Followers of St. Francis
Among the Franciscan Tertiaries. By Nesta de Robeck. (Dent. 10s. 6d.) The Heroic Life of St. Vincent de Paul. By Henri Laveden. (Shoed and Ward. 7s. 6d.) St. Louis of Toulouse and the Process of Canonization in the 14th Century. By Margaret R. Toynbee, M.A., Ph.D. (Manchester University Press. 14s.)
IT is curious that the devotees of St. Francis, always trying to discover his " Spirit " in the most unlikely as well as likely fields, have paid so little attention to the special witness of the Tertiary Saints. Few can come to terms with the externals of Franciscan poverty, or reproduce the heroic and poetic incidents of the Founder's career ; but here we have a body of ordinary men and women, living in the world, who have accepted the implicits of the Franciscan spirit, and applied these implicits within the normal routine of daily life. St. Francis never thought of the Third Order as a sepa- rate religious institution; but rather as a way of life which might be adopted by all men and women of good will who wished for " perfect joy." It meant an existence based on the love of God and men ; and as much outward austerity as was compatible with common sense. The ground was to be cleared of shams, and room made for realities. Here, then, we see his ideals at work in a vast and varied spiritual family, from royal saints like St. Louis and St. Bridget, who achieved the difficult combination of inward poverty and outward splendour, to those who were " little poor men " in the most literal sense, such as St. Benedict Labre and the Cure d'Ars. Mystics and philanthropists, courtiers, scholars, and cloistered penitents—Ramon Lull and Joan of Arc, Francois de Sales and Vincent de Paul—are all to be reckoned among these children of St. Francis ; and something of their heroic and devoted temper is to be traced to the influence of his spirit on their souls.
Considering these facts, we come to agree with Miss de Robeck that " we learn to know the saints when we see them reflected in their great followers " : and to feel that her studies of seven great Tertiaries should really add to the popular understanding of St. Francis himself. She begins with a pair of Umbrian converts, Angela of Foligno and Margaret of Cortona. Angela, a contemplative whose experiences and power of expression put her in the same class as St. Teresa, is well known to English students of mysticism ; though I think Miss de Robeck is one of the first in this country to use the recently discovered authentic text of her revelations. St. Margaret was an ecstatic of a more ordinary type ; and her experiences, which contain no unexpected material, will be very differently interpreted by the hagiographer and the psychologist. Two crowned saints—Louis of France and Bridget of Sweden—achieve the Franciscan life under the most difficult conditions. The account of that remarkable woman St. Bridget is specially vivid and interesting ; and suggests a fresh reason for thankfulness that Syon House, the site of our one and only Bridgettine foundation, is saved from desecration. But the great success of this book is undoubtedly its last section ; devoted to the amazing phil- anthropist, Guiseppe Cottolengo (1786-1842), founder of the " Piceola Casa " of Turin, and its still existent work. The Piccolo Casa, at first a small house in which Cottolengo sheltered the most derelict specimens of the humanity he loved, grew first to a ramshackle .collection of dwellings, then an institution. Now it is a veritable City of the Poor, with about 10,000 inmates—they are never cotmted,tby the Founder's wish—served by men and women grouped under various religious rules, but all Tertiariei of-St Francis. Foundlings, cripples, blind, epileptics, insane—this huge family has lived and grown for a century, without eridowment, dependent on alms. And the creator of all was a simple priest, who thought that " gaiety never hindered sanctity," worshipped birds and flowers, and would leave his canaries to sing before the altar whilst he served poverty in its most repulsive forms. Possessed from childhood by the longing to " found hospitals," it was not till he was forty that, inspired by the career of his fellow Tertiary, St. Vincent de Paul, he began the real work of his life. His fligt-house and band Ofhelpeks were placed under the patronage of St. Vincent ; thus from one point of view the " Canonico Santo " of Turin is the spiritual son of the Father of the Paris poor.
M. Lavedan's impressionistic life of St. Vincent has rightly enjoyed enormous success in France. Vividly and enthu- siastically written, yet without a trace of sugar in the ink, it brings out the startling greatness, the insight, courage and originality of the quiet and studious shepherd-boy who became a Barbary slave, a tutor of the aristocracy, director of souls, reformer of the Clergy, and fulfilled a lifelong -passion for the service of the poor by creating- the modern system of charitable relief. The loving reverence for humanity which consoled the galley slaves, endured the horrors of Paris hospitals, searched the dung-hills at night for abandoned babies, and taught the ," Priests of the Mission " how to meet the ignorant on their own ground—this Franciscan quality was the secret of St. Vincent's power. Asked how his miracles of charity were done, he said " Quite simply quite natu- rally ! "—and indeed, he could not have acted in any other way.
After this, the adolescent fervour of St. Louis of Toulouse seems rather an anti-climax. A Prince of Anjou, and heir to the throne of Sicily, Louis developed in boyhood a passion for the ascetic life ; and especially the Franciscan rule. At twenty-two he renounced his birthright and entered the Order ; was consecrated Bishop of Toulouse, and died the following year. His youthful figure, in religious robes, is five times represented in the Lower Church at Assisi. This edifying tale has provided br. Toynbee with material for a thesis which is a model of scholarship. Many obscure facts connected with the cult of St. Louis are brought to light ; and the circumstances of his short life are presented in a vivid and interesting way. The work has been produced With the co-operation of the British-SoCiety of Franciicah Studies.