HOPEFULLY this will be the last faith post. (But then again, this plus everything else I’ve already written was supposed to go into ONE post, so, you know, we’ll just have to see how it goes.)
Anyway. This post will cover the cult of the saints and the hierarchy of the Church.
The Cult of the Saints
Saint worship isn’t really a “cult,” in the sense that there’s no shady organization behind it taking people’s money and brainwashing them to the point where they can no longer reason on certain key points. (Or is there?) It is, however, a cult in the sense that there’s great adoration attached to one people or rather a group of people: the saints.
Who are the saints? They are the Sims who have died and gone before in such an exalted state that Church authorities and lay people are certain they went to Heaven. More than just being certain that these Sims went to Heaven, the Church is positive that these Sims are somehow in the Lord Wright’s special favor. After all, the Lord Wright may love and care for everyone equally, but at the end of the day, some Sims are just more equal than others.
Saints are held to be members of the third order of angels — the ghosts of Sims past — but, because of their special status, they have special duties. The Lord Wright has also given them a limited authority to intervene in small matters. So, for instance, if it’s the end of the month and you’re coming up a bit short, you might pray to St. Darren the Dreamer (patron saint of artists, widowers and debtors) and he could help you find a bit of extra cash to pay those bills. If you’re up to your eyeballs in debt, however, you’re better off praying to St. Darren to pray to the Lord Wright to get you a couple sacks of gold. This is the principle of intercession, which the Church holds is the most proper way to apply to any saint, no matter how big or small the matter. However, the lay folk tend to get confused by this concept, and instead generally pray to saints no matter how big or small the matter.
Furthermore, there are two different levels of saints: local saints and patron saints. Local saints are just that, local. They are often Sims who have died after leading an exceptionally virtuous life, but at the same time, did not perform any miracles or other wonderous deeds to bring them to the attention of the wider Church. The Church does not in any way discourage praying to local saints — all saints are equal in Wright’s eyes, and besides, a local saint might be more willing to intercede for someone they knew in life, or whose parents or grandparents they knew in life — but at the same time, they don’t get a lot of special treatment that patron saints do. Unless a local saint performs a post-mortem miracle or two and thus comes to the attention of the wider Church, chances are, their worship will die out in a few generations. They’re still saints, according to Church theology, they just aren’t bothered so much by other Sims.
Patron saints are different. Patron saints are saints recognized and honored by the entire Church. They have their own holiday (though the amount of celebration on these holidays may vary — some days, like the Feasts of St. Robert and St. Agnes, are days where everybody gets a day off and shows up at church and then parties, other feast days are only celebrated with a special service or parties for those who are named for that particular saint). Furthermore, they get certain specifically assigned duties and areas of expertise, so speak. To use the example above — St. Darren the Dreamer is the patron saint of artists, widowers and debtors, because in life, he was all of these. Thus, he has a certain amount of experience in these areas and can be expected to help out other worthy Sims who are experiencing problems related to any one of the three. Though some Sims may keep up a special devotion to a particular saint, generally, patron saints are only bothered with prayers and requests for intercession that have to do with their specifically assigned duties.
Becoming a Saint
To become a saint, first you have to die. Living an exemplary life before that point does help, but on its own, it’s no guarantee of sainthood — nor, for that matter, is living a perfectly awful life any guarantee that you won’t become a saint. That being said, there are certain things you can do, while still living, that dramatically increase your chances of eventual sainthood.
- Become a martyr. Martyrs are instant saints according to the Wrightian faith. Unfortunately, how much recognition you get as a martyr depends on when you were martyred and how inspiring your life was up to that point. For instance, many of the early Reman martyrs are sadly forgotten to history, because there were just so many of them, and early record-keeping was spotty — after all, it’s hard to keep records when you’re doing all you can to spread your faith and still stay one step ahead of the authorities. Recognizing this, one of the major Church holidays is the Feast of the Martyrs, in which all martyrs are officially honored. Some martyrs are patron saints of other things, though, and do have their own feast days.
- Found a religious order. This isn’t as easy as it sounds — you generally need money of some kind and prior monastic instruction to have a prayer of your order surviving, thriving, and not being swallowed up by a larger order. But if you do it, that pretty much means instant local sainthood (unless of course you screw up monumentally in some sinful way — not just a business/politics/can’t-manage-Sims-to-save-your-life kind of way), since most orders take their names from their founders, and all that do add the honorific “St.” to that founder’s name after a generation or so.
- Perform some kind of miracle while you are still living. That miracle can be anything — heal a disease, cure a vampire or plantsim, save a village from starvation, have a vision of the Lord Wright or another saint — as long as you pulled it off without obvious means and give all the credit to Lord Wright, chances are, you’ll become a saint when you die. (Again, unless you screw up monumentally.) For best results, go on to found an order or become a martyr.
- Live an exemplary, virtuous life and perform some post-mortem miracles — or be lucky and have some pretty darn cool things happen to people who pray for you. It might just push you over the edge of local sainthood and into a plumb patron saint position.
There is no process for becoming a local saint — either the folks who survive you will remember you fondly and pray to you, or they won’t. However, to become a patron saint, you must be ratified as such by the whole Church in one of the Church-wide conferences that take place at the start of every decade.
