ITALIAN CHRISTMAS POETRY
especially Italy, in the thirteenth century. 9 For the twenty all-too-short vears of St. Francis's apostolate have passed, and a new attitude towards God and man and the world has become possible. Not that the change was due solely to St. Francis ; he was rather the supreme embodiment of the ideals and tendencies of his day than their actual creator ; but he was the spark that kindled a mighty flame. In him we reach so important a turning-point in the history of Christmas that we must linger awhile at his side.
Early Franciscanism meant above all the democratizing, the humanizing of Christianity; with it begins that "carol spirit" which is the most winning part of the Christian Christmas, the spirit which, while not forgetting the divine side of the Nativity, yet delights in its simple humanity, the spirit that links the Incarnation to the common life of the people, that brings human tenderness into religion. The faithful no longer contemplate merely a theological mystery, they are moved by affectionate devotion to the Babe of Bethlehem, realized as an actual living child, God indeed, yet feeling the cold of winter, the roughness of the manger bed.
St. Francis, it must be remembered, was not a man of high birth, but the son of a silk merchant, and his appeal was made chiefly to the traders and skilled workmen of the cities, who, in his day, were rising to importance, coming, in modern Socialist terms, to class-consciousness. The monks, although boys of low birth were sometimes admitted into the cloister, were in sympathy one with the upper classes, and monastic religion and culture were essentially aristocratic. The rise of the Franciscans meant the bringing home of Christianity to masses of town-workers, homely people, who needed a religion full of vivid humanity, and whom the pathetic story of the Nativity would peculiarly touch.
Love to man, the sense of human brotherhood—that was the great thing which St. Francis brought home to his age. The message, certainly, was not new, but he realized it with infectious intensity. The second great commandment, " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," had not indeed been forgotten by