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§ 99. The Worship of Saints.


Comp. vol. III. §§ 81–87 (p. 409–460).


The Worship of Saints, handed down from the Nicene age, was a Christian substitute for heathen idolatry and hero-worship, and well suited to the taste and antecedents of the barbarian races, but was equally popular among the cultivated Greeks. The scholastics made a distinction between three grades of worship: 1) adoration (λατρεία), which belongs to God alone; 2) veneration (δουλεία), which is due to the saints as those whom God himself has honored, and who reign with him in heaven; 3) special veneration (ὑπερδουλεία), which is due to the Virgin Mary as the mother of the Saviour and the queen of all saints. But the people did not always mind this distinction, and the priests rather encouraged the excesses of saint-worship. Prayers were freely addressed to the saints, though not as the givers of the blessings desired, but as intercessors and advocates. Hence the form “Pray for us” (Ora pro nobis).

The number of saints and their festivals multiplied very rapidly. Each nation, country, province or city chose its patron saint, as Peter and Paul in Rome, St. Ambrose in Milan, St. Martin, St. Denys (Dionysius) and St. Germain in France, St. George in England, St. Patrick in Ireland, St. Boniface in Germany, and especially the Virgin Mary, who has innumerable localities and churches under her care and protection. The fact of saintship was at first decided by the voice of the people, which was obeyed as the voice of God. Great and good men and women who lived in the odor of sanctity and did eminent service to the cause of religion as missionaries or martyrs or bishops or monks or nuns, were gratefully remembered after their death; they became patron saints of the country or province of their labors and sufferings, and their worship spread gradually over the entire church. Their relics were held sacred; their tombs were visited by pilgrims. The metropolitans usually decided on the claims of saintship for their province down to a.d. 1153.518518    Sometimes also bishops, synods, and, in cases of political importance, kings and emperors. The last case of a metropolitan canonization is ascribed to the archbishop of Rouen, a.d.1153, in favor of St. Gaucher, or Gaultier, abbot of Pontoise (d. April 9, 1130). But Labbe and Alban Butler state that he was canonized by Celestine III. in 1194. It seems that even at a later date some bishops exercised a limited canonization; hence the prohibition of this practice as improper by Urban VIII. in 1625 and 1634. But to check the increase and to prevent mistakes, the popes, since Alexander III. a.d. 1170, claimed the exclusive right of declaring the fact, and prescribing the worship of a saint throughout the whole (Latin) Catholic church.519519    The occasion of the papal decision in 1170 was the fact that the monks of a convent in the diocese of Lisieux worshiped as a saint their prefect, who had been killed in the refectory by two of their number in a state of intoxication. This was done by a solemn act called canonization. From this was afterwards distinguished the act of beatification, which simply declares that a departed Catholic Christian is blessed (beatus) in heaven, and which within certain limits permits (but does not prescribe) his veneration.520520    Comp. on this subject Benedict XIV. (Lambertini): De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonisatione. Bononisae 1734-’38; ed. II. Venet. et Patav. 1743, 4 vol. fol. Ferraris: Bibliotheca Canonica, a. v. “Veneratio Sanctorum.” Canonization includes seven privileges: 1) recognition as saint by the whole (Roman) church; 2) invocation in public and private prayers; 3) erection of churches and altars to the honor of the saints; 4) invocation at the celebration of the mass; 5) appointment of special days of commemoration; 6) exhibition of their images with a crown on their head; 7) exhibition of their bones and relics for veneration. The question whether the papal bulls of canonization are infallible and de fide, or only sententia communis et certa, seems to be still disputed among Roman Catholics.

