Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Writings Of St Francis Of Assisi by St Francis Of Assisi

Paperback:  This short anthology of the writings of St Francis of Assisi includes a wide sampling of his writings.  Of general interest here is the transcendent Canticle of the Sun, a prayer which lucidly describes a universe alive with joy, and praises 'Brother Sun...Sister Moon...Mother Earth'.

To say that the writings of St Francis reflect his personality and his spirit is but another way of saying that they are at once formidably mystic and exquisitely human;  that they combine great elevation of thought with much picturesqueness of expression.

This twofold element, which found its development later on in the prose of mystics like St Bonaventure and in the verse of poets like Jacopone da Todi, and which has ever been a marked characteristic of Franciscan ascetic literature, leads back to the writings of the Founder as to the humble upper waters of a mighty stream.

St Francis had the soul of an ascetic and the heart of a poet.  His unbounded faith had an almost lyric sweetness about it;  his deep sense of the spiritual is often clothed with the character of romance.  This intimate union of the supernatural and the natural is nowhere more strikingly manifested than in the writings of St Francis.

This is a collection of the famous saint's most important writings, a must for any Christian.

The Writings Of St Francis Of Assisi is translated from the Italian or in the dialect of Umbria by Father Pascal Robinson in 1905.

About St Francis of Assisi:  St Francis of Assisi abandoned a life of luxury for a life devoted to Christianity after reportedly hearing the voice of God, who commanded him to rebuild the Christian church and live in poverty.  He is the patron saint of animals and the environment. 

Born in Italy circa 1181/2, St Francis of Assisi was renowned for drinking and partying in his youth. After fighting in a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned for ransom.  He spent nearly a year in prison awaiting his father's payment and, according to legend, began receiving visions from God.  After his release from prison, Francis heard the voice of Christ, who told him to repair the Christian Church and live a life of poverty.  Consequently, he abandoned his life of luxury and became a devotee of the faith, his reputation spreading all over the Christian world.

Later in life, Francis reportedly received a vision that left him with the stigmata of Christ - marks resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified - making Francis the first person to receive such holy wounds.  He was canonized as a saint on 16 July 1228, two years after his demise.  His life and words have had a lasting resonance with millions of followers across the globe.  Each October, many animals the world over are blessed on his feast day.

The Dialogue Of Saint Catherine Of Siena: Seraphic Virgin And Doctor Of Unity by Saint Catherine Of Siena

Paperback:  The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (1907) was  dictated by herself, while in a state of ecstasy, to her secretaries, and completed in the year of our Lord 1370, together with an account of her death by an eye-witness.

The book is translated from the original Italian by Algar Thorold in 1907. 

The contents of the book comprises

A Treatise of Divine Providence
A Treatise of Discretion
A Treatise of Prayer
A Treatise of Obedience

The Dialogue takes the form of a conversation between God and Saint Catherine of Siena covering four subjects.  The treatise on divine providence explains the connection between love and suffering, emphasizing that God wants only our love and the service we give to our neighbours.  The treatise on discretion introduces the metaphor of the Bridge from earth to heaven.  The treatise on prayer gives instructions for the progress from vocal to mental prayer, and describes the higher degrees of prayer. The treatise on obedience covers the necessity and rewards of obedience.

Catherine of Siena was a third order Dominican in fourteenth-century Tuscany.  As a young adult, she devoted herself to prayer, fasting, and mortifications.  After this period of solitude, with its accompanying ecstatic visions, she went out into the world to care for the sick and the poor. 

Catherine also worked to bring peace and unity among Christians.  She was canonized by Pope Pius II and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI.

"The soul cannot live without love," God tells Saint Catherine, "but always wants to love something, because she is made of love, and by love I created her."

About Saint Catherine of Siena:  St Catherine of Siena, original name Caterina Benincasa, (born 25 March 1347, Siena, Tuscany and died 29 April 1380, Rome;  canonized 1461;  feast day April 29), was a Dominican tertiary, mystic, and one of the patron saints of Italy.  She was declared a doctor of the church in 1970 and a patron saint of Europe in 1999.

