my prayer two great lights appeared before me (deux grandes lumibres m'ont ete
montrees) one in which I recognized the Creator, and another in which I
Francis' own words about his prayer
The truly righteous always consider themselves
unworthy of God.
Dictum of St. Isaac the Syrian
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 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.
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 a doctor's observation;
Luisa Lato (1850-1883) described by Dr Varleman, and
Madelaine N. (1910) described by Janat.
In Francis of Assisi's case, it should be noted that the Roman Catholic
Church reacted to his stigmatisation with the greatest reverence. It accepted
the phenomenon as a great miracle. Two years after his death, the Pope
canonized Francis as a saint. The chief motive for his canonization was the
fact of the miraculous stigmata on his person, which were accepted as
indications of sanctity. This fact is of singular interest to Orthodox
Christians, since nothing similar is encountered in the lives of the Orthodox
Church's Saints an outstanding exponent of which is the Russian Saint,
Seraphim of Sarov.
It should be mentioned here that the historical accounts of Francis'
stigmatisation do not now give rise to any doubts in the scholarly world. In
this regard, reference is made to Sabbatier who studied Francis' life, and
especially his stigmatisation, in detail. Sabbatier came to the conclusion that
the stigmata were definitely real. Sabbatier sought to find an explanation of
the stigmatisation in the unexplored area of mental pathology, somewhere between
psychology and physiology.
Before proceeding with an explanation of Francis' stigmatisation from an
Orthodox mystical standpoint the primary purpose of this paper an
investigation of stigmata as physiological phenomena will be undertaken, since
such an investigation will contribute valuable information for a subsequent
Orthodox evaluation of the "mysticism" of the Roman Catholic saint.
Guerier includes in his work on Francis the scientific findings of G. Dumas
who analysed the process of stigmatisation from a psycho-somatic viewpoint. The
following are the conclusions Dumas came to concerning stigmatics:
- One must recognize the
sincerity of stigmatics and that stigmata appear spontaneously, i.e.,
they are not self-inflicted wounds, inflicted while the person is in an
- The wounds on
stigmatics are regarded as phenomena relating to the circulatory system
(blood vessels) and are explained as effects of mental suggestion which
does affect digestion, circulation of blood, glandular secretions. It can
result in cutaneous injuries.
- The wounds on
stigmatics appear while they are in an ecstatic state which results when
one is absorbed in some sort of contemplated powerful image, and
surrenders control to that image.
- The stigmata appear
not only as a result of one's passive imaging of a wound on the body,
but, according to the testimony of stigmatics, when the imaging is
accompanied by the active action of the image itself specifically that
of a fiery ray or lance, seen as proceeding from a contemplated wound,
which wounds the stigmatic's body. Often, this happens gradually, and not
with the first vision, until the degree eventually is reached where the
image contemplated during ecstasy finally gains control over the
Dumas established the following general criteria for stigmatisation: all
stigmatics experience unbearable pain in the affected parts of the body, no
matter what form the stigmata take imprint of Cross on the shoulder; traces
of the thorns of a crown of thorns on the head; or, as with Francis of Assisi,
as wounds on the hands, feet and on the side. Together with the pain, they
experience great delight in the thought that they are worthy to suffer with
Jesus, to atone, as He did, for the sins of which they are innocent.
(This, of course, is commensurate with the Roman Catholic "satisfaction
theory," which is unknown to the Orthodox Church).
Dumas' generalizations are extremely interesting since they imply that in
the process of stigmatisation, apart from the impassioned emotional state (an
emotional ecstasy of the heart) a great role is also played by: a) a mental
element; b) a mental imaging presenting acute suffering; c) auto-suggestion,
i.e., a series of mental and volitional impulses directed toward translating
the sufferings of the imagined image into; d) physical feelings pain; and,
finally, e) the production on the self of marks (wounds) of suffering
Dumas' observations recognize factors more than the emotional (which William
James considers the source of mysticism) which
play an equal, if not greater role in the process of stigmatisation. These may
be summarized as:
- An intense labor of
- Sensual feelings, and,
The significance of these will be apparent later.
Following the brief scientific analysis concerning stigmaties in general,
specific data, regarding Francis' ecstasy and vision, is contained in the work Fioretti,
which will give the background leading to the vision, as well as a
description of the phenomenon.
