The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano - 174 

Clare, still a relatively young woman while Thomas was writing in 1228, is praised as “bright in name, more brilliant in life, most brilliant in character.” Numbers 18,19 and 20 in the First Book are dedicated to her and to her sisters at San Damiano. Again, after Francis’s death near the end of Book Two, it is Clare and her sisters “who kissed his most splendid hands.”21 Clare and her sisters embody the grief of the whole church at the saint’s death.

Thomas describes Brother Elias as “the one he chose for the role of mother to himself and had made a father of the other brothers.”22 Elias, appointed by Francis in 1217 as the first minister in the Holy Land, was already well known as a leader of the expansion of the Order. He led the Chapter of 1221 and organized the second and successful mission to Germany. Under his direction, the Order also spread to France, Spain, and in 1223 to England. Understandably, Thomas writes eloquently of the affectionate relationship between Elias and Francis. Elias hurries to Francis in his illness and receives an extraordinary blessing from his dying father: “I bless you, my son, in all and through all and just as the most High has increased my brothers in your hands, so too upon you and in you, I bless them all.” Elias, like the biblical Jacob, becomes an instrument of Francis’s blessing for all of the brothers.

Finally, Hugolino dei Conti di Segni is presented as the choice of Francis to be “father and lord over the whole religion and order of his brothers.” Thomas writes that Hugolino “conformed himself to the ways of the brothers,” was “humble with the humble and poor with the poor,” and “a brother among brothers.” This was the man, Thomas acknowledges, who “helped greatly to spread the Order.”23 Hugolino, born in 1155 at Anagni, son of the count of Segni and nephew of Pope Innocent III, had excelled in theology and canon law at Paris and Bologna. As cardinal bishop of Ostia, he gave proof of his great political skills as papal legate in southern Italy, Germany, Lombardy and Tuscany. He was also known to be intensely religious and in touch with contemporary spiritual movements. After he became cardinal protector of the Lesser Brothers in 1220, he threw his exceptional political weight behind the faltering fraternity. After Francis’s first vicar, Peter di Catanio, died suddenly within a year of his appointment, it may have been Cardinal Hugolino who suggested that Elias become the new vicar.

The Life of Saint Francis in Service of the Church

The Life of Saint Francis, like the basilica raised in his honor, was a work intended by Pope Gregory for the whole Church. After Francis’s canonization on July 19,1228, Gregory exhorted the bishops of the world to promote the cult of the new saint in a letter dated February 21, 1229.24 Only four days later, on Feb-




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 174