Thursday, October 1, 2015

My God and My All: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi by Elizabeth Goudge,204,203,200_.jpg

 I enjoy biographies and even though I have already read a couple of biographies about St. Francis I accepted the offer by Handlebar Publishers to review this book as well. (Full disclosure:  I received this book free in exchange for my honest review.)

That Elizabeth Goudge is an eloquent writer I cannot deny.  That she adores her subject I cannot deny either. 

While not an extensive bibliography, she has definitely read a number of books about St. Francis' life and, based on other sources I've read, gives an accurate account of where he was born, who his parents were, how and when he gave up a life of wealth and prestige to become a pauper and founded his order of Franciscan brothers.

 Her writing style is rather flowery and fawning which is not appealing to me, however, based on other Amazon reviews, other people enjoy it.  

My biggest reason for not enjoying the book is I simply disagree with the doctrine of sainthood.  Saint simply means "sanctified" which is what happens to all believers at the point of salvation.  Christ's grace covers our sins and we are made clean.

I know this is not compatible with Catholic doctrine that states that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross only saved us from original sin.  According to Rome, each person must complete their salvation through good works, the confessing of sins and continually  re-crucifying Christ by partaking of the Eucharist over and over again until last rites are given.  In other words people are in partnership with Christ in saving their souls.

Some people perform more good works than others by sacrificing their lives to help the poor and giving up their own wealth.  Francis did this.  He and his brotherhood gave everything they had to the impoverished.  They ate side by side with lepers.  Francis so focused on God and performing good works that, according to this book (and the Catholic church)  he was able to perform miracles, which is a qualification for Sainthood. Through his own efforts at continual worship, prayer, and good works, Francis made himself holy enough to be venerated.

Because of this he joined a hierarchy of "Holy people" created by the Catholic church that allows people to pray to Canonized humans that have already died to mediate on their behalf as a means of increasing their own atonement. A Catholic friend of mine explained that "God is too big for us and we are too unworthy so it helps to pray to saints as a mediator."

I read an article where the writer argued that Jim Elliot and the other missionaries who went to share the Gospel to the Auca Indians in South America and were killed could not be considered martyrs because they did not meet the criteria the Roman Church required to qualify.

These Indians became Christian and said that Jim Elliot and the others saved them because it put a stop to their blood feuds.  These same Indians later baptized Elliot's children in the river where they murdered him.  According to Rome, this accounts for nothing.  Not that Protestant missionaries care where they stand with the Pope but I simply point out the perversity of a system that discounts sharing the gospel and saving others because it didn't go through the proper channels of the Church.

In this biography so much adulation and glory is given to St. Francis that God seems pushed to the side.  The focus is very much on Francis and all his wonderful works and this is what makes him worthy of worship and not God's great mercy and forgiveness of sins, which is what makes God worthy of worship.

When I read the Bible I see people who were not so good.  They were adulterers, murderers, liars and cheats.  Yes I'm talking about Abraham, Samson, David and even Peter and the disciples.  They did not make themselves good they were sanctified by Jesus Christ's crucifixion and were saved from death by His resurrection.  Focusing on humans, no matter how great their brotherhood and legacy may be is a distraction and strikes me as a form of idolatry. And, sorry to be offensive, praying to dead people strikes me as a form of necromancy.

Goudge's book seems to be an attempt to perform a good work as if writing such a fawning biography about a saint will get her a few years out of purgatory.  She died in 1984 so she should know by now.

Having made what I'm sure will  be viewed as an anti-Catholic rant I will say that one of my favorite authors, the very Catholic G.K. Chesterton has also written a biography of St. Francis.  I have actually broken my book buying fast and ordered a copy because I wish to get another perspective by a writer I greatly respect.  Stay tuned.

Marsha Randolph's review of My God and My All


  1. Nevertheless, the goodness of people is worth celebrating. Francis deserves celebration. We learn to improve ourselves through the celebration. Yes? No?

    Literature, by the way, as I have suggested in my Beyond Eastrod posting today, is a pathway to celebration and improvement.