The stigmatisation of Francis of Assisi, due to the results of his vision,
are ascribed to a singular prayer. The prayer is an intense pleading on his
part that he may experience the sufferings of Christ in his body and soul. In
the prayer, Francis desires Divine instigation of the experience and thirsts to
experience this not just with his soul, but with his body. Thus,
surrendering himself to ecstatic prayer, he did not renounce his body, but was
inviting earthly, or bodily sensations, i.e., physical suffering.
Francis' prayer was answered. The chronicle says that, "Francis felt
himself completely transformed into Christ." This transformation was not
only in spirit, but also in body, i.e., not only in spiritual and psychological
sensations, but also in physical ones. How did the vision actually occur?
First of all, quite unexpectedly for him, Francis saw something described as
miraculous: he saw a six-winged Seraph, similar to the one described by the
Prophet Isaiah, coming down from heaven to him. (First stage of vision). Then,
after the Seraph approached, Francis, thirsting for Jesus and feeling himself
"transformed into Christ," began to see Christ on the Seraph, nailed
to a cross. In the words of the chronicle, "And this Seraph came so close
to the saint that Francis could clearly and distinctly see on the Seraph the
image of the Crucified One" (Second state of vision). Francis recognized
in the image of the Seraph Christ Himself Who had come down to him. He
felt Christ's suffering on his body, whereupon his desire to experience this
suffering was satisfied. (Third stage of vision). Then the stigmata began to
appear on his body. His striving and fervent praying appeared to be answered.
(Fourth stage of vision).
The amazing complexity of Francis' vision is startling. Over the initial
vision of the Seraph, who had, apparently, descended from heaven for Francis,
was superimposed another image the one Francis thirsted to have above all,
that of the Crucified Christ. The developing process of these visions leaves
one with the impression that the first vision (that of the Seraph), so
unexpected and sudden, was outside the realm of Francis' imagination, who
longed to see the Crucified Christ, and to experience His sufferings. In this
manner, it can be explained how such a complex conception, in which both
visions, both images that of the Seraph and of Christ found room in
The experience of Francis of Assisi is remarkable and of singular interest to
Orthodox Christians, since as mentioned above, nothing similar is encountered
in the experience of the Orthodox Church with a long line of ascetics, and
equally long history of mystical experiences. As a matter of fact, all of the
things Francis experienced in the process of his stigmatisation are the very
beguilements the Church Fathers repeatedly warned against!
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." 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." 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
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.
Francis' physical sensations can be explained as the work of his own mental
imagination moving parallel to his spiritual ecstasy. It is hard to say, in
this given instance, which was dominant in Francis' beguilement (plani): his
spiritual pride, or his mentalism (mental imaging); but, in any case, the
mentalism was rather strong. This is confirmed by the substantive circumstances
of the unusually complex vision which was presented to Francis after he felt
himself completely transformed into Jesus which is clearly a very severe state
of plani, having its roots, as St. Nilos says, in vainglory.
The exaggeratedness of Francis' exaltation, which was noted in the
description of his vision, is revealed very boldly when compared with the
majestic vision of Christ which St. Seraphim of Sarov experienced while serving
as a deacon on Great Thursday of Passion Week.
In contrast to Francis, St. Seraphim did not seek to "feel himself
transformed into Jesus" through his prayers and labors. He prayed simply
and deeply, repenting of his sins. During the course of his prayer, and as a
result of his great ascetic acts, the mystical power of Grace grew in him which
he neither felt, nor realized. Standing before the throne (Holy Table) with a
burning heart, as in the words of Elias of Ekdik, "...the soul, having
freed itself from everything external, is united with prayer, and that prayer,
like a sort of flame surrounding the soul as fire does iron, makes it all
fiery." St. Seraphim unexpectedly
was stunned with the appearance of the Mysterious Divine Power. St. Seraphim
neither imagined, nor dreamt, nor expected such a vision. When it occurred, he
was so stunned that it took two hours for him to "come to his
senses." Later, he himself described what had happened. At first he was
struck by an unusual light as if from the sun. Then he saw the Son of Man in
glory, shining brighter than the sun with an ineffable light and surrounded
"as by a swarm of bees" by the heavenly powers. Coming out of the
North Gate (of the sanctuary) Christ stopped before the amvon and, lifting up
His hands, blessed those who were serving and those who were praying. The
vision then vanished.
