The Evening Sermon on Saint Francis, 1262 - 723 

We noted also that the heavens are adorned with splendor. Saint Francis can be compared to this aspect of the heavens because of his unblemished purity. We read in the book of Sirach: The firmament on high is his beauty, the beauty of heaven with its spectacle of glory.

The firmament which is arrayed with beauty may be likened to a soul that is marked by purity, as an impression is made by a seal in wax. It says in Exodus that the elders of Israel saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. The latter words may be understood of a soul that has been cleansed of every impurity, of all stain and corruption of sins of the flesh. Such as this were the souls of the Nazarites of whom the Book of Lamentations says: Her Nazarites were whiter than snow, purer than milk, more ruddy than coral, fairer than sapphire. These words are said of men who had been consecrated to the Lord and were obliged to observe chastity. The Nazarites are described aswhiter than snow, which is rightly said of people vowed to chastity because of their bodily purity, purer than milk, because of the integrity of their desires and the uprightness of their thoughts; more ruddy than coral, because all these virtues blend into a unity; and fairer than sapphire, which is to say, fairer than the serene blue heavens, because the sapphire has the same color as the clear sky.

Saint Francis, then, can be compared to the heavens adorned with splendor on account of his utter purity. He made himself a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, by chastising, severely punishing, and mortifying his flesh so that it would not bring forth thorns and thistles, that is, the passions of unchaste thoughts and desires. Saint Benedict did likewise. At the beginning of his conversion he was so troubled for a short time by temptation of the flesh "that he almost considered abandoning his solitary retreat. Then suddenly God graciously looked upon him and he flung himself naked upon stinging thorns and burning nettles. In so doing he changed his lust to pain, and from that time on he never again experienced a sensation like that."a

Saint Francis also in the early days of his conversion suffered temptations of the flesh. As he wrestled with these temptations one winter's night, he threw himself naked into the snow and mastered them thoroughly. From that time he scarcely needed to go to such lengths because of the other penance he endured which were quite




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 723