Written by Fra. Ugolino
Published in a Countless Number of Editions
Reviewed by Colin Kerr
Also known as the Fioretti, this is perhaps the most touching, strange book ever written. It radically changed my life. I would like to believe its power still remains somewhere in my heart. It is a book for dreamers and, I think, like the Gospel, able to penetrate the hardest heart. Nothing captures the spirit of St. Francis better than this book, not even the biography written by St. Bonaventure. The comparison is not even close.
Now, enough of superlatives. Any good edition of this book will provide some of the background on its (supposed) author and some of the theological and political problems surrounding it. Was this book a part of the movement that would eventually devolve into a heretic sect known as the ‘Spiritual Franciscans’? It is clear that great spiritual enthusiasm is susceptible to intellectual distortion. That’s just how things go. People who live by the heart… are hard to pin down, like St. Francis, Brother Ugolino… like our pope?
The Little Flowers, are, as the name suggests, a series of short stories, or anecdotes, about Francis and his first disciples of the most touching sort, like that about the well-known Wolf of Gubbio, about the time that one of the Franciscans asked the Francis why people follow him, Francis’ loving care of the embittered leper, the touching stories about simple Brother Juniper, the wonderful stories about St. Clare.
On account of its child-like simplicity, it’s not easy to compare this book to any other hagiography (saint’s lives),. Perhaps the ones that come closest are the Ancient Lives of the Desert Fathers. If a book could capture the spirit of a man, I would hope that the actual St. Francis was like what we find in these pages.
If we are going to gain anything from the – perhaps – unpredictable pontificate of Pope Francis, I would hope it would involve a return to the kind of thing captured in the pages of The Little Flowers, an outpouring of the spirit that profoundly changed the spiritual landscape of the 13th Century.