What the Saints Never Said: A book review

As I posted a few weeks ago, Trent Horn has a new book out entitled What the Saints Never Said: Pious Misquotes and the Subtle Heresies They Teach You. My copy has arrived, and I have read it, and here are my thoughts for anyone who’s interested:

First of all, I’m very pleased that the problem of the false “quotation” (Horn probably wisely doesn’t use my hideous neologism, “fauxtation”) is getting wider attention.  Horn gives three reasons why false quotations are a real problem:

  1. The truth matters.
  2. Credit should be given where credit is due.
  3. Sometimes the fake quotations are not merely fake, but very wrong (e.g., the C. S. Lewis one about bodies and souls).

I would add at least a fourth, which is that the fauxtations obscure the reality of the saint (or other person) who said them. The image you’d get of St. Francis based on Internet memes, for example, has a lot to do with sentiment and motivational speaking, and very little to do with one of the most passionate followers of Christ whom the Church has ever known.

Horn deals well with the difficult task of proving a quotation “fake.” I’ve grown a little more cautious over time, but I think I’m still a little freer than he is with this conclusion, particularly when the saying in question sounds like Zig Ziglar. (Nothing against the late Mr. Ziglar, who was a practicing Christian–but his style doesn’t usually sound like that of a Catholic saint.) He also discusses the ways fake quotes come into being.

The body of the book is broken into two parts. The first deals with fauxtations that misconstrue the relationship between faith and works. The title “quotes” for each chapter in this section are:

  1. “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” Not St. Francis.
  2. “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered … Love them anyway.” Not Mother Teresa.
  3. “You don’t need to believe in God to be a good person.” Not Pope Francis. (Horn notes that he’s using the word “saints” in the title loosely, allowing a living person and the Bible to be included in the book.)
  4. “Pray as though everything depended on God, act as if everything depended on you.” Not St. Ignatius of Loyola. (Nor St. Augustine nor Martin Luther, for that matter.) Horn was able to pursue this a little farther than I did.
  5. “God helps those who help themselves.” Not the Bible.

The second half of the book covers fauxatations that distort the relationship between faith and reason:

  1. “The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.” Not St. Augustine.
  2. “I believe because it is absurd.” Not Tertullian–at least, it’s paraphrased and ripped out of context to say something very different from what Tertullian was getting at.
  3. “Rome has spoken, the case is closed.” Not St. Augustine.
  4. “The road to hell is paved with the bones of priests.” Not St. John Chrysostom.
  5. “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.” Not St. Augustine.

He discusses quite a few other fauxtations along the way.

You can learn some good theology from this book, and how to tell good from bad.

BTW, this blog is cited at least five times in the footnotes, so I guess I should thank Trent Horn making me quasi-famous!