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Posted March 2, 2009
I have been an admirer of St. Francis since my youth. I have, however, not known many specifics of his life. This biography was helpful to understand the man in his own times. This book was originally written by Sabatier in French in 1906. This English edition follows the Houghton's translation but the editor adds helpful annotations to provide more historical background, or expand on various aspects of the story.
This is an admirable, readable, and inspiring book, which develops a realistic portrait of Francis as a product of his times, including some of the puzzling, and irritating acceptance of and commitment to some beliefs or assumptions of the ignorant age, and a puzzling commitment to the formalities and liturgy of the Catholic Church, including obedience to authorities whom he felt were unspiritual and unaware of the spiritual realities he felt had been revealed to him as the basis of his mission in life.
His commitment to humility and deference became his undoing at the hands of the unscrupulous, power-oriented Cardinal Ugolino, who later became Pope Gregory IX. This manipulator wrested the new, unique and troubling Franciscan order from Francis' control with his acquiescence, because Francis felt obligated by the consistency of his own Rule of life and mission to bow to Ugolino's demand, after months of badgering in which he kept trying to make his viewpoint and call clear.
Francis never gave up on his attempt to faithfully follow the insights of his calling to non-conformity. Because of the changes made by Ugolino, even before Francis' death, his order had become just one more of the hierarchy's ecclesiastical arms, opposite to the original intention of the founder.