Monday, December 25, 2017

St. Francis On Feeding The Birds And Animals At Christmas

. . . and the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Isaiah 40:5

Have to confess that there was one thing in that passage from Marilynne Robinson that I didn't see exactly eye-to-eye with her on.  I agree with her, entirely, about the Darwinian demotion of human beings being more an ideological than scientific statement but the remark about scientistic materialism in the form of Darwinism giving us no reason to prefer a child above a dog.  My view of evolution tends to elevate animals to a higher status, not to demote people to a lower status.  It depends on what you mean by "prefer," I would agree entirely with Ms. Robinson on many, though not on all things.   I'd felt like going into how the Darwinist orthodoxy about people being "just" animals was rather at odds with, almost to a person if not to a person, Darwinists also being ardent vivisectionists, opening the floodgates to the most horrific and barbarous and, in so many cases, the totally pointless torture, mutilation and killing of millions and millions of animals - the "scientific" application of the results to human beings being more a matter of orthodox doctrine than anything supported with hard science and, as they've discovered recently, producing entirely wrong assertions about the safety and efficacy for human beings of what was claimed from animal testing.  It seem that as with the crisis of replication that huge swaths of biological orthodoxy are either defective or totally wrong when you look at them with more rigor than is convenient for those who study such complex things.

I hadn't expected to go quite so far along that line as an introduction to this passage about how the great saint,  Here is a description of how Saint Francis regarded animals as a way of refuting what Marilynne Robinson commented on from Daniel Dennett, repeating the old anti-religious chestnut about Genesis licensing the depraved destruction of other life, other species, the environment.

Bonaventure’s story of Francis preaching to birds was a minor shock to me and perhaps to you also. Had Francis not just learned from his special advisors Brother Sylvester and Lady Clare that God wanted him to continue his preaching ministry? And should we not assume that the primary audience of his preaching should be other human beings—and not bunches of birds? I believe that Bonaventure is trying to shock us into widening our horizons, and into learning with Saint Francis that the whole family of creation deserves more respect and ought to be invited to praise God along with us human beings. Maybe just as Francis accused himself of negligence for not inviting the birds—and other animals, reptiles, and so forth—to praise God with him, so we need to admit the same kind of negligence, too.

"The more Saint Francis grew in wisdom and in his understanding that God’s love goes out to all creatures, the more he began to see that all creatures make up one family. The most important key to Francis’ understanding that all creatures form one family is the Incarnation. Francis had a great fascination for the feast of Christmas. He was deeply aware of that one moment in history in which God entered creation and the Word became flesh. In his mind, this awesome event sent shockwaves through the whole fabric of creation. The Divine Word not only became human. The Word of God became flesh, entering not only the family of humanity but the whole family of creation, becoming one in a sense with the very dust out of which all things were made."

Francis had a keen sense that all creatures—not just humans—must be included in the celebration of Christmas. Francis’ biographers tell us that he wanted the emperor to ask all citizens to scatter grain along the roads on Christmas Day so that the birds and other animals would have plenty to eat. Walls, too, should be rubbed with food, Francis said, and the beasts in the stable should receive a bounteous meal on Christmas Day. He believed that all creatures had a right to participate in the celebration of Christmas.

More and more, Francis harbored within himself a profound instinct that the saving plan of God, as revealed by the child-Savior born in Bethlehem, was to touch every part of the created world. Given this vision, it was natural for Francis to take literally Jesus’ command in Mark’s Gospel to “proclaim the gospel to every creature”—to birds and fish, rabbits and wolves, as well as to humans. Saint Francis refused to be a human chauvinist—presuming that he was to be saved apart from the rest of creation.

Back when I was studying Latin with a Bertrand Russell era classics scholar, he liked to try to taunt me over religion, though it was during my official agnostic period.  It was more that his old Brit style canards and arguments were so often based on stuff I knew was bull shit that had its origin in the previous Brit style anti-Catholic propaganda - Britatheists pretty much just took most of those lies and applied them to Christianity, and Judaism back before Hitler made it verboten to express petty anti-semitism.   He was surprised I could hold my own against his arguments - I'd read them all before, even back then they were pretty worn out war horses.  Or, rather, hobby horses.  I think he enjoyed arguing with me about it.  He was retired.

Anyway, I remember the day he really lost me, the lesson that day contained the word "beata" which in the context of the quote for translation meant "happy".   The old man made some sarcastic comments about how inappropriate it was for Catholics to apply the word to saints because the saints were all a bunch of miserable, neurotic, mean and unhappy people.   I said that I thought St. Francis was anything but any of those.  He smiled condescendingly and said that he thought St. Francis was a simpleton and a fool and that ignorance was bliss. 

I still have a lot of affection for my dear old Latin teacher and hope he's out of purgatory - he might have been wicked enough for a very short stay, I don't know.  But he didn't have a clue about St. Francis.  He also didn't have a clue in that you don't diss St. Francis to a self-respecting Irish Catholic.  Especially one who's a vegetarian.  Take it from a recovering agnostic.

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