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Icon of St. Cyprian of Carthage, who urged diligence in the process of canonization

Canonization (in American English and Oxford spelling) or canonisation (in British English) is the act by which the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic, or Anglican Church declares that a person who has died was a saint, upon which declaration the person is included in the canon, or list, of recognized saints. Originally, people were recognized as saints without any formal process. Later, different processes, such as those used today in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, were developed.


  • Historical development of the process 1
  • Roman Catholic Church 2
    • Medieval procedure 2.1
    • From the 18th to the 20th century 2.2
    • Roman Catholic procedure since 1983 2.3
    • Equipollent canonization 2.4
  • Orthodox Church 3
  • Anglican Communion 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Historical development of the process

The first people honored as saints were the martyrs. Pious legends of their deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ.

The Roman Rite's Canon of the Mass contains the names only of martyrs, along with that of the Virgin Mary and, since 1962, that of Saint Joseph.

By the fourth century, however, "confessors"—people who had confessed their faith not by dying but by word and life—began to be venerated publicly. Examples of such people are Saint Hilarion and Saint Ephrem the Syrian in the East, and Saint Martin of Tours and Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the West. Their names were inserted in the diptychs, the lists of saints explicitly venerated in the liturgy, and their tombs were honoured in like manner as those of the martyrs. Since the witness of their lives was not as unequivocal as that of the martyrs, they were venerated publicly only with the approval by the local bishop. This process is often referred to as "local canonization".[1]

This approval was required even for veneration of a reputed martyr. In his history of the Donatist heresy, Saint Optatus recounts that at Carthage a Catholic matron, named Lucilla, incurred the censures of the Church for having kissed the relics of a reputed martyr whose claims to martyrdom had not been juridically proved. And Saint Cyprian (died 258) recommended that the utmost diligence be observed in investigating the claims of those who were said to have died for the faith. All the circumstances accompanying the martyrdom were to be inquired into; the faith of those who suffered, and the motives that animated them were to be rigorously examined, in order to prevent the recognition of undeserving persons. Evidence was sought from the court records of the trials or from people who had been present at the trials.

Saint Augustine of Hippo (died 430) tells of the procedure which was followed in his day for the recognition of a martyr. The bishop of the diocese in which the martyrdom took place set up a canonical process for conducting the inquiry with the utmost severity. The acts of the process were sent either to the metropolitan or primate, who carefully examined the cause, and, after consultation with the suffragan bishops, declared whether the deceased was worthy of the name of 'martyr' and public veneration.

Acts of formal recognition, such as the erection of an altar over the saint's tomb or transferring the saint's relics to a church, were preceded by formal inquiries into the sanctity of the person's life and the miracles attributed to that person's intercession.

Such acts of recognition of a saint were authoritative, in the strict sense, only for the diocese or ecclesiastical province for which they were issued, but with the spread of the fame of a saint, were often accepted elsewhere also.

Roman Catholic Church

In the Roman Catholic Church (both the Latin Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Churches), the act of canonization is reserved to the Holy See and occurs at the conclusion of a long process requiring extensive proof that the person proposed for canonization lived and died in such an exemplary and holy way that he or she is worthy to be recognized as a saint. The Church's official recognition of sanctity implies that the persons are now in heavenly glory, that they may be publicly invoked and mentioned officially in the liturgy of the Church, most especially in the Litany of the Saints. Other churches still follow the older practice (see, for instance, below on the practice of the Orthodox Church).

In the Catholic Church, canonization involves a decree that allows veneration of the saint in the liturgy of the Roman Rite throughout the world. For permission to venerate on a local level, only beatification is needed, not canonization.[2]

Medieval procedure

In the Medieval West, the Holy See was asked to intervene in the question of canonizations, so as to ensure a more authoritative decision. The canonization of Saint Udalric, Bishop of Augsburg, by Pope John XV in 993 is the first undoubted example of a papal canonization of a saint from outside Rome; some historians maintain that the first such canonization was that of Saint Swibert by Pope Leo III in 804.

Thereafter, recourse to the judgment of the popes was had with greater frequency. Walter of Pontoise was canonised by Hugh de Boves, the Archbishop of Rouen in 1153; Walter was the last saint in Western Europe to have been canonised by an authority other than the pope.[3][4] “The last case of canonization by a metropolitan is said to have been that of St. Gaultier, or Gaucher, abbot of Pontoise, by the Archbishop of Rouen. A decree of Pope Alexander III, 1170, gave the prerogative to the pope thenceforth, so far as the Western Church was concerned.”[3]

In 1173, Pope Alexander III, after reprimanding certain bishops for having permitted veneration of a man who was far from holy, decreed: "You shall not therefore presume to honour him in the future; for, even if miracles were worked through him, it is not lawful for you to venerate him as a saint without the authority of the Catholic Church."[5]

The procedure initiated by the text of Alexander III, confirmed by a bull of Pope Innocent III in the year 1200, issued on the occasion of the canonization of Saint Cunegunde, led to increasingly elaborate inquiries.

