George Washington: soldier, patriot, president—saint? This book parses the founding father’s achievements through the lens of Christian theology, making some surprising observations along the way.
Blending the mythical and the historical to convey the holiness of its subject, this book is neither strictly a history nor a biography. Connell (The Secrets of Mary, 2010, etc.) details apocrypha unaddressed in the work of mainstream biographers: Washington’s seemingly mystical imperviousness to musket fire, his supernatural vision at Valley Forge and, Connell argues, his deathbed conversion to Catholicism. Like most hagiographers, Connell begins with a committed belief that her subject is uniquely touched by God, and the book is largely a rhetorical exercise in proving the truth of that assumption. This becomes uncomfortable since, of course, Washington is not a saint recognized by the Catholic Church; many scholars agree he was not Catholic, either, though he was, in fact, a Mason—a significant aspect of his spirituality that goes unmentioned here. The worshipful tone of Connell’s prose—“history has canonized” Washington, she says, describing him as a “mystical icon of heroic grace”—may rankle secular readers as well as the true faithful, who might justifiably wonder if either the author or the subject can claim legitimacy to such assertions. Although Connell never actually classifies Washington as a saint or argues outright for his beatification, and she never describes his exploits as miracles, her point is nevertheless clear and in concert with Catholic theology: God, or “Kind Providence” (Washington’s preferred term), actively worked through the great leader and chose him to found the new nation by God’s grace. This conviction leads Connell to some observations about American political philosophy that will delight some readers and provoke others, not least of which is the assertion that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are rooted in the Bible. But in the end, all serious scholars agree that Washington was, indeed, a devout Christian, and the primary source material Connell has gathered here—including little-examined oral histories that deal with his spirituality—make her book a valuable addition to existing scholarship.
A heartfelt exploration of Washington’s Christianity that will find an appreciative audience among both the faithful and the patriotic.