Old Testament Saints

by Jimmy Akin

in The Church

A reader writes:

Are the Old Testament Prophets considered saints? And, if so, why aren’t they spoken of with the title of St Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc. I thought they were raised from the netherworld by Christ after His crucifixion and brought into heaven.

Anyone who died in God’s friendship before the time of Christ is now glorified with Christ in heaven, so they are saints in that sense.

For some reason, however, the custom of referring to Old Testament figures as saints never developed in Christian circles. This is a matter of linguistics and devotion more than theology, though.

With a few exceptions, we also don’t know for a fact which Old Testament figures made it to heaven and which didn’t. That, however, wouldn’t have been the reason that the custom didn’t arise. Most of the saints who are in the Roman Martyrology got there because of popular acclaim, not because of a papal intervention. Since the Old Testament presents many of these people as if they were God’s friends (even if we don’t have knowledge of the very ends of their lives in omst cases), there was certainly as much evidence for regarding them as saints as many in the Christian age who were canonized by popular acclaim.

I suspect that part of the reason early Christians didn’t acclaim them in this way is that they weren’t viewed as examples for us as directly as people living in our own age. They seemed more distant from us in a certain way because of the age in which they lived.

It also may be partly because–as revered figures from the Old Testament–their salvation was never really questioned, and so there was no push to have the recognized as saints. The approval that the Old Testament seems to give them may have been considered approval enough, so there was no need to get them extra recognition.

(The latter would also apply to those in the New Testament, but they’re closer to us in time; as dwellers in our own age, they’re more direct examples for us to follow.)

This is all just speculation, though. I don’t think we can say with certainty what the reasons were that the custom of who get’s called a saint developed as it did.

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{ 23 comments }

Funky Dung February 28, 2006 at 8:33 am

“For some reason, however, the custom of referring to Old Testament figures as saints never developed in Christian circles.”
I’m not so sure this is true. When I read Augustine’s Confessions, I encountered many references like “Holy Abraham”. The word for “holy” in Latin is “santus”. That also happens to be the origin of the English word “saint”. I believe at the very least Augustine referred to Old Testament patriarchs are saints.

Funky Dung February 28, 2006 at 8:35 am

darn typo, “santus” should be “sanctus”

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. February 28, 2006 at 9:55 am

For long centuries, the Church has referred to certain Old Testament persons as “Saints.”
The ancient MARTYROLOGIUM ROMANUM (the Church’s official “calendar book” of saints) that was re-edited and re-published in 2001 lists the days of several Old Testament saints–and calls them by the title “Saint”.
Saint Melchisedech, August 26.
Saint Abraham, October 9.
Saint Moses, September 4.
Saint Joshua, September 1.
Saint Ezra, July 13.
Saint Hosea, October 17.
Saint Obadiah, November 19.
Saint Jonah, September 21.
Saint Elijah, July 20.
Saint Elisha, June 14.
Saint Jeremiah, May 1.
Saint Samuel, August 20.
Saint David, December 29.
Saint Michael and Saint Raphael, September 29.
Saint Isaiah, May 9.
Saint Job, May 10.
Saint Zechariah, September 6.
Saint Joel, October 19.
Saint Amos, June 15.
Saint Ezekiel, July 23.
Saint Nahum, December 1.
Saint Habakkuk, December 2.
Saint Zephaniah, December 3.
Saint Haggai, December 16.
Saint Malachi, December 18.
Saint Micah, December 21.
All the Forefather Saints of Jesus Christ, December 24. (In Latin this can include “foremothers”. I looked for Old Testament women’s names, but didn’t find any … yet. The book has nearly 800 pages.)
Notice the prophets in December … leading up to the Birth of the Savior.

decker2003 February 28, 2006 at 9:57 am

I believe that at least some of the holy men and women of the Old Testament are included in the calendar of saints in the Eastern churches, perhaps even sometimes referenced as “saint.” The usage varies from church to church. Also, I would note that the “Litany of the Saints” includes an invocation of “the holy patriarchs and prophets.” I believe that some versions also invoke “the holy levites.” In the Latin church, the specific title “saint” does seem to be reserved for persons who were alive after Our Lord was born, but Old Testament holy figures are included when referring to the “saints” in generic terms.

decker2003 February 28, 2006 at 10:00 am

Well, I should have refreshed the page before posting. I guess the Latin Church too has used the title “saint” for Old Testament figures. :)

fr richard February 28, 2006 at 10:06 am

The list OT saints’(holy ones) feastdays, provided by Fr. Stephanos is, for the most part, also observed by the Catholic Byzantine-rite and Orthodox Churches, and on the same dates. There are just a few differences. The feastday of St. Elijah (Elias) is a high-ranking feast.
And interestingly enough, we also commemorate Lot with his uncle Abraham on Oct. 9th.

