Reinventing Saint Francis: Józef Wittlin, Anti-Semitism and the Idea of Modern Sainthood

Joanna Rzepa


This article discusses Józef Wittlin’s literary exploration of the idea of modern sainthood. It argues that Wittlin’s search for a new model of saintly life that would respond to the modern age was informed by the ongoing theological debates about the meaning and value of traditional hagiography. The article demonstrates that Wittlin’s reflections were inspired by Paul Sabatier’s influential study Vie de saint François d’Assise (Life of Saint Francis of Assisi), and informed by the immediate socio-political context (the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1918-19 and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe). Ultimately, Wittlin’s writings reinvent Saint Francis as a modern-day saint who shows a radical empathy with the persecuted and the marginalised, above all the Jews. Responding to growing anti-Semitism that was endorsed by a number of nationalist and Roman Catholic groups, Wittlin reimagines Saint Francis as a social activist who gives active attention to the suffering of the vilified ‘other’ who has been rejected by mainstream society.

First published in Konteksty Kultury 2018, vol. 16, no. 3 (originally in English).

Słowa kluczowe: Józef Wittlin, Paul Sabatier, hagiography, sainthood, St Francis, anti-Semitism, modernist theology
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