A Saint is an individual of exceptional holiness. The term originates within Christianity as one which has various definitions varying by denomination. The word itself means “holy” and is derived from the Latin sanctus which was the word used in translating hagios (άγιος meaning “holy” or “holy one”) in early Greek Christian literature and in the New Testament, where it is used to describe the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. This page is for quotes referring generally to saints and concepts of sainthood.
Some say this world of trouble
Is the only one we need
But I’m waiting for that morning
When the new world is revealed.
Oh when the saints go marching in,
When the saints go marching in,
Oh lord I want to be in that number,
When the saints go marching in!
- Anonymous author of the folk song "When the Saints Go Marching In"; as rendered in one of Louis Armstrong's versions of the traditional funeral march and jazz standard.
- Variant: Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.
- A saint, whether Buddhist or Christian, who knows his business as a saint is rightly meditative and in proportion to the rightness of his meditation is the depth of his peace. We have it on an authority which Mr. Chesterton is bound to respect that the kingdom of heaven is within us. … Failing like many others to discriminate between romanticism and religion, Mr. Chesterton has managed to misrepresent both Buddhism and Christianity. The truth is, that though Christianity from the start was more emotional in its temper than Buddhism, and though an element of nostalgia entered into it from an early period, it is at one in its final emphasis with the older religion. In both faiths the emphasis is on the peace that passeth understanding.
- Irving Babbitt, in response to comments in Orthodoxy (1908) by G. K. Chesterton, in "Buddha and the Occident", his afterword to his translation of the Dhammapada (1936), p. 99
- Just as painters in working from models constantly gaze at their exemplar and thus strive to transfer the expression of the original to their own artistry, so too he who is anxious to make himself perfect in all the kinds of virtue must gaze upon the lives of the saints as upon statues, so to speak, that move and act, and must make their excellence his own by imitation.
- Basil of Caesarea vol. 1, p. 17, Letters as translated by R. Deferrari (1926)
- We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?
- Samuel Beckett, in Waiting for Godot (1952), Act II
- The spiritual influence that a person of higher stature exerts on the environment, which comes about through the constant encounter, purifies the environment. It lends the graces of holiness and freedom on all who come in contact with him. And this nobility of a holy grace returns after a while with stronger force and acts on the person himself who exerted the influence and he becomes sociable, abounding in spirituality and holiness. This is a higher attribute than the holiness in a state of withdrawal.
- Bokser, Ben Zion. (1978). Abraham Isaac Kook. p. 232.
- The Hasid, the individual disciple, must seek to be continually in touch with the rebbe. He spends certain holy days in his court, within the radius of his direct influence (...). The radiance of the rebbe's influence is elicited especially by being within the range of his vision and the touch of his hands (...). The rebbe is in sense a redeemer - a redeemer of the holy sparks imprisoned in the world. He helps effect the reunion between God and His creation.
- Ben Zion Bokser, The Jewish Mystical Tradition, quoted after: Miriam Bokser Caravella, The Holy Name. p. 186.
- As the days went slowly by he came to see that Christianity and the denial of Christianity after all met as much as any other extremes do; it was a fight about names — not about things; practically the Church of Rome, the Church of England, and the freethinker have the same ideal standard and meet in the gentleman; for he is the most perfect saint who is the most perfect gentleman. Then he saw also that it matters little what profession, whether of religion or irreligion, a man may make, provided only he follows it out with charitable inconsistency, and without insisting on it to the bitter end. It is in the uncompromisingness with which dogma is held and not in the dogma or want of dogma that the danger lies.
- When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a Communist.
- Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian archbishop, as quoted in Peace Behind Bars : A Peacemaking Priest's Journal from Jail (1995) by John Dear, p. 65; this is a translation of "Quando dou comida aos pobres chamam-me de santo. Quando pergunto por que eles são pobres chamam-me de comunista."
- Variant translations:
- When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist.
- When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.
- Both saints and lords were patrons in the sense of serving as the pater, the father, to those beneath them Indeed, our modern linguistic distinction between a "patron" and a "patron saint" is largely a product of the eighteenth century; before that time, the single word "patron" normally designated both categories.
