Book Review: Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life

Francisby Brad Nelson
This is the second of four extensive biographies that I’ve read on the life of Francis of Assisi. And this one is a gem. Adrian House weaves in interesting aspects of medieval history, and its customs and practices, into this biography of this quite extraordinary man.

”Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life” immerses you in the medieval poverty, decadence, and violence of feudal Italy, although in Francis’ time, parts of Italy were slowly giving way to free-market capitalism. Money was starting to be coined and it was opening up opportunities for those other than the church and princely land owners to profit from their hard work, including Francis’ father who become a prosperous fabric merchant.

This was somewhat the start of the middle class and is a glimpse of the beginning of modern times. You realize how far we have come and how relatively precarious our own position of prosperity is today when you see how easily people can be constrained by aristocratic power structures which tend to develop. Today in our own world we see the middle class being squeezed as Big Government, and the political class (of both parties), are morphing themselves into our supposed aristocratic betters. They wish to “care” for us (read: control us), as is the stated purpose of any aristocracy. And as they do so, the life of the people below them is made worse.

One may wonder if biographies such as this hold any relevance to our day, whether one is religious or not. Well, it’s easy to forget that “Progressivism” has, to some extent, become our state religion. And many ideas come along with that, including the idea that real meaning is found through environmental causes or marching in the victim-of-the-week parades while wearing the correct color of ribbon. The life of Francis is no less than a poke in the eye to the idea that life is meaningless, religion is inherently stultifying, and that all the really smart people watch Jon Stewart. It’s the idea that there are deeper things in life than just whatever cultural trend or human affectation is making the rounds. Francis was (as the book title suggests) about being a true revolutionary rather than just a fashionable poser.

Francis was a deep believer in Christianity, and yet he set the Christian establishment of the time on its ear by showing that human decency, charity, compassion, and even good humor were real and substantial tonics for what ails mankind. While others were anointing themselves in their own supposed superiority via their position in the hierarchy, Francis was out amongst the lepers rolling up his sleeves and dealing directly in the world. And by doing so he reinforced the idea of finding sanctity via creative and passionate engagement in the world rather than staying at a distance or lording oneself over it. To Francis, the world was a great Creation and one to be cherished and personally attended to.

Francis has since been made a saint, but he was a man that the everyday person could relate to. He is not someone to put on the shelf to collect dust and admire from afar as you would a wax doll painted up all nice. Yes, he was kind and compassionate, but he was also funny, energetic, driven, and full of human foibles that made him relatable. Francis was not some far-away god, angel, or devil. He was a real, tangible, living human being with all the foibles of youth who (eventually) became an example of what man can be in the here and now, whatever may or may not come in the hereafter. A study of Francis is a study of the best — and the worst — of human life.

Although the author’s style of writing is a wee rough at times, what emerges from House’s biography is Francis’ appeal. When you or I think “religious order” we probably roll our eyes and are bored to tears by the thought of going door-to-door trying to convert people or to sell them monogrammed bibles for $49.99. But Francis wasn’t Pat Robertson. Francis was more like Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, or Donald Trump, all rolled into one, with a firm belief in God and a buoyant joy for life. He was funny, charismatic, and although extremely disciplined (and expected no less from others…this was not some goofy “kumbaya” pushover), was evocative of the joy of life. The author states …Francis’s insistence that joy, harmony, and gratitude for the ubiquitous beauty of creation, were essential to the proper life…” 

Living in such squalid times in which the corrupt Church was often a source of cynicism, rather than inspiration, people were drawn to Francis. Francis wasn’t a dour bible-thumper, per se. He was, in his own mind as well, a Troubadour. He was a knight for God. Francis, and many of the people in his age, idealized the Arthurian idea of the chivalrous knight. That is one thing that drew Francis to the Crusades. He later renounced violence, but certainly took his part in it early in his life to some extent. There were many exciting and noble ideas in his day about what a knight or Troubadour were all about. Francis eventually took the romantic ideal of the Troubadour (apart from the lusty part), combined it with a non-violent image of the knight’s quest, and started his Friars Minor.  • (6821 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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4 Responses to Book Review: Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life

  1. ladykrystyna says:

    Thank you for that. I didn’t really know that much about St. Francis, even though I’m a practicing Catholic. Whatever I learned in school about him has, unfortunately, been forgotten. And as I got older, I lost interest in religion.

    But The Prayer of St. Francis is one of my favorites (as is the hymn). St. Francis is also my dad’s patron saint and that hymn was sung at his funeral.

    Reading your description of St. Franics and thinking about my dad makes me think that they really were 2 peas in a pod. They are probably up there right now, yacking away to each other. 😀

    “But I do think that the Church had become somewhat like our own Federal government: Big, bloated, corrupt, and often not looking out for the needs of people.”

    As a practicing Catholic, I would have to agree. In fact, I think that has been the problem with the Church once it became powerful. It wasn’t enough to just be a religion. It was mixed with government and stayed that way for centuries.
    The men who inspired our Founders understood that. Our Founders understood that. Government and religion are not a good mix. People have freedom of conscience to worship one God or many gods, or not worship anything at all.

    And while I appreciate the current Pope’s very Francis of Assisi like message, I also know that you are correct about Marxism in the Catholic Church. “Social justice” as a concept has been bastardized. The Church in America gets in bed with pro-abortion, pro-contraception people for Obamacare, and then pretends to be surprised when the scorpion stings them. Wait until the gay marriage crowd starts going after churches, synagogues and mosques. What will they do then?

    Will the Church wake up and realize that economic socialism does not equal compassion or charity? That while capitalism has an air of “materialism” to it (after all, making and selling and buying things is part of it), it is also the best way to help people rise out of poverty.

    But, as with our Constitution, capitalism was made for a moral people. If we are not a moral people we can devolve from capitalists into materialists.

    Unfortunately, the Church is not a democracy. You either accept it as it is, or go elsewhere (all the while hoping you are not putting your soul in jeopardy).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      LadyK, after four biographies of St. Francis, I’m still getting to know him. That may sound like false humility, but it is the truth.

      In some ways, I’ve modeled StubbornThings after the Brothers Minor (and we’re throwing in Clare’s Sisters as well). Imagine a brotherhood of people with a goal other than the satisfaction of their own egos, the generation of wealth, or the accumulation of status.

      Initially, Francis based his order upon three passages from the Bible:

      “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 19,21);

      “Take nothing for your journey” (Luke 9,3);

      “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me” (Luke 9,23).

      That’s it. And Francis fought tooth and nail to keep it that simple. He tragically was incrementally betrayed by some of those closest to him in this regard. He and his Brothers lived a splendid and idealistic few years until his Order was consumed by bureaucracy, petty jealousy, and the human inability (or unwillingness) to grasp the heart of a matter and instead cling to rules, evermore rules, endless rules — so many rules that you forgot that the initial purpose was to drain the swamp, so to speak.

      In our own cause we might have just three guiding rules or principles:

      1) For man to live free, he must amend his own character first.

      2) For man to live free, he must institute a limited form of republican government.

      3) The purpose of said government shall be primarily to safeguard unalienable rights, facilitate free commerce, and provide for the common defense.

      That’s it.

  2. pst4usa says:

    What about my free stuff I want to get from you greedy business owners and rich guys?

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