The communion of saints

Hans
Hans Rollmann
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After recognizing a second, "scientifically inexplicable" healing associated with Brother AndrÉ, the founder of St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, Pope Benedict XVI is now proceeding with the final steps to canonization or sainthood. Coverage of this event by "the media" may cause us once again to ask how one should honour exemplary Christian lives. I pondered that question previously in this column when Mother Teresa was beatified.
In Christianity, the notion of declaring people saints ("holy ones") reaches far back into the first generation of the early church. The apostle Paul, in particular, uses the language of "saints" as a designation for all Christians.

Paul on saints
The well-known letter of Paul to the Romans addresses all Christians in Rome as people loved by God and "called saints" (hagioi). Likewise, Paul writes to the Corinthians - a church that gave him much grief because of quarreling factions and other disturbances - as people "made holy in Christ Jesus" and "called saints."
In the concluding words and greetings of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Philippians, the apostle remembers the "holy ones" in these communities. Their holiness or sainthood was not something they had achieved on their own, for it had been given to them by God through their close association with Christ, who was holiness incarnate and raised from death "according to the Spirit of holiness."
This designation of sainthood or holiness also embraces, for Paul, the tasks that Christians play in the end-time, when saints are said to be returning with Christ. At this final point, beyond time, these saints are to sit in judgment of the world.
For Paul, calling to sainthood has ethical implications as well, in that holiness or saintliness shapes all aspects of life and the relations of Christians to other human beings. Moral dimensions of sainthood become increasingly important in the later letters of the New Testament, but still pertain to all saints or Christians.
In the history of Christianity, however, individuals soon became recognized for their sacrifices as martyrs or their steadfast confession of faith in the face of persecutions. Perhaps the book of Revelation is the bridge between the general designation of all Christians as saints and the recognition of those whose martyrdom and apocalyptic resistance against the devil and his earthly representatives will be rewarded when the "saints, apostles, and prophets" are vindicated for their "righteous deeds."
Popular piety and the veneration of saints sometimes shifted attention from the gift to the intercession and powers of the saints, and threatened what Paul had declared to be the basis of holiness and sainthood: Christians' unique relationship with Christ and their service and ministry in a world that needed them. Thus, the (perhaps) greatest theologian of the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas, could be critical of contemporaries, "who place their hope in a human as in the primary author of salvation: not, however, those who place their hope in a helping minister under God."

Newfoundland saints
No known Newfoundlanders or Labradorians have yet been recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as saints in the narrower, canonical sense of the word. Newfoundland has had, at most, some brushes with sainthood.
Brother Didace Pelletier (1657-1699) was a Franciscan Recollect Brother from Quebec who also spent some time in French Placentia. The humble carpenter likely helped in erecting the Franciscan monastery there and was recognized as a holy man by many who came in contact with him. The good brother, who died at the early age of 41, had subsequently several miracles and intercessions attributed to him, so that the process for his elevation to sainthood was begun.
The Protestant Reformation opposed popular veneration and intercession of saints because they potentially compete with Christ's exclusive role as mediator. Yet the Church of England and Episcopal Church in the United States retain the church calendar with its special days and commemorations. Exemplary individuals throughout the history of the church were and still are deemed worthy of remembering, even when they hold no unique status.
One such exemplary Christian remembered by American Episcopalians is Thomas Bray (1656-1730), the former Ecclesiastical Commissary of Maryland and founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.
In a memorial of 1701, Bray used the inadequate spiritual and ministerial presence in the Newfoundland fishery as a reason to promote missionary support for the colonies.
The prayer by which his missionary and educational initiatives are remembered in the American church calendar states that "the needs of the church in the New World … led him to found societies to meet those needs." It was prominently Newfoundland that he chose to illustrate that need, and he founded the SPG to remedy it. This society still exists today, and Newfoundland was its beneficiary for more than 200 years.

Hans Rollmann is professor of religious studies at MUN and can be reached by e-mail: hrollman@mun.ca.

Organizations: Roman Catholic Church, Church of England, Episcopal Church Society for the Propagation of the Gospel

Geographic location: Montreal, Newfoundland, Rome Quebec French Placentia United States Maryland

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  • Wayne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    There might be someday soon, Polly. His name is Manuel Lozano Garrido (of Spain). Here's a relevant link.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/feb/25/journalist-saint-vatican-lozano-garrido

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    I have had a continued fascination with the lives of the saints since early childhood. Finding this article is both a wonderful surprise and a delight . As this article is a journalistic endeavour in a sense , can one ask if there is a patron saint of journalism ?

  • Wayne
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    There might be someday soon, Polly. His name is Manuel Lozano Garrido (of Spain). Here's a relevant link.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/feb/25/journalist-saint-vatican-lozano-garrido

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    I have had a continued fascination with the lives of the saints since early childhood. Finding this article is both a wonderful surprise and a delight . As this article is a journalistic endeavour in a sense , can one ask if there is a patron saint of journalism ?