Definition and Theological Significance
Although each church on Nova recognizes its own list of saints, both use the same definition. A saint is a human being, one or more of the facets of whose life evidences the special favor of the God-Emperor. While the Emperor sees all, His eyes and ears hearken especially to His saints.
Most frequently, the “special favor” of the Emperor is evidenced by a miracle. However, it is possible for a saint simply to be preternaturally pious or steadfast in a particular area of life. The remarkable facet or facets of the saint’s life, as identified by either miracle or extreme piety, is sometimes called the saint’s patronage.
Theologically speaking, saints are neither divine in themselves nor even vessels of divine power. A saint is simply a person to whose prayers – at least with regard to his or her patronage – the God-Emperor pays special attention. Thus, when a Novan mother with a sick son prays to a patron saint of healing, she is not asking for the saint to heal her son. Instead, she is asking the saint to ask the Emperor to heal her son, on the theory that the saint’s request is more likely to be honored than that of, say, the village preacher (although his prayers will likely be solicited as well).
Saints are wildly popular in Novan religion; all Novans can name their favorite saints, and hagiography is considered basic education. The churches of Nova officially recognize hundreds of saints, giving each region ample opportunity to find a local hero. Though there is broad agreement on the canon of saints, all but the most famous tend to be regional favorites only. It can hardly be otherwise, lest the lesser known saints be crowded from the stage entirely – and stories of a saint always have special resonance in the locales where they actually occurred.
Indeed, much of the popularity of Novan saints can be put down to their status as folk heroes. The saints of Nova are so multitudinous that their stories can provide a hero for virtually every taste, whether a devotee is searching to venerate a heroic warrior or a heroic housewife. For this reason, lay people of Nova barely distinguish between saints of the white priests and saints of the red (though the respective clergies are not so blasé). No matter which religion a saint belonged to, he or she is likely at the center of a good yarn.
In addition, saints help to put a human face on religion. The saints’ stories demonstrate that faith can be lived successfully by real people who faced real tribulation. In the vast array of saints, a Novan in distress is certain to find another person who has faced his or her particular trial before and emerged victorious to stand at the Emperor’s side on Holy Terra – and thus is likely to be especially sympathetic to the poor wretch’s present suffering. Though divine power flows from the Golden Throne alone, Novans overwhelmingly tend to approach the Throne through the intermediary of a saint. For this reason, shrines and cathedrals are almost always dedicated to the memory of a particular saint (as well as the God-Emperor), and many contain special prayer alcoves with devotional candles and icons of locally popular saints, as a spiritual aid to those who seek their aid.
Saints and Scripture
The Scriptures of the Ecclesiarchy consist of the writings of the saints. These are collected in books that are usually named after their author, such as the Book of Thor or the Book of Sanguinus. Each such book of Scripture takes a different form, according to the character of its author. For instance, the Book of Thor consists primarily of dry theological dissertations, long passages of catechism, and bureaucratic prescriptions for Ecclesiarchical law and governance. The Book of Sanguinus, on the other hand, is filled with emotional poetry. Collectively, the writings of the saints are taken as the Emperor’s instructions on how to live a pious life worthy of entrance to Terra.
Many of the Mechanicus’ saints left behind writings as well, often every bit as allegorical as those of the Ecclesiarchy. While these writings are much treasured and discussed within the monasteries, they are second in theological importance to the corpus of STC patterns, which are the holiest of Mechanicus Scripture.
Not all saints left behind writings, but the percentage that did is much greater than the percentage of authors in the general population. Novans do not find this strange, as proficiency with the written word is itself a quasi-mystical mark of distinction (indeed, the Book of Thor is by far the most popular book on Nova, though it is almost never read from directly even in sermons). By definition, the writings of a saint are Scripture. However, both churches maintain an informal sense of which existing Scriptures are more to be trusted than others, and use these more trustworthy books to gauge the holiness of a possible new saint. Even a mighty wonder-worker is unlikely to be canonized if his or her writings contradict the Book of Thor, for instance; indeed, such evidence of supernatural power combined with writings inconsistent with the holiest of Scripture would likely lead to posthumous condemnation as a heretic.
Saints and Heresy
Saints’ popularity can pose a spiritual hazard to the unwary. Novans must always be on guard not to commit the heresy of edging from veneration to worship. It is easy for most people to understand the distinction between asking a saint to pray to the Emperor and asking the saint to intervene directly, using his or her (officially nonexistent) supernatural power. In day to day life, however, this line tends to blur. A man who directs his prayers primarily to St. Sanguinus can, over time, come to place his faith in St. Sanguinus rather than in the Emperor. Indeed, most Novans find it cumbersome to pray a saint to pray the Emperor to increase their papaya harvest; much more likely is a prayer that the saint increase the harvest – a technical heresy that is usually written off as mere shorthand for the heart’s true request. In sermons and official liturgies, clerics tend to speak of the Emperor and His saints in one breath, lest the distinction be forgotten. Private individuals, however, are not always so careful – a sin that has spawned more than one heresy throughout Nova’s history.
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