Saint Francis of Assisi Joins the Sixth Crusade and Challenges the Sultan to Convert to the Catholic Faith

September 3, 2020

Saint Francis rejecting to money of the Sultan of Egypt

At this period a holy person, named Francis of Assisi, made his appearance in the Christian army, whose reputation for piety was spread throughout the Christian world, and had preceded him into the East. From his earliest youth, Francis had left the paternal roof to lead a life of edification. One day, whilst present at mass in a church in Italy, he was struck with the passage of the Gospel in which our Savior says, “Take with you neither gold nor silver, nor other moneys; neither scrips for the journey, nor sandals, nor staff.” From that period Francis had held in contempt all the riches of this world, and had devoted himself to the poverty of the apostles; he traveled through countries and cities, exhorting all people to penitence. The disciples who followed him braved the contempt of the multitude, and glorified themselves with it before God: when asked whence they came, they were accustomed to answer, “We are poor penitents from Assisi.”

Saint Francis before Sultan Malik al-Kamil. Fra Angelico ca. 1429, Lindenau Museum, Altenberg.

Francis was led into Egypt by the fame of the crusade, and by the hope of there effecting some great conversion. The day preceding the last battle, he had a miraculous presentiment of the defeat of the Christians, and imparted his prediction to the leaders of the army, who heard him with indifference. Dissatisfied with the Crusaders, and devoured by the zeal of a mission from God, he then conceived the project of securing the triumph of the faith by his eloquence and the arms of the Gospel alone. He directed his course toward the enemy’s camp, put himself in the way of being taken prisoner by the Saracen soldiers, and was conducted into the presence of the sultan. Then Francis addressed Melic-Kamel, and said to him, “It is God who sends me toward you, to point out to you the road to salvation.” After these words, the missionary exhorted the sultan to embrace the Gospel; he challenged in his presence all the doctors of the law, and to confound imposture and prove the truth of the Christian religion, offered to cast himself into the midst of a burning funeral-pile. The sultan, astonished, ordered the preacher from his presence, who obtained neither of the objects of his wishes, for he did not convert the sultan, nor did he gather the palm of martyrdom.

 

Joseph François Michaud, History of the Crusades, trans. W. Robson (London: George Routledge and Co., 1852), 2:244–6.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 742

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