Jongleur de Dieu
Now everybody knows, I imagine, that the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were an awakening of the world. They were a fresh flowering of culture and the creative arts after a long spell of much sterner and even more sterile experience which we call the Dark Ages. They may be called an emancipation; they were certainly an end; an end of what may at least seem a harsher and more inhuman time. But what was it that was ended? From what was it that men were emancipated? That is where there is a real collision and point at issue between the different philosophies of history. On the merely external and secular side, it has been truly said that men awoke from a sleep; but there had been dreams in that sleep of a mystical and sometimes of a monstrous kind. In that rationalistic routine into which most modern historians have fallen, it is considered enough to say that they were emancipated from mere savage superstition and advanced towards mere civilised enlightenment. Now this is the big blunder that stands as a stumbling-block at the very beginning of our story. Anybody who supposes that the Dark Ages were plain darkness and nothing else, and that the dawn of the thirteenth century was plain daylight and nothing else, will not be able to make head or tail of the human story of St. Francis of Assisi. The truth is that the joy of St. Francis and his Jongleurs de Dieu was not merely an awakening. It was something which cannot be understood without understanding their own mystical creed. The end of the Dark Ages was not merely the end of a sleep. It was certainly not merely the end of a superstitious enslavement. It was the end of something belonging to a quite definite but quite different order of ideas.
—From St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton
Several years ago while transitioning back to the catholic faith, I discovered G.K. Chesterton. Actually this discovery had a lot to do with beginning my journey back to the ancient church. Chesterton was in many ways like a C.S. Lewis but on steroids, and as a lover of Lewis’ writings it wasn’t too hard to jump into the vastness of this man known as the Apostle of Common Sense.
Chesterton has two books which touch on the lives of saints from the Middle Ages which are a must – read for anyone interested in this time in history. One is on St. Thomas Aquinas and the other on this Saint, who must be the most popular outside of catholic culture.
It is not uncommon to see statues of Francis adorning gardens, or hear of the Saint held in patronage by modern movements that want to tie in the deep passion of this man to their cause. In fact Francis has become a “saint for all seasons”, if you will, in our modern world; finding patronage among environmentalists, rebels, reformed churches, gays and lesbians, and nature worshippers. But like it or not, the fact is that Francis was catholic, and catholic in the fullest way. He and his followers became fools to the world, and troubadours for God, even if they are more commonly understood as troubadours to the world and fools for God. They lived in poverty, accepted the celibate life, fed the poor, and lived among the sick. The lepers caused no fear, they brought them food and cared for them. Begging was not a shame but a denial of power; they were mendicants in order to spend their time serving others, and their passion may have helped wake up the world of their day, much as it woke up the Church to areas of neglect as it struggled in its task to hold together the whole of western Europe after the collapse of the western Roman Empire. In the end the greatest point that can be made about Francis is that he was simply a Catholic Saint.
Chesterton’s works can be found on the web and many of his books are available for free on iBooks if you have. If the excerpt above has peaked your curiosity about Francis and maybe even more of Chesterton, then know I give my highest recommendations for both.