Illness and Authority: Disability in the Life and Lives of Francis of Assisi
Illness and Authority examines the lived experience and early stories about St. Francis of Assisi through the lens of disability studies. This new approach re-centres Francis’s 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. So concerned were members of the Franciscan leadership 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’s ailments, Illness and Authority focuses on the impact of his illnesses on his autonomy and secular power, rather than his spiritual authority.
From downplaying the comfort Francis received from music to disappearing doctors in 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’s vitae experienced as they tried to make sense of a saint whose life did not fit the traditional rhythms of a founder-saint.
- World Rights
- Page Count: 272 pages
- Dimensions: 6.2in x 1.0in x 9.1in
"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
Author InformationDonna Trembinski is an associate professor of Medieval History at St. Francis Xavier University.
Table of contents
Framework and Methodology
Sources and the Franciscan Question
Works Attributed to Francis
Formal Lives of Francis
Informal Lives of Francis
The Vexed Franciscan Question
1. Francis Over-diagnosed and Undiagnosed
2. Re-centring Illness and Infirmity in Francis’s Lived Experience
Francis’s Ailments and Impairments in His Own Words and Writing
Brother Leo’s Testimony in the Dedication of Francis’s Breviary
3. Et licet infirmus fuisset semper: Testimonies of Illness in the Early Lives of St. Francis
Captivity and Conversion: 1202–1210
Negotiating Ministry and Illness: 1210–1219
Travel and Retreat from Leadership: 1219–1221
Chapter of the Mats
Adopting a Protector for the Order
Withdrawal and Contemplation: 1222–1224
Unseeing Eyes and Broken Body: 1224–1226
4. Disability and Tensions in Francis’s Lived Experience
The Needs of the Delicate Body and the Requirements of Asceticism
Medicine, Doctors, and Perfect Obedience
The Problem with Blindness
Disability and Leadership
5. The Hagiographers’ Search for Meaning
Asceticism and Medicine
The Changing Role of Guardians
Disappearing Humanity, New Sanctity
6. On Disability, Power, and Gender: A Speculative Conclusion
Resistance and Power in Francis’s Lived Experience
Reshaping Francis’s Authority: The Work of Early Hagiographers
Francis in the Feminine Mode?
Practising Piety in the Feminine Mode
Demonstrating Power in the Feminine Mode
Post-Script: On the Importance of Disability as a Category of Analysis
Appendix I: Re-centring Illness: A Revised Chronology of Francis’s Life
Subjects and Courses