THE THIRD MORNING. BEFORE THE SOLDAN.
Take the highest compartment, then, on the left, looking towards the window. It was wholly impossible to get the arch filled with figures, unless they stood on each other's heads; so Giotto ekes it out with a piece of fine architecture. Raphael, in the Sposalizio, does the same, for pleasure.
Then he puts two dainty little white figures, bending, on each flank, to stop up his corners. But he puts the taller inside on the right, and outside on the left. And he puts his Greek chorus of observant and moralizing persons on each side of his main action.
Then he puts one Choragus - or leader of chorus, supporting the main action - on each side. Then he puts the main action in the middle - which is a quarrel about that white bone of contention in the centre. Choragus on the right, who sees that the bishop is going to have the best of it, backs him serenely. Choragus on the left, who sees that his impetuous friend is going to get the worst of it, is pulling him back, and trying to keep him quiet. The subject of the picture, which, after you are quite sure it is good as a decoration, but not till then, you may be allowed to understand, is the following. One of St. Francis's three great virtues being Obedience, he begins his spiritual life by quarreling with his father. He, I suppose in modern terms I should say, commercially invests some of his father's goods in charity. His father objects to that investment; on which St. Francis runs away, taking what he can find about the house along with him. His father follows to claim his property, but finds it is all gone, already; and that St. Francis has made friends with the Bishop of Assisi. His father flies into an indecent passion, and declares he will disinherit him; on which St. Francis then and there takes all his clothes off, throws them frantically in his father's face, and says he has nothing more to do with clothes or father. The good Bishop, in tears of admiration, embraces St. Francis, and covers him with his own mantle.
I have read the picture to you as, if Mr. Spurgeon knew anything about art, Mr. Spurgeon would read it, - that is to say, from the plain, common sense, Protestant side. If you are content with that view of it, you may leave the chapel, and, as far as any study of history is concerned, Florence also; for you can never know anything either about Giotto, or her.
Yet do not be afraid of my re-reading it to you from the mystic, nonsensical, and Papistical side. I am going to read it to you - if after many and many a year of thought, I am able - as Giotto meant it; Giotto being, as far as we know, then the man of strongest brain and hand in Florence; the best friend of the best religious poet of the world; and widely differing, as his friend did also, in his views of the world, from either Mr. Spurgeon, or Pius IX.
The first duty of a child is to obey its father and mother; as the first duty of a citizen to obey the laws of his state. And this duty is so strict that I believe the only limits to it are those fixed by Isaac and Iphigenia. On the other hand, the father and mother have also a fixed duty to the child - not to provoke it to wrath. I have never heard this text explained to fathers and mothers from the pulpit, which is curious. For it appears to me that God will expect the parents to understand their duty to their children, better even than children can be expected to know their duty to their parents.
But farther. A child's duty is to obey its parents. It is never said anywhere in the Bible, and never was yet said in any good or wise book, that a man's, or woman's, is. When, precisely, a child becomes a man or a woman, it can no more be said, than when it should first stand on its legs. But a time assuredly comes when it should. In great states, children are always trying to remain children, and the parents wanting to make men and women of them. In vile states, the children are always wanting to be men and women, and the parents to keep them children. It may be - and happy the house in which it is so - that the father's at least equal intellect, and older experience, may remain to the end of his life a law to his children, not of force, but of perfect guidance, with perfect love. Rarely it is so; not often possible. It is as natural for the old to be prejudiced as for the young to be presumptuous; and, in the change of centuries, each generation has something to judge of for itself.
But this scene, on which Giotto has dwelt with so great force, represents, not the child's assertion of his independence, but his adoption of another Father.
You must not confuse the desire of this boy of Assisi to obey God rather than man, with the desire of your young cockney Hopeful to have a latch-key, and a separate allowance.
No point of duty has been more miserably warped and perverted by false priests, in all churches, than this duty of the young to choose whom they will serve. But the duty itself does not the less exist; and if there be any truth in Christianity at all, there will come, for all true disciples, a time when they have to take that saying to heart, "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me."
'Loveth' - observe. There is no talk of disobeying fathers or mothers whom you do not love, or of running away from a home where you would rather not stay. But to leave the home which is your peace, and to be at enmity with those who are most dear to you, - this, if there be meaning in Christ's words, one day or other will be demanded of His true followers.