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A saint is a holy person, as the Latin origin of the word indicates (sanctus, "holy"). Although the word saint is part of the vocabulary of Christianity, the concept of holy persons--those who are unusually empowered by divine forces--is common to many religions. Such persons may be credited with the ability to read the hearts of others, to work miracles of healing, to pray for others whose petitions will then be answered, and so on.

In the New Testament the word saint refers to any baptized follower of Jesus Christ. Later the phrase communion of saints was used to refer to all members of the Church, living and dead. In a more specific sense, saints are those individuals who have died a heroic death for Christ (martyrs), those who have suffered greatly for the sake of Christ (confessors), or those whose lives have been marked by unusual signs of love of God and neighbor. Cults venerating such individuals arose early in Christian history. The church eventually came to regulate cults by instituting a formal system of Canonization about AD 1000.

In Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox practice the names of certain saints were incorporated into the canon, or major part, of the Eucharistic liturgy, with the Virgin Mary as principal saint. In this prayer the saints are praised as participants in the glory of Christ. This prayer and praise, as with all prayer to the saints, is known as veneration or honor as distinguished from prayer to God, which is worship or adoration.

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Lives of the saints, called Hagiographies, have been written since early times. Many superstitious and legendary elements began to obscure the basic meaning of saints' lives, and at the time of the Reformation devotion to the saints was almost completely eliminated in Protestant churches. In modern times the Roman Catholic church has given the Bollandists the task of revising the Roman Martyrology to remove false or imaginative material from the hagiographies as well as to eliminate saints who may not have existed.

Joan A. Range

Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints (1965); Burghardt, Walter J., Saints and Sanctity (1965); Butler, Alban, Lives of the Saints, ed. by Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater, 4 vols. (1956; repr. 1976); Kalberer, Augustine, Lives of the Saints (1976); Ringgren, Helmer, Religion of Mankind Today and Yesterday, ed. by J. C. G. Greig, trans. by Niels L. Jensen (1967); Simon, Edith, The Saints (1969).

Saint, Saintliness

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In the OT, the rendering of hasid ("pious, godly") and of qados ("holy"). The basic idea in qados is separation unto God, whereas hasid stresses godliness grounded on the reception of God's mercy. The NT word is hagios ("holy"). It is regularly used in the LXX to render qados.

From Ps. 85:8, where the saints seem to be synonymous with the people of God, one concludes that the emphasis does not fall on character to an appreciable degree (for not all were godly) but on divine choice and the bestowal of God's favor. In other passages the godly portion of the nation is often singled out by the term. But if the ethical connotation were paramount, the expectation would be that the word should occur regularly in the absolute form, the saints. Yet, ever and again, we read of "thy saints" or "the saints of the Most High" or, as in the NT, of saints in Christ Jesus.

Saints acquire their status by divine call (Rom. 1:7). Doubtless there is latent in the use this term the idea that relationship to God involves conformity to his will and character (Eph. 5:3). In this way the term becomes linked with the thought of faithfulness (Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2).

The next stage of development appears in the book of Revelation, where separation unto the Lord, which characterizes saints, leads to Satan-inspired persecution from the world (Rev. 13:7; 14:12) and even to martyrdom (16:6; 17:6). Here are the seeds for the Roman Catholic concept of saint as a peculiarly holy or self-sacrificing person who is worthy of veneration.

In the NT, however, saint is applied to all believers. It is a synonym for Christian brother (Col. 1:2). Except for Phil. 4:21, it is not used in the singular, and even there it reflects the corporate idea, "every saint." The saints are the church (I Cor. 1:2). In Ephesians, where there is strong emphasis on the unity of the church, "all the saints" becomes almost a refrain (1:15; 3:8, 18; 6:18). The Apostles' Creed enshrines this significance of the word in the statement, "I believe... in the communion of saints."

E F Harrison
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)


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A Saint is one separated from the world and consecrated to God; one holy by profession and by covenant; a believer in Christ (Ps. 16:3; Rom. 1:7; 8:27; Phil. 1:1; Heb. 6:10). The "saints" spoken of in Jude 14 are probably not the disciples of Christ, but the "innumerable company of angels" (Heb. 12:22; Ps. 68:17), with reference to Deut. 33:2. This word is also used of the holy dead (Matt. 27:52; Rev. 18:24). It was not used as a distinctive title of the apostles and evangelists and of a "spiritual nobility" till the fourth century. In that sense it is not a scriptural title.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Also, see:

Biblical Saints

Virgin Mary
Saint John
John the Baptist
Saint James
Saint Luke
Saint Mark
Saint Matthew
Saint Paul
Saint Peter
Saint Timothy
Saint Joseph
Saint Anne
Saint Joachim
Saint Jude
Saint Stephen
Saint Thomas

Later Saints

Saint Augustine
Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Jerome
Saint Dominic
Saint Veronica
Saint Benedict
Saint Teresa of Avila
Saint John of the Cross
Saint Jerome

Saint Cabrini

Cabrini, Saint Frances Xavier (1850-1917), was an Italian American Roman Catholic nun, born in Lombardy (Lombardia). In 1880 she founded the Order of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. She went to the United States in 1889, at the request of Pope Leo XIII, to organize charitable and religious work among Italian immigrants. Under her direction, schools, hospitals, orphanages, and convents were established in many of the principal cities of the U.S. and in Latin America. Mother Cabrini became a U.S. citizen in 1909. She was canonized in 1946, becoming the first U.S. citizen to be declared a saint. Her feast day is December 22.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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