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Among the most beloved saints in the Catholic tradition, Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226) is popularly remembered for his dedication to poverty, his love of animals and nature, and his desire to follow perfectly the teachings and example of Christ. During his lifetime and after his death, followers collected, for their own purposes, numerous stories, anecdotes, and reports Among the most beloved saints in the Catholic tradition, Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226) is popularly remembered for his dedication to poverty, his love of animals and nature, and his desire to follow perfectly the teachings and example of Christ. During his lifetime and after his death, followers collected, for their own purposes, numerous stories, anecdotes, and reports about Francis. As a result, the man himself and his own concerns became lost in legend. In this authoritative and engaging new biography, Augustine Thompson, O.P., sifts through the surviving evidence for the life of Francis using modern historical methods. The result is a complex yet sympathetic portrait of the man and the saint. Francis emerges from this account as very much a typical thirteenth-century Italian layman, but one who, when faced with unexpected crises in his personal life, made decisions so radical that they challenge his own society-and ours. Unlike the saint of legend, this Francis never had a unique divine inspiration to provide him with rules for following the teachings of Jesus. Rather, he spent his life reacting to unexpected challenges, before which he often found himself unprepared and uncertain. The Francis who emerges here is both more complex and more conflicted than that of older biographies. His famed devotion to poverty is found to be more nuanced than expected, perhaps not even his principal spiritual concern. Thompson revisits events small and large in Francis's life, including his troubled relations with his father, his contacts with Clare of Assisi, his encounter with the Muslim sultan, and his receiving the Stigmata, to uncover the man behind the legends and popular images. A tour de force of historical research and biographical writing, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography is divided into two complementary parts-a stand alone biographical narrative and a close, annotated examination of the historical sources about Francis. Taken together, the narrative and the survey of the sources provide a much-needed fresh perspective on this iconic figure. "As I have worked on this biography," Thompson writes, "my respect for Francis and his vision has increased, and I hope that this book will speak to modern people, believers and unbelievers alike, and that the Francis I have come to know will have something to say to them today."


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Among the most beloved saints in the Catholic tradition, Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226) is popularly remembered for his dedication to poverty, his love of animals and nature, and his desire to follow perfectly the teachings and example of Christ. During his lifetime and after his death, followers collected, for their own purposes, numerous stories, anecdotes, and reports Among the most beloved saints in the Catholic tradition, Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226) is popularly remembered for his dedication to poverty, his love of animals and nature, and his desire to follow perfectly the teachings and example of Christ. During his lifetime and after his death, followers collected, for their own purposes, numerous stories, anecdotes, and reports about Francis. As a result, the man himself and his own concerns became lost in legend. In this authoritative and engaging new biography, Augustine Thompson, O.P., sifts through the surviving evidence for the life of Francis using modern historical methods. The result is a complex yet sympathetic portrait of the man and the saint. Francis emerges from this account as very much a typical thirteenth-century Italian layman, but one who, when faced with unexpected crises in his personal life, made decisions so radical that they challenge his own society-and ours. Unlike the saint of legend, this Francis never had a unique divine inspiration to provide him with rules for following the teachings of Jesus. Rather, he spent his life reacting to unexpected challenges, before which he often found himself unprepared and uncertain. The Francis who emerges here is both more complex and more conflicted than that of older biographies. His famed devotion to poverty is found to be more nuanced than expected, perhaps not even his principal spiritual concern. Thompson revisits events small and large in Francis's life, including his troubled relations with his father, his contacts with Clare of Assisi, his encounter with the Muslim sultan, and his receiving the Stigmata, to uncover the man behind the legends and popular images. A tour de force of historical research and biographical writing, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography is divided into two complementary parts-a stand alone biographical narrative and a close, annotated examination of the historical sources about Francis. Taken together, the narrative and the survey of the sources provide a much-needed fresh perspective on this iconic figure. "As I have worked on this biography," Thompson writes, "my respect for Francis and his vision has increased, and I hope that this book will speak to modern people, believers and unbelievers alike, and that the Francis I have come to know will have something to say to them today."