    1. HI R.T. I see God working through people because all goodness comes from Him and that's worth celebrating.

      As far as literature goes, it certainly informs and enriches our lives. I will be sure to read your post. Take care!

  2. As a non believer I would say that your commentary was not anti - Catholic, it was critical of certain Catholic beliefs. I do not think that is the same thing.

    From my own perspective I do not believe in the concept of sainthood. As someone who is interested in religious beliefs and also try to listen to others with respect, I find it worthwhile to try to understand the Catholic concept of sainthood. Thus I could get alot out of a book about the subject.

    On the other hand, the fact that this book fawns over its subject would be a problem for me.

    Take care Sharon!

    1. HI Brian! I appreciate your comment because I was worried that it would be viewed as an attack on Catholic beliefs. I really didn't want to review this book because I knew it would be negative.

      I'm trying to think of some books that discuss sainthood and compares beliefs about it. I know that one book called "The Lutheran Difference" had comparisons of different Christian denominations at the end of each chapter which I found interesting.

      I also like knowing people's beliefs and why they have come to those beliefs. It's important for all of us to give intelligent responses to others who ask (or sometimes challenge) our belief system.

      Have a great weekend.

  3. Hi there! I am Catholic and I think you maybe have a skewed view of sainthood. You sound pretty pissed off at the way RC church views things, which is fine. I understand not agreeing with it, but I do think you might be confused about some things and maybe you wouldn't be so ticked off if you had things straighter (not that you would necessarily then agree, but I don't think you would take offense maybe). Anyway, first off, Goudge wasn't Catholic she was Church of England. I don't think the Church of England has an official stand on purgatory, does it? I don't know. There are non-Catholic churches that do honor saints, such as Episcopalians, Lutherans and some others. As far as I know, even though these groups name their churches after saints as far as I know they don't officially name any new saints. I don't understand that myself. . . . but anyway, let me go through and just touch on what didn't seem right to me (though I am far from knowledgeable about every theological detail). Catholics believe that in order to get to get to heaven you have to be a saint, that is sanctified. There is no hierarchy of saints in the sense that other people are getting snubbed or something because a particular person has been named a saint. It is just an official acknowledgement that a particular person was a genuinely holy person. Because they so embraced Christ, they can be models for us and teach us how to be closer to Christ. Catholics believe that we absolutely are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. We can not get to heaven without God's grace. Period. However, we also take seriously Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats. He basically says, point blank, what you do for the least of my brothers that you do unto me. And those that are not good to the least of my brothers go with the goats and those that are good go with the sheep! So in Catholic thinking you can lose salvation by turning from God. And turning from God means not loving your neighbor as yourself. So we can't compartmentalize our faith. If we believe we must act. If you don't act then you are a banging gong and have not love. Saints are models that show us how to try to be perfect our our Father is perfect.

  4. Sorry, for some reason I couldn't post my whole response. Probably because I am talking too much! But here's the rest:

    Another point: working miracles while alive does not qualify you for sainthood. Sainthood comes after long study about the person's life, a deep investigation of everything we can know about them and it includes miracles from intercessory prayers to that person after the person has died. Prayer in Catholic terms can have the old fashion meaning of petitioning or asking, like the phrase "pray tell.' So when I pray to a saint I am not worshipping the saint at all, but asking that person who is already in heaven to help me. I can have great affection and confidence in that saint. I can try to emulate their love for God, but I am not worshipping that saint. The article about a Christian missionary just sounds off. That just isn't right. First of all, the church isn't in the business of declaring official martyrs as far as I know. There are saints who are also martyrs, but no Catholic priest, bishop or lay person I have ever read or talked to would say that a Christian missionary who died at the hands of the community he was trying to serve isn't a martyr! But he or she wouldn't be an official saint because if they were outside the Catholic church than the Church would have no authority to grant him or her the title of a saint. So that whole passage just strikes me as really inaccurate. I agree about Goudge having a very flowery style. I have read several of her novels and while I deeply enjoy them I also have to fight down a little bit of annoyance at her style, though to me she's right on the edge and somehow makes it work in spite of its floweriness. But maybe she didn't quite do things as well in her book on St. Francis. Might be a reason why it is lesser known. Also, one last thing to clear up, saints are not people who have never sinned. There are plenty of saints who were sinners and then reformed because of a conversion experience and then spent their life trying to follow Christ (and being human were probably imperfect at that!). Perhaps Goudge made it sound like saints were people who never sinned? Since I haven't read the book I can't comment on whether her non-Catholic view of sainthood jives with the Catholic one. Anyway, I hope this long run on post makes sense. I love Chesterton's biography of St. Francis, though it is more like Chesterton's musings and theological rabbit trails around the theme of St. Francis! I hope I did not offend you! I apologize if I did. God bless you!

