Authors
Todd Mei
University of California, Berkeley
Abstract
Despite the way we think of saints as belonging to a certain historical period and confronting specific historical obstacles, we tend to see their acts as being universally meaningful, and therefore, that these acts are practices which should be imitated in some manner. However this understanding carries with it a significant difficulty: namely, there is a risk of interpreting the lives and actions of saints as providing rules of conduct to be followed, as if their enactment was an end in-itself. In other words, a simplistic notion of imitation can lead to the problem of voluntarism, where the intention to imitate an action is viewed to be sufficient or equal to actualizing goodness or piety. But there is a further, perhaps more significant problem with this understanding, and this involves how we tend to conflate the performance of actions with their meaning. Does an action, especially that of a saint, have a meaning that is identical to its effect? Or, does the action itself produce a sense of meaning that outruns its effect? If the answer to this last question is affirmative, then the actions of a saint can be said to predicate an emergent meaning, that is, a meaning that has not yet been articulated, let alone realized. A saint would therefore be less a figure of convention and more a figure of innovation. In this chapter, I employ Paul Ricoeur’s theory of symbol to show how, beyond the historical specificity of the lives of saints, their actions can be understood to offer new ways of understanding the possibility for being, which I will unapologetically link to the Christian notion of “the New Being.” My discussion will first include a summary of Ricoeur’s theory of symbol, turning next to an application of this theory to saints and the contrasting context of the Prophet in the Hebrew Bible. The chapter will conclude with an elaboration of a symbolic understanding of action in relation to the New Being.
Keywords Ricoeur  sainthood  hermeneutics
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