Saints Behaving Badly : The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints
Saints are not born, they are made. And many, as SAINTS BEHAVING BADLY reveals, were made of very rough materials indeed. The first book to lay bare the less than saintly behavior of thirty-two venerated holy men and women, it presents the scandalous, spicy, and sleazy detours they took on the road to sainthood. In nineteenth- and twentieth-century writings about the lives of the saints, authors tended to go out of their way to sanitize their stories, often glossing over the more embarrassing cases with phrases such as, "he/she was once a great sinner." In the early centuries of the Church and throughout the Middle Ages, however, writers took a more candid and spirited approach to portraying the saints. Exploring sources from a wide range of periods and places, Thomas Craughwell discovered a veritable rogues gallery of sinners-turned-saint. There's St. Olga, who unleashed a bloodbath on her husband's assassins; St. Mary of Egypt, who trolled the streets looking for new sexual conquests; and Thomas A Becket, who despite his vast riches refused to give his cloak to a man freezing to death in the street.
The stories Catholics often hear about the saints can give the impression these people emerged from the womb with halos. Craughwell, a well-respected Catholic diocesan newspaper columnist, provides the rest of the story. His semi-irreverent collection assembles 29 sinners-cum-saints from Christian history in an enjoyable and riveting account of their lives and times. The table of contents reads like a most-wanted list: thieves, embezzlers, murderers, cardsharps, and even a warmonger. Some, such as the apostle Matthew, a former tax collector, will be familiar to readers. The brief biographies of the more obscure saints, however, are often the most fascinating to read. Craughwell introduces us to intriguing figures like St. Moses the Ethiopian, a violent gang leader who embraced a life of fasting and prayer after seeking shelter with monks in the Egyptian desert in the fourth century. St. Alipius, a student of another notorious sinner, St. Augustine, was "obsessed with blood sports." Craughwell does not dilute his belief that it is only through divine grace that these women and men were able to overcome their self-centeredness and redirect their lives for a greater purpose. His tone is occasionally patronizing, but the take-home point is vital: while we are all sinners, there is always hope. (Sept. 19) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 18, 2006
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Excerpt from Saints Behaving Badly by Thomas J Craughwell
No one likes taxes. But antitax animosity was especially intense in ancient Israel during the first century of the Christian era. In the gospels tax collectors (also known as publicans) are frequently mentioned in the same breath as harlots and sinners.
If tax collectors had a lousy reputation two thousand years ago, they deserved it. Under the Romans, the governor of each province was responsible for collecting the tax on land. Other taxes on individuals, on personal property, on imports and exports were subcontracted to private individuals who paid the Romans a fee in advance for the right to collect whatever Rome had levied on the conquered nations of its empire. These freelance tax collectors profited from this transaction by overcharging and extorting as much as they could get out of the taxpayers. The Romans didn't care as long as they got the full balance of what was due. The Jews, on the other hand, cared quite a lot. In their eyes Jewish tax collectors were shameless crooks who committed the twofold crime of collaborating with heathens and preying upon their own people. Little wonder that the Jews of Christ's day regarded tax collectors with loathing.
Matthew, also called Levi in the gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke, was a tax collector at Capernaum, a Roman garrison town. He was sitting at his table in the customs house, shaking down his neighbors, when Jesus Christ walked by. Our Lord had just healed a paralyzed man; now he was about to reconcile a sinner. "Follow me," Christ said. To the surprise of the Roman guards, the clerks, and the taxpayers, Matthew got up, left the money where it lay on the table, turned his back on a life of government-sanctioned larceny, and joined the handful of men we know as the twelve apostles.
St. Luke's gospel tells us that Matthew celebrated his conversion by throwing an elaborate feast for Christ, the apostles, and a host of other guests. When the Pharisees complained that Jesus had no business dining with a notorious tax collector, Christ answered, "I came not to call the just, but sinners."
This is the only scene in the New Testament in which Matthew takes the spotlight.
From a very early date Christians attributed one of the gospels to St. Matthew. Although it comes first in the New Testament, in all probability St. Mark's is the oldest gospel, which almost certainly served as a source for Matthew. Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience; in his gospel he quotes frequently from the Hebrew scriptures to emphasize that Christ is the fulfillment of the prophecies. We owe to Matthew such unique features as St. Joseph's plan to divorce the Blessed Virgin Mary, the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem, King Herod's slaughter of the Holy Innocents, the Holy Family's flight into Egypt, a great part of the Sermon on the Mount, the parable of the sower, the metaphor of the sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment, the suicide of Judas, and the guards at Christ's tomb.