Dodge: For All the Saints
Kaspar Scioppius was a very angry man. Born into a Protestant family in 1576, Scioppius converted to Catholicism in 1598. After being named a Knight of St. Peter by the Pope, he set out to write a series of polemical pamphlets against Protestantism. He crafted stinging tirades, exhorting Catholics to take up the sword and exterminate Protestants wherever they might be found. In so doing, he stirred up the Catholic princes in the Thirty Years war, a war in which 40% of some sections of Germany lost their lives.
For his polemic, one of Scioppius’ favorite texts was Psalm 149, a praise Psalm which exclaims: “Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to wreak vengeance on the nations and chastisement on the peoples … to execute on them the judgment written! This is glory for all his faithful ones!” (Ps 149. 5-6, 9).
This Sunday, we will celebrate All Saints day, one of the seven principal feasts of the Church. Is it not odd that our lectionary appoints Ps 149 for use on this day? Should we not recoil in horror that a Psalm with such a violent history would be used for such a feast?
To answer this, we first ought to ask, “What is a saint?” I like how Ron Barron puts it, “A Saint is someone who has demonstrated heroic virtue … Saints are those who have allowed Christ to thoroughly transfigure them from within.”
The New Testament seems to indicate the all the redeemed are saints. As St. Paul writes, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called saints” (Rom 1.7). Thus, in a sense, the saints are the Church, both in heaven and on earth.
Scioppius read Ps 149 badly because he misunderstood what a saint is. A saint is not someone who fights spiritual battles with worldly tools. A saint is someone, so transformed by Christ that the world melts before him.
One of the problems is that Scioppius ignored verse four: “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.” That’s right, it’s the humble who execute God’s vengeance. It’s the lowly who wreak judgment on an unjust world with their lowliness and humility. This is why “the meek will inherit the earth” (Matt 5.3).
The heroes of our faith who we venerate on All Saints Day are examples for us. None were perfect – they were sinners just like we all are. But they were close enough to God that God worked through them in exceptional ways. We need saints – in all their grandeur and diversity – to remind us what it is really like to walk closely with God. Saints help us by modelling what an authentic walk with God looks like.
Do you have a favorite Saint, one whose life and faith was exemplary? Those who have gone before us show what it is to live a life well-pleasing to God.