SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
by Ivan Gobry
(Ignatius Press, 2006, 343pp, $33.90, ISBN: 978-1-58617-085-1. Available from Freedom Publishing)
St Francis of Assisi's extraordinary life has generated an enormous body of literature. Dr Ivan Gobry's recent biography, published in French in 2003, with an English version from Ignatius Press in 2006, is an impressive up-to-date portrait of the universally revered saint.
Dr Gobry, a specialist in the mediaeval period, is the author of many studies on the Middle Ages and its philosophy and is one of the foremost experts on St Francis.
While this Saint has inspired countless films, paintings, poems and novels, the question remains, who really was Francesco Bernadone, now known as Saint Francis of Assisi? Despite the wealth of writings, many still don't know Francis as a person.
There is the poignant detail in Gobry's book where Francis in a vision is told by the Lord to "repair my Church!" So Francis and his earliest disciples took this request literally and commenced restoring and renovating dilapidated church buildings in and around Assisi. After four successful renovations, the Lord revealed to the future saint he had in mind that Francis' life and ministry would restore authentic religious life to His worldwide Church.
There are also the many legends surrounding the popular Saint, a Francis made palatable to modern sensibilities as the charming friar - a mediaeval 'greenie' - who carols to the birds and writes poems to the sun and moon. This is the image of the saint that is usually presented, even though it fails to encompass the true personality of Francis.
Ivan Gobry has undertaken the task of revealing the real man, the one who abandoned wealth and chose to live a beggar's life.
Saint Francis followed a life full of danger and adventure, ministering to lepers, who were desperate outcasts in his contemporary world, and even travelled to Egypt in an attempt to convert the Muslims. Disciples flocked to him, drawn by the challenge of living the Gospel in a world that had lost the radical flavour of Christianity.
While St Francis rejoiced in nature and God's creatures, he also fought spiritual battles against temptation and vice. Here Gobry provides a rounded human dimension to the Little Poor Man of Assisi: a far cry from the conventional image.