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Holy Terrors: Lives of the Certifiable Saints

When I was eight years old, my aunt (a nun) gave me a volume on the Lives of the Saints.

The various stories of these Christian luminaries have been presented as examples to be emulated, as inspirations and role models. But only the most thoroughly brainwashed person can look at these bizarre bios and not be utterly horrified.

For sure, there are saints who are inoffensive, such as the protohippie Francis of Assisi. But the saints officially canonized by the Church include a shocking number of persons who, in all honesty, must be considered major nut cases. It’s an indication of how deranged the religious impulse can be that their lunacy is not merely unrecognized, but reinterpreted as an expression of supreme sanctification.

The full story of these saints–those whose existence is verifiable rather than legendary–can be gleaned from the work of legitimate historians. But it is remarkable how much uncensored information is offered by the Church itself, which seems oblivious to how repulsive much of it is to the average person. The stories tell of men who clearly court death in defiance of the proscriptions against suicide, who tormented themselves to irrational extremes, who indulged in pointless eccentricities, yet are revered for being maniacs and tyrants.

It is also strange, and potentially perverting, to see the highly effeminate manner in which they’re illustrated (“Holy Card” style) with delicate, feminine features, beardless faces in bearded times, and a simpering expression on their faces. Even John the Baptist (in the aforementioned book) is depicted as a virtual girl rather than as the coarse wilderness dweller he was.

For women, the stories all too often revolve around a psychotic horror of sexuality and the desire to escape it at all costs. Many prayed to be made ugly, a prayer that was often granted (since God is said to help those who help themselves). Numerous women who were forced by their families to marry managed to persuade their husbands to live with them in perpetual virginity. (Perhaps they were fortunate enough to have been paired with one of the holy effeminates.)

My book has both an Imprimatur and a Nihil Obstat, but I certainly object! You’ll see when you read of just a few of the wackos whom the Church has seen fit to elevate to sainthood, recommending them to us.

ST. ALBINUS considered himself the lowliest of God’s creatures. (And he was damned proud of it, too!) A conceit of the pious, but as Nietzsche pointed out, “lowlier than thou” is just a covert form of “holier than thou.”

ST. ALOYSIUS GONZAGA was an annoying little sissy who fainted whenever he heard “indecent” talk. It took him forever to climb the stairs, since he’d stop to say a prayer at every step. He liked mortification, and he had a fascination with the repulsive, particularly chamberpot duty.

ST. ADRIAN was a Roman guard who was so impressed by his Christian wards that he asked to be jailed with them. His Christian wife (who ostensibly hadn’t impressed him) shaved her head to pass as a man so she could visit him in jail, where she encouraged him to be a martyr. When they cut off his legs she prayed for his hands to be cut off as well.

ST. BENEDICT LABRE, itinerant ascetic, was so filthy, emaciated and strange that he was rejected by several monastic orders whose members weren’t so spiffy themselves. Despite a life of homelessness and deprivation he miraculously managed to live to the ripe old age of 35.

ST. CASSIAN was such an odious tyrant that he was stabbed to death by his own student using their writing stilettos. (Is is still martyrdom when Christians kill a Christian?)

ST. CATHERINE OF GENOA slept with thistles, put wormwood in her food, and dragged her tongue on the ground if she spoke unnecessarily. She was yet another holy virgin who persuaded her husband to join her. She kissed a plague victim, probably hoping she’d die sooner, and was sick for years after.

ST. CATHERINE OF SWEDEN, as an infant, allegedly rejected her mother’s breast if if her mother recently had sex. (Several saints did this.) As a young woman she persuaded her husband to live with her in perpetual chastity. (Once again, the Church makes a hero out of a sexually maladjusted neurotic.) As an older woman, she spent the last 25 years of her life torturing herself for sins she hadn’t committed. (She certainly didn’t have any sexual sins to repent of!)

ST. CYPRIAN–His epistle goes on about how God loves “glorious gore.” Despite that view, he (so unlike a saint) ran away from the opportunity to be a martyr. But he got it eight years later.

ST. CYR, as a three-year-old who watched his mother stripped, flogged, and racked for being a Christian. He volunteered that he was a Christian, too, and his mother rejoiced when he was thrown down the stairs to his death.