- Alison Chapman, “Patrons and Patron Saints in Early Modern English Literature”, Routledge, New York, (2013), p. 2.
- [A]s James Simpson points out, Henry VIII moved against saints' cults as an adjunct to is move to centralize political power because the saints represented a social model based on intermediaries in which people gave their first allegiance to a local lord instead of to the king. In other words, the saints were not just theologically problematic. Because of their association with human lords, they were also politically and socially problematic for the Tudors, who were committed to a consolidation of power in the person of the monarch. Since, in Simpson's words, a saint's power was so often "felt along the networks of noble and gentry families," Henry tried to limit the power of the saints as a means to limit the independent power of these families.
- Alison Chapman, “Patrons and Patron Saints in Early Modern English Literature”, Routledge, New York, (2013), pp. 2-3.
- Although fine studies have explored how medieval devotional traditions such as pilgrimage, Purgatory, and the Eucharist continued to ripple through the consciousness of early modern writers and to influence their works, the same attention has not been paid to the literally thousands of saintly men and women who constituted the late medieval canon (the virgin Mary is the signal exception here, one to which I return below. Ironically, the one major study of the impact of hagiography on early modern Protestant literature, Julia Lupton's Afterlives of the Saints, is premised on the idea that the saints themselves had largely disappeared, leaving behind only an empty genre, the legend, which the early modern period would then refill with new, secular contents. Lupton makes a compelling case for the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century preoccupation with hagiography, but her thesis implies that early modern men and women had more or less forgotten about the individual saints themselves.
- Alison Chapman, “Patrons and Patron Saints in Early Modern English Literature”, Routledge, New York, (2013), pp. 4-5.
- No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The mediaeval saint's body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive. There cannot be any real community of spirit between forces that produced symbols so different as that. Granted that both images are extravagances, are perversions of the pure creed, it must be a real divergence which could produce such opposite extravagances. The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards. If we follow that clue steadily we shall find some interesting things.
- G. K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy (1908)
- What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.
- Leonard Cohen, in Beautiful Losers (1966)
- There are truly moral people who unconsciously live a life in entire harmony with the universal moral order and who live unknown to the world and unnoticed by others without any concern. It is only people of holy, divine natures who are capable of this.
- Confucius, cited in: Novak Philip, The World's Wisdom, p. 120.
- You venerate the saints, and you take pleasure in touching their relics. But you disregard their greatest legacy, the example of a blameless life. ... No devotion is more acceptable and proper to the saints than striving to imitate their virtues.
- Erasmus, The Handbook of the Christian Soldier, Fifth rule, in The Erasmus Reader (1990), p. 144.
- They say that the world rests on the backs of 36 living saints — 36 unselfish men and women. Because of them the world continues to exist. They are the secret kings and queens of this world.
- Neil Gaiman, in The Sandman #31: "Three Septembers and a January", Death, speaking to Emperor Norton I.
- The saints are simple people. It is the condition of divided allegiance, doubt and compromise and the twists and turns of self-deception, that is complicated, not holiness.
- Elizabeth Goudge, Saint Francis of Assisi (1959), Part 3, Ch. 2.ii. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1961, p. 174
- We must shed the old stereotype of anarchists as bearded bomb throwers furtively stalking about city streets at night. Kropotkin was a genial man, almost saintly according to some, who promoted a vision of small communities setting their own standards by consensus for the benefit of all, thereby eliminating the need for most functions of a central government.
- Let us never forget that if we wish to die like the Saints we must live like them. Let us force ourselves to imitate their virtues, in particular humility and charity.
- Saint Theodore Guerin (Saint Mother Theodore), Letter to Sisters at Saint Mary's (1848)
- Holy words, full of nectar, coming out of the mouths of the true Gurus vibrate throughout the world. (...) From every pore of their bodies blessings are pouring forth to all beings.
- Haidakhan Babaji, The Teachings of Babaji, (4 April 1982).
