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The name given to that branch of learning which has the saints and their worship for its object. Writings relating to the worship of the saints may be divided into two categories:

  • (a) those which are the spontaneous product of circumstances or have been called into being by religious needs of one kind or another (and these belong to what may be called practical hagiography);
  • (b) writings devoted to the scientific study of the former category (and these constitute critical hagiography).


The worship of the saints has everywhere given rise, both in the East and in the West, to a very considerable number of documents, varying, in form and in tenor, with the object which the author in each case had in view. Such, in primitive times, are the lists of martyrs drawn up in particular Churches with a view to the celebration of anniversaries, which lists become the nucleus of the martyrologies. Documents of this kind merit a special study (see MARTYROLOGY), and we need only mention them here in passing (see "Analecta Bollandiana", XXVI, pp. 78-99). Side by side with the martyrologies and calendars there are also the narratives of martyrdoms and the biographies written by contemporaries in memory of the heroes whom the Church celebrates. Such are the "Passion of the Scilitan Martyrs ", the "Life of St. Augustine by Possidius, and the "Life of St. Martin", by Sulpicius Severus . Sometimes, again, they are accounts composed by writers who lived at some distance of time from the events recorded, and whose object was to edify the faithful or satisfy a pious curiosity. These hagiographers write either in prose, like the author of the Acts of St. Cecilia, or in verse, like Prudentius and so many others. Then again there are texts composed or arranged, for liturgical use, from historical documents or from artificial compositions. These various classes of hagiographic works — historical memoirs, literary compositions, liturgical texts — existed at first as monographs; but soon the need was felt of gathering into a collection separate pieces of the same nature. The most ancient hagiographic collection of which mention is made is Eusebius's compilation ton archaion martyrion synagoge , containing the Passions of martyrs previous to the persecution of Diocletian. Eusebius himself wrote, all in one piece, the book of the martyrs of Palestine of the last persecution, as Theodoret afterwards compiled his philotheos Historia from a series of thirty biographies of which he himself was the author. Thus we have two types of collections to one or other of which we may attribute all those to be mentioned hereafter — the type which consists of a grouping of unlike pieces under one title and the type which is a series of narratives all from the same pen. Among the most famous collections of the Middle Ages we may cite those of Gregory of Tours, under the titles "In Gloriâ Martyrum" (P. L., LXXI, 705-80) and "In Gloriâ Confessorum" (loc. cit., 827-910), the dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, "De Vitâ et Miraculis Patrum Italicorum" (P. L., LXXVII, 147-429), the three books of Eulogius of Toledo (died 859) entitled "Memorialis Sanctorum" (P. L., CXV, 731-818).

In these collections the order is the historical order of the particular subjects — saints' Lives or Passions — which they include; later on there appear collections of a more artificial character in which the Passions and the biographies of the saints follow each other according to the dates of the calendar. In the West these collections are known as "Passionaries" or "Legendaries". In course of time every region came to have its own; the Roman Legendary constitutes the common foundation of all, and the special parts are determined by the local cultus . The legendaries are usually made up of biographies and Passions of relatively great length. Beginning with the thirteenth century, collections of a more convenient size begin to appear, containing the matter of the legendaries in a condensed form. Of these unquestionably the most famous is the "Legenda Aurea" of the Dominican Jacobus de Voragine, manuscripts of which were plentifully distributed until the time when copies began to be multiplied by printing. This work, moreover, was translated during the Middle Ages into several modern languages, and indeed it is to be remarked that a large number of saints' lives and hagiographic collections in the vulgar tongues, which are now of interest chiefly to students of philology, may be traced to Latin originals. The importance of this body of literature may be estimated by a perusal of, e.g., for French, M. Paul Meyer's memoirs, "Notice sur un légendier français classé selon l'ordre de l'année liturgique" (Paris, 1898), "Notice sur trois légendiers français attribués à Jean Belet" (Paris, 1889). and "Légendes hagiographiques en français" [in "Histoire littéraire de la France ", XXXIII (1906), pp. 328-459]. For German we may mention F. Wilhelm, "Deutsche Legenden und Legendare" (Leipzig, 1907).

