The Cult of the Saints

I finished Peter Brown’s book today. I was disappointed in it. I wanted a book that clearly traced out exactly how and where the cult of the saints came from but Brown’s book is more about how it transitioned into widespread use and displaced existing attitudes towards the dead. Brown does not give us a detailed history of the origins of the cult, he provides a detailed account of what it looked like in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

Brown’s writing in this book is somewhat hard to follow and gauzy. There is a lot of untranslated Latin and French in it which of course I cannot read. This book fits a niche, but it’s not the niche I had hoped it would fill.

8 thoughts on “The Cult of the Saints”

  1. That’s too bad. I am really curious about the origins of it myself. It’s my understanding that sources are really hard to come by from the early church period, so even the development of the bishops is somewhat of a mystery. I wonder if the cult of the saints is in the same category.

  2. Well, in my mind the development of Bishops is not a mystery (John to Polycarp for example), but I could be assuming too much. It seems to me that honor accorded to the martyrs developed into the cult of the saints, but I do wish we had more specifics about how. I guess that without more source texts, it will be hard to know with clarity.

  3. I meant to reply to your comment earlier. From my limited knowledge of the development of bishops, I was under the impression that there aren’t too many sources until about 110 AD, at which point the bishops are certainly the leaders of the church. My main knowledge on that comes from Mark Noll’s “Turning Points,” where he dips into 12 significant developments in Christian history. But it’s more of an overview than a resource that really digs into the evidence.

  4. 110 seems pretty early to me, and it’s hard to believe that the role was invented out of thin air. I am also comfortable with the development of doctrine and polity post-NT – I don’t think everything has to be explicitly in the Bible to be ok. I think Polycarp is good evidence for Bishops and if he really knew the Apostle John, then it seems to connect directly to the NT period.

  5. I think that makes sense. One of the many areas that I want to read more about is the first few centuries of the church, not only as a area of historical interest but because they ought to be such an important model for us.

  6. If I were starting it all over again, I might have made that my field, too. Since you’ve done some reading in that field, what sense do you have about the church fathers’ beliefs about the saints? My impression (based on not much data) is that they believed that the martyrs were models and could pray for believers, but they did not necessarily have the later attachment to relics and icons.

  7. Worship of the saints came quite early, but I’m not sure when. I keep reading and reading to try and pin that down. I certainly think that they did evolve from heroes and role-models to those who had more favor with God and could help ‘lesser’ Christians. I see it as a massive error and one that necessitated the Reformation.

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