75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thing of beauty...
G.K. Chesterton is one of the best Christian writers of the twentieth century. Prolific and artistic, he had the knack for combining a classic British commentary sense to any historical Christian subject, making it both the object of cultural interest and often historic reverence. As St. Francis of Assisi was one of the primary influences on Chesterton's decision to...
Published on March 17, 2004 by FrKurt Messick
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I am sure it's good, but man it's deep!
I have just finished reading "St. Francis of Assisi" by GK Chesterton, and I know that it was pretty good. In fact, it may be very good, but I don't really understand it! If you know anything about GK Chesterton then you know that his books are deeper than the ocean. This one is no exception. If you are looking for a biography (the story of St. Francis throughout his...
Published on March 31, 2006 by Patrick O'Mara
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75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thing of beauty...,
G.K. Chesterton is one of the best Christian writers of the twentieth century. Prolific and artistic, he had the knack for combining a classic British commentary sense to any historical Christian subject, making it both the object of cultural interest and often historic reverence. As St. Francis of Assisi was one of the primary influences on Chesterton's decision to convert to Roman Catholicism (Chesterton once described his conversion as being largely due to wanting to belong to the same institution that had produced St. Francis), it makes sense that Chesterton would devote considerable energies toward this biography.
Chesterton said that there are essentially three ways to approach a biography of a figure such as St. Francis - one can be dispassionately objective (or at least as much as can pass for such a stance), looking at things from a 'purely' historical standpoint; one can go to the opposite extreme and treat the figure as an object of devotion and worship; or one can take a third path (and you've guessed correctly if you assumed this was Chesterton's route) of looking at the character as an interested outsider, someone in the modern world but still one involved in the same kinds of structures and virtues as the one being studied.
Chesterton's prose is snappy and lively, witty and bit sardonic at times. Chesterton is not afraid to digress to make his own points, and like the intellectual critic who cannot contain the myriad of responses to particular points, Chesterton treats us to a generous collection of tangential observations. One discovers, for instance, Chesterton's opinion of modern British history (that it reads more like journalism than like a developed narrative) - he makes the observation that journalists rarely think to publish a 'life' until the death of the subject; this of course cannot be helped in the case of Francis of Assisi, but the method of the media serves to highlight the difference in world-view between then and now.
This is a spiritual biography - it does not simply go from event to event in Francis' life, but rather looks as the development of his spirituality, his calling, his order and his influence in later church (and more general) history. In his discussion, he looks at miracles and poetic production, political realities and logical fallacies, ancient sentiments and present-day practices. Francis is seen in many ways as the Mirror of Christ (not quite the same thing as the WWJD fad of the current day, but approximating the sense in some regards), but this sets up an interesting logical situation - if Francis is like Christ, then Christ is in some ways like Francis. Chesterton points out the importance of the difference, likening it to the difference between creator and creature, but there is still the interesting development in history where some tried to make Francis a second Christ (something Francis himself would have opposed bitterly).
Fun, fascinating, spiritual without succumbing to kitsch, intellectual without being overblown, this book is a classic on Francis, and a classic by Chesterton, a small miracle of Francis (in the many sense of the term).
57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't ramble enough.,
The first time I read this book, I felt almost as impatient with Chesterton's "verbosity" and "hot air" as some of the reviewers below. In regard to the bare facts of Francis' life, one comes to feel a bit as Chesterton said of the Troubadours' lovers: "The reader realises that the lady is the most beautiful being that can possibly exist, only he has occasional doubts as to whether she does exist." Moments came when I found myself thirsting for dry facts. But I think the problem is that Chesterton assumes his readers, as educated persons of his period, know the story already, and only need to be enlightened as to its meaning. One can get facts anywhere. Few can take us inside the thinking of a man like Francis. And absolutely no one I know writes with such entertaining flair, of a healing kind so different from modern books and movies that wound our souls with their pleasures.
On second reading, I find I enjoyed this episode about as much as the biography of Dickens -- which was very much. Chesterton looks at Francis, in varying cadences, from the inside, to help us think and feel as he did, then from the outside, as children of the Enlightenment, a two-perspective approach that gives us a rounded figure. Those of us who have no other knowledge of Francis may sometimes wonder how much of that figure is Francis and how much Chesterton, (who was, after all, probably the more rounded of the two). But the insights are always brilliant. And many still cut like daggers. (Or rather scalpels, to heal.) "We read that Admiral Bangs has been shot, which is the first intimation we have that he has ever been born." "The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant." "All goods look better when they look like gifts." "There is only one intelligent reason why a man does not believe in miracles and that is that he does believe in materialism." Anyone who finds such digressions merely "hot air," would be best advised to keep to dry-as-dust historical commentaries, or skeptical comic books, as the case may be.
