Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi

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Acclaimed biographer Donald Spoto strips away the legends from the life of Francis of Assisi to reveal the true story of a man who has too often been obscured by pious iconography. Drawing on unprecedented access to unexplored archives, plus Francis's own letters, Spoto places Francis within the context of the multifaceted ecclesiastical, political, and social forces of medieval Italy, casting new light on Francis and showing how his emphasis on charity as the heart of the Gospel's message helped him pioneer a new social movement. This nuanced portrait reveals the multifaceted character of a man who can genuinely be said to have changed the course of history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An engaging and revealing portrait of a remarkable man." (The Hartford Courant)

"As with The Hidden Jesus, [Spoto again] produces a serious, thought-provoking book." (Booklist)

Publishers Weekly
It does not seem possible that the world needs another biography of St. Francis of Assisi, but Spoto (The Hidden Jesus) makes a credible case for adding to the glut of books and articles about the medieval saint. (Spoto cites one count taken nearly 40 years ago that puts the number at 1,575.) He argues that new discoveries in several fields and the latest Franciscan scholarship justify this new biography. Although the findings of his research required Spoto to strip away some of the romance surrounding Francis's familiar story, he manages to report them without detracting from the integrity of the saint. He raises, for example, questions about whether Francis actually bore the stigmata, or wounds of the crucified Christ, pointing out that sources interviewed for Francis's canonization denied that he had the marks. Spoto suggests that Francis may actually have suffered from leprosy and that his companions interpreted those wounds as a sharing in Christ's suffering. Spoto's chronological recounting of Francis's life is sufficiently engaging to retain the interest even of those familiar with the basic facts of the saint's story. Occasionally however, he lapses into seemingly misplaced preaching pedagogy, such as when he holds forth on the subject of conversion in a section about Francis's spiritual transformation- but given the saint's diverse appeal, this book should interest a wide audience. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Spoto is a sometime teacher of theology and a biographer of Alfred Hitchcock, Lawrence Olivier, Tennessee Williams, and Ingrid Bergman. In this life of Francis of Assisi, Spoto's elegant wordsmithing creates a "reality TV" sense of Francis's life-the elaborate details are based on an actual time and place, but the overall effect feels staged. This is nevertheless a very readable portrait of a hope-filled eccentric whose lifelong process of conversion brought him to a never unconfused but always faithful way of life under God's ordinance. There are some things Spoto doesn't get right: on the dedication page, he ascribes to St. Benedict a quote traditionally attributed to St. Augustine, and he fails to appreciate the literary genre of the medieval exemplary story, among other things. But he is a fine writer who provides insight into the saint as well as into the secular and ecclesiastical cultures of the 12th century. One of the best of the modern books to reflect upon Francis, and even to get inside his head and measure his spirit, is G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi. Spoto's book is suitable for libraries with a circulation of nonacademic religious books.-David I. Fulton, Coll. of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In an approachable biography, Spoto (The Hidden Jesus, 1998, etc.) shows how the saint was both a product of a historical moment and transcendent of it. Francis was a "popular and endlessly inventive wastrel," as one acquaintance remembered him as a young man: he was a participant in the burghers' revolt, an aspirant to knighthood, a classic example of the every-man-for-himself type of the early mercantile economy. But he became disillusioned with life and deeply depressed-so goes Spoto's reading of the documents. He also lived at a time when revelations were taken seriously, and Francis was ripe for the voice that called him to service in the tiny chapel of San Damiano. That call, to repair the chapel, was just a stepping stone to a larger perspective, to renovate the entire churchly institution, quietly and by example. Spoto takes up the pivotal moments in Francis's life as they're caught in the historical record and looks at them within their medieval context. He suggests how Francis's commitment to the poor could fit within the chivalric tradition, situates his actions before the Bishop of Assisi within the popular methods of medieval argument, and shows how his mastery of the inclinations of the flesh found echoes in the ages-old custom of ascetics in their pursuit of spiritual clarity. That his fraternity devolved into schisms and hierarchy hardly reflected Francis's conviction of his role: "The Lord told me what He wanted: He wanted me to be a new kind of fool in this world." That is, a jester, a wandering minstrel of God running against the grain of wealth and privilege, full of generosity, forgiveness, and good works. For Spoto, he attained "a condition of spiritual integritythat always upsets public presumptions and counters the selfishness and madness of power." Spoto insightfully demonstrates that far from taming the man, Francis's canonization made his life and example a wonderful embarrassment to the church.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142196250
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/2003
  • Series: Compass Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 299,132
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.55 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Spoto, author of The Hidden Jesus, taught theology, Christian mysticism, and biblical literature at the university level for twenty years. His other eighteen books include internationally bestselling biographies of Alfred Hitchcock, Laurence Olivier, Tennessee Williams, and Ingrid Bergman.

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Table of Contents

Reluctant SaintAcknowledgments
One: 1181-1187
Two: 1187-1196
Three: 1196-1205
Four: 1205
Five: 1206-1208
Six: 1208-1209
Seven: 1209
Eight: 1209-1210
Nine: 1211-1212
Ten: 1212-1213
Eleven: 1213-1218
Twelve: 1219-1220
Thirteen: 1220-1222
Fourteen: 1223-1224
Fifteen: 1225-1226
About the Author

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    A great biography of St. Francis.

    I just finished Reluctant Saint for the second time. Detailed, objective and easy to follow, it provides great insight into Francis the man. Highly recommended for anyone traveling to Assisi, as the significance of some key locations in Francis' life and ministry are explained. The only shortcoming I find is the story ends with Francis' death (understandable for a biography) and doesn't go into his legacy - an overview of how the Franciscan order evolved would have made for a nice wrap up.

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    Posted August 29, 2010

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