30 review for Francis of Assisi: A New Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    Francis of Assisi is everybody's favorite saint, you know, the sweet faintly hippieish guy who preached to the birds and invented the Christmas creche, right? Well---sorta right. This new bio by Augustine Thompson O.P. has something to say about that. Thompson's stated aim is to sift through the historical evidence and see Francis through the mist of miracle stories and wishful thinking. That's quite a task, especially as he admits in his preface that he had never had much devotion to Francis. T Francis of Assisi is everybody's favorite saint, you know, the sweet faintly hippieish guy who preached to the birds and invented the Christmas creche, right? Well---sorta right. This new bio by Augustine Thompson O.P. has something to say about that. Thompson's stated aim is to sift through the historical evidence and see Francis through the mist of miracle stories and wishful thinking. That's quite a task, especially as he admits in his preface that he had never had much devotion to Francis. Thompson is a member of the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans, who are pretty much considered both the twin order and the chief rivals of St. Francis' creation, the Friars Minor, the Franciscans. However, the Dominicans were often known as the Domini Cane, the bloodhounds of God, and the author has done a major job of sniffing out the contemporary evidence, weighing it and creating a picture of a Francis who is less a hippie and more of a Medieval man. Using Francis' own writings and those of people who were close to him, Thompson shows us a young man from a wealthy merchant family who just liked to have fun; who possibly envied the nobility; who dreamed of glory and chivalry. As a young man, Francis liked wine and good food, fast horses, and leading a batch of teenage pranksters. He worked for his father and acquired a merchant's knowledge of reading, writing, business math, Latin and French. He could ride a horse and use a sword, so when his home city of Assisi went to war with Perugia, Francis joined the militia and went off to fight. The first battle was a disaster for Assisi and Francis was captured and imprisoned. As is the case with many soldiers, Francis came home deeply changed. He no longer wanted to work for his father, found himself unable to enjoy his former pleasures and was plagued by nightmares. As might any Medieval man, he was sure that his symptoms were caused by sin, and he followed the path of penitence. He gave any beggar generous alms, including the clothes from his back. He began to spend time in the forests and in ruined churches in the countryside. He felt peace when praying before the crucifix. Eventually, he cut his ties with home and family and became a full time penitent, living in the run-down church of San Damiano and doing manual labor for his meals. Eventually, he was joined by two other penitents and without Francis' having foreseen such a thing, he had what he called a fraternitas. Over time, his followers increased until it was obvious that they needed a more formal structure. Francis' reputation grew, too, until the folk around him regarded him as a miracle worker. The stories increased as did Francis' order. Thompson gives us as clear a picture of a reluctant saint, a man uncomfortable with the roles thrust on him, passionate about his personal piety and his vision of what his "fraternitas" should be doing. He had not thought of being a preacher, but the pope told him to preach and he obeyed. Descriptions survive of his dancing and singing while preaching. It must have been a great show, and the common people were dazzled. Francis was unhappy that he was singled out above his brothers, for his ideal was perfect humility. Even in the last days of his life, when he was terribly ill, almost blind and suffering greatly from chills, he would give away his cloaks and covers to the poor. He shows as a terrible patient, in need of tons of care and cranky when his caregivers tried to take good care of him. But he also shows a deep contrition toward the recipients of his crankiness and a deep love and concern for the future of his fraters. Thompson structures his book so that the narrative of St. Francis' doings is in the first eight chapters. If you do not wish to immerse yourself in academic debate, you can quit there. The last half of the book is densely written description of what experts said what about the existing evidence and why or why not they are wrong. This half of the book is densely written and makes the assumption that the reader has lot of background in Italian history and culture, as well as a familiarity with the Medieval Catholic Church. This is heavy going and I don't recommend it for the casual reader. I slogged through it because I'm an obsessive compulsive and I had to do it. The first half of the book was entertaining and instructive and I think history lovers would benefit from it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Francis of Assisi is the most malleable of medieval saints. People started projecting ideologies onto him within a few years of his death and the process has continued up to the present, to the extent that you can describe a thousand different Francises to fit nearly whatever mold you’d like. He’s liberal and conservative, an animal rights activist, a pacifist, an environmentalist, a feminist, a threat or a bolster to the early days of capitalism, an exemplar of obedience to the Church, a radica Francis of Assisi is the most malleable of medieval saints. People started projecting ideologies onto him within a few years of his death and the process has continued up to the present, to the extent that you can describe a thousand different Francises to fit nearly whatever mold you’d like. He’s liberal and conservative, an animal rights activist, a pacifist, an environmentalist, a feminist, a threat or a bolster to the early days of capitalism, an exemplar of obedience to the Church, a radical figure who challenged its traditional hierarchy. He’s left more documentation than any comparable figure, but it’s simultaneously much harder to figure out exactly what he’s about or who he was. Augustine Thompson’s work is aiming to cut through all these romanticized and anachronistic images to figure out precisely who Francis was. He winds up with the picture of an individual that’s very human, very vivid, and frequently very sad. Francis comes across as an emotionally tormented individual with the distinct problem of building his life upon a paradox: he was the leader of a rapidly swelling religious order that was predicated on the idea of abject humility and obedience. Unlike many other religious founders, Francis seems to have somewhat stumbled into the founding of an order, and his loose, charismatic, and exmplary style of leadership quickly became insufficient when he was in charge of thousands of brothers rather than a handful. This seems to have resulted in massive amounts of psychological distress for Francis. Thompson’s biography is unique in a couple of ways. The most noticeable is the way in which it sidelines the issue of poverty in Francis’s thought and elevates Eucharistic piety. It offers up a picture of an individual who wasn’t particularly innovative in theology or its application – he was spotlessly orthodox and had a persistent reverance for the priesthood, and his ideas about the Eucharist were only different from contemporary lay piety in their vehemence. Where Francis really shone was his personal spiritual charisma. He seems to have been gifted with the ability to make a striking and lasting impression on those that surrounded him, from his earliest companions to popes like Innocent III and Honorius III. He essentially founded an order by accident: he and his earliest followers wished to simply be utterly humble, but once his spontaneous charisma drew followers whom he refused to ever turn away, he eventually crashed headlong into the problem of how to deal with an order that had suddenly become too big to lead through personal spiritual authority. Thompson conveys all of this really well, and I think that his overall picture of the trajectory of Francis’s life is very convincing (particularly the lack of early intention in founding the order). It’s a very human portrait, which I like. My only qualm (it’s a fairly small one) is that Thompson perhaps marginalizes poverty a bit too much as a factor in Francis’s life and the Franciscan order. That’s understandable – it’s been overemphasized for a very long time due to the drastic problems that it created later in the order’s history. But I honestly do think that poverty was a big role in Francis’s life and his mission, and it seems strange to me that Thompson seems to feel the need to explain away every reference to poverty as anachronistic or a misinterpretation. It needs a downgrade, but not a total removal from an account of Francis’s life. Also an issue – though an unavoidable one, really, given the nature of the sources – is that Thompson’s account decides to include or to abandon certain stories regarding the saint based largely on what feels right. I’m not sure there’s a better way to do it, but when Thompson decides to include a story because it fits in with his earlier interpretations, the thinking seems a little circular. They’re small issues, though, really. Even when I didn’t entirely agree with Thompson’s interpretations I thought that his work was carefully researched, well articulated, and it always made me think.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    As some folks know, I am a secular Franciscan. But even it wasn't part of our Rule, I would still be reading books about the life of Francis of Assisi. I first became acquainted with the saint around 1971 when I visited a Catholic church in Kansas City with a group of young people from my Episcopal church, St. Mary's. The priest there was Franciscan, and had a sliver from one of the saint's bones preserved in a monstrance (a vessel used for displaying both the consecrated host and a holy relic), As some folks know, I am a secular Franciscan. But even it wasn't part of our Rule, I would still be reading books about the life of Francis of Assisi. I first became acquainted with the saint around 1971 when I visited a Catholic church in Kansas City with a group of young people from my Episcopal church, St. Mary's. The priest there was Franciscan, and had a sliver from one of the saint's bones preserved in a monstrance (a vessel used for displaying both the consecrated host and a holy relic), which he blessed us with. Not long after that, the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Franco Zefferelli, came out; to an adolescent of that era, it was wonderfully inspirational (although now it seems almost embarrassingly saccharine, as well as being less than historically accurate). Father Thompson, a Dominican and professor of History at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, has created a very carefully accurate portrait of The Povarello--the Little Poor Man of Assisi. As a true historian, he cuts past the hagiography of the centuries following the saint's death in 1226, many of which were written in the style of the times to emphasize the fantastic "miraculous" events that probably never happened. Instead, Fr. Thompson relies on the writings of Francis himself, his contemporaries, and the more trustworthy records of the times. What emerges is a portrait of a real person who was trying to live out a vocation that he himself found hard to grasp. I'm finding this portrait of Francis refreshing, but I also feel a bit sad. I'm happy to let go of the more fantastic stories, such as the wolf of Gubbio, but I'm feeling a little remorse over some of the others, such as the rebuilding of San Damiano (it was probably less a ruin than the stories would have us believe). Still, isn't it better that a saint's life be shown as more down-to-Earth? It's hard enough trying to live a Christian life without setting our role models so far removed from our world that they could never be imitated. Fr. Thompson's rational approach is satisfying, but it's important to respond in kind. He does an excellent job of citing his sources, but as is true of most historical work, his conclusions are, to greater or lesser extent, extrapolations, well-reasoned as they may be. We'll never have a perfect picture of Francis, of course, but somewhere between the facts and the myths lie truths that are transcendent.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    I wanted this book to be exceptional, and in a way it was. Certainly well researched and dispassionately written, I found it to be strangely cold and souless. It certainly does a good job of pointing out the inner struggles and contradictions in the man. I had only a casual interest in this book, and probably shouldn't have been surprised or dismayed by my discovery that it probably was not intended for the casual reader. In terms of structure, I found the information in the second part of the b I wanted this book to be exceptional, and in a way it was. Certainly well researched and dispassionately written, I found it to be strangely cold and souless. It certainly does a good job of pointing out the inner struggles and contradictions in the man. I had only a casual interest in this book, and probably shouldn't have been surprised or dismayed by my discovery that it probably was not intended for the casual reader. In terms of structure, I found the information in the second part of the book, in which the author explains his analysis and evaluation of source documents and prior biographies, to be useful and informative. However, having to constantly flip back and forth between the sections really interrutped the overall flow. I wish the author would have incorporated some of the narrative into the biography itself and have otherwise used the more traditional footnote approach. I also wish that he would have provided a little more information regarding the political, religious and social climate in which these events took place. The book did make me curious enough about this strange and holy man to read a different biography of Francis.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Darrick Taylor

    Augustine Thompson's biography of Francis of Assisi is a fine works of scholarship that presents us with a some ways more "down-to-earth" version of the great saint than popular culture or even Franciscan tradition might be used to. Following a scrupulous method (which he explains quite well), Thompson, a Dominican Friar, eschews certain popular tales about Francis (such as the wolf of Gubbio) to focus as closely as possible on the Francis behind the various traditions that grew up after his dea Augustine Thompson's biography of Francis of Assisi is a fine works of scholarship that presents us with a some ways more "down-to-earth" version of the great saint than popular culture or even Franciscan tradition might be used to. Following a scrupulous method (which he explains quite well), Thompson, a Dominican Friar, eschews certain popular tales about Francis (such as the wolf of Gubbio) to focus as closely as possible on the Francis behind the various traditions that grew up after his death. Thompson's Francis is much more concerned with the Eucharist, for example, than he is with poverty; Thompson cites numerous letters by Francis ordering his friars to procure chalices and other vessels for the liturgy and to keep them clean, something that he took very seriously. Moreover, Thompson is quite impatient with the depiction of Francis in the film "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," and if you are hoping to find a Francis who is a proto-political radical arrayed against private property, you will be disappointed. Thompson's Francis is very much orthodox and mystical, rather than political. This is a fine work of scholarship, which includes a long section on the modern scholarly debate over Francis's life. Thus it is a good introduction for students and laymen alike. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Patrick T.

