“For the Catholic Church, canonization also responds to political and economic issues”

Canonization of Saint Louis, manuscript “Life and Miracles of Saint Louis”, 14th century, National Library of France, French 5716, fol.  9 back.

Although the list of saints before the end of the XVIand century is very approximate, the Catholic Church would have recognized more than 10,000 to date. Since the last three popes, there have never been so many: nearly 2,500 are awaiting canonization. Professor of economics, Augustin Mohrer has studied the relationship between politics, economics and religion in what he calls “the factory of the saints”.

Even if the process of sanctification is expensive – 150,000 euros, or even much more – the saints and their relics drain an important economy and meet different political needs, analyzes the author of the book The Factory of the Saints (Atland, 2021).

You say that there is a political and economic dimension in the decision to declare a person a saint. Why ?

Augustin Mohrer: If canonization crowns the edifying life led by a believer, it also responds to political and economic issues. It is the need that creates the saint! During a canonization, the Church chooses to highlight the life of a person fulfilling a certain number of criteria (the so-called theological and cardinal virtues) and creates a legend around it for a very specific purpose.

The example of Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431), sanctified five hundred years after her death, clearly shows that she came to meet a political need. In 1920, two years after the war, France, humiliated by Prussia and Germany, needed a personality to restore hope and glory to national feeling. By embodying the Frenchwoman liberating the country from her enemies, Joan of Arc acts as a strong symbol.

Did the first saints come to replace the ancient gods?

Between 300 and 350, Rome experienced a severe economic crisis, mainly due to a shortage of slaves. To replace them, it was necessary to employ free men who until then had not worked (20% of the population) and to encourage fertility. In this context, the often benevolent gods of the time – between 1000 and 2000, with Jupiter at the top of the pantheon – were no longer in line with the needs of a population whose daily life had become more austere.

This is how the Church, having at the time only the concept of the Trinity, created the saints. She built a legend around the story of Christians who could embody the qualities that the population, and especially the powerful who governed, needed. As there had been a myriad of gods, there was therefore a myriad of saints, whose names have now been forgotten for the majority of them, quite simply because they are no longer “useful” !

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