  5. Hi Faith! First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to give such a well thought out response. And I want to apologize to you if I came across as anti-Catholic. I definitely disagree with I perceive to be certain RC doctrine and I probably should have just stuck to a review of the book than go off on certain grievances I have against Catholic doctrine or at least what I understand to be Catholic doctrine.

    I don't believe Catholics worship Saints, although I disagree with RC doctrine that there is a class of Sainthood rather than all saved people being saints because we're all saved and made saints by Jesus Christ.

    I also don't agree with praying to anyone other than God since the Bible states Jesus Christ is our only mediator. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

    Nevertheless, I appreciating engaging with others to discuss these things. We can disagree and still learn how other people believe and I am glad you wrote to tell me how you believe.

    You're probably right about the one writer concerning Elliot and the Auca indians. For some reason she had an ax to grind against them.

    Thanks also for setting me straight on Goudge's religion. She was raised Anglican (in the US Episcopalian) but her notions of heaven and hell are Universalist (heaven and hell are states of mind rather than actual places. I got this info:

    So she is Biblically off period.

    Basically I just don't like her style of writing. It is sentimental and flowery.

    Now Chesterton I simply love. I am looking forward to reading it even though you say it's more of his musings than chronology of St. Francis' life.

    Thanks again for responding and you also have a blessed week!

  6. I totally get not liking Goudge's style. Just in the interest of further friendly discussion here is a link that explains the Catholic view on mediation: Thanks for wishing me a blessed week. I am feeling so overwhelmed right now because I have a hugely busy week. I was feeling paralyzed about it and sat down at the computer thinking I need to get going and then I saw you had wished me a blessed week and I thought wow! The Holy Spirit does it again! Just seeing that made me feel so much better! So God bless you and your week!

    1. Hi Faith! I saw on your blog that you homeschool. I have the greatest respect for homeschooling families because you are taking full responsibility for raising of your children. I can't say enough good things about homeschoolers.

      I know that it can be a daunting task so I will keep you in my prayers as you raise your children in the way they should go (because when they are grown they will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6)

      As brothers and sisters in Christ we must continually hold each other up in prayer and encourage each other.

      Thanks for the link. I will go read it as soon as I get the chance. God bless you and give you the energy and peace you need for the coming days!

  7. Thanks Faith for your enlightening comments about Catholicism. I was raised Protestant but believe I got many of my opinions about the Catholic church from Catholics who didn't really understand their faith and Protestants who didn't truly understand Catholicism. Fortunately I took a couple of university courses that were offered by a RC college a couple of years ago and got a wonderful professor who explained certain practices to me that gave me a much better understanding. Sometimes Protestants see Catholic tradition as anti-Christian but he gave me such a wonderful view of the symbolism behind these traditions, that it almost brought tears to my eyes. I still don't agree with everything, but my appreciation increased exponentially. And in fact, Protestantism comes out of the Catholic tradition so I think it's important for Protestants to learn about Catholicism.

    In any case, thanks to you both for your comments. And I'm glad you put your opinions in your reviews, Sharon, because they spur really valuable and insightful conversation, just like this one!

    1. HI Cleopatra. I agree with you that all of us are obligated to educate ourselves as best we can about different beliefs, both inside the Christian community as well as other religions.
      Also, it is simply an interesting part of western history and reveals how our own civilization was shaped. Have a good week!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.