Catherine became a tertiary (a member of a monastic third order who takes simple vows and may remain outside a convent or monastery) of the Dominican order (1363), joining the Sisters of Penitence of St Dominic in Siena.  She rapidly gained a wide reputation for her holiness and her severe asceticism.  When the rebellious city of Florence was placed under an interdict by Pope Gregory XI (1376), Catherine determined to take public action for peace within the church and Italy and to encourage a Crusade against the Muslims.  She went as an unofficial mediator to Avignon with her confessor and biographer Raymond of Capua.  Her mission failed, and she was virtually ignored by the pope, but while at Avignon she promoted her plans for a Crusade.

It became clear to her that the return of Pope Gregory XI to Rome from Avignon - an idea that she did not initiate and had not strongly encouraged - was the only way to bring peace to Italy.  Catherine left for Tuscany the day after Gregory set out for Rome (1376).  At his request she went to Florence (1378) and was there during the Ciompi Revolt in June.  After a short final stay in Siena, during which she completed The Dialogue (begun the previous year), she went to Rome in November, probably at the invitation of Pope Urban VI, whom she helped in reorganizing the church.  From Rome she sent out letters and exhortations to gain support for Urban;  as one of her last efforts, she tried to win back Queen Joan I of Naples to obedience to Urban, who had excommunicated the queen for supporting the antipope Clement VII.

Catherine’s writings, all of which were dictated, include about 380 letters, 26 prayers, and the 4 treatises of Il libro della divina dottrina, better known as the The Dialogue, (c1475). The record of her ecstatic experiences in The Dialogue illustrates her doctrine of the “inner cell” of the knowledge of God and of self into which she withdrew.  A complete edition of Catherine’s works, together with her biography by Raymond, was published in Siena (1707–21).

We Cherish Books Even If Unread

Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Prophets Of Eternal Fjord by Kim Leine

Paperback:  Idealistic, misguided Morten Falck is a newly ordained priest sailing to Greenland in 1787 to convert the Inuit to the Danish church.

A rugged outpost battered by unremittingly harsh winters, Sukkertoppen is simmering with the threat of dissent;  natives from neighbouring villages have unified to reject Danish rule and establish their own settlement atop Eternal Fjord.

As Falck becomes involved with those in his care - his ambitious catechist, a lonely trader s wife, and a fatalistic widow he comes to love - his faith and reputation are compromised.

The internationally acclaimed novelist Kim Leine charts the tragic events that connect these seemingly disparate lives, while illuminating the brutal and tender impulses of those seeking redemption and the shifting line between religion and mysticism.

In the tradition of We, the Drowned, international bestseller The Prophets of Eternal Fjord (2012) is rich in earthy detail and Dickensian pathos, a visceral panorama of a fragile colony caught in the throes of history.  It is the winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2013 and the Danish booksellers' Golden Laurel award.  In 2017, it is shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.

The Prophets of Eternal Fjord is translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken, who is an acclaimed Danish-language translator.

About the author:  Kim Leine was born in Norway in 1961, but later moved to Denmark, where he was educated as a nurse.  He later moved to Greenland, but returned to Denmark after a number of years.  His debut, the eye-wateringly frank memoir Kalak (2007), charted his Norwegian childhood among Jehovah’s Witnesses, his teenage life in Denmark with a sexually abusive father, and his subsequent years of turmoil and drug addiction in Greenland.  In November 2018, Kim Leine received the Crown Prince Couple's Culture Prize of DKK500,000 in Aalborg, Denmark.

Kim Leine's latest novel Red Man/Black Man from 2018 is Volume 2 in Leine's Greenland Trilogy and is an independent successor to The Prophets in the Eternity FjordRed Man/Black Man takes place in Greenland about 65 years earlier and revolves around the first meeting between the Danes and the Greenlanders.  Thus, even more violent confrontations have been made between the two cultures than we experienced in the first volume.  The World English rights to his latest novel Red Man/Black Man have recently been sold to publisher Ravi Mirchandani, Picador/Pan Macmillan for publication so do look out for it!

Rating:  5/5

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Writers And Authors

When Ideas Are Born

Fatal Sunset (A Chief Inspector Max Cámara Series) by Jason Webster

Paperback:  He knew the detective's world is not the sunlit world of the eighteenth-century philosophers, but a nighttime world where hunch and chance are more important than ratiocinative acuity. - Josiah Thompson, Gumshoe

In the hills above Valencia is a notorious nightclub called Sunset.  When its larger-than-life owner, José Luis, dies suddenly, everyone assumes it was a heart attack.  Perfectly understandable for a man of his age, size and lifestyle.

