On September 13, 1224, on the mount of Verna, Saint Francis received the stigmata, the marks of Christ’s five wounds in his flesh.
Several months later, he composed the “The Canticle of the Creatures,” now more commonly called “The Canticle of the Sun.” It is beautiful in its Umbrian dialect and enchants in any language. The seventh verse, which begins Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora nostra matre terra . . .” is the incipit of the recent encyclical on the dignity and duties of life in the created order.
Five other verses are quoted in paragraph 87 of the encyclical. They praise the Lord for the sun, moon, stars, wind, air, water and fire. I am inclined to think that St. Francis, who was a deacon, had in mind the Benedicite, which is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, conflating Daniel 3:57-88 and Psalm 148. St. Francis was a walking Bible, and his life was a canticle incarnate, so his inspiration was the same as Daniel’s and David’s. His canticle distinguishes the creature from the Creator who is the object of creation’s praise.
I found some verses in a Unitarian hymnal:
Nature shouts from earth and sky,
In the spring our spirits fly,
Join the resurrection cry,
Love is God and fears must die, Alleluia!
Such poésie may suit people who are vague about the Resurrection, and it really only works north of the equator. The problem is its inversion of “God is love” and “Love is God.” If Love is God, then it is a quick step to thinking of the sun and moon and stars and earth as divine, with earthly pastures as a pantheon.
This is why it is important that the “Canticle of the Sun” be invoked in its entirety. The first and last three verses do not appear in the encyclical. An uninformed reader might get the impression that the saint of Assisi did not sing his song in a transport of joy to God whose glory is ineffable. “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” (verse 1). The last three verses praise the Lord for the strength he gives to forgive and to endure sickness and trial, for the mystery of death and fear of dying in mortal sin, and for serving him “with great humility.”
A satirist once described a trendy clergyman who “collects butterflies and considers the word ‘not’ to have been interpolated in several of the Commandments.” While Christ bid us to “consider the lilies of the field,” he did so not as a botanist but as the Lord who “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). To redact the “Canticle of the Sun” risks being left with the Sun, but without the Son.