Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi

André Vauchez
Translated by Michael F. Cusato
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Francis of Assisi
    Book Description:

    In this towering work, André Vauchez draws on the vast body of scholarship on Francis of Assisi, emphasizing in particular the important research of the last 30 years. He creates a complete and engaging portrait of the saint, then explores how the memory of Francis was shaped by contemporaries who recollected him in their writings. Vauchez completes the book by setting "Poverello" in the context of his time, bringing to light what was new, surprising, and even astonishing in the life and vision of this man.

    The first part of the book is a fascinating reconstruction of Francis's life and work. The second and third parts deal with the myriad texts-hagiographies, chronicles, sermons, personal testimonies, etc.-of writers who recorded aspects of Francis's life and movement as they remembered them, and used those remembrances to construct a portrait of Francis relevant to their concerns. In the final part of the book, Vauchez explores those aspects of Francis's life, personality, and spiritual vision that were unique to him, including his experience of God, his approach to nature, his understanding and use of Scripture, and his impact on culture as well as culture's impact on him.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18492-1
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    • 1 Francesco di Bernardone
      (pp. 3-32)

      Few historical figures have been as associated with a place and, more precisely, with a city than Francis of Assisi. Saint Thomas is “Aquinas” only by virtue of his birth. Saint Bernard, although in principle constrained by monastic stability, was often absent from the abbey of Clairvaux to which his name remains associated. In contrast, Francis is tied to Assisi with every fiber of his being. This is where he was born at the end of 1181 or the beginning of 1182; where he died during the night of the third and the fourth of October 1226; and where he...

    • 2 Brother Francis: A Layman in the Christianity of the Early Thirteenth Century
      (pp. 33-136)

      Up to now, we have been trying to understand the behavior of Francis by limiting ourselves to an analysis of his psychological motivations and his social and cultural environment. But before 1208, Francis was just an isolated individual whose actions had hardly attracted anyone’s attention. On this period of his life, his biographers have shown extreme discretion and have not sought to embellish it. For example, whereas theLife of Saint Martinrecounts that, while crossing the Alps, the saint succeeded in cajoling, even converting a group of brigands whom he had encountered along the way, those whom Francis met...

    • 3 Becoming Saint Francis 1226–1230
      (pp. 139-155)

      At the end of June 1226, Francis asked to go back to the Portiuncula, the cradle of the fraternity, which ought to, in his eyes, remain a place for the Gospel life and an example for the whole order. But he was so weakened and the heat was so terrible in the middle of the summer that he was taken to Bagnara, a cooler place situated in the middle of the mountains, near Nocera Umbria. At the end of August, his condition worsened even further and he had to be brought back to Assisi, escorted by knights sent by the...

    • 4 The “Second Death” of Francis 1230–1253
      (pp. 156-182)

      We have seen that, just before the unfortunate events of the translation, the Minors had held a general chapter in Assisi during which numerous perplexities and doubts on the way the rule ought to be interpreted were expressed. Were they bound to observe all the evangelical counsels which were found within the text, and did they have to keep in mind, in their daily behavior, the injunctions that were contained in theTestamentof Francis? The general minister, John Parenti, was of the opinion that the rule was clear enough and that it sufficed in itself. But the debates were...

    • 5 Medieval Interpretations of Francis: Thirteenth to Fourteenth Centuries
      (pp. 185-228)

      Even if some aspects of the personality and behavior of Francis of Assisi were quickly lost from view, his figure enjoyed, during the century after his death, a growing popularity as a result of the extraordinary expansion by the order of Minors. Around 1300 the number of friars is estimated to have been more than three thousand, scattered among several hundreds of convents in Western Christianity and in the East. Each of these convents was a center for the diffusion of the cult and image of the holy founder, who thus attained in a short time a renown which no...

    • 6 Francis Between History and Myth: Sixteenth to Twentieth Centuries
      (pp. 229-246)

      Beginning in the sixteenth century, a period of crisis opened for the way in which Francis was remembered which was to be both challenged by certain religious and philosophical currents and championed by his spiritual sons, though in a perspective rather removed from the life he had actually lived. Even before the Reformation, the image of the Poor Man of Assisi conjured up by the excessive language of certain Friars Minor had proved costly. Thus, in the 1500s, did secular clergy in the diocese of Meaux, denouncing some Franciscans who were identifying their founder in sermons as “a second Christ,”...

