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Over the last two years (2007-8), I have been studying the lives and writings of mystics and ascetics in Christian history, and other notable figures whose lives offer guidance as an example of the best in the human spirit enhanced by faith. I found this book in Irving, Texas, in May 2008, on a trip from South Africa for a meeting.
This is a life of Francis of Assisi, originally named Giovanni (John) de Pietro de Bernardone. The authors provide not only a biography but a cultural and theological analysis of Francis' background, calling and cultural or social struggles in the society of his time.
I learned from them that he was called Francis because his mother was born in France, the daughter of a knight of Provence. I already knew that that Francis is the English phonetic form of the name we know in modern French as François. What I had not consciously thought of is the French meaning. Once I thought about it, it was obvious from the ending that François means "of France," or "French," found in the Italic form as Francesco.
The authors provide good details of his various missions and struggles against the taming powers of the Papacy, who wanted to reign in his radical concept of the gospel. Francis issued a call to self-denial and a prophetic challenge to the church to actually live like Jesus taught.
The order had shifted toward more organization and modification of Francis' radical self-denial and poverty. While Francis was off on various preaching missions with assistants and apprentices, the stay-at-home caretakers of the order domesticated it. Because of Francis' popular acclaim, the Papacy and other hierarchical powers became concerned and jealous.
Changes were made to the charter while Francis was gone, modifying the order in a direction that broke Francis' heart and led to his disavowal of the Franciscans. The details of this and the interpersonal and social dynamics are well portrayed by the author.
Later reforms helped restore the ideal of Francis and give more enlightened direction to the Franciscans. But not during the lifetime of Francis. He continued on his own preaching missions for a while, but poor health and disappointment in the direction of his beloved order led to heartbreak, bad health and death.
This book will provide important insights into the social conditions of the Middle Ages, the worldview mindset of the people and the hierarchy, as well as the spiritual call and commitment of Francis of Assisi.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
Mystical Insights (Julian of Norwich)
Mysticism, the Wound of Knowledge
Practicing the Presence of God
Recurring Classic of Western Christian Mysticism
South African Spirituality
The Trials of Peace for St Francis
First reading notes written 4 June 2008. Biography (History)
Finalized as a review and posted on Thoughts and Resources 17 October 2008
Posted on Amazon and Barnes and Noble 2 March 2009
Last edited 11 September 2010
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2008 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.