Saints & Seekers
It’s not even a close call: Augustine is by far the most respected and revered of the Catholic saints among Protestants, at least those in the Reformed tradition.
That’s something that may be surprising to some Catholics—it’s not like Augustine has been pushed off to the fringes of Catholic thought and spirituality. Just how central is Augustine? Well, in the current Catholic catechism, he’s cited more than even Thomas Aquinas: 87 citations to Aquinas’ 61.
So I asked Dr. Carl Trueman, a top evangelical scholar and expert on church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, to explain how Augustine became such a beloved figure in Protestant circles. Here’s what he had to say:
The Princeton theologian, B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) once commented that the Reformation represented the triumph of Augustine’s understanding of grace over his doctrine of the church. Like all such pithy sayings, it is something of an over-simplification but it does contain a significant truth: Augustine is as important to Protestants as to Catholics. His Confessions helped to shape Protestant understandings of the Christian’s inner spiritual conflict; his work on the Trinity was carried over into the Reformation with no significant alteration, beyond a certain skepticism among some about his use of psychological analogies; and his work on predestination was fundamental to Protestant reading of the Apostle Paul. Indeed, one could write a history of the Reformation as an extended debate over the interpretation of Augustine’s works and, indeed, who owns them.…
Sainthood, it sometimes seems, runs in the family. In today and tomorrow’s feasts of St. Monica and St. Augustine, we have one of the most famous parent-child saint pairs. But theirs is not the only one.
Here are some others I dug up that are perhaps less well known (or so obvious that they aren’t thought of too often):
■ Blessed Jane: The mother of not one, but two saints—St. Dominic and his far-lesser known brother, Blessed Manes.
■ Parents of Mary: Probably most Catholics know or were taught at one point that the mother of Mary, Anne, is a saint. Probably fewer were aware that Mary’s father, Joachim, also is a saint.
■ Parents of St. John the Baptist: These are well-known biblical figures, but their status as saints is may be news to some—Saints Zachary (Zechariah) and Elizabeth.
■ St. Helena and Constantine the Great: One of the more notable parent-child pairs of Christian history is notable because the parent, St. Helena, is a saint, while her far more famous son, Constantine the Great, was never declared a saint in the Roman rite. However, he is venerated as a saint in Eastern Orthodoxy.
Can you think of any more? If so, post them in the comments section or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Queenship of Mary follows logically from her status as Mother of God and as mother to Christ the King. The best explanation of the Catholic insistence on this title, in my opinion, is the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam from Pope Pius II. Some Catholic apologists also will un-spool some very intricate biblical-theological arguments for why Mary should be considered Queen of Heaven, based upon studies of the Old Testament and the ancient near Eastern position of Queen Mother. (A fine example of such scholarship is available here.)
But faithful Catholics actually need to look no further than Hail Mary prayer itself and the gospel text upon which it is taken. “Hail” is, after all, not simply a “hello.” It is a particular kind of greeting delivered to a person who is considered to enjoy a royal status. Think of the common salutation “Hail Caesar” from ancient Roman times. The same idea carries through in the gospels in which the word appears only a handful of times. In fact, the only other times, in the gospels at least, that the word is used, it is addressed to Jesus himself—certainly a strong hint of the special status that Mary enjoys as Queen next to Christ the King.
Three moments stand out:
■ Judas greets Jesus with a “hail” when he meets Him in the Garden of Gethsemane in order to betray him.
■ The second moment is the scourging of Jesus, after which the Roman soldiers mocked Him by crying out “All Hail King of the Jews,” an episode recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John (but curiously not in Luke).…
In recalling the life and legacy of St. Pius X, I am reminded of the opening editorial salvo of National Review, the conservative magazine launched in the 1950s: It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no other is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it. So it was with St. Pius X, who, as Pope from 1903 to 1914, went on a crusade against a whole series of errors he denounced collectively as modernism. Pius X issued a letter declaring Gregorian chants to be the highest form of liturgical music. He opposed the separation of church and state in France. He urged Catholic workers to join only those labor unions that were faithful to the Church. And he penned a 932-word oath against modernism that he required all priests, professors, and other Church leaders to take.
If the Church at the Second Vatican Council was throwing open its windows to the world, Pius X would seem to be one who was slamming them shut, nailing the door closed, and pulling up the drawbridge.
But that would be a simplification. Pius was hardly the curmudgeon clinging stubbornly to the skeleton of dead traditions. Rather, this saint and successor to St. Peter was moved by a sincere attachment to the truths of the Church and a deep love for God and His children. St. Pius opened his papacy with a positive call to restore all things in Christ.…
The Assumption of Mary is important for many reasons—for the glorification of God, the completion of His redemptive work, the theology of the Incarnation, to name a few. A post could be dedicated to each of these. But what does it mean for our personal faith journeys? Other than inspiring further devotion to the Mother of God, there’s an additional reason that the Assumption is important, a reason that I think is sometimes overlooked. Pope Pius XII speaks to this in the apostolic constitution in which he defined this teaching as an infallible dogma:
It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all the members of this august body. And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined.…
The Assumption of Mary—the dogma that at the end of her earthly life, Mary’s body was taken up into heaven to be with her Son, Jesus—is among the most beautiful of the Church’s teachings. It is also a necessary dogma—not only because it has been infallibly defined as such by the Church, itself a sufficient reason for belief—but also for these five reasons:
1. Sharing in Christ’s Lot: One principle of Marian theology holds that Mary shared in Christ’s lot, as Pope Pius XII has written. This is suggested as early as Genesis 3:15, where it is foretold that there would be enmity between the offspring of Satan and that of Eve. An even closer link between the lots of Mary and Jesus is suggested by Simeon in Like 2, where he prophecies that she too will have a sword pierce her heart. Indeed, in important ways, her life paralleled her Son’s. Her presence is especially significant at two key moments: the commencement of Jesus’ earthly ministry at the wedding at Cana and its climax in His crucifixion. She was, as the early Fathers down to Pius XII recognized, the Eve to Christ’s Adam. As Father William Most has written,
[T]he New Eve had been closely associated with the New Adam in the struggle against sin and death. Still further, in the case of her Son, that struggle had brought glorification. Since the struggle was in common to both, then a common cause would have a common effect: it had to bring a parallel glorification to her, the Assumption.…
We know precious little about St. Hippolytus (b. 170—d. 235), whose feast day is today. But one fact is certain: he was the first anti-pope in the history of the Catholic Church, thus making him a most unlikely candidate for sainthood after his death. Here’s how it happened: St. Hippolytus, accused—falsely so, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia—Pope Calixtus of advocating a particular heresy that diminished the differences between two persons of the Trinity, God the Father and God the Son. Hippolytus was, apparently, also “scandalized when Calixtus … took measures to extend absolution to graver sins such as adultery,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. So it was out of misplaced zeal and misunderstanding that Hippolytus had himself elected anti-pope, itself quite a serious matter. The schism lasted through several popes.
