A few days ago, we dropped our latest Believe to See podcast. Anselm staffer Michelle Hindman joined us to discuss a topic I know far too little about: hagiography, or stories of the lives of saints.
First, you should listen to the whole podcast, which is right here (and it’s embedded at the bottom of this post). Second, I have a few takeaways.
- The Catholic Advantage
For many issues, I’m happy to have been raised in the protestant-evangelical world. For instance, when a Catholic friend asked me what happened in the book of Esther, I could explain the whole story to him and it’s significance in the greater meta-narrative of the Bible.
But one area where I need to catch up is in my knowledge of the lives of the saints. Between the Apostle Paul and Billy Graham, evangelicals have a lot of blanks on the timeline. They really miss out on the hagiographies. Or at least, on the official hagiographies (more on that later).
- Modern Blinders
One of the interesting–and unexpected–directions our interview took was discussing the way that we post-Enlightenment Westerners misread hagiographies without even realizing it. I know when I read them, I filter them through the lens of what “really happened.” Is this an historical account by modern standards, or is it a “mere myth”?
And that, as Michelle points out, misses the point of a hagiography. Instead of trying to decide if Saint George actually slayed an actual dragon, we should learn from the story of a man who Christians through the centuries have deemed worthy of emulation.
- The dangers of pseudo-hagiography
When I said earlier that evangelicals don’t have hagiographies, that was mostly true. They don’t have “official” hagiographies. But they have lots and lots of unofficial ones. And they’re risky.
As Michelle explained, the obvious example is C.S. Lewis. Because so many of us evangelicals are so eager to make him a saint, we accidentally white-wash his life, sweeping his failings and struggles under a rug. Now if this were part of a classic hagiography, that would be one thing. But when evangelicals retell the story of Lewis, it’s presented as dispassionate fact.
Writing about evangelical “hagiography” has made me realize this is probably worth its own post.1 But that’s enough for now.
Now stop reading and give the podcast a listen! And as always, ratings and five star reviews are appreciated, etc., etc.
1 And it would also be a very interesting writing project. #FreeIdeas.
Photo by Vasilopoulos