Several items in the account of St. Seraphim's vision are of interest in
this study. Firstly, in direct contrast to prayer, St. Seraphim's prayer is
devoid of any element that would remotely suggest that he desired any visible
(sensory) signs of the Divine Presence. Least of all did he think in his life
that he was ever worthy of being "transformed into Jesus," as Francis
had prayed. The key characteristic of the Saint's prayer is a profound
humility, evidenced by his articulated confession of sinfulness which prompted
him toward prayerful repentance. The significance of this, as the Church
Fathers repeatedly point out, is that true humility effectively prevents one
from falling into vainglory.
A second profound aspect of St. Seraphim's prayer is the fact that no favor
of Divine Manifestation is asked of God. Neither, of course, as mentioned
previously, was anything extraneous to his repentance, thought or imaged while
he prayed. This, of course, would be commensurate with St. Seraphim's
repentance, since his articulation of it indicates quite clearly that he
himself was never deceived to think that he had achieved a level of worthiness
where, in spite of his sins, he could boldly ask for Holy things. If he had
thought about himself in this manner, he would have easily slipped into
conceit. St. Seraphim's prayer was intended for the exact opposite which did
indeed make him worthy of the Divine Vision. St. Maximos the Confessor in the First
Century of Love expressed it thus, "He who has not yet attained to
knowledge of God inspired by love, thinks highly of what he does according to
God. But a man who has received it repeats in his heart the words of our
forefather Abraham, when God appeared to him, "I am earth and ashes"
Concerning St. Seraphim's vision, it should be noted that the highest
spiritual state, attained through the way indicated by the ascetics in the Philokalia,
develops in a person's heart outside the mental and sensual spheres,
and, consequently, outside the sphere of mental imagination. Abba
Evagrios in his Texts on Active Life To Anatolios, says:
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.
The experience of man's mystical union with God is, therefore, usually very
difficult to convey in human terms. It happens, however, that visions are
allowed people who have cultivated passionlessness in themselves, but in the
majority of these cases these visions are momentary, and they strike the inner
being of the person they come as if from within. St. Isaac the Syrian
elaborates: "If you are pure, then heaven is within you; and in yourself
you will see angels, and with them and in them, the Lord of Angels." The
Fathers of the Orthodox Church teach that all these experiences are beyond any
expectation of the humble man, for the ascetic in his humility does not feel
himself worthy of this.
Recapitulating St. Seraphim's experience, it can be seen that it bore the
- An unexpected vision
beyond sensory and rational categories;
- Spiritual ecstasy or
Emphasizing the last item, St. Isaac, quoted above, explains: "
of a hyper-conscious vision, granted by Divine Power, is received by the soul
within itself immaterialy, suddenly and unexpectedly; it is discovered and
revealed from within, because, in Christ's words, 'the kingdom of heaven is
within you' This contemplation inside the image, imprinted in the hidden mind
(the higher intellect) reveals itself without any thought about it."
From the above points taken from a comparison of the two visions and of what
Francis and St. Seraphim experienced in these, there is a sharp difference in
the mysticism of the two. St. Seraphim's mysticism appears as a purely
spiritual ecstasy, as something bestowed on the ascetic, as a gift of a
spiritual vision, as an enlightenment of his higher intellect, while
Francis' spiritual experience is a mysticism induced by his will, and obviously
darkened by his own imagination and sensuality.
A further distinctive difference between the two is the different
relationship expressed by them toward Christ. In contrast to Saint Seraphim,
who experienced Christ's spiritual power in his heart and accepted Christ
within himself, Francis in his imaging, received his impression primarily from
Christ's earthly life. Francis was absorbed in Christ's external aspect of
suffering. This impression came upon him at Monte La Verna as if from without.
Concomitant with his very strong desire to experience Christ's suffering,
was his compulsion to imitate other earthly aspects of Jesus' life. He not only
sent his own "Apostles" to various regions of the earth to preach,
giving them virtually the same instructions the Saviour gave to His Apostles, but
he even produced before his disciples not long before his death something
similar to the great Mystical Supper itself. "He recalled," says his
biographer, "that sanctified meal which the Lord celebrated with His
disciples for the last time." This
presumption cannot be excused on the basis of his flamboyant life, regardless
how severe his asceticism was or how many virtuous things he did. It stands as
a prime indication, from an Orthodox point of view, of the severity of his fall
into the condition of spiritual beguilement.
