Tallying Saints

As part of some work I’m doing that will become bloggable material shortly, I want to lay down some basic principles on how I intend to go about tallying up saints.

To back up a step, one of the principles governing current sanctoral kalendars is the notion of adequate representation. The worldwide Christian Church (ecclesial fragmentations aside) has generated saints (however we choose to define that and that’s a big ol’ argument for another post) of all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, whatever. Since the late 20th century, there’s been a push to ensure that this real diversity at least has a presence in our kalendars. Indeed, in the Episcopal Church, this principle is officially designated as criterion 5 of HWHM which states:

5. Range of Inclusion: Particular attention should be paid to Episcopalians and other members of the Anglican Communion. Attention should also be paid to gender and race, to the inclusion of lay people (witnessing in this way to our baptismal understanding of the Church), and to ecumenical
representation. In this way the Calendar will reflect the reality of our time: that instant communication and extensive travel are leading to an ever deeper international and ecumenical consciousness among Christian people.

If we are mandated to pay attention to these things, then we need some basic ground rules on how to do it. Here are mine…

Counting Commemorations

Commemorations should be counted as kalendar entries. Named individuals need to be tallied separately when available with suitable designations for capturing uncertain numbers and unquantifiable mass categories. Thus:

  • July 20th in HWHM (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1902; Amelia Bloomer, 1894; Sojourner Truth, 1883; and Harriet Ross Tubman, 1913, Liberators and Prophets) counts as 1 commemoration that honors 4 named individuals and should also be tallied as 4 women.
  • September 2nd in the BCP (The Martyrs of New Guinea, 1942) counts as 1 commemoration of an unquantifiable group. (Or—to be truly pedantic about it—the number is potentially quantifiable but is not actually quantified by the entry in the kalendar). Due to the unquantifiability of the entry, gender numbers cannot be forthcoming.
  • March 7th in the BCP (Perpetua and her Companions, Martyrs at Carthage, 202) counts as 1 commemoration consisting of 1 named individual (a woman) and an unspecified number of companions. Even though Felicitas is one of Perpetua’s well-known companions, she can’t be tallied due to her absence from the entry.
  • Feasts of Our Lord: I’ve tallied these as events. However, as Our Lord became incarnate as a male, I’m going back and forth on this one. To be consistent, I suppose I should count these as both events and as 1 named (male) individual.
  • Exaltation of the Cross: This is a commemoration but not of a person (or even an event). It counts as a commemoration but not a gendered named individual.
  • Angels: Church tradition regards angels as male—certainly naming conventions (Michael, Raphael, etc.) do—so without going into the question of the gender of angels, these will be tallied as male.

Ordination Status

This one is fairly straight-forward, but is complicated by a few marginal cases. I take this to mean not just whether a person has been ordained but whether they are officially recognized as an authority figure in whatever ecclesial body they happen to be part of. Thus, even lay monastics (like Benedict) should be recognized as not being “laity” in the strictest sense. The categories I’m using are “bishop,” “priest” (read broadly as recognized presbyters), “deacon,” “religious,” “lay person.”

Questionable cases would include:

  • Bernard Mizeki, Catechist and Martyr in Mashonaland, 1896: What should be done with “Catechist”? As far as I know it’s not an ordained position, so despite it being an ecclesial recognition, I’m going with “lay.”
  • Lillian Trasher, Missionary in Egypt, 1961: Lillian was the preacher and leader of her Pentecostal church before heading off to Egypt to do her missionary work. She goes in the “priest” column.
  • Charlotte Diggs (Lottie) Moon, Missionary in China, 1912: A school builder and evangelist, she was Southern Baptist. The church did appoint her as a missionary but (obviously) didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t recognize her as ordained so she goes in the “lay” column.
  • Apostles: Following church tradition, I’ve tallied these as bishops.
  • Feasts of Our Lord: On one hand, OLASJC is our great high priest; on the other, marking these feasts as commemorating a “bishop” seems like it would skew the data oddly and not address what the criterion is concerned about. I’m currently thinking that feasts that name Jesus would be left blank for ordination, but that those naming the BVM and John the Baptizer would be tallied for one “laity.”
  • Angels: I’m leaving this one blank for angels.


