CANTICUM SOLIS

Francis from Assisi, Canticum solis, 13th century

Can man consider himself as part of the creation? Is mankind something special - or just another species like horses, rats and daisies? Has mankind a special responsibility for creation and the environment? What is “typically human” - as opposite to “typically animal”? Starting from a religious perspective, the text written in 1224 by Francis from Assisi, calls every creature “sister” and “brother”, suggesting that man has a deep and meaningful relationship with every aspect of nature, from the smallest ones to the mystery of death itself. Understanding that human life is nothing but a part of the all world surrounding it leads to understand the special responsibility of humankind for nature. “Altissimu, onnipotente, bon Signore”… these are the first words of the “Cantico delle creature” (Canticum or Laudes Creaturarum), also known as “Cantico di Frate Sole”, in its original Italian (= Umbrian) version. Only 20 years later, a Latin version came into being and became very soon an important part of the common European literal heritage - and certainly one of the most beautiful pieces of the Latin literature of the middle ages.

LIFE OF FRANCIS

  • 1182 AD
    Pope Lucius III dies Urban becomes new pope
  • 1185 AD
    Giovanni Bernadone is born in Asissi (called Francis)
  • 1189 AD
    Third crusade Barbarossa drowned during the war
  • 1190 AD
    Francis participates in the war against his neighbour city Perugia and is imprisoned for two years
  • 1201 AD
    Fourth crusade
  • 1202 AD
    Anglo- French war
  • 1204 AD
    Francis is on his way to Apulia, but after seeing God he goes back and changes his life
  • 1205 AD
    Anglo- French war
  • 1205 AD
    Becomes a beggar conflict with his father tiral in Assisi where he undresses himself on the market claiming that only god is his father
  • 1206 AD
    Anglo- French war
  • 1208 AD
    Founds his order goes to Rome and asks the pope for recognition
  • 1209 AD
    Anglo- French war
  • 1214 AD
    1214 Anglo- French war ends with a mutual truce
  • 1219 AD
    Preaches to Al-Kamil, sultan of egypt, to make peace between the Christians and the Moslems
  • 1226 AD
    Francis dies

ALTISSIME, OMNIPOTENS, BONE DOMINE

Altissime, omnipotens, bone domine, tue sunt laudes, gloria, honor et omnis benedictio, tibi soli referende sunt et nullus homo dignus est te nominare. Lauderis, domine deus meus, propter omnis creaturas tuas et specialiter propter honorabilem fratrem nostrum Solem qui diescere facit et nos illuminat per lucem; pulcher est et radians et magni splendoris et tui, domine, symbolum prefert. Laudetur dominus meus propter sororem Lunam et stellas, quas in celo creavit claras et bellas. Laudetur dominus meus propter fratrem Ventum, ærem, nubem, serenitatem et propter omnia tempora, per que omnibus creaturis miisrat alimentum. Laudetur dominus meus propter sororem Aquam, que est multum utilis, humilis, pretiosa et casta. Laudetur dominus meus propter fratrem Ignem, per quem noctem illuminat; ille roseus est, rutilus, invictus et acer. Laudetur dominus meus propter nostram matrem Terram, que nos sustentat et alit et producit varios fructus et varicolores flores et herbas. Lauderis, mi domine, propter illos, qui pro tuo amore offensas dimittunt et patienter sustinent tribulationem et infirmitatem. Beate illi, qui in pace sustinuerunt, quia a te, altissime, coronabuntur. Lauderis, mi domine, propter sorerem nostram Mortem, quam nullus vivens potest evadere. Ve illis, qui moriuntur in peccato mortali! Beati illi, qui in hora mortis sue inveniunt se conformes tue sanctissime voluntati, mors enim secunda non poterit eis nocere. Laudate et benedicite dominum meum, gratificamini et servite illi, omnes creature, dum magna humilitate!

Most highly, all powerful, good Lord, thine are the praises, the glory, the honour and every blessing; to thee alone they shall be displayed, and no human being is worthy of calling thou by name. Thou shall be praised, my almighty God, for all thy creatures and especially for of our honourable brother Sun, who lets the day begin and with his light brightens us: He is beautiful and radiant and with a great splendor and he is thy symbol, oh Lord! Shall my Lord be praised for sister Moon and the Stars, who he created gleaming and beautiful in the sky. Shall my Lord be praised for brother Wind, for the air, the clouds, the pleasing weather and for of all the seasons with which he provides every creature with nourishment. Shall my Lord be praised for sister Water, who is very useful, modest, precious and pure. Shall my Lord be praised for brother Fire, by whom he lights up the night, as he is rosy, golden-yellow, invincible and ferocious. Shall my Lord be praised for our mother Earth, who keeps us alive and nourishes and supplies with different kinds of fruits and manifold flowers and herbs. Thou, my Lord, shall be praised, for they who bear insults in the name of thy love and stand patient against poverty and weakness. Blessed be they who sustain these deeds in peace for by thee, oh highest, shall be crowned. Thou shall be praised, my Lord, for our sister Death, whom no living creature can escape Woe for them who die in mortal sin! Blessed be they who, in the hour of their death, discover themself in compliance with thy holiest will As the second death shall not harm them. Praise and bless my Lord, all creatures on earth, be thankful and serve him with great humility!