    Perhaps the best way to begin a discussion of Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P. — a rich, austere and complex portrait of one of the most famous and admired saints in Catholicism — is to look at the greeting that Francis used: May the Lord give you peace. Francis said he learned this greeting from God, and Thompson writes: This phrase was not a command or a didactic instruction; it was a prayer. Its use placed Francis within a medieval “peace movement” going back to the Perhaps the best way to begin a discussion of Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P. — a rich, austere and complex portrait of one of the most famous and admired saints in Catholicism — is to look at the greeting that Francis used: May the Lord give you peace. Francis said he learned this greeting from God, and Thompson writes: This phrase was not a command or a didactic instruction; it was a prayer. Its use placed Francis within a medieval “peace movement” going back to the period of the Gregorian Reforms in the eleventh century, but its use as a greeting was revolutionary in its novelty… Francis’s greeting did not use the imperative as a priest’s blessing would have; rather, setting aside any priestly authority, he prayed that God grant the hearer peace. Something about the greeting was so disturbing and novel that when Francis was traveling with one of his early brothers…, people reacted with confusion or anger at it…. One thing that distinguishes Francis from earlier and later medieval peacemakers was his absolute lack of any program of legal or social reforms. He did not diagnose the moral roots of social disease or civil unrest. Rather, he prayed to God to remove them….Combined with Francis’s presence, [the greeting] effected an inner peace in many who heard it. That his words and presence gave a profound internal peace underlies Francis’s magnetism for the men and women of Assisi and communal Italy. A professional historian Okay. That’s a long quote, but I’ve used it because it illustrates or touches on a number of important points about this newly published work. Thompson, a Dominican priest, is a professional historian, and he set out to write a biography of Francis that would find “the man behind the legends.” This means, for example, that he trusts contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous accounts more than those written later. He relies on people who actually knew the holy man rather than simply heard of him. And he is skeptical of stories that were produced to score a point in a philosophical, theological or organizational debate. As a result, some of the most beloved stories about Francis, such as the taming of a savage wolf at Gubbio, are excluded, and others, such as the Sermon to the Birds, are presented shorn of many layers of explication. But, most important, with this approach, the real Francis has more of a chance to emerge, as in Thompson’s commentary on the peace greeting. It would be easy enough to miss the significance of “May the Lord give you peace.” It seems the sort of thing a saint would say, seems even sweet, maybe too sweet. Thompson, though, rolls out his research to show that it was anything but. It was a radical prayer. It didn’t attempt to teach or command. It simply was. This shook people up initially. When coupled, however, with Francis’s presence and personality, it bestowed serenity on many who received it. “The vomit of will” In this light, Francis is no sugary well-wisher. His words carry a jolt, even as they come to provide comfort. Neither is he someone who wants to give commands. He is not looking to lead, or even instruct. He just is. He lives the life he feels called to live — essentially, the life of Jesus. The life of the lowest of the low, subject to everyone and anyone. (He once wrote of his fear that Franciscans would stray from obedience and “return to the vomit of their will.”) His goal was to live without his own will, to follow only God’s will. To be a model of submission for his followers. His calling from God, Francis said, was to be “a new fool in the world.” He and his followers, Thompson writes, were to “live in the world as pilgrims and strangers.” In spite of himself And, yet, Francis was a towering personality. His magnetism and example drew people to him, led people to want to follow him. He captivated bishops and Popes. He was seen as a living saint. He was a celebrity. And he was leading a movement of thousands of followers. Thompson often writes of Francis as conflicted. And no wonder. His conversion had been a private experience, a reorientation of his sensibilities. His response had been to serve the lepers he had previously detested. Then Bernard and Peter arrived, moved by similar religious conversions. Francis’s response to this unexpected development was to seek help from God through a popular divination, the random opening of the missal at San Nicolo. The result was a radical call to leave everything behind… The increasing number of followers certainly suggests Francis’s great personal magnetism. On the other hand, Francis seemed to have none of the qualities usually found in a leader, religious or otherwise. He seemed positively averse to the responsibilities that his movement’s success forced upon him… Francis founded his movement in spite of himself. A small black hen Indeed, Francis’s struggles with leadership, especially as his movement became international in scope, frequently left him feeling inadequate. During one controversy, Thompson writes: He recounted that he had dreamt he was a small black hen, and under him so many chicks were hatching that he could no longer keep them all under his wings. As that hen desperately tried to cover and protect her brood, her young kept popping out from under her and running away. The meaning was all too clear. Francis could not perform the task of mother hen that God had given him. He had failed. Francis’s dream of himself as a hen is a reminder of how much, in the public mind today, he is seen as a saint with a special relationship with animals and nature. There is certainly much truth in that perception, but Thompson takes pains to emphasize that Francis was no pantheist nor a vegetarian. Indeed, in contrast to other religious orders of his time, he permitted his followers to eat meat on many days when others fasted. The key thing was not to be picky — to eat what was put before them. And, in his final illness, Francis found God’s creatures a trial to bear. Thompson writes: The squalor [of his quarters] attracted vermin and mice, which attacked him as he tried to sleep at night. By day they infested and defiled his food. Francis became convinced that they were no ordinary vermin, but a trial sent by the devil himself. “Spontaneous joy” More usually, however, Francis “took spontaneous joy” from animals, whether a sheep or a cricket or, yes, birds. Thompson’s retelling of the Sermon to the Birds story is less ornamented than the legend but richer in its psychological insight into the man. Once while traveling near Bevagna in the Spoleto valley, Francis spied a large flock of birds in a field by the side of the road. Delighted by them, he approached and addressed them with his familiar greeting, “The Lord give you peace.” He was even more delighted that they did not fly away, even as he walked into their midst. He voiced great praise to God for this and urged his sister birds to do so too. This was something they did, singing, spreading their wings, and taking flight as he blessed them with the sign of the cross. This incident, later elaborated into the famous “Sermon to the Birds,” exemplifies Francis’s relationship to nature: delight at its presence and greater delight when animals did not fear him, both leading to praise of the Creator who made them. Marks Thompson does not shy away from relating miracles if the reports of them are trustworthy, nor from writing about Francis’s stigmata. After this vision [of an angel], Francis began to manifest strange marks on his body. On the palms of his hands and on the top of his feet, there appeared protruding bits of flesh that resembled nothing so much as nail heads. On the base of his feet and the backs of his hands, other outgrowths appeared resembling nail points. In his side, there appeared a wound that dripped blood. The phenomena on Francis’s hands and feet did not issue any blood…. These physical marks reproduced the very wounds of Christ, the same wounds on which Francis meditated daily. Over the centuries, many writers, including Plutarch, have dismissed Francis’s stigmata as a fairy tale or tried to explain them away as a psychologically induced condition. Thompson writes that, given the great degree of documentation about the marks, virtually all modern writers accept them as real. Even the nail-head and nail-point form of the marks in the hands and feet argues in their favor since it goes against the expected manifestation of the stigmata as a bloody laceration. Thompson’s interpretation Readers who go to the lives of saints for inspiration will find much in this biography to ponder. Nonetheless, they may regret the absence of much treasured stories. Those stories — amplifications, if you will, of the life of Francis — have value, I think. They say something about religious faith and about the way believers use, manipulate and reshape the legacies of holy people, for good and ill. I would like to read another book that would examine such stories in these various contexts, perhaps building on Thompson’s bedrock look at Francis. That said, I am heartily grateful to Thompson for attempting to weed through the clutter of eight centuries of documents and commentary and develop this rich, austere and complex portrait of Francis. As he writes, this is his interpretation. It is far from the final word on the saint, of course. I doubt there will come a day when writers will not want to take on Francis. That’s yet one more indication of the import of this short, gaunt, conflicted holy man. Patrick T. Reardon 6.6.13

