Friday, March 16, 2012
In Roman Catholic doctrine, a Saint is a term used to refer to deceased person who in life contributed substantially to the cause of Christianity, and is to be officially regarded as a holy person. The process of officially recognizing a person as a Saint is called canonization and serves to hold up those individuals as role models and heroes of Christian virtue.
Due to historical ties with the Catholic Church, some Protestant churches may include some recognition of Saints in their doctrines. In general usage, saint simply refers to someone who is widely considered to be exceptionally virtuous, and may be applied equally to both the living and the dead. In this secular use, the term "saint" may be acceptable to use in non-Christian religious contexts. A "saint" is thus one who is held up by the community as a good example, where the story of their life is typically related for the purpose of inspiring others.
The term Saint is derived from the Latin Sanctus meaning “Holy”. This is a direct translation from the Greek word άγιος (hagios) also meaning “Holy”. In its original scriptural usage it simply means “Holy” or “Sanctified”. In this form it can be applied to a “Holy” person, a place (άγιον όρος; The Holy Mountain, Athos), a thing — such as Scripture itself (αγιογράφικα — Holy Writing), or even God (άγιον πνεύμα; - The Holy Spirit). But very soon the early Christians began to using the term “Saint” more narrowly to refer to a specific, exemplary individual. (For a lexical explanation, see Liddel & Scott. )
The earliest known occurrence of άγιος as "Saint" seems to be in The Shepherd of Hermas, chapter 5 (or 13, depending on how chapters are counted), verse 2. "The Shepherd" was authored sometime in the second century.
Abbreviation for the term Saint is usually “St.” or “St”; in cases where multiple Saints are referenced SS. is the norm.
Some Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians believe that many people venerated as Saints never actually existed. The polite term for such "Saints" is ahistorical. Sorting out exactly which Saints are ahistorical is difficult, because of the larger difficulty of proving a negative: the absence of independent records of a Saint's existence doesn't prove she or he never existed; indeed there are no specific records of the existence of many people who lived before the 20th century. The Acta Sanctorum (hagiographical work ) of the Bollandists form a major part of the historiography of named Saints.
There are a large number of Christian saints with what appear to be pagan names. Most likely they were pagans who converted to Christianity and subsequently became Saints. However, it is possible that some pre-Christian deities (especially in Rome's area) were accidentally adopted as saints. It is thought that some cults were “Christianized” in a fairly direct manner. The basis for this is usually a similarity of names. For example, it is now commonly asserted that Saint Brigid was based on the Celtic goddess Brigid. The goddess was popular long before Christianity reached Ireland. Another possibility is the melding of the actual life of the Saint with myths related to pre-Christian gods and heroes. There are some striking parallels to the events portrayed in the lives of certain saints and fables such as Androcles and the Lion.