The many faces of St. Francis from the Basilica


Francis of Assisi, 1181-1226.

Few Saints are more immediately recognizable than St. Francis of Assisi. He is recognized, loved, and claimed by Christians of all denominations, and even embraced by non-Christians. Francis seized the imaginations of his contemporaries, as well as that of modern men, by his unique simplicity, a pure grace of spirit, his overwhelming love for God, and his mode of life in which he actively sought to live according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, given the extent with which he's loved, few Saints are less understood than Francis is. To the modern mind, Francis is a caricature. He is the simple, loveable, man who preached to birds, tamed wolves, talked to fish, and was so gentle that wild hare leapt into his arms.

But, he's so much more than that.

Of Francis' early life, one of his biographers, Thomas of Celano, in the First Life of St. Francis, would later write, "almost up to his twenty-fifth year, he squandered and wasted his time…He was…very rich, not greedy but prodigal, not a hoarder of money, but a squanderer of possessions, a cautious businessman but an unreliable steward. On the other hand, he was a kind person, easy and friendly…Overwhelmed by a host of evil companions, proud and high-minded, he walked about the streets of Babylon until the Lord looked down from heaven and for His own name's sake…and for His praise bridled Francis lest he should perish. The hand of the Lord came onto Francis and a change was worked by the right hand of God, that through Francis an assurance might be granted to sinners that they had been restored to grace and that Francis might become an example to all of conversion to God."

Conversion, or rather living in a state of constantly being converted, is what Francis' life was about. Drawn by the love of God, drawn away from worldly ambitions for glory, Francis instead found his treasure in the total surrender of self to God.

For those of us who follow Jesus in the footsteps of St. Francis, the example of conversion to God, of living each day in a deeper state of conversion, to die to self a little more each day that we might live entirely for God, this is the important thing to see in Francis. In this, our Seraphic Father Francis is our model, our guide, our mentor.

His earthly life was both simple and complex. We know more about Francis than we do about many saints. Several of his writings have come down to us, although many more have been lost to us. While he never wrote either a systematic statement of his theology or an explanation for his life, the love for God that permeated his soul certainly shows in his writings. You can read public domain translations of his works:

Fr. Paschal Robinson's circa 1906 translations of The Writings of St. Francis, in pdf from Sister's Bookshelf

Biographies of him were written soon after his death, by people who knew him and by people who interviewed those who knew him. We have many near contemporary sources, aside from Francis' own writings, through which we can come to know Francis.

The Little Flowers of St. Francis is the only one of these source documents commonly available on the web for reading free. There are several sources, which we give here for you to read this work, or listen to it, if you download the MP3s from CCEL.

Attributed to Br. Ugolino, The Little Flowers of St. Francis from Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Another copy of The Little Flowers, this one from EWTN

The Little Flowers is an anthology of some of the miracles and pious examples from the life of St. Francis. Near contemporary with Francis' life, this was written between the years 1250 and 1261. Taken from interviews of the people who knew Francis, this book is the place to start.

Most of the rest of the Franciscan source documents are not available on the internet for free in translation into English. However you can read through the actual Latin texts, and sometimes in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Dutch, of the source documents by going out to the Franciscan Archives.

Certainly, we lack the time to do the story of Francis' life justice on this webpage. There are tales to tell of miracles, of mystic visions, of gentle acts of loving charity. Thousands of printed pages would not be enough in which to pour out the full story of Francis, of what his life and ministry meant to the Church and to the world. However, if you will follow any of these links for on-line biographies of St. Francis, these things you can read for free, you will certainly come to know the facts of his life.

G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis from Catholic Forum
Another source for reading Chesterton's biography of Saint Francis on Martin Ward's site

Father Candide Chalippe's Life and Legend of Saint Francis of Assisi From Project Gutenberg
Same book in pdf format from Sister's Bookshelf
Father Challipe wrote this book in the year 1727, in French. This English edition was first published in 1917.

Sophy Jewett's God's Troubadour, a biography of the Saint intended for 19th century children, from Catholic Forum

Another source for Jewett's God's Troubadour from World e book Library

Paul Sabatier's Life of St. Francis of Assisi from Project Gutenberg
Warning, some of Sabatier's assertions have been proven wrong by subsequent Franciscan Scholarship. But his work is still worth reading.

St. Francis is everyone's saint and an inspiration to all. Take the time to get to know him. You'll be glad you did.

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© 2006 The Franciscan Order of the Divine Compassion. All rights reserved.