Two essays are about saints, one on changes in Marian piety over the last fifty years and another titled “What Do We Want from the Saints?” In the latter Duffy mounts a critique of the present model of sanctity—the saint as exemplar, a person who embodies some aspect of the Christian ideal. In the past, especially the distant past, the saints were venerated as prodigies, miracle-workers, intercessors, protectors. The more they were unlike the rest of us, the better. They brought the majesty and otherness of God down to earth and allowed ordinary men and women to see and touch the divine. Hence the importance of relics. The body of the saint was the locus of supernatural power.The photograph has nothing to do with Duffy. It's the ceiling of the Pantheon in Rome, which is, as one might recall, the Church of St. Mary and all the Martyr Saints.
According to Duffy, the new model of sainthood fosters Pelagianism, “a wearisome emphasis on good deeds and moral effort, the saint as prig and puritan.” In his view the older model is far better, offering us the saint as spiritual tightrope walker, ascetic star, eccentric. This analysis seems plausible in theory, but it ought to be noted that the most popular person to be beatified in recent years is the stigmatic Padre Pio, who was very much an eccentric, an ascetic, and a prodigy. Another popular modern saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, lived a form of renunciation and mortification far beyond the reach of most Christians. Here Duffy seems to have let his ideas get out ahead of the facts.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Eamon Duffy on the Saints
I've always found this intriguing (it's from a review of his book, "The Faith of Our Fathers" in the April, 2005 issue of First Things.)