St. Francis: You take nothing with you

“Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in his sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given: a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”

Attr. to St. Francis.

There’s a Facebook version going around with only the last sentence and a dash in place of the ellipsis. There’s also a version going around that inserts this after “God’s creature”: “Let not worldly cares and anxieties or the pressures of office blot out the divine life within you [some add: or in your great task of leading humanity to wholeness.]”

The saying seems to have been made popular in the form I gave at the top of the post, right down to the ellipsis, in Jan Karon’s A Light From Heaven. When I went fishing for references, I found the usual horde of sites with no attribution given. It’s not on Wikiquote, even as a known misquotation or a dubious quotation.

But Google Books gave me a snippet view of House of Commons Debates, Official Report, Volume 1, 1988–a record of the Canadian House of Commons debates. Sadly, the snippet doesn’t show what I need, but the text on the Google Books page itself says: “I wish to take the time to commend to this House the ancient words of the followers of Saint Francis of Assisi who wrote to the rulers of the people in about the year 1220 saying: We, … [sic; I didn’t omit anything. Google Books did.] Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature.”

Adding fuel to the fire, Google Books gives this from the Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1983: “The Mace was placed on the Speaker’s table by the Sergeant at Arms. The Reverend Angelus DeMarco, O.F.M., Pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Triangle, Virginia, … Let us never forget our purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What we are in your sight is what we are and nothing more. Let not worldly cares and anxieties or the pressures of office blot out your divine life within us, or the voice of your … (Adapted from Francis of Assisi’s Letter to the Rulers of the People).” Ellipses again belong to Google Books, not me. I’m not sure what “the voice of your” is based on.

The passage in question is most definitely not in St. Francis’s “Letter to the Rulers of the People,” (or “Peoples”) which you can read here and other places online. It’s short and it doesn’t say this or anything much like it. The Canadian version does say that it’s the words of “the followers” of St. Francis, but I can’t find anyplace that gives a reference in Franciscan writings either.

Altogether perplexing. Pending the arrival of someone more knowledgeable of Franciscan writings than I (which doesn’t take a whole awful lot), I’m going to label this one as dubious but not quite unproven.

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St. Thomas and bearing wrongs patiently

To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection But to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of imperfection and even of actual sin.

Attr. to St. Thomas Aquinas.

I found a book on Google Books that helpfully gives a Latin rendition: “Et aequo animo ferre iniuriam sibi signum est perfectio, sed est alius iniurias patienter sufferre imperfectionis et actualis peccati.

  1. A general web search turned up lots of hits and no citations.
  2. It’s not on St. Thomas’s Wikiquote page.
  3. You can see one of the Google Books hits above. No citation there, nor in any of the other hits.
  4. Looking directly at St. Thomas, the closest I can find is II-II.108.1.a2. From the version at New Advent: “The good bear with the wicked by enduring patiently, and in due manner, the wrongs they themselves receive from them: but they do not bear with them as to endure the wrongs they inflict on God and their neighbor. For Chrysostom [Cf. Opus Imperfectum, Hom. v in Matth., falsely ascribed to St. Chrysostom] says: ‘It is praiseworthy to be patient under our own wrongs, but to overlook God’s wrongs is most wicked.’ ” I searched both New Advent and the Dominican House of Studies for the original English quotation (and for segments of it) without success.
  5. Since I had a putative Latin rendering of the same thing (“putative” in its attribution to St. Thomas; the Latin does translate into the English as given), I tried searching for it, both at the Dominican House of Studies and at Corpus Thomisticum, again without success. Searching for Latin can be tricky because aequo could be written as æquo and I’m not sure how well Google handles ligatures; and because iniuriam can also be written as injuriam or even injurjam. To be safe, I left the iffy words out of the search. No luck on either site. To be sure, I tried ferre sibi signum est perfectio aquinas at DHS (I had to add aquinas to cut down on the number of hits, but the quotation was not there by anyone on the first page of results) and ferre sibi signum est perfectio at Corpus Thomisticum. I found nothing.
  6. I went ahead with a general web search for the Latin and for reasonably sized pieces of it. No success.

I believe that St. Thomas would agree with the sentiment expressed, given the citation above from the Summa. But I cannot find anywhere that he actually said it.