I highly recommend the reading of Jacopone da Todi, a Franciscan friar born in the 1230s. He was a poet–mystical, spiritual, theological. His Lauds, as they are called, are fascinating. At one level, they are enlightening. Yet, on another level, reading them–speaking the words aloud–prayerfully and reverently leads to song of the heart. It’s beautiful when the words of another become the words of the self that praise God. Jacopone’s Lauds surely evoke reflection and prayer. In this post, I want to go through one of his poems that I have recently spent some time reading. By no means do I intend to act as a scholar on Jacopone or what I will present. I hope that my commentary–inasmuch as it can be called that–simply provokes discussion, and by God’s grace, praise to Him, too!
The Laud examined is: “The Angels Ask the Reason for Christ’s Pilgrimage to This World”.
Reading this poem for the first time, I was struck with the underlying reason of God’s coming to the earth. It was because of love. In the Franciscan tradition, especially within the theology of Bonaventure, Christ came into the world not primarily due to the sin of man, but because in Christ is the fullest actualization of the created order. Now, obviously due to sin, the “form that the incarnation takes will be thoroughly shaped by that fact”; but, the point is that the “one cause of the incarnation…is the limitless love…of God” . Jacopone seems to agree.
Another message from these stanzas is about the unitive offering of Christ. By coming down, man can come up: in Christ, there is a mystical passage into God being. A deep relationship that transforms the human person is accessible in an unheard of way through God’s Son, who establishes peace between man and God, brings them together in a common joy. He shows us and accomplishes what is the human person’s deepest potentiality: adoration of God–”the act of submission to God will be mine”.
After reading these stanzas, I first questioned if Jacopone was in fact right that Christ came to teach man. In some circles today, Christ is diminished into a mere teacher of morals–something that is just nonsense without question. But, I do not think that is what Jacopone is aiming at. Christ’s teaching is centered on transformation and relationship. The teaching of Christ is love–it is a new way of being and life; by teaching man how to love, He is simultaneously offering a joyful and sacred place where man can enter into: “Remain in my love” (Jn 15:9). It is a lesson–love–that is more than a message: it is also a gift of elevated personality and ontology. This is why, if we follow His teachings, we follow not merely ethical laws, but we follow Christ into relationship and abide with God in joy.
These stanzas also illustrate the Franciscan emphasis of poverty. Very briefly: we cannot come to know Christ if we ourselves are full. We must come to Christ empty. Only then can we be in a state of receptivity. The Lordship of Christ is a Kingdom of kenotic energy and love. Additionally, when one is humbled, then is one more capable to see the necessity and dignity of the other–every other.
I think this last set of stanzas is particularly beautiful. The Word Incarnate is truly word. He is the book of life and the words within that book are His blood–that which is man’s finest nutrition and so source of growth, conservation, and energy. It is a book for all, not limited to a certain elect, but for every heart that God has crafted for love. I think it should be our prayer that all of us better read this book, better share it with others, and work to publish it daily and anew in our lives–that is, humbly be Word in our very being and live in love with God and neighbor.
 Hayes, Zachary. “Bonaventure: Mystery of the Triune God”. The History of Franciscan Theology. Ed. Kenan Osborne. St. Bonaventure: Franciscan Institute, 2007. 93-94