A review by Stuart Brogden
I tried to give this book, My God and My All – The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi, an honest opportunity to impress me. Elizabeth Goudge was a 20th century novelist and it is most appropriate that a fiction author wrote about this topic. The cover art gives us a peak into the perspective the reader will face: it’s a well-known (in Roman Catholic circles) painting of Francis in prayer. His hands are crossed over his chest and there is a nail hole visible in his left hand. Several segments within the Roman Catholic Church believe they are obedient to Scripture when they punish their bodies in imitation of the physical punishment our Lord took upon Himself in obedience to His call as being born under the Law, cursed for the sake of those He was sent to save. This may also be a twisted view of Colossians 1:24. Sam Storms has a very good analysis of this verse (posted here: http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/filling-up-the-afflictions-of-christ–1:24-) that, may it please the Lord, will help some Roman Catholics see the truth of Scripture on this topic.
It is fitting that a novelist wrote this book for two reasons. First, the book is a fictionalized account of Francis’ life. Secondly, it presents a thoroughly Roman Catholic view of Francis’ life, which is as much a work of fiction as is every distinctive of that religion. I’ll focus on this second aspect, as fiction presented as truth is a danger that we cannot blithely ignore. And we see this false religion on pages 1 and 2:
In the case of those whom we call the saints, this power is immeasurable. They are the true makers of men. Other great men may alter the material aspect of life for millions, but the saints make us for eternity. By emptying themselves, by getting rid of self altogether, they become the channels of God’s creative power and by him, through them, we are made. … And so his (Francis’) power lives on and we cannot measure it because it is nowhere near its end.
The Bible calls all of His redeemed people, saints. There is no determination by any man-made religion as to whom is worthy of being identified as such. The one who plants and the one who waters are nothing – the growth comes from God and He, alone, is everything (1 Cor 3:7). The “saints” of Rome do not “make us for eternity,” they were in every bit the same need of God’s grace to be saved as any other men. There are no “great men” in the world or in the body of Christ; all men are weak and sinful and the only good we have claim to is the good He (not any religious pretender) works in and through us.
Another short insight into the dual nature of this being a novel: on page 6 the author shows us her method of weaving this story together, speaking of Francis’ birth:
Tradition says it was long and hard and that as the hours passed and her child was not born she asked to be taken to the stable that adjoined the house, that she might feel a little nearer to Mary, the Mother of God, and that in the stable her child was born. Today the little place is a chapel, the Chapel of the Infant Francis.
Many Roman Catholics deify Mary, who was a sinner used by God, not a sinless woman God was fortunate to have on His team. She was the mother of Jesus, the man, not God. Jesus, being eternally existent as the second member of the Trinity, was not born of a women in the sense that would validate this phrase beloved by Rome – Mary, mother of God. That is a blasphemous statement, but not seen as such by those who worship Mary. We also see here the practice of building a shrine at “sacred places,” as if Jesus did not have the conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Places are not sacred in the Christian world, only in the pagan world. God’s people (individually and corporately) are His temple (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; Eph 2:17 – 22). He does not require nor even want temples made by human hands (Acts 7:48; 17:24) and when men make ornate buildings as places of worship, the tendency is to take pleasure in the grand architecture and the images normally found therein – forgetting the God Who made all things and is Lord of all things.
Francis was, as many Roman Catholics are, a mystic who imagined he heard direct from God apart from His Word (page 22). In one such moment he dreamed YHWH revealed the perfect bride for him, “Lady Poverty” (page 21). And by so determining he must deny self by becoming temporally poor, “Francis entered upon this battle of winning himself for God.” (page 22) This reveals one danger of the mystical life: a person can be misled by various voices which lead away from God’s Word. This shows up again on page 28 as Francis “heard the Lord speaking with the voice of a friend, and saying, ‘Francis, go and repair my church, which as thou seest is wholly in ruin.” In focusing on the crucifix, Francis “realized that though the sufferings of Christ in his human body were ended yet the At-one-ment was always going on. Christ still reigned from the cross, looking out over the suffering world, drawing all men to himself on his cross that might unite them to God in himself.” When Jesus finished His work of redemption, He sat down at the right hand of God (Heb 1:3). He is not still hanging on the cross!
Francis is recorded in this novel as working on the rebuilding of three buildings, which are called churches. This is a vital error, putting places in the place of the body of Christ, as noted earlier. Of His church, the Lord said He would build her (Matt 16:18), this spiritual building that is the work of God alone. He does not need the help of men, although He does command us to be obedient in proclaiming the gospel to men everywhere and to disciple the saints within the local church.
Chapter 5 carries the book’s title and describes the Roman Catholic mass as the center of worship. “Nothing could be greater than the coming of Christ the King in the sacrament of the altar. Soon the little church would be as holy as the courts of heaven” (page 50). So much of the Roman religion is taken from the Jewish religion without any discernment. The New Covenant church has no altar, and Christ the King is not offered up on any altar! His empty cross serves as a spiritual altar (Heb 13:10). Note how this is explained by the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:
Christianity and Judaism are so totally distinct, that “they who serve the (Jewish) tabernacle,” have no right to eat our spiritual Gospel meat, namely, the Jewish priests, and those who follow their guidance in serving the ceremonial ordinance. He says, “serve the tabernacle,” not “serve in the tabernacle.” Contrast with this servile worship ours.
an altar—the cross of Christ, whereon His body was offered. The Lord’s table represents this altar, the cross; as the bread and wine represent the sacrifice offered on it. Our meat, which we by faith spiritually eat, is the flesh of Christ, in contrast to the typical ceremonial meats. The two cannot be combined (Gal 5:2). That not a literal eating of the sacrifice of Christ is meant in the Lord’s Supper, but a spiritual is meant, appears from comparing Heb 13:9 with Heb 13:10, “with grace, not with meats.”
The last thing I will briefly cover comes from chapter 6 – The Rule. We have a snippet written by Francis wherein he reveals his authority: the pope. “And when the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I ought to do, but the Most High himself revealed to me that I should according to the form of the holy gospel. And I cause it to be written in a few words and simply, and the pope confirmed it for me.” Also on page 73 the author says “Francis was a devoted and loyal son of the Church.” When Francis and his brothers formed their group, “Francis promised obedience and reverence to both Innocent and his successors after him. All the brothers were to take the three evangelical vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and they were to live without any property whatever” (pages 74 & 75). These “evangelical vows” are not found in Scripture. We find in God’s Word that His children are to be poor in spirit, not proud; sexually pure, in marriage unless gifted with singleness; and obedient to Christ as revealed in Scripture, not to traditions and words of men.
The god of Francis appears, from this book, not to be the God of the Bible. If that god was his all, his end was worse than his beginning. I pray all who claim to be in Christ examine themselves to see if they be in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). The Christian religion is not the product of men. It is the work of God in the people He called to new life in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) from their natural condition of spiritual death (Eph 2:1 – 10). To Him alone be all honor and glory and dominion, and none of that to any man.