Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book: The Search for the Historical Francis, A Penitent from Assisi

I haven’t written much for a while, but that is not to say that I haven’t been busy!

This last weekend I traveled to California, for the 40th reunion of my high school class of 1971. Because I graduated a year early in 1970 I did not receive an invitation, but I went at the suggestion of a childhood friend whom I’d lost track of for nearly 30 years, who invited me to rejoin my original class. The event was very interesting. I spent over 5 hours on my feet talking to people I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. Oh, old creaky memories!

I had planned to stay at St Albert Priory in Oakland, and it just so happened that the Corpus Christi lay Dominican chapter was holding a retreat this weekend, and they graciously allowed me to join them. I must say it was a wonderful retreat, and it made the trip much more fulfilling. I have to say it was quite a contrast, the worldly and the other-worldly.

The retreat featured two presentations by Fr Augustine Thompson O.P. Father gave two presentations. The first was based on his book “Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes, 1125-1325.” I’d heard a version of this presentation last year at the Lay Provincial Council meeting, but it has grown since then and it was really delightful. I will definitely have to buy the book!

However, it was the second presentation that really got my attention. It built on the first, and included a bit of an advance on Father’s next book (due out March, 2012, in honor of the conversion of St Clare). The presentation title was “The Search for the Historical Francis, A Penitent from Assisi.” A bit of a humorous play on “the search for the historical Jesus” in the title notwithstanding, it was a fascinating presentation which brought to light some of the current research. In the last ten years, there have been 220 biographies of St Francis published, all of which dress up and present the same standard version of Francis, which, it turns out, is a bit of a Santa Claus to St Nicholas! Well, not quite that bad, but pretty bad. This book will knock a few socks off, and instead of the standard initial printing of 2,000 copies, the publisher is planning a first edition run of 10,000 copies! I will get one, you may want to too!

What was so delightful about Fr Thompson’s presentation is that he comes across as a historian who is like a kid in a candy store, reveling in the rich flavors of nuggets of history mined from the various new sources unearthed in the last decade.

I'm looking forward to a fascinating read next March!

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