Review: The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity

The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity, Enlarged EditionThe Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity, Enlarged Edition by Peter R.L. Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although heavy going at times, largely because my knowledge of foreign languages is less than what it could be, this book provides a wonderful introduction into the advent of the Cult of the Saints in the Church of the West. Drawing on a wide range of sources and commentators, Peter Brown captures the basics of this development and communicates it to the reader in a way that provides a general overview of the place of this religious practice in the life of the early Church.

In making his presentation, Brown challenges the assertions often connected with the development of the Cult of the Saints – viz. that it was either a hangover from pre-Christian pagan practices or the practice of “the vulgar” (as opposed to “the elite”) and shows that such practices were, in fact, a very significant and central place in the life of the Church, and the broader community, in the later parts of the fourth century.

From the back cover:

In this groundbreaking work, Peter Brown explores how the worship of saints and their corporeal remains became central to religious life in Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. During this period, earthly remnants served as a heavenly connection, and their veneration is a window into the cultural mood of a region in transition. He illuminates the fierce hopes, the loyalties, and the poignant sense of the presence of invisible companions that flourished among Christians of all classes and levels of culture – worshippers or pilgrims, beggars or grand donors – as they sought healing, justice, beauty, and hope beyond the grave at the shrines of the saints in the era of late antiquity.

Brown also challenges the long-held “two-tier” idea of religion that separated the religious practices of the sophisticated elites from those of the superstitious masses, instead arguing that the cult of the saints crossed boundaries and played a dynamic part in both the Christian faith and the larger world of late antiquity.

An essential text by one of the foremost scholars of European history, this enlarged edition includes a new preface from Brown, which presents new ideas based on subsequent scholarship.

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Article by Andrew Doohan

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