Paradiso Paradise Canto XI: (Fourth Heaven: the Sphere of the Sun) Summary
Dante looks down at the mortals studying law, philosophy, medicine, theology, and politics. He is happy to be in Heaven. St. Thomas speaks again from within his place in the ring.
He begins talking about what Dante is thinking: the strange "fatten[ing] up" comment he made in the last canto.
Providence, St. Thomas lectures, decreed that the Church needed two princes to help guide her along the correct pathway to God. But they're not really princes; they're saints. St. Francis was seraphic while St. Dominic was cherubic. In other words, they have angelic qualities.
But, St. Thomas says, he'll just talk about St. Francis because in praising one of them, he praises them both, since both saints had the same goal.
St. Francis was born in a place called Assisi. When he was just a boy, he ran away from his dad to be with his lover. She was a strange woman to take as a lover, though, because most people feared her as if she were Death. But young Francis didn't care and he married her even in the presence of his disapproving father and loved her. Here's the catch: she had been married before. Since then, she'd been scorned, but she was a courageous and loyal woman, not afraid of Caesar and so loyal that she stayed with Christ (her first husband) on the Cross even when Mary abandoned him.
Who was she? Lady Poverty, of course. St. Francis took a vow of poverty.
Their love inspired such holy thoughts that Bernard gave up all his possessions to live like Francis.
Francis, St. Thomas continues, took his wife and walked with her unashamed to Pope Innocent. Innocent was so impressed with Francis that he gave him an official Papal Seal to start a religious order. Followers of Francis were called Franciscans.
After the poor started becoming Franciscans, a second Pope, Honorius III, gave the Franciscans another honor, a papal bull.
After journeying to Egypt to try to convert a Muslim sultan to Christianity, Francis returned to Italy to preach of Christ. There he received his final honor – this time from Christ himself. St. Francis bore the Stigmata, a puncture wound on both his palms (symbolic of Christ's hands impaled by nails onto the cross) for two years.
When Francis realized it was time to die, he remained faithful to his vow of Poverty – by refusing any fancy funeral service and asking instead only to be stripped naked by his disciples and laid on the earth to die. Then he told his brothers to love Poverty as faithfully as he had, and died. He was promptly taken to Heaven.
What does this have to do with the "fatten[ing] up" comment?
St. Thomas finally comes back to that by turning our attention back to his own order, that of the Dominicans. First he praises St. Dominic for following the same route as St. Francis. But now Dominic's flock has become greedy, straying from their shepherd (St. Dominic) to find more food, because they're not satisfied with the milk from their mother. They are gorging on sinful material.
So, St. Thomas says, you can understand what my fattening comment means: that Dominicans can "fatten well" or be well fed if they do not stray from the flock.