The Saints' Calendar
( Originally Published 1912 )
And a book of remembrance was written before him. Hebrew Prophet.
So to live is heaven,
In common conversation and in literature the term Saint occurs so frequently that it serves to arrest attention and merits a special study. In its singular and plural forms it is used more than a hundred times in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. On the pages of church history it is constantly appearing. It is in-woven with many of the middle-age legends. As a prefix to names of persons, plants, cities, bays, rivers and islands it is repeated hundreds of times in encyclopedias and gazeteers. The ecclesiastical calendar contains many days dedicated to veneration of holy per-sons and, lest some might be overlooked, each year the first day of November is set apart for remembrance of all saints. Hallowe'en is the holy evening preceding All Saints' Day. Once the occasion of a religious festival, celebrated with superstitious rites, that evening has become almost entirely secularized and is given up to merriment and mischief.
In its origin the word saint was employed to designate something that was established and hence inviolable. It might refer to a highway or a landmark or a pillar erected to commemorate an unusual event. Later it came to signify the setting apart of a person or a thing from a common to a sacred use. The vessels used in worship and those who used them were sanctified or saintly. Coming forward to us from a language long since dead the term reveals something valuable concerning the life of those who used it. Had there been no such thing as an idea of sanctity there would have been no such word. The fact made the term.
When and why the sense of awe over the mystery of the world arose in the soul cannot be known. The one evident thing is that it arose long ago and still remains. When the hymn to Mont Blanc was composed the poet fully confessed its presence. But the Hebrew poetry declares the same sentiment was present and active in the far-off Palestine days. Impressed by the idea that nature is a revelation of Deity, Coleridge attained a high degree of eloquence when he wrote:
"O dread and silent Mount !
But the author of the Nineteenth Psalm was no less swayed by that sentiment and was no less eloquent when he uttered the words :
"The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth forth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, their voice is not heard; but their line has gone out to the ends of the earth."
The same thing may be said of beauty. In modern times it seems to have great power over the human heart. Wherever its chariot rolls forward, man is glad to follow as its slave. But this chariot rolled in as great triumph along the highways of ancient centuries. Our English and French and Italian poetry contains many allusions to the beautiful in nature, but they can be matched in the poetry of nations long since perished. Homer speaks of "the rosy fingered dawn that opens the gates of the east." Anacreon says : "Lovely red rose, thou favorite of the gods !" Virgil says : "Scatter lilies with full hands." Catullus ex-claims : "Oh, beautiful world ! Thou dost fill me with unutterable joy." Thus the sense of beauty is of equal date with the soul.
Sympathy is another gate opening into a remote past. This virtue may have widened and deepened with the process of time, but it is not a recent arrival upon earth. In our day many persons in their sympathy pass beyond the limits marked "human" and feel glad with the gladness and sad with the sadness of the animals around them. But this tenderness does not all belong to our day. A Hebrew writer said, "the merciful man is merciful to his beast." The Mosaic laws prohibited the muzzling of those animals used on the threshing floors to tramp out the grain. Virgil sang in praise of kindness to all forms of life. When one of his oxen dropped dead in the furrow he not only pitied it, but he expressed sorrow for its companion in its loneliness. A Scotch poet lamented the uprooting of a mountain daisy ; but a Latin poet said that vines should be planted where they would be made glad by the morning sunbeams. We trust this sentiment is increasing the arena of its activity. When it makes up its jewels civilization will find nothing more precious. But we may not forget that it has flashed in the crown worn by former nations.
