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Male Saints

When the Male Saints Go Marching In

Male Saints

On the Feast of All Saints, I received a tweet pointing to a blog post (from The Blog of St Chrysostom’s Church, Manchester UK) which highlighted the shocking imbalance in the Church of England’s latest calendar of saints and holy people. 80% of those named in Exciting Holiness are male. And only 5% are married.

That is staggering.

NZ Anglicanism has always been in the forefront of gender-inclusiveness. God is “you” rather than “he” in our Prayer Book. So I worked through our Prayer Book’s calendar ticking “male” and “female” on a sheet of paper. In fact, the number of females in NZ’s Anglican Prayer Book Calendar is below 20%! You can do your own calculations, but it seems that unmarried males is the model that is, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year, held up to Kiwi Anglicans as the model of sanctity.

Some years ago, I moved a motion that our NZ Anglican Common Life Liturgical Commission review the calendar so that it “increases, refreshes, and enriches the offering of the example of people whose lives and work give special encouragement to others of all ages, and to those engaged in various aspects of the Church’s life and witness”. The motion passed unanimously.

The examples I gave in the motion were added to the Calendar by General Synod Te Hinota Whanui:
August 8 Mary MacKillop, Teacher, 1909
Brother Roger of Taize: Encourager of Youth, 2005
September 5 Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Missonary of Charity, 1997
November 22 C.S. Lewis, Apologist, 1963
December 10 Thomas Merton, Spiritual Writer, 1968
but the Calendar itself was not reviewed.
Maybe now is a good time to (re)start that review.

May the blog post that started this have the last word:

At a time when words such as ‘reform’ and ‘renewal’ are being used in the Church of England perhaps the Calendar needs a little reform too! Let’s have more women saints, more saints in families or close relationships and please let’s not be so focussed on Europe. .. and why not (more) LGBT saints?

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Image by Albertino Piazza – www.bildindex.de, Public Domain, Link

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11 thoughts on “When the Male Saints Go Marching In”

  1. Rather than worry about such statistics, I would ask that folks look past the title ‘saint’ and see, instead, ‘saint-like behavior.’ It is everywhere, dressed in a wide variety of gender, nationality, age, color, sexual preference, occupation, etc.

    1. You are supporting and reinforcing my point, Kevin, and the point of the original post.

      Furthermore, neither calendar uses the title ‘saint’ beyond the New Testament period. Blessings.


      1. It’s hard for me sometimes to not think as a Roman Catholic! Hahaha! We’re still a little too fascinated, I think, about who will be named a saint.

        On a personal note, I pray to all of my deceased loved ones with the confidence that they are saved and I continue to ask for their prayers.

  2. We are undergoing similar discussions about calendar revision in Canada (http://cep.anglican.ca/tag/principles-for-calendar-revision/). As I’m sure you could guess before I even began to type, Bosco, I strongly object to the whole project. 🙂

    In my view, the liturgical calendar should not be manipulated as a tool for education or for furthering an agenda. Calendars should not be, in the first instance, products of centralized committees.

    Instead, we should return to the first-millennium practice in which saints were acclaimed in local cults. There is (or should be) nothing in principle stopping a parish or diocese from liturgically commemorating persons not on a national (or, for Roman Catholics, “universal”) calendar. Ideally, any name added to a national calendar will already have been vigorously culted for many years, using prayers, readings, and songs that have been created by some particular church whose people are, from unofficial conviction, devoted to the memory and example of that person. Liturgical forms would then “catch on” as other churches learned of them and were inspired to a similar devotion to that person. (The function of the “central committee” would be to investigate and affirm—or reject—the integrity of a strong local cult, not to impose it on everyone.)

    The absence of “representative” persons from calendars reflects, for better or for worse, the devotional activities of earlier centuries, the saints who fired their imaginations and sparked a spontaneous liturgical cultus. We should not simply go back and supplement or “correct” their devotion to make it look more like what we wish it was.

