Reader reviews for Saint Francis

In Christian Encounters: St. Francis, Robert West examines the life of one of Catholicism's most beloved saints. Francis (1181/1182–1226) is known for renouncing all worldly possessions in favor of "Lady Poverty," starting a strict order of Franciscan brothers, avoiding women, denigrating education, attempting to convert the Muslim sultan in 1219 during the Crusades, preaching to animals and fields, and of course, making the famous statement, "Preach the Gospel. Use words when necessary." He was also the first person recorded to manifest stigmata, and is reported to have performed many other miracles such as raising the dead and healing the sick.In some things Francis's life seems contradictory; he would not eat fine food or would mix it with ashes to deaden the taste, but he loved the sweet almond cakes that Lady Giacoma would make for him. He spurned the society of women, telling his followers that there is no profit in speaking with a woman — but he is strongly associated with Clare and Lady Giacoma whom he called "Brother Giacoma." He mistreated his body by gradual starvation and exposure to the elements, but once told the brothers that it is not good to deprive the body of what it needs. He tried to own nothing, but was laden with rich jewels after his death.As a Protestant Christian, I don't know what to do with all the miracles Francis is said to have done. I believe in the miracles recounted in the Bible but I have more trouble with tales of medieval wonders. So often they seem frivolous, like the vision Francis supposedly saw of Jesus' eyes moving in a painting and telling Francis to rebuild a church (biblically, would Jesus really care about a church building? see Acts 7:48–50). But Francis's miracles appear to be attested by many witnesses. How much has been exaggerated by medieval credulity or doctored by Church-commissioned biographers is impossible to tell. I'm divided, especially on the issue of stigmata. How does that glorify Christ? Isn't the point of Christ's wounds that He took our place so we don't have to suffer the punishment of sin? Unfortunately, much information about Francis's early life is sparse and West improvises, writing that Francis "may" have done this or that. This weakens the impact of those sections, but it's inevitable when dealing with such a thin historical record. West des a good job recreating the world of medieval Italy, a brutal and dangerous time. Understanding the incredible poverty and misery of life in 13th-century Assisi makes Francis's renunciation of his father's wealth even more profound.At the end West quotes from an outspoken hater of Christianity and Catholicism in particular who expressed a yearning to believe, based on his admiration of Francis's life. This is touching, but (if I may borrow some of John Piper's phrasing), unfortunately it reveals nothing more than a fascination with radical devotion rather than with divine beauty. The saint should never outshine his Lord, and Francis would probably be horrified at the veneration he is still shown today by Catholics and nonbelievers alike.It is tempting to be critical of Francis because we feel materialistic and selfish after reading about his life and want to instantly defend ourselves by finding flaws in his teachings. I do have some issues with his theology and practices and believe several to be demonstrably unbiblical, but I don't want to slam him just because his example is so blindingly sacrificial. Though I am still pondering many of the things in his life, I enjoyed learning more about Francis and found this to be a well-written and fascinating biography.Disclosure: I received this book at no cost through Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze program. This review is my honest opinion of the work.
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In Saint Francis, West successfully made life and times of a thirteenth-century saint come alive.I chose to review this book because I didn’t know much about Francis other than a few folktales and the hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King”. It turns out there’s a lot more to Francis than a madman singing to the birds. He walked across battle lines during one of the crusades and tried to convert the Sultan. He took the pope’s derogatory remark to go and roll in pig filth literally and still managed to secure a second audience. Even aside from the miracles—communication with animals, stigmata, etc.—Francis lived a remarkable life.There were times in the biography where West clearly added circumstantial details to make Francis’ life more vivid. You often read statements like, “It does not take much of a leap to envision Francis and his Sons of Babylon fighting rival gangs” (31), or, “The local priest may have known about the chamber and used the area to store foodstuffs” (71). This is due to the paucity of historic data West had to work with.This is a fine introduction to the life of a remarkable God-touched saint.Disclaimer: I received this book for free as a member of Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program.
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