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Saint

SAINT (lat. sanctus, "holy"), the term originally applied, e.g. in the New Testament and in the most ancient monuments of Christian thought, to all believers. In this sense it is still used by those modern Christian sects which profess to base their polity on the Bible only (e.g. the Mormons or " Latter Day Saints "). In ancient inscriptions it often means those souls who are enjoying eternal happiness, or the martyrs. Thus we find inscriptions in the Catacombs such as vivas inter sanctos, refrigera cum spiritu sancto, and people were buried ad sanctos. For a long time, too, sanctus was an official title, particularly reserved for bishops (v. Analecta Bollandiana, xviii. 410-411). It was not till almost the 6th century that the word became a title of honour specially given to the dead whose cult was publicly celebrated in the churches. It was to the martyrs that the Church first began to pay special honour. We find traces of this in the 2nd half of the 2nd century, in the Martyrium Polycarpi (xviii. 3) in connexion with a meeting to celebrate the anniversary of the martyr's death. Another passage in the same document (xvii. 3) shows clearly that this was not an innovation, but a custom already established among the Christians. It does not follow that it was henceforth universal. The Church of Rome does not seem to have inscribed in its calendar its martyrs of an earlier date than the 3rd century. The essential form of the cult of the martyrs was that of the honours paid to the illustrious dead; and these honours were officially paid by the community. They consisted in a gathering at the martyr's tomb on the anniversary of his death. St Cyprian, speaking of the confessors who died in prison, wrote to his priests, " Denique et dies eorum, quibus excedunt, adnotate, ut commemorationes eorum inter memorias martyrum celebrare possimus " (Epist. xii. 2). The list of anniversaries of a church formed its Martyrology (q.v.) . In the early days each church confined itself to celebrating its own martyrs; but it .was not long before it became customary to celebrate the anniversaries of martyrs of other churches. In the oldest Roman ferial we already find festivals of Carthaginian martyrs, and similarly, in the Carthaginian calendar, Roman festivals, while Wright's Syriac Martyrology contains numerous traces of this exchange of festivals. From the 5th century onwards certain celebrated saints were honoured almost universally; St Augustine (Sermo, 276, 4) says that the "estival of St Vincent was celebrated throughout the whole of the Christian world. The same was the case of the festivals of St Stephen, St James and St John, and St Peter and St Paul, as is shown by the liturgical documents, but these festivals were held in connexion with that of Christmas (26th, 27th and 28th December), and were not strictly speaking anniversaries. The calendars at first included only martyrs, but their scope was gradually widened. The first to find a place in them were the bishops. Apparently they were at first arranged in a series of anniversaries separate from that of the martyrs, as seems to be shown by the existence at Rome of the Depositio episcoporum side by side with the Jepositio martyrum ; the two lists seem to have been combined, as n the calendar of Carthage, which includes the dies nataliciorum nartyrum et depositiones episcoporum. Some of the most famous jishops also ended by passing from one calendar into the other. ' inally, the ascetics came to share in the honours paid to the martyrs, and we see in the Historia religiosa of Theodoret how quickly this 1zz 01 1 assimilation took place. In times of persecution the martyrs were buried among the rest of the faithful, but one can understand that their tombs, a.t which gatherings took place at least on the day of their anniversary, were distinguished from the ordinary tombs by some sign. When the peace of the Church permitted it, they were enshrined in chapels and often in sumptuous basilicas. In the West these buildings were raised over the tomb, which was left intact ; but in the East there was no hesitation in disturbing the graves of the saints and removing the bodies to a basilica built to receive them. It is in this way that the relics of St Babylas were placed in the sanctuary built by Gallus at Daphne (Socrates, Hist. eccl. iii. 18; Sozomen, Hist. eccl. v. 19). As a matter of fact, the discipline of the Eastern churches with regard to the relics was, from the very beginning, much less severe than that of Rome and a great number of the Western churches. From the 4th century on are recorded cases of translation of the bodies of saints, and they did not even shrink from dividing the sacred relics. In the West the principle already laid down by St Gregory the Great in his letter to Constantia, namely that of not disturbing the bodies of the saints, was for a long time the rule in all cases, and the portions distributed to the churches were simply branded, that is to say, linen which had lain upon the tomb of the saint, or, in other words, representative relics. But as early as the 7th century there is proof of a relaxation of this rule which had so well safeguarded the authenticity of the relics. It was finally disregarded altogether; in the 9th century translations of relics were extremely frequent, and led to inextricable confusion in the future.