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alan Kern

    This book is as close as I could get to the real saint. I've always been fascinated by his figure, but have always been unsure as to what was real and what was fiction. Before this book, I read a popular but highly romanticized biography that took many creative liberties. Thompson, by analyzing the primary sources and applying a critical lens, was helpful in wading through the many legends about this saint and getting to the most accurate picture of him. This book is as close as I could get to the real saint. I've always been fascinated by his figure, but have always been unsure as to what was real and what was fiction. Before this book, I read a popular but highly romanticized biography that took many creative liberties. Thompson, by analyzing the primary sources and applying a critical lens, was helpful in wading through the many legends about this saint and getting to the most accurate picture of him.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Kraus

    Part I is informative and a good history of St Francis. The author provides us with the real Francis, not the modern understanding of Francis as a hippie ecumenical globalist. Part II is a dense review of the scholarly debates and not needed for one that is reading for a better understanding of St. Francis.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Denton Baker

    Very good read. Author well described how conflicted Francis was as a human and in his spirituality. Thompson well distinguished between fact and fiction and emphasized how Francis was definitely not a leader or organizer. Strangely, Francis was never ordained.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    A real solid biography written at a scholarly but accessible level. Great introduction to Francis.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Maria Virginia

    Life changing. I love this book because it's focused on fact on legend! Read my full review here: http://www.saintsandrecipes.com/st-fr... Life changing. I love this book because it's focused on fact on legend! Read my full review here: http://www.saintsandrecipes.com/st-fr...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marshall Johnson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Very detailed and scholarly workm.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Susan Frances

