Francis of Assisi: History, Hagiography and Hermeneutics in the Early Documents

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Francis of Assisi: History, Hagiography and Hermeneutics in the Early Documents. Edited by Jay M. Hammond. (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press. 2004. Pp. 290. $19.95 paperback.)

This book follows on the three-volume publication (1999-2001, New City Press) of "Early Documents" on Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). The "Early Documents" begin with the writings of Francis and his brothers from 1209 to 1226; they continue with narratives about Francis of Assisi, from his death down to Arnald of Sarrant's collection of material in 1365. J. A. Wayne Hellmann opens the essays under review with a survey of the three volumes. Hellmann belonged to the group of three (with Régis J. Armstrong and William J. Short) that initiated the project and guided it to its happy conclusion. Hellmann knows the three volumes from the inside, sort of as a beloved cross he bore for ten years. His "Francis of Assist: Saint, Founder, Prophet" (pp. 15-38) is a fine survey of the volumes to which then the following essays refer.

In his foreword to these essays, Joseph Chinnici refers to a reader's hesitation when looking at the three hefty volumes, wondering: "Where do I begin? "And he offers the essays as a "much-needed beginner's guide" (p. 10). On the other hand, the editor of the book Jay Hammond, characterizes these essays as "forays into the Early Documents" ("Preface," p. 13), eager as he is to test the "new research possibilities" offered by the volumes. Certainly Hammond's own contribution to the collection, "Saint Francis's Doxological Mysticism in Light of His Prayers" (pp. 105-152), ventures more deeply into a limited selection of texts, in critical dialogue with a wide array of scholarship, than a beginner might want to go. The same can be said for a few other contributions, more involved with debating scholarship than with easing entry into the literature on Francis. Still, Chinnici's beginners will find much help in Hellmann's survey. And Ingrid Peterson's pages, "Clare of Assisi: Hidden Behind What Image of Francis? …