Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saints in various religious traditions

Tomorrow, Christians (mainly Roman Catholics) celebrate the Feast of All Saints. Below is a brief comparative survey of 'sainthood' in the various religious traditions.

Roman Catholic Church

There are more than 10,000 canonized Roman Catholic saints. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that it does not, in fact, make anyone a saint. Rather, it recognizes a saint. In the Church, the title of Saint — with a capital 'S' — refers to a person who has been formally canonized (officially recognised) by the Roman Catholic Church, and is therefore believed by this church to be in Heaven.

Also, by this definition there are many Roman Catholics believed to be in Heaven who have not been formally declared as Saints (most typically due to their obscurity and the involved process of formal canonization) but who may nevertheless generically be referred to as saints (lowercase 's'). All in Heaven are, in the technical sense, saints, since they are believed to be completely purified and holy. Unofficial devotions to uncanonized individuals take place in certain regions. Sometimes the word "saint" is used to refer to Roman Catholics still sojourning here on earth.

In his book, Saint of the Day, editor Leonard Foley, OFM, says this of saints: "[Saints'] surrender to God's love was so generous an approach to the total surrender of Jesus that the Church recognizes them as heroes and heroines worthy to be held up for our inspiration. They remind us that the Church is holy, can never stop being holy and is called to show the holiness of God by living the life of Christ."

The veneration of saints, in Latin, cultus, or the "cult of the saints", describes a particular popular devotion to the saints. Although the term "worship" is often used, it is intended in the old-sense meaning to honor or give respect (dulia). Divine Worship is properly reserved only for God (latria) and never to the Saints. They can be asked to intercede or pray for those still on earth, just as one can ask someone on earth to pray for them.

A saint may be designated as a patron saint of particular causes or professions, or invoked against specific illnesses or disasters, sometimes by popular custom and sometimes by official statements of the Magisterium. They are not thought to have power of their own, but only that granted by God. Relics of saints are respected in a similar manner to holy images and icons. The practices of past centuries in venerating relics of saints for healing is taken from the early Church.

According to the Catholic Church, to be deemed a miracle, "a medical recovery must be instantaneous, not attributable to treatment, disappear for good."

Once a person has been declared a saint, the body of the saint is considered holy. The remains of saints are called holy relics and are usually used in churches. The saints' personal belongings may also be used as relics. Some of the saints have a symbol that represents their life.

In Church tradition, a person that is seen as exceptionally holy can be declared a saint by a formal process, called canonization. Formal canonization is a lengthy process often taking many years, even centuries.

The first step in this process is an investigation of the candidate's life, undertaken by an expert. After this, the report on the candidate is given to the bishop of the area and more studying is done. It is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.

If the application is approved, the person may be granted the title of "Venerable". Further investigations may lead to the candidate's beatification and given title of "Blessed." At a minimum, two important miracles are required to be formally declared a saint. At least one of the miracles must be posthumous. Finally, when all of this is done the Pope canonizes the saint.

Eastern Orthodoxy

In the Eastern Orthodox Church a Saint is defined as anyone who is in Heaven, whether recognized here on earth, or not. By this definition, Adam and Eve, Moses, the various Prophets, the Angels and Archangels are all given the title of "Saint". Sainthood in the Orthodox Church does not necessarily reflect a moral model, but the communion with God: there are countless examples of people who lived in great sin and became saints by humility and repentance, such as Mary of Egypt, Moses the Ethiopian, James the Righteous, and of course Dysmas, the repentant thief on the Cross. Therefore, a more complete definition of what a saint is, has to do with the way that saints, through their humility and their love of humankind, saved inside them the entire Church, and loved all people.

Orthodox belief considers that God reveals his Saints through answered prayers and other miracles. Saints are usually recognized by a local community, often by people who directly knew them. As their popularity grows they are often then recognized by the entire church. The formal process of recognition involves deliberation by a synod of Bishops. If successful, this is followed by a service of Glorification in which the Saint is given a day on the church calendar to be celebrated by the entire church. This does not however make the person a saint; the person already was a saint and the Church ultimately recognized it.

It is believed that one of the ways the holiness (sanctity) of a person is revealed, is through the condition of their relics (remains). In some Orthodox countries (such as Greece, but not in Russia) graves are often reused after 3 to 5 years because of limited space. Bones are washed and placed in an ossuary, often with the person's name written on the skull. Occasionally when a body is exhumed something miraculous is reported as having occurred; exhumed bones are claimed to have given off a fragrance, like flowers, or a body is reported as having remained free of decay, despite not having been embalmed (traditionally the Orthodox do not embalm the dead) and having been buried for some years in the earth.

