Francis as an exemplary rebel against the cruelty and heartless greed of the capitalist world--a passionate, fluent...

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THE LAST CHRISTIAN: A Biography of Francis of Assisi

Francis as an exemplary rebel against the cruelty and heartless greed of the capitalist world--a passionate, fluent biography that's one part history, two parts sermon. Holl is a rebel himself, a radical Austrian priest who's been forbidden by his superiors to teach (theology) or engage in any official ministry. For Holl, Francis was the last Christian because he made a naive, literal-minded attempt to identify himself with Jesus, instead of the usual pious compromise between Christian principles and the rules of the market place. This dream of acting out the Gospel in the flesh (culminating in Francis' stigmata) so frightened the Church (and the Franciscans) that the hierarchy almost immediately began to sabotage it. Francis was not a proto-Marxist, but a pivotal symbolic character--the fact that he lived in early capitalist Italy and was the son of a rich bourgeois merchant, with whom he broke completely, is crucial in Holl's eyes--who represents a tragically lost opportunity. If Francis and the many kindred Christian communalists of his day (Waldensians, Humiliati, etc.) had won over the institutional Church, everything might have been different. Holl repeatedly stretches his data to make a point (e.g., arguing from Francis' silence concerning the Crusaders' incredible brutality at the siege of Damietta that he was horrified by it). But whatever its weaknesses as history Holl's book is a lively non-sectarian homily with enough scholarship behind it (Max Weber's reading of Western monasticism and Paul Sabatier's reading of Francis) to suggest that freedom from possessions may indeed be ""the purest socio-political dynamite."" Apart from some dry tendentious spots, it makes for a vigorous specimen of the mind of the Catholic Left.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980