Page:A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages-Volume I .pdf/281

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261
THE FRANCISCANS.

ed, was obliged, by clattering sticks, to give notice of his approach, that all might shun his pestiferous neighborhood. It was to these, the most helpless and hopeless and abhorred of mankind, that the boundless charity and love of Francis was especially directed. The example which he set in his own person he required to be followed by his brethren ; and when noble or simple applied for admission to the Order he was told that prominent among the obligations which he assumed was that of humbly serving the lepers in their hospitals. Francis did not hesitate to sleep in the lazar-houses, to handle the dangerous sores of the afflicted, to apply medicaments, and to minister to the sufferings of the body as well as of the soul. For the sake of the leper he relaxed the rule as to receiving alms in money. Yet his humility led him to forbid his disciples from leading in public the "Christian brethren," as he called them. Once, when Friar James had taken with him to church a leper who was shockingly eaten by disease, Francis reproved him ; then, reproaching himself for what the sufferer might regard as a slight, he asked Friar Peter of Catania, at that time the minister-general of the Order, to confirm the penance which he had appointed for himself, and when Peter, who looked upon him with too much reverence to deny him anything, had assented, he announced that he would eat out of the same dish as the sick man. At the next simple meal, therefore, the leper was seated among them, and the brethren were terrified to see a single dish set between the two, and the leper dipping his fingers, dripping with blood and purulent discharge, into the food common to both.[1]

It would perhaps be too much to assert one's faith in the absolute veracity of such stories, but that makes little difference. If they be but legendary, the very growth of the legend shows the impression which Francis left on those who followed him; and the value of such an ideal on an age so hard and cruel can scarce be exaggerated. We know as a fact that the Franciscans were ever foremost in the cure of the sick, that they tended the hospitals in the midst of pestilence, and that to their intelligent devotion is due whatever progress the science of healing made in the dark ages. We are told, moreover, that the tender love of


  1. Lib. Conformitatum Lib. ii. Fruct. 5, fol. 1556.