A Brief History of Saints / Edition 1

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A Brief History of Saints follows the rise of the cult of saints in Christianity from its origin in the age of the martyrs down to the present day.

  • Refers to both well-known saints, such as Joan of Arc, and lesser-known figures like the ‘holy fools’ in the Orthodox tradition
  • Ranges over subjects as diverse as the history of canonization processes, the Reformation critique of the cult of saints, and the role of saints in other religious traditions
  • Discusses the relevance of sainthood in the postmodern era
  • Two appendices describe patron saints and the iconography of saints in art.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a book of solid learning worn lightly. Its readable tone coupled with nuggets of juicy anecdote make the rich phenomenon of saints accessible to a wide audience, with great gain of insight." Elizabeth Johnson, Fordham University

"In an age when heroes all too quickly become targets for media demolition, saints still have a capacity to fascinate. Whether we are religious or not, saints remain inspirational exemplars of 'a good life' and remind us of the human capacity for wisdom and altruism in a world that is all too often violent and self-seeking. As Lawrence Cunningham indicates in his A Brief History of Saints, a single, simple definition of 'a saint' is impossible. Different times and cultures highlight different human virtues but, as Lawrence Cunningham concludes, saints are ultimately people who 'do the ordinary in an extraordinary fashion.' His book is an excellent example of clarity and succinctness as he summarizes complex historical and theological material. In a brief space he offers a readable, insightful, sometimes amusing, and ecumenically sensitive history both of the role of saints and of the ways that Christian sainthood has been conceived and promoted. His comments on secularized models of 'sainthood' in contemporary culture were illuminating and, in today’s increasingly global situation, his section on sainthood in different world religions will be especially welcome." Philip Sheldrake, University of Durham

"This book could easily be justified as an addition to the school library" Networking: Catholic Education Today

"A succinct but exceptional guide." M. Sweeney

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Lawrence S. Cunningham is John O’Brien Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University. He is the author or editor of many books, including The Sacred Quest: An Invitation to the Study of Religion (2001), Christian Spirituality (1996), Ecumenism (1990), and The Catholic Faith: An Introduction (1987). His previous works on sainthood include biographies of Thomas Merton and Saint Francis of Assisi. He has won three Catholic Press Association awards for his religious writing and numerous teaching awards.

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Table of Contents

List of illustrations.


1. The Saint: Beginnings.



The Martyrs.


After Constantine.

2. The Bureaucratization of Sanctity.

Liturgical Memory of the Saints.

The Saintly Legend.

Regularizing Sainthood.

A Test Case: Francis of Assisi.

The Christian East.

The Many Meanings of the Saints.


Venerating Saints: A Theological Clarification.

3. Reformations Catholic and Protestant.

The Age of the Reformers.

The Catholic Reformation.

The New Martyrs.

The Papal Curia and Canonization.

The Saints and Scholarship.

4. Towards the Modern World.

Worlds Divided.

New Forms of Religious Life.

Doctors of the Church.

The Starets.

The Tractarians and the Saints.

5. The Twentieth Century.

Schools of Spirituality.

A New Saintliness.

The New Martyrs.

John Paul II: Saints and Evangelization.

An Anglican and Lutheran Calendar.

6. The Saints, World Religions, and the future.


Some Terminology.

Saints as a Theological Resource.

Saints and the Continuity of Religious Tradition.

Appendix I: Patronal Saints.

Appendix II: Iconography of the Saints.


Selected Bibliography.


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