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I have been curious about the Great Courses for a few years now, but they have always been too expensive! Now that they are in the Audible store, however, I was willing to try one. This course, co-taught by two medievalists, was amazing. I did a directed reading last quarter on the life and hagiographies of St. Francis, but I still learned so much from Cook and Herzman.
One strong point of this course was the contextualization of Francis. They show what the moral and social issues of Francis’ day were and how Francis responded to them. In a developing market economy where money was being used more, Francis stressed absolute poverty. In an age where universities were beginning in Europe and theology went out of the prayerful world of cloisters and into the rational world of the classroom, Francis was an uneducated preacher with a simple message, a man who taught by dramatic gesture and stressed deed over act. He may look like a foolishly happy simpleton, but Francis was a man who saw the problems of his age and made himself the antidote.
Cook and Herzman’s discussion of the “Canticle of Creatures” was amazing. They show how he draws on the Psalms, on Genesis’ creation stories, and even on classical natural philosophy. They argue that this poem is not just an example of Christian nature mysticism, but the first piece of Italian literature.
Last, I thought they did a great job showing how Francis’ message was disseminated in the Church and in his orders. Their re-enactment of the dialogue between Francis and Innocent II approving the order really showed how radical his path was. They also guide the reader through the complicated thicket of post-Francis controversy between the spirituals and the progressives, between those who wanted the letter of Francis’ example and those who desired its spirit. Both sides exist to this day. They also spend a lecture on St. Clare, emphasizing that she was not just a passive vehicle for Francis’ teaching but a great mystic and teacher in her own right.
That said, I wish Cook and Herzman had discussed the hagiographic tradition. Though they discussed Thomas of Celano and Bonaventure, they didn’t talk about less official writings like the Legend of Perugia, or later ones like the Little Flowers. Though they talked about the Canticle, the two Rules, and the Testament, they didn’t talk about the various exhortations and letters he wrote. Giving a roadmap to the different types of literature and hagiography in the Franciscan canon would have been a good way to get people into Regis Armstrong’s scholarly edition of the early documents by and about Francis.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
This study of Saint Francis is taught beautifully by Herzeman and Cook (my 2 favorite professors on ANYTHING, anyways) about a man who really knew about compassion towards the poor and less fortunate. For Christians and non believers alike, he is so loved by so many, and even to this day his philosophies are at work in so many ways to help the poor, and to love the planet. This is the best Coarse yet!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful