The "Seraphim" in the Visions of Isaiah and St. Francis
by Max Desorgher
Every day, all around the world, because Francis requested the practice, Franciscans pray the Adoramus Te: “We adore you, O Lord, here and in all the churches throughout the whole world, and we bless you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
St. Bonaventure, in his Life of St. Francis, describes Francis as being more inflamed than usual with the love of God as he began a special time of solitary prayer at La Verna, Italy that September of 1224:
“While Francis was praying on the mountainside, he saw a Seraph with six fiery and shining wings descend from the height of heaven. And when in swift flight the Seraph had reached a spot in the air near the man of God, there appeared between the wings the figure of a man crucified, with his hands and feet extended in the form of a cross and fastened to a cross. Two of the wings were lifted above his head, two were extended for flight and two covered his whole body.”
“When Francis saw this, he was overwhelmed and his heart was flooded with a mixture of joy and sorrow. He rejoiced because of the gracious way Christ looked upon him under the appearance of a Seraph, but the fact that he was fastened to a cross pierced his soul with a sword of compassionate sorrow.”
In Hebrew, the word saraph means "burning", and is used seven times throughout the text of the Hebrew Bible as a noun, usually to denote "serpent", twice in the Book of Numbers, once in the Book of Deuteronomy, and four times in the Book of Isaiah. The reason why the word for "burning" was also used to denote a serpent is not universally agreed upon; it may be due to a certain snake's fiery colors, or perhaps the burning sensation left by its venomous bite. Regardless, its plural form, seraphim, occurs in both Numbers and Isaiah, but only in Isaiah is it used to denote an angelic being.
Seraphs are those angels closest to God, burning with love as they bow before the most high God, shouting, “Holy, holy, holy!” Their fiery wings, as depicted here, suggest the flaming intensity of God’s love that Christ communicated to Francis, which in turn set Francis’ heart afire.
The word ‘Seraphic’ is often used to describe Francis’ passionate style of relating to God and is often applied to the whole Franciscan Order, which is sometimes called the Seraphic Order.
Isaiah Chapter 6 describes Isaiah’s Heavenly vision:
I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted; and the train of His robe filled the temple.
Above Him stood seraphim, each having six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
And they were calling out to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts;
all the earth is full of His glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.
Then I said:
“Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
And with it he touched my mouth and said:
“Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.”
The intervention of the Seraphim into our lives as witnessed by the Prophet Isaiah and Saint Franciscus, is a transforming moment where the faithful servant witnesses their own sinful nature:— with Isaiah the dominant thought is that his lips have been defiled by past sins of speech. How can he join in the praises of the seraphim with those lips from which have so often come bitter and hasty words? He and his people seem certain to sink into the abyss. To “have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,” was in such a case simply overwhelming.
Fiery Seraph Wings: A Meditation on St. Francis by Jack Wintz, OFM
The Seraphic Vision shows us that The Lord does not dwell alone but is rather surrounded by seraphim, who protect the deity with their wings, while at the same time declaring his supremacy and transcendence by means of the triply recurrent word qadosh (Holy). Praising the chief of the assembly is a most characteristic role of these divine beings.