PEG suggested I share some examples of why I think the old Butler’s Lives is the best thing going. Here’s an excerpt from today, December 5th, from the life of St. Sabas:
Among the stories told of St. Sabas is that he once lay down to sleep in a cave that happened to be the den of a lion. When the beast came in it clawed hold of the monk’s clothes and dragged him outside. Nothing perturbed, Sabas returned to the cave and eventually reduced the lion to a considerable degree of friendliness. But it was still a rather troublesome companion, and at length Sabas told it that if it could not live with him in peace it had better go away. So the lion went away.
Since this is Butler, at the end of the saint’s life are the usual notes on the history of the documentation of the saint’s life, where the reader can go to learn more, and how reliable he thinks the whole thing is. St. Sabas gets a decent rating: “The Life of St. Sabas, written in Greek by Cyril of Scythopolis, is one of the most famous and trustworthy of early hagiographical documents.”
Another saint for today, the martyr St. Crispina, a favorite of St. Augustine of Hippo, gets the transcript of her trial before the proconsul Anulinus of Theveste recorded in Butler’s Lives. But it’s observed in the documentation notes, “Among similar records which are so often overlayed with wordy declamations and extravagant miracles, the document ranks high.”
Tip: Check your local library to see if they stock the 1956. Good way to preview, if you get so lucky. Some years ago, my local branch was letting all four volumes circulate. They’ve now been relegated to reference, but I managed to put Birthday Claus to work before that happened, so I’m okay.