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Lives of the Saints: From Mary and Francis of Assisi to John XXIII and Mother Teresa Hardcover – June 19, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Lives of the Saints is a go-get-it-now book, an I've-been-waiting-for-this book, a thank-God-it's-on-good-paper-cause-I'll-still-be-reading-this-10-years-from-now book. Believers are drawn to saints because their witness and their teachings are inseparable: saints are the ones who lived what they believed. And we hope that, by learning about saints and meditating upon them, our own beliefs and actions will become more integrated. Author Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and author of the equally indispensable Lives of the Popes, is particularly interested in the relationship between the lives of individual saints and the life of the Church. In his preface to Lives of the Saints, and in its excellent essays about the history of sainthood, veneration, and the process of canonization, he repeatedly asks: "What do the saints tell us, individually and collectively, not only about the character of Christian discipleship, but about the meaning of human existence itself? And what does the action of the Church in proclaiming or canonizing various types of Christians as saints disclose about the fundamental religious values of the Church itself?" Lives of the Saints also includes biographical sketches organized by feast day (January 1 is Mary, Mother of God; December 31 is Pope Sylvester I). The book's clear structure and simple style ensure that it will serve many readers' needs: it may be used as a reference or as a devotional, or it may be read straight through. In any case, it will help Christians (or any interested reader) address what McBrien calls "the question of sanctity," a question that lies at the heart of all of our lives: "In what does a human life fully consist?" he asks. "What does it mean not only to be 'good,' but to be 'really good,' even outstandingly so?" --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

