The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano - 175 

ruary 25, Gregory officially approved and promulgated The Life of Saint Francis. This context gives it an official ecclesial character.25 Designed to appeal to the rich tradition of holiness manifested in the lives of the saints, it reaches beyond the particular interests of Francis’s followers to inspire men and women everywhere. Therefore, Thomas situates the saint, Francis, within the ancient Christian tradition and brings the freshness of his example into the life of the Church.

Unlike Thomas’s later works on Francis, The Life of Saint Francis is not written about Francis for the brothers at the request of the brothers. Only about a fourth of the text treats Francis and his relationship with the brothers. The rest is dedicated to conversion, promotion of the gospel, and his example and teaching of Christian holiness.

In this context, the success of The Life of Saint Francis was important for Gregory, not only for the promotion of the memory of Saint Francis and the strengthening of the Franciscan Order in the Church, but also as a part of his effort to promote spiritual renewal within the life of the Church. At a time when heresies abounded, crusades failed and the struggle for power between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy intensified, the poor and humble follower of the gospel, Francis of Assisi, offered an alternative way of Christian living.

The Life of Saint Francis as Hagiography

To accomplish his purpose, Thomas draws from the memory of the martyrs, the ascetics and the monks to illustrate that Francis is a saint rooted in the tradition of the Church. Thomas explains that Francis’s participation in the same holiness as that of the great saints of memory is based on a conversion that frees him from many burdensome cares and leads him into the life of the Church where he hears the Word of God.

In his conversion Francis no longer lives as a “deaf hearer” of the gospel but he becomes instead a bold proclaimer of the Word of God.26 The gospel he proclaims makes his hearers “children of peace.”27 Promoting the gospel message of peace, Francis spends his life rebuilding the life of the Church upon its solid and ancient foundation. His work of rebuilding three churches, ones dedicated to the Virgin (Saint Mary of the Angels), to the apostles (Saint Peter) and to a martyr (Saint Damian), renews the life of the Church on its ancient foundations of the Virgin, the apostles and the martyrs.

Although there are canonical and hagiographical aspects to the text of The Life of Saint Francis, these are not the only dimensions or perspectives from which Thomas writes. He includes specific biographical and historical data. In these specifics about Francis and his early followers, Thomas appeals to his own experience of Francis and, as he writes in the prologue, to “trustworthy witnesses” who also would have themselves been readers of his final text. Clearly,




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 175