saint (in Christianity)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

saint (in Christianity)

saint [O.Fr., from Latin sanctus=holy], in Christianity, a person who is recognized as worthy of veneration.

Nature of Sainthood

In the Hebrew Scriptures God is "the Holy One" or "one who is holy" (Isa. 1.4; 5.19; 41.14). "His people share His holiness" (Ex. 19.6). To the New Testament authors the church is the community of saints (Acts 9.13 and the Pauline epistles). Although the creeds, with the phrase "communion of saints," maintain that usage, in later Christianity the term saint came to be used for those who are in heaven.

Generally in the Roman Catholic Church the title saint is limited to the canonized if they lived after the year 1000; otherwise the title is used according to custom. In East and West criteria for recognition of sainthood are martyrdom, holiness of life, miracles in life and after death (e.g., with relics), and a popular cultus. The addition of the name of a person to the official list of saints occurs through the process canonization. The Virgin Mary is the chief saint, and the angels are counted as saints. In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church dropped a number of saints from its liturgical calendar because of doubt that they ever lived; among them was the popular St. Christopher.

Religious Role of the Saints

In traditional belief, as taught by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Eastern churches, faithful Christians on earth and the saints in heaven are all members of the church, and just as living members seek the prayers of others and share in the merits of others, so the living ask those in heaven for their prayers and share in their merits (see indulgence). An aspect of the same cooperation of the living and the saints is prayer for those dead who are not yet saints (i.e., in purgatory).

Prayer to the saints ( "veneration" or "honor" ) is distinct in kind from prayer to God ( "worship" or "adoration" ), who is the source of all their glory. In the liturgy saints are commemorated and their intercession sought on special days ( "saint's day" ; see also All Saints' Day), usually the anniversary of their death. In the ancient churches each member has at least one patron saint from baptism, and in the West another is adopted at confirmation; patrons are expected to have a mutual relation of affection with their earthly charges. Saints vary in popularity: St. Joseph, very popular today among Catholics and Orthodox, had scarcely any cultus 1,000 years ago; St. Nicholas, for centuries a favorite in the West, has today few devotees among Roman Catholics. Examples of nonliturgical devotions to saints are pilgrimages (see pilgrim), many forms of litany, images and icons, novenas, and annual celebrations in honor of patron saints.

Accounts of the Lives of the Saints

Accounts of saints' lives have been favorite reading material for many, and at times their composition (hagiography) has become a real art. Apart from those that are simple, contemporary records, they often become miracle-studded tales. Two immortal collections of saints' lives are the Golden Legend and the Little Flowers of St. Francis (see Francis, Saint). In the modern Roman Catholic Church the Bollandists have been charged with the task of separating the true from the false in hagiography. The effort entails the revision of official books, e.g., the Roman Martyrology, a compendium of saints' lives.

Bibliography

See G. H. Gerould, Saints' Legends (1916, repr. 1969); H. Thurston and D. Attwater, ed., Butler's Lives of the Saints (4 vol., 1956, repr. 1965); P. McGinley, Saint-Watching (1969); D. Attwater, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints (1970); D. Farmer, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (2d ed. 1987).

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