This book is not so much a biography of a single man, as an episode in Chesterton's ongoing spiritual biography of mankind. It is one in a series of what Solzhenitsyn called "knots" and Thomas Cahill calls "hinges" of history. The series continues with Chesterton's equally subjective but enlightening biographies of Chaucer, Dickens, Joan of Arc, and modern "Heretics." He gives the outline of the project in the Everlasting Man, which is one of the most brilliant and wisest books of the century.
As a non-Catholic Christian ("Protestant" would place the emphasis in the wrong place), I don't agree with Chesterton's take on the Albigensian Wars, and am more ambivalent about the Crusades than he. But he does not exactly justify the Inquisition, as the reader below implies; he admits that in later stages it was a "horrible thing that might be haunted by demons." How many modern leftists admitted that much about, say, the Russian Revolution? But I agree he may try to "understand" the sins committed by his side a little too hard.
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man (July 2000)
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I am sure it's good, but man it's deep!,
I have just finished reading "St. Francis of Assisi" by GK Chesterton, and I know that it was pretty good. In fact, it may be very good, but I don't really understand it! If you know anything about GK Chesterton then you know that his books are deeper than the ocean. This one is no exception. If you are looking for a biography (the story of St. Francis throughout his entire life) then this is not the book for you. (I would suggest buying St. Boneventure's biography from Tan Books) This book is really an essay on the life of St. Francis. It is difficult reading, and not a bed-time story for your kids. I think for your benefit, it would be good to read a normal biography on St. Francis (like the one mentioned above) and then read this essay. That way, you will not be frustrated in not getting many stories of St. Francis's life, and you will have perhaps better understandings of what GK Chesterton is talking about. Anyway, if your a Chesterton fan, then I'm sure you will like this, but remember--- this is HARD TO READ.
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and unconventional biographical work,
G.K. Chesterton's "St. Francis of Assisi" is not your conventional timeline of the events in a man's life. Instead, Chesterton focuses on Francis' relationship with God and his historical context, background and impact. I first read this book a year ago and have just read it again - it's one of those books that are so rich that you discover something new each time you pick it up. If you've ever read "The Little Flowers of St. Francis" (about the events in Francis' life), this is the book to read next. It is a great aid to understanding Francis as a person and not just as "the bird bath saint". I highly recommend this book.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More essay than biography, but what an essay!,
Chesterton's book on St. Francis of Assisi was "avowedly only an introduction to St. Francis or the study of St. Francis. Those who need an introduction are in their nature strangers. With them the object is to get them to listen to St. Francis at all ... ." [Chpt. 9] But Chesterton, in 1924, expected an audience familiar with a variety of subjects--the Investiture Controversy, the Adamite Heresy, The Provencal Moment, for example--unfamiliar to most of us today. I think, therefore, that "St. Francis of Assisi" can no longer serve as a general introduction for the general reader.
If you are only interested in a chronological outline of St. Francis' life, this book is probably not yet for you.
Nonetheless, you would be remiss if you pass on this book because it is a wonderful work of art.
Intellectually "St. Francis of Assisi" serves mostly as a brilliant meditation on the man, his role in the Catholic Church, and his influence on the intellectual history of the West. But it best serves as an example of how one might write and write well. Nearly every sentence is a delight and nearly every page a piece of rhetorical flash and filigree.
