Having read several books on the life of St. Francis of Assisi and so am fairly acquainted with this saint and his life. Well at least I thought I was. Reading Francis of Assisi by Michael De La Bedoyere which was written in 1962 but recently re-released by Sophia Institute Press I was quite happy to get an even better feel for this great saint. In some ways it reminds me of G.K. Chesterton book on St. Francis in some of the insights, though it is much better researched.
The book starts off describing St. Francis overcoming his fear of leapers by approaching one and kissing his hand. This chapter really set the tone for the book in its imaginative portrayal of this event like a Louis De Wohl novel. The following chapters give a more straight-forward history of Francis’ early life up through his death.
One thing surprised me and I am not sure why I never picked up on this fact ,is that as the book says he is the only saint canonized with a nickname. His baptismal name was Giovanni and his nickname Francis comes from the Frenchman which is what others came to call him. How he got this nickname is lost in history, but probably is associated with this French mother or the many trips his father as a merchant took to France and had probably taken his son along.
I really like how the author handled the life of St. Francis to mostly sticking to what we actually know about his life and not trying to artificially fill in the gaps. Some of the writings that came after St. Francis’ death are filled with miracle stories and while the author pretty much sticks with the facts he is not dismissive of some of these events. In fact at times he gives good reasons why some of them should be believed, especially the stigmata.
More than other books I read on St. Francis I got a much better feel for the times he lived in and especially the people of Assisi. You really get the context of the times and the concerns of the Church. The story of St. Francis really is all the more amazing considering the turmoil of the time in regards to the clergy and the number of heretical groups on the scene. I also really liked the focus on St. Francis orthodoxy and how he had worked closely with his own bishop and had built up support and friendships in Rome. The silly modern view of St. Francis as a free-wheeling environmental hippie is quite at odds with the real saint and how he saw obedience. You get some idea of his strong personality and his ability to convince those in the Church’s hierarchy when it came to his Gospel ideals. A true fool for Christ in his seeing of the simplicity of the Gospel message and how his order could live this out.
The books is also not a hagiography in the sense of presenting Francis as some idealized saint. It does not veer away at the few episodes of St. Francis anger when he saw his order veering away from Lady Poverty into gaining possession. Also addressed was the fact that he was not always the best judge of people as seems evident by the person he left in charge of the order and the turmultiotus times ahead for the Franciscans after his death.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and felt that I understand St. Francis much better than I previously had. I was surprised to find that the author of the book was himself not a Franciscan since I felt that the book was written by someone who had spend a lifetime thinking about this saint. I will have to read his other saint biographies.