Francis of Assisi is counted among the most important personalities of history. The life and ideals of this humble, semiliterate medieval friar have had a shaping influence on the Christian church that has spilled over into Western culture at large. This biography by Lawrence Cunningham looks anew at Francis’s life and legacy, seeking to counter efforts to romanticize him yet without diminishing his deep piety or abiding significance.
Pursuing a realistic view of the saint, Cunningham argues against common stereotypes that sentimentalize Francis as a “blesser of animals,” as a “church rebel,” or as a precursor of the “spirituality” movement. According to Cunningham, really seeing Francis requires the lens of theology rather than the lens of quaint spirituality so often used. Francis was a devotedly orthodox Catholic whose life must be understood as a response to reforming elements abroad in the church of his day. Francis’ originality derived from his success in articulating the “ideal gospel life”: his message and actions were a kind of “acting out” of the Scriptures.
Imbued with peerless scholarship, this book is also charmingly written. Cunningham is a master storyteller as well as a brilliant biographer—qualities that his Francis of Assisi fully displays. It will at once inform and delight anyone interested in the fascinating life of Francis or his impact on church history.
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An engaging and informative contribution to the vast literature on the man commonly described as, next to the Virgin Mother, the most popular of saints. Among the merits of this little book is Cunningham’s guide to that literature and his description of the frequently conflicting reasons through history for the celebration of Francis.
A stimulating account of one of the most attractive figures in the history of Christendom . . . This study is one of the best and most perceptive portraits of the saint in recent years.
—Catholic Historical Review
Lawrence S. Cunningham’s small study of St. Francis demonstrates the value of sound critical judgment and solid theology for grounding healthy devotion to the saints and deepening the faith in the Christian realities to which they dedicated themselves . . . Cunningham’s solid historical scholarship is omnipresent, although it is so smoothly and thoroughly integrated that the work is in no way pedantic, nor is there any trace of jargon or obfuscation.
This beautifully produced and beautifully written book by a well-known scholar and frequent writer on Franciscan spirituality argues against the entirely too familiar sentimental image of Francis that is coterminous with what the author calls “spirituality light”—a spirituality disengaged from religion that comforts its practitioners rather than challenging them.
—Cistercian Studies Quarterly
Lawrence S. Cunningham is John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. An acknowledged expert on St. Francis and Christian spirituality, he is also the author of Saint Francis of Assisi and the editor and translator of Brother Francis: Writings By and About Saint Francis of Assisi.