Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worshippers who became Saints


Thomas J. Craughwell

Doubleday, 2006


ISBN 0-385-51720-3


A helpful way to study history is through biographies, because the focus on specific individuals forces the historian to move beyond generalizations.  Saints Behaving Badly offers a series of 28 mini-biographies working chronologically from the Apostle Matthew to Venerable Matt Talbot, who died in 1925.  


The appeal of the book is the same voyeurism that fuels tabloids and daytime television – the desire to see others at their worst.  Saints delivers on that promise, to the point that the book really can’t be recommended to the young or the weak of stomach, but then moves on to the conversion and holiness for which each saint was canonized.  (Or beatified, etc., if the subject has not yet been canonized.)


As the book moves through time and around the globe, there are often two or more biographies that follow on each other, so that, for example, we learn first about St. Olga, and then the next chapter covers her grandson, St. Vladimir.  This gives more depth and context, and thus a richer understanding of church history – and world history – than you get in anthologies of unrelated saints.


This approach also helps provide an introduction to some of the big players in the church today.  St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius Loyola both get a biography, as do later Franciscan and Jesuit saints, thus answering the question of what these religious orders are – helpful background for someone new to the catholic faith.


In addition to providing an introductory survey of church history, the biographies don’t shy away from teaching faith and morals.  The biography of St. Fabiola, for example, includes a clear discussion of the church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage.  Wherever there is any doubt, the author clarifies whether a given action by the saint is in fact saintly, or more part of the “behaving badly” category.


The reading is quick, entertaining, and edifying.  Highly recommended for adult Catholics new to the faith, renewing their faith, or who just want a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.