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A New Life:  Francis of Assisi
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Robert West
Saint Francis (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2009.  233p.)

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West presents a more complete picture than I have read before of the great transformation in Francis' life when he heard a call to service.  This university professor-actor creates an absorbing drama of the strange turmoil of medieval northern Italy as the context of Francis of Assisi.

There is enlightenment here on the economic and social conditions of medieval Europe, as well as the political torrents racing through the unformed valleys and over the geographical waterfalls of the nations.  All the major names and dates of history are here, but they are merely pegs on which to hang the tapestry of real life.

Fierce Feudalism
We see the pathetic picture of the multitudes that struggled with exploitative powers religious and economic, as public buildings crumbled, churches deteriorated and the moral and social structures dissolved in the hopeless morass the people felt.

In the purview of Francis' merchant service in his father's business and his knightly warrior service to his feudal lord, the Papacy struggled for temporal power against the German Empire and the greedy and power-hungry Lombard underlords of the Franks who tried to keep these Germans in line on behalf of the pope.  Here is real-life drama.

Medieval Chaos
We are plunged into the turmoil, chaos and disorder that constituted the disintegration of feudal Italy as warlords struggled for power in the shadow of bitter and cruel but weak imperial German forces tried to keep the yoke of rule in place.  As Saracens pressed from the South and the Germans from the North, fear and instability reigned.  See the Middle Ages in a bright new light, and experience the liberating perception of Francis Bernadone.

In this confused world, Francis was a young profligate and minor criminal, disdaining his father's wealthy business advantages, while benefitting from them, and doing what was expected in his feudal duties, would become a servant of lepers and beggars in the name of Christ.  He became focused on loving God, and experienced an ecstatic sense of liberation and communion with God's creation.

The Sultan
His desire to foster peace among the warring factions in Umbria and Tuscany and across Europe expanded to a vision of bringing peace between the Saracens and the Europeans over Palestine and the Mediterranean territories.  West tells the story of Francis' audience with the Sultan Malik a-Kamil, the brother of Saladin, the warrior-liberator of Egypt and the Muslim territories.

In 1219, during the fifth crusade, Francis arranged to meet the Sultan and tell him the Gospel in personal and friendly terms.  It seems Francis actual expected to convince the Sultan to convert to follow Christ, thereby bringing peace between the Christians and the Muslims.  But he was greatly disappointed when this naive hope was not fulfilled.

This new portrait of Saint Francis of Assisi is disturbing in its realism and challenging in its insights as we are forced by the author to see the world and experience the change of perspective with Francis.  Besides his teaching and acting, West is a producer and story editor.  The story drama skills shine here.  This book appears in the series Christian Encounter, a series of biographies from Thomas Nelson Publishers.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] St Francis: Conversion and Disappointment
[review] The Trials of Peace for St Francis

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Initially rp>Reviewed on Amazon 10 September 2010
This review posted on Thoughts and Resources 11 September 2010

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2010 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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