Saints, Legends of the
Saints, Legends of the
SAINTS, LEGENDS OF THE
The term legend (from the Latin legenda, something to be read) originally meant the lesson (lectio ) or reading of selected portions of the lives and passions (sufferings) of the martyrs and confessors, intended for spiritual edification. By extension it came to mean a collection of legends, or a legendary, in which the acts of the saints were recorded month by month, as for example in the Golden Legend of james of voragine (c. 1265). Thus the primary significance of the word legend had no relation to a judgment of the historical or fictitious character of the events narrated. This was to be determined according to the regular criteria of history.
In modern languages, the term legend tends to have a pejorative meaning because of the bad reputation that the legends of the saints have among historians; thus it has come to mean a popular or poetic recitation in which historic reality has little part and which is based on fantasy or fiction.
Literary Genres. The literary type or genre represented by the legend of a saint has its origin in the Biblical midrash and developed early in primitive Christianity. Examples of legends from the 1st century are available in the apocryphal Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, in the reworking of the Acts of the Martyrs, in the recitation of the finding and translation of relics. In the 4th century, these were extended to the biographies of the monks, and later pervaded the amplification and embellishment of the martyrologies and synaxaries, finally entering the lives of the saints. Here appear certain elements adapted from the myths and romances of antiquity, Oriental, Buddhistic and Indian stories (e.g., barlaam and joasaph), Celtic and German legends (e.g., the Grail). But these borrowings should not be exaggerated, although the material covers a large expanse of human interest from the combat of dragons and the intervention of animals (horses, doves, bees, stags) to incest; these are minimal beside the properly Christian elements, particularly the miracles attributed to the Eucharist and to the saints and their relics.
The authors of the legends retell the lives of the saints not with the intention of recounting history in a strict sense but to give edification to the reader, to encourage him to imitate the Christian hero, and to strengthen him in the faith. They sometimes explain the name of a place or village (onomatologic legend), the origin or significance of a saint's image or statue (iconographic legend), or advance the reasons for building a church or inaugurating a pilgrimage. In these instances they do not hesitate to exalt their saint beyond measure, and to the detriment of rival saints. Hence there is nothing astonishing in the fact that they transform and deform historic facts, confound them with incidents in the lives of older saints, or sometimes retell them in the same terms. In the eyes of the author, the end he has in view justifies such plagiarism. What interests him above all else is the miracle as a proof that his hero enjoyed divine favor and exemplified great sanctity.
In the light of these summary observations, it is easy to see why the critical historian finds that legends are a difficult subject. He has to inquire of each one what it transmits that is factually useful and, by weighing the mentality of the author, the purpose he had in mind, and the materials at his disposal, to draw out of apparently valueless recitals, information that is useful from a point of view other than that intended by the composer of the legend.
History of the Legends. It has often been repeated on the authority of the Liber pontificalis that Pope Saint clement i had appointed Roman regional notaries to collect the acts of the martyrs, and that Pope anterus and Pope fabian later perfected the system. As a matter of fact no such notaries ever existed, no more than did a Roman corpus of the passions of all Christian martyrs. However, we do have a certain number of documents relating to the early martyrs: the official verbal processes in proconsular acts; the passions of certain martyrs such as those of perpetua and felicity; letters, such as the Letter of the Church at Smyrna to that at Philomelium on the martyrdom of Saint polycarp; and biographies, including that of Saint cyprian of carthage by the Deacon Pontius. These texts are known to us through the mention that eusebius of caesarea makes of them in his Ecclesiastical History, fragments of his Acts of the Martyrs, and his History of the Martyrs of Palestine.
In the Orient Saint athanasius of Alexandria composed a life of Saint Anthony c. 360 that served as a model for the History of the Monks of Egypt (see rufinus of aquileia), palladius's Lausiac History, and even for Syrian and Asiatic hagiographers, for example, John Moschus's (d. 619) Pratum spirituale. Of note also are the synaxaries, for example, those of Symeon Metaphrastes and Gregory palamas.
In the West this genre was begun by Saint jerome who wrote lives of Paul of Thebes, Hilarion, and Malchus in the form of historical romances. His fundamental work, the De viris illustribus on a more historical basis, was imitated by gennadius of marseilles (c. 450), isidore of seville (616–18), and ildefonsus of toledo.
In Gaul the most important work at this time was the life of Saint Martin of Tours by sulpicius severus. Biographies of this type were written by Paulinus of Milan (Saint Ambrose), Possidius (Saint Augustine), and Eugippius (Saint Severin of Noricum). Saint gregory i gathered the miracles of the Fathers of Italy in his Dialogues. gregory of tours (d. 594) somewhat credulously, but conscientiously and in good faith, supplied unique details of Gallo-Roman and Merovingian hagiography in his History of the Franks, Virtues of St. Martin of Tours, Miracles of St. Julian, Glory of the Martyrs, Glory of the Confessors, and the Lives of the Fathers.
