By Virginia Carlin
The Celtic festival of the dead was incorporated into Christian ritual and in the 9th century a feast in honor of all the saints was fixed for November 1. What or who is a saint? I would suspect we have many among us, in all races and religions who have never been officially recognized. This is not to denigrate the heroism, dedication or devotion of saints of earlier days.
The Bible is full of compelling stories. Peter, (called Cephas, Aramaic equivalent of Peter, meaning the Rock) a fisherman in Capernaum, was with Christ during many of his miracles. He was the first to preach to the gentiles as well as to Jews. He was the first Bishop of Rome. Tradition says Peter was crucified upside down, during Nero’s reign, near Nero’s circus, at the foot of Vatican Hill around 64 AD.
Paul, born Saul, of Jewish parents, descended from the tribe of Benjamin, studied to be a Rabbi, and was a tent maker. He persecuted Christians until his encounter with Christ and his conversion on the way to Damascus halted in his tracks, thrown to the ground and blinded, hearing the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He changed his name to Paul, and preached Christianity to the gentile world. He was often attacked by mobs and imprisoned. Tradition has him arrested again at Troas and returned to Rome where he was beheaded in 67 AD during Nero’s persecution of Christians.
St. Augustine (354-430) born at T’agaste, North Africa was the son of a pagan Roman official, and his mother, a Christian, Monica. He gave up studying Law at the university in Carthage and devoted himself to philosophy and literary pursuits and accepted the chair of rhetoric at Milan. The sermons of Ambrose, bishop of Milan, convinced him to become a Christian. With his mother, brother and several others he lived a community life of prayer and dedication. He also preached and wrote. His great intellect influenced the thought of Western Christianity. He died in Hippo in 395. Best-known works are Confessions,” “City of God” and “The Trinity.”
St. Ignatius Loyola (1491 -1556) was born of a noble family in Guipuzcoa, Spain. He was wounded in military service and while recuperating became impressed with the life of Christ and the biographies of saints. He spent a year on retreat in 1522, writing spiritual exercises, and where he experienced visions. After studies in Barcelona and Paris, he founded the Jesuit order with six fellow students. He was ordained in 1537.
Jesuit schools, colleges and seminaries spread all over Europe. By the time of his death in Rome, the goals for the Jesuits were to reform the Church, especially through education and performing missionary activities.
Francis of Assisi is Christianity’s most universally popular saint. He was a soldier-saint of Loyola and the gentle lover of nature. He and Ignatius had similar experiences of conversion.
Then there was St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote the Summa, Dominic born of noble parents, who founded the Dominican Order, and Anthony who lived in a cave in the desert because he didn’t like cities. There are women saints, St. Joan of Arc, St. Therese of Lisieux and so many more in the Calendar of Saints of greater or lesser stature.
In 1968, The Reverend Howard V. Harper, D.D., as a semi-retired Vicar to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, in Marco Island, wrote “Profiles of Protestant Saints.” His religious duties had taken him throughout the United States and many other countries. He wrote a nationally syndicated column, “Days and Customs of All Faiths.” Richard Cardinal Cushing, Catholic Archbishop of Boston, wrote the forward in which he says: “God raises up his saints when and where he chooses.” The point is clear: when the situation is ready, the right person enters the scene. It would be naive to say the right person in every given situation must be a member of anyone church. Whether they were Catholics or Protestants, or whatever else, they were right for His purpose. I agree with Dr. Harper that there is nothing of contradiction in the term “Protestant saints.”
Dr. Harper says of Martin Luther, who studied law but left to become an Augustinian monk, “He may have been a peasant, a yokel, and a monk, but he was an educated man and he was no fool… It was clear to him that what he saw in Rome could not be God’s means of man’s salvation.” He translated the Old and New Testaments into a common language and was the author of many hymns, also popular in other than Lutheran churches. Pope John Paul had stated in recent years that the Protestant Reformation resulted in the true reform of the church, affected by the Council of Trent, which was necessary at the time.
Dr. Harper includes John Calvin, John Wesley, Richard Allen, Dwight Lyman Moody, Jane Adams, Albert Schweitzer among others. He admits his selection of nineteen persons in his book was not easy because it leaves out thousands who are known only to God.