The reason relics are considered sacred is because, for the Orthodox, the separation of body and soul is unnatural. Body and soul both comprise the person, and in the end, body and soul will be reunited; therefore, the body of a saint shares in the “Holiness” of the soul of the saint. As a general rule only clergy will touch relics in order to move them or carry them in procession, however, in veneration the faithful will kiss the relic to show love and respect toward the saint. Every altar in every Orthodox church contains relics, usually of martyrs. Church interiors are covered with the Icons of saints.

Because the Church shows no true distinction between the living and the dead (the Saints are considered to be alive in Heaven), saints are referred to as if they were still alive. Saints are venerated but not worshipped. They are believed to be able to intercede for salvation and help mankind either through direct communion with God, or by personal intervention.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the titles "Όσιος" for men and "Οσία" for women are also used. This is a title attributed to saints who had lived a monastic or eremitic life, and it is equal to the more usual title of "Saint".


In the Anglican Church, the title of Saint — with a capital 'S' — refers to a person who has been elevated by popular opinion as a pious and holy person. The saints are seen as models of holiness to be imitated, and as a 'cloud of witnesses' that strengthen and encourage the believer during his or her spiritual journey (Hebrews 12:1). The saints are seen as elder brothers and sisters in Christ. Official Anglican creeds recognise the existence of the saints in heaven.

So far as saintly intercession is concerned, Article XXII of Church of England's Articles of Religion "Of Purgatory" condemns "the Romish Doctrine concerning...(the) Invocation of Saints" as "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God". However, each of the 44 member churches in the Anglican Communion are free to adopt and authorise their own official documents, and the Articles are not officially normative in all of them (e.g., The Episcopal Church USA, which relegates them to "Historical Documents"). Anglo-Catholics in Anglican provinces using the Articles often make a distinction between a "Romish" and a "Patristic" doctrine concerning the invocation of saints, permitting the latter.

In high-church contexts, such as Anglo-Catholicism, a Saint is generally one to whom has been attributed (and who has generally demonstrated) a high level of holiness and sanctity. In this use, a saint is therefore not a believer, but one who has been transformed by virtue. In Roman Catholicism, a saint is a special sign of God's activity. The veneration of saints is sometimes misunderstood to be worship, in which case it is derisively termed "hagiolatry".

Some Anglicans and Anglican churches, particularly Anglo-Catholics, personally ask prayers of the saints. However, such a practice is seldom found in any official Anglican liturgy. Unusual examples of it are found in The Korean Liturgy 1938, the liturgy of the Diocese of Guiana 1959 and The Melanesian English Prayer Book.

Anglicans believe that the only effective Mediator between the believer and the God the Father is God the Son, Jesus Christ. But those who pray to saints make a distinction between "mediator" and "intercessor," and claim that asking for the prayers of the saints is no different in kind than asking for the prayers of living Christians. Anglican Catholics understand sainthood in a more Roman Catholic or Orthodox way, often praying for intercessions from the saints and celebrating their feast days.

According to the Church of England, a saint is one who is sanctified, as it translates in the Authorised King James Version (1611) 2 Chronicles 6:41

Now therefore arise, O LORD God, into thy resting place, thou, and the ark of thy strength: let thy priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, and let thy saints rejoice in goodness.


"Scripture does not teach calling on the saints or pleading for help from them. For it sets before us Christ alone as mediator, atoning sacrifice, high priest, and intercessor."—A.C. Article XXI.[22]

In many Protestant churches, the word "Saint" is used more generally to refer to anyone who is a Christian. This is similar in usage to Paul's numerous references in the New Testament of the Bible. In this sense, anyone who is within the Body of Christ (i.e., a professing Christian) is a 'saint' because of their relationship with Christ Jesus. Because of this, many Protestants consider prayers to the saints to be idolatry or even necromancy. Dead Christians are awaiting resurrection, and are not able to do anything for the living saint.

Within some Protestant traditions, saint is also used to refer to any born-again Christian. Many emphasise the traditional New Testament meaning of the word, preferring to write saint (lower case) to refer to any believer, in continuity with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.


While Methodists as a whole do not practice the patronage or veneration of saints, they do honor and admire them. Methodists believe that all Christians are saints, but mainly use the term to refer to bibilical people, Christian leaders, and martyrs of the faith. Many Methodist churches are named after Saints, such as the Twelve Apostles, John Wesley, etc. Although, most are named after geographical locations associated with an early circuit or prominent location. Some Methodist congregations observe All Saints Day if they follow the liturgical calender. Many encourage the study of saints, that is, the biography of holy people. The 14th Article of Religion in the United Methodist Discipline states, "The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God." John Wesley, the theological father of world Methodism, did not practice or permit Roman Catholic practices associated with the veneration of the the Virgin Mary or prayers to the Saints.


