Brother Francis was an artist in founding a new religious order and in his relationships with others, especially the more-than-human ones, as well as in his poetry. He was both mystic and prophet. Let us look at his greatest written work, his poem we know as the “Canticle of Brother Sun.”
This mature poem, written near the end of Francis’ life, echoes many of the richest themes of the Cosmic Christ archetype. The words “all good Lord!” and “all glory” appear in the first stanza and these are words for the Cosmic Christ–“glory” or doxa symbolizes the divine radiance present in all beings and “Lord” signifies governor of the universe.
The divine is incarnated in the flesh of nature. “All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, and first my Lord Brother Sun, who brings the day and light you give to us through him. How beautiful he is how radiant in all his splendor! Of you Most High, he bears the likeness.” The sun is a likeness of the Divine and the word radiance is another clue to the Cosmic Christ.
Francis is following the order of Genesis one—this is his creation story—and of John one in praising first the gift of light through the sun. (He is also following the order of contemporary cosmology that tells us the universe began with a fireball lasting 700,000 years). Sun and light were indeed the origin of things.
By calling the sun “Lord,” Francis is celebrating panentheism while rejecting the “lords” of the feudal era, those whom he spent his life fighting by his rejecting of feudal privilege and his resisting the emerging capitalism of his day while living a devotion to poverty.
He balances “Brother Sun” with “Sister moon and stars” offering a yin/yang, feminine/masculine balance that he maintains throughout his poem when he says next: “All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars; In the heavens you have made them bright and precious and fair.”
Notice how cosmic this poem is from the start—first the Sun, now the moon and stars and heavens. Again, the themes of light, splendor and illumination continue as he celebrates the “brightness” of the moon and stars. The Cosmic Christ—“the light who enlightens all who have life”–is present in all creatures and therefore all creatures are brother and sister to one another. The family of all creation, the web of creation, the interconnectivity of all creatures, is honored by Francis.
Queries for Contemplation
Due to limits of space we have treated only the first few stanzas of Francis’ poem. Do you notice how deeply cosmic it is? How he is endeavoring to bring psyche and cosmos together—just as all true ritual seeks to do?
“The family of all creation, the web of creation, the interconnectivity of all creatures, is honored by Francis”—is it honored by us too? Is this world view the medicine to the abuse of Mother Earth and her creatures that humankind is currently involved in? How can we bring Francis’ vision home to today to heal Mother Earth before it is too late?
In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.