Church History

By Pansters, Krijn | Church History, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Church History


Pansters, Krijn, Church History


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Book Reviews and Notes

Among the historical studies of Francis of Assisi that appeared in English in 2012, including Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by A. Thompson (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press) and Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint by A. Vauchez (trans. Michael Cusato [New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press), The Cambridge Companion to Francis of Assisi is probably the least "surprising, astonishing, fascinating" (Vauchez's book description) reconstruction of Francis's life, work, and heritage. The collection presents Francis neither as "real," as Thompson does in his portrait of a complex and conflicting personality, nor as "constructed," as Vauchez does in his cautious approach to the lived reality of this "self-revealing" saint. It is, nevertheless, as "authoritative" (Thompson) and "engaging" (Vauchez) as these two major publications, paying attention to both Francis's own writings and the historical context of his life and afterlife.

The book consists of two parts. In the first, on "Francis of Assisi," the authors deal with Francis's life and works: the origins of his movement (Michael F. Cusato), his writings (Michael J. P. Robson; William J. Short), the hagiographic and historiographic tradition (Michael Blastic; Annette Kehnel), his attitude toward learning and nature (Neslihan Senocak, Johnson), the emergence of the Second Order (Jean François Godet-Calogeras), and his encounter with the sultan (Steven J. McMichael). The second part of the book, on "The Heritage of Francis of Assisi," deals with such major topics as the pursuit of learning (Bert Roest), life in the towns (Jens Röhrkasten), the Third Order (Ingrid Peterson), Franciscan connections with royal families and popes (Sean L. Field; Patrick Nold), and missionary activities (Peter Jackson; E. Randolph Daniel). The final contribution, on Francis's ecumenical appeal (Petà Dunstan), puts the man and his work in a different--post-medieval, non-Catholic--perspective.

Avoiding the methodological technicalities (and controversial issues) of Thompson or Vauchez, these chapters do what the Cambridge Companion to Religions series seeks to do: provide an accessible and stimulating introduction to the subject for new readers and non-specialists. At the same time the book is a "must-read for students and scholars of Church history, as well as medieval social and intellectual history" (back cover), presenting a coherent, balanced portrait of the man and his heritage, sketching his spiritual ideals and his historical impact. Some important elements are missing from this portrait, such as urban life in and around Assisi, the architecture of the earliest Franciscan buildings, and the development of the primary statutes. The omission of an article on the legal documents and discussions in the thirteenth century is striking, as many chapters in the second part of the book reach into the fourteenth century and one of them even discusses legal issues under Pope John XXII (1316-1334). Although certain historical lacunae may be unavoidable in a thematic approach like this one, more precise chronological demarcation and a clearer terminus ad quem per section would have benefited the collection. …

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