St Francis of Assisi [NOOK Book]


A sketch of St. Francis of Assisi in modern English may be written in
one of three ways. Between these the writer must make his selection; and
the third way, which is adopted here, is in some respects ...
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St Francis of Assisi

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A sketch of St. Francis of Assisi in modern English may be written in
one of three ways. Between these the writer must make his selection; and
the third way, which is adopted here, is in some respects the most
difficult of all. At least, it would be the most difficult if the other
two were not impossible.

First, he may deal with this great and most amazing man as a figure in
secular history and a model of social virtues. He may describe this
divine demagogue as being, as he probably was, the world's one quite
sincere democrat. He may say (what means very little) that St. Francis
was in advance of his age. He may say (what is quite true) that St.
Francis anticipated all that is most liberal and sympathetic in the
modern mood; the love of nature; the love of animals; the sense of
social compassion; the sense of the spiritual dangers of prosperity and
even of property. All those things that nobody understood before
Wordsworth were familiar to St. Francis. All those things that were
first discovered by Tolstoy could have been taken for granted by St
Francis. He could be presented, not only as a human but a humanitarian
hero; indeed as the first hero of humanism. He has been described as a
sort of morning star of the Renaissance. And in comparison with all
these things, his ascetical theology can be ignored or dismissed as a
contempory accident, which was fortunately not a fatal accident. His
religion can be regarded as a superstition, but an inevitable
superstition, from which not even genius could wholly free itself; in
the consideration of which it would be unjust to condemn St. Francis for
his self denial or unduly chide him for his chastity. It is quite true
that even from so detached a standpoint his stature would still appear
heroic. There would still be a great deal to be said about the man who
tried to end the Crusades by talking to the Saracens or who interceded
with the Emporer for the birds. The writer might describe in a purely
historical spirit the whole of the Franciscan inspiration that was felt
in the painting of Giotto, in the poetry of Dante, in the miracle plays
that made possible the modern drama, and in so many things that are
already appreciated by the modern culture. He may try to do it, as
others have done, almost without raising any religious question at all.
In short, he may try to tell the story of a saint without God; which is
like being told to write the life of Nansen and forbidden to mention the
North Pole.

Second, he may go to the opposite extreme, and decide, as it were, to be
defiantly devotional. He may make the theological enthusiasm as
thoroughly the theme as it was the theme of the first Franciscans. He
may treat religion as the real thing that it was to the real Francis of
Assisi. He can find an austere joy, so to speak, in parading the
paradoxes of asceticism and all the topsy-turveydom of humility. He can
stamp the whole history with the Stigmata, record fasts like fights
against a dragon; till in the vague modern mind St Francis is as dark a
figure as St. Dominic. In short, he can produce what many in our world
will regard as a sort of photographic negative; the reversal of all
lights and shades; what the foolish will find as impenetrable as
darkness and even many of the wise will find almost as invisible as if
it were written in silver upon white. Such a study of St. Francis would
be unintelligible to anyone who does not share his religion, perhaps
only partly intelligible to anyone who does not share his vocation.
According to degrees of judgement, it will be regarded as something too
bad or too good for the world. The only difficulty about doing the thing
in this way is that it cannot be done. It would really require a saint
to write about the life of a saint. In the present case the objections
to such a course are insuperable.

Third, he may try to do what I have tried to do here; and as I have
already suggested, the course has peculiar problems of its own. The
writer may put himself in the position of the ordinary modern outsider
and enquirer; as indeed the present writer is still largely and was once
entirely in that position. He may start from the standpoint of a man who
already admires St. Francis, but only for those things which such a man
finds admirable. In other words he may assume that the reader is at
least as enlightened as Renan or Matthew Arnold; but in the light of
that enlightenment he may try to illimunate what Renan and Matthew
Arnold left dark. He may try to use what is understood to explain what
is not understood.
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940013709027
  • Publisher: WDS Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/22/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,084,407
  • File size: 99 KB

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    A thing of beauty...

    G.K. Chesterton is one of the best Christian writers of the twentieth century. Prolific and artistic, he had the knack for combining a classic British commentary sense to any historical Christian subject, making it both the object of cultural interest and often historic reverence. As St. Francis of Assisi was one of the primary influences on Chesterton's decision to convert to Roman Catholicism (Chesterton once described his conversion as being largely due to wanting to belong to the same institution that had produced St. Francis), it makes sense that Chesterton would devote considerable energies toward this biography.

    Chesterton said that there are essentially three ways to approach a biography of a figure such as St. Francis - one can be dispassionately objective (or at least as much as can pass for such a stance), looking at things from a 'purely' historical standpoint; one can go to the opposite extreme and treat the figure as an object of devotion and worship; or one can take a third path (and you've guessed correctly if you assumed this was Chesterton's route) of looking at the character as an interested outsider, someone in the modern world but still one involved in the same kinds of structures and virtues as the one being studied.

    Chesterton's prose is snappy and lively, witty and bit sardonic at times. Chesterton is not afraid to digress to make his own points, and like the intellectual critic who cannot contain the myriad of responses to particular points, Chesterton treats us to a generous collection of tangential observations. One discovers, for instance, Chesterton's opinion of modern British history (that it reads more like journalism than like a developed narrative) - he makes the observation that journalists rarely think to publish a 'life' until the death of the subject; this of course cannot be helped in the case of Francis of Assisi, but the method of the media serves to highlight the difference in world-view between then and now.

    This is a spiritual biography - it does not simply go from event to event in Francis' life, but rather looks as the development of his spirituality, his calling, his order and his influence in later church (and more general) history. In his discussion, he looks at miracles and poetic production, political realities and logical fallacies, ancient sentiments and present-day practices. Francis is seen in many ways as the Mirror of Christ (not quite the same thing as the WWJD fad of the current day, but approximating the sense in some regards), but this sets up an interesting logical situation - if Francis is like Christ, then Christ is in some ways like Francis. Chesterton points out the importance of the difference, likening it to the difference between creator and creature, but there is still the interesting development in history where some tried to make Francis a second Christ (something Francis himself would have opposed bitterly).

    Fun, fascinating, spiritual without succumbing to kitsch, intellectual without being overblown, this book is a classic on Francis, and a classic by Chesterton, a small miracle of Francis (in the many sense of the term).

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2011

    Interesting more than I thought

    Wow, this perspective is great. It tells the life and history of the times that Frncis was growing up in and coming to his place through real like lens.

    It is gree so the typos and errors of the scan are acceptable, not too many to be a hinderance to understanding. Definite great read for growing in God.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2014

    Excellent Biography - I recommend it

    This is a must read for anyone studying the saints. However, Chesterton is not easy to read. Chesterton's works require thoughtful attention or the reader will soon get lost in a maze of complex thoughts that may cause one to put the work aside. In other words, it takes an active reading style to read this author.

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  • Posted April 12, 2013

    A worthy read!!

    Chesterton brings such a breadth and depth of knowledge and connections that his writings are always a bit hard to read. Through all of that, his depiction of Francis is wonderful, illuminating and inspiring. I learned some facts, like Francis has his eyeballs cauterized to overcome a growing blindness!! His trust that God would provide is very challenging for me; I could never do it the way he did it. Chesterton tells that little story well.

    This read is timely in view of the new Pope, Francis I. How like Francis is the Pope going to be??

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2013

    St. Francis of Assisi

    Good background to the times and era of
    St. Francis. Not as many details about his life. I would have liked more information on the Franciscan movement. This is a good beginning biography about Francis.

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