Other hagiographical compilations dating from the Middle Ages are worthy of mention, although they have not all enjoyed the same popularity. Such are the Sanctoral of Bernard Guy, Bishop of Lodève (died 1331), still unedited (see L. Delisle, "Notice sur les manuscrits de Bernard Guy" in" Notices et Extraits", XXVII, 2, 1879); the legendary of the Dominican Pierre Calo (died. 1348}, also unedited; the "Sanctilogium Angliæ" of John of Tynemouth (died 1366), which became the "Nova legenda Angliæ" of John Capgrave (1464), of which we now have a critical edition by C. Horstmann (Oxford, 1901, 2 vols., 8vo); the "Sanctuarium" of B. Mombritius, printed at Milan about the year 1480, in two folio volumes, and especially precious because it reproduces the lives and the Passions of the old Manuscripts without any reshaping or rehandling; the great compilations of Jean Gielemans, a Brabantine canon regular (died 1487) under the titles "Sanctilogium", "Hagiologium Brabantinorum", "Novale Sanctorum" (see "Analecta Bollandiana", XIV, pp. 5-88); Hilarion of Milan's supplement to Jacobus de Voragine (Legendarium . . . supplementum illius de Voragine, Milan, 1494). After the middle of the sixteenth century, the lives of the saints begun by Aloysius Lipomano, Bishop of Verona ("Sanctorum priscorum patrum vitæ", Venice, 1551-60), continued and completed by Surius ("De probatis sanctorum historiis", Cologne, 1570-75) which were offered as both edifying reading and at the same time a polemical arsenal against the Protestants, enjoyed a considerable reputation and were several times reprinted. Father Ribadeneyra's "Flos Sanctorum" (first edition Madrid, 1599) had a greater popular success and was translated into several languages; it was followed by a great number of lives of the saints for every day in the year. Among the most famous of these must be mentioned Alban Butler's , "The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints", which first appeared in 1756 and was often reprinted and translated, and Mgr Guérin's "Les petits Bollandistes" a collection which has nothing in common with the "Acta Sanctorum" or with the publications of the Bollandists. Most collections of lives of the saints, particularly those in modern languages, are inspired by the idea of edifying and interesting the reader, and without any great solicitude for historical truth. We shall not speak here of isolated biographies the number of which grew incessantly during the Middle Ages and in later times, and which as constantly served to swell the collections.

Among the Greeks the development of hagiography was — at least outwardly — the same as among the Latins. The Passions of the martyrs, biographies and panegyrics of the saints were gathered in just the same way into collections, arranged in the order of the Calendar, in the menologies mentioned as early as the ninth century (see "Analecta Bollandiana", XVI, pp. 396-494; XVI, pp. 311-29; XVII, pp. 448-52). The Greeks, too, have their shorter menologies, composed of abridged lives ( bioi en syntomo , see "Analecta Bollandiana", XVI,p. 325), and their Synaxaries, the use of which is chiefly liturgical, are mainly compositions in which the more extended lives and Passions are reduced to the form of brief notices (see H. Delehaye, "Synaxarium ecclesiæ Constantinopolitanæ, Propylæum et Acta Sanctorum Novembris", p. lix). Neither is there any lack of collections in popular (modern) Greek, while the saints' lives of Margunios, Agapios Landos, and others, down to the Megas Synaxaristes of C. Dukakis (14 vols., 8vo, Athens, 1889-97), are widely read in Greek-speaking countries.

Closely connected with Greek hagiography is Slavonic hagiography. The reader is referred, for purposes of orientation, to Martinov, "Annus græcoslavicus" in "Acta SS." October, vol. XI, and the critical edition of the "Menæa" of Macarius now in course of publication at St. Petersburg (Moscow) under the auspices of the Archæographic Commission. The Orient has been the scene of an analogous development. Passions of the martyrs, lives of the saints, collections, synaxaries are all found in the various Oriental languages; but, in spite of the very praise-worthy efforts of the specialists, we are still insufficiently informed as to details. Those desiring a summary account of the hagiography of the different peoples of those regions are referred, for the Armenian, to the "Vitæ et Passiones Sanctorum", published by the Mechitarists of Venice in 1874, the great Armenian Synaxary of Ter-Israel (Constantinople, 1834), and the "Acta Sanctorum pleniora" of Aucher (12 vols., Venice, 1810-35); for the Coptic, to H. Hyvernat, "Actes des martyrs de l'Egypte" (Pads, 1886), I. Balestri and H. Hyvernat "Acta martyrum" in "Corpus scriptorum Orientalium; Scriptores Coptici" (Paris, 1907), the Coptic Jacobite Synaxary, two editions of which are in course of publication, one by I. Forget in "Corpus script. christ. Or.: Scriptores Arabici", and the other by R. Basset in the "Patrologia Orientalis", I; for the Ethiopian, to the "Acta martyrum" by Esteves Pereira, and the "Vitæ Sanctorum indigenarum", by C. Conti Rossini and B. Turajev, in "Corpus script. christ. Or.: Scriptores Æthiopici", the "Monumenta Æthiopiæ hagiologica" of Turajev, and the Ethiopian Synaxary, by I. Guidi, in the "Patrologia Orientalis", vol. I; for the Syriac, to the "Acta martyrum Orientalium" of St. Ev. Assemani (2 vols, folio, Rome, 1748) and the "Acta martyrum et sanctorum" of Bedjan (7 vols., 8vo, Leipzig, 1890-97); for the Georgian, to the "Sakart'hvelos Samot'hkhe" of G. Sabmin (St. Petersburg, 1832). We must content ourselves here with a rapid glance; a complete bibliography of hagiographical materials would require several volumes. For fuller details we refer the reader to the three works published by the Bollandists : "Bibliotheca hagiographica latina" (2 vols, 1898-1901); "Bibliotheca hagiographica græca" (2nd ed., 1909); "Bibliotheca hagiographica orientalis" (1910).