From the 18th to the 20th century

In his De Servorum Dei beatifιcatione et de Beatorum canonizatione, the eminent canonist Prospero Lambertini (1675–1758), who later became Pope Benedict XIV, elaborated upon the procedural norms issued by Pope Urban VIII (1623–1644)[6] and the actual established practice. From his time until the 20th century proceedings were governed by his five-volume work published in 1734–1738. Its substance was incorporated into the Code of Canon Law of 1917.[7] The article Beatification and canonization process in 1914 describes the procedures followed immediately before the publication of that Code.

Roman Catholic procedure since 1983

Pope John Paul II's apostolic constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister[8] of 25 January 1983, and the norms issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 7 February 1983, for its implementation on diocesan level, continued the work of simplification already initiated by Pope Paul VI.[9] Contrary to popular belief, the reforms did not eliminate the office of the Promoter of the Faith (Latin: promotor fidei), popularly known as the Devil's advocate, whose duty was to question the material presented in favor of canonization. The reforms were intended to make the process less adversarial. In November 2012 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Monsignor Carmello Pellegrino to the office of Promoter of the Faith.[10]

The steps to canonization that the candidates have to go through to become a saint:

"Servant of God": The process leading towards canonization begins at the diocesan level. A , is presented by the local bishop to the Roman Curia—in particular, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints—where it is assigned a postulator, whose task is to gather further information about the life of the Servant of God. Religious orders who regularly deal with the congregation often have their own designated postulator generals. At some point, permission is then granted for the body of the Servant of God to be exhumed and examined. A certification ("non cultus") is made that no superstitious or heretical worship or improper cult has grown up around the servant or his or her tomb, and relics are taken.

"Venerable/Heroic in Virtue": When enough information has been gathered, the congregation will recommend to the pope that he make a proclamation of the Servant of God's heroic virtue (that is, that the servant exhibited the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree). From this point the one said to be "heroic in virtue" is referred to by the title "Venerable". A Venerable has as yet no feast day, no churches may be built in his or her honor, and the church has made no statement on the person's probable or certain presence in heaven, but prayer cards and other materials may be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle wrought by his or her intercession as a sign of God's will that the person be canonized.

"Blessed": Beatification is a statement by the church that it is "worthy of belief" that the person is in heaven, having come to salvation. This step depends on whether the Venerable is a martyr or a "confessor".

  • For a martyr, the Pope has only to make a declaration of martyrdom, a certification that the venerable gave his or her life voluntarily as a witness for the faith and/or in an act of heroic charity for others.
  • If the Venerable was not a martyr—all non-martyrs are "confessors" as they "confessed" or bore witness to their faith by how they lived their lives—it must be proven that a miracle has taken place by his or her intercession: that is, that God has shown a sign that the person is enjoying the Beatific Vision by God performing a miracle in response to the Blessed's prayers. Today, these miracles are almost always miraculous cures, as these are the easiest to establish based on the Catholic Church's requirements for a "miracle". (The patient was sick, there was no known cure for the ailment, prayers were directed to the Venerable, the patient was cured, the cure was spontaneous, instantaneous, complete, and lasting, and doctors cannot find any natural explanation.)

This allows beatification, giving the venerable the new title "Blessed" (abbreviated "Bl.") or, in Latin, Beatus or Beata. A feast day will be designated, but its observance is normally restricted to the Blessed's home diocese, to certain locations associated with him or her, and/or to the churches or houses of the blessed's religious order, if they belonged to one. Parishes may not normally be named in honor of a Blessed.

"Saint" (contracted "St" or "S."): To be canonized a saint, at least two miracles must have been performed through the saint's intercession after his or her death (i.e., an additional miracle after that granting beatification). Canonization is a statement by the church that the person certainly enjoys the Beatific Vision. The saint is assigned a feast day which may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic Church, although it may or may not appear on the general calendar or local calendars as an obligatory feast, parish churches may be built in his or her honor, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honor the saint.

In the case of the Eastern Catholic Churches, individual churches sui juris retain, in theory, the right to glorify saints for their own jurisdictions, though this has rarely happened in practice.