In Africa victor of vita wrote a history of the African persecution (c. 486) and Fulgentius Ferrandus, a life of Saint fulgentius of ruspe (d. 533). From Spain have come the useful Lives of the Fathers of Mérida by the deacon Paul of Merida (d. 672) and eulogius of cÓrdoba's Memoriale Sanctorum (d. 859), an account of the Moslem persecutions. In the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon lands, along with the Ecclesiastical History of bede (d.735), there are lives of the Irish and English abbots and missionary saints.
Medieval Legends. During the Carolingian period many of the earlier lives were rewritten with more care for literary style but with little concern for historical criticism. During this time hilduin identified pseudo-dionysius with Saint Denis of Paris in his Areopagitica, and biographers attempted to prove the Apostolic origin of the Frankish churches by means of invented or falsified lives. During the 8th and 9th centuries the Germanic lands also furnished numerous lives of their early bishops, such as Saint willibald of eichstÄtt, Corbinian of Freising, and Lambert of Liège, along with biographies of the monastic founders.
In the 10th century hagiographic activity was notable in France with the work of Hucbald of Saint-Amand, Adso of Montier-en-der, and others. odo of cluny wrote the life of Gerard of Aurillac; flodoard (d. 966), the hagiographer of Rheims, celebrated the saints of Palestine, Antioch, and Italy in his poems on The Triumphs of Christ.
In the 12th century there was a continuation of this tradition. eadmer of canterbury wrote a life of Saint Anselm; Paul of Bernried, a life of Saint gregory vii; Saint bernard of clairvaux, the life of Saint Malachy; and William of Saint-Thierry, Arnaud of Bonneval, and Geoffrey of Auxerre each wrote a life of St. Bernard. In the 13th century with the rise of the mendicant orders hagiography received a new stimulus. jordan of saxony (d. 1237) wrote the life of Saint Dominic; Gerald of Frachet (d. 1271), the Vitae fratrum ordinis Predicatorum (Dominicans); and lives of Saints Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure, and Anthony of Padua appeared, each full of legendary material. Besides the hagiographers among these new orders, biographers such as caesarius ofheisterbach produced lives of Saint Engelbert and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary; thomas of cantimprÉ compiled a legend-filled Bonum universale de Apibus; and Joinville composed his Book of the Holy Sayings and Good Deeds of St. Louis of France (1305).
In the 14th century the lives of the saints multiplied, with the confessor, chaplain, or friends recording the doings of such outstanding saints as margaret of cortona and catherine of siena. The Dominican William of Tocco wrote the first life of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Continuing this tradition in the 15th century, Philip of Mézières, counselor to Charles I, wrote a life of Saint Peter Thomas; John Mattioti wrote the life of his penitent Saint frances of rome (d. 1440); and Pierre de Vaux, of his penitent Saint Colette.
In the West as well as in the Orient compendia of saints' lives were put together; they were the liber pontificalis at Rome, the Gesta of the bishops of Auxerre, Le Mans, Verdun, etc.; the deeds of abbots (e.g., Gesta abbatum Fontanellensium ), enriched with biographical notices; and martyrologies, legendaries, and passions of the saints. In the 13th century, more popular compilations appeared, such as the Sanctoral of Roderick of Cerrat, the Legenda de sanctis of Peter Calo de Chioggia, the Abregé of the Life and Miracles of the Saints by Jean de Mailly, the Golden Legend of James of Voragine, the Speculum historiale of vincent of beauvais, the Speculum sanctorale of Bernard of Gui, and the Venetian Peter de Natalibus's Catalogus sanctorum et gestorum eorum, which contained 1,500 notices. All these compilations were made with great piety but with little critical sense.
The Protestant Reformation. Beginning in the 16th century, the refusal of Protestants to venerate saints diminished to a certain degree this luxuriant flowering of legends. The literary interest of John Milton (d. 1674), Abram of Santa Clara (d. 1709), and Martin von Cochen (d. 1712) helped to keep them alive. But in the 18th century the Enlightenment in Germany and Voltaire and the Encyclopedists in France covered them with a massive disdain, thus reinforcing the rationalist and hypercritical attitude of the Protestant reform. These challenges incited both Catholics and Protestants to begin a scientific study of the legends.
hagiography on a historical basis was begun in the 16th century, and was developed in the 17th, particularly by the bollandists, who took their name from their founder Jean Bollandus, SJ (1596–1665); they influenced many of the writers and compilers of the legends of the saints in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Bibliography: h. delehaye, Les Légendes grecques des saints militaires (Paris 1909); Cinq leçons sur la méthode hagiographique (Brussels 1934); Étude sur le légendier romain (Brussels 1936). a. van gennep, La Formation des légendes (Paris 1910). h. quentin, Essais de critique textuelle (Paris 1926). r. aigrain, L'Hagiographie (Paris 1953). h. gÜnter, Psychologie de la légende, tr. j. goffinet (Paris 1954). j. marilier, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947– ) 5:485–92. w. bÖhne, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 6:876–78.
[j. le brun]