And that brings me, oh-so-conveniently, to the Church hierarchy.
The Church Hierarchy
Unlike some other faiths, the Wrightian Church is not organized in a coherent, pyramid-shaped hierarchy. There is no “head of the church.” Instead, there are a variety or orders of monks and nuns, all of whom have their own inner hierarchy and differing hierarchical relationships with other orders of monks and nuns.
But just because there is no singular head of the church does not mean that there is no hierarchy at all. There is a clear relationship of more powerful and lesser Sims within the Church. I’ll start at the bottom and work my way up.
At the bottom of the heap are of course the lay Sims — the ordinary men and women living ordinary lives, not members of any Order, just going along from day to day. Though average Church members and monks and nuns will still observe the rules of secular hierarchies (for instance, giving a great deal of deference and respect to nobles and royalty) in day-to-day life, within the Church, all lay people have no official voice and no say in the higher goings-on of the Church.
The next level up are the regular monks and nuns, those who don’t have any special offices within their abbeys. They have a limited voice within the Church. Though they all swear obedience to their particular abbot or abbess, abbots and abbesses are usually elected democratically (though if a particular abbot or abbess names his or own successor, this choice is almost always respected and the democratic vote becomes a formality only).
Next are the monks and nuns who are parts of small Orders in isolated areas — the parish priests, basically. Generally, only monks are sent on their own or in pairs to be parish priests in small towns and villages, both because of general sexism (how could a woman run a whole parish?) and because of the general dangers attendant on women living alone. If a particular parish is, for whatever reason, under the control of nuns, usually it will be a group of three nuns or more — for splitting up the responsibilities involved, and for safety reasons. Though these monks and nuns are technically no more powerful within their own order than a regular monk or nun at a regular abbey, they have more autonomy because of their isolation. Furthermore, if a town or village grows (or if the monk or small group of nuns are ambitious), they can form a spin-off order or daughter house and gain more power that way.
The next step up are the officers within any particular abbey — those Sims who fill posts like the prior/prioress, bursar, novice master or mistress, infirmarian, almoner, etc. Depending upon their particular post and the politics of their particular abbey, they can exercise either a great deal or very little power within the individual abbey. However, in terms of the wider church, they are on equal footing with other monks and nuns of other abbeys.
Up one more level, and we get to the abbots and abbesses. These are the Sims in charge of the entire abbey — it is to them that every monk or nun swears obedience. In terms of the larger church, abbots and abbesses of mother houses outrank those of daughter houses. (Mother house: original, founding abbey of a particular order; daughter house, any abbey derived from an original abbey.) However, this only applies within a particular order — the Abbot of the Mother House of the Order of St. Antonio of Monty will not necessarily have precedence over the Abbot of a daughter house of the Order of St. Kent the Peacemaker.
At the topmost level of the church is the Abbots’ Council. The Abbots’ Council is a group of all the head abbots and abbesses of the major orders of the Wrightian faith. What exactly is a “major” order is a moving target — it the earliest days, it was an abbey that had more than fifty members, now it requires a mother house with at least five hundred members and at least ten daughter houses with no fewer than one hundred members a piece. Since the Council becomes incredibly unwieldly if membership expands beyond fifty abbots and abbesses or so, the requirements of being a major order are often adjusted accordingly. The titular head of the Council is the Abbot of the original Order of St. Robert (who will always have a seat on the Council since all monastic establishments are technically daughter houses of that abbey); however, primarily because the post is so powerful, secular political elements usually arrange things so that the Abbot is a well-connected man, but generally useless. Church and state may be in bed together, but the state prefers to be on top, thank you very much!
The Abbots’ Council meets once every ten years in Camford to discuss and try to resolve doctrinal disputes, adjudicate non-doctrinal disputes between different Orders or houses, and confer patron status on new saints. Since a lot of business can accumulate over a decade, these meetings usually last the whole year. As such, not every abbot or abbess makes it to every meeting. At least thirty abbots and abbesses must be present in order for the meeting to proceed (if not enough people show up, a meeting is scheduled for the next year to try again). Every hundred years, there is a grand Council that all Council members are required to attend (or to send a representative to if health does not permit it). All decisions are voted upon by every member present, and different rules govern how many votes are necessary to make certain decisions. A simple majority of votes is all that is necessary to resolve a non-doctrinal dispute between different Orders (so as few as 16 votes in either direction will decide the matter). To create a new patron saint requires an absolute majority of all members of the Council — in other words, at least 26 votes in favor of the new saint. There are no limits on how often a saint can be nominated for patron sainthood. Lastly, to resolve a major doctrinal dispute requires a unanimous vote of all members of the Council, which explains why major doctrinal disputes are resolved only rarely.
In terms of Albion, there are currently only two orders residing in it: the Order of St. Coral, an order primarily concerned with the care for orphans and indigent. It is currently headed, in Albion, by Mother Julian with the Mother House originating in Reme. The monks are in the Order of St. Pascal, a contemplative order concerned with probing the mysteries of Wright’s Creation.
And yes, that pun was completely intentional.