Thursday, June 15, 2006

Was Francis of Assisi a deep ecologist?

St. Francis of Assisi was a perfect model in the Christian tradition especially in his treatment of non-humans. He considered all forms of life and even inanimate things to be part of the fellowship of God. For Francis, all creatures are equal and interrelated. Francis insisted that wild grasses and flowers should be untouched so that they would announce the beauty of the creator. For Francis the existence of other creatures and wild plants should be valued for their own sake; they also have intrinsic value. Francis was against human greed which injures other aspects of creation.

Francis loved the creation because of the fact that in it he found the Lord. The nature spoke of God and from it, he could rise to Him. Sometimes we see Francis climbing up mountainsides to give himself over to contemplation of the only one. Francis was not content only with praising God for his creatures, but he lived with them all. He knew no sun, no wind, no water, no fire, etc., but “Brother sun, Brother wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire.


Jesus came to this world as the brother of humanity and taught us to call God “Our Father” (Mt.6:9; 23:9; Lk.11:2). Francis as the true bother of Christ joyfully addressed God as his father. Francis always used the word “Brotherhood” to express his relationship. He felt he had brothers and sisters throughout nature. He believed that everything was sacred because everything came from god and spoke of God. Since Christ Himself Was born in the midst of creatures in Bethlehem, this made Francis to respect and show reverence to creation. He saw the goodness of God in them, and listened to His Voice in them. Therefore, he could speak even to the trees of the forest and birds of the air. Francis invited all creatures to praise the Lord just as though they had power to reason.

Francis had the realization that the Father in Heaven is not only the Father of human beings but also of all other creation. Therefore the whole creation is filled not with creatures but with brothers and sisters. Francis had the urge to protect all and help all both animate and inanimate. Thus he established a blessed harmony in creation. There are numerous examples, which prove Francis’ love for the created things. Once he washed his hands and, he turned aside so that the drops, which fell, could not be trodden underfoot. Over stones and rocky ground he went with special care. To the brother who cut wood in the forest, he ordered to leave a part of the tree standing, so that there might be some hope of its putting forth branches again. Fire and light seemed to him so beautiful that he never could endure having a candle extinguished or a lamp put out. He built nests for turtledoves. In winter, he put honey into the beehives for the bees to feed on. Once a rabbit caught in a trap and it was brought to him alive, and Francis asked the rabbit: why did you let yourself be trapped that way? Once Francis was preaching and that time the swallows were twittering so noisily, so Francis made request of them: “my sister swallows, it is time now for me speak too. So far you had spoken. Now hear the word of God and remain silent”. Oneday some people were carrying brother lambs to the market for slaughter, seeing this Francis cried, “oh, no not that take this mantle I am wearing in payment and give me the lambs.” There is also an incident of Francis relation with wolf of Gubbio. This wolf destroyed the life stokes and killed many people. No one could go near, and all wanted to kill the wolf. Francis went near the wolf and said, “Brother wolf, I want to make a peace between you and these people. They will not hurt you any more and you too should not hurt any animal or man.” From then, it is said, brother wolf went everyday from door to door fro food and people fed him till death.

Once Francis saw an earthworm lying on the road and he removed it from the path to prevent it from being trampled underfoot by passerby. He used to order all who had oxen or asses to feed them well especially at Christmas. Even wild and dangerous animals were included in his moral community. Francis loved all the creatures, so he readily understood the overflowing goodness of God as God’s love and caring for all creatures. For Francis the crated world is a network of relationships. That is why Francis is appreciated more. When he found an abundance of flowers, he preached to them and invited them to praise the Lord as though they were endowed with reason. As a sensuous person Francis experienced the vibrancy of creation around him. He believed that in their very act of being, all creatures could give praise to God by recognizing and affirming the roles of, and relationships among, the divers elements of nature. Francis played an important role in giving a spiritual narration of the interdependence of ecosystem.



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