Mike Aquilina

Saints Misbehavin’

Friday September 15th 2006, 3:04 am

Just finished reading a book I’d like to recommend to you: Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints, by Thomas Craughwell. It belongs on this blog because half the profiles in the book are of men and women from Christian antiquity.

You’ll recognize some of the names because they’re ubiquitous: Augustine and Patrick, for example. Others you’ll recognize because you read this blog so faithfully: Genesius and Hippolytus.

Still others you’ll know if you’ve dipped a little below the timelines of ancient Christian history. There’s Alipius, Augustine’s best friend, roommate, and co-star in his Dialogues. Craughwell informs us that Alipius was fond of bloody contests in the arena. (Today, he’d be into hockey.) St. Pelagia and St. Mary of Egypt were women of ill repute before they became women renowned for sanctity.

Thomas Craughwell has produced a collection that looks unflinchingly at the early, scandalous lives of twenty-nine saints. Whereas in the missal we see them identified as “Virgin” or “Martyr,” Craughwell’s chapter headings make up a strange litany indeed: “St. Callixtus, Embezzler … St. Hippolytus, Antipope … St. Genesius, Scoffer … St. Moses the Ethiopian, Cutthroat and Gang Leader … St. Fabiola, Bigamist.”

We know the Church Fathers best as teachers. Thanks to Thomas Craughwell, we can now come to know them as sinners in need of mercy — and who heroically corresponded to the mercy they were given. That’s what made them saints. And that ain’t misbehavin’. It’s the part of their life that most of us are best equipped to imitate.

This book — good-humored and wholly orthodox — carries the full weight of a treatise on God’s mercy, but in the guise of a little light reading.