The Golden Legend, written by Dominican preacher Jacobus de Voragine, was the first popular compilation of the lives of the saints. Robert Ellsberg in his Give Us This Day reflection this morning writes:
Drawing on traditional sources, which he freely embellished [and] dwelling on their miraculous deeds, Jacobus helped to elevate the popularity of such all-but-legendary figures as Saints Agnes and Lucy (virgin martyrs), Sebastian (riddled with arrows), Christopher (who carries the Christ child on his back), and George (who battled a dragon) above the cult of such better-attested, if more prosaic, figures as Augustine and Ambrose.
It was this book of saints that my friend St. Ignatius read during his recovery at the family castle in Loyola Spain from a battle injury he sustained defending the fortress of the town of Pamplona. One of the few books available to him was deVoragine’s. It was reading about the heroic lives of saints that was the beginning of Ignatius’ transformation into a man who wanted to do great things for God.
Ignatius’ experience is noteworthy, because ultimately The Golden Legend fell into disrepute because of its lack of historical scholarship. But, as Ellsberg writes, the criticism of the book
failed to appreciate deVoragine’s intention to write a work of spiritual devotion. He meant to present the holy servants of God as living emblems of the Gospel.
Judged by the experience of St. Ignatius, deVoragine succeeded in his intention.
As I read Ellsberg’s reflection this morning in Give Us This Day, I thought of the related issue with respect to historical accuracy of the Bible. Someone with whom I once did Adult Faith Formation in a parish used to quip, “Everything in the Bible is true, and some of it actually happened.”