I’m not going to tackle this one at the moment. Using the census labels for race is the obvious place to start, but some of our figures from Late Antiquity are complicated. What was the racial make-up of Roman North Africa? Augustine, Cyprian, and Athanasius are big question marks in my book. What do we use for acceptable evidence? Is it proper to say “Africa=Black”? Given the Copts I know, that doesn’t work very well. How do we address the racial make-up of the Levant? Based on the blunt instrument of the census questions do we say “Syro-Palestine=White” (cue images of the blonde BVM…)?

Certainly when we are speaking of the modern world this becomes a less fraught question, but not simple either. How do we properly chart the racial component of  “James Hannington, Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, and his Companions, Martyrs, 1885”? Following the principles above for named individuals, I’d have to tally 1 white guy.

So, while recognizing this one as important, I may identify some clear-cut cases and dodge the issue until some clarity emerges…

Ecclesial Affiliation

Again, this one should be fairly clear-cut for most but there are obvious questionable cases. Newman, Chesterton, and Seton are on the short-list of problematic folk—while they ended up as Roman Catholics, some of their key formation and work occurred while they were Anglicans. In the interests of simplicity, this will probably be wherever they ended their lives—meaning that the Wesleys will be recorded as Anglican.

I do plan on identifying everyone pre-Schism as “Great Church”, then pulling out “Western Catholic;” “Roman Catholic” will be a post-Reformation designation.

Bottom Line

No system is perfect but these guidelines should reflect a pretty common-sense approach to how things are tabulated. Thus, the key principle is that named people are the ones who get tallied and categorized for diversity purposes. The entries about which there are quibbles should be fairly small.

13 thoughts on “Tallying Saints

  1. Dave

    My gut reaction whenever I start seeing tabulations to ensure that enough representatives of “my kind” are included in the Kalendar, is to hearken back to the verses expunged from the part of Galatians used as last Sunday’s reading: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew not Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)

    No offense, but at some point it appears that the silly party has won.

    I would, of course, settle for all those included in the Kalendar being baptized Christians.

  2. Matthew

    Might I ask about Jonathan Myrick Daniels (August 14), re: ordination status? Yes, he wasn’t ordained–but was a seminarian nearing the completion of his divinity degree. He strikes me as yet another problematic person for your tabulation.

    I’m also struck by the challenge of the Feasts of Our Lord: I’m tempted to argue that they should be included with occasions like Holy Cross as a sufficiently different category. After all, our Lord isn’t a saint: rather, isn’t it that how he is revealed in the lives of those whom we commemorate that is the essence of why we name them saints?

  3. Derek Olsen

    Good point. I left Daniels as “lay” because he wasn’t ordained and that for which he is commemorated isn’t chiefly about his ordination status.

    I’m leaning towards including Feasts of our Lord because they are the religious commemoration of a man and if the male/female dynamic is an issue (which it is for some) then it still needs to be counted that way.

  4. Derek Olsen

    I agree on the baptized Christians point.

    I can also see the other side—if the vast majority of what the kalendar contained was ordained white guys then it would send a pretty strong message about who and what the church thought was important. And, some of the pre-Conciliar Roman kalendars did look like that with the odd virgin martyr sprinkled in. That’s just as silly the other way in my opinion.

  5. gaudetetheology

    Did I understand correctly that you plan to count the non-ordained leaders/abbots(/abbesses?) of monastic communities as ordained, rather than as religious? If so, may I ask why?

    I very much like your approach to ecclesial affiliation. You might push “Great Church” prior to the Chalcedonian schism. And it would be interesting to add an additional category for people like Newman who traversed ecclesial communities, and count them there as well as in their final tradition.

  6. C. Wingate

    Three comments for starters: first, I think it might make more sense to put “feasts of Our Lord” into a separate category, as the BCP does. Also, at least two (the Nativity and the Presentation) involve more than one sex, however that’s going to be counted.

    Second, angels should be counted as angels, not as male or female. Rosetti painted a very male Gabriel, but for instance I don’t see that Rublev’s icons clearly pick one gender or the other. (Not that there are that many angels on the calendar to begin with: does St. Uriel even have a widely observed commemoration?)

    Third, race as we know it now is a modern category and is probably inapplicable before say 1492 if not even later than that. Assigning races to ancient figures is notoriously speculative and politicized.

  7. Dave

    I agree that the old pre-Conciliar calendars look silly, but would also argue that they reflect the Western European culture that created them. Now, before anyone says “Aha! See it’s cultural and this is our cultural expression”, the argument needs to be made that our cultural expression is deeply Christian and appropriate, rather than reactionary.