In the Lutheran Church, according to the Augsburg Confession the term "Saint" is used in manner as the Roman Catholic Church only insofar as denoting a person who received exceptional grace, were sustained by faith and whose good works are to be and example to any christian. The Augsburg Confession does explicitly state that "it cannot be proved from the Scriptures that we are to invoke saints or seek help from them." 1 Timothy 2:5[25] is cited as reason for this statement. The Confession continues to say "Moreover, according to the Scriptures, the highest form of divine service is sincerely to seek and call upon this same Jesus Christ in every time of need.


There are some groups which are generally classified as Protestants who do not accept the idea of the communion of saints. These groups, which are often more specifically referred to as Restorationists, do not believe in the efficacy of the intercession of saints. This is primarily due to two distinct, but opposing beliefs found within the various "Restorationists". Some believe all of the departed are in soul sleep until the final resurrection on Judgment Day. Others believe that the departed go to either Paradise or Tartarus, to await the day in which the living and the dead are judged.

Latter-day Saints

The beliefs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons with regard to saints are similar to the Protestant tradition described above. In the New Testament the saints are all those who have entered into the Christian covenant. The qualification "Latter-day" Saints refers to the doctrine that members are living in the "latter days" before the second coming of Jesus Christ, and is used to distinguish the modern church from the ancient Christian church. Therefore members refer to themselves as "Latter-day Saints", or simply "Saints", most often among themselves.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Refers to "Those who are clean, particularly in a spiritual or moral sense; it also denotes persons set apart for the service of God, in heaven or on earth." The term Saints means Holy Ones and there are several references made in the Bible to those that were sanctified to Almighty God Jehovah. The term would also apply to those that were anointed with Holy Spirit after the death of Jesus Christ. The Bible gives a specific number of those Holy Ones that would rule with Jesus Christ in Heaven as being 144,000 (Revelation 5:10, 20:6.) The anointed Holy Ones are to rule as Kings and Priests over the Heavens and the Earth. Jehovah's Witnesses do not use the term saints nor have them in worship.

Other religions

The use of the term saint is not exclusive to Christianity. In many religions, there are people who have been recognised within their tradition as having fulfilled the highest aspirations of religious teaching. In English, the term saint is often used to translate this idea from many world religions.


Judaism speaks of a class of unidentified individuals known as Tzadikkim.


There are individuals who have been described as being Hindu saints, most of whom have also been more specifically identified by the terms Mahatma, Paramahamsa, or Swami, or with the titles Sri or Srila. Some Indian Saints avoided titles and fame such as Neem Karoli Baba. Buddhists hold the Arhats and Arahants in special esteem. Some groups of Islam hold the Hadrat (literally, Presence, a title of Sufi Saints) in similar esteem.

The concept of sant or bhagat found in North Indian religious tradition, is unrelated and a false cognate of "saint". Figures such as Kabir, Ravidas, Nanak, and others are widely regarded as belonging to the Sant tradition. Some of their mystical compositions are incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib. The term "Sant" is still sometimes loosely applied to living individuals in the Sikh and related communities.


Anthropologists have also noted the parallels between the regard for some Sufi figures in popular Muslim observance and Christian ideas of sainthood. In some Muslim countries there are shrines at the tombs of Sufi "saints", with the observation of festival days on the anniversary of death, and a tradition of miracle-working. In some cases, the rites are observed according to the solar calendar, rather than the normal Islamic lunar calendar.

Hazrat Babajan (c. 1806 - September 18, 1931) was a Baloch Muslim saint considered by her followers to be a sadguru or qutub.

Below is a picture of a shrine dedicated to a Sufi Saint in Georgetown, Penang.

Santeria (Voodoo)

The veneration of Catholic saints forms the basis of the Cuban Santería religion. In Santería, however, saints are syncretised with Yoruban deities, and are equally worshipped in churches (where they appear as saints) and in Santería religious festivities, where they appear as deities (orishas); however, this practice is condemned vehemently by the Catholic Church as sacrilegious and contrary to true Catholic practice.

Santeria, Haitian Vodou, Brazilian Umbanda and Candomble and other similar religions adopted the Catholic Saints, or at least the images of the saints, and applied their own spirits/deities to them, or 'Orishas' in Santeria, "Orixás" in Umbanda and Candomblé and 'Lwa' in Vodoun. The adoption of Catholic Saints was fairly common in the religions that were adapted by the slaves in the New World. It can be understood as an example of faux-Catholicism.

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