- The world is full of half-enlightened masters. Overly clever, too "sensitive" to live in the real world, they surround themselves with selfish pleasures and bestow their grandiose teachings upon the unwary. Prematurely publicizing themselves, intent upon reaching some spiritual climax, they constantly sacrifice the truth and deviate from the Tao. What they really offer the world is their own confusion.
- Hua Hu Ching 80, quoted after: Novak Philip, The World's Wisdom. p. 174.
- It makes a tremendous emotional and practical difference to one whether one accepts the universe in the drab discolored way of stoic resignation to necessity, or with the passionate happiness of Christian saints.
- William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (1902), Lecture II, "Circumscription of the Topic"
- Both thought and feeling are determinants of conduct, and the same conduct may be determined either by feeling or by thought. When we survey the whole field of religion, we find a great variety in the thoughts that have prevailed there; but the feelings on the one hand and the conduct on the other are almost always the same, for Stoic, Christian, and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their lives. The theories which Religion generates, being thus variable, are secondary; and if you wish to grasp her essence, you must look to the feelings and the conduct as being the more constant elements. It is between these two elements that the short circuit exists on which she carries on her principal business, while the ideas and symbols and other institutions form loop-lines which may be perfections and improvements, and may even some day all be united into one harmonious system, but which are not to be regarded as organs with an indispensable function, necessary at all times for religious life to go on. This seems to me the first conclusion which we are entitled to draw from the phenomena we have passed in review.
- William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (1902), Lecture XX, "Conclusions"
- Accurate reading on a wide range of subjects makes the scholar; careful selection of the better makes the saint.
- John of Salisbury, in Policraticus (1159), Bk. 7, ch. 10.
- The more honesty a man has, the less he affects the air of a saint.
- Johann Kaspar Lavater, as quoted in Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1862) edited by Henry Southgate, p. 290
- I recalled the myth that I had once heard as a university student — thirty-six hidden saints in the world, all of them doing the work of humble men, carpenters, cobblers, shepherds. They bore the sorrows of the earth and they had a line of communication with God, all except one, the hidden saint, who was forgotten. The forgotten one was left to struggle on his own, with no line of communication to that which he so hugely needed. Corrigan had lost his line with God: he bore the sorrows on his own, the story of stories.
- Colum McCann, in Let the Great World Spin (2009), Book One: All Respects to Heaven, I Like it Here
"How do you expect me to become a saint?"
"By wanting to," said Lax, simply. ... "All that is necessary to become a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it."
A long time ago, St. Thomas Aquinas had said the same thing—and it is something that is obvious to everybody who ever understood the gospels.
- Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), p. 261
- We belong to the Society of Friends, a community of love, a family of persons. In so far as we are not just another “denomination,” we know also that the salvation of our age is in our keeping; that is, that it lies in the divine-human society which is "rooted and grounded in love." This is the unity which alone can make one world out of "one world", and not one nightmare, one hell, one burned-out cinder. We know also and in a way we respond to the fact that we have a mission, we are "called to be saints".
- A. J. Muste, in Saints for This Age (1962)
- People find it difficult to understand why one must travel to the master in order to hear the teaching from his lips (...). There is a great difference between hearing the truth from the master directly, and hearing it quoted by others (...) and reading it in a book.
- Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (1772-1810), cited in: Miriam Bokser Caravella, The Holy Name. p. 172-3.
- Your own self is your ultimate teacher (sadguru). The outer teacher (Guru) is merely a milestone. It is only your inner teacher, that will walk with you to the goal, for he is the goal.
- Sri Maharaj Nisargadatta. (2005). I am That. p. 51.
- Stay in the company of lovers. Those other kinds of people, they each want to show you something. A crow will lead you to an empty barn, A parrot to sugar.
- Rumi, Furuzanfar #630, quoted in: Helminski, Kabir (2000). The Rumi Collection. p. 181.
- Socrates was the chief saint of the Stoics throughout their history; his attitude at the time of his trial, his refusal to escape, his calmness in the face of death, and his contention that the perpetrator of injustice injures himself more than his victim, all fitted in perfectly with Stoic teaching.
