Regis J. ARMSTRONG, OFMCap., Wayne Hellman, OFMConv., and William Short, OFM (eds.), The Francis Trilogy. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2004. pp. 387. $19.95pb. ISBN 1-56548-204-2.
Reviewed by Francis BERNA, OFM, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141-1199

For many years Marion Habig’s text St. Francis of Assisi, Omnibus of Sources stood as the standard collection of writings for the Seraphic Saint in the English language. That text included the Writings of Francis, Celano’s two biographies, the biographies written by Bonaventure, as well as several other important works. Both scholars and popular readers benefited greatly by having these solid translations along with the scholarly notations in one volume. All too often, though, the binding soon gave way and the reader seeking other critical texts needed to look elsewhere.

More recently the three major branches of Franciscan Friars have offered a three volume series, also published by New City Press, providing a more extensive collection of works along with the latest developments in scholarly research. Under the general title of Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, the individual volumes bear the additional titles of The Saint, The Founder, and The Prophet. In addition to providing a text available for all parts of the English speaking world – for both developed and underdeveloped countries – the project sought to be a cooperative effort of the three branches of the First Order family. The project sets a new standard of excellence.

The Francis Trilogy incorporates three works by Thomas of Celano taken from the first two volumes of the series. In his Foreword, Regis Armstrong notes how the importance and need for such a collection arose even as the earlier volumes were being completed. He correctly observes that Thomas of Celano serves as the primary source for most all other writings about Francis in the first one hundred and fifty years. Given the significance of his work, both the scholar and popular reader would be well served to use Thomas as a foundation for further study of the early sources. As Armstrong proposes, a study of these works will raise questions that will lead the reader to the three volume set, as well as other critical works.

Since the Celano trilogy incorporates the same references, scholarly notations and translation as the larger collection, it maintains the same standard of excellence. Editorial changes delete references to the three volume set. The introductions to each work bear only slight adjustments to better suit the smaller text. The translations read well and the size of the text suggests a binding that will not give way.

Contributing to the readability of the text, the editors place the numerous biblical references in the margins. Notations include critical scholarly observations, things the popular reader can set aside, as well as excellent bibliographical references. The only complaint this reader has of both this text and the larger collection, even with bifocals, the biblical references and scholarly notations could benefit from a slightly larger print. Given that some decisions regarding the font concerned keeping the text affordable, especially in less developed countries, one can accept the slight inconvenience. Along the same lines, especially for the more popular reader, a small annotated bibliography as an appendix would be valuable.

For formators, professors and spiritual directors responsible for introducing others to the three-volume collection, The Francis Trilogy provides a solid resource as a first introduction to a critical study of Francis’ life. Likewise, the text stands independently as a fine example of Medieval spiritual biography and the wonderful imagination that captured that age.

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