Wisdom from Franciscan Italy
David Torkington tells the story of a small group of secular Franciscans on pilgrimage in Franciscan Italy led by the hermit Peter Calvay. The book shows how the essence of Christian spirituality is restored by Francis and details the implications of the revelation of the Primacy of Love received by Francis moments before he received the Stigmata. It then explains how this is the starting point for St Bonaventure’s spirituality and John Duns Scotus’ Mystical Theology of love. This profound theology is detailed with consummate clarity and made practical in the lives of two of the pilgrims who commit themselves to each other for life.
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Extract from Wisdom from Franciscan Italy
The Primacy of Love
The Whole World is a Friary
In the first book of the Old Testament the author of Genesis presented the world that God created as a Temple. The firmament comprises the vast dome in which the whole of creation resided. Each day that God had spoken his Word had been embodied in as many animals, plants and inanimate wonders as he chose, to give him praise and glory just by being and doing what he created them for. In the first chapter of St John’s Gospel we are given the world-shaking news that God’s Word in whom and through whom all things were created in the beginning was now, ‘in the fullness of time’, made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He is now not only the new temple in which all creation resides, but the supreme King of that Creation who has come to rule over it and, as its supreme priest, lead it in an unending offering of love, praise and thanksgiving to the Father who sent him.
Now everything seemed so simple to the man who had just been suffused by the ‘Wisdom of God.’ If all things were created in Brother Jesus then all things are brothers and sisters to each other. Indeed the whole world must then be a friary and the highways and the byways of that world must be the cloisters of this friary. So from now on, whenever Francis walks through these cloisters with his brothers, he orchestrates the whole of creation around him to give praise and thanks with him to their common Father through Jesus their eldest brother, beginning with the birds of Cannara and Bevagna.
As the story of Francis further unfolds it is full of his love for his brothers and sisters, the birds, the animals, the trees and the plants and even inanimate things that listened to him and obeyed him without question when some of his own brethren didn’t. When he tells the swallows to remain silent at Alviano so that his listeners can hear what he is saying, they obey him. When he asks the falcon to wake him in the night for prayer it does so and when he orders the man-eating wolf to stop attacking the villagers of Gubbio it obeys. But most of all it is full of his love for Brother Jesus who emptied himself of everything to enter into the world that was created through him and in him just so that he could enter into us. For St Francis this was the ultimate expression of the poverty that Brother Jesus chose to embrace. It was not just that he abandoned a home of absolute bliss to make his home amongst us, but that he finally humbled himself to enter into our common food and drink, bread and wine, to make his home within us, as he had promised at the Last Supper, to lead us into the ultimate mystical union. That’s why he wrote in the very first of his admonitions:-
“Every day He humbles himself as he did when he came down from His heavenly throne into the Virgin’s womb, every day He comes to us and let’s us see his abjection when He descends from the bosom of the Father into the hands of the priest at the altar. In this way our Lord remains continually with His followers, as he promised- ‘Behold I am with you all days even unto the consummation of the world.’” (Admonition 1)
The vortex of supernatural life and love that endlessly revolves between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit, who Francis wanted to be the inner dynamism that animated and ruled the brotherhood that he founded. From now on these are the predominant themes that begin to characterise the preaching and teaching of Francis and the letters and the writings that he completed towards the end of his life.
Reviews for Wisdom from Franciscan Italy
I found the book echoes so much of our Franciscan spirit. The aspect that was particularly excellent was the succinct synopsis of the teaching of Scotus and the way he views theology in the light of the Primacy of Love. That is beautifully done. The setting is that of a journey towards a loving relationship paralleling the underlying story of Francis that re-echo throughout its pages.
In addition to everything else it gives brilliant historical sweeps that first summarise perfectly the essence of Christian Spiritually showing how it was distorted by heresy and then how it was restored by Francis. The second historical sweep shows how his clear vision first fades and then declines during the counterreformation. Short of a new St Francis of Assisi this book does more than any other to restate his vision for the modern world. It is simply a must read
A beautifully written book that not only provides insight into St Francis life and challenges but as well provides spiritual encouragement. I could not vouch more for reading this book if you are in a low patch or just seek encouragement in your faith and your life. By chance, I came across the author browsing through the library. I wish the authors other books were available on Kindle as they are inspirational.
Wisdom from Franciscan Italy did not disappoint me. The book is excellent. It ranks among my favourite books. I would recommend it not only to all those who want to deepen their prayer life, but also as a spiritual guide to those who plan to visit the place where Francis lived.
This is the best book on Franciscan Spirituality that I have ever read. Its teaching on the Primacy of Love is revolutionary and will make all Christians realise how far they have strayed from their origins. It should be mandatory reading for all who call themselves Christians.
The author is to be congratulated. This is a fine book that will be a valuable addition to the large Franciscan library. It portrays well and accurately, the principal elements of Franciscan spirituality. I find the style simple and easy to read. It flows. It presents very well the essence of Franciscan prayer.
The sequel (though it stands alone) to “Wisdom from The Western Isles” (a slightly rewritten and republished version of the three books of David Torkington’s original trilogy – Hermit, Prophet, Mystic.) In it ‘The Teaching Hermit’, Peter Calvay, leads a pilgrimage around Franciscan Italy teaching on St Francis and Bl. John Dun Scotus. One of the ‘pilgrims’ and the ‘raconteur’ is James Robertson who had been the ‘raconteur’ in the original book(s). This time David Torkington has even woven a ‘romance’ into the plot.
All are great; with teaching on the mystic pathway (Western Isles) and Franciscan Spirituality (Franciscan Italy) being presented in the form of a novel. They are not dry and dusty ‘academic’ studies but are vibrant and alive. If you struggle with prayer (as most people do) or simply want to know more about St. Francis then give these books a try.
Also highly recommended is Ian Morgan Cron’s “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale” – another novel written in the first person (and also including romance) on the subject of St Francis! Here the ‘raconteur’ has a crisis of faith and starts to resolve it by ‘Chasing Francis’ with the help of a Franciscan Spiritual Director who takes him around parts of Italy.
Being novels all these books are readable on many levels from ‘a simple story’ to a deep challenge of one’s own prayer life and understanding of Medieval Spirituality (The Dark Night of the Soul; St. John of The Cross; St. Teresa of Avila; Bl. John Dun Scotus) and its application today.
Reading this ‘sequel’ one wonders how much is (auto-)biographical – no doubt we will find out when his biography “Injured Innocence” gets written after his current book “Wisdom from the Christian Mystics” (see https://www.davidtorkington.com)
I’m a big fan of Torkington’s books. It’s like spiritual direction in print. I find myself growing spiritually from this book as much as I did his others. You may want to read Wisdom from the Western Isles before reading this because the characters have a history in the earlier writing. Not that you’d be lost if you went straight to this one.
I have read several books on St. Francis, but none have made him as relate-able as this one. This one shows an understanding of the depth of his character and of his evolution as a spiritual giant. It shows the reality of his immaturity in the beginning and then shows his growth from there. It also shows the necessity of a person’s immaturity and mistakes.
This book is a compelling read. It has an infectious energy that impels the reader to keep turning the pages to its riveting conclusion. In well over fifty years I have never read a better book on the sublime spirituality of St Francis of Assisi.
It is hard to imagine anything new about St. Francis but this book had important new facts about St. Francis that are helpful for our own spiritual lives.
It was an unforgettable experience to read this book and to re-visit Franciscan Italy under the spiritual guidance of Peter Calvay, that fascinating and profound character I had first met many years ago in David Torkington’s trilogy on prayer.