Claudia Raff

The period beginning around the year 300 was a time of experimentation with expressions of faith, piety and belief. The legitimating of Christianity at the end of the Persecutions in 312 and the prospect of lasting imperial support for Christianity and its practitioners opened up new opportunities for social acceptance and public expression of the faith. By around the year 600, experimentation had turned to solidification and a firm groundwork was established that future generations would evoke as binding precedent. One of the great novelties of the period was the cult of saints.

The focus of studies on saints has commonly been on 'the very special dead', as Peter Brown has called them, centred on the cult at their tomb.1 Yet, other influential publications of the same scholar have drawn attention to the importance of living 'holy men' within the socio-economic landscape of late antiquity There is no clear dividing line between them in terms of the veneration they received. Dead saints and living holy men alike were believed to hold a special connection to the divine that they were able to share with those who approached them. As will emerge from the following, many acts of veneration shown to saints after their death had their origin in the connections of the faithful to living holy men.

The cultural context

The Christian notion of personal sanctity cannot be understood divorced from its cultural context. The idea that certain individuals held an elevated status among humans because of their connection to the divine was common in ancient culture. In ancient Greece, heroes like Heracles, the son of Zeus, for example, were the descendants of gods and goddesses. They held superhuman powers and received divine honours at their tombs. There are even some

1 P. Brown, The cult of the saints.

0 0

Post a comment