by 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. • (8023 views)