As to the belief in the efficacy of the prayers of the saints for those still living on earth, and similarly in the efficacy of the prayers addressed to the saints, St Cyril of Jerusalem indicates in the following words the advantages of the commemoration of the saints: " Then we make mention also of those who have fallen asleep before us, first of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, that God would at theirl prayers and intercessions receive our supplication " (Cat. Myst. v. 9). It is difficult to understand a much-discussed passage of Origen (De oratione, 14), except as applying to prayer addressed to the saints. The Fathers of the 4th century, and notably the Cappadocian Fathers, provide us with a quantity of evidence on this subject, which leaves no doubt as to the practice of the invocation of saints, nor of the complete approval with which it was viewed. St Basil, for example, says: " I accept also the holy apostles, prophets and martyrs, and I call upon them for their intercession to God, that by them, that is by their mediation, the good God may be propitious to me, and that I may be granted redemption for my offences " (Epist. 360).

The cult of the saints early met with opposition, in answer to which the Church Fathers had to defend its lawfulness and explain its nature. The Church of Smyrna had early to explain its position in this matter with regard to St Polycarp: " We worship Christ, as the Son of God ; as to the martyrs, we love them as the disciples and imitators of the Lord " (Martyrium Polycarpi, xvii. 3). St Cyril of Alexandria defends the worship of the martyrs against Julian; St Asterius and Theodoret against the pagans in general, and they all lay emphasis on the fact that the saints are not looked upon as gods by the Christians, and that the honours paid to them are of quite a different kind from the adoration reserved to God alone. St Jerome argued against Vigilantius with his accustomed vehemence, and especially meets the objection based on the resemblance between these rites and those of the pagans. But it is above all St Augustine who in his refutation of Faustus, as well as in his sermons and elsewhere, clearly denned the true character of the honours paid to the saints: " Non eis templa, non eis altaria, non sacrificia exhibemus. Non eis sacerdotes offerunt, absit, Deo offero tibi Petre, aut: offero tibi Paule ?" (Sermo, 273. 7; cf. Contra Faustum, xx. 21). The undoubted abuses which grew up, especially during the middle ages, raised up, at the time of the Reformation, fresh adversaries of the cult of the saints. The council of Trent, while reproving all superstitious practices in the invocation of the saints, the veneration of relics and the use of images, expresses as follows the doctrine of the Roman Church: " That the saints who reign with Christ offer to God their prayers for men ; that it is good and useful to invoke them by supplication and to have recourse to their aid and assistance in order to obtain from God His benefits through His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who alone is our Saviour and Redeemer " (Sess. xxv.). At the present day the canonization (q.v.) of saints is reserved in the Roman Church to the sovereign pontiff. The Anglican Church, while still commemorating many of the Catholic saints, has not, since the Reformation, admitted any new names to the authoritative list, with the single exception of that of King Charles I., whose " martyrdom " was celebrated by authority from the Restoration until the year 1859.

See D. Petavius, De thtologicis dogmatibus, De incarnationr. 1., xiv. ; F. Suarez, Defensio fidei catholicae (against King James I.); L. Duchesne, Les Origines du culte Chretien, ch. viii.: E. Lucius, Die Anfdnge des Heiligenkulls (Tubingen 1904); H. R. Percival, The Invocation of Saints (London, 1896); A. P. Forbes, An Explanation of the Thirty-nine Articles (Oxford, 1878). (H. DE.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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