"What could be done to improve Christianity?" is a question that the church has never, ever asked us. But if they did, we'd tell them to bring back the era of the ass-kicking saints.
Did you even know there was such a thing? Sure enough, history books are full of men who could quote the Bible and beat you to death with it, at the same time. For instance ...
Ignatius of Loyola was Cannon-Proof
Living in the early 1500s, Ignatius spent a good chunk of his life as a military man. A gambling, barroom brawlings military man. Oh, did we mention the whoring? Or as he put it in his autobiography "wenching."
During a huge battle with the French, his own men knew they were doomed and proposed a surrender. Ignatius would have none of that shit. He fought on and, shortly thereafter, he was shot with a friggin' cannon.
The ball passed right between his legs, tearing one open and smashing the shin in his other leg. When he was carried to town to be treated, his broken leg had to be set, rebroken then set again. A chunk of bone sticking out had to be sawed off. When it was discovered that whoever set his leg had fucked it up so bad it was now shorter than the other one, they used weights to try to unsuccessfully stretch it out.
"Boy, we are just not good doctors."
When you consider this was around 1520 and they didn't have frivolous luxuries like sterilization and anesthesia, you realize the guy was more hard-core than entire countries' worth of today's pansies.
It was during his recovery, when his cannon wound made the whoring and brawling inconvenient, that he was forced to read stories of Christ and eventually decided to devote his life to God. That led him to one day found Society of Jesus, what most of us know as Jesuits. You may know them from their statues of a guy giving the finger to a cannonball.
Vladimir of Kiev: Saint with 800 Wives and a Viking Army
Yeah, this guy had his own army of Vikings. We could probably stop right there.
Before becoming a saint, Vladimir Svyatoslavich enjoyed a career as a marauding pagan. One day he decided he wanted to be the Grand Prince of Kiev, so he amassed the aforementioned army of Vikings to go storm the city and depose the asshole who currently held the title (his brother).
Along the way he decided getting married might be fun and he sent some people to ask for the daughter of a nearby royal. After all, isn't that the time when men first start to think about settling down? When storming across Europe with hordes of Vikings to kill their own brother?
"Anyone else have a craving for wedding cake? I have a craving for wedding cake."
Sadly, the would-be bride declined the offer so he took a detour, killed her father and married her by force. Presumably there was a break for a nice dinner and some dancing before he got back to the task at hand and killed his brother, becoming ruler of Kiev.
Over the years he expanded his territory and his inventory of boobies, reportedly taking somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 concubines and several more wives.
So how does a guy like that become a saint? Well, the neighbors who he hadn't taken over kept badgering him about abandoning his pagan ways and adopting some manner of respectable religion. After deciding that Islam's stance on pork and booze wasn't to his liking, he settled on Christianity, mostly because it offered him some decent political footing in the area.
He was baptized and, possibly so they wouldn't make fun of him, had everyone else in Kiev baptized too. Thus they were heathens no more, and Vladimir secured himself a position as a saint. He may or may not have celebrated by grabbing each of the 1,600-plus boobies at his disposal.
Symeon the Stylite was What David Blaine Only Pretends to Be
Unlike those first guys up there who kind of stumbled into sainthood and badassery due to extreme circumstances, Symeon chose both willingly. </>
The man had a real hate-on for the pussified way all the rest of us live and decided he couldn't take it any more. At first he tried to shun the luxuries of mid 5th century life by shutting himself in a little ramshackle Unabomber-style hut for three years, where he figured not eating or drinking anything at all for the entire period of Lent would be a good idea.
After the hut proved too expansive and extravagant for him, Symeon packed up his loincloth and moved to a crevice in a rock in the desert. In a space about 20 yards in diameter, he set up shop but soon learned that when you decide to live your life as a religious sideshow, you're going to attract attention. Soon pilgrims arrived to watch him presumably just sitting on his rock. They asked him for advice and prayers and probably threw peanuts and tried to get him to do tricks.
Realizing the rock was still too awesome a place to spend his life, Symeon raised a stone pillar with a little platform on top, climbed up and sat there. He went through a couple of these pillars before he settled on one over 50 feet high where he stayed ... for 36 years.
He continued to get visitors and for a while each day, a ladder was used so people could come up and chat with him while those below waited their turn and tried to avoid getting pooped on from 50 feet up.
If you're still not clear on the badassery involved here, keep in mind this was all taking place in Syria, where summer temperatures can get over 100 and in winter dip below 50, which is probably just slightly more awful when you're on a stone pillar 50 feet off the ground.
St. Louis Crusades His Way to Sainthood
Louis managed to get a lot of shit done with his life, and afterlife, from being the King of France for nearly 25 years to somehow getting a city in Missouri named after him. And he also managed to go on multiple Crusades, which is kind of impressive considering that just surviving one of those would make people think you were a Highlander.