    Who was Francis of Assisi and how did he come to be the founder of a unit of the Catholic Church known as the Franciscan Order, which continues to survive today? Author Augustine Thompson traces the acclaimed friar’s history in his book Francis of Assisi: A New Biography describing him as a revolutionary man in his day early 13th century Italy. Francis’ mission to achieve an Apostolic Life explicitly based on the Scriptures caused conflict within himself and among his followers and devoted flock Who was Francis of Assisi and how did he come to be the founder of a unit of the Catholic Church known as the Franciscan Order, which continues to survive today? Author Augustine Thompson traces the acclaimed friar’s history in his book Francis of Assisi: A New Biography describing him as a revolutionary man in his day early 13th century Italy. Francis’ mission to achieve an Apostolic Life explicitly based on the Scriptures caused conflict within himself and among his followers and devoted flock as well as giving him great joy and meaning to his life. His magnetic delivery of sermons and ad hoc speeches in public and before the clergy made him into a folkloric celebrity similarly to Robin Hood who also existed during this time in South Yorkshire, England. Thompson shows that Francis of Assisi developed one of the most purist codes of conduct for contemporary disciples of Jesus’ teachings emphasizing such moral ethics as turning to menial labor to earn one’s necessities such as food and shelter, and being charitable and compassionate to the sick and downtrodden. Francis’ efforts to be accepted by the papacy and his ambition, in a spiritual sense, to spread the word of the principles put forth in the Bible is both laudable and contradictory to the tenets of humility, the ideals of the penitent man which is the foundation of the Order that Francis established. As his brood evolved and the audiences expanded, Francis of Assisi’s struggle to reconcile his ambition to spread the word and convert communities such as the Saracens to Christianity resulted in him becoming a revered prophet and causing him to compromise his lifestyle of poverty, chastity, and obedience to his flock. Along with public reverence came the condition he was superior to the audiences he was delivering sermons to, and with such authority came the temptation of corruption and abuse, also threatening to dilute his ideals of an Apostolic Life. The closer he came to his goal, the less he was achieving it. Thompson’s insight and in depth research into Francis of Assisi’s life and liturgical works has pedagogical value as well as significance to people inside and outside of nationalities and belief systems of Catholic cultures. The issues which erupted within Francis’ group have relevance in modern times. The struggles and tension he faced are shared by those who strive for an ideal lifestyle and frustrated when satisfaction eludes them. Francis’ journey continues to be walked by others as Thompson shows evidence of the Order’s needed to adapt to social changes in order to continue to survive. Francis acquired sainthood in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX leaving a legacy that inspired painters to portray him on canvass, sculptors to depict his likeness in stone, and clergyman inspired to created homilies based on his teachings. Thompson provides the evidence which shows how so many communities had been moved by Francis of Assisi, a common man who had influenced the mindset of nations during his lifetime and after his death.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Br. Fred Jaxheimer, OEF

    I chose this book because it was described as a scholarly historical work that was described as unique and insightful by readers. The first half of the book is nicely flowing historical narrative. The second half of the book discusses and explains all the historical sources and alternate views of what occurred. I see the second half of the book, the discussions of those historical sources of more value to me down the road. The first part was for me, a walk with Francis that has already helped me I chose this book because it was described as a scholarly historical work that was described as unique and insightful by readers. The first half of the book is nicely flowing historical narrative. The second half of the book discusses and explains all the historical sources and alternate views of what occurred. I see the second half of the book, the discussions of those historical sources of more value to me down the road. The first part was for me, a walk with Francis that has already helped me to know his life story better. I got to follow his radical decisions that challenged him and changed society and the Church. Certainly those decisions, his life example, and his love of the Lord Jesus is still challenging and impacting the world today. Although I was originally disturbed by the absence of a few well known legends or events that I remember from childhood stories or that are depicted in art, I found that I was drawn into his reactions to unexpected challenges for which he found himself unprepared or deeply conflicted. Without the author stating it, the book revealed to me God’s hand in the discernment path which planted seeds and produced the spiritual fruits of Francis and his ever expanding band of followers. St. Francis was at times so wildly unpredictable that I was tempted to assume he was crazy as a loon. But in the end, I concluded that he was usually just chasing the Holy Spirit; who the Celtic Christians would call “An Geadh-Glas”, or “the Wild Goose”. One belief that I brought with me as a reader is that sometimes when you observe someone chasing the Wild Goose, you can’t help but want to be in chase with them. In this book, I discovered things that I did not know about Francis and I developed a strong desire and priority to read the original writings of Francis and his contemporaries. Certainly the life of St. Francis and “his rule” form a challenging model of how to be Christ like, but I also see Francis and Franciscans as chasers of the Holy Spirit. It compels me to join in the chase like so many others. The chase is on.

