the likeness of Him Who of His exceeding love endured to be crucified,—on a certain morning about the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross, while he was praying on the side of the mountain, he beheld a Seraph having six wings, flaming and resplendent, coming down from the heights of heaven. When in his flight most swift he had reached the space of air nigh the man of God, there appeared betwixt the wings the Figure of a Man crucified, having his hands and feet stretched forth in the shape of a Cross, and fastened unto a Cross. Two wings were raised above His head, twain were spread forth to fly, while twain hid His whole body. Beholding this, Francis was mightily astonished, and joy, mingled with sorrow, filled his heart. He rejoiced at the gracious aspect wherewith he saw Christ, under the guise of the Seraph, regard him, but His crucifixion pierced his soul with a sword of pitying grief. He marvelled exceedingly at the appearance of a vision so unfathomable, knowing that the infirmity of the Passion doth in no wise accord with the immortality of a Seraphic spirit. At length he understood therefrom, the Lord revealing it unto him, that this vision had been thus presented unto his gaze by the divine providence, that the friend of Christ might have foreknowledge that he was to be wholly transformed into the likeness of Christ Crucified, not by martyrdom of body, but by enkindling of heart. Accordingly, as the vision disappeared, it left in his heart a wondrous glow, but on his flesh also it imprinted a no less wondrous likeness of its tokens. For forthwith there began to appear in his hands and feet the marks of the nails, even as he had just beheld them in that Figure of the Crucified. For his hands and feet seemed to be pierced through the midst with nails, the heads of the nails shewing in the palms of the hands, and upper side of the feet, and their points shewing on the other side; the heads of the nails were round and black in the hands and feet, while the points were long, bent, and as it were turned back, being formed, of the flesh itself, and protruding therefrom. The right side, moreover, was—as if it had been pierced by a lance—seamed with a ruddy scar, wherefrom ofttimes welled the sacred blood, staining his habit and breeches.

4. Now the servant of Christ perceived that the stigmata thus manifestly imprinted on his flesh could not be hidden from his intimate friends; nevertheless, fearing to make public the holy secret of the Lord, he was set in a great strife of questioning, to wit, whether he should tell that which he had seen, or should keep it silent. Wherefore he called some of the Brethren, and, speaking unto them in general terms, set before them his doubt, and asked their counsel. Then one of the Brethren, Illuminato by name, and illuminated by grace, perceiving that he had beheld some marvellous things, inasmuch as that he seemed almost stricken dumb with amaze, said unto the holy man: “Brother, thou knowest that at times the divine secrets are shewn unto thee, not only for thine own sake, but for the sake of others also. Wherefore, meseemeth thou wouldst have reason to fear lest thou shouldst be judged guilty of hiding thy talent, didst thou keep hidden that which thou hast received, which same would be profitable unto many.” At this speech, the holy man was moved, so that, albeit at other times he was wont to say “ My secret to me,” he did then with much fear narrate in order the vision aforesaid, adding that He who had appeared unto him had said some words the which, so long as he lived, he would never reveal unto any man. Verily we must believe that those utterances of that holy Seraph marvellously appearing on the Cross were so secret that perchance it was not lawful for a man to utter them.5. Now after that the true love of Christ had transformed His lover into the same image, and after that he had spent forty days in solitude, as he had determined, when the Feast of Saint Michael Archangel came, this angelic man, Francis, descended from the mountain, bearing with him the likeness of the Crucified, engraven, not on tables of stone or of wood, by the craftsman’s hand, but written on his members of flesh by the finger of the Living God.  
 Deacon  Keith Fournier comments on St Bonaventure's account:
 The grace of God has appeared in these last days in his servant Francis to all who are truly humble and lovers of holy poverty, who, while venerating in him God's superabundant mercy, learn by his example to reject whole heartedly ungodliness and worldly passions, to live in conformity with Christ and to thirst after blessed hope with unflagging desire."
With these words, which incorporate St Paul's letter to Titus 2:11, Bonaventure begins the Major Legend and lays out the challenges to the reader to follow in the footsteps of the little poor man of Assisi by walking with him up the mountain of Calvary and finding the path to transfiguration. 
The Major Legend was completed by Bonaventure after his own experience on the mountain of LaVerna, the place where Francis received the wounds of Christ, the stigmata. This is the place where Bonaventure writes, "that angelic man who descended from the mountain (LaVerna) carrying with him an image of the crucified not handmade on tablets of stone or wood, but inscribed in the members of his flesh by the finger of the Living God" 
The full revelation of this kind of realized eschatology in Francis became most clear to Bonaventure on La Verna. This experience, where Francis was stigmatized, was the Mount of Transfiguration in the life and ministry of Francis. There he became joined to the Transfigured Christ, who was crucified in and for love. 
LaVerna is what theologians call a hermeneutic, the lens through which Francis' life and meaning comes together for Bonaventure. The stigmata given on that Mountain is the seal confirming in the flesh of Francis the fullness of grace that was present in his life. Francis was a sign, a human sacramental of sorts, and the exemplar of evangelical perfection. 


