The Christian Church is often accused of glossing over its own sins while condemning those of others, especially the Catholic Church, as it has a long history of sins to cover over. Whatever its merits, the criticism doesn't hold against Thomas Craughwell's new book, Saints Behaving Badly. Craughwell's latest is a delightful and engaging examination of the unseemly lives of various saints. From Augustine's famous life as a libertine to lesser known St. Vladimir's barbarous human sacrifice, Caughwell's book is a litany of crimes, sins, and misdemeanors by those whom Catholics revere.
In many ways, is a refreshing read. Craughwell's prose is interesting, and his scholarship responsible. He begins his introduction by dispelling the myth that Mary Magdalene was a tremendous sinner, and points out where tradition has embellished history. At the same time, Craughwell is appropriately sympathetic toward his subject, shying away from neither the scandalous nor the remarkable transformation wrought in each person's life. The end result is an interesting and compelling portrayal of the profound grace of God.
I am not Catholic, so I do not have an extensive knowledge of Saints. But rather than be a drawback, I found Craughwell's book an engaging introduction to some of the lesser-known members of the Catholic Church, and to the practice of hagiography in general. Craughwell sprinkles throughout his knowledge Catholicism and its approach to saints, which was eminently helpful for a Protestant like myself.
Craughwell's book is a great read for the busy reader. It's short chapters and engaging prose make it excellent night-stand reading, not to mention it's clear communication of what God can do in the darkest of hearts. Craughwell demonstrates that honest criticism from within a tradition is indeed possible and praiseworthy. It is with pleasure and ease that I would recommend Saints Behaving Badly.
*Full disclosure: I received this book for free from the kind folks at RandomHouse.
Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.