Friday, August 6, 2010

Saint Francis

By Robert West, 233 pages. Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Saint Francis was a revolutionary who underwent intense personal struggle and sacrifice over the course of many years to finally reach his calling. Even when he was a leading drunken reveler of Assisi, as the son of a rich cloth merchant, bits and pieces of this struggle towards sainthood came out.

Robert West gives readers an intense psychological analysis of Francis. The saint's romantic visions of knighthood, his participation in Assisi's battle against Perugia, which cost him a year in jail, and his leadership of a gang of young revelers, all played a part in his development.

Saint Francis, in other words, leaps out at the reader from the pages of the book and from the medieval era. This character development is second-to-none, but comes at a high price.

West does refer on occasion to endemic violence, the wealth and corruption of the Church of the day, and the often heretical penitential movements which offered an alternative way of following Christ. Yet, aside from the first issue, readers get almost no sense of these historical problems and how they related to Francis and the Franciscans. Just how corrupt was the medieval Italian Church? Who were the penitentials and why were they rejected by the Church whereas Francis wasn't?

Saint Francis is an incomplete biography because, following today's ideal that the individual is more important and more real than society and historical currents, we have little sense of how Francis was both a product of his age and a herald to a better future.

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