Louis' first Crusades went kind of poorly for him, which is to say during his first attempt he and a couple thousand of his men were captured by the Egyptian army and more than the entire yearly revenue for all of France had to be paid for his ransom. So that was probably mildly embarrassing.
Being that Crusades don't fund themselves, nor do massive ransoms for Kings who fuck up their Crusades, Louis kicked out all the Jews who were charging interest on loans in his country. So he did it because he wanted to help all of the poor and indebted peoples of his land, right? Oh, no, the loans that were owed to them still had to be repaid, just to Louis now.
Also, the man just plain hated the Jews. He had thousands of copies of the Talmud burned. He also expanded the Inquisition in parts of France, all of which proves that badasses also tend to be dicks.
Later in life Louis returned to the one thing that made him happy: Crusading. Probably to everyone's surprise, this worked out even worse than the first time. Louis and his army managed to land in Africa, where the King promptly came down with a wicked case of dysentery and died.
Nevertheless, with all the crazy shit he did in the name of God, he managed to get himself venerated as a saint, potentially the only saint ever who died of the shits on his way to war.
Alfred the Great Invents the Navy
Alfred was the son of an English king named Ethelwulf back in the late 800's when the world was mostly rife with roving barbarians, plagues and triceratops . The youngest of Ethelwulf's four sons, Alfred was probably never expected to be king with three older brothers in line first. But sometimes being a badass can overcome such technicalities.
During a battle with the Danes when Alfred's brother Ethelred was busy praying in his tent for some manner of guidance or victory or a comely wench, Alfred got sick of waiting and hijacked the army, then led them to victory.
When Ethelred died, Alfred took over as king and immediately set himself up as an awesome military strategist by deciding not to fight the Vikings, opting to pay them off instead. Sadly, this lasted until the Vikings realized they were burly, horn-hatted men who raped and pillaged and that no payment would be enough to deprive them of their true passion in life.
The Vikings came storming in and Alfred held them off for a while. Then, the story goes that Alfred slipped on some manner of Dark Ages disguise and snuck into his enemy camp to discover their plans. The next day at the Battle of Edington he defeated the Vikings so badly their leader ended up being baptized as a Christian. That's how it worked back then; you adapted the religion of whoever could hit you with a sword the hardest.
After a few more years of kicking Viking ass, Alfred decided it'd be better to be ready for them at sea, since that's where the gruff bastards came from. The result is that the British Royal Navy and the US Navy now recognize Alfred as the founder of the tradition. Few other saints ever managed to establish an entire division of the armed forces, with the exception of that Mother Theresa Black Ops group we're not allowed to talk about.
Saint Olaf: a Viking
Remember how impressed we were with Valdimir up there and his personal Viking army? Well, Saint Olaf was a Viking. Barring new information on the existence of some ninjas who became saints, or some astronauts, it's not likely many other saints are going to have as much of an awesome history as Olaf and likely few of them ate as much meat or killed as many cave trolls.
Known in life as Olaf the Thick, because Vikings were all about cool and slightly unsettling nicknames, he was the king of Norway for about thirteen years starting in 1015. Back then, as near as we can tell, the average Viking day consisted of getting drunk and setting fire to anything that belonged to someone they didn't like.
Saint Olaf, armed with his giant axe and crucifix hand grenade.
Unlike your grandfather's Vikings, Olaf was a Christian, which didn't necessarily mean he gave alms to the poor and hugged lepers, but it did mean that if you followed any kind of old faith, he would burn your temple to the ground and build a Christian church in its place, which is what "love thy neighbor" meant back in 1015.
As part of his efforts to bring Christianity to the masses, Olaf imported bishops and priests from England to help spread the word. While all of this was going on, Olaf was squashing the lesser kings of Norway and ended up controlling more of the country than any previous king ever had.
So how could the world possibly stop a badass God-fearing Viking king? With another one.
Along came Knut the Great, also known as the Viking King of England (and Norway, and Denmark, and Sweden, and a bunch of other places he probably couldn't get to fit on a business card). Knut promptly handed Olaf his own ass at the Battle of the Helgea.
Two years later Olaf came back with an army to show everyone who the real King was. Sadly, it wasn't him. Olaf was killed, in the way that all badasses should be killed: with an enormous ax.
In honor of Saint Olaf's death, the Church of Norway has this on its coat of arms:
Yes, that's a cross holding a freaking battle axe in each hand. Take that, other religions.
More Fortey can be found at Scenic Anemia.
For those of you raised in public school, check out the secular remix in The 5 Pimpingest Historical Figures. For more religious figures who lived life in the fast lane (while driving an awesome tank) read about The 5 Biggest Badass Popes. Or for some men whose parents at least had the right idea read The 9 Manliest Names in the World.