Times dated October 1973
October the fourth – St Francis’ Day – has somehow never become quite
the same calendar event as, say, the Fourth of July.
Nor do the elderly – as distinct from their children and
grandchildren – feel it necessary to remember this saint’s day in the
same way that they doubtless make a point of remembering the fourth of
Which in every event is a pity – for animals.
For in so many ways, people in all walks of life are striving for
Independence Day for all the animals who, in countless manmade seemingly
godforsaken ways, are used and misused, exploited, explored upon and
even exploded – car crash wise – in the name of a new god whom many fear
but few revere, Science.
If only, as so many exited young men did on the evening and late into
the night of August 4, 1914, a few thousand would queue again round the
corner from BUAV Headquarters but, instead of waiting to enlist at the
Central London Army Recruiting Office, if only they would sign on the
dotted line to serve as ardently in the anti-vivisection movement, what
then might we not achieve.
It is ironic to recall that July 4 commemorates the end of an old
established rule – that of Britain in the nether half of North America
and that August 4 is remembered as the day when this then still
independent country started to set about the Central Powers who were
then establishing their brief tyranny in what men now call the Kaiser’s
St Francis, before he shaved his head and took up poverty as a
profession, to soldier in his own rather undisciplined way in the name
of Jesus – another irregular in another long-ago war against tyranny –
knew the feel of a horse between his thighs and the familiar weight of a
sword in his hand.
Possibly the only outward difference between his former and latter
appearance was Francis’ lack of armour and arms, for he lived rough and
hard – the typical life of a seasoned campaigner.
It could be that we are all overlooking the need for aggression in
animal welfare. Aggression of the right, psychologically well-orientated
kind – not the mouthy, particularly the mealy-mouthy kind – is healthy.
It is the mark of an upright and honest man to throw over humility
and to show intolerance when reasoned approaches fail to overcome or
This is not a clarion cry to burn down animal breeding centres or to
shoot vivisectors in the back, bomb their homes or mail cowardly
explosive parcels to their laboratories.
Those tactics we may safely leave to fanatics. Let’s get back to one
of the rational saints.
To be as seemingly gentle as Francis is understood to have been – at
least in his adult life – he would have to have felt if not serene at
He put aside the exhibitionism of his exuberant youth. In its place
he appears, though not always quite consistently, to have made a point
of displaying an albeit selective love towards what he called his little
brothers – to us, non-human animals.
Here it must be understood exactly what St Francis represents – and
that which he does not.
History could be accused of revealing animal welfare as nothing more
than a possibly spiritually profitable side-line. After all, rather
uncommonly among the host of saints, Francis was never called upon to
give his life for animals. Nor, to be frank, need we.
What we should seriously accept about Francis of Assisi is the fact
that, at a time when – quite unintentionally – Christianity had plunged
the civilised world into a manic state of self-worship, where even the
sun revolved around the most arrogant species that God had installed on
Earth, along came this unostentatious rather simple, even dim-witted,
well-born ex regular army officer, who actually cherished and loved a
number of those soulless, unredeemable creatures whom the Church itself
regarded merely as existing for Man’s use.
Francis lit a light: not perhaps the fiery torch of martyrdom at the
stake, but nevertheless a light that has guided the foot-steps of at
least a thoughtful few theologians down the ages.
By the perfectionist standards set – but generally only for others –
by the unco guild in our present-day animal welfare movement, Francis
might not escape without a great deal of tut-tutting round the
But, even if so, it says little for our tolerance these days if we
can fail to see Francis against the background of the truly Dark Ages.
And if it becomes a competition to seek the most select among
religious pace-setters from the whole gamut of comparative religions,
who among the holiest in the non-Christian creeds endured quite the same
quality of desperation and ignorance as that which existed where Francis
practised and preached?
For if St Francis of Assisi stands in stature maybe no taller than
our self-elect today – in religious circles, naturally – and if his
consistency rates only perhaps fair against that of some of the smuggest
extremists of our present animal welfare movement, then let us gladly
remember him as truly being one of us – a common man with uncommon
Maybe, looking at Francis we can – as Beaudelaire suggested – pray to
find the strength and the courage to look at ourselves without disgust.
Reproduced with thanks to the British Union for the Abolition of
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