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Meeting holy people relevant to our time


By David Brown, Continuum, $37.95

Reviewed by Br Brian Grenier CFC

IN his new book, David Brown, a Professor of Divinity, a Canon of Durham Cathedral and a fellow of the British Academy, sets out ‘both to tell the story of the Church and to draw lessons from some of the major figures involved’.

He introduces the reader to more than 30 holy men and women from the early Church, the medieval Church, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation era, and the modern world.

His list is richer for its inclusion of saints from the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Evangelical traditions but poorer, I believe, for its failure to include anyone from Asia and the Americas.

David Brown succeeds in his stated aim in bringing sanctity alive by highlighting the distinctive contributions of these Christian witnesses to their age and by clearly indicating their relevance to our own practice of the faith.

‘God continues to speak to us through such people,’ he writes, ‘not because they were perfect but precisely because they were so like us in being creatures of their time and circumstance.’

Our task, like theirs, is to mediate Christ’s example in the specific cultural context in which we find ourselves.

I need hardly add that the author avoids the excesses of some hagiographers whose pietistic creations barely command interest let alone imitation.

Reading these pages one will meet holy people whose God is not a remote deity but a ‘tremendous lover’ awesomely near to them.

They are, in Joan Chittister’s words, people ‘who confront us … with the great questions of life and bring to them the answer of themselves’.

I especially liked the author’s introductory and concluding chapters in which he speaks more generally about such topics as holiness, heaven and the intercession of the saints.

I am pleased to note that the book contains an adequate index, some suggestions for further reading about each of his chosen subjects and (where appropriate) a list of their feast days in the Anglican and/or Roman Catholic liturgical calendars.

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