St Francis brought new inspiration to the Christian life by being a mirror of Christ. His defiance of the secular standards of success enabled him to have a Christlike impact on the world.
Chesterton’s biography captures the spiritual greatness of St Francis – how he abandoned wealth to embrace the poverty of his Divine Master; how he projected an inner beauty and simplicity in place of a worldly grandeur; and how he lived a life of sacrificial service rather than a prideful pursuit of power.
The biography first appeared in 1923 at a critical time in Chesterton’s life. He wrote it a year after his Catholic conversion, and two years before his historical unfolding of The Everlasting Man. This interval enlivened him to the complementary elements of the Christian faith – the dynamic fusion of personal devotion and universal outreach.
The radiant joy of St Francis made an early impression on Chesterton. He wrote a teenage poem on the Saint and adopted his name at Confirmation. Yet he was soon aware of the cultural significance of St Francis, and the biography prepared him for the larger story of the human and the divine in history.
It remains an irresistibly appealing portrait of The Little Poor Man of Assisi.
Karl Schmude, President of the Australian Chesterton society and co-founder of Campion College Australia