Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Modern-day Christianity usually only involves the worship of one God: the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, also known as the Trinity. There was a time, however, when other characters were held not equal to, but still worthy of a lesser form of worship by the entire Christian world. These characters or people are known as saints. The practice ct worshipping these people became known as the “cult of the saints.” This paper will examine this phenomenon’s historical significance by discussing its origins and impact upon society.
The “cult of the saints” began as a veneration of martyrs who were killed for their Christian beliefs. The earliest of these would be some of the original twelve apostles, two of which are Peter and Paul, who are said to be buried at the site where the Vatican was constructed within the city of Rome. The immense reverence of this location by Christians to this day serves as an illustration for the idea of the “cult of the ‘saints.” few centuries after the death of these apostles though, that the “cult of the saints” really became popular.
The elements of the “cult’. largely became practiced the J;atiy Third century once religious tolerance of Christianity began to take hold in the Roman Empire under Constantine I. After the death of Jesus Christ, persecution of Christians continued, leading to the production of a large number of martyrs who would become known as saints after they too died for their beliefs. This occurred especially often in the Roman Empiro when Christians refused to simply publicly denounce Christ and show loyalty to the Pagan gods. The gravesites and relics of all these martyrs became places of worship, and the idea emerged that the joining of heaven and earth was said to take place wherever they were. This was influenced by idea that these saints were considered to be heroes of the faith, and the thought that the power of God himself had given them the strength to stand up for their beliefs, even upon the threat of death. This idea was also supported by the claim that miracles such as the healing of ailments were occurring in said locations.
The “cult of the saints” had a large impact upon religious practice. First, it changed the view of death and the dead. Where before, the sites of the dead were considered horrible places, not fit amongst everyday society, they could now he cor:;iderecpE.niland wonderful places of worship. Brown’s writing supports this idea by explaining that where the graves of the saints had once resided outside the walls of cities, by the end of the sixth century they were the centers of ecclesiastical life of their region. With this new practice of worshipping s ntscame the idea that Christians could look not only to God, but also pray to these saints who served as special messengers to Him. This served to strengthen their faith not only due to their ability to feel closer to God through them, but also because there now were physical aspects among their world that held the power of God for them to see and touch. The “cult” also helped to create a hierarchy within religious practice, where the wealthy and noble were considered higher and even closer to God. One difference between this and hierarchical society though, was that now these revere figures were seen as intercessor’s who across societal boundaries, so even peasants had access to them.
There were some issues that arose within the institution of the “cult of the saints.” One of the main conflicts concerned the place of these saints within the christian faith because it would appear as if these saints were being worshipped as Gods, similar to the Pagan polytheism many had just converted from. Staying true to Christianity’s monotheist design, at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. it was decided that you could worship one God (the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit) and only revere saints. Though this was set as a Christian law, it would appear as though there may have remained a desire to worship saints as Gods. Some, such as David Hume/ would argue for this idea, stating that, “men were not natural monotheists and never had been.”2 Further support is later explained by the fact that the transition from Pagan polytheism to the “cult of the saints,” occurred almost immediately and without much interruption.3This fact and the similarities of the two, makes a good argument that in Dart, the “cult of the saints” may have been a matter of convenience to what Hume describes as a consisting of a “vulgar” population, who were unable to fathom the simplicity of faith in the Supreme Being.
Another similar situation concerned the Virgin Mary distinctly. In the Eleventh-Twelfth century there was a societal shift to veneration of biblical saints and Mary became the attest revered of them. Now, the church had to come up with the new theological idea for her. As the mother of Jesus, who is also God, s could be considered the mother of God, therefore where did this place her in relation to Go( Some may have believed that by being the mother of God, she was worthy of greater or equal praise and worship. They came to the decision that she would be given the title “theotokos,” mother of God, and should be granted hyperdulia, standing her out amongst the saints as the only one awarded such a title, but still not to be worshipped as God was.
As this most powerful saint, many considered her to be the mother of all Christians: compassionate, loyal, and capable of great miracles, adgment by Peter and God. Along with this, she was thought to have the power to defeat the workings of the devil. One example of this lies in Johannes Herolt’s Miracles of the Virgin Mary where a story is told of a man who sells his soul to the devil, but Mary is able to undo the contract and he is able to return to the grace of God. There are many similar to this that all support the theme of Mary as a devoted and loving mother figure who protects and never betrays her children. Other stories claim that she even appeared in some other human figure to help her children, such as to take the place of a nun in a convent who had become a harlot, yet wanted to repent; and another where she actually took the form of a woman to be a man’s wife after he prayed to her for help with keeping his chastity.
There were other issues that involved the fill-Ea sacra (theft ui saints) arid the legitimacy of said saints. With the growing popularity of the “cult of the saints,” bishops with saints in their diocese were praised more. This led to the stealing of saints and possibly the reverence of false saints. An example of this can be seen by looking at the letter of Bishop Amulo of Lyon. In this letter, the legitimacy of a saint that was stolen by supposed monks is questioned by a bishop due to its unreliable source and uncommon claimed miracle-working powers. This is also an example of the confusion that amassed due to this large number of revered saints and the hierarchy of power within the Christian world.
In closing, the “cult of the saints” greatly changed Christianity for over 1000 years. Its impacts and practice can still be seen today among certain denominations, but much of its popularity among society and religion has subsided. One might still see a Protestant who subtly practices its use, such as a traveler or sailor who carries with them a form of St. Christopher (the patron saint of travel), but for the most part, the “cult of the saints” as it once defined the Christian world, no longer exists.