Eminent historian of Catholicism McBrien (Catholicism) provides in his new book the same lively, detailed historical and theological sketches of the saints that he did for the papacy in his earlier The Lives of the Popes. In magisterial fashion, he discusses the definition of sainthood, the process of canonization and its politics and the significant contributions that various saints have made to Christian history. McBrien defines saints as "ordinary people who happen to live the gospel in extraordinary ways." Arranged according to the yearly calendar, the central section of the book offers fresh and engaging biographical sketches of the saints. In addition to officially recognized saints, McBrien embraces a wide range of individuals who fit his broad definition of sainthood, such as Dorothy Day, George Herbert, John Donne, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Mohandas Gandhi. The book includes a helpful time line of saints in history and exhaustive tables of the feast days of the saints, places and their patron saints, patron saints and the groups and causes that adopt them, emblems in art and iconography, saintly "firsts," and papal canonizations. For instance, we learn that Thomas Aquinas is one of the patron saints of booksellers, and Clare of Assisi is the patron saint of television. McBrien's magnificent and comprehensive compendium offers rich insights not only into the lives of the saints but also into the reasons that these fascinating holy people continue to play such an integral role in the history of Christianity.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; First Edition edition (June 19, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006065340X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060653408
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,649,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By John Rice on January 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Lives of the Saints
Richard McBrien
McBrien's compilation of saints for each day covers a multitude of canonized and non-canonized people. He also offers saints who are recognized by the Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran and Greek Orthodox churches. His descriptions are short, comparatively with Butler's descriptions, but non-devotional. He includes in his short essays references to history, legend and myth. This book can exist along side other longer works and can offer some perspectives that others do not.
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67 of 90 people found the following review helpful By David Zampino VINE VOICE on June 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Fr. Richard McBrien, a well-known dissenter in the Church he serves has, from the perspective of this reviewer, written yet another disappointment.
The book purports to be a "Lives of the Saints" -- an ever popular genre for many centuries. However, McBrien uses this book (as he did his previous "Lives of the Popes") to further his own agenda as a representative of the Catholic far left.
In the section devoted to explaining the history of "saints" and the process by which persons are declared "saints" in the Catholic Church, he manages to wave the banner of radical feminism, liberation theology, etc., citing almost exclusively representatives from the far left. This is his privilege -- but it detracts from the alleged purpose of the book.
In the section devoted to working through the Church Year, McBrien includes in his list of saints persons not affiliated with the Catholic Church, and in some cases, persons not affiliated with Christianity at all. (Mahatma Ghandi? A good and worthy man, to be sure, but his inclusion (as a Hindu mystic) in a book of Christian saints?) McBrien also manages to defame the memory of those saints with whom he personally disagrees, the most noteworthy example being St. Pius X. Further, he repeats the same tired anti-Catholic attacks against Pope Pius XII and his alleged "complicity" and "silence" during the Second World War.
I grudgingly gave this book 2 stars because of McBrien's recognition of other religious bodies who have a Calendar of Saints and his inclusion of some of those in his list. However, he is inconsistent in his mention of these, which I found troubling. (Either discuss/include all or none).
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44 of 59 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Disappointing is the only way to describe this book. Despite its potential - fine quality pages, saints for every day of the year, plus additional information on Church history and spiritual movements within the Church -this book simple failed to deliver for what I was looking for - daily readings on the saints that might be interesting, provoking, and inspiring.
Instead I found this to be yet another in a long list of saint books that provides for the most part a very dry and hurried account of dates and accomplishments - squeezed into a paragraph or two for many saints. Worse is reading a whole page on a saint without finding anything remotely interesting. After awhile you guess what is going to be written. I.E. "spent time helping the poor, reforming prostitutes..."
Spare yourself these boring accounts that I found quite biased and inaccurate at times. (This is not a shot at the author - I just happen to be familiar with much literature on a few saints and can easily spot inaccuracies).
For an exceptional book on saints, check out on amazon 'Voices of the Saints'.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By WestCoastBlue on May 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
I bought this book at the same time as the new one volume Butler's Lives of the Saints, edited by Paul Burns. McBrien's book is certainly well researched and inclusive in terms of gender, race, class, and denomination. However the entries are focussed more on biographical information than the spirit or charism of each saint. You will know when they lived and what they did but not how they thought, felt, and prayed. Butler's Lives of the Saints is equally well researched, and just as inclusive (without being self-righteous about it, as McBrien tends to be), but you also get a sense of the spirituality of the saints, which is the whole point of reading about them. McBrien's material about Pope JP II's mania for beatification/canonization is interesting, but better to read it at your local library and spend your money on the new Butler's Lives of the Saints.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By G. Wilkins on June 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
I found McBrien's 'Lives of the Saints' all that a good reference ought be and it is also a good read. The enteries are objective (not always a strong point in such books); contemporary, well and interestingly written.
The tables are a great addition they save one the hunting around for information elsewhere. The time line, notes, bibliography and index give everything that a reference of this type should provide.
I have several other such references from 'The Golden Legend', Butlers, The Sunday Visitor Encyclopaedia,the Oxford and Penguin Dictionaries and some others. McBrien will be first off the shelf. If you only need one such, this is it.
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Format: Paperback
Richard Peter McBrien (born 1936) is a priest, and a Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He has written many books, such as Lives of the Popes : The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II and Catholicism: New Study Edition--Completely Revised and Updated.

He wrote in the Preface to this 2001 book, "This book came about as the result of a suggestion from my publisher... to consider doing something on the saints similar in nature to my previous book 'Lives of the Popes'... the great bulk of this volume consists of biographical sketches of varying lengths... The biographies are of the saints who appear on the General Roman Calendar... In addition there are references to holy persons not yet recognized as saints, including even non-Christians... This is not a work of primary or original historical scholarship... This book is the work of a theologian, not of a historian, and more specifically of an ecclesiologist, whose task is to reflect on the lives of the saints... What do the saints tell us, individually and collectively, not only about the character of Christian discipleship, but about the meaning of human existence itself?"

He argues, "the most blatant example of a politicized process (for canonization) in modern times is that of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (1902-75), founder in 1928 of Opus Dei... In 1962 Monsignor Escriva petitioned the Vatican to declare his movement a personal prelature, which would have removed it from the jurisdiction of local bishops.
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