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Francis of Assisi: A New Biography [Kindle Edition]

Augustine Thompson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Among the most beloved saints in the Catholic tradition, Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226) is popularly remembered for his dedication to poverty, his love of animals and nature, and his desire to follow perfectly the teachings and example of Christ. During his lifetime and after his death, followers collected, for their own purposes, numerous stories, anecdotes, and reports about Francis. As a result, the man himself and his own concerns became lost in legend.

In this authoritative and engaging new biography, Augustine Thompson, O.P., sifts through the surviving evidence for the life of Francis using modern historical methods. The result is a complex yet sympathetic portrait of the man and the saint. Francis emerges from this account as very much a typical thirteenth-century Italian layman, but one who, when faced with unexpected crises in his personal life, made decisions so radical that they challenge his own society-and ours. Unlike the saint of legend, this Francis never had a unique divine inspiration to provide him with rules for following the teachings of Jesus. Rather, he spent his life reacting to unexpected challenges, before which he often found himself unprepared and uncertain. The Francis who emerges here is both more complex and more conflicted than that of older biographies. His famed devotion to poverty is found to be more nuanced than expected, perhaps not even his principal spiritual concern. Thompson revisits events small and large in Francis's life, including his troubled relations with his father, his contacts with Clare of Assisi, his encounter with the Muslim sultan, and his receiving the Stigmata, to uncover the man behind the legends and popular images.

A tour de force of historical research and biographical writing, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography is divided into two complementary parts-a stand alone biographical narrative and a close, annotated examination of the historical sources about Francis. Taken together, the narrative and the survey of the sources provide a much-needed fresh perspective on this iconic figure. "As I have worked on this biography," Thompson writes, "my respect for Francis and his vision has increased, and I hope that this book will speak to modern people, believers and unbelievers alike, and that the Francis I have come to know will have something to say to them today."

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Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 953 KB
  • Print Length: 311 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0801450705
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (21 Mar. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007QXH6OM
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #472,680 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate 23 Feb. 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellently conceived and executed book. The author is well aware of the many problems of writing a good modern biography of Francis, which arise chiefly because so many of the sources are late and are of sometimes questionable accuracy. He has chosen to concentrate on the earlier sources, but in a discerning not a slavish manner.
He divides his book into two parts. The first half is a straightforward and reliable description of Francis`s background and life. It assumes no previous knowledge and can be read by anyone. He is no sceptic: the sermon to the birds, the healings, and the stigmata are all here, and treated with an open mind. I found it fascinating, not least for the insight he gives into Francis`s character.
In the second half of the book he goes over the material again, but this time as an academic. He discusses the sources and gives a full treatment of the views of other scholars. So effectively this is two books in one: a reliable history for the general reader, and a full academic discussion for the scholar. It's such a good idea that I can't understand why it's not done more often.
Highly recommended, and pretty-well essential reading for anyone interested in Francis.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A book that could only be written by a Dominican 4 Aug. 2015
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have to admit, I've never really liked St Francis. The hagiographies, such as GK Chesterton's, present Francis as a man I cannot associate with, and far far too holy. Fr Augustine, presents a man deeply wounded by his experiences in war, yet at the same time wanted the best for God ( he always complained when Altars had dirty linen). While I still do not like St Francis (I found someone who wanted to be in control yet not in control of his Order, and someone I always want to force to take a bath), I can compassionate more with him.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Review 14 Jan. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
So far I have found the book informative but rather dry. I have only recently started it so it may improve as I go along
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  60 reviews
90 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No dog in the fight 26 April 2012
By George Corrigan - Published on
Such was Fr. Thompson's assertion in the introduction to his book. Of course you might wonder about the reference. The task of retrieving St Francis from the wealth of sources - some hagiographical, some winsome and legenda, and much of it arising from the years following the death of St Francis when the Order struggled to balance the vows of poverty/simplicity and obedience. One group emphasized poverty and came to be known as the "Spiritualists"; another leaned into obedience and when the Pope asked the friars to move into the emerging cities to tend to the poor, they obeyed and came to live in the "convento." And even that description is far too simplistic. Many of the sources come from that milieu and many modern biographies lean heavily to one side or the other. Fr. Thompson - as a Dominican - has, as he said - no dog in those fights. As a result I think he produced a finely balanced portrait of St Francis that makes sense. I am a Franciscan priest and have read every biography of the modern times (plus others) and this is the first biography that I think gives someone an entree into St Francis without the coloring of the lenses of later discernment with the Order. And that is just the first part of the book. Want to know the details of the sources and all that attends to them? That's the second part - for the scholarly wonk - but still a good read. If you are serious about the person and time of St Francis of Assisi, this is an excellent entree into that world.
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Without Gloss 5 May 2012
By friar minor - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Writing a biography on Saint Francis, is a challenging task. Most historical treatments of Francis leave little left of the poor saint, while others tend to be too hagiographic. Fr. Augustine provides a scholarly account of Francis that balances the historical figure and the saint well. Although many a joke can be had of a Dominican writing a book on Francis, however he brings fresh insights to Francis thanks in part to his knowledge of medieval history and experience as a brother mendicant.