Before proceeding it is imperative to outline briefly the condition called plani.
In general terms, according to Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky, plani
(prelest, in Russian) usually results when the devil deludes the
person by suggesting the thought that he has been granted visions (or
other gifts of Grace). Then the evil one constantly blinds his conscience,
convincing him of his apparent sanctity and promises him the power of working
wondrous acts. The evil one leads such an ascetic to the summit of a mountain
or the roof of a church, and shows him a fiery chariot, or some other such
wondrous thing, which will bear him to Heaven. The deluded one then steps into
it (that is, he accepts the delusion) and falls headlong into the abyss, and is
dashed to death without repentance.
What is clear from such a brief analysis of plani is that the
subject who undergoes the experience usually has succumbed to some form of
pride, usually vainglory, hence the presumption that one has finally achieved a
state from whence he is deluded to think that he no longer must be watchful
concerning the possibility of a fall into sin, or even blasphemy against God.
It is, of course, the Luciferian sin, and by definition the most difficult to
contend with, hence, the importance and constant emphasis in religious writing,
concerning ascetic obedience and humility until the very end of one's earthly
It has already been shown above that Francis' vision contains strong marks
of spiritual deception. What remains, therefore, is a characterization of
Francis' work and acts which will stand as the prime characterization of his
mysticism. Presenting a few incidents from Francis' life, and then, contrasting
these with incidents from the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, it will be
possible to draw a final conclusion regarding the mysticism of these two
ascetics. It should be stated here that the example incidents chosen are
generally characteristic of the subjects.
It is recorded in the Fioretti that Francis at one time failed to
fulfil the rules of a strict fast because of an illness. This oppressed the
ascetic's conscience to such a degree that he decided to repent and punish
himself. The chronicle states:
... he commanded that the people be gathered on the street
in Assisi for a sermon. When he had finished the sermon, he told the people
that no one should leave until he returned; he himself went into the cathedral
with many brethren and with Peter de Catani and told Peter to do what he would
tell him to do according to his vow of obedience and without objecting. The
latter answered that he could not and should not desire or do anything against
his [Francis'] will either to him or to himself. Then Francis took off his
outer robe and ordered Peter to put a rope around his neck and lead him
half-naked out to the people to the very place from which he had preached. Francis
commanded another brother to fill a cup with ashes and, having climbed up onto
the eminence from which he had preached, to pour these ashes on his head. This
one, however, did not obey him, since he was so distressed by this order
because of his compassion and devotion to Francis. But Brother Peter took the
rope in his hands and began dragging Francis behind him as the latter had
commanded. He himself cried bitterly during this, and the other brothers were
bathed in tears from pity and grief. When Francis had thus been led half-naked
before the people to the place from which he had preached, he said, 'You and
all who have left the world after my example and follow the way of life of the
brethren consider me a holy man, but before the Lord and you I repent because
during this sickness of mine I ate meat and meat drippings.'
Of course Francis' sin was not so great and hardly deserved the dramatic
form of penance in which Francis clothed his repentance, but such was a general
characteristic of Francis' piety. He strove to idealize everything which an
ascetic was obliged to do; he strove also to idealize the very ascetic act of
Francis' idealization of Christian acts of asceticism can also be noted in
his relationship to the act of almsgiving. This can be seen in the way Francis
reacted to beggars. In Francis' eyes beggars were creatures of a very high
stature in comparison to other people. In the view of this Roman Catholic
mystic, a beggar was the bearer of a sacred mission, being an image of the
poor, wandering Christ. Therefore, in his instructions Francis obliges his
disciples to beg for alms.
Finally, Francis' idealized enthusiasm was especially revealed in his
recollections of Christ's earthly suffering. In the biography of Francis it
says that, "being drunk with love and compassion for Christ, blessed
Francis once picked up a piece of wood off the ground and, taking it in his
left hand, he rubbed his right hand over it as if it were a bow over a violin,
while humming a French song about the Lord Jesus Christ. This singing ended
with tears of pity over Christ's suffering, and with earnest sighs, Francis,
falling into a trance, gazed at the sky..."