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. February 28, 2006 at 10:50 am

Fr. Richard, which is your Church?

Realist February 28, 2006 at 11:22 am

No Saint Adam??? The guy was the first member AARP and the “Prime Super AARPie”, living till he was 230. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/isidore_chronicon_01_trans.htm

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. February 28, 2006 at 11:54 am

“Die 24 decembris…. Commemoratio omnium sanctorum avorum Iesu Christi, filii David, filii Abraham, filii Adam….”
“December 24th…. The commemoration of all the holy ["saint"] forefathers of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, son of ADAM….”

fr richard February 28, 2006 at 1:10 pm

Fr. Stephanos,
I’m pastor of Nativity of the Mother of God, Ukrainian Catholic Church, Springfield, Oregon

Anonymous February 28, 2006 at 1:28 pm

Fr. Richard,
We have Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church in San Diego, and I believe it is Ukrainian or Ruthenian. Forgive my ignorance. They have just reworked the exterior of the church. The “onion domes” used to be just “outlined” in a gold colored forged metal work of some sort. Now they are solid surfaces, rather than outlines. They also made the roof blue–perhaps tile. I haven’t stopped to examine (it’s visible from the freeway). My recollection is that until a few months ago the entire exterior was wood. It looks much more traditional now.
To be honest, I believe I have not been inside it for twenty years. When it was first built (I believe in the 70′s) they had a choir loft. Included in the murals of the loft was Mother Teresa of Calcutta with a square halo because she was living at the time. I’d be interested to see if they have changed it to a round halo. Time to visit! Time to worship!

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. February 28, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Fr. Richard, I posted the previous, forgetting to write my name.

The Waffling Anglican February 28, 2006 at 2:04 pm

Realist-
Wouldn’t Adam have been a member of CARP (Canaanite Association of Redeemed Persons)?

Realist February 28, 2006 at 2:33 pm

A X-mas vigil Mass and we cover all the OT “sainters”? With all these Hebrew saints, is there a Yiddish/Aramaic Mass available on X-mas Eve? :)
Or we could go along with the Conservative Jews and find problems with the authenticity of it all? http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2002/0401torah.asp

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. February 28, 2006 at 2:38 pm

Dear W. Anglican,
Given the DNA evidence, I would say that Adam belonged to the A.A.R.P.–”African Association of Redeemed Patriarchs.”

bill912 February 28, 2006 at 2:44 pm

I thought A.A.R.P. stood for “Always Asking for Reduced Prices”.

Inocencio February 28, 2006 at 3:12 pm

Or we could go along with the Conservative Jews and find problems with the authenticity of it all?
Or we could go along with the authentic teachings of the Church since we are Catholic.
Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Realist February 28, 2006 at 3:27 pm

A.A.R.P, as Always Asking for Reduced Prices and getting them with reduced portions, smaller rooms and smaller beds. Oh, my aching back!!!
A.A.R.P.–”African Association of Redeemed Patriarchs” That is priceless! See the recent issue of National Geographic for an update.
And poor Eve, 230 years living with this ape-type!!! :) ))

Timotheus March 1, 2006 at 3:28 pm

I heard one answer that because the OT “saints” were not models of how to follow Christ, since they were not following Christ “directly.” I would have to say they still are saints just not in the same sense as New Testament sense because they model for us how to follow Christ; however, I would have to say that they are still venerable.

Realist March 1, 2006 at 8:12 pm

And how about A.A.R.P = Associated Apes and Retired Primates????

Anonymous March 1, 2006 at 9:57 pm

“A.A.R.P”: Adam’s Apple Ruined Paradise.

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