- Bertrand Russell, in A History of Western Philosophy (1945), Book One, Part III, Chapter XXVIII, Stoicism, p. 253
- By the way, I have been reading the last volume of the Bible (the Epistles & Apocalypse) in your modern edition. I long for notes; but even half understood the stuff is extraordinary. What could be more remote from polite religion than this palpitating, ... eschatological, revolutionary delusion? And what fisticuffs—controversial and perhaps physical—among these new-born saints!
- George Santayana, Holzberger, William G., ed (2001). "Letter to Charles Augustus Strong, 4 August 1912". The Letters of George Santayana. Book Two, 1910–1920. MIT Press. p. 96. ISBN 9780262194662.
- Saints do not die.
It is their lot,
To die while on this earth
To all that God is not.
- Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer, translation by J. E. Crawford Flitch (1932)
- The master by residing in the Tao, sets an example for all beings. Because he doesn't display himself, people can see his light. Because he has nothing to prove, people can trust his words. Because he doesn't know who he is, people recognize themselves in him. Because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds.
- Tao Te Ching 22, cited in: Novak Philip, The World Wisdom, p. 153.
- Men, she thought, had always been able to seek holiness when they wanted to because some woman was back at home taking care of their obligations. That’s why most of the saints were men and why most of the women saints were virgins.
- Sheri S. Tepper, Sideshow (1992), ISBN 0-553-56098-0, p. 40
- The soul can only receive impulses from another soul, and from nothing else. We may study books all our lives, we may become very intellectual; but in the end we shall find that we have not developed at all spiritually (...). This inadequacy of books to quicken spiritual growth is the reason why, although almost every one of us can speak most wonderfully on spiritual matters, when it comes to action and the living of a spiritual life, we find ourselves awfully deficient. To quicken the spirit, the impulse must come from another soul. The person from whose soul such an impulse comes is called the guru, the teacher; and the person to whose soul the impulse is conveyed is called the sishya, the student.
- Vivekananda, quoted in: Nikhilananda, Vivekananda, A Biography, p. 189.
- Of one hundred people who take up the spiritual life, eighty turn out to be charlatans, fifteen insane, and only five, maybe, get a glimpse of the real truth. Therefore, beware.
- Vivekananda, quoted in: Nikhilananda, Vivekananda, A Biography, p. 30.
David Farmer, “Oxford Dictionary of Saints", Fifth Edition Revised, Oxford University Press Inc., New York, (2011)
- Long ago the famous Bollandist Hippolyte Delehaye wrote: 'Happy is the saint who finds a biographer worthy of him.' The remark is as true today as when it was first penned many years ago. On the whole the quality of recent candidates for canonization has not been high. Too often individuals have been made to fit into conventional patterns of piety which make it difficult to capture individual character. In addition to this problem is that of language, especially for the martyrs of the Far East. Latin and 'live' European languages are indispensable here, but cannot be a total substitute for the native languages of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. However, the effort had to be made to present these saints to English readers, to whom they are usually unfamiliar. For quite different reasons the numbers and significance of the martyrs of the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and 20th century Mexico are little known to most English readers. Hence it seemed useful to include them in this volume along with the other recently canonized saints mentioned above. It is salutary to remember that Christian martyrs are not confined to the early centuries, but still exist today. No doubt in the 21st century as well as in previous ones men and women will give their lives for Christ, while others will inspire by comparable generosity in other walks of life an provide exemplars for generations yet to come.
- p. viii
- The public veneration of saints in the Christian Church is known to have existed in the 2nd century. As will be shown below, it developed in local communities; it was based on the saint's tomb; it was a consequence of the general belief that a martyr who shed his blood for Christ was certainly in Heaven and able to exercise intercessory prayer on behalf of those who invoked him. It has often been asserted that the cult of saints was both a borrowing from and a substitute for the polytheistic cults of the ancient Graeco-Roman world. In its crude form the theory is completely unconvincing, especially when the nature of the cults is considered and placed in its context of Christian doctrine, worship, and life. But it can readily be conceded that many eternal elements such as anniversaries, shrines, incubation, and iconography have all been at the very least deeply influenced by pagan Mediterranean models. Nevertheless, the cults of saints originated in the beliefs and practice of Jewry and early Christianity.