There can be no doubt, as even Francis' biographers euphemistically attest,
that this important founder of the Franciscan Order was demonstrative in his
acts of repentance, revealing quite graphically the absence of a critical
degree of watchfulness necessary in the ascetic life for the acquisition of
true humility. As a matter of fact, whenever indications of Francis' humility
are expounded upon in the Fioretti they are never lacking in a
compromising presumptuousness whether God allegedly speaks to him, as an
example, through the mouth of Brother Leon, or
when he presumes that he has been chosen by God "to see good and evil
everywhere," when tested by Brother Masseo for his humility. It
is true that Francis describes his vileness and wretchedness, but there is
lacking in all this any attendant remorse, or contrition that would indicate
that he considered himself unworthy before God. Although he frequently spoke of
the necessity of humility, and gave the Franciscan brethren useful instruction
in this regard, he himself throughout his life experienced this only in
isolated fits, albeit very strong ones; it came in fits not entirely free, as
indicated above, from exaggeration and melodrama.
Nothing can be so revealing in this matter, however, as his own statements
to the brethren. At one time he was to say to his disciples, "I do not
recognize any transgression in myself for which I could not atone by confession
and penance. For the Lord in His mercy has bestowed on me the gift of learning
clearly in prayer in what I have pleased or displeased Him."
These words, of course, are far from genuine humility. They suggest, rather,
the speech of that virtuous man who was satisfied with himself (the Pharisee)
who, in the parable, stood in the temple, while the Publican prostrated himself
in a corner, begging God in words of true humility: "God be merciful to me
When Francis' acts of "humility" are compared with St. Seraphim's
thousand day struggle on the rock, a stark contrast results. There, while in
battle with his passions, St.
Seraphim cried out the very words of the Publican over and over again: "O
God be merciful to me a sinner." In this feat there is neither exaltation,
nor ostentatious display. Saint Seraphim is simply having recourse to the only
possible means open to him for forgiveness after,
- recognition of his passions;
- a contrition welling forth
from his remorse over his spiritual condition;
- a need to overcome the
- his awareness of his
inability and unworthiness to accomplish this alone and;
- his long and arduous
appeal to God for mercy.
Even during his last years, when Saint Seraphim experienced many perceptions
of extra-ordinary spiritual strength, as well as direct communion with God, he
never succumbed to self-satisfaction, or self-adulation. This is quite apparent
in his now famous conversation with N. Motovilov, as
well as during his talk with the monk John when he manifested, through the
Grace of God, an unusual luminosity. Indeed, Saint Seraphim was unable to
express the state of the latter luminosity in his own words. Also, it is well
known that Saint Seraphim was the bearer of an extraordinary gift of
clairvoyance as well as of prophetic vision. The hearts of people who came to
him were an open book to him, yet not once does he compromise the extraordinary
gifts he has received with any display of self-importance or conceit. His
statements and acts (in contrast -to those of Francis of Assisi- Francis'
consciousness was that he had atoned for his sins and was pleasing to God) are
in consonance with what the ascetics detail in the Philokalia, about the
humble man. In the words of St. Isaac the Syrian:
The truly righteous always think within themselves that they
are unworthy of God. And that they are truly righteous is recognized from the
fact that they acknowledge themselves to be wretched and unworthy of God's
concern and confess this secretly and openly and are brought to this by the
Holy Spirit so that they will not remain without the solicitude and labour
which is appropriate for them while they are in this life.
Francis' emotional impulses toward humility, similar to the above mentioned
incident in the square of Assisi, were in general rare manifestations. Usually
his humility appeared not as a feeling, but as a rational recognition of his
weak powers in comparison to the Divine Power of Christ. This was clearly
stated in his vision on Monte La Verna when, "two great lights," as
it says in the chronicle, "appeared before Francis: one in which he
recognized the Creator, and the other in which he recognized himself. And at
that moment, seeing this, he prayed: Lord! What am I before You? What meaning
have I, an insignificant worm of the earth, Your insignificant servant, in
comparison to Your strength?" By his own acknowledgement, Francis, at that
moment, was submerged in contemplation in which he saw the endless depth of the
Divine Mercy and the abyss of his own nothingness.
Needless to point out, it is the first declaration of the "two great
lights," that manifestly bares the cognitive character of his subsequent
query addressed to God which, in essence, is a very daring process of
comparison. There appears, therefore, a severe contradiction in the passage
that cannot be compared in any sense to the lucid scriptural or patristic
accounts regarding humility.