    My worry is that we have bought into the category mania of our culture, where we are defined by an ever greater variety of descriptors that we may, or may not, choose to use to label ourselves. This in turn leads to a more stratified and tribal culture with increasingly smaller subsets. This, to me is antithetical to the Catholic nature of the Church.

  8. Derek Olsen

    No, I’m not counting non-ordained leaders as ordained. While there would be precedent for placing them as equal to bishops on ecclesiastical grounds, I’m tracking them as “religious.”

    Yes, the cut-off life for “Great Church” is a tricky issue. There are a handful of folks in the early medieval period who could go either way–“Great Church” or “Western Catholic/Eastern Orthodox.” I guess the real question is whether we consider cusp people like John of Damascus and Bede to be the “possessions” of their respective cultural/linguistic side or of the Church Universal. Still thinking about that one…

  9. Christopher

    First, I would say that no matter our own complexity of identity that touches on our personhood, it is, to paraphrase St Seraphim of Sarov’s, good to have friends when we show up in heaven… Having friendships with Saints of all sorts and conditions is a healthy devotion. We likely choose Saints who show charisms that we admire or that resonate with our own budding gifts, or that have struggles similar to our own–and these can cut across all of the categories we set up. For example, St Seraphim has been a longtime friend of mine since I discovered the Saints at 19, and his practice of the Jesus Prayer is one I find congenial. But I am not a forest staretz, nor am I a celibate, und so weite. (I might note that having a category for wilderness mystics might be useful…these are not necessarily “religious” as we understand that term.) Our exemplars, those with whom we might develop particular relationships, are not so that we will be just like them, for we are not them, but so that we will become who God creates and is creating us to be in and as an image of Christ, a perfection that is finally God’s finish in us, not for ourselves, but for others. We will be unique, and the moreso, we discipline ourselves to be so on earth, the better for others around us. Our calendar should reflect variety of persons in their complexity and their charisms and their struggles precisely because we are various, and finding those we can each identify with is important as part of our Christology, a Christology that is pleromatic as much as it is kenotic.

    Second, I would say that because we are complex in our personhood, that being able to see Saints with whom we share many different aspects of personhood is important, and moreso, because the pilgriming Church is not free of sin and politics, and we do have a history and politics that have sometimes diminished certain aspects of personhood–femaleness and feminity (even though many a male Saint is feminine and many a female Saint more masculine as we understand these terms), skin color and culture, social station, etc. Being neither “Jew nor Greek…” in Christ does not mean that the particulars of persons are disappeared, but rather are redeemed and taken up to enrich the whole in Christ. To say otherwise is anti-Incarnation. Often, in my experience when Galatians is trotted out in these kinds of conversations, it is to downplay or disappear aspects of my particularity, my sexual orientation and affectional relationship, either by an amorphous inclusion or by suggesting these things don’t matter. On the contrary, they are part of my discipleship, so doing so, inevitably reduces me back to the particularities of humanity considered real, normal, norm, dominant. And let me say, if we look at the spectrum of Saints for real, normal, norm, dominant, we’re in trouble. Think St Symeon the New Theologian dancing naked through Constantinople (or St David…) or St Catherine of Sienna licking wounds and telling Popes what’s what.

    Third, I note that historically the category of “lay persons” on the calendar who are not “religious” were largely “royal” with perhaps the occasional “mystic”. What worries me about separating out “religious” is that too few otherwise lay leaders show up on our calendar and often those who are lay who do show up are not considered leaders in/of the Church but in/of general society.

    Fourth, I agree with Charles that Incarnational [Christological (and Mariological)] feasts proper should perhaps be a separate category. (What are you going to do with Trinity?) And that angels should be counted as angels, other holy created beings…their gender while mostly depicted as male is never really clear. I think of St Andrei Rublev’s Old Testament Trinity…the angels are androgynous in some ways, not by a lack of gender, but by a superabundance of maleness and femaleness together in ways that we rarely see in humans–though occasionally we do. What if St Eugenia showed up on our calendar? How would we deal with her cross-dressing, for example, to get into the monastery…One of the beauties of our “religious” (and our vestments) is that they transgress gender

  10. Fr. Michael S.

    If Feasts of our Lord count as “Male,” at least *traditionally*, there have been a goodly number of Feasts of our Lady to balance them the sex pole! One a week (usually Saturday) to against the Sunday; and her own Conception, Nativity, Assumption, Visitation; Compassion, Name, Presentation, Rosary, Sorrows; and then Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Snows, Guadalupe, etc..

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