The Celebration of Saints Barlaam and Josaphat

Today is an interesting day in the Church, when we celebrate Saints Josaphat and Barlaam. They are not celebrated in the universal calendar, so you likely have never been to a Mass remembering them. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes their story thusly:

In the third or fourth century King Abenner (Avenier) persecuted the Church. The astrologers had foretold that his son Josaphat would one day become a Christian. To prevent this the prince was kept in close confinement. But, in spite of all precautions, Barlaam, a hermit of Senaar, met him and brought him to the true Faith. Abenner tried his best to pervert Josaphat, but, not succeeding, he shared the government with him. Later Abenner himself became a Christian, and, abdicating the throne, became a hermit. Josaphat governed alone for a time, then resigned, went into the desert, found his former teacher Barlaam, and with him spent his remaining years in holiness. Years after their death, the bodies were brought to India and their grave became renowned by miracles. Barlaam and Josaphat found their way into the Roman Martyrology (27 November), and into the Greek calendar (26 August).

Saints Barlaam and JosaphatThey are unique saints because their story is a Christianized version of the story of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. The story was likely turned into a Christian saint story around 1000 AD.

This brings up some interesting tensions that exist in modern and ancient Catholicism. There has always been mutual influence among Christianity and other religions. This has expressed itself with influence between Eastern religions and Christian monasticism (as shown in this adaptation), as well as between Islam and Christianity (especially during the Middle Ages).

Even though in this age of relativism, this mutual influence can be taken too far, The Church’s view of other religions is very charitable, and summed up in Nostra Aetate, a document of Vatican II:

…other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men (2).

In other words, there is nothing wrong per se with Christianizing good elements of other faiths, because truth is truth. So, when a Hindu or Buddhist preaches “thou shalt not kill,” it is just as true as when a Christian preaches it. When the same Hindu or Buddhist preaches reincarnation or denies the existence of a personal god, then clearly we would say that conflicts with Catholic truth. However, this does not mean we can’t recognize the good things contained in other religions.

Saints Josaphat and Barlaam, pray for us.

About David Bennett

David Bennett is an author, speaker, and small business owner. He started ChurchYear.Net in 2004, along with his brother Jonathan. The site gets over one million visitors a year, and Bennett’s writings have appeared in church bulletins, newspapers, and other media.

Comments

  1. Adelina Ocampo says:

    Thanks for finding what I desire. I read your page on Ora della Madre celebration on Holy Saturday. I would like to initiate this celebration in my country, Philippines. Holy Week is celebrated: reading/enacting the Passion and Death of Jesus, grand procession of Jesus’ images on Good Friday and another grand procession on Easter Sunday. Saturday is entirely no celebration and seems to be blank day. We need to have one. this is the Ora della Madre. Thanks, from A. Ocampo

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