Tuesday, March 06, 2007


There are over 10,000 named saints, the vast majority being early Christian martyrs and ascetics about whom little if anything is known. Popes only began canonizing in 988AD and canonization in the Roman Catholic Church was only reserved to Rome in 1170, although this was probably not made effective until the Decretals of Gregory IX in 1234. The full canonization procedure only developed in the 17th century, although it has recently been modernized. About 400 people have been canonized by the popes. Other churches, the various Orthodox churches especially, also add saints. The Anglican churches have no process of canonization, but do add certain notable figures - such as Martin Luther (Feb. 18 in the New Zealand BCP) - to their liturgical calendars.

Historically the most important role of saints has been as intercessors. You pray to a saint for a miracle, or for the saint to pray for you. As a matter of semantics it may be noted that there is nothing about "praying through saints" in Catholicism. You pray to them, "prayer" being a general term for a certain sort of address to a second party. What you are not supposed to worship a saint as a god [technically called "latreia"], but you may give a saint "veneration" [technically "dulia"]. This is just as much prayer as worship. The Angelic Salutation for instance [the "Hail Mary"] is a direct prayer to Mary. Protestants have on the whole rejected the cult of saints, but it is a powerful witness to the Catholic and Orthodox belief in the Church as a community of love that transcends life and death, time and space. In general the cult of saints became much more restricted, even in Catholic countries, after the Reformation, and religious practice became more Christocentric, more Mariocentric, and more focused on sacramental life. On a popular level, though, saints are still invoked by millions on a regular basis, especially St. Anthony of Padua as patron saint of lost things, and St. Jude as patron saint of lost causes! Saints are also important as exemplars of Christian virtue. This has probably become more important in recent years, hence Vatican searches for lay people to canonize (most new saints are still founders of religious orders, which spend much time and money on promoting the causes of their founders).

Now, for the 64 Million Dollar Question,

Join me, as we unravel the untold secrets of the Saints in this new series I would like to call: HOMO SANTOS.

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