Chesterton sometimes chooses sound--especially alliteration--over sound reasoning and makes more than one straw man argument. But you need not be a Christian to appreciate the skill with which he makes his case. Sometimes it sounds so good or so funny that you simply wish it true. To whit:
"In short, he [the writer attempting to write a life of St. Francis] may try to tell the story of a saint without God; which is like being told to write the life of Nansen and forbidden to mention the North Pole." [Chpt. 1]
"To write history and hate Rome, both pagan and papal, is practically to hate everything that has happened. It comes very near to hating humanity on purely humanitarian grounds." [Chpt. 2]
"It was a rude and simple society and there were no laws to punish a starving man for expressing his need for food, such as have been established in a more humanitarian age; and the lack of any organized police permitted such persons to pester the wealthy without any great danger." [Chpt. 3]
"Shelley, when he wished to be a cloud or a leaf carried before the wind, might have been mildly suprised to find himself turning slowly head over heels in mid-air a thousand feet above the sea." [Chpt. 6]
"The modern mind is hard to please; and it generally calls the way of Godfrey ferocious and the way of Francis fanatical. That is, it calls any moral method unpractical, when it has just called any practical method immoral." [Chpt. 8]
"A man in Voltaire's time did not know what miracle he would next have to throw up. A man in our time does not know what miracle he will next have to swallow." [Chpt. 9]
Whatever you think of Chesterton's broader themes, "St. Francis of Assisi" is a profound and insightful investigation into the psychology of the saint which would be helpful to anyone trying to figure how to think about the man. It is also wondrous writing.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gentleman Writing About Another Compassionate Gentleman,
This review is from: St. Francis of Assisi 1923 (Paperback)
G.K. Chesterton's titled ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI demonstrated once again Chesterton's charm, polite criticism, wit, and logic. Chesterton also showed that he had actual insight to St. Francis'mission and thinking. Chesterton also realized that modern misinterpretations had to be corrected to give readers a clearer understanding of a man who was complex, apparently mad, and had a passion for creation and the Creator.
Chesterton began this book with a brief explanation of the political situation in Italy whereby small politics vied for power and land. St. Francis was part of this environment and began his younger days as a soldier. In one encounter, St. Francis was captured involving Assisi and another city-state in which St. Francis was captured. This was not what St. Francis expected or wanted. This event led to dispair and depression which Chesterton said changed St. Francis from an Italian citizen and soldier to a saint. Chesterton wrote that the man who emerged from such depression and dispair emerged from this experience as a far different man. Chesterton gives a good analysis of Medieval war in Italy. Men fought for their homes, loved ones, their shrines, and their rulers with whom they were much more familiar than modern mass and mindless democracy. Chesterton accurately contrasts Medieval Italian wars with modern war which is based on false media lying, government propaganda,and vague useless slogans for war in remote areas far from family and homes. Chesterton wrote that St. Francis could be a soldier and still love people. Chesterton explains this paradox by commenting that men could do so because they knew what they were fighting for and could accept an enemy as a friend as long as the fight was fair.
Readers should know that St. Francis was a frair rather than a cloistered monk. Modern men do not understand the cloistered life unless they understand that pagans worshipped nature to the point that such worship became perverted and unnatural. The cloistered life was a reaction to such unreasonable nature worship. One could argue that St. Francis appreciated nature, but St. Francis worshipped whom he considered the Creator of nature. St. Francis was not a pantheist. Chesterton explained that the cloistered monks prior to the active frairs such as the Franciscans and Dominicans made invaluable contributions to Western Civilization. They hand copied books. The cloistered monks and nuns were Europe's first teachers during the so-called dark ages and saved learning. These people taught men how to effectively breed livestock and cultivate land. Chesterton stated that the cloistered monks and nuns were severely practical. They were severe with themselves and were practical and compassionate with everyone else.
Another aspect of St. Francis' life was that he was a poet. Chesterton made the comment that poets write about romance and love. St. Francis' poetry was devoted to Divine Love and God. St. Francis may have influenced Medieval poets such as Dante (1265-1321) whose DIVINE COMEDY had obvious religious overtones.
In spite of St. Franics poverty and asceticism, he was not a gloomy man. St. Francis was cheerful, optimistic, and free. Chesterton wrote that the Franciscans were more free than others because they took an honest vow of poverty. Anyone who is attached to his possessions could not be completly free. No one could contain St. Francis and his follwers by economic and social neccessity. Chesterton commented that he expects nothing will not be disappointed. Chesterton also commented that the Franciscans expected nothing but enjoyed everthing because they believed that creation emerged from nothing.
