*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Francis of Assisi: His life, vision and companions by Michael F. Cusato

by
29 September 2023

G. R. Evans reviews a new account of St Francis and his circle

THIS is a refreshing contribution to the literature on St Francis of Assisi. Michael F. Cusato brings Francis and his friends to life in an account relying both closely and realistically on the surviving early evidence. Francis had a good deal to say for himself in his own writings. There is no shortage of other sources, whose history is, as Cusato puts it, both “complex and hypothetical”, needing skilful noting of the hagiographical conventions introduced early on to help towards Francis’s canonisation in 1228.

The Franciscans and the Dominicans invented a new mode of religious life, replacing enclosed monastic communities with religious lives spent working in the world, and giving their energies to preaching. Dominic was chiefly anxious to challenge heresy in northern Spain and the south of France. Francis’s vision placed him and his followers among the disadvantaged in contemporary society. In that, Cusato brings out a certain closeness to modern concerns.

Francis grew up in an Assisi where a growing bourgeoisie of artisans and merchants were battling for power with its aristocrats. Francis joined in briefly, attracted by the ideals of knighthood. A year in prison in Perugia until his family could pay for his release gave him time to rethink the purpose of his life. A group of companion “penitents of Assisi” soon joined him.

There was an early attempt to frame a Rule for this novel religious life. In 1209, Francis sought and gained papal approval, made formal in 1215. By 1212, a “second Order” had begun to form, led by Clare, a young noblewoman. Because women could not mingle freely with the people, preaching and begging for alms, this venture needed its own practical arrangements.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, PABartolomé del Castro, Pope Honorius III Approving the Rule of Saint Francis of Assisi, c.1500, tempera and gold on panel. From the book

In 1212, with a new Crusade in the air, Francis was drawn towards mission to the Muslims. In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council had on its agenda the launching of the Fifth Crusade. Francis answered that call by going to the Levant himself. There, he met the Sultan in 2019, in what Cusato describes as a surprisingly mutually respectful exchange. But Francis’s health was beginning to fail, and back in Italy the need to design an organisation for the growing Order was pressing. Cusano vividly describes the resulting disagreements with the holding of an emergency Chapter in 1220. After Francis’s death in 1226, his Order was to divide itself into the two different forms in which it survives.

This attractive telling of his life brings Francis’s companions into the foreground alongside him, and the use of quotation helps to bring the sources into close-up view. The very readable account is also well illustrated, mainly in colour, adding visual sources to the verbal ones.

 

Dr G. R. Evans is Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History in the University of Cambridge.

 

Francis of Assisi: His life, vision and companions
Michael F. Cusato
Reaktion £16.95
(978-1-78914-783-4)
Church Times Bookshop £15.25

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available

 

Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available

 

SAVE THE DATE

Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website

 

Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)