As someone who has read many biographies on Francis, this one is a refreshing balance. As a Franciscan friar and seminarian, this biography will remain on the book self with Francis' collected writings. His extensive notes in the second part of the book will prove helpful to anyone interested in deepening their understanding and scholarship on Franciscan Studies.

This book has already had press from Andrew Sullivan, who discussed the book in a recent article for Newsweek. But, as Thompson points out in his introduction, we must be careful on how we project our ideas on to Francis. If there is any message that Thompson brings to the reader, it is that care is needed whenever looking at historical figures we love.

Anyone who tries to push Francis as a radical Christian, who rejected the institutional church, should be careful to read the actual writings of Francis. Rather then trying to find the Francis who fits ort mold, perhaps we should look to how this man attempted to follow Jesus and how that challenges our mold. This biography will challenge some historians to pay closer attention to the spiritual side of Francis and will challenge everyday devotees of Francis to a more grounded understanding of Francis. Don't just take my word for it, read it for yourself.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The People's Saint 10 May 2012
By J. Knaggs - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Biographies of religious leaders tend to be generously seasoned with revisionist history. It's usually done to protect an image of the person and sometimes the organizations they represent. This biography gives an authentic version of St. Francis of Assisi, complete with a believable perspective of a real person devoted to God. The author allows St. Francis to be edgy and intimate, intolerant of arrogance while being deeply compassionate for those unfortunate. He's worth reading about and the book validates his veracity by its literary discipline.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Plain package" St Francis 23 Nov. 2012
By E. Witham - Published on
Augustine Thompson's biography is "new" in the obvious sense that it is the last in a long line of biographies of St Francis going back to Paul Sabatier's 1893 Life. Thompson's, however, is "new" also in that it aims to go back rigorously to historical sources. This approach is in line with other historians who recently have been sifting through historical records and chipping away at the pious accretions to produce a "plain package" St Francis.

William Hugo, for example, a Capuchin formation director produced in 1996 a "Beginner's Workbook" "Studying the Life of St Francis", which invites novices to evaluate the historicity of early writings. The Melbourne conference in 2009, out of which came "Interpreting Francis and Clare of Assisi", was also historical in ambition, using a variety of academic approaches - documentary, art history and so on - to develop a more historical picture of the saints in their world.

These new studies are pushing out the older Lives of St Francis, which were either pious or interpretive: they sought either to show Francis as an examplar of the Christian life, or they observe St Francis through a particular lens: Jacques Dalarun on Francis and power and Francis and the feminine, and Leonardo Boff on Francis and liberation offer these interpretive visions of Francis.

Augustine Thompson is a Dominican friar, and this gives him an "insider-outsider" perspective. On one hand, he knows what it is to be a friar in an Order founded by a charismatic figure. On the other hand, he has greater clarity of vision when he writes about Francis than do many Franciscans in their familiarity with their founder.

Fr Thompson tells a plain story of a man who had no agenda and who could articulate no particular vision for the movement that formed and swarmed around him. Thompson's Francis simply wanted to live the Gospel. Even at the end of his life, Francis is still surprised, Thompson claims, that "the Lord gave me brothers".

Even poverty, the Franciscan value that many believe to be the base of Francis's vision, is held up to question by Thompson. There's no doubt that poverty was a part of Francis's vision, but Francis, as Thompson emphasises, mentions the Eucharist much more often than poverty. Francis's devotion to churches and priests is because of the celebration of the Eucharist - all to be venerated because there God comes to earth in a perceptible form.

The central insight for me in this "new" biography was precisely Francis's lack of a programme. Francis, at least in Thompson's telling, was a man who simply wanted to live the Gospel, to be radically available for God. This, I suspect, is one of the main reasons for Francis's ongoing attraction.

Thompson's book also has its attractions. It is divided into two halves. In the first Thompson tells the story of Francis simply and without frills or academic apparatus of any kind. Then follow a helpful list of the major biographies of Francis since Sabatier's and a bibliography of documents from the 12th Century. In the second half of the book, Thompson argues in detail why he has included some details and discarded others as non-historical. These chapters may be mainly for scholars: most of us, I suspect, will be glad to read the first half as a self-standing account of Francis's life and be refreshed by it.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Francis of Assisi by Augustine Thompson 31 May 2012
By Jimmy O - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: the author was assigned to my parish when he was nearing the end of his seminary training, and again a short while later when he was a young priest, in the early '80s. I was a student in one of the classes he offered parishioners. I found him to be a diligent scholar with a passion for his subjects, a caring pastor, and a good friend with a sense of humor. Knowing Fr. Thompson's scholarly background, I was a bit anxious that the book would be rather dry. Not so. Fr. Thompson's style is clear and engaging. One meets Francis the human being in these pages, free of the filters of legend and the distortions of excessive piety. The entire book is almost 300 pages, the second half of which are bibilography, end notes, and index. I read the first section in two sittings, and probably would have read it in one, had time permitted.

Also along the lines of full disclosure, I was a student in a Franciscan seminary for high school and the first two years of college. I read Chesterton's and Jorgensen's biographies of Francis, as well as the Fioretti and Kazantzakis' novel, and other writings on Francis that I can't recall.
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