Like the words beauty and sympathy, so does the word piety lift the veil from the far past. It leads us to a time when an uplifted soul was regarded as beautiful as a marble statue. The action of Antigone, placing the will of God above any human commands, seems as sublime as the rising and falling of ocean tides or the movement of the planets. The scene, in which Eneas appears leading his little son and carrying his old father away from burning Troy is as beautiful as any picture Apelles ever painted upon can-vas. The scenes in which Abraham is portrayed as journeying into a strange country in obedience to a Divine command, in which Enoch is pictured as walking with God, in which Samuel is seen rising from his bed at night and saying : "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth," and in which Elijah and Elisha and Simeon are beheld receiving all their commands from Heaven are more sublime than the Pyramids and are more luminous than the Pharos of Alexandria. If the poets could say : "Oh, beautiful world ! Thou fillest us with unspeakable gladness !" there were also those who could exclaim : "Oh, mysterious world ! Thou dost fill us with inexpressible wonder." Thus, when the curtain is rolled up revealing the past, among the artists and poets and philosophers passing across the stage there may be seen many saints with their faces turned toward the sky.
The early years of our era were favored with the presence of many such heroes of piety. Each age produces its own kind of harvest. As it sows, it reaps. If it plant philosophy, philosophy it will reap. If science, then science ; if luxury, then luxury ; if trade, then trade ; and if religion, then religion will be the harvest. Before Christ came the art and philosophy of Greece and the material power of Rome had been gathered. The world was ready for a new sowing. Into the prepared and waiting soil were cast new ideas as fruitful seeds. These soon germinated and sprung up and ripened. As a result, a different type of human beings was seen. To them earth and all its material splendor were unsubstantial and unsatisfying. Human power was short lived ; human knowledge was untrustworthy ; human beauty was a snare ; human pleasure was a sin. All around this material world they thought they saw a more glorious spiritual realm into which they longed to pass and be forever at rest. They did not reason ; they simply felt. Their religion was not a formal belief ; it was a grand passion.
That form of life at once allures and warns. The flower of mystic piety is beautiful, but evanescent. Man should worship, but he must also work. He should not try to live by bread alone, but he must re-member that without bread he cannot live. He may have visions of heaven, but he must stand on earth. His religion should be woven of alternate strands of reason and sentiment.
Neglect of this law caused a loss to Christianity. A false saintship supplanted the true. Slaves of their own untempered fancies, many persons turned their backs upon all forms of usefulness. Some retreated to the desert; others passed years on the top of high pillars. They pretended to possess marvelous powers. They spoke foreign languages without having learned them. Magic became much more attractive than science. The rites of religion sank to a level with the arts of the juggler. They pretended that the bread and wine used at the sacrament were changed into the real body and blood of Christ. Prayer was an incantation to ward off evil. A wafer placed on the tongue, at the right moment, or a crucifix held in the hand, would avert heaven's wrath and make amends for a sinful life. Religion was a conjurer's charm to pro-cure salvation. Thus saintship became only a name.
The true saint not only worships God, but he cares for mankind. Prayer is preparation for action. Mists ascending are purified ; as clouds floating in the upper sunshine they are glorified; but when they return in earth-rejoicing showers, they are sanctified. Thus with a complete religion. By hymns and prayers life is carried aloft where it is cleansed and sometimes made glorious as it reflects light that seems to fall upon it from some upper world ; but only when its aspirations are condensed into purposes and it returns to the common earth to work for human welfare is revealed the true value of its religion.
During a part of the middle-ages this form of religion was almost entirely absent. There was no advance made in education, in science, in art, in agriculture, or in discovery. But, finally, a change came. The soul was awakened from its long and deep slumber. As a result of this, new forms of human beings appeared. In the realm of science such forms as Copernicus, Bruno, and Galileo were seen. John Huss, John Wyclif, and Martin Luther came to the front in theology. In the interests of a spiritual religion, Francis of Assisi, Clara Theresa, Madam Guyon, and Fenelon appeared. These saints made religion conterminous with life. The soul is the holiest temple. The spirit was exalted above the form. The church was commanded to keep silent that God might be heard to speak. These noble nits and women were all opposed by the church.