He was, by grace, transformed into Jesus the Word, thus becoming what I call a word walking. This transfiguration thus also becomes a lens through which the life, spiritual progression, holiness and ministry of Francis comes into sharp focus for Bonaventure. He has his own experience on that same mountain and is never the same.


This unique connection between the Mountain of Golgotha and the Mountain of Transfiguration is unique to Francis - and unique to the theology developed by Bonaventure. Certainly, the Mount of Transfiguration is the central place in Eastern Christian Theology with the Eastern emphasis on deification as a way to articulate the work of transforming grace. The Incarnation is viewed in the East as including the entire Christ event from conception to Ascension.



Yet, there is little or no reference to a connection between these two mountains in Eastern Christian sources. Only in the Christological anthropology developed in the work of St. Nicholas Kavasalis, a fourteenth century Byzantine layman and mystic, could we even find a hint of this kind of connection: 
"It was when he mounted the cross and died and rose again that human freedom was won, that human form and beauty were created." This is a place for further research on the synergies between Eastern and Western mystical and spiritual theology - and their meeting in Bonaventure's theology. 


St. Bonaventure's Major Legend introduces us to Francis through the eyes of a friend and eye witness who saw, revealed in the little poor man of Assisi, the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, as replicated by love. In pointing us through Francis, to Jesus, Bonaventure invites us into the same encounter. That is what Saints are supposed to do.
 In the Fioretti, the stigmata of St Francis being both transfiguration and crucifixion is even more explicit by the emphasis placed on visible light:
And being thus inflamed in that contemplation, on that same morning he beheld a Seraph descending from heaven with six fiery and resplendent wings; and this seraph with rapid flight drew nigh unto St Francis, so that he could plainly discern him, and perceive that he bore the image of one crucified; and the wings were so disposed, that two were spread over the head, two were outstretched in flight, and the other two covered the whole body. And when St Francis beheld it, he was much afraid, and filled at once with joy and grief and wonder. He felt great joy at the gracious presence of Christ, who appeared to him thus familiarly, and looked upon him thus lovingly, but, on the other hand, beholding him thus crucified, he felt exceeding grief and compassion. He marvelled much at so stupendous and unwonted a vision, knowing well that the infirmity of the Passion accorded ill with the immortality of the seraphic spirit. And in that perplexity of mind it was revealed to him by him who thus appeared, that by divine providence this vision had been thus shown to him that he might understand that, not by martyrdom of the body, but by a consuming fire of the soul, he was to be transformed into the express image of Christ crucified in that wonderful apparition.