    Rather, if we wish to add names to our calendars today, we should look for the same identifying signs of that historic pattern of devotion in our own time. For example, active pilgrimage to burial sites or places of significance in the saint’s life, or a popular instinct (in the sense of bottom-up, “of the people”) to incorporate meditative “conversations” with the saint into the life of private prayer (as when Margery Kempe conversed “in her understanding” with St. Katherine and St. Margaret, as well as many biblical figures). Are New Zealand Anglicans queuing up at particular burial places or shrines? Are they enjoying mental colloquy with the people suggested for addition to the calendar?

    A different kind of evidence can be used for those writers who are gradually acquiring the status of Doctors of the Church. An Orthodox priest of my acquaintance says that the Church Father he most quotes in his sermons is C. S. Lewis! Reading out the writings of admired Christians in a local church’s liturgy (e.g. in place of a scripture lesson at the Office, or even in place of a sermon at the Eucharist) would be the first liturgical mark of this emerging status.

    These are the authentic expressions of a liturgical devotion to holy persons. Where they are in evidence in a local church, there will be every reason to consider adding an annual commemoration. But not before.

    But even then, we must consider very carefully whether these extra- or para-liturgical signs of devotion can ever rightly claim formal liturgical expression (collect, proper psalms and lessons, chants) within the Anglican tradition, which has historically insisted on scriptural content in such commemorations. (The evolution of the Prayer Book collect for St. Andrew is instructive on this point.) The Prayer Book allows “black letter” saints (as we discussed in the thread to an earlier post) for private or civic devotion, but not for liturgical commemoration. And if Anglicans were making pilgrimages to burial sites (for example), would our tradition really endorse this? Where does our understanding of the communion of saints need to mature?

    As one who worships using the classical Prayer Book, I have to say that I feel in no way deprived of devotional meditation on, or communion with, holy people just because they are not in the calendar and don’t have a collect. And in modern liturgical revisions, the best place to commemorate saints often seems to be in the Prayers of the People, where they can be a focus of thanksgiving and an instantiation of our desire for communion with the whole Body of Christ (as you yourself have written).

    I have often thought that what Anglicans really need to recover is the medieval/Roman custom of reading the Martyrology, with short notices of saints to be read out on their death days (historically, at the end of the office of Prime, so for us, at the end of Mattins). Far more saints are included in the martyrology than could ever be culted individually in the liturgy. Their inclusion in the martyrology allows them to be brought to the mind as a subject for private study and devotion.

    A similar practice was actually once a very natural part, indeed a crucially formative part, of Anglican piety, in the form of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which was found in many households and was read with great devotion. (We’ll leave for another time a frank discussion of the “No Popery” bigotry that it entrenched in English culture.) But we can look back to much earlier models, such as Bede’s Martyrology (eighth century) and the anonymous Old English Martyrology (ninth century).

    But again, such a custom would arise from local devotional interest, and it would ideally find expression in the context of a (revived) tradition of the communal Office.

    1. Thanks, Jesse. NZ Anglicanism allows “commemorations of people of local significance whom the community wishes to celebrate.” (NZPB/HKMA p11). Your point shifts the question: how did committees and General Synods that constructed this Calendar, being in other things so conscious of gender inclusion, and having a VAST sea of names to choose from, come up with such a gender-unbalanced list?! Blessings.

  3. Incidentally, I recently learned of an example of Anglican-style relic veneration. After the death in 2011 of Fr. Robert Crouse (see here: http://www.stpeter.org/crouse/), there was an auction of his possessions at his home/hermitage. The huge, rough hewn wooden salad bowl from which he used to serve spectacular salads from his own garden to parties of friends was finally sold for over $400.

    But I doubt that Fr. Crouse will be added to our calendar. He loved (and defended) the Prayer Book too much.

    For my part, I went to Durham to lay my hand on the tomb of Bede and ask for help with my Master’s thesis. 🙂

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