FRANCIS OF ASSISI by Arnaldo Fortini


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Big as it is (900 pp.), Moak's adaptation of Fortini's Nova Vita di San Francesco (1926, rev. ed. 1959)is dwarfed by the original, which runs to five volumes. But it's still way too long. Fortini writes agreeably enough, and he's found a fine translator, both scholarly and fluent, in Helen Moak. Still, one could scarcely expect the former mayor of Assisi (Fortini held the job for 20 years) to treat his town's most famous son with critical restraint. And he doesn't. In the old-fashioned hagiographical style he wants to exalt il poverello, making him the splendid central figure in a series of colorful historical tapestries, thickly interwoven with scenic details from the late-12th-to-early-13th-century Umbria that Fortini knows so astonishingly well. Into this picture he incorporates any and all legends and local traditions, regardless of their credibility. (E.g., when a noisy stream disturbs the saint at his devotions, he bids it dry up, which of course it instantly does.) Fortini has a very large supply of such lore, and he lays it on generously. On the other hand, when it comes to the things that make Francis interesting to the 20th-century secular mind, Fortini is disappointingly silent. He downplays the radical critique (of both Church and society) implicit in Francis' attempt to revive evangelical poverty. But then why did the papacy insist on watering down the Franciscan Rule of 1221, and eventually start burning the more literal-minded Franciscans at the stake? Fortini is aware of such difficulties--first raised by the Protestant scholar Paul Sabatier--but he dismisses them in a footnote. This is a wonderful St. Francis--for pre-Raphaelite enthusiasts or nostalgic Catholics. To most others it will seem much too much of a moderately good thing.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Seabury