The Canticle of the Creatures for Saint Francis of Assisi
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A Review of
It is ironic that a man who left behind so few written records has become the subject of an almost limitless degree of scholarship. Ever since the first “official” biography of Francis of Assisi by Thomas of Celano in 1229, scholars have been attempting to describe, interpret, and make sense of the man nicknamed the Poverello (or “Poor Little One”) and the Franciscan movement he birthed. Contemporary biographers recognize the extent to which Francis has already been analyzed and so they generally begin their books with a lengthy justification for the presence of yet one more book on the subject. Jon Sweeney is no exception. In his prologue to The Enthusiast, Sweeny acknowledges the existing breadth of information about Francis, but argues that each generation tends to understand and even form Francis in its own image. Accordingly, Sweeney justifies The Enthusiast by arguing that it tells the well-known story from a uniquely different perspective, namely, through the lens of one of the most difficult and complex relationships in the life not only of Francis but of the Franciscan movement.
It took me years to understand that words are often as important as experience, because words make experience last.”
– William Morris, artist and poet,
who died on this day, 1896
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A Feature Review of
Reviewed by Jess O. Hale
A wind is blowing through many lands in our world and many are finding this wind to be renewing or at least refreshing. It may not be the first time this wind has blown through a few of these locales. Could it be that we may just find the breath of God’s Spirit in this wind? To many Catholics and Protestants and even a few of those outside of the traditional faithful, the arrival of Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Latin America as bishop of Rome counts at least as a breath of fresh air and quite possibly as the renewing wind of the Spirit of God on the church of Jesus. After all, Pope Francis has forgone many of the more ornate trappings of his new office to live more simply and communicate more directly with the faithful and the world. He focuses more directly on grace and love and justice than on the more controversial topics of sexuality. To this end he has upset Rush Limbaugh with his economics and startled the mainstream press as he becomes Time’s Person of the Year. He has stirred up the faithful outside of his Catholic flock as well—-even Sojourners magazine has given him an iconic cover as the joyous Pope Francis waves with a bird perhaps representing the Spirit hovering close by. However, as the continuing presence of the saint of Assisi witnesses, it is not the first time that a wind of the Spirit has come through troubled lands.
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Here is a lovely poem for this day: Saints’ Logic by Linda Gregerson
And speaking of playlists, ERB editor Chris Smith had
a reflection on the playlist as an everyday way of doing theology
published on the ThinkChristian website yesterday…
“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it.”
– William Styron, who died on this day in 2006.
Thanks be to God for this new day, may it be full of beauty and grace!
This is the latest in an on-going series of “playlists,” in which we recommend books around a particular theme. This one offers another, deeper look at the best books on St. Francis (the subject of our first playlist earlier this month).
“Making a mixtape (or playlist) is the opposite of indifferent. It’s heartfelt, purposeful — often a subtle form of flirtation. … [The playlist] is a way of making yourself known, an interpersonal form of show business, of making news, of replicating sounds and words you find important. It’s like poetry, because poetry is what you can’t say in any other way.”
– David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything
(Our 2009 Book of the Year. Read our Review…)
*** Watch for more ERB playlists in the coming weeks and months, and for a forthcoming essay on playlists as a way of doing theology.
It is thought to be the case that Francis is the most biographed person of all of history. If this is the case, it is no doubt because of Francis’ holy and eternally compelling witness for living the gospel life. But the number of biographies is also, quite frankly, because his image and mission are highly contested. The argument about the “true Francis” gleaned from the variety of written sources and oral traditions coupled the wider historical-cultural critical work parallels the argument about the historical Jesus in so many ways. Before Francis even dies, he himself is torn by the many versions of this so-called Franciscan life that were circulating around Europe. As the history of Franciscan life unfolds, the drama is thick, chock-full of contentious feelings and deep fractures, even bloody sanctioned murder. So, leaning into a top-10 list for Francis might be a more serious and risky venture than one imagines.
I will offer my “remix” playlist using genre-type classifications, dividing these works into five groupings. I am conscious that with all typologies, there are weaknesses in classification, and of course, plenty of overlap, but this was a helpful way to consider all the strands of influence on me from this “poor one” we call Francis. Francis is so deeply a part of my imagination, and so I offer this list to you with all the excitement, care, and vulnerability that I made and shared those cassettes of jams back in the day.
1. Books that highlight Francis’ more radical social embodiment of the gospel life and freely use the language/lenses of Catholic social teaching (including care of creation), liberation theology, and labor/work
|A Review of Studying the Life of St. Francis of Assisi: A Workbook.
Paperback: New City Press, 2011.
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Reviewed by Stephen Taylor.
Perhaps the most famous Christian saint of post-apostolic times is St. Francis of Assisi. Catholics and Protestants alike are drawn to the man Francis for his kindness, his concern for all creatures, and his radical response to the call of Christ which marked him forever as a man of deep holiness. Every garden center in the nation has a statue of Francis and the birds for sale, but how many people know anything about the man Francis?
For people not familiar with Catholic Religious Orders the initials after the author’s name mean Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin. Capuchin is name for a type of the Friars Minor, and the monkeys were named after them due to the similarity between Capuchin habits and the colors of the monkeys.
Studying the Life of St. Francis of Assisi is aimed at the scholar or the Franciscan Novice who wishes to delve more deeply into the actual writings of St. Francis and not just the hagiography of St. Francis.