  15. 4 out of 5

    patrick Lorelli

    I have read other books about ST. FRANCIS, but this book made him more as a person and some one that was easier to relate to. There are parts of the story that are the same as in other books but this one goes into a little more detail. As to why he was depressed and what lead up to it. A lot of research went into this book and for me it was welcomed. Not the same story just retold. You find out that he had a time where he was parting and drinking coming home late. That it was not just being in p I have read other books about ST. FRANCIS, but this book made him more as a person and some one that was easier to relate to. There are parts of the story that are the same as in other books but this one goes into a little more detail. As to why he was depressed and what lead up to it. A lot of research went into this book and for me it was welcomed. Not the same story just retold. You find out that he had a time where he was parting and drinking coming home late. That it was not just being in prison for a year after a battle that he fought in but the sheer horror of that battle and being left on the field after wards with just a few friends left really had an effect on him. It was like he had P.T.S.D. When he finally did get home he did not anything to do with his former life and looked for a new life. That is when his service. Actually his study of the Gospels and of John mostly. Where he speaks Christ dying on the cross is the most important part and to live in reverence of the cross. When he began going to church he started noticing how many crucifixes needed repairing and the churches as well. He began fixing and cleaning. People started hearing about him and wanted to follow him. He told them they must give up all things, some did some did not. One thing that got me was how he got after priests about washing the linens for the altar, cleaning the chalices, wearing the proper vestments and keeping the Eucharist locked up. He also felt that priest should kneel as well as lay people. A lot of these were put into action by Pope Herodias III, this was well after St. Francis letter. Could not be proved if he read the letter or not but he is the one who granted his mission. The rest of the book was the same information. I really enjoyed this book it was a good book. I got it off of Net Galley.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jan Frederik Solem

    Given the friendly rivalry and mutual respect of our orders, Dominicans and Franciscans, a Dominican writing a biography of St. Francis would be expected to do his very best. And so fr. Augustine Thompson OP, after several previous books on Italian Catholic piety of the period, has dared to turn his scholarship to the saint that we, too, in our litany of all saints, ask to pray for us: our father Francis. It is not for a Dominican to speculate, "what would St. Francis do" as Franciscans naturall Given the friendly rivalry and mutual respect of our orders, Dominicans and Franciscans, a Dominican writing a biography of St. Francis would be expected to do his very best. And so fr. Augustine Thompson OP, after several previous books on Italian Catholic piety of the period, has dared to turn his scholarship to the saint that we, too, in our litany of all saints, ask to pray for us: our father Francis. It is not for a Dominican to speculate, "what would St. Francis do" as Franciscans naturally would. From us would be expected the very best of scholarship, truth - and kindness. Fr. Thompson's book succeeds admirably. It is a very readable, meticulously researched work, in two parts of about the same length - the *Life* and then *Sources and debates*. So half of the book consists of endnotes to each chapter!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Susan Paxton

    It seems to have taken a Dominican - Augustine Thompson, OP - to write the closest thing to a strictly historical biography of the founder of the Franciscans that we are ever likely to have. Informed by his knowledge of the period, Thompson has carefully sifted through the historical sources for Francis and peeled away the legendary accretions. The portrait that emerges is a more difficult, challenging man than the plaster saint standing in so many birdbaths. The first half of the book is biogra It seems to have taken a Dominican - Augustine Thompson, OP - to write the closest thing to a strictly historical biography of the founder of the Franciscans that we are ever likely to have. Informed by his knowledge of the period, Thompson has carefully sifted through the historical sources for Francis and peeled away the legendary accretions. The portrait that emerges is a more difficult, challenging man than the plaster saint standing in so many birdbaths. The first half of the book is biography; the second half is Thompson's discussion, chapter by chapter, of his historical method and the judgment calls he's made. The bibliography is also exceptionally useful.

  18. 4 out of 5

    John

    A fascinating and very documented book in the style of "a search for the historical Francis." More than half the book contains the author's notes on his choices of what to include and exclude in his retelling of the story of Francis. Some aspects of the book were very revealing and helpful. I plan to write a more extended review on my blog, but I have some questions. Most of all I wonder if he takes too strictly the exclusion of many stories that for him represent the poverty controversies of the A fascinating and very documented book in the style of "a search for the historical Francis." More than half the book contains the author's notes on his choices of what to include and exclude in his retelling of the story of Francis. Some aspects of the book were very revealing and helpful. I plan to write a more extended review on my blog, but I have some questions. Most of all I wonder if he takes too strictly the exclusion of many stories that for him represent the poverty controversies of the mid and late 13th century. This is not a book for beginners trying to understand Francis, but it was helpful for me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mike Carey

    This was a well researched biography and the author uses the entire 2nd section ( 175 pages) to cite the medieval sources and to discuss the often conflicting opinions about that research. So, an A for effort and diligent research but not so high a grade on writing a compelling biography of the man. The one thing that I did take away from the book was how incredibly humble this man really was. He was truly in love with Christ and treated his relationship with Christ like a love affair. Totally c This was a well researched biography and the author uses the entire 2nd section ( 175 pages) to cite the medieval sources and to discuss the often conflicting opinions about that research. So, an A for effort and diligent research but not so high a grade on writing a compelling biography of the man. The one thing that I did take away from the book was how incredibly humble this man really was. He was truly in love with Christ and treated his relationship with Christ like a love affair. Totally committed to his lover. His choices of complete poverty, physical penance and extreme humility - always insisting on being the lesser brother was absolutely amazing.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    I have read a number of books on the life of St. Francis. Several have been more 'exciting' to read, yet mostly because they took tremendous liberties with the historical account and/or reiterated the myths with creative flair. Thompson's account is sometimes a bit tedious because it seeks to present historical records as accurately as possible. I chose this book because it was promoted as a history rather than a novel. I have not been disappointed. Highly recommended for those who are truly see I have read a number of books on the life of St. Francis. Several have been more 'exciting' to read, yet mostly because they took tremendous liberties with the historical account and/or reiterated the myths with creative flair. Thompson's account is sometimes a bit tedious because it seeks to present historical records as accurately as possible. I chose this book because it was promoted as a history rather than a novel. I have not been disappointed. Highly recommended for those who are truly seeking to better know the real Francis of Assisi.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tinika

