Saints: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Yarrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an overview of the history of sainthood in Christianity: how the canonization process changed over time (i.e. from mostly dispersed to increasingly controlled by Rome,) what types of individuals have been selected (from ascetics and martyrs to the heads of orders and other more conventional candidates,) the changing incidence of women saints (while always far less than males, at times almost nonexistent,) and who were some of the more prominent (or atypical) saints.
The book’s organization is primarily a chronological flow, but there are a couple chapters that are of a more topical nature (e.g. on female saints and about hagiographies [“biographies” of saints that mix fact and fiction.]) It was fascinating to me to learn that we are amid a resurgence of canonization. The making of saints had fallen off for a time around the 1800’s (presumably at least in part because it became increasingly challenging / embarrassing in an “Enlightened” age to argue for miracles [“proof” of which is necessary as part of the process.]) However, that can’t be the full story because since John Paul II there’s been a substantial increase in canonization, while we have less reason to believe in supernatural phenomena than ever.
The book takes an agnostic / scholarly stance on the rightness or wrongness of sainthood and doesn’t go out of its way to discuss the scandalous. However, it does not shy away from – here and there – mentioning misbehavior of the Church (e.g. Papal Indulgences and political canonization.) The economist in me found it fascinating that Indulgences gained fungibility – i.e. tradable as an intermediary of value, i.e. like cash.
I found the book interesting despite its occasional drifts into obscure theological / historical territory. It’s readable and, at times, fascinating.
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