I listened to the audio of this on my recent trip back from Portland, and was enthralled. This was my first Chesterton book––yes, yes, I am ashamed it has taken me this long to get around to so preeminent an author, but better late than never, eh? Chesterton is a marvelous writer, and the topic of St. Francis of Assisi was a wonderful topic to marinate in while driving along the Columbia River. On one hand it is a good primer on some of the better parts of medieval Christianity as well as the insights into how Christianity cured the world of paganism.
He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth. G.K. ChestertonFrancis was a good and godly man, who certainly had faults, but Chesterton masterfully presents an introduction to the man and the movement he began. As a Protestant, there are portions which must be taken with a grain of Reformed salt; but on the whole there are some wonderful lessons to be learned from St. Francis and a world of witty and perceptive insights from Chesterton on the way the world used to be. For a born and bred Protestant, it is a helpful intro to the world of friars and orders.
This was an older recording, read by a fine British man, Bernard Mayes, and he was a real treat to listen to as well. Felt like you were listening to the BBC on an old AM radio. Here’s a dusting of some quotes from the book (which can be read in full here):
He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth; we might almost say the cold truth. He who has seen the vision of his city upside-down has seen it the right way up.
Every heresy has been an effort to narrow the Church. If the Franciscan movement had turned into a new religion, it would after all have been a narrow religion. In so far as it did turn here and there into a heresy, it was a narrow heresy. It did what heresy always does; it set the mood against the mind. The mood was indeed originally the good and glorious mood of the great St. Francis, but it was not the whole mind of God or even of man.
So far from being a revival of paganism, the Franciscan renascence was a sort of fresh start and first awakening after a forgetfulness of paganism.
For that is the full and final spirit in which we should turn to St. Francis; in the spirit of thanks for what he has done. He was above all things a great giver; and he cared chiefly for the best kind of giving which is called thanksgiving. If another great man wrote a grammar of assent, he may well be said to have written a grammar of acceptance; a grammar of gratitude. He understood down to its very depths the theory of thanks; and its depths are a bottomless abyss. He knew that the praise of God stands on its strongest ground when it stands on nothing. He knew that we can best measure the towering miracle of the mere fact of existence if we realise that but for some strange mercy we should not even exist. And something of that larger truth is repeated in a lesser form in our own relations with so mighty a maker of history. He also is a giver of things we could not have even thought of for ourselves; he also is too great for anything but gratitude. From him came a whole awakening of the world and a dawn in which all shapes and colours could be seen anew.