Protestant Saints?

I was under the impression that only Catholics believe in saints, so why are non-Catholic churches named after saints?


It’s frightening how many crazies think that world is going to end in a few days. All of us smart people know that it’s not ending until next year.

I think you’ll find that most or all of the Protestant churches named after saints are Episcopalian. The traditions, liturgy and church hierarchy within the Episcopalian church are closer to Catholicism than most other protestant denominations. I don’t know where they stand on sainthood, but I think you’ll also note that the saints names used are almost always either Apostles or members of the Holy Family.

And don’t forget that the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States (the official name, that) avows a belief in “one catholic and apostolic church.”

A number of protestant churches (e.g., Presbyterian) incorporate the Apostles’ Creed into their services. It includes the phrases “holy catholic Church” and “communion of saints.”

I was always informed that “catholic” (no caps) referred to Christ’s universal church (presumably, however that was understood by the particular denomination in question.)

Lutherans have saints (and churches named after them) as well. So do Orthodox denominations. (Greek & Russian, of course, not Orthodox Jews)

And I hear tell than members of a certain Utah denomination are saints.

Arghh. That, not than.

The word “catholic” in the Protestant version of the Apostles’ Creed is used as an adjective, meaning “universal” or “all-embracing.” It isn’t Catholic (capital-C).

My general understanding (approaching a WAG) is that Lutheranism and Anglicanism (Episcopalianism), as churches based to a large extent on the Catholic church, retain allusions to the saints. Other sects, which had their origins in puritanism or a similar rejection of all things considered big-C Catholic (Presbyterianism, Methodism, Congregationalism, Unitarianism), do not.


Fiat Justitia

My understanding is that in the Anglican communion, saints are considered models of the Christian life, to be respected, but not venerated. I believe that the canon of saints for the Anglican communion closed with the Reformation, so you occasionally get an Anglican church named after medieval saints like St. Edward the Confessor (1066) or St. Thomas à Becket (1150?). To the best of my knowledge, the Anglican communion has not recognized any saints after the Reformation in the 16th century. (Although John Kennedy mentioned in a post a few months ago that King Charles I may have been canonized.)

There are also Presbyterian churches named after saints. In the Scottish Presbyterian tradition, St. Andrew (the patron saint of Scotland) is a popular saint for churches. Also, one of the main Presbyterian churches in Edinbugh is St. Giles (the name pre-dates the Reformation, though, so I’m not sure it’s very signiicant). It’s the church where Jenny Craig threw her stool at the Bishop.

Oh, jti, thank you! You answered the question I didn’t even realize I was asking! I sometimes go to a Presbytarian church called St. Andrew’s. I’d forgotten that that was why I started wondering this question in the first place.

Thanks to everyone else, as well!


It’s frightening how many crazies think that world is going to end in a few days. All of us smart people know that it’s not ending until next year.

Anglicans (with one exception, discussed below) don’t canonize, i.e., give official recognition to a specific dead Christian that authorizes people to refer to him/her as St. {Insert Name Here}. And the whole issue of prayer to/through saints is left to private conscience. However, the other use of saints, as examples, is in fact a big deal in Anglican churches. If you look in the front of the (American) Book of Common Prayer, you’ll find a list of days-of-the-month for the year, with names attached. Those are fixed feasts, like Christmas, Michaelmas, etc., and are a combination of boldface and normal-type days. The traditional events of Jesus’ life, anniversaries of apostles and such, are in boldface and are considered principal (the five biggies) or major feasts. The normal-type ones are people from many branches of Christendom that are considered worthwhile to commemorate for some reason or other, and they range from Archbishop Laud who persecuted the Puritans, to Francis of Assisi, to Phillips Brooks (who wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and preached a mean sermon back in the 19th Century), to Samuel Joseph Isaac Schereschewsky, who is kind of an all-purpose saint, a Polish Jew who emigrated to America, converted to Episcopalianism, became a bishop, and died in China as a missionary teacher. Other national churches in the Anglican Communion have other lists.

Now, the oddball exception (it wouldn’t be a Polycarp post without one! ;)): After Charles II was restored to the English throne, the Anglicans who had been persecuted by the Puritans persecuted back. Having regained the upper hand, they wanted to rub into the Puritans’ faces what total creeps they had been. As a part of doing so, they passed an Act of Parliament that officially declared King Charles I a martyr for his faith (and one can make a reasonable case that he was, in addition to being a general first-class PITA), and added him as a minor feast into the English calendar (January 30, if anybody cares). Anybody who cares considers that this was equivalent to canonization, and that he is officially St. Charles the Martyr.

wow, answering the question behind the question - glad to be of service, Cessandra

A “born-again” Christian perspective reading on the subject is that all true Christians are “saints”. If that reading is correct as being the original intent, then that brings up the interesting question of why did certain individuals get to become venerated, with the title “Saint” with a capital “S”. My guess is that the church (before the RC/Orthodox split) decided it needed role models to show the common folk (who likely had little patience for theology) what a real Christian was like. So they said to themselves, hey remember Joe from a few years back, he was the model Christian. So we’ll call him a “Saint” to give people an example.

Thoughts, anyone?

Hey, Polycarp, do you have a cite for that statute? It sounds like the kind of thing I copy and put in my “Weird British Statutes” file. Would it be about 1660, right after the Restoration, or a bit further on?


It’s my understanding that the cult of the saints grew out of the very human desire to memorialise a dead person. The first saints were all martyrs, and their surviving friends would commemorate the anniversary of the death by visting the grave-site or site of the martyrdom. Because the martyrs had died for the faith, they were “holy,” the original meaning of “saint.”

As time passed, the church concluded that martyrdom was setting the bar a bit high (although I think it was the original Polycarp who wrote a letter telling his friends to back off on trying to get him released because he was quite content to enter the saint-hood that way), and decided that exemplary Christians could also be saints. By “confessing” (or, in modern terms, “witnessing”) their Christian faith in their lives, they could demonstrate their elgibitity for sainthood.

[The above is a by-memory summary of the preface to the Penguin Book of the Saints, which like so much of my library, appears to have wandered away, so I’m certainly open to further information from others.]