Chesterton related a charming story of St. Francis and his followers who were poor and had nothing unceremoniously approaching great rulers and Popes for audiences without fanfare and pomp. Yet, more secular men who had wealth and power usually received St. Francis with politeness and respect. Another charming story is that of St. Francis and his followers approaching powerful Islam rulers during the Crusades. These rulers would have executed most Catholic if approached by other Catholics. Yet, the Islamic rulers showed respect to St. Francis. These rulers did not accept Catholcism, but St. Francis' kindness and manners made the Islamic rulers respect him in spite of severe religious differences. Many crusades want to kill Moslems in battle. St. Francis went to the Middle East not to kill Moslems but to create Catholics.
Chesterton wrote this book to present a brief history and commentary of St. Francis and the Franciscans. Chesterton presented a more authenic of the Medieval era to give an authenic view of St. Francis and the Franciscans. Chestertoned showed what modern men in a crass materialistic world could learn from the Middle Ages which was intensely more religious as opposed to what has become of modern religion or what Bonhoffer called "cheap grace."
This reviewer believes that G.K. Chesterton admired both St. Franics and St. Thomas Aquinas. Chesterton's nonfiction work shows the logic and reason of St. Thomas Aquinas and the compassion of St. Francis. As an aside, readers should read Chesterton's book re St. Thomas Aquinas which is a good companion volume to this book.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simplicity,
By A Customer
Without exaggeration, this book changed my life completely.St. Francis is by far one of the most important and influential men inthe history of the world, aside from St. Paul and Jesus Christ, himself. Francis' life--like the lives of all the Saints and great Christians--is a testament to the message of Christ. He lived "in the world, but not of the world." He made "the world a means and heaven the end." Francis denied the power of the material world over God's gift of spirituality, for who can hurt a man who rejoices in the pain--which he uses as his vehicle to reach eternal life--caused by the world? Who can starve a man who is constantly fasting? What can anyone take away from a man who's way of life is poverty? Without possessions and employment, no one could hold anything over him to persuade him to change his life. Francis had one master, and that was the Lord, Christ Jesus.
Though Saint Francis would not let the world rule over him, he was not blind to the beauty in it. He saw everything as a great and divine painting, with God as the master painter. The world is simply the canvas, and all of God's creations make up the picture. In a way, time is the paintbrush... But, enough about that! Back to Francis!
Francis refused to overlook Jesus' commands to seek God with all one's heart and life, and to leave the material world behind and deny the self to seek that goal. However, Francis was no mastermind who read every book and asked everyone for their opinions before he could give himself fully to God--that is not Francis, and he would never have become the Saint he is, had he been so stubborn. Like C.S. Lewis, he prayed, not because he made a conscious choice to pray, but because he could not help himself. God tends to work that way in our lives.
My name is Michael Shirk, and I am a 17 year old high school student in Washington State. I owe much to G.K. Chesterton for his book. It taught me not only the ideals of a great man in our human history, but a deeper way to look at the message of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rake on a Rake . . .,
G.K. Chesterton is one of the most interesting people who ever lived. His prodigious output and outlandish appearance have made him an unforgettable part of Western culture. But in this book, we have the eccentric Chesterton writing about the even more astounding character of St. Francis of Assisi. Chesterton goes through several interesting sketches of St. Francis' life (which are interesting by themselves) and then draws all sorts of fantastic conclusions from the episodes. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about Chesterton's writing and Francis' life.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful character study!,
By A Customer
Chesterton does not attempt mere biography here. This is not some skeletal and bland litany of names, dates, and events able only to provide the meagerest comprehension the rich charater of St. Francis. In point of fact, the author makes mention of only those relatively few events salient to the developing the personhood of St. Francis. Though it is short, to the extent that Chesterton reveals for us the character of the founder of the Three Orders, he achieves his goal nicely. The author provides wonderful insights into both the mind and the times that shaped the worldview of Francis Bernardone. Beautifully written, respectful, and dynamic, this is a truly wonderful work and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in trying to develop a balanced understanding of the man who is St. Francis of Assissi.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be put off,
Don't be put off by the reviewers who complain this book has too much Chesterton and not enough Francis. If you want a book only on St. Francis, then this might not be the book for you --- but anyone who has ever had the pleasure of reading Chesterton knows that you always read Chesterton because of Chesterton! He revels in paradox and turns all your notions of history and how the world works upside-down. Basically he was an Edwardian C.S. Lewis. His opinions and observations about Christianity and modernity are the whole point of reading the book. Hope this helps. Enjoy!
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St. Francis of Assisi (Dover Books on Western Philosophy) by G.K. Chesterton (Paperback - November 24, 2008)