Which Saint Is Most Popular with Protestants?

Which Catholic saint is most popular among Protestants?

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. Polemically, he was critical: both sides needed him in order to establish key points of historical continuity with past teaching.

Moving beyond the early Reformation, Augustine continued to be the most significant early church Father in Reformed theology. Calvin uses him extensively, as do Bullinger and Vermigli.  Then, as Reformed theology established itself within the university context in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Augustine continued to be a significant influence, both directly through primary texts and as mediated through medieval scholastic theologians such as Thomas Bradwardine and Thomas Aquinas. Put simply, the questions he raised about Pauline interpretation, and about grace, predestination and human agency, were hardy perennials for Protestants who had no desire either to reinvent the wheel in such areas nor to innovate where no innovation was necessary.

— Dr. Carl R. Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.

COMING TOMORROW: I weigh in on the value of Augustine for ecumenism.

Stephen Beale

By

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • Rob B.

    I doubt that Augustine is well known to the average Protestant, though. If pressed, I would think that the average Protestant would say St. Francis. Everybody likes St. Francis!

  • http://equusnomveritas.blogspot.com JC

    I would have thought Saint Paul was the most popular among Protestants.

  • Jack Isaacks

    Most Orthodox don’t care for Francis, as he was an enemy of the Orthodox Church.

  • Vince Contreras

    Not to mention the fact that Luther was an Augustinian monk.

  • http://theraineyview.wordpress.com/ Serena

    I was a Protestant for years, and the most beloved saints among Protestants are those who appear in the Bible, followed by Francis of Assisi, in my opinion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Leticia-Velasquez/1653352466 Leticia Velasquez

    While commenting on the movie “Restless Heart” which I previewed, a Protestant minister asked me if the film contained the ‘truth’ about his persecution (he was vague on who St Augustine presumably persecuted). I never heard these negative allegations about St Augustine. Thoughts?

  • Rob B.

    He may be referring to his efforts against various heretical groups (Donatists, Pelagians, Manicheans, etc.).

    BTW, I saw Restless Heart a few days ago. It took some liberties, but overall it was a great movie.

  • former protestant

    having been protestant for 30 something years, I know that St Augustine is the most quoted, or who’s quotes are OK with them. The word Saint is not used when they refer to him, that’s too Catholic. We only used the word saint when referring to one another or singing a song. Once the person passed on they stopped referring to them as Saints because then they were in agreement with the Catholic teaching.

  • Scott S.

    “For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” -St. Augustine (354-430) I think it’s pretty clear who owns him…

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