Eventually, Hippolytus was exiled to Sardinia in a period of persecution during the pre-Constantine era. The circumstances of his death are unclear, although three seems to be agreement on at least two key points: he died as a martyr and, before his death, he became reconciled with Rome. This account here says he was reconciled through the legitimate Pope, Pontian, with whom he was exiled. Both men, the site says, perished amid the harsh conditions of working the Sardinian mines. But Hippolytus is commonly depicted in art (click here for an example) as being martyred through dismemberment by horses (his name means “unleasher of horses”). Either way he came back home to Rome.…
The votes are in and here are the saints readers nominated for being the most influential of their time—the results contained quite a few surprises. Other than St. Bernard and John Paul II, discussed in separate previous posts here and here, they are:
1. The Apostle Paul: The author of most of the New Testament and the last of the apostles actually received the most votes from readers. Writes Bill Dingas, a retired engineer and catechist from Livingston, Texas: “Paul is the greatest evangelist ever—doing the impossible by our standards of bringing the good news to the gentiles. Paul with just a few friends, converted most of what is Turkey today (sadly taken over by Islam), making several trips from Israel the Asia Minor, Rome, Greece just to name a few stops. A considerable part of our New Testament comes from Paul. … Who knows (God does) where we would be today without his efforts!” Here’s how another reader put it: “My vote is for St. Paul of Tarsus because he disseminated belief in Jesus throughout the Mediterranean and to the Gentiles, laying the foundation of Christianity and massive change throughout the civilized world in his lifetime.”
2. Mother Teresa: As influential as St. Bernard was, one reader writers that: “Mother Theresa’s influence is wider, also through her humble humanity, because she lived in an age of modern media, and millions could see her work and feel her influence.” Here’s what another reader had to say: “Despite not being formally declared a saint by the Church, Mother Theresa is easily the most influential saint of her time. …
After I suggested that St. Bernard of Clairvaux was the most influential saint of his time, I received quite a lot of reader mail and comments suggesting that his influence in his time will be surpassed by Blessed Pope John Paul II in this past century—quite an extraordinary claim, given that he passed just a few years ago and has yet to be even formally declared a saint.
Here’s why readers think John Paul the II merits such a distinction:
■ Downfall of communism: One reader writes: “He brought down the Soviet Union; he brought many people including me … back to the faith. I know what Bernard did but I think JP surpassed him buy a mile. Bernard persuaded people to go on Crusade but he didn’t cause the collapse of Islam whereas JP not only encouraged Solidarity but brought about the collapse of the system that was oppressing people.” To any skeptics out there—this is no exaggeration. For any questions about how influential John Paul II was in bringing an end to communism, perhaps even exceeding the role of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I recommend the documentary, Nine Days that Changed the World.
■ Extraordinary public witness to faith: Another reader summed it up pretty well in the comments section: “His influence goes well beyond his absolutely compelling personal odyssey from actor/athlete to intellectual, to resistance against fascists, to underground seminarian, to priest, to academic and mystic, to bishop, to Council father, to Pope, and his personal example of forgiving his would-be assassin, and his public decline and suffering in faith.”
■ Post-Vatican II confusion: As compelling as that all is, the (same) reader added, we also have to consider John Paul II’s role in bringing the Church back from the brink of the chaos of the so-called post-Vatican II “spirit”—a “monumental feat in of itself.”
■ Theology of the Body: “And if all that weren’t enough, he articulated a counter ideology to the enlightenment dualism which has led to the moral chaos which is otherwise destroying our culture,” the reader continued.…
Reread that headline carefully. The question is not who is the most influential saint of all time, but rather of his or her time. The answer to the former is probably easy. I imagine many of us would tick of one of the following—St. Francis, St. Catherine, St. Patrick, St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Dominic, to name just a few—it’s a long list. But the second question—who was most influential in his lifetime?—is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Think of your own answer to this question and e-mail me (email@example.com) your thoughts before reading further. (Please, in addition to listing your nominee, give a reason. I may post the runners-up in a follow-up, but I’ll keep your names out of it!) I imagine that few of us, including yours truly, would have come up with the answer that noted Catholic historian Warren Carroll does:
Answer: St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Here’s what Carroll writes of him:
No man before or since who held no office of power throughout his life bestrode his age as did this monk of genius and of leashed but flaming passion, juridically only one of the many hundreds of abbots in the Church, yet the terror and inspiration of emperors and kings, the shield and sword—and where necessary the goad—of Popes. No historical determinist theory, no calculations of material or institutional power and influence can begin to account for St.…