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News June 17, 2015

Canticle of the Creatures: The hymn of St. Francis of Assisi that inspired Laudato Si'

Tomorrow, Pope Francis will release the text from his new papal encyclical, Laudato Si'. Learn more about the hymn by St. Francis of Assisi that was the source for the title of the encyclical.

The Canticle of the Creatures, written by St. Francis of Assisi, is also known as the the Canticle of the Sun (in Italian “Cantico di frate Sole,” sometimes translated as “Canticle of Brother Sun”), or Laudes Creaturarum ("Praise of the Creatures"). This hymn,  was written during the transition period in the development of the Italian language from Latin, and is the earliest known vernacular literature written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian.

There are three sections to the Canticle:

A praise to God for His creations such as "Brother Sun", "Sister Moon", "Brother Wind", "Sister Water"

This section of the Canticle was written at the end of St. Francis's life (1224) as he was recovering from an illness with St. Claire and the Poor Sisters in San Damiano. At this point in his life, St. Francis was almost completely blind, and yet through his suffering, he composed this song of praise of God for all the wonders of creation.

A praise for those who forgive for the love of God and who endure trials in peace

The second part of the Canticle was composed when Francis reconciled the bishop and the podestá (Chief Magistrate) of Assisi. He sent his friars to sing the first part of the canticle in front of them which led to their reconciliation.

A praise for "Sister Bodily Death", and to those "whom death will find in Your most holy will"

According to tradition, the first time the Canticle was sung in its entirety was by Francis and Brothers Angelo and Leo, two of his original companions, on Francis' deathbed. The final verse praising "Sister Death" was said to have been added only a few minutes before Francis' death.

Famed Catholic author G.K. Chesterton said of the Canticle of Creatures that it "is a supremely characteristic work and much of Saint Francis could be reconstructed from that work alone".  Fr. Noel Muscat, OFM, noted that the Canticle "witnesses the profound union between Francis and creation, seen as a gift of God. This union is built upon the category of universal fraternity."

As we look at the environmental teachings of Pope Francis through the spirituality of his papal namesake, St. Francis, the call to "praise and laud his love through the contemplation of creation" become evident. We must also remember that God's creation is "not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude."


Canticle of the Creatures

Original text in Umbrian dialect:

Altissimu, onnipotente bon Signore,
Tue so le laude, la gloria e l'honore et onne benedictione.

Ad Te solo, Altissimo, se konfano,
et nullu homo ène dignu te mentouare.

Laudato sie, mi Signore cum tucte le Tue creature,
spetialmente messor lo frate Sole,
lo qual è iorno, et allumini noi per lui.
Et ellu è bellu e radiante cum grande splendore:
de Te, Altissimo, porta significatione.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora Luna e le stelle:
in celu l'ài formate clarite et pretiose et belle.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per frate Uento
et per aere et nubilo et sereno et onne tempo,
per lo quale, a le Tue creature dài sustentamento.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per sor'Acqua,
la quale è multo utile et humile et pretiosa et casta.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per frate Focu,
per lo quale ennallumini la nocte:
ed ello è bello et iucundo et robustoso et forte.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora nostra matre Terra,
la quale ne sustenta et gouerna,
et produce diuersi fructi con coloriti fior et herba.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per quelli ke perdonano per lo Tuo amore
et sostengono infirmitate et tribulatione.

Beati quelli ke 'l sosterranno in pace,
ka da Te, Altissimo, sirano incoronati.

Laudato si mi Signore, per sora nostra Morte corporale,
da la quale nullu homo uiuente pò skappare:
guai a quelli ke morrano ne le peccata mortali;
beati quelli ke trouarà ne le Tue sanctissime uoluntati,
ka la morte secunda no 'l farrà male.

Laudate et benedicete mi Signore et rengratiate
e seruiteli cum grande humilitate.

English Translation:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.




Image credit:
Sarah Richter on Flickr