|A Brief Review of
By Regis J. Armstrong, Ingrid J. Peterson & Phyllis Zagano.
Reviewed by William Mills.
I always loved St. Francis. His strong determination to live a life of strict poverty amazes me. Francis set out to live the life of the gospel in a radical way; he never meant to start an entire religious order. Yet that is what happened, over time followers were attracted to Francis’ way of life, walking around the villages and towns of his native Umbria, begging for food and clothing while at the same time praying and preaching. The well-worn phrase “always preach the gospel, use words if you have to” has been attributed to Francis and offers us a concise depiction of his way of life.
This new volume published by Liturgical Press is a collection of seventeen short biographical sketches from famous Franciscans, both men and women. We need to remember that St. Claire was the female spiritual companion of Francis, and she was the one who started the women’s order that came to be known as the Poor Claires. Each chapter in this book includes a short biographical sketch of the person followed by a short excerpt from their writings; a short series of journal entries, a few sermons, or excerpts from their theological writings. The book also includes a short bibliography as well as the Rule of the Franciscan Order.
As the sub-title states this book is one volume in a larger series on Spirituality in History. Other volumes consider the various religious orders in the Catholic Tradition. However, while reading I wondered “who is the main audience for this book?” Each chapter is very short with only a small sampling of material that did not promote diving too deeply into the life and writings of any person featured here, which was distracting. for me and would likely be so for other readers. On the one hand it was interesting to read about the life of St. Anthony of Padua, for example, but at the same time I felt like I learned very little about him since the excerpt from his writings was so short. In a series like this, where one includes such a large volume of personalities, it would have been better to focus on fewer persons or include more writing samples and have a larger book. I could see this book being used in a college level course on Christian Spirituality, but the instructor would have to supplement the material for the course.
Overall I would recommend this book to readers interested specifically in the rich history of the Franciscan Tradition, but to those who want a book to sink your teeth into, a book that has both depth and breadth, this book is not for you.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
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