Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel Life

Article excerpt

Cunningham, Lawrence S. Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel Life. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.E. Erdmans Publishing Company. 2004. Pp. xii, 160. $14.00 paperback.)

The life of Saint Francis of Assisi has been interpreted by a succession of biographers, beginning with Thomas of Celano's Vita prima, which was written to celebrate the canonization on July 16, 1228. Subsequent biographers have produced vitae which reflect their own understanding and evaluation; this has bedeviled much of Franciscan historiography. The same process has infected external debate about the saint and his message. Professor Cunningham corrects what he regards as defective portraits of the saint and his mission. He presents a stimulating account of one of the most attractive figures in the history of Christendom; there are fresh insights in each of the eight chapters. The first chapter dwells on the pivotal function of Francis's ecclesiology. While the saint's respectful disposition toward Guido II, bishop of Assisi, and Innocent III foxes some modern biographers, the two prelates were perceived as the custodians of the spiritual heritage and authority of the martyred bishops of Assisi and Rome, Saints Rufino and Peter. …