A Meditation on Hagiography

Temptation of Anthony by Fra Angelico

It’s not unusual when reading a critic’s review of a biography to come across phrases like”mere hagiography.” These phrases suggest that hagiography is just pious myth, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Hagiography, or “holy writing” is the genre of devotional Lives of the Saints. And for Christians, the lives of the saints aren’t just a nice add-on, but are built into the life of the Body of Christ.

To read a Life is to contemplate an icon of Christ’s Gospel. And these icons have three authors: God, the subject, and the writer. I have a special love for Lives which were written by other saints, like:

  • The Life of St. Antony by St. Athanasius
  • The Life of Moses by St. Gregory of Nyssa
  • The Life of St. Francis by St. Bonaventure
  • The Life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary by St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

It’s no surprise that these saintly writers are able to perceive the work of God’s grace in the lives of their predecessors. They participate both in the holy life of their subject, and through their writings in the authorship of God himself.

Do you have a favorite Life of a saint? Share it in the comments below.

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About Joshua Michael

Writer. Catholic. Fan of John Henry Newman and the Inklings.
This entry was posted in catholic, christian, christology, ecclesiology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Meditation on Hagiography

  1. Matt says:

    Life of Moses hands down! I think it is a masterpiece of mystical thought, ethical exhortation, and theological meditation.

  2. Rae says:

    Well said. And very odd. Because I would have said that I shared your appreciation, but now that I think about it, the only one’s that I can remember having read are by Edith Stein. Not sure that says much considering my memory these past few weeks, but still!

  3. Preston says:

    The Life of Francis, of course! But also something a bit more obscure and something that exists between the worlds of hagiographic narrative and the emergence of genre fiction: The Life of St. Alexis, which is recently attributed to Marie de France and is found in the early St. Alban’s Psalter. You can see the psalter online (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/~lib399/), the illuminations are stunning.

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