New books that have caught my eye.
A Mended and Broken Heart: The Life and Love of Francis of Assisi
By Wendy Murray
Murray (The Beliefnet Guide to Evangelical Christianity) lowered herself into ancient ruins, chatted with nuns behind iron grilles and pored over documents in four languages to research and write this story of Francis of Assisi, the medieval saint whose appeal is timeless. In a work that is both scholarly and engaging, Murray retells the life of this complicated man—who was poet, warrior, knight, lover, madman and saint—in a way that even those familiar with Francis’s story will find compelling. Of special interest is the way she handles the relationship between Francis and Clare of Assisi. Acknowledging what scholars and historians have tended to dismiss as sentimental, modern and implausible, Murray holds that the pair’s attachment was rooted in love, but that it evolved into a mutual renunciation and remained pure as they took religious vows. She also shows that the age difference between Francis and Clare may not have been great enough to support the official Catholic position that their bond was merely that of father and daughter.
Actually, this is not a new book, but it is a good one, by a colleague and friend from my Christianity Today days. If you want to learn more about one of the great saints of the past and deepen your faith, this book is a great resource. I asked Wendy to provide some background to A Mended and Broken Heart. Enjoy.
I am asked regularly why I — a Protestant — took such interest in a Catholic saint to the extent that I moved to his hometown (Assisi, Italy) in order to write a book about him. The answer is complicated and metaphysical. But, in short, it is because the person of Francis of Assisi (who never deemed himself the stuff of a “saint”) captured my imagination by dint of his complete humanness. This is the theme of my book. That is, that Francis ought to be known by anyone, Catholic, Protestant, or none-of-the-above because he is so real, so astonishing, so human.
As I note in my book, Francis is complicated–a true Italian among Italians, a poet, a warrior, a knight, a lover, a madman, and a saint. His is a story about human love by a lover of God—“both at once,” as G.K. Chesterton said, “both thoroughly.”
A knowledgeable Franciscan told me that if you don’t understand Francis of Assisi as a mystery, then you have to conclude he was mad. Another Franciscan told me he was mad—but in a way that did not bind, that instead set him free. Still another said, “He is an ocean.” How does one approach a mystery? A madman? An ocean? This, in essence, encapsulates my curiosity.
In my research I came to realize that Francis didn’t operate on a linear plane. He blew apart in every direction at once. It is the core of the person that is under discussion in my book, the matter that became antimatter. The “matter” is Francis the man; the “antimatter” is Francis the saint. If we know him only as the man, then he might as well be known, to borrow from Chesterton, as the world’s “one quite sincere democrat.” If we know him only as the saint, then he is a ghost who inhabits a spirit world beyond the reach of ordinary people. If Francis was anything, he was real. He was hopelessly anchored to real life.
To become a saint (in the Catholic tradition) means being raised to the full honors of the altar. It involves intense scrutiny of the person’s life, writings, reputation for holiness, and associated miracles. Canonization demands, among other things, “virtue to a heroic degree.” And yet Francis’ profligate early life was well known by those who knew him—and by just about everybody else in Assisi. He was widely remembered as a young stallion roaming the streets at night, leading the pack of Assisi’s wild youth in parties and song. Francis himself never recoiled from recalling those years of folly. Even after his prolonged conversion, he fought inside himself the continual battle of the temptation of the flesh. When his life was nearing its end and rumors of canonization were afoot, he told his brothers: “Don’t canonize me too quickly. I am perfectly capable of fathering a child.”
Reviews and Comments:
May 12, 2008
~ “Murray lowered herself into ancient ruins, chatted with nuns behind iron grilles and pored over documents in four languages to research and write this story of Francis of Assisi, the medieval saint whose appeal is timeless. In a work that is both scholarly in approach and engaging in presentation, Murray retells the life of this “complicated man”—who was poet, warrior, knight, lover, madman and saint—in a way that even those familiar with Francis’s story will find compelling. . . ”