In the Steps of St. Francis. By Ernest Raymond. (Rich and Cowan, 8s. 6d.) Reviewed by MARGARET YEO
THIS is in many ways a beautiful and fascinating book, full of love, admiration and reverence for the saint and a rare humility. The illustrations (apparently from photos taken by the author) are lovely, both in composition and reproduction, so are the descriptions of scenery and places, whether of the wooded hills and old cities of Umbria, the desolation of Damietta, or the unquiet of Palestine to-day.
Mr Raymond tells us he has followed in the steps of St. Francis not only in body but in spirit. " I went on a pilgrimage . .. to all the places in Italy, Egypt and Palestine which I knew this young man to have visited in the course of his extraordinary life. It was a pilgrimage in search of his meaning."
Past and present are deftly interwoven in this many coloured tapestry, though occasionally it is rather difficult to follow the chronological sequence of St. Francis's life. A table of dates at the beginning or end would be useful, without intruding into the charm of the narrative.
Francis's words in defence of his Lady Poverty to the Bishop of Assisi have an apt lesson for to-day, "If we had possessions we should need weapons to defend them.. Possessions produce quarrels and law suits, the opposite of the love of God and our neighbours."
The account of the relations between Francis and Clare, an instance of the friendship between men and women saints, which is one of the most perfect revelations of human affection, is charming and sympathetic, but is hopelessly out of focus because the author is not a Catholic. There are sentences which imply that Ernest Raymond does not regard Christ as God, for instance, the last words on page 163 and the calling Francis " the Italian Christ." The result is a total misunderstanding of the trae inspiration of the saint's life, his love of sacrifice and poverty and selfless service to his fellow men.
" The Church of Rome," says the writer, even in its most worldly periods, has always been a magnificent instrument for producing saints." It is a consuming love for a personal God, who is love, that produces saints, not a formless approval for a vaguely pantheistic providence.