The best collection of early documents about Francis is St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of Sources for the Life of St. Francis, Marion A. Habig, editor, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1983). In one, thick volume, it contains all the early material; the Omnibus is indispensable.

Of the many accounts in that volume, The Legend of the Three Companions and The Legend of Perugia probably capture the real Francis better than other early biographies. (By the way, the word legend doesn’t mean “fable.” It refers to something that was required reading when friars gathered.)

A shorter collection of writings is Francis and Clare: The Complete Works, translation and introductions by Regis Armstrong and Ignatius C. Brady (Paulist, 1982).

Modern Works

I don’t find convincing many of the conclusions in Paul Sabatier’s Life of St. Francis of Assisi (Scribner’s, 1905), but this book set modern Franciscan studies into motion. Johannes Jurgensen’s St. Francis of Assisi: A Biography (translated by T. O’Conor Sloane; Longmans, 1912) is the standard Catholic biography and reply to Protestant Sabatier.

Arnaldo Fortini, two-time mayor of Assisi, in his Francis of Assisi, (translated by Helen Moak, Crossroad, 1981), was the first to use the civil records of Assisi to cast light upon the life of Francis.

I recommend the works of an English scholar, John Moorman: St. Francis of Assisi (SPCK, 1963) and The Spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi (Our Sunday Visitor, 1977).

Erik Doyle’s St. Francis and the Song of Brotherhood (Seabury, 1981) contains excellent material on Francis and ecology. Raoul Manselli’s St. Francis of Assisi (translated by Paul Duggan; Franciscan, 1988) is a fine recent biography.

For popular reading, three ...

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