      (pp. 249-252)

      The writings of Francis comprise a collection of disparate texts, of destination and date often uncertain and of varied import. Today we recognize as authentic about thirty of them, which range from a note of a few lines addressed to Anthony of Padua, permitting him to teach theology to the Friars Minor, to a relatively long and complex composition like the “Psalms of the Mystery of Christ” (Officium Passionis Domini). This collection is not a work that boasts a cohesive design. Moreover, the survival of these texts is largely due to chance. Most of the correspondence of Francis, in particular...

    • 7 The Experience of God
      (pp. 253-260)

      The writings of Francis allow us to especially gather a rather clear idea of his relationship with God. God is not an idea for him, even less so a concept. Francis never gave a theological formulation to his spiritual intuitions or experiences, nor did he ever feel the need to give any explanations for them. Not having been educated in the schools, he did not have the intellectual tools to do this. And he always seemed to dread what could become, in the abstract language of theologians, a barrier between Sacred Scripture and the faithful. God was, above all, for...

    • 8 A New Relationship to Scripture: The Spirit of the Letter
      (pp. 261-270)

      One of the characteristics that strikes us most often about the Poor Man of Assisi is his special approach to Sacred Scripture. The desire to return to the Gospel is certainly not unique to him; it had played an important role in various religious movements of the twelfth century. But in some cases, this will to rediscover and be faithful to the sacred text had led to erroneous interpretations or had been marked by a narrow literalism. This had allowed clerics to deride those unlettered laity who claimed the right to criticize their parish priests while being incapable of correctly...

    • 9 Francis, Nature, and the World
      (pp. 271-282)

      One of the most distinctive characteristics of Francis’ personality is undoubtedly his closeness to nature and animals. Who has not heard of his preaching to the birds, so often depicted in medieval painting, or of the wolf of Gubbio? And is not one of his most famous writings, quite rightly, theCanticle of Brother Sun, where a vision both spiritual and lyrical of creation is expressed? It is, in fact, one of the masterpieces of Italian poetry in the Middle Ages. When Francis of Assisi was rediscovered in the nineteenth century, his effusive enthrallment before beauty struck the poets and...

    • 10 Francis and the Church: The Charism within the Institution
      (pp. 283-296)

      Since the publication in 1893–1894 of Paul Sabatier’sVie de saint François, the majority of biographies of the Poor Man of Assisi have presented the relationship between Francis and the Church of his time as a tension between the evangelical freedom he incarnated and the fearful closed-mindedness of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, personified by Cardinal Hugolino, who strove to tamp down the originality of the Franciscan movement and corral its potential energies. Thus the biographers find, in a medieval context, the classic opposition between prophecy and priesthood, charism and institution, which represents a fundamental element of the history of Judeo-Christianity....

    • 11 The Gospel in the World: A Transformation of Religious Anthropology
      (pp. 297-311)

      From the moment that the community founded by Francis was recognized by the papacy and acquired a certain importance, contemporaries were struck by its originality with respect to other forms of consecrated religious life that existed at the time. One of them, Jacques de Vitry, observed in 1220:

      Three groups of religious have existed up to now: hermits, monks, and canons. The Lord wished to thoroughly assure the stability of the foundation; and so during these last days, he has added a fourth religious institution, the beauty of a new order, and the holiness of a new rule. … This...

    • 12 A Cultural Mediator of a New Religious Sensibility
      (pp. 312-323)

      The immediate success of the message of Francis of Assisi in Italy is also due to the unique relationship that it had with the culture, or rather the cultures, of his day. Because of his social origins and formation, the Poor Man of Assisi had nothing clerical about him; and if he had attended the cathedral school of San Rufino, he had done so only in order to learn to read and write while also absorbing a few basics of Latin, as the children of proper society in the towns did. His education was that of a merchant who had...

  8. Conclusion: Francis, Prophet for His Time … or for Ours?
    (pp. 324-336)

    By way of conclusion, it is important to try to define the fundamental newness of Francis in the eyes of his contemporaries, as well as what he might still mean for our own time. All who knew him were convinced that he was a saint; the exceptionally large number of Lives and works devoted to him in the Middle Ages leaves no doubt about this. But, as many saints, male and female, were venerated in the Christianity of their day, the authors of these works emphasized the exceptional characteristics of the Poor Man of Assisi: his stigmata, of course, but...

  9. Appendix: The Testament of Francis of Assisi, September 1226
    (pp. 337-340)
  10. Chronology
    (pp. 341-344)
  11. Maps
    (pp. 345-348)
  12. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 349-350)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 351-374)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 375-382)
  15. Index
    (pp. 383-398)