G.K. Chesterton’s St. Francis of Assisi
CHRISTIAN CLASSICS REVISITED
For many years, I resisted the spell cast by St. Francis of Assisi; at times, I even felt a sharp antipathy for the Little Poor Man — Il Poverello — of the 13th century. In the 1960s and 1970s, he kept turning up in the oddest of places accompanied by a motley and sometimes villainous crew, many of whom scoffed at the very idea of Christian sanctity.
The tatterdemalion hippie armies of the 1960s delighted in Francis’s barefooted affront to propriety and decorum; hailed by some as the first hippie, his name circulated among people more attuned to the salvation promised by Timothy Leary than to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A colorful array of cranks and crackpots, agitators and expostulates cavorting on the left side of the fence borrowed St. Francis’s name to lend holy authority to their schemes.
Moreover, certain slightly askew environmentalists, the kind who not only talk to trees but expect a reply, spotted in St. Francis enough goofiness to make him a kindred spirit. And, of course, sentimentalists have habitually memorialized the saint who preached to the birds by erecting plaster statues of him in pet cemeteries in places as improbable as rural Tennessee.
Catholics of dubious conviction applauded St. Francis for his antagonism to institutionalism and used him to combat the defenders of Church authority. Protestants loved him in spite of his Catholicism, humanists in spite of his Christianity; even atheists professed to admire him. Faced with this babel, I decided that while St. Francis might have been a fool for Christ, those who bandied his name about were merely fools.
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