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Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint Hardcover – October 23, 2012

4.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Considered one of the great spiritual leaders of humankind, Francis of Assisi was also a man of many faces and personas: ascetic, the founder of a religious order, a romantic hero, a mystic, a defender of the poor, a promoter of peace. But as Vauchez emphasizes—and this biography constantly reminds us—Francis was also a flesh-and-blood human being. Although he was a saint after his death, during his actual life he had all the flaws and foibles of any man. Here, Vauchez attempts to rediscover and write about the actual man, not the legend. His life continues to fascinate us many years later because, suggests Vauchez, he was both spiritual master and a model of humanity and wisdom. He discusses the institutionalization of the Franciscan movement, Francis’ canonization, and medieval interpretations of his life and works. In addition, he examines his writings, including his best-known work, the lyrical Canticle of Brother Sun, and his attitude toward nature, among other topics. He concludes with a provocative question: Was Francis a prophet for his time or ours? A bracing, erudite account of a mystic’s life. --June Sawyers

Review

“One comes away from [this] book not only with a new understanding of Francis, but also with a renewed appreciation for the relationship between sanctity and authentic humanity.”—Alden Bass, Englewood Review of Books 
(Alden Bass Englewood Review of Books)

“A refreshingly complex portrait of one of Catholicism’s most familiar figures. . . . Engaging.”—Kathleen Manning, U.S. Catholic 
(Kathleen Manning U.S. Catholic)

“This new biography will reinvigorate our appreciation of Francis’ originality and radicalism.”—Martin L. Smith, Washington Independent Review of Books 
(Martin L. Smith Washington Independent Review of Books)

 “An indispensable document attesting to what can be known of the Poor Man of Assisi, as well as a stirring exemplum of written history.”—Michael Signorelli, Paris Review Daily
(Michael Signorelli Paris Review Daily)

“Comprehensive [and] engaging.”—P. L. Urban Jr., Choice
(P. L. Urban Jr. Choice)

“Fascinating”—John L. Murphy, PopMatters
(John L. Murphy PopMatters)

“The single best book about Francis now available in English . . . Vauchez must be given the crown.”—Lawrence S. Cunningham, Commonweal
(Lawrence C. Cunningham Commonweal)

“Full of nuance and engaging detail, providing insight into [an] enduring legacy”—Iris McLister, Santa Fe New Mexican
(Iris McLister Santa Fe New Mexican)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Tra edition (October 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300178948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300178944
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #255,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It is entirely appropriate that a French scholar has written the biography -- and more than a biography -- that will now, one can hope, become the standard reference work for the average intelligent reader. For, Paul Sabatier's biography, written over one hundred years ago, has been that up until now, influencing every popular book and film in one way or another since that time, even if writers and filmmakers no longer realize it. Sabatier was important in many ways, but mainly for sparking a fire under European scholars who then set to work to unearth and make sense of the abundant medieval source literature by and about Francis of Assisi. However, while the scholars have quietly and brilliantly done their part over the decades, moving well beyond Sabatier, the popular conceptions have remained stuck in pallid, one-dimensional, and sometimes patently false ideas about the identity and charism of the thirteenth-century Poverello, generally repeating early and inchoate hypotheses of that French historian.

This book does not contain too many ideas that will surprise specialists, but those same women and men will still own it and read it and study it and love it. For they all know the reputation of this legendary medievalist who is writing at the height of his maturity. They know his beautiful turns of phrase and ability to capture so much so well (for which the author won the prestigious Chateaubriand award for French literature in 2010). As a matter of fact, two of them apparently felt compelled enough by these things as to set aside their own work long enough to translate this book into English and Italian. That is testimony enough.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The very best of the most recent biographies of St. Francis with a fine translation by the Franciscan scholar, Michael Cusato.
The scholarship is reliable, and Vauchez connects the dots better than most. His is more than a biography because it takes the Franciscan charism after the death of Francis and writes of development, its sources, and the the reasons for its longevity into the 21st century.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great book which uses the best and most accurate source material to strip away the superfluous legends and surface the saint as he likely lived. It has some excellent information on the evolution of the Franciscan Order after Francis as well. Already an admirer of the Poor Man from Assisi, I came to an even greater appreciation of Brother Francis after reading this book. It is a good addition to the hagiography section of a Christian library and a must-read for admirers of Francis.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent book by historian. Discusses the historical Francis, leaving out any incidents that may be fabricated or exaggerated. Sees Francis through the lens of his writings and concludes with a new image of the saint, one profoundly Eucharistic. A Must Read for any Franciscan student.
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Format: Hardcover
Recommended for its sympathetic yet scholarly detachment, scoured of romanticism and all the more relevant as a new Pope selects this saint as his namesake, this new biography of Francis by an eminent medievalist skilled in the social construction of holiness signals a welcome and timely arrival. Appearing in friar Michael F. Cusato's smooth translation from the French last autumn, its paperback reprint so rapidly may attest to the alignment of the sudden shift at the Vatican with renewed interest, nine centuries later, about the Poor Man of Assisi.

André Vauchez stresses the need for detachment by modern observers from the legendary tales he analyzes which have been passed off as pious non-fiction since the thirteenth century. Any honest connection to Francis and his companions' irretrievable era, Vauchez admits, must first acknowledge the distance between the fervor and mindset of medieval believers and our own. Only then "does it become legitimate to ask ourselves what it is in the life and witness of the Poor Man of Assisi that still interests us". (xiii)

No outlaw, Vauchez situates his subject within this "logic of exclusion": Francis joins the outcasts.

Rather than fleeing the city, as hermits and monks, those restless and resentful of a Church more concerned with clerics than with the Gospel flocked to Francis. He marginalized himself, beside those inside as well as outside cities, socially displaced by economic expansion as feudalism gave way to capitalism. Francis never aimed to found a religious order, but others took notice.

Voluntary poverty, Vauchez explains, drew nobles and the emerging middle class to Francis' idealism. Allied with simple peasants and unlettered workers, a few rapidly expanded into thousands of friars.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Vauchez, a consummate medieval historian, captures the unique biography of Francis of Assisi and his charism of Christian evangelical poverty. Francis was a merchant’s son, a layman who set in motion the Friars Minor and the Poor Ladies on a course of extreme poverty hampered by the institutionalization of his communities by the Roman Church and clerical authorities. Francis never waivered in his fidelity to the Papacy but he also never gave up his embrace of “Lady Poverty” to the chagrin of many of his followers. This scholarly biography presents an entirely different picture of Francis the Saint who was very original and revolutionary for his time and a puzzle for contemporary man and women. A book well worth reading.
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