Mother Teresa Was a Jerk, and So Were a Bunch of Other Saints
Mar 7 2013
Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, also known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa, was a colossal fucking piece of shit. That’s not me talking, it’s not even the notoriously anti-Catholic, anti-Teresa Christopher Hitchens talking—it’s a study conducted by Canadian researchers, who called her “anything but a saint.” They accuse her of running unhygienic, undersupplied clinics even though she had access to millions of dollars of donated funds, claim she thought it was beautiful to see the poor suffer, and say that the “miracles” the Vatican claimed she performed were fake. (You mean, she didn't cure some lady's cancer through magic?) According to them, the Catholic Church ignored all of her flaws and canonized her because it desperately wanted the PR boost it would get from turning a celebrity into an saint and that the image of Teresa as a model of selflessness and charity is just that—an image.
But it’s not as if sainthood has historically been reserved for perfect individuals. There are over 10,000 saints recognized by the church—no one seems to know exactly how many—and they got canonized for all kinds of reasons and for all kinds of achievements. Some became saints because they didn’t have sex and then died miserably; some converted entire continents of unbelievers; some saints are entirely fictional; and some saints were just gaping, distended assholes. Like these guys:
[Note: I've excluded those saints who were horrible people before they converted to Christianity and went on to do great, heroic things, because if I put them in, we'd be here all day.]
OLAF II OF NORWAY
Olaf II Haraldsson, aka “Olaf the Stout,” was a pretty goddamn effective king of Norway back in the 11th century. The problem is, being an effective king then meant being a brutal murderer and tyrant. During his rule, he banned the worship of pagan gods, seized property from non-Christians, burned down heathen villages, and tortured and killed those who disagreed with him. He lost his kingdom after starting a war with another ruler, got exiled to Russia, and was killed while trying to retake his lands. So he wasn’t a nice guy, but a year later, some people dug up Olaf’s corpse, found that it hadn’t decayed, and were like, “Boom! He’s a saint now!” That’s just how things worked in 11th-century Scandinavia. It was a simpler time.
CAEDWALLA OF WESSEX
Cædwalla spent most of his 30 years on Earth killing other Saxons in battle and trying to take over their land—this was in the late seventh century, so a young Saxon’s career choices were pretty much confined to “fighting other Saxons” or “shitting your guts out in the woods then getting eaten by animals” or “farming.” He got some nasty injuries during a battle on the Isle of Wight and decided to quit being a king and go get baptized in Rome, where he died ten days later, still wearing his baptismal robe. Getting sainthood at that time must have been like starring in a reality show—if you were semifamous, you were a shoo-in.
CHRISTINA THE ASTONISHING
Christina wasn’t a ruthless conqueror or a murderer—she was just fucking insane. After suffering a severe seizure and having a vision of heaven, hell, and purgatory, she devoted her life to prayer and poverty (or even worse poverty, since, as a peasant in the 12th century, she wasn’t exactly living large). This meant hiding from other people because she couldn’t stand how they smelled, throwing herself into furnaces from which she emerged unscathed, jumping into freezing rivers, getting chased and bitten by dogs, and reportedly levitating, like, all the time. Christina the Astonishing sounds like a really terrible comic book from the 70s, and it doesn’t sound like all of her insanity and destitution actually helped anyone, but I guess if you pray so much you routinely levitate, Catholics will venerate you for centuries.
SIMEON THE STYLITE
Simeon, the son of a shepherd who lived in the Middle East in the fifth century, didn’t even levitate. All he did to become a saint was to stand on a pillar for 37 years. He started out as an ordinarily super ascetic monk who hardly bothered to eat or drink (that was the fashionable thing to do in fifth-century Syria), but hordes of pilgrims descended on him to ask him for advice or prayers, so in order to get some peace and quiet he climbed up a pillar he found and sat there until he died. That’s it. That’s why he’s a saint. I guess we can expect David Blaine to be canonized sometime around 2050.
MARY OF EGYPT
Mary was reportedly a prostitute who had such an insatiable desire for sex that she fucked for free and lived a life of poverty and horrendous sin. After 17 years of this, she repented, then wandered in the desert praying until she died. Whooo.
Ambrose was known as the Bishop with the Golden Tongue. That’s one way to put it. Here’s what he said about the Jews:
“The Jews are the most worthless of all men. They are lecherous, greedy, rapacious. They are perfidious murderers of Christ. They worship the Devil. Their religion is a sickness. The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ and for killing God there is no expiation possible, no indulgence or pardon. Christians may never cease vengeance, and the Jew must live in servitude forever. God always hated the Jews. It is essential that all Christians hate them.”
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA
Cyril was the bishop of Alexandria back in the fifth century, and God help you if you got on his bad side. He inherited his position from his uncle and used his power like a dictator: he closed the churches of the Novatianists, a Christian minority; expelled the Jews from the city; and clashed with Orestes, Alexandria’s prefect—and by “clashed,” I mean, “a bunch of monks tried to kill Orestes with rocks.” Later, a mob of Christian followers attacked Hypatia, one of the world's leading scholars, cut her into pieces, and burned those pieces outside the city walls. Cyril wasn’t directly responsible for her death, but the mob was made up of people who followed him. (He was canonized for his contributions to theology, in case you were wondering.) At least Mother Teresa wasn't involved in any brutal murders. That we know of.
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