The first known example of a papal canonization is the canonization of Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg (d. 973), by John XV. who, at a Lateran synod composed of nineteen dignitaries, in 993, declared him a saint at the request of Luitolph (Leuthold), his successor in the see of Augsburg, after hearing his report in person on the life and miracles of Ulrich. His chief merit was the deliverance of Southern Germany from the invasion of the barbarous Magyars, and his devotion to the interests of his large diocese. He used to make tours of visitation on an ox-cart, surrounded by a crowd of beggars and cripples. He made two pilgrimages to Rome, the second in his eighty-first year, and died as an humble penitent on the bare floor. The bull puts the worship of the saints on the ground that it redounds to the glory of Christ who identifies himself with his saints, but it makes no clear distinction between the different degrees of worship. It threatens all who disregard this decree with the anathema of the apostolic see.521521    See Mansi, XIX. f. 169-179. The bull is signed by, the pope, five bishops, nine cardinal priests, an archdeacon and four deacons. It decrees that the memory of Saint Udalricus be venerated “affectu piisimo et devotione fidelissima,” and be dedicated to divine worship (”divino cultui dicata“). It justifies it by the reason ”quoniam sic adoramus (!) et colimus reliquius m et confessorum, ut eum, Cuius martyres et confessores sunt, adoremus Honaramus servos ut honor redundet in Dominum, qui dixit: Qui vos recipit me recipit’: ac proinde nos, qui fiduciam nostrae justitiae non habemus, illorum precibus et meritis apud clementissimum Deum jugiter adiuvemur.” The bull mentions many miracles of Ulrich, “quae sive in corpore, sive extra corpus gesta sunt, videlicet Caecos illuminasse, daemones ab obsessis effugasse, paralyticos curasse, et quam plurima alia signa gessisse.” On the life of St. Ulrich see the biography by his friend and companion Gerhard (between 983 and 993), best edition by Wirtz in the Monum. G. Scriptores, IV. 377 sqq.; Acta Sanct., Bolland. ad 4 Jul.; Mabillon, Ada Ordinis S. B., V. 415-477; Braun, Gesch. der Bischöfe von Augsburg(Augsb. 1813), vol. I.; Schrödl, in Wetzer and Welte, vol. XI. 370-383, and Vogel in Herzog1vol. XVI. 624-628. Ulrich cannot be the author of a tract against celibacy which was first published under his name by Flacius in his Catalogus Testium Veritatis, but dates from the year 1059 when Pope Nicolas II. issued a decree enforcing celibacy. See Vogel, l.c. p. 627.

A mild interpretation of the papal prerogative of canonization reduces it to a mere declaration of a fact preceded by a careful examination of the merits of a case before the Congregation of Rites. But nothing short of a divine revelation can make such a fact known to mortal man. The examination is conducted by a regular process of law in which one acts as Advocatus Diaboli or accuser of the candidate for canonization, and another as Advocatus Dei. Success depends on the proof that the candidate must have possessed the highest sanctity and the power of working miracles either during his life, or through his dead bones, or through invocation of his aid. A proverb says that it requires a miracle to prove a miracle. Nevertheless it is done by papal decree on such evidence as is satisfactory to Roman Catholic believers.522522    The most recent acts of canonization occurred in our generation. Pope Pius IX. canonized in 1862 with great solemnity twenty-six Japanese missionaries and converts of the Franciscan order, who died in a persecution in 1597. Leo XIII. canonized, December 8, 1881, four comparatively obscure saints of ascetic habits and self-denying charity, namely, Giovanni Battista de Rossi, Lorenzo di Brindisi, Giuseppe Labre, and Clara di Montefalco. A Roman priest describes “the blessed Labre” as a saint who “never washed, never changed his linen, generally slept under the arches of the Colosseum and prayed for hours together in the Church of the Orphanage where there is a tablet to his memory.” St. Labre evidently did not believe that “cleanliness is next to godliness”

The question, how the saints and the Virgin Mary can hear so many thousands of prayers addressed to them simultaneously in so many different places, without being clothed with the divine attributes of omniscience and omnipresence, did not disturb the faith of the people. The scholastic divines usually tried to solve it by the assumption that the saints read those prayers in the omniscient mind of God. Then why not address God directly?

In addition to the commemoration days of particular saints, two festivals were instituted for the commemoration of all the departed.