In the natural world it is said the darkest hour immediately precedes the dawn. This phenomenon is sometimes repeated in history. As the rainbow is most brilliant when its background of cloud is blackest, so, over the most hopeless conditions, sometimes the soul is able to throw its brightest arch of promise. It was while Israel was weeping in slavery by the rivers of Babylon that Isaiah drew those pictures of the future which, to this day, are charm and inspiration to mankind. It was when persecution, wave following wave, was rolling over Christianity that the Apocalypse was written giving vision of a new earth from which all sorrow and pain and death were banished. It was because his native city had become almost unendurable that Dante pictured the joys of Paradise. When the ideals of America were trailing in the dust, Sumner grew eloquent over the true grandeur of nations and passed into the future to find the true splendor of his country. Thus, out of its greatest despair, came Christianity's greatest hope. Religion was saved by those who were called its enemies.
Around the saints of every period many legends have grown. Doubtless this was unavoidable. Coming from the far past, no event can be seen in all its exactness of meaning and surroundings. Heroes always receive something from those who follow and admire them. But it is because they are heroes that these additions are made. Around common mortals no legends are ever woven. Not the low hills, but the highest mountain peaks are most enwrapped in clouds. Thus, the more notable the person, the more he is enveloped in tradition. It is one of the penalties of greatness. But as we know that within the shifting and iridescent cloud stands the actual mountain, grand and lonely, so within the fantastic and many colored legends is the real person standing in undisturbed greatness. It is thus with the saints of history. The fables related concerning them do not prove that they themselves are fabulous beings. They rather prove that they were real persons who, in some ways, rose above the common experience of humanity.
In an old book it may be read that when snow was falling and was likely td impede him while out on an errand of mercy, one of the saints caused it to melt as fast as it fell. A demon caused darkness to come at mid-day that a company of saints might lose their way and be delivered into his power, but one of them caused enough of light to radiate from his soul to dispel the darkness. Traveling through a forest, three angels came and ministered to one of them. Passing through an enemy's country, seven of them made themselves invisible. Satan met one saint on his way to prayer and uprooted trees and piled rocks in his path to turn him back, but by an act of faith they were removed from his way. After having spent a whole night in prayer a seraph came on the first morning sunbeam and printed the form of the cross on the body of one. When St. Francis preached, it is said the birds came and listened to his sermons.
These stories are to be read, not as history, but as poetry. They serve to illustrate the fact that the souls of those of whom they are told must have been the abode of faith and devotion and a deep sensibility. There is no light emanating from a soul that can disperse natural darkness, but there is one that can scatter mental and moral night. No saint ever had power to make himself invisible, but he who sinks selfishness and egotism out of sight, clothing himself with humility and reverence, may pass unhurt in the midst of many enemies. The satans met by the saint were those of doubt and apathy and fear, but advancing with faith and zeal and courage, all hindering obstacles were removed from his path. The story of the cross stamped on the body of St. Francis is only the attempt to tell how earnestly he tried to live like Christ. The legend of the birds is not so much a tribute to his eloquence as it is to his gentleness. If on Monday he had carried a gun to kill them, no matter how eloquently he might have preached on Sunday the birds would have been absent from the services. They came to hear his sermons because, instead of setting a trap, he scattered food for them at the convent gate. He gave them food and happiness ; they gave him music and peace.
It may be remembered that those who became eminent for goodness were simply human beings. They were not made out of extraordinary material. They were composed of sense and soul. In them, as in all mortals, inclination and duty often stood confronting each other with drawn swords. They were not born with a halo around their foreheads. That which they had they acquired. That which they were was often put to shame by what they wished to be. They prayed, but they had to toil to answer their own prayers. The blessed vision and the companionship of angels were only given after they had passed through the darkness alone. They died, at last, still longing for that which their mortal eyes had not beheld, but promise of which was constantly sounding as a sweet and cheering music in their souls. It is always thus.
"They lay their corner-stones in dark
In fieriest forge of martyrdom
And heart strings sweetest music make
The moral of this is evident. If that kind of saint has gone from earth, never again to reappear, the vacant place must be filled by some other equally noble kind. Galileo and Raphael and Shakespeare have done their work. They have gone from earth; but in going they did not take science and art and poetry with them. So did the devout souls of the foregoing age do their work and then they left our world. New times demand new science, new pictures, new poems ; but no more than they demand a new form of the religious spirit. As often as All Saints' Day comes its rising sun should shine upon an increasing number of devoted souls. In the true Saints' Calendar are many blank pages waiting to be filled.
