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Not-So-Saintly
Saints Unhinged

Not-So-Saintly
  • The Life of St. Ignatius Loyola (by )
  • The life of Saint Margaret of Cortona (by )
  • The Lives of Philip Howard, Earl of Arun... 
  • The Life and Martyrdom of Saint Thomas B... (by )
  • The Book of Divine Consolation of the Bl... (by )
  • The Confessions of Saint Augustine. (by )
  • The Life of the Venerable Servant of God... (by )
  • Camillus de Lellis : The Hospital Saint (by )
  • St. Francis of Assisi; His Times, Life a... (by )
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Designated as All Saints Day, November 1 encourages Christian faithful to remember the many good works and sacrifices of the saints who exemplified the best attributes of Christian doctrine. However, history shows that saints were, first and foremost, human beings with a full complement of human frailties. Many saints behaved badly.

Before becoming a venerated philosopher, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) led a misspent youth. As a teenaged boy, he moved in with the pagan Manicheans and took a lover. In the 17 years they lived together, they had a son. See The Confessions of Saint Augustine for more.

Another teenage ne’er-do-well, Saint Benedict Joseph Labre (1748 - 1783) used donations others gave him to give to the Church to fund his own lifestyle.

Born a slave, Saint Callixtus of Rome (died 223) embezzled money from the the patrons of his master’s bank. He was caught and imprisoned, then later sparked a public riot which resulted in being sentenced to slave labor in the mines of Sardinia where he would have spent the rest of his life if the Roman emperor had not granted amnesty for all Christian prisoners. Under Pope St. Victor I’s patronage, Callixtus later rose to papal office himself.

Saint Camillus of Lellis (1550 - 1614) specialized in aggressive behavior that a stint of military service only aggravated. After reforming in 1575, he started his own religious order. He later became known as “the hospital saint.”

Before his reformation, Saint Francis of Assisi (1181 - 1226) lived a decadent life of wine, women, and song and committed at least two cardinal sins of lust and gluttony.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491 - 1556) indulged his appetites, too, before a stint in the Spanish military and subsequent war wound convinced him to mend his ways. He became hugely influential in the 16th century Church.

No to be outdone in behaving badly, Saint Margaret of Cortona (1247 - 1297) ran away with her lover in her teen years and lived with him as his mistress. Only after he died did she walk the straight and narrow path of poverty and prayer.

Saint Mary of Egypt (344 - 421) also indulged in her carnal appetites, running away from home at the tender age of 12 to go adventuring and making a living as a prostitute. She was reputed to take special delight in corrupting young men. On a journey to Jerusalem and after seducing the crew and passengers, she repented of her ways and became a hermit.
Rather than indulging her carnal appetites, Saint Olga of Kiev (died 969) gave in to bloodlust and vengeance when a rival tribe killed her husband, Igor of Kiev. She slaughtered them and sold the few survivors into slavery before converting to Christianity. Her attempts to convert her people to Christianity fell on deaf ears.

A disreputable dancer and courtesan in her early teens, Saint Pelagia (4th or 5th century A.D.) converted after a chance encounter with Saint Nonnus, the Bishop of Edessa. After giving away all she possessed, she--like Saint Mary of Egypt--turned to a contemplative life of prayer as a hermit.

Another wealthy ne’er-do-well, Saint Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel (1557 - 1595), indulged in every excess that his family’s money could buy until converting to Catholicism after a debate between Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy. Jesuit priest St. Edmund Campion so impressed him that he reconciled with his wife and the Church.

Another hedonist who enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle, Saint Thomas Becket (1119 - 1170) spent his wealth on himself. His renowned selfishness did not cease until he was anointed the Archbishop of Canterbury. A contemporary of Henry VIII, he championed the independence of the Church of Rome. Henry VIII had him murdered and appointed himself the head of the new Church of England.

The man who helped introduce Christianity to Russia and the Ukraine, Saint Vladimir (958 - 1015), also known as Vladimir the Great, not only enjoyed great power and wealth, he also enjoyed using it for personal gain and pleasure. He began by murdering his brother to become a prince, raping his brother’s wife and adding her to his harem, sacrificing a father and son to consecrate a new temple, and demanding Emperor Constantinople’s own sister as a wife as his reward for quashing a rebellion.

Saint Angela of Foligno (1248 - 1309) committed the mortal sins of vanity and adultery, spending most of her life seeking pleasure and wealth. Although married and a mother, she cared more for dissipation than family until her mother, husband, and children died within a span of three years. Then she converted and dedicated her life to serving the poor. Read her writings on faith in The Book of Divine Consolation of the Blessed Angela of Foligno.

Saint Bartolo Longo (1841 - 1926) strayed from the faith in which he was born to become a satanic priest and lead a life of unrepentant hedonism until family and friends convinced him to give up his licentious ways. Today, he is remembered for teaching college students about the evils of the occult and how to avoid them.

The litany of saints behaving badly shows that hope remains for the redemption of us all.

By Karen M. Smith



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