- p. ix
- During the 4th century devotion to the martyrs spread rapidly. This took place through entries in the calendar of one local church being shared by others. Also in the 4th century came the extension of cults to selected confessors and virgin; the ascetic, monastic life came to be regarded as something of a substitute for martyrdom, and those who pursued it faithfully as worthy of the same honour. Zealous bishops also were perceived as sharing the teaching role of Christ to a supreme degree. Whilst the earliest saints to be venerated had been martyrs such as Polycarp, Ignatius, and the Martyrs of Lyons soon Anthony and Athanasius in the East, with Augustine and Martin in the West were similarly honoured shortly after their death. For both categories the saint's tomb was the indispensable start of the cult.
- p. x
- Through the ages zealous bishops had intervened to suppress false cults, but only in the late 12th and 14th centuries did the authorization of new cults become juridically reserved to the Holy See. Not much could be done systematically about old cults or about the proliferation of relics by any authority except through exhortation, but at least the cults of new saints were put on to a legal basis which many of the best minds of the age helped establish and administer. This reserve was formerly believed to be the work of Alexander III (1159-81); recent scholarship has shown it to be the work rather of Innocent III (1199-1216), who in fact built on and consolidated the work of his predecessors. The growing centralization of the Church following the Gregorian Reform was also a powerful factor in establishing the new legal requirement. Papal commissions were appointed to investigate the life and miracles of candidates for canonization. Only if the life was seen to have been worthy were the miracles then examined. These two subjects of enquiry have remained standard from then until the present day, while the enquiries themselves were conducted according to the best standards of the time.
- p. xi
- Unauthorized cults did not entirely cease in the later Middle Ages but in the long run they were unlikely to survive if they lacked the papal approval which they should have had. A modern authority concludes: in canonization as in other matter medieval theory could not always be enforced in practice, and it was not until the Roman Church had lost the Northern peoples and had undergone the counter reformation, that the decrees of Urban VIII (1623-44) were able to bring about the complete control of the cult of the saints which had been so long desired. It is a paradox that among those who rejected the Roman obedience were the peoples who had been foremost in acknowledging papal authority in this sphere of Christian practice.
- p. xii
- The reform of the Roman calendar in 1969 regulated further the cults of saints and introduced a systematic selection by historical criteria for both universal veneration throughout the Roman Church and for purely local cult. The reform was part of the programme of aggorniamento initiated by John XXIII (1958-62) and continued by Paul VI (1963-78). It was widely held that the accumulation of saints in the calendar over many centuries had led to over-emphasis on their feast days as the expense of the more important Temporal Cycle of the calendar composed of Advent, Lent, and the Sundays throughout the year. Long before, particular Orders such as the Benedictines had enjoyed a more selective calendar than the Roman Church as a whole: it might be said that the effect of the reform was to bring the whole Church to a situation in several ways similar to that of the Benedictines. The opportunity was taken also to upgrade or downgrade certain feasts, to restore some of them to their original days, to transfer others from Lent and Advent, and to omit entirely some who had previously enjoyed a considerable cult. These included SS. Philomena and Margaret of Antioch at the same time saint were selected for universal veneration by deliberate choice from each century of the Church's history and from many countries. Examples of these include martyrs from Australasia, Uganda, Korea, and Vietnam. Their historical significance as representatives of particular non-European countries was duly considered. Others who had long been venerated everywhere in Christendom were approved for particular churches, countries, or religious orders. The committee charged with this selection was particularly severe on a number of early martyrs. Where historical scholarship has shown that there is no solid foundation for believing them to be martyrs, they are no longer venerated as such. The preponderance of saints of Roman origin has been ended, and the number of popes culted universally reduced to fifteen.
- p. xviii
- The lives of the saints can be seen in Pauline terms as the fruits of the Spirit at work in human beings, or, in the words of John Henry Newman, as the proper and true evidence of the God of Christianity.
- p. xix