Journal Article

Creating a New Saint: Incarnational Theology and Sara Maitland's <i>Ancestral Truths</i>

Nancy Workman

in Literature and Theology

Volume 19, issue 4, pages 355-366
Published in print November 2005 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online October 2005 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI:
Creating a New Saint: Incarnational Theology and Sara Maitland's Ancestral Truths

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Literature
  • Religion and Art, Literature, and Music


Show Summary Details


One author who attempts to successfully update the older lives of the saints is the Scottish writer Sara Maitland who has incorporated supernatural agents, including angels and saints, into her fiction and prose. Not only has she written non-fictional accounts of many saints, but she has also used her fiction to present the interaction between human and divine reality in the context of modern beliefs. Her contemporary hagiography within the novel Ancestral Truths dramatises several individuals who aspire to holiness after lives previously characterised by sinfulness, immorality and falsehood. However, unlike earlier hagiography that inscribed saintly virtues as the conventional biblical ones, such as chastity, humility, charity and obedience, Maitland presents her characters within a distinctly twentieth-century milieu. They use their understanding of psychology and sexuality to insist on a God who celebrates material existence, who sees joy in sexual expression. Rather than accepting a God who is a paternal figure of accountability, they redefine Him as the author of Risk and Daring in an otherwise senseless universe. So radical is Maitland's notion of sainthood that, in stark contrast to medieval authors who presented saints who repudiated their earlier lives, she presents characters who maintain their outlaw and renegade status even at the end of her narratives. Her depictions invite readers to rethink notions of virtue, to explore the possibility that individuals perceived to be sinners could actually manifest holiness.

Journal Article.  5405 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.