On “Saints”

Should we prepend the term to “Paul” or “Augustine”?

Assumed audience: Other Protestants. (Non-Christians likely don’t care; Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are apt to disagree because of different priors!)

Epistemic status: Reasonably comfortable, but wouldn’t pick a fight over this.

With this post I’m starting something new: whenever someone asks me a question — in email, in Slack, etc. — which I think might be interesting to readers, I’ll make a point to share it here as well; you’ll find them all under the Q & A topic. I may of course tweak the content from my response to that person — elaborating on a point that requires more context, eliding personal details, etc. Enjoy!

How do you feel about saint” appended to people’s names? Is it acknowledging an honor bestowed by someone else (like me calling a beknighted British man Sir” despite not being British) or inappropriate?

I generally opt not to because of its unhelpful associations with Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) views on saints, and because I take it to be out of step with the actual biblical use of the language of saints.” Scripture calls all of us saints! Accordingly, I’m unwilling to give the word over to use only for those people. Were the history of Catholic and Orthodox use different than it is, I might be okay with using it as a mark of their exemplary lives — but that linguistic history is what it is.

I do think there’s something right about recognizing both the doctors of the church and the distinctively holy people of the church as such. Protestants are apt to overcorrect here, and we can and should do more reflection on the gift we have been given in the church’s history of especially wise and especially godly people — even if we don’t want to distinguish them as saints” in contrast to the rest of us.