- Greater than a Mother's Love: The Spirituality of Francis and Clare of Assisi
In the last couple of decades a number of significant works have been written about Francis and Clare of Assisi in which the authors attempt to situate the two saints in the context of their social, economic, and religious world of the thirteenth century. Authors Jacques Dalarun, Michael Cusato, David Flood, and others have focused our attention on the issues of power, money, and prestige (honor) in the religious world of Francis and Clare. They have taught us that we must always begin with the writings of the two [End Page 774] founders of the Franciscan movement before we turn to the early biographies (hagiography).Many mistakes have been made in recent years by writers who do not take these writings into consideration and base their studies on the early biographies of the two saints. What is significant is that Gilberto Cavazos-González in Greater Than a Mother's Love bases most of his presentation on the writings of Francis and Clare and puts them to good use, but incorporates what the biographical literature has to tell us about their families and kinship relations as well.
The book is divided into five chapters, the first of which discusses the role of the family in the high Middle Ages. This is an informative introduction to situating a particular person in the society of his or her time through the use of cultural and human sciences. These many forms of knowledge contribute to showing how the Holy Spirit (grace) worked on Francis and Clare in the everyday social and cultural experience of the two saints (nature). Cavazos-González discusses not only the role of the family but also the role of marriage and children, which is extremely helpful to understand the family of origins and family development of the two saints. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the similarities and differences of Francis and Clare's respective family and social status (merchant class versus noble class) as revealed mainly in the early hagiographical writings and modern studies. Chapters 4 and 5 delve into the world of the writings of Francis and Clare to discuss their respective perspectives on kinship as reflected in their opuscula. Treated by way of exception are the issues of the role of Paternitas, Christology, and spirituality in these last two chapters.
The book is an excellent introduction to the everyday spiritual lives of Francis and Clare in their familial and communal context. Cavazos-González shows how the experiences of their families of origin helped to shape, but did not determine, their respective approaches to their newly founded Franciscan family/religious community. He is successful in helping us "enter into the 'living personal images' of mother, father, brothers, sisters, and spouses as experienced in the cotidiano [everydayness] of Francis, Clare, and their readers" (p. 205). He shows how their writings, in particular, reveal how they approached living their respective lives, after their break from their family of origin, in the spiritual family of the Franciscan community. Based on his approach and methodology, excellent use of the sources, and judicious findings, this book will be a standard textbook for any further studies on the spirituality of Francis and Clare. [End Page 775]