Saturday, 13 May 2017

What are Saints?

The canonisation of Mother Teresa, the children of Fatima and, more recently, Oscar Romero, seems as good a time as any to explore ‘sainthood’ – a privilege imbued by the Catholic Church on men and women of outstanding virtue.

According to the Tridentine profession of faith, these paragons, who now (it is believed) live with Jesus in heaven, are to be invoked as intercessors with God, while their relics and images are venerated.  One case in point is the big toe of St Peter’s statue in Rome’s Basilica. Next to the papal ring, it is arguably Christendom’s most ‘kissable’ item, with millions bowing down to press their lips against it as they make their petitions! This toe-curling practice has not only added a shine to Peter’s foot but has doubtless spread many a tummy-bug to hapless worshipers!

Saints proliferate. There’s a saint for every occasion and activity you can think of. One of my favourites used to be St Genesius, patron saint of actors, lawyers, clowns, comedians, converts, dancers, musicians, printers, stenographers and victims of torture! A former thespian, he used the stage in ancient Rome to mock Christianity - until experiencing a sudden conversion mid-performance! I dare say many luvvies (who, with the possible exception of Ricky Gervais, are notoriously superstitious!) have ‘invoked’ Genesius’ help before that nerve-racking first night. Victims of torture indeed!

So why do we have saints? The answer lies with the Emperor Constantine, who supposedly converted to Christianity in the 4th century. With previous Roman Emperors having tried and failed to contain this vibrant new religion, Constantine used a subtler approach: He simply fused fusing Jesus’ pure teachings with Rome’s polluting pagan beliefs and practices.

Believing Jesus to be the only mediator between God and humans (1 Tim 2:5, Matt. 6:9; John 14:6, 14), genuine Christians never prayed through other  intercessors, nor does scripture allow prayer to be addressed to anyone except God Almighty to whom Jesus directed his own prayers, telling his followers to do the same.

Which left Constantine with a dilemma. If Christians worshiped and prayed to only one God - whom nobody could see - what would happen to the thousands of pagan gods? Were they to be made redundant? Would silversmiths and image makers lose their livelihoods? 

The solution was to re-invent Rome’s existing deities with Christians and market them as ‘Saints’. Foremost to undergo this marketing ploy was Apollo who, with his handsome features, gold halo and sun-god attributes, made a very acceptable Christ!  Jesus’ earthly mother Mary became a substitute for Juno, mother of the gods and wife of Jupiter. And there have been countless other deities now posing as saints under different names.


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