COMMENTARY

The Canticle of the Sun by Francis of Assisi, written approximately in 1224 is about the praise and glory that God should receive through all the different, individual creatures. First published in Umbrian-Italian dialect, it was soon translated into Medieval Latin, thus becoming part of Medieval literature. The Canticle can be divided into four parts: the first one (lines 1-10) focuses on the Lord, who is presented as all-powerful and, therefore, shall be praised. Special praise shall be provided for God’s creation of the sun (l. 5: fratrem Solem), which, by enlightening planet earth, makes life possible. In this part the author also highlights the Sister Moon and the stars (l. 9: sororem Lunam et stellas), which are noticeable in the heavens together with their brother, the sun. In the second segment (lines 11-21), the author presents the elements, which are wind (l. 11: fratrem Ventum), water (l. 14 sororem Aquam), fire (l. 16 fratrem Ignem) and Earth (l. 19 nostram matrem Terram) and describes them more explicitly. Wind is shown as a symbol for the seasons, which provide all the living beings with nourishment; water is clear and pure and, therefore, an important part of all life; fire is inviting and beneficial, presented as cordial but also ferocious; mother earth is the fundament, providing for food and beauty with crops and colours. The third part (lines 23-32) focuses on the human beings, how they are supposed to serve the almighty and who have to consider death as part of the family (l. 27: sororem nostram Mortem); in its finality, Death brings us to God. Therefore, we should welcome death with open arms. Since man, in contrast to the aforementioned creatures possesses the abilities to do good and bad deeds, there are demands for living a good life. The fourth part (lines 33-35) offers a final conclusion of the previous parts. Since God has created all the creatures, they all shall serve him with humility, whereas human beings should praise Him. Many different stylistic devices are used in the text, the most frequent being the personification used extensively in describing the elements and creatures as siblings. In this family God is the father and mother Earth is at his side. Another link is provided by the use of the homoeoteleuton (lines 11-21), which joins the words sororem and fratrem, thereby establishing a connection of the grammar that mirrors the relationship of all the creatures as parts of a family. Another connection is established by the parallelism of laudetur dominus meus propter… followed by the Latin accusative. The repetitive use of this device focuses the reader’s attention on the Lord, who is always there for us with the sun in the day and the moon in the night. Another obviously special use of language is the anaphora of the different forms of the verb laudare, which by its repetitive occurrence supports the author’s message of God always being worthy of our praise and blessings. In the Canticle of the Sun there are the celestial bodies, the elements, sister Death, the human beings and the almighty: many different characters are presented to the reader, with God being the most important one. His siblings, however, are placed in contrast to one another, which is prominent in the portrayal of one brother having ferocity, invincibility and cordiality, and his sister being portrayed with beauty, modesty, preciousness and purity. Following the grammatical set up a development of the main characters becomes evident in their descriptions: God is being praised more and more until he becomes the Almighty, whereas the brothers and sisters appear only one time, so that they almost vanish in the background. This development must be understood as the creatures and elements are important but dependent on one another, while the Lord is the most important one and, therefore, needs to be placed above the others. The sole exception of this development is the portrayal of sister Death, because she is connected to the actions and decisions of humankind. Unlike God’s other creatures, man can decide whether he wants to do good or bad things, whether to die having lived a productive life and doing good deeds or having lived in mortal sin. The moment of death decides which one between the eternal award, Heaven, or eternal punishment, Hell, is to be offered to the individual. And this is what makes sister Death so important, being holy and of unique character in this “family” of creation.

MUSICAL ANALYSIS

Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony n. 6 ‘Pastoral Symphony’,1st movement

The symphony n. 6 in F major Op. 68, called Pastoral Symphony, was composed by Ludwig Van Beethoven among 1807 and beginning of 1808. At that time Ludwig Van Beethoven used to stay in the countryside which fascinated him. When he was outside, in nature, he was hit in his soul and he rejoiced because of the immense pleasure. Beethoven also wanted to add a subtitle to the opera, which he called “Pastorale”, as he had done previously with Symphony No.3.”Heroic”. To avoid doubts about the fact that the themes of the symphony were not at all descriptive, he added to the subtitle: “more expression of feeling that painting of sounds”. And it is with this spirit that Beethoven composed the Sixth Symphony. Beethoven praises nature, thanking it and dialoguing with it, reflecting Saint Francis’ relationship with nature.

Symphony n. 6

REACHING FOR THE SUN

 drawn by Ann-Mariel interpreted by Ann-Mariel, Tara, Lena and Emily

drawn by Ann-Mariel interpreted by Ann-Mariel, Tara, Lena and Emily

Francis states that all the elements are one big family. That is why they are in one connection, it is like a circle. The sun represents God, it is the biggest symbol of the picture, and it is located in the center, because it is almighty and because it is the head of the family. All the elements are around God, so they show the big family. The cross in the middle of the sun shows death. It is near God, because death is like “the way to God”. The stars and the moon are in the sky, like in the real world. On the bottom you can see the earth: it is split in two parts, the left one is friendly and calm, and the right part is chaotic and dangerous. On the calm side you can see the two women: sister water and mother earth. On the dangerous one there are the brothers: wind and fire. The floor is dry and rough. On the bottom of the dangerous side, there is a human being dying. She is trying to get to the other side, but she can not. This shows that humans are the only members of the family who are able to decide between good and bad and they are able to commit sins.