One of the biggest misconceptions about St. Francis of Assisi is that he “loved the environment.”
He loved God’s creation. Because God created it.
Yesterday I saw an EWTN video clip about the Franciscan Friars of Ellicott City, MD (who currently staff our parish) and how they installed 1,200 solar panels on a large piece of property at St. Anthony’s Shrine. In this clip, Father Michael Heine, OFM Conv. uses Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures as justification for the building of the solar farm. “We know that St. Francis was a great lover of the earth. His Canticle of the Creatures praises all Creation.”
With all respect to Father Michael, his statement is based on a mistranslated preposition. In the Canticle, the preposition per was used*. It does not mean “for,” as in “Be praised, My Lord, for Sister Moon,” but instead “by” or “through,” as in “Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Moon.” In the Canticle, Francis called upon all Creation to praise the Creator, with each created thing: sun, moon, wind, fire, water, and the earth praising God by its very being–by doing what it was created to do.
The Canticle does not, in any way, praise Creation in and of itself, but only for the way in which Creation reflects the One who created it in the first place. So to use it as a justification for the construction of solar panels (the manufacture of which can have considerable environmental impact) is stretching it. A lot.
Yes, we are called to be good stewards of God’s creation and of all the natural resources that are on the earth. But let’s not justify our rush to jump on the green-energy bandwagon, with all its empty promises, with a badly-translated twelfth-century poem that was nothing more than a hymn glorifying God and calling upon all of us to do our best to glorify God with the gifts he gave us.
Below is the Canticle of the Creatures as presented on the Franciscan Friars TOR site. This translation uses the prepositions correctly.
Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through which You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy willl, for the second death shall do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility. AMEN.
If you would like to read the Canticle side by side with the Italian, Father Regis Armstrong, OFM provides it here.
*Disclosure about why I know my prepositions: I majored in Spanish and English in college, and took classes in Romance Linguistics.