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Book Review

Helen Julian CSF
Living the Gospel

The Spirituality of St Francis and St Clare
ISBN 1-84101-126-6
BRF, Oxford, 2001, £5.99

(price at publication of review)

For more details, click here.

Reviewed January 2002; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2001

This is an excellent account of the mind and heart of Francis and Clare of Assisi, one which, unlike so many, neither gets stuck on the story nor relegates Clare to an imitative shadow whose life effectively ended when she entered San Damiano. So let us begin with top marks on two vulnerable areas. it is a very readable book too, clearly and well written, well informed, accurate in history, revealing the author's on-going reading and her awareness of developing shifts of opinion and insight. these are important, and the result  is a volume we can hand to the intelligent inquirer seeking to go behind the romantic popular image. there exists a Francis and Clare after Brother Sun and Sister Moon and Helen Julian adequately leads us in their direction.

A look at the chapter headings indicates the span, from the beginnings of conversion with 'The Roots' and 'Following Jesus' on to the purpose of their calling, 'Into all the World'. Helen Julian rightly says that 'while the Rules and other writings by Francis and Clare are important sources of their spirituality, the stories about them are equally valuable.' So her book is laced with numerous contemporary sources, stories which illustrate the point or lead into a deeper reflection on their spirituality, and stories which are simply delightful and quotable.

The demands of a short, introductory book necessarily mean that some matters are treated in rather a cursory way, and I would suggest the whole matter of penance and humiliation (so dear to Francis especially in his early days) suffers a bit from this. Similarly, I think more could have been said about the way Francis saw our relationship with our planet, the way he expanded the sacredness of the 'other' to include all creation, even our enemies - is  a profoundly relevant concept in our post-11 September world.

In all, however, this is an attractive book about attractive people. The print is good, there are very few misprints and the price is extremely reasonable.

Frances Teresa Downing OSC

Book Review

Helen Julian CSF

The Lindisfarne Icon

St Cuthbert and the 21st Century Christian

ISBN 1 84101322 6

BRF, Oxford, 2004, 6.99

(price at publication of review)

For more details, click here.

 

Reviewed May 2005; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2005

 

This book was my companion during a week in a Hebridean hermitage: the following week I was back at work. 

 

That seems to be one theme of the book: that Cuthbert's search for God took him into solitude but that he was repeatedly dragged back to serve the church.  Sadly, twenty-first century Christians mostly believe that solitude is not for ordinary people.  So Helen Julian helpfully provides a set of questions at the end of each chapter challenging the reader to learn from Cuthbert's example.

 

The second significant theme is that the contemporary biographies of Cuthbert - one by the Venerable Bede, one anonymous - are, in accordance with the custom of the times, hagiographies rather than biographies as we would understand the term.  They invite us to see Christ through this lens, just as the eye does not rest on an icon but sees through it like a window to Christ beyond.  When Helen Julian first found this, she was disappointed that she would not be permitted to know Cuthbert's personality, his thoughts, individual strengths and weaknesses: but she goes beyond this point, to have a relationship with Cuthbert, yet still to contemplate him as an icon pointing at Christ.  One of her references, Douglas Dales, observes that in the eighth century people read the scriptures - and so also the lives of the saints - on four distinct levels: as history; as moral teaching; as having a bearing on the life of the church; and finally as having eternal meaning, as a window into the Kingdom of Heaven.

  

I greatly enjoyed this book and was left wanting more.  I would like to know Helen Julian's own view of the colourful miracles she describes - whether they are historic, or a window into the divine, or both.  Also, though she may see this as private, I wanted to know more of her own personal journey with Cuthbert towards which she hints several times.  I hope she will one day find the time -  in solitude perhaps - to give us a full-length twenty-first century biography of Cuthbert with, at its centre, a clear window into the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Giles Charrington TSSF

 

 

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