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St. Francis of Assisi Paperback – November 17, 1987

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Editorial Reviews Review

There are certainly many studies of Saint Francis of Assisi that an interested reader might find and many of them immensely praiseworthy. But in reading G.K. Chesterton on Francis, you get two glories for one: first is an enlightening study of this most beloved of Christian saints and second is Chesterton himself, one of the great Christian writers of the 20th century, who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1922 because, it has been said, "only the Roman Church could produce a St. Francis of Assisi." Published shortly after his conversion, Chesterton wrote this book in part to reclaim Francis for the church. There are always those who want to claim Francis for their cause, Chesterton recognized, who also fail to understand the spiritual and intellectual ground upon which he stands. Chesterton would return Francis to Christ. As he summarizes, "however wild and romantic his gyrations might appear to many, [Francis] always hung on to reason by one invisible and indestructible hair.... The great saint was sane.... He was not a mere eccentric because he was always turning towards the center and heart of the maze; he took the queerest and most zigzag shortcuts through the wood, but he was always going home."

As one editor of Chesterton's puts it, "of St. Francis he might have said what he said about Blake: 'We always feel that he is saying something very plain and emphatic even when we have not the wildest notion of what it is.'" --Doug Thorpe


"his opinions shine from every page. The reader is rewarded with many fresh perspectives on Francis..." -- Franciscan, May 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Image; Reissue edition (December 17, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385029004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385029001
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #362,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 82 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on March 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
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.
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful By David Marshall on July 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
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.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Patrick O'Mara on March 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
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.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Stacy E. Lewis on February 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
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.
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