Life of Sacrifice or of exaltation? – Professor Criticizes Life of St. Francis

Mar 22, 2003 02:43 PM EST

POMONA, Ca – A professor of history at Pomona College criticizes the life of the highly acclaimed St. Francis of Assisi. Kenneth Baxter Wolf, author of "The Poverty of Riches: St. Francis of Assisi Reconsidered," attacks the saint for his self-attained poverty, which, according to Wolf, brought him adulation and followers.

Saint Francis, one of Christianity’s most popular saints, has been adored by peacemakers, environmentalists, and clergy, for his deep-rooted faith and character. Francis, the son of a wealthy merchant is best known for having given up his worldly possessions to humble himself before God. Pacifists look toward Francis’ example during the crusades, in which he traveled behind enemy lines to befriend Muslim leaders; environmentalists pray to Francis, patron saint of ecology; religious leaders hold Francis’ radical path of denial as a way to counsel whose who believe and follow a materialistic life.

By the time of his death he had over 20,000 followers.

Nonetheless, Wolf views St. Francis’ self self-imposed poverty concentrated too much on his own relationship with God, not on helping those around him.

For instance, Francis "hung out with lepers to make a statement to his former social class," said Wolf. "This did nothing for the lepers, but everything for Francis."

"The book is not simply an iconoclastic poke in the eye," Wolf said. "The kind of spirituality that Francis represents may be doing more harm than good, and it's time Christians and other admirers of Francis ruminated about that for awhile."

Suggesting Christians to think of society before focusing their efforts on developing their own relationship with God.

Current day admirers of St Francis worry that the name of Francis may be prostituted to provoke debate about the ills of society.

Friar Francisco Nahoe of the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi in San Francisco says, Wolf’s criticism tends "to reduce the spiritual and psychological complexity of St. Francis into a mere pop icon more fit to adorn the lawns of suburban tract housing than to provoke debate" about wealth and consumption.

"Sentimentality so disfigures the historical Francis as to make his commitment to penance seem more like the lifestyle of a pleasant medieval hippie than the constant struggle against sin of a sincere and sometimes scary penitent," he said.

"The Poverty of Riches: St. Francis of Assisi Reconsidered," will be available from April.

By Pauline J.