1902 Encyclopedia > Saint


SAINT. The New Testament writers have much to say about the relations of the "saints" (as members of the various churches are usually called) with their living contemporaries, but are comparatively reticent on their duties and privileges with regard to their departed brethren. Long before the close of the 4th century, however, certain very definite practices in the way of commemoration and invocation had sprung up, which ultimately found doc-trinal expression in the authoritative documents alike of the Eastern and of the Western Church.

(1) Commemoration.—Under FUNERAL RITES, MANES, &c., allusion has already been made to the ancient custom of visiting the tombs of deceased relatives at certain periods and there offering various gifts. With certain modifications, this practice was retained by the early Christians; they celebrated the Eucharist at or near the grave, laid oblations on the altar in the name of the departed, and in the pre-communion prayer made supplication for the peace of their souls. Thus among the usages "originated by tradition, strengthened by custom, observed by faith," Tertullian (De Cor. Mil., 3; comp. De Exh. Cast., 11) mentions "the offerings we make for the dead as often as the anniversary comes round" (comp. SACRIFICE, p. 139). If such com-memoration was usual in domestic circles, it was little likely to be omitted by Christian congregations in the case of those who had "spoken to them the word of God," least of all when the bishop had also been, as was so often the case, a martyr. In the very instructive document of the 2d century, preserved by Eusebius (H. E., iv. 15), in which the martyrdom of POLYCARP (q.v.) is described, we are told that the followers of the martyr, having taken up the bones, deposited them "where it was proper that they should be." "There also, as far as we can, the Lord will grant us to assemble and celebrate the natal day of his martyrdom in joy and gladness." Cyprian (Ep., 36) ex-horts that the days of death of those who have died in prison should be carefully noted for the purpose of celebrat-ing their memory annually ; and all the earliest extant liturgies contain commemorations of the departed. The names to be commemorated were written on the diptychs (see DIPTYCH).

(2) Invocation.—It is not difficult to under-stand how a belief in the efficacy of the prayers of departed saints—especially of martyrs—should at an early date have taken a practical form. Martyrs were believed to pass into the immediate presence of God, and the supposed nature of their claims there is not dimly indicated in the docu-ment already referred to, which once and again speaks of Polycarp as "a noble victim selected from the flock," "a rich and acceptable sacrifice to God." The readers of Cyprian are familiar with the use made of the intercession of living "martyrs" by the lapsed to secure their reconciliation with the church; but positive evidence of the inter-cession of the dead being invoked for obtaining favour with God is not forthcoming so soon. Perhaps, indeed, Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350) is the earliest author to make express allusion to the practice (Cat. Myst., v. 9): "we commemo-rate . . . patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, . , . that God at their prayers and intercessions (_____) would receive our supplications." In the liturgies, however, the oblation still continued to be offered "for all martyrs and confessors" as well as for others, and Augustine was the first to declare (In Joann., Tract. 84) that "at the table of the Lord we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps."

For the subsequent development of Catholic practice see the various church histories ; compare also CANONIZATION, LITANY, RELICS, IMAGE WORSHIP, &c. Previous to the Reformation ecclesi-astical legislation mainly sought to check the popular tendency towards something like polytheism. The Tridentine doctrine is "that the saints who reign along with Christ are to be honoured and invoked, that they offer prayers for us, and that their relies are to be venerated." All the churches of the Reformation, on the other hand, while in one form or another commemorating "all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear," practically concur in the teaching of the Church of England (Art. xxii.), that "the Romish doctrine concerning . . . invocation of saints" is "a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the word of God."

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries