Saturday, December 19, 2015

Frankie Valli and the Cult of the Saints

So, earlier today I was watching Dan Rather interview the great Frankie Valli. Of course, what stood out to me was something I was personally interested in. Rather asked about Valli's religion. He suspected that since Valli is an Italian-American "Jersey boy," he must have grown up Roman Catholic. Exactly right. Although nowadays, and apparently for a long time now, the singer has shown little devotion to the Church. He mentioned the worldliness of churches. Valli said it seemed to him that all of them were, to one extent or another, businesses.

Valli mentioned that during the years when he and his bandmates were struggling to make a name for themselves, he would often stop by St. Patrick's Cathedral and light a candle. But, again, since those days he's kept his distance from the Church and from religion in general.

Then, Valli said something that really struck me. There's one aspect of the religion of his youth that he still retains: the cult of the saints. No, he didn't use those words. But he did say that if he can't seem to find something he's looking for, he appeals to St. Anthony. He suggested that almost always, after calling on St. Anthony he soon finds whatever it is. Valli also mentioned his regard for St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes.

That one little bit of the interview made me realize, again, what a huge phenomenon the cult of the saints has been throughout the years of Christendom. Of course, I knew that so many cites, towns, counties, hospitals, colleges, days, etc., etc. were named for a particular saint. But until you start to explore this aspect of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, it's easy to overlook its significance through the centuries. In many ways, the cult of the saints is the single largest window on the history of Christianity during the Middle Ages. And, it's maintained its popularity right up to the present day.


Justin said...

What do you attribute that interest to, Frank? Any theories?

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi, Justin.

If I'm understanding your question correctly, I would say that the popularity of the cult of the saints, even among lapsed Roman Catholics, has to do with the immediate possibility of appealing to celestial power in time of need. Compare: I think it's very likely that someone who was raised Protestant might occasionally pray, especially if in a bind, in spite of the fact that they no longer read the Bible or attend church. One strong appeal of the cult of the saints is that each saint has a specialty or two. Remembering who to turn to for a particular need, and then appealing to that saint is very common especially in old-school Roman Catholicism.

Justin said...

Thanks for the response. I guess I've just never understood (from an efficiency mindset) why the cult of the saints would persist for the types of reasons you outline. If one is going to set aside all the substantive theological reasoning/rationale anyway, I guess I'd expect a bland sort of "Jesus, save me this one last time..." prayer that so many of us Protestants offer.

I can see why a person might be attracted to the cult of saints IF they take seriously (1) the importance of having other Christian pray for them (James 5:16), as well as (2) the notion that one's membership in the Church is not revoked upon death. However, this level of theological reflection/devotion doesn't seem to be what's taking place "on the ground," so the whole thing remains rather curious to me.

Unknown said...

I discovered the saints (canonized) over 15 years ago and countless times, they've assisted me that I call them my brothers and sisters. They've become my dear friends and when I reach heaven, i truly believe we'll recognize one another. Of course, they will help me get there.

Justin said...

I have to say since making my initial response, I've visited with some practicing Catholics who have changed my perception of "what is happening on the ground." I think my prior assessment of what Catholics "really believed" was grossly oversimplified and probably unfair. While I don't like the language of a "cult" of the saints...the basic idea of the communion of the saints and the idea that my grandfather can pray for me now, as he prayed for me before, I find quite comforting and natural to the biblical text.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Justin, thanks for your comments on this. About the terminology "cult of the saints": I think it does suggest some ideas to our ears that may or may not be there. Either way, it's one of those phrases that's deeply entrenched, and academics know what you mean by it. So it's handy in that way. As you know, there are about a billion Roman Catholics running around these days and they don't all believe the same things. My impression is that for some, RC sanctity carries some ideas and practices that are off base, and that's putting it mildly. In his book "Religion and the Decline of Magic," Keith Thomas compared late-medieval Catholicism to primitive African religions. That's over-the-top, in my opinion. But I do think there are aspects of appeals to the saints that are more about power and resemble magic more than faith. Thanks again. All the best to you.

Dandielli Soares said...

1. The Body of Christ is alive both here and in Heaven.
2. When we ask our friends here on earth to pray for us, God listens.
3. Why wouldn't He do the same when the saints in HeVen pray for us?