Books: Suffering Saints

MEN POSSESSED BY GOD by Jacques Lacarrière. 237 pages. Doubleday. $4.95.

In an age that jokes about masochism, the 4th century ascetics of Egypt and Syria are hard to take seriously: St. Maron, who spent eleven years in a hollowed-out tree trunk; St. Acepsimas, who wore so many chains he had to crawl on all fours; Macarius the Younger, who felt so guilty about swatting an insect that he sat naked in a swamp for six months until mosquito bites made him look like a leper.

But there was method to their masochism. Jacques Lacarrière, a French historian who spent some time in...

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