‘St. Francis Before the Bishop’

Taddeo Gaddi was a member of painter and architect Giotto di Bondone’s workshop from 1313-37. He was considered Giotto’s most talented pupil and placed at the top of the list of Florence’s most renowned painters when his master died.

Around 1338, Gaddi decorated the sacristy of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence with panels representing the lives of Christ and St. Francis. The panel shown here depicts the scene described below by Thomas of Celano in “The Life of Blessed Francis”:

“When brought before the bishop, Francis would brook no delay nor hesitation in anything: nay, without waiting to be spoken to and without speaking he immediately put off and cast aside all his garments and gave them back to his father. Moreover he did not even keep his drawers but stripped himself stark naked before all the bystanders. But the bishop, observing his disposition, and greatly wondering at his fervor and steadfastness, arose forthwith, gathered him into his arms and covered him with the mantle which he himself was wearing.”

This dramatic scene contrasts the father and friends from secular society with the son, Francis, and his friends from the religious community. There is only a small physical space between them, but in reality they are worlds apart.

So much about the life of St. Francis has been romanticized that we tend to lose something of the revolutionary and radical nature of his life. Quite literally, for St. Francis, standing naked before God was his way of expressing an undivided heart. Nothing — not clothing, shelter, wealth or fame — was more important than his relationship with God. And the ironic beauty of this relationship was that it intimately connected him with all others, with Brother Sun, Sister Moon and all his brothers and sisters in Christ, even the leper.

Years ago I attended a lecture on the charism of St. Francis. The speaker stated that there can only be one Francis. No one could expect to replicate his radical poverty, but each of us can strive to imitate his spirit according to our state in life.

While we may not be called to strip in the city square, we are all called to divest ourselves of any obstacles to our discipleship and our living in right relationship with God, with neighbor and with creation. We are all called to live with undivided hearts.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

FATHER VINCENT DE PAUL CROSBY, OSB, is a monk, priest and artist at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. To see his work, visit fabricart.net.