I didn’t simply decide on day to big up G.K. Chesterton’s paean to St. Francis of Assisi. Actually, the slim tome was given to me by my employer, a Franciscan institution. Though I have relatively little personal interest in St. Francis’ life, I am also loathe to let a book go unread.
Chesterton was perhaps one of the more well-accepted Christian apologists; his was supposedly the catalyst for the trite and ridiculous C.S. Lewis, a later apologist with all the intellectual weight of a circus clown.
For Chesterton, better known for his other writing such as the interesting The Man Who Was Thursday, a major inspiration to his Christianity and eventual Catholicism was Saint Francis of Assisi. This book is Chesterton’s attempt to explain his reverence for both Saint Francis and the saint as the Church writ small—that is, a highly idealized Church.
What I find most intriguing/appealing about Chesterton’s writing is that he preempts blanket criticism immediately by proclaiming that he doesn’t mind dislike as long as it is “intelligent dislike.” He makes no attempt to shy away from the historical atrocities and excesses of his Church, but oddly defends the Crusades, for instance, by more or less reducing the followers of “Mahomet” to bogeymen who needed a good thrashing. He pretends that the Church was the bearer of light in the Dark Ages, rather than a integral part of them. He pretends that as soon as Pope Gregory the Seventh “reformed” the church, everything seemed to be just dandy.
But the majority of the book’s text was about Saint Francis, at the feet of which Chesterton prostrates himself, fawning and fellating. The author’s admitted focus is making Francis palatable to “secular sympathizers,” and certain he makes a good case for Francis qua liberal democrat and pioneer of social justice, to which we all may raise a glass in approval. He doesn’t so much say that Francis could have been mentally disturbed, only going so far as to say that Francis’ asceticism “can be ignored or dismissed as a contemporary accident.”
I can appreciate Chesterton’s spirited praise of Francis, though I am amazed that so much rather circular verbiage can be heaped around a single subject. In short, the book is a curious one, neither a best or breed nor waste of paper. It’s appeal is likely limited: unless you’re a Francis fan, a Chesterton devotee, or a general devourer of Christian apologetics, it seems little more than a trifle.