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ANGELS AND SAINTS by Eliot Weinberger


by Eliot Weinberger

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-8112-2986-9
Publisher: New Directions

An eclectic look at angels and saints.

Dispensing with any sort of introduction, Weinberger delves into the subject of angels by discussing how many might exist, according to bygone Christian and Jewish sources. This disarming beginning prepares readers for an entire book of intriguing material that seems to go nowhere in particular. Combining a historian’s level of scholarship with a mystic’s sense of ambiguity, the author crafts a fascinatingly quirky work about the beings of heaven and those humans who are closest to them. His discourse on angels, making up roughly the first half of the book, explores their characteristics and origins, the existence of demons and fallen angels, the role of guardian angels, and the orders of angels. The author makes liberal use of quotes and references from Scripture, apocryphal writings, and church sources from a variety of different eras. Among his questions: Do angels have memories? Can they take on human forms? Are they capable of deception? With poetic flair, he explains that “angels are the largely anonymous workers in the hive of heaven.” Due to that anonymity, he writes, believers have had to fill in many gaps. The case is different for the saints, whose stories are more familiar. Consequently, Weinberger’s treatment of saints is simply a series of minibiographies, ranging from one sentence to two or three pages. There is no order or apparent overarching purpose, and readers will wonder why the author chose the stories of the saints that he did. The thought-provoking artwork of ninth-century Frankish monk Hrabanus Maurus enhances the text, and the book also includes a guide to the illustrations written by scholar Mary Wellesley.

Most readers will be charmed by this exploration of the divine, which is read best as an escape rather than a study tool.