The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi, tr. by Paschal Robinson, , at sacred-texts.com
The earliest witness to this document is Thomas of Celano, who in his Second Life (written about 1247) records that "while the Saint was remaining secluded in his cell on Mount La Verna, one of the companions conceived a great desire to have some memorial from words of the Lord written by the hand of St. Francis and briefly annotated by him. . . . One day Blessed Francis called him, saying, 'Bring me paper and ink, for I wish to write the words of God and His praises which I have been meditating in my heart.' What he asked for being straightway brought, he writes with his own hand the praises of God and the words which he [his companion] wished, and lastly a blessing of the brother, saying: 'Take this sheet (chartulam) for thyself and until the day of thy death guard it carefully.' All temptation was at once driven away; the letter is kept and worked wonders for the time to come." 1
The original autograph of the sheet here described by Celano is reverently preserved in the sacristy of the Sacro Convento at Assisi. 2 It has been mentioned in the archives of the convent since 1348 and is borne in procession annually at the opening of the feast of the "Perdono" or Portiuncula Indulgence. Many pages have been consecrated by scholars 3 to
this small, crumpled piece of parchment and as they are easily accessible it would be superfluous to touch here upon the controversial minutiae connected with it. Suffice it to say that on the reverse side of the sheet containing the Praises is found the Biblical blessing. The latter was dictated to Brother Leo, but at the bottom St. Francis himself wrote the personal blessing, adding what Wadding described as a "large and mysterious thau or letter T" which he was wont to use as his signature, as both Celano 1 and St. Bonaventure 2 inform us.
To authenticate this relic Brother Leo himself added to it three notes; the first reads: "Blessed Francis wrote with his own hand this blessing for me, Brother Leo;" and the second: "In like manner he made this sign thau together with the head with his own hand." More valuable still is the third annotation, since it fixes the date of this precious document. I give it in full: "Blessed Francis two years before his death kept a Lent in the place of Mount La Verna in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Lord, and of the blessed Michael the Archangel, from the feast of the Assumption of the
holy Virgin Mary until the September feast of St. Michael. And the hand of the Lord was laid upon him; after the vision and speech of the Seraph and the impression of the Stigmata of Christ in his body he made and wrote with his own hand the Praises written on the other side of the sheet, giving thanks to the Lord for the benefits conferred on him."
An examination of the original autograph shows that, while the side of the sheet containing the Blessing is excellently preserved, the other one on which the Praises are written, is, for the most part, illegible and in consequence some variants are to be found in different MS. versions of it. After a careful collation of these MSS. with the autograph, the Quaracchi editors found the Assisi codex 344 more conformable to the original than any other. It is after this fourteenth century MS. of the library of the Sacro Convento and which appears to have been copied from the autograph, that the Quaracchi editors published the text which I now translate:—
Thou art holy, Lord God, who alone workest wonders. Thou art strong. Thou art great. Thou art most high. Thou art the Almighty King, Thou, holy Father, King of heaven and earth. Thou art the Lord God Triune and One; all good. Thou art good, all good, highest good, Lord God living and true. Thou art charity, love 1 Thou art wisdom. Thou art humility. Thou art patience. Thou art security. Thou art quietude. Thou art joy and gladness. Thou
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AUTOGRAPH BLESSING GIVEN BY ST. FRANCIS TO BROTHER LEO, PRESERVED IN THE SACRO CONVENTO AT ASSISI. (See page 146.)
art justice and temperance. Thou art all riches to sufficiency. 1 Thou art beauty. Thou art meekness. Thou art protector. Thou art guardian and defender. Thou art strength. Thou art refreshment. Thou art our hope. Thou art l our faith. Thou art our great sweetness. Thou art our eternal life, great and admirable Lord, God Almighty, merciful Saviour.
After this expression of the mystical ardors which consumed the Poverello comes:—
May the Lord bless thee and keep thee. May He shew His face to thee and have mercy on thee. May He turn His countenance to thee and give thee peace. 2 Brother LeTo 3 may the Lord bless thee.
146:1 2 Cel. 2, 18; see also Bonav. Leg. Maj., XI, 9, where the narration is clearly borrowed from Celano.
146:2 A photograph of the reliquary containing it is here reproduced.
146:3 For example Papini La Storia di S. Francesco, t. I, p. 130, n. 8, Grisar, see Civilta Cattolicà, fasc. 1098 (1896), p. 723; Mgr. Faloci Pulignani, Misc. Franc., t. VI (1895), p. 34; Fr. p. 147 Edouard d’Alençon, La Benediction de St. François; M. Sabatier, Spec. Perf., pp. lxvii-lxx; Reginald Balfour, The Seraphic Keepsake; and Montgomery Carmichael, La Benedizione di San Francesco. See also Fr. Saturnino da Caprese, O.F.M., Guida Illustrate della Verna (Prato, 1902), p. 93. On the testimony of three leading German palæographers, Wattenbach, Dziatzko and Meyer, see Theol. Literatur-Zeitung, Leipzig, 1895, PP. 404 and 627.
147:1 Says Celano: "The sign thau was more familiar to him than other signs. With it only he signed sheets for despatch and he painted it on the walls of the cells anywhere." See Tr. de Miraculis, in Anal. Boll., t. xviii, pp. 114-115.
147:2 "He signed it upon all the letters he directed." See Bonav. Leg. Maj., IV, 3.
148:1 These words seem to he transposed in the autograph.
149:1 From this point to the end of the Praises the autograph is illegible.
149:2 See Num. 6: 24-26.
149:3 Mr. Balfour points out that the position of. Leo's name in relation to the thau is intentional and that the thau thus becomes a cross of blessing, St. Francis, following the practice of all old Missals and Breviaries, having placed it so as to divide the name of the person blessed. See The Seraphic Keepsake, p. 106.