Our world is so arranged that the many must learn from and be inspired by the few. A few orators, from Demosthenes to Webster, have crossed the earth filling it with eloquence that has been felt by the multitude. A few poets, from Homer to Tennyson, have written grandly or sweetly; but millions of hearts confess their power. Only a few great musicians have appeared in all time; yet a world is glad almost to ecstasy or pensive to the brink of tears at their command. Thus has religion been dependent upon a few devoted hearts to represent it in its fullness. The stars do not fill all the sky ; they only sprinkle it with their shining forms. So we may all be thankful that each age has furnished earth with a few great luminous souls. If they have not wholly dispelled the darkness they have, at least, made it much less dense and have freed humanity from a part of its uncertainty and despair.
The legends clustered around the holy men and women of former times serve to symbolize the character and work of those needed, to take their place in present and future years. St. Christopher is represented as carrying travelers over a bridgeless torrent. So must there be strong arms to carry every form of good across those raging streams that hinder its advance. Once this saint carried Christ in the form of a child, hence his name of Christopher, or "Christ Bearer." It is said that the child held a lamp to light the way across the dark stream. This may indicate that alt who would help forward any reform, to their love and strength must add intelligence. Reason, like a torch, must flash its rays forward into the darkness that strength and zeal may walk securely among the wave-lashed rocks. Thrust through with a hundred arrows, St. Sebastian still lived. Thus the modern saint must go bravely and cheerily onward though his soul be transfixed by all the darts that hatred and doubt may hurl. By her divine arguments and pure life St. Catherine converted fifty skeptical philosophers who, banded together, tried to turn her from her faith. So must there be those in our age who, with rational minds and guileless hearts, will set forth the truth and illustrate the beauty of religion in such clear light that inquiring and skeptical multitudes will be constrained to accept it as their guide and inspiration. St. Nicholas was kind to the children, and saintly. souls are needed always to see that no unkindness nor want nor wretchedness falls upon any of earth's little on. It is said that St. Cecilia invented the organ. November twenty-second is sacred to her memory. On that day, in many churches, the best music is employed to celebrate her fame. Poets and painters have helped immortalize her name. But if all women, beautiful in form and soul as she is represented, should give their thought and emotion for a noble purpose they would be worthy of equal praise, and, as in the picture the sky would rain roses upon them. The saint of Assisi was kind to the birds, but his successors must extend the sphere of their gentleness. They should plead the cause of all dumb life until useless pain of every kind would be banished from the world. These new saints need no magic, no miracle in order to perform their tasks. They only need the common laws of science and morals and happiness. They need no angel wings, no halo around their heads, no supernatural seraphs to bring them messages from heaven. They only need ordinary intelligence and sympathy. They need only be human beings with educated minds and awakened hearts. Human beings, indeed ! but wherever their footsteps are seen earth becomes divine.
In vision, beholding a countless host on the plains of heaven, a dreamer was filled with wonder and asked : "Who are these in bright array ?" The answer was : "These are they who have come up through great tribulation." They loved, but were often hated. Battling for right, they were often defeated. With hearts full of expectations they were often disappointed. Nevertheless, moving through life with reverence toward God and kindness toward mankind, at the end of their journey they were summoned to join this glorious throng.
The meaning of the vision is clear. It is that a true task well performed opens the door to a high destiny. Duty is the path to a noble immortality. To gain an education of mind and heart so that power and benevolence will be equal ; to be strength for the weak ; to be a philanthropist in society, and a lover in the home ; to rise above the claims of self ; to be faithful to a common task ; to make nobler all who touch our lives; to maintain fidelity to our highest thought;—this is to make a name worthy to be written in the book of God's remembrance,—this is to
"Join the choir invisible