Saints, Devotion to the

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The paying of honor on the basis of recognition of the supernatural excellence of those members of Christ declared by the Church to be now in heaven and, consequently, constituted as intercessors with God for the living and for souls in purgatory is devotion to the saints. In the fullness of Catholic practice it takes the form of praise and imitation of the saints's virtues and of invocation, both private and public, addressed directly to the saints in order to win their intercession.

Early History. Identified in its origins with cult of the martyrs, devotion first took the form of praise and imitation; but by the 3rd century the efficacy of intercession of the saints was clearly recognized [Origen, In Lib. Iesu Nave, 16.5; Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 161v. (Paris 185766) 12:909] and reference is found to their invocation [Origen, De orat., 14; Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 161 v. (Paris 185766) 11: 464].

The 4th and 5th centuries saw the extension of cult from martyrs in the strict sense to those whose ascetic life could be considered equivalent to martyrdom: first in the East (Gregory Thaumaturge, d. c. 270), then in the West (Sylvester I, d. 335; Martin of Tours, d. 397; Ambrose, d. 397; Augustine, d. 430). (see confessor.) Like the martyrs, the new saints were honored on their anniversaries, their lives were publicized, and churches were placed under their patronage (in Rome by 500). In the 5th and 6th centuries antiphons in honor of the saints were introduced into the Mass. First in the East (from the 5th century), later in the West (from 8th century), antiphons and readings from the "Lives" were included in the night office. Veneration of images developed primarily in the East; that of relics, in the West (see images, veneration of; relics).

Though the early theologians carefully distinguished between honor of the saints and adoration of God, there were at first no suitable terms to express the distinction. St. Augustine successfully suggested adoption of the Greek term latreia for adoration of God [Civ. 10.1; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum (Vienna 1866) 47:272]; but confusion could still be caused in the West by the terminology of the Second Council of Nicaea, 787 [H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 601]. The term dulia for honor of the saints dates from the Carolingian period.

The Middle Ages produced in the West a flowering of popular devotion to the saints, with pilgrimages, increasing honor of relics, extensive naming of patrons (see patron saints), and feasts developing into civic festivals. Demand for information led (from the 9th century) to a multiplication of "Lives," very many of them stereotyped and "edifying" rather than factual (see saints, legends of the). Exaggerated practices in this popular devotion frequently brought protests from the Church (e.g., Council of Avignon, 1209; Fourth Lateran Council, 1215). The first formal canonization, that of Ulrich (d.973), took place in 993 (H. Denzinger, ibid., 675).

Reformation Period. The Cathari and Waldenses (13th century) already denied the intercession of the saints and their knowledge of men's prayers. The Confession of Augsburg (1530), approved by Luther, while acknowledging the example of the saints, denied as prejudicial to Christ's unique mediatorship their role as intercessors. The Defense of the Confession (1530), however, conceded that the saints pray for the universal Church, while it maintained the condemnation of invocation. Zwingli and Calvin rejected the doctrine of intercession.

The Council of Trent, session 25 (December 1563), appealing to apostolic tradition and to the teaching of the Fathers and Councils, directed that the faithful should be instructed that the saints intercede for men and that it is "good and useful" to invoke them to obtain for men benefits from God through Christ, the sole Redeemer (H. Denzinger, ibid., 1821).

Synthesizing the work of Catholic controversialists, St. Robert Bellarmine laid down the principal lines of present Catholic teaching.

The task of revising the lives of the saints, begun by Lipomani, Surius, and Baronius, was based on critical method by Bolland (Acta Sanctorum ).

At present devotion to the saints is regulated by 1917 Codex iuris canonici cc.125556, 127678. Clearly distinguished are: divine worship (latria ), honor of Mary (hyperdulia ), and honor of the saints and angels (dulia; 1917 Codex iuris canonici c.1255.1). The teaching of the Council of Trent is repeated; devotion to Mary is perhaps of precept (1917 Codex iuris canonici c.1276). For other regulations, see canonization of saints (history and procedure). Private devotions should conform to the decree of Holy Office of May 26, 1937 [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 29 (1937) 304305]. For John XXIII's statement on abuses, see Acta Apostolicae Sedis 52 (1960) 969. See also vatican council ii, Constitution on Liturgy, 104; Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, ch. 7. Among Protestants, although invocation of the saints is still rejected, attempts are being made to increase awareness of their role in the communion of the saints.

Scripture. The hesitation of Jewish thought on the fate of the dead long precluded invocation, but an example is found in the 2nd century b.c. (2 Mc 15.1216). Any account of the New Testament doctrine must be based on a clear affirmation of the unique and all-sufficient mediation of Christ (Heb 7.25; Rom 8.34; 1 Tm 2.5; etc.). Devotion to the saints then finds its justification in the scriptural teaching on the mystical body of christ and Communion of Saints, as interpreted in the practice of the Church. Indications supporting this living interpretation are found in St. Paul's confidence in the prayers of the living (Rom 15.3032; Eph 6.1819; etc.), the relations between the Church on earth and in heaven (Eph 2.19), and the honor paid the "cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12; cf.

13.7). See also 1 Cor 12 (cooperation within the Body); Rv 2.2627; 5.8; 6.910. The Catholic doctrine should be seen as an example of the "praise of the glory of [the Father's] grace" (Eph 1.6, 12, 14).

Theology. As an aspect of the life of the Mystical Body, devotion to the saints, involving not only imitation but also invocation, far from detracting from the prerogatives of Christ, serves to glorify His redemption, for the earthly merits and heavenly prayers of the saints derive their efficacy from His saving mysteries. This implies no essential addition to His mediation but rather a realization of its potential and a subordinate cooperation of His members in the application of the fruits of His redemption (see Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 3a, 25.6; 26.1).

Latria is an act of the virtue of religion by which honor is paid the Supreme Lord of creation. Supernatural dulia, the honor paid the saints, pertains to the virtue of reverence (observantia ). It honors that excellence of virtue and intercession which is given the saints by grace (Acquinas, Summa theologiae, 2a2ae, 103; 121.1 ad 3). Concretely, invocation of the saints, since it seeks their intercession for blessings which only God can give, involves the activity of both religion and reverence under direction of the theological virtues.

Bibliography: p. molinari, I santie il loro culto (Rome 1962). h. delehaye, Sanctus: Essai sur le culte des saints dans l'antiquité (Brussels 1927; repr. 1954). j. b. walz, Die Fürbitte der Heiligen (Freiburg 1927). m. lackmann, Verehrung der Heiligen: Versuch einer lutheranischen Lehre von den Heiligen (Stuttgart 1958).

[c. o'neill]