Popular historian and award-winning author Jon M. Sweeney relates the untold story of St. Francis’s friendship with Elias of Cortona, the man who helped him build the Franciscan movement. Sweeney uses the complexities of their relationship in a gripping narrative of how their efforts changed the world and how Elias’s enthusiasm betrayed the ideals of his friend.
Few biographies of St. Francis have examined his complicated relationship with close friend Elias of Cortona. In The Enthusiast, award-winning author and historian Jon M. Sweeney delves into this little-known partnership that defined and then almost destroyed Francis’s ideals.
Blending history and biography, Sweeney reveals how Francis and Elias rebuilt churches, aided lepers, and entertained as “God’s troubadours” to the delight of everyday people who had grown tired of a remote and tumultuous Church. At the height of their spiritual renaissance, however, Elias became “the devil” to many of the other friars; they believed him to be a traitor to their ideals. After Francis’s premature death, the movement fractured. Scorned by most of the Franciscan leadership, Elias followed a path that would leave him a lonely, broken man. Sweeney shows how Elias’s undoing was rooted in his attempts to honor his old friend.
Jon M. Sweeney
Jon M. Sweeney is an independent scholar and one of religion’s most respected writers. His work has been hailed by everyone from PBS and James Martin, S.J., to Fox News and Dan Savage. He’s been interviewed on CBS Saturday Morning, Fox News, CBS-TV Chicago, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and on the popular program Chicago Tonight. Several of his books have become Book-of-the-Month Club and Quality Paperback Book Club selections. His popular medieval history, The Pope Who Quit, was published by Image/Random House and optioned by HBO. It was a selection of the History Book Club and received a starred review in Booklist. His book, When Saint Francis Saved the Church, received a 2015 award for excellence in history from the Catholic Press Association. His other works include Inventing Hell, The Complete Francis of Assisi, and The St. Francis Prayer Book. Sweeney writes regularly for America and The Tablet, and is also the editorial director at Franciscan Media. He is married, the father of three, and lives in Vermont.
"In The Enthusiast, Jon Sweeney uses his sharp historical insight to shed light on the widely known, but little understood, friendship of St. Francis and Elias of Cortona. This book is an immense and important contribution to our understanding of the great saint."
Rev. Richard Rohr, O.F.M.
Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico
"Among the hundreds of biographies of St. Francis of Assisi, The Enthusiast stands out as a truly great read. By telling the story of Elias of Cortona—who, in his zeal to honor his friend nearly destroyed the Franciscan legacy—Sweeney shows his gift for meticulous historical research and an eye for satisfying human drama."
National Endowment for the Arts fellow and author of Simplifying the Soul
"Drawing on historical accounts, early Franciscan narratives, and his own imagination, Jon Sweeney creatively tells the story of Francis of Assisi anew, introducing along the way a key figure in the medieval drama too often overlooked: Brother Elias. Remembered as part-villain and part-hero, Elias’s role in Franciscan history needs to be brought to light and Sweeney does his part to introduce the early friar to a new generation!"
Rev. Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M.
Author of The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton
"Jon Sweeney takes away the calcified, garden-statue image of St. Francis and returns to us something much more valuable. In The Enthusiast we meet the human saint, surrounded by the men and women who accompanied him in life and death. We meet a Francis who is flawed, strange, and disruptive, but unmistakably holy."
Author of Radical Reinvention
"In The Enthusiast, Jon Sweeney takes the world’s most popular lawn ornament and makes him a real, live human being with a complicated friend who almost destroyed St. Francis's entire life’s work. Sweeney shows us that even saints (and their well-meaning friends) are never that simple, and he’s refreshingly comfortable with the contradictions and tension at the heart of history, friendship, and humanity."
Jessica Mesman Griffith
Coauthor of Love and Salt