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Reluctant Saint Hardcover – September 30, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It does not seem possible that the world needs another biography of St. Francis of Assisi, but Spoto (The Hidden Jesus) makes a credible case for adding to the glut of books and articles about the medieval saint. (Spoto cites one count taken nearly 40 years ago that puts the number at 1,575.) He argues that new discoveries in several fields and the latest Franciscan scholarship justify this new biography. Although the findings of his research required Spoto to strip away some of the romance surrounding Francis's familiar story, he manages to report them without detracting from the integrity of the saint. He raises, for example, questions about whether Francis actually bore the stigmata, or wounds of the crucified Christ, pointing out that sources interviewed for Francis's canonization denied that he had the marks. Spoto suggests that Francis may actually have suffered from leprosy and that his companions interpreted those wounds as a sharing in Christ's suffering. Spoto's chronological recounting of Francis's life is sufficiently engaging to retain the interest even of those familiar with the basic facts of the saint's story. Occasionally however, he lapses into seemingly misplaced preaching pedagogy, such as when he holds forth on the subject of conversion in a section about Francis's spiritual transformation- but given the saint's diverse appeal, this book should interest a wide audience.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Spoto is a sometime teacher of theology and a biographer of Alfred Hitchcock, Lawrence Olivier, Tennessee Williams, and Ingrid Bergman. In this life of Francis of Assisi, Spoto's elegant wordsmithing creates a "reality TV" sense of Francis's life-the elaborate details are based on an actual time and place, but the overall effect feels staged. This is nevertheless a very readable portrait of a hope-filled eccentric whose lifelong process of conversion brought him to a never unconfused but always faithful way of life under God's ordinance. There are some things Spoto doesn't get right: on the dedication page, he ascribes to St. Benedict a quote traditionally attributed to St. Augustine, and he fails to appreciate the literary genre of the medieval exemplary story, among other things. But he is a fine writer who provides insight into the saint as well as into the secular and ecclesiastical cultures of the 12th century. One of the best of the modern books to reflect upon Francis, and even to get inside his head and measure his spirit, is G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi. Spoto's book is suitable for libraries with a circulation of nonacademic religious books.
David I. Fulton, Coll. of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1 edition (September 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670031283
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670031283
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #595,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
You'd think there would be little left to say about Francis. Thousands of articles, monographs, and books have been written about the little poor man over the last eight centuries. But Spoto has risen to the occasion in his new book. He makes sense of the frequently confusing chronology of Francis' life in a manner that marks him as a master biographer. But along the way he also offers rich insights about Franciscan spirituality and theology in particular and Christianity in general. (Spoto, by the way, has a doctorate in theology from Fordham University.) Here's an example: "Francis could not but surrender to the immediate impact of Jesus' words: indeed, he approached them simply but fully, putting into practice the biblical counsels without waiting to consider their every implication. In other words, in following the lessons of the New Testament he pursued the reverse of the usual means of pedagogy. He did not try to understand what the Gospel meant and then attempt to find ways of carrying out its message. Rather, he dared the experiment of first living that message, and from living it, discovered a new and practical way of understanding it." (p. 68) Reflections such as this alone would make the book worth reading. But Spoto is such a wonderful stylist and penetrating biographer that the entire book is a joy. I'd recommend it alongside Adrian House's recent "Francis of Assisi: A Revolutionary Life."
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Format: Paperback
St. Francis of Assisi acquired an amulet-like quality. He's a saint well-known in the popular vernacular--the humble friar in sackcloth with a penchant for caring for animals. The "real" Francis gets written about by numerous biographers. But Spoto's

treatment nonetheless stands out as a worthy read.

This book explains the main events, context and ideas of Francis' life and ministry. Spoto, a theologian by training, employs a narrative voice which is anything but Hemingwayesque,

as he tries to set up the setting for both the historical and theological context for Francis. The result is a literate, relatively brief, and fascinating good read.

The Francis who emerges is, not surprisingly, a more complex character than the garden-gnome St. Francis of the vernacular.

Spoto uses a light touch to set forth not only Francis' triumphs and innovations, but also his many frustrations and asynchronies.

What becomes of a rebel who is determined to cause revolution within a faith not entirely ready for him? This biography raises and addresses this question, without quite answering it.

Sometimes the narrative commentary distracts a bit, but overall, the narrative voice is a welcome companion. I was disappointed that Spoto rushes to put an "orthodox" face upon the universality of Francis' last songs. Spoto seems to be shadow-boxing with prior writers, without quite showing us the wayang play in progress.

But Spoto wisely recognizes that Francis is best treated as one who led by example, not complex doctrine. He also appreciates that Francis' life is not only extraordinary, but also adventurous and many-faceted. His Francis is no dry virtuous saint, but a living, eccentric man who pointed out a new way to live.
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Format: Paperback
The book places the reader in 12th century Italy and recounts the well known shenanigans of the young Francis as well as his change of heart when he decides to become God's servant. At this point the author veers from Francis and begins his never-ending attacks on Gnostic Christianity, specifically the Cathars. For the remainder of this book, the author pimps Saint Francis prostituting him to legitimize the evils of the Inquisition and bloodbath the Church launched against Gnostic Christians and any who didn't conform to their myopic view of Christ. Saint Francis either acquiesced to orthodoxy or faced being burned at the stake for heresy.

The Reluctant Saint paints Francis as harsh, grim and joyless. Spoto, using Francis to uphold Orthodoxy, focuses on the Church's macabre fascination with Christ's torture and gruesome death. Love is viewed in the same fold as a psychotic father beating his child senseless because he "loves" her. Thus, pain and suffering are viewed as good because "God loves us." Spoto casts Francis as a good Christian because he endured pain rather than presenting Francis as a man who viewed Christ as an example to rise above human imperfection and become more God-like.

In Spato's book, Francis is a mean spirited character oscillating between "holier than thou evangelical preacher" and "pompous intellectual" ruling his herd of monks. Any kindess or goodness Francis might have had are twisted and distorted in this book. Saint Francis exhibits no gentle love, the book has no development of his inner life and Christ was not an example of spiritual transcendence. Spato argues Francis never had encounters with animals, that these are concocted stories and simply myth.
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Format: Paperback
This is an amazing book that shows how Francis was a real human being, not the figure of legend that we've all grown up to believe. It shows how he struggled his entire life trying to figure out what God's will was for him and how he failed repeatedly. This gives us a Francis we can actually relate to. But don't buy the DVD that's supposedly based on this book. It's terrible, leaving out huge amounts of important information and done with really cheesy production values.
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