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Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi

Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi

4.4 5
by Donald Spoto

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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.
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)

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Penguin Group
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324 KB
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18 Years

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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Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Celebrity biographer Spoto who is recognized for his definitive biographies of such luminaries as Tennessee Williams, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ingrid Bergman is also a biblical scholar. For over twenty years he taught theology on the college level, which may well have been rich background for his acclaimed "The Hidden Jesus" (1998). He now turns his attention to another religious figure - Saint Francis of Assisi. If ever there was an unlikely candidate for sainthood it was Francis. He came from a prosperous family, was rebellious, served as a soldier, and made a place for himself in the business world of his time. Is this the Francis that we revere today because of his unselfish kindness and compassion? The story of his transformation, although probably well known, is presented with fresh insights by Spoto. The author views Francis from the standpoint of history, and infuses his biography with telling details of religion and society during Francis's day. Given these insights our traditional view of the saint is enhanced. In addition, readers learn a great deal about the turmoil and violence which was rampant in medieval Italy. After reading this thoughtful study one no longer sees Francis as a thin other worldly figure surrounded by animals. That stereotypical picture is replaced by a portrait of an authentic human being, thanks to Donald Spoto.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read The Reluctant Saint twice and will probably read it many times to come. For those of us who loved the film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, this book offers a rare look into the true humanity of Francis and offers historical and biographical fact without depriving us of the romance in this glorious life!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this biography. I was surprised that I was learning details about the original ideas and the Crusades that I was not aware of. It is a short biography, 215 pages not counting notes and bibliography. The author Donald Spoto, implies that he did a lot of research with an ever increasing body of research. He pulls no punches in being critical of a decadent era and a Catholic Church that was more interested with power and property then with the peace of Jesus.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago