Interpretive Context for St. Francis’s “Sermon to the Birds”?

Read the ‘Sermon to the Birds’ by St. Francis of Assissi (1182–1226) (Figure 6): ‘My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.’ (Reproduced in Lewis Copeland, L. W. Lamm and Stephen J. McKenna (eds), The World’s Great Speeches, 4th edition (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1999), p. 64) Without first researching St. Francis’s life, discuss the following questions: Is it possible to ascertain St. Francis’s meaning and intentions in the sermon purely by analysing the text? If not, what kinds of external information (e.g. biographical, theological) would help cast light on the issue? In what sorts of places might such evidence be found, and what problems and opportunities might it present?

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