How trustworthy are biographies of saints


I’m drawn to penitential female saints for various reasons. I recently read the biography of St. Mary of Egypt, I wonder how much of it is true or exaggerated. The time, the culture, etc is unfamiliar to me. I was left many questions. Like how come her family never tried to find her? What lead her to become so dissolute?

Here’s a link to her biography if you want to read.

Should I only read about saints from the 19th to 21st century?


In the case of this saint, in particular, I think studying the time frame may provide you with insight into her behavior.

For instance, she left at the age of 12. To us, that sounds like a baby, but in 400? She would have been expected to be married and perhaps even have children, if not a suitor. Perhaps she was forced from her home because she refused to marry, perhaps she was kicked out in favor of younger children. Maybe she was just an ornery teen who took off. Her family very well could have tried to find her but in 400 finding someone in the seedy underground of humanity would have been near impossible…even if they knew where she went.

Women of the time did not have many options to forward themselves socially. With a history of being a prostitute, she would have had no options to “return” to normal society.

Perhaps God is also calling you to understand the times these saints lived in.


That story is so sad to me. Insatiable lust? Is that what porn-stars suffer from? Mary of Egypt refused money for her transactions and choose to live simply spinning flax and begging for money. She sounds like a sex addict.

Pelagia the Penitent is another saint I’m interested in but she too lives on the extreme side of life.

This second link is particularly interesting. It sounds like she may have been possessed by demons.


Well, I think ascribing position might be a bit much. She sounds like a spoiled, rich girl who wants all the trappings of society…maybe like that century’s version of the Kardashins?

I don’t follow said “celebrities” but every time I hear of them it’s clear that they are a product of their lifestyle. I don’t think it’s demon-driven at all, but rather the fallen nature of humans to like the finer things in life–no matter what it takes to get them.


That is hilarious you write that. That is the exact person I thought of -Kim Kardashian. I’m actually an aspiring writer. I wanted to take a particular saint and turn into a modernized protagonist. St. Mary of Egypt is living on a level of debauchery that is difficult to fully understand and write well about. St. Pelagia the Penitent feels a bit more relatable, I cannot imagine readers liking her too much as a protagonist.


The story mentioned people thought she was in the league with the devil because her wild dissipation took no toll on her, unlike other people.

I think demon possession as a theory is far-fetched. I have no clue how it looks like. Some people will claim insatiable lust is a sign of demonic oppression or possession - their behavior is compulsive, impulsive and can be incorrigible.

I personally don’t know. I guess it is better to not assume anything unless it is proven otherwise.


Well-can you really, accurately say it took “no” toll on her? That would be like saying Lindsey Lohan or Brittany Spears or Miley Cyrus’ actions had no toll on them. Even when they “had everything” things were not good. There was much going on in the background.


I’m going according to the biography. I don’t know.


No scope for the imagination with St. Mary of Egypt?

Because a snotty teenager running away, becoming a rising star in the sex business? Public prostitution.

Then she joins up with a bunch of pilgrims hoping to corrupt them all and then has a conversion experience while she’s unable to enter the church to go and make them all terrible sinners?

So she goes and leads a bizarre solitary life subsisting on basically nothing for almost five decades in which she meets a priest who’s pretending not to be one, but she knows he is. She then dies after seeing a vision of Mary.

That’s a ton of material right there. Good stuff.


The biography is a glimpse of her life, just like a TV show is a glimpse of a celebrity’s life. We don’t know that she never cried herself to sleep, or was rebuffed by a friend or had struggles–or not. We can infer (from centuries of human experience) that while she was riding high, like most people who live in wanton sin, that things were likely less-than-perfect for her…even if appearances deemed otherwise.


This bio sounds to me more like St. Augustine. Mary may well have been a sex addict, but considering her age and situation, she could have also been a victim of child sexual abuse, or just looking for love “in all the wrong places”. Maybe she thought refusing to take money made it more moral. Maybe she had a pimp and he was taking all the money.

We have no way of knowing, but it seems likely that, just as St. Augustine’'s story had dimensions beyond “guy has a ton of evil sex and gives it up one day” (he had a fiancee at one point, also a long term relationship and child with a mistress) , Mary’s story might have more to it.

When people are unhappy and change their ways to a faith that works better, it’s normal for them to describe their past sins in awful terms. Mary may not have fully understood all her motivations, and the thinking of those times would have encouraged her to think of herself as a bad, wanton slave to lust, whether or not she was. In the end, it doesn’t matter, it was between her and God.


Haha. Thanks for the pointers. I shouldn’t give up on this idea just yet.


Her age is what disturbed me. I know 12-13 years, it is difficult for me to imagine them engaging in such behavior.
It is difficult for me to think of sex addicts as bad people unless they rape, molest or degrade themselves and others. The ones featured on shows like Dr. Phil seem to have deep-rooted issues than their compulsion to sex with any/everyone. Some pornstars present themselves as people who solely love pleasure, sex and pursuit of it. Do I know what goes through their minds? Absolutely not. I’m sure they faced abortions, venereal diseases, social isolation, strong disapproval perhaps they were beat up for having sex with someone else’s spouse.

I have a lot of room for imagination with this story.

Her sin is between her and God, yup. I think her story definitely gives us hope. No one is beyond salvation. AMEN. :slight_smile:


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