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Michael J. P. Robson, (Ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Francis of Assisi

Michael J.  P.  Robson, (Ed.)

The Cambridge Companion to Francis of Assisi

ISBN: 9780 5217 5782 9 (pbk version) Cambridge University Press, 2011, 305pp, £18.99

 The Cambridge Companions to Religion series aims to bring together a series of specially commissioned essays to introduce a particular theme or individual targeted primarily at students at universities and colleges but hoping to provide information of value to scholars also. Michael Robson will be known to many for his ‘St Francis of Assisi: the Legend and the Life’ (London, Continuum, 1997).  In this present work he has brought together a group of scholars to write on various aspects of the life and works of Francis (Part 1) and the ways his heritage influenced the apostolic activities of his followers in the century after his death (Part 2).

It is ironic that Francis, the man who set so much store by simplicity should be remembered in documents whose study has at times assumed almost baffling complexity! How do we get to the ‘real’ Francis – indeed can we do so? The chapters in the first part of this volume which indicate the principal sources for the study of Francis, their relationships and some of the reasons that led to their being written will help readers to understand why this is such a difficult task and some of the ways scholars understand and use the sources to answer those questions. There is brief consideration of some of the other writings about the Franciscan Order and its early history. We are given a good deal about Francis’s attitude towards learning and education, two chapters in fact; a single chapter would have allowed space for other matters to be covered. A chapter looks at Francis’s relationship with Clare and the emergence of the Second Order, and another deals with the Third Order (this latter an excellent summary of recent research). The encounter of Francis with the sultan in 1219 and its wider significance is the subject of another chapter. Timothy Johnson writes a relatively brief chapter on Francis and Creation where he makes some stimulating remarks on the contribution of Bonaventure and Duns Scotus to the emergence of a Franciscan theology of creatures and the cosmos;  Jens Röhrkasten writes on the early Franciscans and their ministry in towns and cities. The volume concludes with a chapter by Peta Dunstan on the ecumenical appeal of Francis.

One does not feel that this volume began with an overall vision of what a Companion to Francis of Assisi ought to cover, rather that some of the chapters were dictated by the existence of recent work in that area. There is, incidentally, no overall consideration of the whole poverty question, which is sad. It is difficult to find specific information via the index, which is largely of names and places.

This is a book which will make demands on the reader, and is emphatically not aimed at the person seeking an elementary introduction to Francis, his thought and influence.  But there is much recent scholarship on Francis and the Franciscan Order distilled within these pages and it will prove very useful as an introduction to the areas it does cover.

Gordon Plumb TSSF