ST. EBBA–Abbess. She and her nuns cut off their noses and lips to discourage the Vikings from raping them–a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Later, ST. MARGARET OF CORTONA, under no such threat, had to be discouraged from doing the same just for the heck of it.

ST. ETHELREDA had two sexless marriages, then joined the convent run by St. Ebba. Of Ethelreda it is written, “Sufferings were her delight.” (Many other saints shared this proclivity.) If she enjoyed it, then it wasn’t suffering! Masochism is a form of mental derangement not to be confused with virtue. Courageously enduring unavoidable suffering is a virtue; seeking it out is not.

ST. FERDINAND was remarkably tolerant of Jews–provided they wore funny hats and paid large fines, they were only moderately persecuted. He rescued Christian slaves from pagans, then turned around and sold pagan slaves to Christians.

ST. HEDWIG–despite her aversion to sex–gave birth to six children. She hated her husband and would not speak to him in private. She eventually left him and joined a Discalced (barefoot) order of nuns, where she liked to wash the feet of the other nuns and then drink the filthy water.

ST. JOHN CAPISTRANO, after getting religion, rode through town backwards on a donkey wearing a paper hat with his sins written on them. He hated Jews (that wasn’t on his hat). Not only was he a Crusader, but he worked for the Inquisition.

ST. JOHN OF GOD acted like a madman in order to bring humiliations on himself. But anyone who’d act insane in order to be humiliated isn’t acting–he IS insane. Plus he was a slave dealer.

ST. LUCY–Santa Lucia of song–was (like several female saints) sentenced to a stint in a whorehouse, but her virginity was miraculously preserved. Once a man complimented her eyes, so, obeying Jesus, she plucked them out and gave them to him. (ST. TRIDUANA also discouraged an unwanted suitor by plucking out her eyes.)

ST. MACARIUS felt guilty about killing a fly, so he retreated naked into the desert for 6 months to be bitten by insects. When a monk died and left 100 crowns to the order, Macarius showed his contempt for money by burying it with the monk instead of, say, giving it to the poor.

ST. ODO OF CLUNY is known for his proverb “Inter faeces et urinam, nascimur.” (We are born between shit and piss.) What a wholesome attitude toward human reproduction.

ST. OLAF was a Viking leader who, once converted, pursued his religious duty with Viking vigor, hacking off hands, gouging eyes, plundering, burning houses–anything to encourage conversion. His subjects understandably hated him, so they joined with England’s King Canute to defeat him in battle. That was his “martyrdom”!

ST. POTAMIAENA, for refusing to relinquish her virginity, was condemned to be stripped naked and placed in boiling oil. However, she begged not to be stripped naked, but to be placed in the oil fully dressed. Her request was granted. Worse than being boiled alive, this implies, is to be seen naked.

ST. PETER OF ALACANTRA slept a maximum of an hour and a half nightly in a cell too small to lie down in, crouching with the back of his head against a spike. He howled at night, which kept his fellow monks from sleeping much as well.

ST. ROSE OF LIMA was a big fan of ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA, of which more later. She hated being beautiful, so she cut off her hair and rubbed pepper on her face to blister it. She slept on bricks, put nettles in her gloves, whipped herself with chains, and gouged her flesh with broken glass. She also wore a crown of thorns and slept in a coffin on Fridays to remind her of death. She got her heart’s desire at 31.

ST. SIMEON STYLITES sat on a pillar, a medieval fad, for 36 (or 68) years. He could have done something useful, but NO!

ST. TARCISIUS (emphasis on syllables 2 & 3) was the bane of Catholic schoolchildren. He was a “hero” for getting himself killed by street toughs rather than giving up a host. Although one wonders why they’d want it that much, or that if they couldn’t just take it after he died, he would have died for nothing. Bottom line: He (and we) are worth less than a little round wafer.

ST. THEODORE OF SYKEON lived in a wooden cage between Christmas and Palm Sunday. Later he lived in an iron cage suspended over rocks with his hands and feet in iron rings.

ST. URSULA and several associates (either eleven or a thousand) suffered death at the hands of the Huns rather than lose their virginity. (Why the Huns would give them any choice at all is inexplicable.)

Why do Christian saints crave death as they do? The pious Christian life is so dreary, you’d want to die, too!

(Note: The most useful source for this information is Saints Preserve Us! by Sean Kelly.)