Illness and Authority: Disability in the Life and Lives of Francis of Assisi
Published: October 2020© 2020
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 272 Pages
Dimensions: 6.00 x 9.00
272 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
Ebook - PDF
Illness and Authority examines the lived experience and early stories about St. Francis of Assisi through the lens of disability studies. This new approach recentres Francis’ illnesses and infirmities and highlights how they became barriers to wielding traditional modes of masculine authority within both the Franciscan Order he founded and the church hierarchy. Members of the Franciscan leadership were so concerned about his health that the future saint was compelled to seek out medical treatment and spent the last two years of his life in the nearly constant care of doctors. Unlike other studies of Francis’ ailments, Illness and Authority focuses on the impact of his illnesses on his autonomy and secular power, rather than his spiritual authority.
Whether downplaying the comfort Francis received from music to omitting doctors from the narratives of his life, early biographers worked to minimize the realities of his infirmities. When they could not do so, they turned the saint’s experiences into teachable moments that demonstrated his saintly and steadfast devotion and his trust in God. Illness and Authority explores the struggles that early authors of Francis’ vitae experienced as they tried to make sense of a figure whose life did not fit the traditional rhythms of a founder saint.
1. Francis Overdiagnosed and Undiagnosed
2. Recentring Illness and Infirmity in Francis’ Lived Experience
3. Et licet infirmus fuisset semper: Testimonies of Illness in the Early Lives of Francis
4. Disability and Tensions in Francis’ Lived Experience
5. The Hagiographers’ Search for Meaning
6. On Disability, Power, and Gender: A Speculative Conclusion
Postscript: On the Importance of Disability as a Category of Analysis
Appendix. Recentring Illness: A Revised Chronology of Francis’ Life
"Trembinski’s excellent study touches on so many issues of Francis’ life, especially the later stages: Francis’ surrender of leadership; the questions of obedience and authority; and his struggle with blindness, leprosy, and bodily pain. It is an excellent survey of Franciscan sources regarding Francis’ illness and how they have been interpreted in history."Steven J. McMichael, Theology Department, University of St. Thomas
"Trembinski is the leading authority on the health and disabilities of Francis of Assisi. In this monograph, she shows us a world of admiring followers, medieval prisons, veneration of bones, prayer, and ascetism. She also shines a light on the medieval diet, care for the impaired, and medicine. We think of Francis as the saint who walked from town to town, preaching to anyone who would listen, even the birds. Trembinski shows us another side to Francis: a man who lived with pain, who suffered from weakness and frailty, who sought medicines for internal ailments and eye complaints, and who died relatively young."Wendy Turner, Department of History, Anthropology and Philosophy, Augusta University
"In this important study, Trembinski presents a reinterpretation of St. Francis of Assisi that reframes the saint's oft-ignored illnesses and impairments as essential to his (in)ability to access traditional masculine power, both spiritual and secular. By offering an innovative reading of the saint through the lens of disability theory, Illness and Authority reveals how the disabled body of St. Francis has exceeded and challenged the narrative constraints of not only medieval hagiographers but also the modern historian."Tory V. Pearman, Department of Languages, Literatures, and Writing, Miami University Hamilton
- Winner - Hagiography Society Book Prize 2022
Related Blog Posts
Before a Saint, A Man: Disability in the Life of Francis of Assisi
Written by Donna Trembinski, Illness and Authority examines the lived experience and early stories about St. Francis of Assisi through the lens of disability studies. In this post, Trembinski discusses more about her book that shows us another, less readily seen side of this famous saint.