My Blog List

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pope Francis Battles the Devil: More echoes from St. Francis and Dante

Pope Francis Battles the Devil: More echoes from St. Francis and Dante

Italian media (and the are hyping a video from last weekend of Pope Francis, apparently, performing a mini-exorcism on a wheelchair bound Mexican man in attendance at Sunday's Pontifical Mass in Rome. The video shows Pope Francis making his way down a line of worshipers laying hands in prayer. When he arrives to the sufferer in question, he speaks with the priest accompanying the man, takes on a more focused and serious attitude, and lays both hands on the man's head reciting a longer prayer. The man can be seen shaking. Later, the priest with the man reported that  Pope Francis had indeed performed an exorcism, while Vatican officials have been less forthcoming with confirmation or denial. Here is the video.

This is yet another remarkable deed from our new Pope, refreshing in candor, even if likely seen by most as evidence of his dangerous simplicity and transparency. What do I mean? I would hazard to guess that most people, many Catholics, in the west do not believe in exorcism and diabolical possession. Seeing the Pope perform an exorcism might offend enlightened sensibilities.

However, this is more evidence also of Pope Francis' likeness, very intentional, with his namesake St. Francis. St. Francis was fascinated with devils. One famous story has him in Arezzo (where I am today!) expelling or should I say exorcising some devils from the entire city. Here is how Giotto paints it.
I hope he got them all out!

Dante recognizes St. Francis' belligerence towards devils in our world. Indeed, one of the most well-known passages from Inferno, has St. Francis LOSING OUT to a devil. In Canto XXVII of Inferno, the damned shade of Guido of Montefeltro relates how he, having sinned greatly in life as a crooked political consultant (boy, does he have lots of company now), tried to make up for his life of deception by joining the Franciscan order at the end of his life. Tricked by the sitting Pope (Boniface VIII) into continuing his evil ways even after becoming a Franciscan monk, Guido finds a surprise when he dies. To quote one of my favorite undergraduate professors who, when playing a recording of Hildegard of Bingen, preluded a change in vocal tone with these words...  "Here comes the Devil!"

Francesco venne poi, com' io fu' morto,27.112Then Francis came, as soon as I was dead,
per me; ma un d'i neri cherubinifor me; but one of the black cherubim
li disse: 'Non portar; non mi far torto.told him: 'Don't bear him off; do not cheat me.
Venir se ne dee giù tra ' miei meschini27.115He must come down among my menials;
perché diede 'l consiglio frodolente,the counsel that he gave was fraudulent;
dal quale in qua stato li sono a' crini;since then, I've kept close track, to snatch his scalp;
ch'assolver non si può chi non si pente,27.118one can't absolve a man who's not repented,
né pentere e volere insieme puossiand no one can repent and will at once;
per la contradizion che nol consente.'the law of contradiction won't allow it.'
Oh me dolente! come mi riscossi27.121O miserable me, for how I started
quando mi prese dicendomi: 'Forsewhen he took hold of me and said: 'Perhaps
tu non pensavi ch'io löico fossi!'you did not think that I was a logician!'
Minòs mi portò; e quelli attorse27.124He carried me to Minos; and that monster
otto volte la coda al dosso duro;twisted his tail eight times around his hide
e poi che per gran rabbia la si morse,and then, when he had bit it in great anger,
disse: 'Questi è d'i rei del foco furo';27.127announced: 'This one is for the thieving fire';
per ch'io là dove vedi son perduto,for which-and where, you see-I now am lost,
e sì vestito, andando, mi rancuro."and in this garb I move in bitterness."

So Francis is fooled, and the devil outwits him. Or at least that is what the soul of Guido wants us to believe. As I tell my students when I lecture on this canto, be careful in reading the words of Dante's sinners: liars in life continue to lie in hell. Do we really think St. Francis would have gotten this wrong?

So, St (Pope) Francis and the devil. Yet another moment when medieval meets modern in today's Italy.

No comments:

Post a Comment