“Remembering the Saints Daily”
A Review of
New Book of Festivals
by Philip Pfatteicher.
By Chris Smith.
The task of compiling an ecumenical calendar of saints is no small one. I myself have been working on such a project for over a year. Thus, I was eager to take a look at the work the Philip Pfatteicher has presented in his New Book of Festivals and Commemorations. Pfatteicher states in the preface that his aim in this book is “in a modest way, to provide a draft of . . . a common calendar, reflecting the present Lutheran and Episcopal calendars, but also moving beyond them, proposing … a creative adaptation as an encouragement to the churches to consider the value of a broad and ecumenical calendar of holy days and holy people “ (xii). Toward this end, Pfatteicher takes a multi-tiered approach to developing such a calendar. The foundational tier of the calendar are the primary holidays of the Christian year, which are known as “Solemnities” to the Roman Catholics, “Principal Festivals” to the Anglicans/Episcopalians and “Greater Festivals” to the Lutherans. This group of holidays include Christmas/Nativity, Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost. The second tier is the minor holidays of the Romans calendar that are known as “Feasts”. These days include celebrations of the Apostles and All Saints Day. One the third tier, we find the lesser remembrances that the Roman Catholics call “Memorials.” The fourth tier is comprised of the “optional memorials” from the Roman calendar. On the fifth and final tier are the celebrations of “post-reformation” saints, which given Pfatteicher’s approach, as described above, are largely drawn from the Lutheran and Episcopal traditions. Unfortunately, even after fleshing out all five of these tiers, there are some days Pfatteicher’s calendar on which no saint is celebrated. It would seem that there is no shortage of saints that could be celebrated, and indeed even the two older ecumenical calendars or saints (that of Wilhelm Löhe and that of the
Additionally, it seems that Pfatteicher’s proposed calendar is not ecumenical enough. Despite several mentions of the Eastern calendar in the introduction (most of which say, in essence, “we have chosen not to follow the Eastern Church in that…”), there is minimal recognition of The Eastern tradition reflected in Pfatteicher’s calendar. Likewise, there is no recognition of saints from the Anabaptist tradition, and very minimal recognition of saints from traditions outside the Lutheran and Anglican traditions. One would think that saints from these under-represented traditions could be used to finish filling out the days of the calendar that presently have no commemorations.
Despite these seeming short-comings of Pfatteicher’s work, we should not ignore the excellence of its strengths. In particular, the material that he provides to assist in the commemoration of each saint is superb. He provides an excellent narrative description of the saint (or holiday), along with prayers, Scripture readings, an excerpt from that saint’s writings and a brief bibliography of the best resources related to that saint. These materials can easily be adapted for use in liturgical, devotional or educational settings. Similarly, they could be excerpted, as appropriate, for use with audiences of almost any age. Pfatteicher’s bibliographical work for each saint will undoubtedly be a fine resource for aspiring church historians, or for others who seek to learn more about the life and thought of a particular saint. I have examined many resources in my own work on a calendar of saints and none is a thorough as Pfatteicher in the diversity of resources that are provided to assist in the remembering of a saint.
Let me conclude with an observation about calendars of saints in general, which also seems to hold true with regard to Pfatteicher. I have noticed that calendars of saints tend to skew toward Constantinianism. Certainly, there are saints on the calendar from the early church and more recent saints that would be unknown if it were not for their faithfulness in martyrdom—e.g. the Martyrs of Japan (Feb. 5) or The Martyrs of Uganda (June 3). However, such saints are few in contrast with those who held positions of power and/or worldly prestige. In his introduction, Pfatteicher observes that “Christian history is intimately intertwined with secular history” ( xv ), and although there are many senses in which this observation is true, there are some dangers associated with such a belief. In particular, there is the temptation to forget that the Church is a holy people, a people who have been set apart, and in the making of a calendar of saints, the temptation could take the form of choosing saints on the basis of worldly virtues, rather than on virtues of Christian discipleship whose hallmark is that of the cross. Clarence Jordan, the founder of the Koinonia Farm Community in Georgia, often spoke of the “God movement,” by which he meant the work of God in human history which often occurs underground, (i.e. not in the mainstream of church culture), or to use the language of the new monastics, in “abandoned places of Empire.” It would be of interest to develop a calendar of saints that is deeply rooted in such a non-Constantinian “God movement.” Certainly, all of Pratteicher’s first two tiers and much of the third tier could be retained in such a calendar, but there would need to be new criteria for filling in the remaining dates. If we believe that remembering the saints is a formative practice, then we need to think carefully about the direction in which our selection of saints for such a calendar points us. Are we seeking to be formed into the image of Christ who died and was resurrected or are we being formed into the Constantinian way of power and prestige?
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com