THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
mediaeval Christianity ; the common life of monasticism was an attempt to fulfil it; yet for the monk love to man was often rather a duty than a passion. But to St. Francis love was very life ; he loved not by duty but by an inner compulsion, and his burning love of God and man found its centre in the God-man, Christ Jesus. For no saint, perhaps, has the earthly life of Christ been the object of such passionate devotion as for St. Francis ; the Stigmata were the awful, yet, to his contemporaries, glorious fruit of his meditations on the Passion ; and of the ecstasy with which he kept his Christmas at Greccio we shall read when we come to consider the Presepio. He had a peculiar affection for the festival of the Holy Child; "the Child Jesus," says Thomas of Celano, " had been given over to forgetfulness in the hearts of many in whom, by the working of His grace, He was raised up again through His servant Francis." IO
To the Early Middle Ages Christ was the awful Judge, the Rex tremendae majestatis, though also the divine bringer of salvation from sin and eternal punishment, and, to the mystic, the Bridegroom of the Soul. To Francis He was the little brother of all mankind as well. It was a new human joy that came into religion with him. His essentially artistic nature was the first to realize the full poetry of Christmas—the coming of infinity into extremest limitation, the Highest made the lowliest, the King of all kings a poor infant. He had, in a supreme degree, the mingled reverence and tenderness that inspire the best carols.
Though no Christmas verses by St. Francis have come down to us, there is a beautiful "psalm" for Christmas Day at Vespers, composed by him partly from passages of Scripture. A portion of Father Paschal Robinson's translation may be quoted :—
" Rejoice to God our helper. Shout unto God, living and true, With the voice of triumph. For the Lord is high, terrible : A great King over all the earth. For the most holy Father of heaven,