Seeking the “Real” Francis of Assisi

Medieval Hagiography, Modern History, and Incarnational Theology

When: Tuesday, Sept 27th, 12:00-2:00pm

Where: Stiteler Hall, B26

A Collegium Institute luncheon lecture cosponsored by the Department of History, University of Pennsylvania

When Paul Sabatier published the first modern biography of St. Francis of Assisi in 1893, the medieval sources he favored and the approach he used to find the “historical Francis” behind the legends and myths triggered 100 years of contentious and often fierce debate about texts, interpretations, and proper historical method. By the 1980s many new sources had been discovered and the well-known ones had been meticulously edited and studied.  According to nearly all modern literary and cultural historians working on Francis, however, the historical man would always be hidden behind the source texts.  All that scholars could do was analyze the diverse “readings” of Francis produced by his medieval biographers.

Prof. Augustine Thompson proposes that this decision was a mistake and that the man behind the legends can be discovered, if not perfectly, with a high degree of certainty.  He demonstrated this conviction in his recent monograph, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (Cornell Univ. Press, 2012), which has sold 70,000 copies over the last 4 years making it Cornell’s bestselling book of all time.  In this luncheon lecture, Thompson will explain the issues at stake, his approach, and the major changes of focus these imply.

Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. (born New York, 1954), is a Catholic priest of the Order of Preachers and Professor of History at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology and member of the Core Doctoral Faculty of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkleley CA. He holds a Ph.D in medieval history from the Univ. of California, Berkeley CA. Until 2009 he was Professor of Religious Studies and History at the Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville VA. His research focuses on medieval Italy and medieval religious history.  Among his monographs are Revival Preachers and Politics: The Great Devotion of 1233 (Cambridge, 2000); Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes, 1125-1325 (Penn State, 2006; Winner of the ACHA Howard R Marraro Prize for best book published in Italian History 2006); and now Francis of Assisi: A New Biography, winner of the 2013 Ennio Flaiano Prize in Italian Studies.

Lunch will be provided to all registrants during the lecture.

Register Here or contact Elizabeth Feeney for more information: elife@sas.upenn.edu.