In a letter to his mother and his sister, dated July 11th, 1890, Vincent van Gogh describes his fascination for landscapes without limits: “These are huge extensions of wheat fields under turbulent skies.” This painting invites viewers to contemplate the fields, the clouds, the trees and the haystacks, held pleasantly and harmoniously together, and potentially extending beyond the limits of the picture frame.
“In the Canticle of the creatures of Francis of Assisi, writes Leonardo Boff, two lines – one horizontal and one vertical – cross to form a well-known symbol of totality. The initial movement rises up, vertically, to God: ‘Most High, Almighty and good Lord…’ But Francis then becomes aware of his inability to sing God: ‘… no man is worthy to mention Your name’. He doesn’t, however, wallow in sadness: he turns, horizontally, to the creatures: ‘Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures.’ He opens up to universal brotherhood, and sings with the creatures.”
In the Canticle of brother Sun, God’s creatures are differentiated by their masculine and feminine qualities, and present themselves in fraternal pairs. The first couple, ‘brother Sun’ and ‘sister Moon’, symbolizes the light with the contrasting qualities of the day and night. Among the creatures mentioned in the Canticle, the sun, the wind and the fire are considered masculine, because of the qualities associated with to them, which represent power and robustness; the moon, the water and the earth are praised for their kindness and generosity: the moon for its clarity, water for his humility and the earth for its fertility. Today, this polarization of the masculine and the feminine can offend our sensibilities and seem sexist. We must not forget, however, that Francis is simply proposing a poetic view on interrelation and complementarities.
The ‘universal brotherhood’ of Francis, such as expressed in the Canticle of brother Sun, is reminiscent of the cosmic harmony of Chinese thought. To explain this great harmony of heaven and earth, the Chinese use expressions which are now well-known: the Yang is associated with the sun (day) which represents the masculine part of nature, and the Yin, associated with the moon (night), which represents its female part. The masculine Yang and female Yin are mutually complementary and balance like heaven and earth.
In Francis’ Canticle, all are brothers and sisters in the big family of the cosmos. Concerning this universal brotherhood, Bonaventure, Francis’ disciple, has left us this famous thought: « Considering that all things have a common origin, [Francis] felt filled with even greater tenderness and he called the creatures, no matter how small, by the name of brother or sister. ”
Sun and moon, bless the Lord. Nights and days, bless the Lord.
Light and darkness, bless the Lord, give glory and eternal praise to him!
Friar Georges Morin, ofm