    Then did all the Mount Alvernia appear wrapped in intense fire, which illumined all the mountains and valleys around, as it were the sun shining in his strength upon the earth, for which cause the shepherds who were watching their flocks in that country were filled with fear, as they themselves afterwards told the brethren, affirming that this light had been visible on Mount Alvernia for upwards of an hour. And because of the brightness of that light, which shone through the windows of the inn where they were tarrying, some muleteers who were travelling in Romagna arose in haste, supposing that the sun had risen, and saddled and loaded their beasts; but as they journeyed on, they saw that light disappear, and the visible sun arise.
 To understand these accounts, you have to see them within the context of the whole life of St Francis and of Franciscan theology and spirituality as interpreted by St Bonaventure.   The prayer of St Francis to share in Christ's suffering is within the context of a dialogue with Christ after a lifetime of ever greater and more profound humility, in which St Francis had stepped out beyond reasoning and emotions and recognised the fire of Divine Love and the darkness of the Cross, the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion, to be revelations of the same reality.   Pope Benedict XVI, speaking about how St Bonaventure understood St Francis's and our ascent to God, said: 
Of these his writings, which are the soul of his government and show the way to follow both for the individual and for the community, I would like to mention just one, the Itinerarium mentis in Deum, [The Mind's Road to God], which is a "manual" for mystical contemplation. This book was conceived in a deeply spiritual place: Mount La Verna, where St Francis had received the stigmata. In the introduction the author describes the circumstances that gave rise to this writing: "While I meditated on the possible ascent of the mind to God, amongst other things there occurred that miracle which happened in the same place to the blessed Francis himself, namely the vision of the winged Seraph in the form of a Crucifix. While meditating upon this vision, I immediately saw that it offered me the ecstatic contemplation of Fr Francis himself as well as the way that leads to it."

The six wings of the Seraph thus became the symbol of the six stages that lead man progressively from the knowledge of God, through the observation of the world and creatures and through the exploration of the soul itself with its faculties, to the satisfying union with the Trinity through Christ, in imitation of St Francis of Assisi. The last words of St Bonaventure's Itinerarium, which respond to the question of how it is possible to reach this mystical communion with God, should be made to sink to the depths of the heart: "If you should wish to know how these things come about, (the mystical communion with God) question grace, not instruction; desire, not intellect; the cry of prayer, not pursuit of study; the spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness, not clarity; not light, but the fire that inflames all and transports to God with fullest unction and burning affection.... Let us then... pass over into darkness; let us impose silence on cares, concupiscence, and phantasms; let us pass over with the Crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that when the Father is shown to us we may say with Philip, "It is enough for me."
 We now have enough material to examine in detail the thesis of the Orthodox author of the article on the stigmata of St Francis and show where he goes wrong.   We have seen that he begins with a false premise that the stigmata of St Francis is a common characteristic of Catholic mystics.   The whole point of the contemporary fascination with these stigmata was that they were unique.   For the Spirituals, he was the angel of the Apocalypse, heralding the New Age of the Holy Spirit.   For St Bonaventure who did not believe in a new Age of the Spirit, separate from what went before,  St Francis was a living icon of Christ, a sign that God was renewing his people; but he put this renewal in the context of the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit in the Church that is the source of Tradition.   Of course, after St Francis's stigmata, there was a rash of similar copycat phenomena, just as there were many claims of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin after Our Lady appeared at Lourdes; but all these belong more to the psychologist's couch than the Church.   They do not take away the element of sheer surpise from what happened on Mount Alverna and in Lourdes.

This mistake has led to another one. We must now ask, What was St Francis asking for in this passage from the Fioretti when he prayed:

    On the following day - being the Feast of the Holy Cross - St Francis was praying before daybreak at the entrance of his cell, and turning his face towards the east, he prayed in these words: “O Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I ask of thee before I die; the first, that in my lifetime I may feel, as far as possible, both in my soul and body, that pain which thou, sweet Lord, didst endure in the hour of thy most bitter Passion; the second, that I may feel in my heart as much as possible of that excess of love by which thou, O Son of God, wast inflamed to suffer so cruel a Passion for us sinners.” And continuing a long time in that prayer, he understood that God had heard him, and that, so far as is possible for a mere creature, he should be permitted to feel these things. 
 I think the answer to this question is crucial and is most open to misunderstanding by Orthodox who use words in a different way.  He was not asking for anything like the stigmata, which was an idea unknown to him. It was a time when the writings of Dionysius the Areopogite were very much in vogue.   Ah!!  We are now on familiar territory with the Orthodox!!!  The way to approach God is to detach oneself from matter, to go byond rational thought.   The Orthodox author of the article on the stigmata of St Francis puts it this way:
Recalling how the ascetics of the Orthodox Church understand the highest (spiritual) prayer as detailed in the Philokalia, it is to be emphasized here that they regarded this prayer alongside their own personal strivings, as a synergetic operation (man co-operating with God) to achieve detachment, not only from everything physical or sensory, but also from rational thought. That is, at best, a direct spiritual elevation of the person to God, when the Lord God the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for the supplicant with "groanings which cannot be uttered." [10] As an example, St Isaac of Syria in his Directions says, "A soul which loves God, in God, and in Him alone finds peace. First release yourself from all your outward attachments, then your heart will be able to unite with God; for union with God is preceded by detachment from matter." [11] It is the plain speaking of St Nilos of Sinai, however, that slashes through with distinct clarity to present a serious juxtaposition to the alleged Divine visitation that Francis experienced. In the Text on Prayer, he admonishes: "Never desire nor seek any face or image during prayer. Do not wish for sensory vision or angels, or powers, or Christ, lest you lose your mind by mistaking the wolf for the shepherd and worship the enemies—the demons. The beginning of the beguilement (plani) of the mind is vainglory, which moves the mind to try and represent the Deity in some form or image.
 We must remember that the lifelong ambition of St Francis was to be a martyr.   He even went to preach to a Caliph, hoping to be martyred; but, instead, the Muslim official gave him and his followers permission to preach in the Holy Land!!   Just before his receiving the stigmata he had a dialogue with Christ.   This is part of the version of from the Fioretti:  

 As the Feast of the Holy Cross then drew nigh, in the month of September, Brother Leo went one night at his accustomed hour to say Matins with St Francis. When he came to the bridge, he said, as he was wont to do, Domine labia mea aperies; but St Francis made no answer. Yet Brother Leo turned not back as he had been commanded to do, but with a good and holy intention, he passed the bridge and went straight into the cell; but there he found not St Francis.     Thinking, therefore, that he was gone to pray in some solitary place, he went softly through the wood, seeking him in the moonlight. At last he heard his voice, and drawing near, beheld him kneeling in prayer with his face and hands lifted up towards heaven, and crying, in fervour of spirit: “Who art thou, my dearest Lord? and who am I, a most vile worm and thy most unprofitable servant?” and these words he repeated over and over again, adding nothing more.....[Then comes a dialogue between St Francis and Brother Leo.].... And when he St Francis) had said these words, he made him bring the book of the Gospels, because God had put it into his mind that, by thrice opening that book, he should learn what God would be pleased to do with him. And when the book was brought to him, St Francis went to prayer; and when he had prayed, he caused Brother Leo to open the book three times in the name of the most Holy Trinity; and, by the divine disposal, it opened each time at the Passion of Christ. And by this it was given him to understand that, even as he had followed Christ in the actions of his life, so should he follow and be confirmed to him in the sufferings and afflictions of his Passion, before he should pass out of this life
 The insight that was given to St Francis, one that became part of Franciscan tradition as expressed in the theology of St Bonaventure, is that the process of detachment as explained in the Philokalia is the way people practising contemplative prayer share in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Evagrius had written:
The mind will not see the place of God in itself, unless it rises above all thoughts of material and created things; and it cannot rise above them unless it becomes free of the passions binding it to sensory objects and inciting thoughts about them. It will free itself of passions by means of virtues, and of simple thoughts by means of spiritual contemplation; but it will discard even this when there appears to it that light which, during prayer, marks the place of God."
 For St Francis and the Franciscans, this process of stripping away is the way of entering the darkness of Christ's death in order to find the light of the resurrection.   It is this that St Francis wants with great intensity.  To desire to die with Christ and thus to share in his resurrection should be the desire of every Christian: it is the vocation of every Christian.  What made St Francis different from most is the intensity of that desire.   However, in this dialogue, he came to realise that his desire to be martyred, sharing in Christ's death by dying for Christ, was not to be granted to him.   Instead, he was to take part in " a synergetic operation (man co-operating with God) to achieve detachment, not only from everything physical or sensory, but also from rational thought. That is, at best, a direct spiritual elevation of the person to God, when the Lord God the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for the supplicant with "groanings which cannot be uttered."   The way of contemplation, he learned, is the way of interior martyrdom.  Thus, St Bonaventure, in a passage already quoted, tells us where to find  our way to God:
"If you should wish to know how these things come about, (the mystical communion with God) question grace, not instruction; desire, not intellect; the cry of prayer, not pursuit of study; the spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness, not clarity; not light, but the fire that inflames all and transports to God with fullest unction and burning affection.... Let us then... pass over into darkness; let us impose silence on cares, concupiscence, and phantasms; let us pass over with the Crucified Christ from this world to the Father..."
 St Francis and his stigmata are not opposed to the Philokalia: they show us how Christian the way of the Philokalia is.   

