Legends of the Saints

Certain popular biographical stories of the saints. The word legend is not used here in the modern sense, describing what is entirely fictitious, but is intended to convey the idea of a story which possesses a substratum of truth under considerable fanciful embellishment. In these legends there is a certain original truthful fact, or facts, which gradually has been obscured by imagination and credulity. Hagiographers have discovered certain similarities in these romantic details. Further research has shown the origins of these fanciful details to be pagan rather than Christian, being drawn from the tales of the pagan deities and heroes. After the age of the martyrs, the original truthful Acta were gradually encrusted with these details, so that, with the popular credulity, the romantic elements have quite buried the truthful facts. The fact that the honoring of Christian saints took the place of the honoring and adoring of the local pagan gods and demigods, afforded an opportunity for the abuse of attributing to the saint the deeds of the pagan demigods. There is however no proof that any pagan deity was metamorphosed into a Christian saint. Some of these marvelous details became common, so that they were applied in various forms to the lives not only of the martyrs of the first centuries but of the saints of the medieval period. The task of Catholic historical scholarship is to detect and discard that which is fictitious, and to attain to the original truthful account. This was first attempted by Father Rosweyde, S.J. (1629) and later carried on with great success by the Bollandists. The legends are not to be entirely rejected. They are a source of history when their fundamental assertions agree with more accurate sources. There is much of truth in them.

New Catholic Dictionary

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