Meanwhile, all is not well for Max Cámara at HQ.  His new boss, Rita Hernández, has it in for him and his idiosyncratic methods.  He must abandon a complex investigation into home-grown extremism to check out what looks like a routine death at Sunset.

But an anonymous phone call suggests otherwise.

Back in the city, Max’s journalist girlfriend, Alicia, is working on a lead that could turn out to be the story of her career.  How her own investigation connects with Max’s at Sunset, and an unholy network of drug dealers, priests and shady officials protecting a dark government secret, will place both their lives in jeopardy and push everything to the very edge.

Fatal Sunset (2017) is the sixth and latest book in the excellent Chief Inspector Max Cámara series set in Valencia, Spain.

About the author:  Jason Webster is a highly acclaimed Anglo-American author and authority on Spain whose work ranges from biography to travel, crime fiction and history.  His books have sold in over a dozen countries, including the US, the UK and China, and have been nominated both for the Guardian First Book Award and the Crime Writers’ Association New Blood Dagger Award.  He has been favourably compared with writers such as Bruce Chatwin, Gerald Brenan and Ernest Hemingway.

Webster was born near San Francisco and brought up in the UK, Germany and Italy.  After finishing a degree in Arabic and Islamic History at the University of Oxford, he worked as an editor at the BBC World Service for several years before becoming a full-time writer and moving to Spain.  He is married to the flamenco dancer Salud and they have two sons. They currently divide their time between Valencia and the UK.

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 11 January 2019

Francis Of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, OP

Hardback:  Among the most beloved saints in the Catholic tradition, Francis of Assisi (c 1181-1226) is popularly remembered for his dedication to poverty, his love of animals and nature, and his desire to follow perfectly the teachings and example of Christ.  During his lifetime and after his death, followers collected, for their own purposes, numerous stories, anecdotes, and reports about Francis.  As a result, the man himself and his own concerns became lost in legend.

In this authoritative and engaging new biography, Augustine Thompson, OP, sifts through the surviving evidence for the life of Francis using modern historical methods.

The result is a complex yet sympathetic portrait of the man and the saint.  Francis emerges from this account as very much a typical thirteenth-century Italian layman, but one who, when faced with unexpected crises in his personal life, made decisions so radical that they challenge his own society and ours.

Unlike the saint of legend, this Francis never had a unique divine inspiration to provide him with rules for following the teachings of Jesus.  Rather, he spent his life reacting to unexpected challenges, before which he often found himself unprepared and uncertain.  The Francis who emerges here is both more complex and more conflicted than that of older biographies.  His famed devotion to poverty is found to be more nuanced than expected, perhaps not even his principal spiritual concern.

Thompson revisits events small and large in Francis's life, including his troubled relations with his father, his contacts with Clare of Assisi, his encounter with the Muslim sultan, and his receiving the Stigmata, to uncover the man behind the legends and popular images.

A tour de force of historical research and biographical writing, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (2012) is divided into two complementary parts - a stand alone biographical narrative and a close, annotated examination of the historical sources about Francis.  Taken together, the narrative and the survey of the sources provide a much-needed fresh perspective on this iconic figure.

"As I have worked on this biography," Thompson writes, "my respect for Francis and his vision has increased, and I hope that this book will speak to modern people, believers and unbelievers alike, and that the Francis I have come to know will have something to say to them today."

About the author:  Augustine Thompson, OP, is Professor of History at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.  He holds the distinguished position of Master of Theology, awarded by the Order of Preachers.  His research interests include medieval Church history, especially of Italy; medieval philosophy, theology, and lay piety; and, history of canon law, preaching and the mendicant orders.  His personal hobbies and interests include detective novels, model railroading, hiking and walking and, last but not least, the music of Gilbert & Sullivan.  His most recent book is Cities of God:  The Religion of the Italian Communes, 1125-1325, which is the Winner of the ACHA Howard R Marraro Prize for best book published in Italian history, 2006.