On the other hand, our Orthodox author illustrates how attempts to discredit Latin Catholic tradition can so easily end up by being unfaithful to the Orthodox tradition.   He writes:
Francis' ecstatic prayer was answered, but in the light of both St Isaac's and St Nilos' counsels, clearly not by Christ. The chronicle says that "Francis felt himself completely transformed into Christ," transformed not only in spirit, but also in body, i.e., not only in spiritual and psychological sensations, but also in physical ones. While granting that Francis was fully convinced that he had been spiritually taken up to the Logos, the rise of special physical sensations cannot, according to St Isaac, be ascribed to the action of a spiritually good power.
 This separation between spirit and body and the denial of the possibility of physical transformation by Grace was one of the main points made by the opponents of St Gregory Palamas and deserves the same answer: the human being is not a soul in a body, but a body-soul unity, and a change in its centre, what we call the "heart", can lead to a change anywhere in the person, including in his body.

The Orthodox writer is fundamentally wrong in saying that the stigmata are a normal characteristic of Catholic mysticism.   This mistake shows a massive ignorance on his part about Catholic mysticism: if he knows he knows nothing, he ought to have the humility to shut up.   It is also wrong to think that St Francis was praying on Mount Alverna for something like the stigmata.  He knew nothing about the possibility: it had not yet been invented.   Also, he was not "New Age" and, hence, was not seeking experiences, even experiences of God: he was seeking God.   The stigmata were not a denial of the classical doctrine as found in the Philokalia or in the works of St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila: it was Christ's approval of this doctrine.   It is also a witness to the Christian belief that a human being is not a soul in a body, but a body-soul whose centre is the heart, and that transformations in the heart means changes that can manifest themselves in the whole human being.   In opposing this, the Orthodox author is on the side of the opponents of St Gregory Palamas.   Finally, he does not distinguish his distaste for mediaeval hagiographic writing from his distaste for St Francis, making no attempt to understand the saint behind the writing.

 The Fioretti are stories, full of theological meaning, but stories nevertheless, where words are put into peoples' mouths to make obvious what the listeners may otherwise miss if they are not clearly stated.   They are stories designed to show how Christ himself was involved in the life of St Francis and in the foundation of the Franciscan movement.  They are also stories told to illustrate how St Francis became a living icon of Christ crucified for his and future generations.  If we are known by our fruits, then St Francis deserves his reputation as a saint.   Only people who project their own hang-ups onto evidence instead of letting the evidence speak for itself can deny that the Fioretti have failed.

The Byzantine Divine Liturgy places the kiss of peace before the recitation of the Creed.   This shows that we can only sing the Creed with one heart and one voice if we love one another.   There was a time when the ecclesial love of the Latin West did not stretch out to include the Orthodox, and the ecclesial love of the East did not stretch out to include the Catholic West. Schism resulted.  If either side looks at the other without ecclesial love, then it becomes infected by the virus of schism, and not only its vision of the other is falsified, but its arguments turm round to destroy itself.   This is shown in the attempt to put a rift between St Francis and St Seraphim, between Catholic mysticism and that of the Orthodox Church.   It can only be done by falsifying the other, by disobeying Christ's command not to judge our neighbour.   It is all too evident in the article we have been quoting.   I am sure there are Catholic articles that deserve the same treatment.

All these pseudo-problems having been shown up for what they are, the experience of St Francis and that of St Seraphim are seen clearly to be complementary rather than opposed, each shedding light on the other, just as the Transfiguration and the Passion shed light on each other.

Saints Francis and Seraphim, pray for us.


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