St. Seraphim's humility, as noted, was not so much a rational consciousness
of his sins, but a constant deeply felt emotion. In his teachings, both oral
and written, nowhere does it say that he compared himself to the Divinity,
drawing conclusions from this regarding his spiritual status. He constantly
gave himself up only to a single emotional impulse: the feeling of his own
unworthiness (imperfection) which resulted in heartfelt contrition. Theophan
the Recluse, a Russian ascetic of the Orthodox Church, expressed the sense of
this thus: "The Lord accepts only the man who approaches Him with a
feeling of sinfulness. Therefore, he rejects anyone who approaches Him with a
feeling of righteousness."
If, as a result of the above, one were to draw a conclusion about Francis'
humility on the basis of the ascetic prescriptions for monastics regarding
humility in the Philokalia, then the Latin mystic does not appear as the
ideal of Christian humility. A substantial dose of his own righteousness was
added to his consciousness that he was pleasing to God. Something similar, from
an Orthodox analysis of Francis' mysticism, may be applied from Lev Tolstoy's
story Father Serge: "He [the ascetic Serge] thought," says
Tolstoy, "about how he was a burning lamp, and the more he felt this, the
more he felt a weakening, a quenching of the spiritual light of truth burning
Recalling St. Nilos' warning, mentioned before, this sad evaluation of the
spiritual results of Francis' asceticism is corollary, or more to the point, is
an antecedent plani to the severe beguilement he underwent on Monte La Verna,
where he announced that he had become a great luminary.
Thus, Francis' consciousness that he also was "a light," that he
had the gift to know how to be pleasing to God, meets with the dour pronouncement
of the father of the ascetic life, Antony the Great, who states that if there
is not extreme humility in a person, humility of the whole heart, soul and
body, then he will not inherit the Kingdom of God. St.
Antony's affirmation recognizes that only deep humility can root out the evil
mental power leading to self-affirmation and self-satisfaction. Only such
humility entering into the very flesh and blood of the ascetic can, according
to the sense of the teaching of the Orthodox Christian ascetics, save him from
the obsessive associations of prideful human thought.
Humility is the essential power which can restrain the lower mind with its
creating in a man's soul the soil for the unhindered development of the higher
from there, through the Grace of God, to the highest level of the ascetic life
knowledge of God.
"The man wise in humility," says St. Isaac the Syrian, "is
the source of the mysteries of the new age."
These words reveal that on his death bed, Francis felt himself to be
powerful enough to remit sins like the Pope. It is known that the remission of
sins outside the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist in the Roman Church was
a prerogative of papal power.
Francis' assumption of this prerogative could only have been with the assurance
of his own sanctity.
In contrast, the ascetics of Holy Orthodoxy never allowed themselves to
appropriate the right of remitting sins. They all died in the consciousness of
their own imperfection and with the hope that God in His Mercy would forgive
them of their sins. It suffices to recall the words of the great fifth century
Thebaid ascetic Saint Sisoe in support of this. Surrounded at the moment of his
impending repose, by his brethren, he appeared to be conversing with unseen
persons, as the chronicle relates, and the brethren asked: "Father, tell
us with whom you are carrying on a conversation?" St. Sisoe answered,
"They are angels who have come to take me, but I am praying them to leave
me for a short time so that I may repent." When the brethren, knowing that
Sisoe was perfect in virtue, responded, "You have no need of repentance,
father," the Saint answered, "Truly I do not know if I have even
begun to repent."
Finally, as evidenced in the preceding paragraphs, the mysticism of Francis
of Assisi reveals that this highly regarded founder of the Franciscan Order
moved progressively in his life in a growing condition of plani from
the time he heard the command to renew the Roman Catholic Church, through the
extraordinary vision of the Crucified Christ on Monte La Verna and until the
time of his death. As startling as it may appear to some, he bore many
characteristics which are prototypical of Antichrist, who will also be seen as
chaste, virtuous, highly moral, full of love and compassion, and who will be
regarded as holy (even as a deity) by people who have allowed carnal
romanticism to replace the Sacred Tradition of the Holy Church.
The sad fact is that the attainment of a true spiritual relationship with
Christ was never a possibility for Francis, for being outside the Church of
Christ, it was impossible that he could have received Divine Grace, or any of
the gifts of the Holy Spirit. His gifts were from another spirit.