Scientific hagiography has for its object the criticism of documents belonging to all the categories which we have enumerated above. It involves two operations which are hardly separable: the study of written tradition for the purpose of establishing texts; and research into sources with the object of determining the historical value of those texts. The earliest attempts at a methodical hagiographic criticism date from the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is known that Rosweyde (died 1629) first conceived that project of forming a collection of the "Acta Sanctorum" which since 1643 has been put into execution by Bollandus and his collaborators (see BOLLANDISTS), and which has for its essential aim the critical sifting and the publication of all the hagiographic texts which have come down to us relating to the saints quotquot toto orbe coluntur . From the first volumes Bollandus and his colleagues have submitted their documents to a criticism as severe as the means of information and the state of historical science permitted. With the developments attained by all branches of science in the course of the last century, the importance of archæological discoveries in that period, the progress of philology and palæography, the possibility of using means of rapid communication to obviate the difficulty of scattered material, hagiography could not but take a new orientation. The Bollandists have been induced to undertake, side by side with the compilation of the "Acta Sanctorum", a course of labours which, without modifying the spirit of their work, assures for it a broader and firmer basis and a more rigorous application of the principles of historical criticism. But they have not been alone in their devotion to the science of hagiography as constituted since the inauguration of their work; Mabillon, "Acta SS. O.S.B.; Ruinart, "Acta martyrum sincera", and the Assemani, "Acta martyrum Orientalium", have furnished important supplements to the work.

Especially since the middle of the nineteenth century a host of solid works have made their appearance to push forward hagiographic science to a notable extent. We may recall here the fine editions of the lives of German saints in the collection of the "Monumenta Germaniæ historica", the numerous Greek texts brought to light by M. Papadopoulos-Kerameus and other learned Hellenists in various countries, the recent publications of Oriental writers mentioned above, and a mass of labours in minute details which have often opened new paths for the science of criticism. In passing, we may mention the researches of R. A. Lipsius on the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles and the beautiful studies of M. P. Franchi de' Cavalieri on a selection of Acts of the martyrs. The" Bulletin des publications hagiographiques" of the "Analecta Bollandiana" may fill in for the reader the gaps left by this rapid review. Something should also be said as to the progress of hagiographical criticism as applied to martyrologies ; but the subject is worthy of a special article. It would not be proper however, to pass over in silence the researches of J. B. De Rossi and of L. Duchesne on the Hieronymic Martyrologium and the critical edition to which these researches have led (Acta Sanctorum, November, II, at the beginning of the volume). The critical researches on historical martyrologies brilliantly inaugurated by Sollerius ("Martyrologium Usuardi" in "Acta Sanctorum", June, VI, VII) have been enlarged and brought into line with modern criticism by D. Quentin ("Les martyrologes historiques", Paris, 1908).

As will be readily understood, the distinction which we have established between practical and scientific hagiography is not always sharply defined. More than one attempt has been made to conciliate science with piety and to supply the latter with nourishment that has been passed through the sieve. The first collection of saints lives conceived in this spirit is that of A. Baillet, "Les Vies des saints composées sur ce qui nous est resté de plus authentique et de plus assuré dans leurs histoires" (Paris, 1701), the first volumes of which (January-August) were put upon the Index (cf. Reusch, "Der Index der verbotenen Bucher", II, 552). Again, the programme of a series of separate saints' lives, edited in France under the title "Les Saints", was inspired by a like idea of edifying the reader with biographies which should be irreproachable from the historical point of view. it is hardly necessary to add that more than one hagiographical publication of erudite and critical pretensions possesses no importance from a scientific point of view. Examples are as numerous as they appear superfluous.

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