The Festival of All Saints523523    Omnium Sanctorum Natalis, or Festivas, Solemnitas, Allerheiligenfest. The Greek church had long before a similar festival in commemoration of all martyrs on the first Sunday after Pentecost, called ΚυριακὴτῶνἉγίωνπάντων. Chrysostom, in a sermon for that day, says that on the Octave of Pentecost the Christians were surrounded by the host of martyrs. In the West the first Sunday after Pentecost was devoted to the Trinity, and closed the festival part of the church year. See vol. III. 408. was introduced in the West by Pope Boniface IV. on occasion of the dedication of the Pantheon in Rome, which was originally built by Agrippa in honor of the victory of Augustus at Actium, and dedicated to Jupiter Vindex; it survived the old heathen temples, and was presented to the pope by the Emperor Phocas, a.d. 607; whereupon it was cleansed, restored and dedicated to the service of God in the name of the ever-Virgin Mary and all martyrs. Baronius tells us that at the time of dedication on May 13 the bones of martyrs from the various cemeteries were in solemn procession transferred to the church in twenty-eight carriages.524524    Martyrologio Romano, May 13 and Nov. 1. The Pantheon or Rotunda, like Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, contains the ashes of other distinguished men besides saints, and is the resting-place of Raphael, and since 1883 even of Victor Emanuel, the founder of the Kingdom of Italy, whom the pope regards as a robber of the patrimony of Peter. From Rome the festival spread during the ninth century over the West, and Gregory IV. induced Lewis the Pious in 835 to make it general in the Empire. The celebration was fixed on the first of November for the convenience of the people who after harvest had a time of leisure, and were disposed to give thanks to God for all his mercies.

The Festival of All Souls525525    Omnium Fidelium defunctorum Memoria orCommemoratio, Allerseelentag. is a kind of supplement to that of All Saints, and is celebrated on the day following (Nov. 2). Its introduction is traced to Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, in the tenth century. It spread very soon without a special order, and appealed to the sympathies of that age for the sufferings of the souls in purgatory. The worshippers appear in mourning; the mass for the dead is celebrated with the “Dies irae, Dies illa,” and the oft-repeated “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.” In some places (e.g. in Munich) the custom prevails of covering the graves on that day with the last flowers of the season.

The festival of Michael the Archangel,526526    Festum S. Michaelis, or Michaelis Archangeli, Michaelmas. the leader of the angelic host, was dedicated to the worship of angels,527527    Hence also called Festum omnium Angelorum, St. Michael and all Angels. on the 29th of September.528528    In the Eastern church on November 8. The origin of the Eastern celebration is obscure. It rests on no doctrine and no fact, but on the sandy foundation of miraculous legends.529529    Namely, sundry apparitions of Michael, at Chonae, near Colossae, in Monte Gargano in the diocese of Sipontum in Apulia (variously assigned to a.d.492, 520, and 536), in Monte Tumba in Normandy (about 710), and especially one to Pope Gregory I. in Rome, or his successor, Boniface III. (607-610), after a pestilence over the Moles Hadriani, which ever since has been called the Castello di St. Angelo, and is adorned by the statue of an angel. We find it first in the East. Several churches in and near Constantinople were dedicated to St. Michael, and Justinian rebuilt two which had become dilapidated. In the West it is first mentioned by a Council of Mentz in 813, as the “dedicatio S. Michaelis,” among the festivals to be observed; and from that time it spread throughout the Church in spite of the apostolic warning against angelolatry (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:8, 9).530530    See vol. III. 444 sq. Acta Sanct., Sept. 29; Siegel, Handbuch der christl. Kirchl. Alterthümer, III. 419-425; Smith & Cheetham, II. 1176-1180; also Augusti, Binterim, and the monographs mentioned by Siegel, p. 419. The angel-worship in Colossae was heretical and probably of Essenic origin. See the commentaries in loc., especially Lightfoot, p. 101 sqq. A council of Laodicea near Colossae, about 363, found it necessary strongly to forbid angelolatry as then still prevailing in Phrygia. St. Augustin repeatedly objects to it, De vera Rel. 110; Conf. X. 42; De Civ. D. X. 19, 25.



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