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Francis of Assisi
Performing the Gospel Life
POD; Published: 5/11/2004
ISBN: 978-0-8028-2762-3
Price: $ 19.50
172 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 5.5 x 8.25
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Francis of Assisi is counted among the most important personalities of history. The life and ideals of this humble, semiliterate medieval friar have had a shaping influence on the Christian church that has spilled over into Western culture at large. This biography by Lawrence Cunningham looks anew at Francis's life and legacy, seeking to counter efforts to romanticize him yet without diminishing his deep piety or abiding significance.

Pursuing a realistic view of the saint, Cunningham argues against common stereotypes that sentimentalize Francis as a "blesser of animals," as a "church rebel," or as a precursor of the "spirituality" movement. According to Cunningham, really seeing Francis requires the lens of theology rather than the lens of quaint spirituality so often used. Francis was a devotedly orthodox Catholic whose life must be understood as a response to reforming elements abroad in the church of his day. Francis's originality derived from his success in articulating the "ideal gospel life": his message and actions were a kind of "acting out" of the scriptures.

Imbued with peerless scholarship, this book is also charmingly written. Cunningham is a master storyteller as well as a brilliant biographer -- qualities that his Francis of Assisi fully displays. It will at once inform and delight anyone interested in the fascinating life of Francis or his impact on church history.

"Lawrence S. Cunningham's small study of St. Francis demonstrates the value of sound critical judgment and solid theology for grounding healthy devotion to the saints and deepening the faith in the Christian realities to which they dedicated themselves. . . Cunningham's solid historical scholarship is omnipresent, although it is so smoothly and thoroughly integrated that the work is in no way pedantic, nor is there any trace of jargon or obfuscation."
First Things
"An engaging and informative contribution to the vast literature on the man commonly described as, next to the Virgin Mother, the most popular of saints. Among the merits of this little book is Cunningham's guide to that literature and his description of the frequently conflicting reasons through history for the celebration of Francis."
Catholic Historical Review
"A stimulating account of one of the most attractive figures in the history of Christendom. . . This study is one of the best and most perceptive portraits of the saint in recent years."
Wayne Hellmann
"Lawrence Cunningham's years of reflection on the sources of and about St. Francis of Assisi open new doors for understanding his spiritual significance. This book approaches Francis in the context of the Catholic reform tradition that he inherited and embraced. Cunningham demonstrates that this tradition is key to understanding Francis's originality — a trait that continues to affirm Christian identity and provokes all toward the solidarity that God intended."
Bernard McGinn
"Among the scores of books devoted to Francis of Assisi, Lawrence Cunningham's stands out for its balance and insight. This beautifully written volume argues for a view of Francis as a spiritual classic, a devoted follower of Christ whose greatest joy was performing the gospel through a life of voluntary poverty and service to the poor. Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel is a gem. "
Cistercian Studies Quarterly
"This beautifully produced and beautifully written book by a well-known scholar and frequent write on Franciscan spirituality argues against the entirely too familiar sentimental image of Francis that is coterminous with what the author calls 'spirituality lite'? a spirituality disengaged from religion that comforts its practitioners rather than challenging them."