Although a recognition of sainthood by the Pope does not directly concern a fact of divine revelation, it must still be "definitively held" by the faithful as infallible under (at the very least) the Universal Magisterium of the Church since it is a truth connected to revelation by historical necessity.[16][17]

Equipollent canonization

Popes have several times extended to the whole Church, without carrying out the ordinary judicial process of canonization described above, the veneration as a saint, the "cultus", of someone long venerated as such locally. This action by a Pope is known as equipollent (or equivalent) canonization or "confirmation of cultus". According to the rules laid down by Pope Benedict XIV, there are three conditions for such a canonization: an ancient cultus, a general constant attestation by trustworthy historians to the virtues or martyrdom of the person, and an uninterrupted fame as a worker of miracles.

Pope Benedict XIV himself gave as examples the equipollent canonizations of the saints Romuald in 1595, Norbert in 1621, Bruno in 1623, Peter Nolasco in 1655, Raymond Nonnatus in 1681, Stephen of Hungary in 1686, Margaret of Scotland in 1691, John of Matha and Felix of Valois in 1694, Pope Gregory VII in 1728, Wenceslaus of Bohemia in 1729, and Gertrude of Helfta in 1738. Later equipollent canonizations include those of Peter Damian and Boniface in 1828, Cyril and Methodius in 1880, Ephrem the Syrian in 1920, Albert the Great in 1931, Margaret of Hungary in 1943, John of Ávila and Nikola Tavelić and his three companion martyrs in 1970, Marko Krizin, István Pongrácz and Melchior Grodziecki in 1995, and Hildegard of Bingen in 2012.

Pope Francis added Angela of Foligno and Peter Faber in 2013, and José de Anchieta, Marie of the Incarnation, and Francis-Xavier de Montmorency-Laval in 2014.[18][19][20][21]

Orthodox Church

The Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria (1876). On 3 April 2011, Batak massacre victims were canonized as saints.

For the process by which the Orthodox Church grants official recognition to someone as a saint, see glorification.

Anglican Communion

The Church of England, the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion, canonized Charles I as a saint, in the Convocations of Canterbury and York of 1660.[22]

See also


  1. ^ For the history of canonization, see Kemp, Canonization and Authority in the Western Church,
  2. ^ "Beatification, in the present discipline, differs from canonization in this: that the former implies (1) a locally restricted, not a universal, permission to venerate, which is (2) a mere permission, and no precept; while canonization implies a universal precept" (Beccari, Camillo. "Beatification and Canonization" The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Retrieved 27 May 2009).
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ Gregory IX, Decretales, III, "De reliquiis et veneratione sanctorum"
  6. ^ Apostolic Letter Caelestis Hierusalem cives of 5 July 1634; Decreta servanda in beatificatione et canonizatione Sanctorum of 12 March 1642
  7. ^ Aimable Musoni, "Saints without Borders", pp. 9–10
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ , November 5, 2012la Repubblica"Devil's Advocate is Puglia 'It will test the virtues of aspiring saints'",
  11. ^ Pope John Paul II, 1983, Divinus Perfectionis Magister, Art I, Sec 1
  12. ^ Pietro Cardinal Palazzini, 1983, Norms to be observed in inquiries made by bishops in the causes of saints, § 9 a
  13. ^ Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910–1997), biography, Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, Internet Office of the Holy See
  14. ^
  15. ^ Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F.; 2005; Response of His Holiness Benedict XVI for the examination of the cause for beatification and canonization of the Servant of God John Paul II
  16. ^ Professio FideiDoctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the , by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  17. ^ "Beatification and Canonization", The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907, p. 366
  18. ^ Angelo Amato, "La canonizzazione equipollente della mistica Angela da Foligno" in L'Osservatore Romano (12 October 2013)
  19. ^
  20. ^ J.R. MacMahon, "Beatification and Canonisation"
  21. ^
  22. ^

Further reading

  • André Vauchez, La sainteté en Occident aux derniers siècles du Moyen Âge (1198–1431) , Bologne, 1989La santità nel Medioevo, Cambridge, 1987 and Ital. Transl. : Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, 241) [Engl. transl. : BEFAR1, Rome, 1981 (
  • Eric Waldram Kemp, Canonization and Authority in the Western Church, Oxford University Press, 1948

External links


  • Divinus Perfectionis Magister Apostolic Constitution of Pope John Paul II (English)
  • Congregation for the Causes of Saints Vatican Website
  • Historical Sketch of Canonization


  • What does "Glorification" mean? Fr. Alexey Young
  • Glorification of Saints – Russian Orthodox Church Archpriest Georgiy Mitrofanov
  • The blood of martyrs is the life-giving seed of Christianity! Glorification of saints in the 20th century
  • On the Glorification of Saints Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
  • Glorification of St. John Maximovitch Discussion and photos

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