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A Brief History of Saints

ISBN: 978-1-4051-1402-8
192 pages
January 2005, Wiley-Blackwell
A Brief History of Saints (1405114029) cover image
A Brief History of Saints follows the rise of the cult of saints in Christianity from its origin in the age of the martyrs down to the present day.

  • Refers to both well-known saints, such as Joan of Arc, and lesser-known figures like the ‘holy fools’ in the Orthodox tradition

  • Ranges over subjects as diverse as the history of canonization processes, the Reformation critique of the cult of saints, and the role of saints in other religious traditions

  • Discusses the relevance of sainthood in the postmodern era

  • Two appendices describe patron saints and the iconography of saints in art.
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List of Illustrations vii

Introduction 1

1 The Saint: Beginnings 5

Beginnings 8

The Martyrs 11

Literature 13

Veneration 16

After Constantine 18

2 The Bureaucratization of Sanctity 28

Liturgical Memory of the Saints 28

The Saintly Legend 31

Regularizing Sainthood 36

A Test Case: Francis of Assisi 39

The Christian East 44

The Many Meanings of the Saints 46

Pilgrimage 49

Venerating Saints: A Theological Clarification 51

3 Reformations: Protestant and Catholic 54

The Age of the Reformers 54

The Catholic Reformation 61

The New Martyrs 68

The Papal Curia and Canonization 72

The Saints and Scholarship 74

4 Towards the Modern World 78

Worlds Divided 78

New Forms of Religious Life 81

Doctors of the Church 87

The Starets 91

The Tractarians and the Saints 96

5 The Twentieth Century 102

Schools of Spirituality 102

A New Saintliness? 107

The New Martyrs 115

John Paul II: Saints and Evangelization 120

Anglican and Lutheran Calendars 123

6 The Saints, World Religions, and the Future 127

Some Terminology 130

Saints as a Theological Resource 136

Saints and the Continuity of Religious Tradition 139

Appendix I: Patron Saints 148

Appendix II: Iconography of the Saints 151

Notes 155

Select Bibliography 162

Index 169

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Lawrence S. Cunningham is John O’Brien Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University. He is the author or editor of many books, including The Sacred Quest: An Invitation to the Study of Religion (2001), Christian Spirituality (1996), Ecumenism (1990), and The Catholic Faith: An Introduction (1987). His previous works on sainthood include biographies of Thomas Merton and Saint Francis of Assisi. He has won three Catholic Press Association awards for his religious writing and numerous teaching awards.
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  • A history of the cult of saints in Christianity from its origin in the age of martyrs to the present day
  • Refers to both well-known saints, such as Joan of Arc, and lesser-known figures like the ‘holy fools’ in the Orthodox tradition
  • Ranges over subjects as diverse as the history of canonization processes, the Reformation critique of the cult of saints, and the role of saints in other religious traditions
  • Discusses the relevance of sainthood in the postmodern era
  • Two appendices describe patron saints and the iconography of saints in art.
See More
"This is a book of solid learning worn lightly. Its readable tone coupled with nuggets of juicy anecdote make the rich phenomenon of saints accessible to a wide audience, with great gain of insight." Elizabeth Johnson, Fordham University

"In an age when heroes all too quickly become targets for media demolition, saints still have a capacity to fascinate. Whether we are religious or not, saints remain inspirational exemplars of 'a good life' and remind us of the human capacity for wisdom and altruism in a world that is all too often violent and self-seeking. As Lawrence Cunningham indicates in his A Brief History of Saints, a single, simple definition of 'a saint' is impossible. Different times and cultures highlight different human virtues but, as Lawrence Cunningham concludes, saints are ultimately people who 'do the ordinary in an extraordinary fashion.' His book is an excellent example of clarity and succinctness as he summarizes complex historical and theological material. In a brief space he offers a readable, insightful, sometimes amusing, and ecumenically sensitive history both of the role of saints and of the ways that Christian sainthood has been conceived and promoted. His comments on secularized models of 'sainthood' in contemporary culture were illuminating and, in today’s increasingly global situation, his section on sainthood in different world religions will be especially welcome." Philip Sheldrake, University of Durham

"This book could easily be justified as an addition to the school library" Networking: Catholic Education Today

"A succinct but exceptional guide." M. Sweeney

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