Praying to Saints (History)


I am looking for a scholarly treatment of the history of prayer to saints, specifically its origin in the patristic period. I’m not Roman Catholic but I am investigating this doctrine. I’m not interested in simplified defenses by modern anti-protestant apologists (e.g., Hahn, Sungenis). Basically, I want to know when Christians began offering prayers to holy men and women in their private devotional life and when these prayers became a part of the liturgy, and early reaction for and against this development.

If anyone can help me, can you please forward your response to my email–which I check more frequently than this foru? It is “Ashton Dot Wilkins At Gmail Dot Com” (I don’t want to type it out entirely in case spammers get their hands on it).

  • Ashton Wilkins


Ashton, the Catholic Answers Library offers excerpts from the Fathers:


IN addition to the link that FCEGM provided, I thought I’d offer you this. Though it doesn’t deal with prayer to the saints, it is an illustration of the communion of saints; showing Paul and Stephen sharing friendship in heaven:

This sermon by Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe for the feast of St. Stephen ( Sermo 3, 1-3, 5-6: CCL 91A, 905-909) dates from around the year 500 AD and demonstrates the ancient Catholic tradition of remembering the first martyr on the day immediately following the solemn celebration of the nativity of Christ.

Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier.

Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.

Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvellous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.

And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbour made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.

Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defence,- and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.

My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.


Since no one answered my original question well, I will do so myself. There may be people out there who are searching for answers. A good place to start is Darwell Stone’s book on the Invocation of Saints, which one can find online for free, I believe at Internet Archive. If you can read French, Delehaye’s history of the origin of the cult of saints is a classic, and rightly so. You will find references to that and further literature in Stone. There is also an excellent essay by Robert Eno, “The Development of the Cult of the Saints Before Constantine,” in Saint Augustine and the Saints (Villanova University Press, 1989) pp. 1-28. I highly recommend that as a summary of (fairly) recent literature, most of which is in French.

By the way, I am a Catholic now. Devotion to saints is apostolic in origin. I have no doubts about that now, having studied it.


Welcome Home!

I think the reason that you didn’t get many responses is that by saying you aren’t interested in Apologetics… I think many people, like myself, felt that ANY resource we offered would fall into that category.


Sub tuum


It’s easy for questions to be overlooked, especially if they’re academic in nature and most people don’t feel qualified to answer them, or if a good many forum topics are being created and discussed briskly and the quieter topics fall down the page.

That said, I’m very glad that you found answers and came home!

And it was kind of you to post some of the resources you found.


Good point


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