The story of Saint Francis of Assisi contradicts most of the conventional stories of the men of the middle ages in various aspects. Not only did the saint experienced the excesses of life from both the noble and wealthy perspective and the destitute but also did so optimally and willingly. In some cases, enjoying the wealth of heritage in middle age, came with an arrogance that was characteristic of many men of such stature. The wealth became the identity that they held and used against others. It is also this same wealth that prompted their popularity among the nations. However, Saint Francis of Assisi embodied a lifestyle that while endowed with material wealth, did not place much importance on them but instead overcame the temptations of arrogance and managed to make a name through selflessness instead of recklessness as commonly construed.
The Early Life of Saint Francis
Saint Francis was born to parents of high esteem within the community of Assisi. As a young man, it was easy for the saint to be entrapped into the vanity of his heritage as he indeed was. Through his early life, Saint Francis managed to portray himself as the contemporary son of the rich. Stock describes the life of Saint Francis from this perspective, stating that it was the norm for the children of the rich in the middle ages to give themselves over to shameless debauchery. Francis came from a part of the community where this debauchery was expected and he gave himself to it fully. Furthermore, he is described as having been zealous for all forms of foolishness and outdoing his mates in this behavior. While this may have been considered vain in the society at that particular time, it did not strike the other members as strange as his latter-day conversion did. This implies the kind of stereotypes the society had developed regarding social classes, where Francis and his ilk were categorized in a different social class with the behaviors he exhibited as the trademark of that class.
Another pointer towards Saint Francis’ social class could be seen in his pomp, vainglory and idleness. The people of his class were also more likely to be involved in strange doings, unlike those of lower social status. Accordingly, Saint Francis is described as having been used to squandering his wealth and wasting time miserably unlike his mates of the same social class who were more prone to hoarding their wealth. While this distinction in behavior can be easily ignored as accidental, it can also be considered an indication of Francis’ innate virtues, which could have superseded his vanity despite the upbringing which predisposed him to wickedness and vainglory. The fact that Francis’ kindness was observable even in the presence of his evil friends showed his saintly nature all the more and could be read as an indication of the inborn status as a monk since these are the virtues that were expected of monks at the time.
In spite of the vanity, idleness and foolish behaviors exhibited by Saint Francis in his early days, Stock reports that he was also kind, easy, and affable, characteristics that were at times mistaken for foolishness. The transition of Francis from the wealthy young man in pursuit of vainglory to a saintly man who cared less about his earthly positions and was willing to strip himself before the Bishop of Assisi was gradual and misunderstood by many. From Francis’ parents to the other citizens of the city, no one could clearly explain the transition that resulted in Francis the monk. The characteristics embodied by Francis in his later live therefore, can be described as reflective of the spiritual life that he led.
The Ultimate Saint
The image of Francis as a saint came into full being after his salvation, which was gained through his vision when under mental and physical illness. Through the second life of Saint Francis, he still reflected certain characteristics that go beyond kindness to show how much of a monk he was. The first characteristic was separation from his people and living an independent life. The Middle age was characterized with communities in which those who made the decisions to be monks did so by first segregating themselves from their earthly families and from material wealth that could dissuade them from going through the constant suffering that was a profound part of the journey to sainthood. Accordingly, Francis reflected this virtue by first selling off all his earthly possessions even though he had challenges convincing his family about his new found treasure. The act of stripping himself before the bishop went ultimately to convince the bishop and part of his family that he was desiring of heavenly rather than earthly possessions.
Another indication of the piety in Saint Francis was visible in his desire to help others and to share the good news with them albeit at a slow pace since he knew of the challenges they may have in understanding his new found treasure. The desire to invite a friend for prayers in the grotto without forcing that friend to pray with him is a reflection of the pious giving to which monks are associated, probably even more than the monks themselves. The mercy with which Francis served lepers after being thrown by robbers in a pit of snow can be considered part of the evidence of his piety as a monk even though he was not yet officially dedicated to monkhood. One question that one would ask is between the community of monks that showed mercy to Saint Francis after the incident with the robbers and the saint himself, who showed greater kindness? From the narration, it is evident that Saint Francis was the more merciful one because in spite of being denied mercy, he left not with anger but as a result of necessity. He enjoyed staying with the monks even when all he got from them was broth.
Additional virtues such as humility, servitude and his efforts to build churches that would house ladies who had given themselves to the service of God also confirm the saint’s piety and his willingness to serve God at all costs.
The life of Saint Francis provides a story of materialism, conversion and subsequent piety. The combination of environmental factors and personal factors has also been confirmed responsible for shaping human behavior up to the point of their choice. Saint Francis overcame the vanity of materialism and the love of wealth to adopt selflessness, humility and servitude not only to his family but also to other people of the community. Through a life of kindness and easiness, the Saint disregarded the wealth he was born in and instead sought the treasure of heaven that he tried to share with others, living life as a monk rather than an earthly prince. Considering the virtues embodied by Saint Francis, it is deductible that he was more of a pious monk than the conventional monks at the time, whose mercy was short-lived.
Stouck, Mary-Anne. A Short Reader of Medieval Saints (Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures). University of Toronto Press, 2009.
 Mary-Anne Stouck. A Short Reader of Medieval Saints (Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures). (University of Toronto Press, 2009).