The detail over which these monks went mad with joy was the universe itself; the only thing really worthy of enjoyment. The white daylight shone over all the world, the endless forests stood up in their order. The lightning awoke and the tree fell and the sea gathered into mountains and the ship went down, and all these disconnected and meaningless and terrible objects were all part of one dark and fearful conspiracy of goodness, one merciless scheme of mercy.
—“FRANCIS,” FROM VARIED TYPES (1903)
Long ago in those days of boyhood my fancy first caught fire with the glory of Francis of Assisi.” So wrote Chesterton in the opening pages of one of his best-beloved books, St. Francis of Assisi, published in 1923. This medieval saint, it seems, had always held a special place in his moral imagination, and the writing of this biographical study was fulfilling a debt of gratitude.
But it was an odd pairing of kindred souls, to be sure. Francis, the ascetic saint, and Chesterton the ebullient bon vivant—a man whose appearance and habits ran so dramatically counter to any notion of asceticism.
When G.K. Chesterton set out to write a study of St. Francis, he asked, “Why did he who loved where all men were blind, seek to blind himself where all men loved? Why was he a monk, and not a troubadour?” In Chapter 21 of Defiant Joy, author Kevin Belmonte explores these timeless questions through the lens of Chesterton’s life. At the heart of this lies Chesteron’s motivation in writing the book.
Kevin Belmonte writes:
But there were other, no less compelling reasons why Chesterton wished to write a book about Saint Francis. Chief among them was the “romance of religion” woven into every fiber of the faith Francis professed. “His figure,” Chesterton wrote, “stands on a sort of bridge connecting my boyhood with my conversion to many other things; for the romance of his religion had penetrated even the rationalism of that vague Victorian time. In so far as I have had this experience, I may be able to lead others a little further along that road.”
Do you have a favorite saint?
L E A R n M O R E
Kevin Belmonte holds a BA in English from Gordon College, an MA in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and a second master’s degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He has twice been a finalist for the prestigious John Pollock Award for Christian Biography, and in 2003, his biography, “William Wilberforce,” won that award. On several occasions, he has served as a script consultant for the BBC, and also for the PBS documentary, “The Better Hour.” For six years, he was the lead script and historical consultant for the critically-acclaimed film, “Amazing Grace.” He has spoken in a wide array of noteworthy settings, from the Houses of Parliament in London, and gatherings of legislators in Washington, D.C., to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. For several years, his biography of Wilberforce has been required reading for a course taught by David Gergen on leadership and character formation at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Sources & Resources
G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1923)
Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).