    This book by Augustine Thompson is in two parts. The first half is a fascinating biography of St. Francis of Assisi. Trying to avoid the legends that accrued to this saint's cult after his death, Thompson searches for the historical man. What emerges is a personality both devout and conflicted, unsure how and unwilling to handle the role that is thrust upon him yet becoming an inspiration for both his own time and for ours. I got through this book quickly as I only skimmed the contents of the se This book by Augustine Thompson is in two parts. The first half is a fascinating biography of St. Francis of Assisi. Trying to avoid the legends that accrued to this saint's cult after his death, Thompson searches for the historical man. What emerges is a personality both devout and conflicted, unsure how and unwilling to handle the role that is thrust upon him yet becoming an inspiration for both his own time and for ours. I got through this book quickly as I only skimmed the contents of the second half (being the notes on which the first half is based.)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    This is a very scholarly approach to the life of St. Francis and the author is careful not to accept legends without some historical backing of their veracity. I found it fascinating at first, but I eventually got bogged down in the depth of the constant analysis and did not finish the book. On the other hand, I will now find it hard to read any other book about St. Francis because I will be skeptical of its truth. Sigh. Recommended for serious students of this unique man of God who has influenc This is a very scholarly approach to the life of St. Francis and the author is careful not to accept legends without some historical backing of their veracity. I found it fascinating at first, but I eventually got bogged down in the depth of the constant analysis and did not finish the book. On the other hand, I will now find it hard to read any other book about St. Francis because I will be skeptical of its truth. Sigh. Recommended for serious students of this unique man of God who has influenced us in so many ways.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    This book is very different from God's pauper by Nikos Kazantzakis about Francis Assisi. This is not something you can read casually. It tells you a lot of stuff that you may not want to know as far as Francis Assisi is concerned. Good for scholars doing research on his life.. Then the best thing that this book conveys is that Francis Assissi was very human in nature as much any one could be...He had his own struggles, but by the grace of God he was able to lead a life through his struggles This book is very different from God's pauper by Nikos Kazantzakis about Francis Assisi. This is not something you can read casually. It tells you a lot of stuff that you may not want to know as far as Francis Assisi is concerned. Good for scholars doing research on his life.. Then the best thing that this book conveys is that Francis Assissi was very human in nature as much any one could be...He had his own struggles, but by the grace of God he was able to lead a life through his struggles

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jason Walker

    If you like history and you like to know how historians construct their books, this is the biography os Francis of Assisi for you. However, it is also not well crafted for the story or biography reader. For me the narrative was good, the story is important for the impact the Jesuit order has had on history and culture - I liked the book. But I can see others not following its notes and end note system.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Levaria

    I loved reading the 'true' story--or as much as the author could uncover. I also like how it analyzes more in depth in part II (which I only skimmed through, because I was more interested in the actual story of the man, rather than sources or modern debates). It is dry, and took some motivation to continue reading..but that, I guess, can be expected due to the scholarly context the author approached his subject. I loved reading the 'true' story--or as much as the author could uncover. I also like how it analyzes more in depth in part II (which I only skimmed through, because I was more interested in the actual story of the man, rather than sources or modern debates). It is dry, and took some motivation to continue reading..but that, I guess, can be expected due to the scholarly context the author approached his subject.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eric Neubauer

    I really enjoyed the book and appreciated the down-to-earth / historical biography of St. Francis. It was short and to the point. I was a little disappointed in the light coverage of the stigmata & other spiritual experiences and how these shaped the man. I am now enjoying the content at the end of the book - I will be reading the suggested texts.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lyn

    Thoughtful and Uplifting A book that brings peace of spirit while you read and learn more about St. Francis of Assisi. The book is well written and easy to read. I found myself contemplating about how many of the prayers are still said and used – his thoughts and goals still relevant today. Enjoy! NetGalley provided an advanced review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    The quest for the historical Francis. Thompson attempts to look past the hagiographical and devotional presentations of Francis and depict someone a little closer to the person that actually lived in Assissi. I've been reading several of the early hagiographical accounts and this book provided a nice balance. The quest for the historical Francis. Thompson attempts to look past the hagiographical and devotional presentations of Francis and depict someone a little closer to the person that actually lived in Assissi. I've been reading several of the early hagiographical accounts and this book provided a nice balance.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    Enjoyed reading it though I was upset that halfway through it became more of a scholarly paper giving more detail, chapter by chapter, about the first part. I wish the author could have found a way to work more of that in-depth info into the mainstream style of the first half.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    Works through the evidence to find the historical Francis. I appreciated his splitting the book into two: the life of Francis and then the run down on the sources, debates etc. This approach made it more accessible and enjoyable.

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