Are There Any Catholic Saints From the Old Testament?

by Amanda Graber
In the the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, there are very few Old Testament figures.

In the the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, there are very few Old Testament figures.

There is no defined number of saints in the Catholic religion, but the count exceeds 10,000. Often, when people think of saints, the names of important New Testament figures come to mind, such as St. Peter and St. Paul. However, not all saints were New Testament figures.

Canonization

Saints are canonized because, at the time of their death, there were witnesses who gave testimony about the exemplary lives the saints led. Many of these testimonies were preserved in documents, and when the process of canonization was implemented in the 10th Century, the Catholic Church was able to evaluate these documents to determine whether or not a saint would be canonized. Many Old Testament figures lived in a time before righteous people were acclaimed as saints. Simply put, the evidence that was necessary for sainthood was not preserved for individuals from the Old Testament.

Qualifications For Sainthood

At first, to be considered a saint, Christians had to not only lead exemplary lives but also had to be martyred for their faith. Martyrdom didn’t play a major role in Christianity until the New Testament era, when Christians began to face open persecution and many were executed for their beliefs. The martyrs were traditionally remembered on the anniversaries of their deaths with special feasts to honor their sacrifice. A saint who was not a martyr often had at least one miracle attributed to him, and in the absence of evidence of a miracle, canonization was difficult. Furthermore, people in the Old Testament lived in a time that predated Christianity, so while they may have been righteous people, their experiences are less able to serve as direct examples to fellow Christians.

Invoking Old Testament Figures

Most, if not all, holy figures in the Old Testament are considered saints, in that they followed God and are believed to be in heaven, but few of them have been canonized into sainthood and given the title of “Saint.” Because little evidence survived to testify about their faith and righteous day-to-day lives, canonization of Old Testament individuals seems nearly impossible. However, there are many people in the Old Testament who are held in high esteem and are honored in the Church. Abraham, for example, is referred to in the Roman Canon as an example of true devotion to God. The phrase “All holy Patriarchs and Prophets, pray for us,” which is included in the Litany of the Saints, invokes the biblical figures of the Old Testament. Many holy days also celebrate Old Testament saints as a group. The Sunday between December 11th and 18th , for example, celebrates the holy ancestors of Christ, and the following Sunday is set aside as a commemoration of all the Old Testament saints.

Old Testament Figures Who Are Considered Saints

The Roman Martyrology is a liturgical book, published in the 17th Century, which lists all of the saints and the blessed who were officially recognized by the Church. The saints in the Roman Martyrology far outnumber the saints listed in the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints. However, the Roman Martyrology does include several figures from the Old Testament, including the prophets Isaiah and Habakkuk, King David, Daniel and Abraham. While these saints are not included in the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the Eastern Catholic Churches do set aside special feast days for Old Testament figures. While sainthood, in the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, is not conferred to biblical figures from the Old Testament, three archangels who appear in the text of the Old Testament are considered saints: St. Michael, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael.

About the Author

Amanda Graber has been a writer and editor since 2009. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous publications. As an editor, she has worked for both a commercial magazine and a children's literary agency. Graber holds a master's degree in writing and publishing from DePaul University.

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