Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Biblical Saints and Canonized Saints

  • How does one become a saint within the Catholic Church? How do you biblically separate saints from regular Christians, particularly since to many Protestants it would seem that sainthood is bestowed by the pope who is a man. Finally, is sainthood only bestowed posthumously?
I think it would be helpful to begin by defining what the word means. Our English word "saint" comes from the Latin sanctus, which means "holy, sacred, consecrated." It is used in the Bible to translate the Greek word hagios, which means "most holy thing, a saint" (although Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says that it is derived from the Greek word hagiazo, which means "to set apart, sanctify, or make holy"). Generally, it is used in the Bible to refer to Christians, to the people of the New Covenant.

Catholics have no theological obstacle to using the term in that way. After all, we speak often of the "communion of saints," which includes not only those souls in heaven but also those members of the pilgrim Church on earth. The reason that the Church officially declares that an individual is a saint is because Catholics believe in showing honor and respect (or "devotion") to the saints by emulating their lives and asking for their prayers. Once the Church says that a particular person has lived a life of eminent holiness and heroic virtue, then we know that it is safe to honor him or her in that way. The purpose of the declaration is ultimately to safeguard the piety of the faithful, to give them role models in sanctity, and to give them hope that any person, no matter the circumstance, can live a life of grace and fellowship with God.

Note that sainthood is bestowed by God, not the pope. It is because of the grace of God that the particular person we call a saint was able to live an eminently holy life and to be with God in heaven. Each of these persons was a saint, a "holy one," "set apart," long before they were declared such by the Church. In canonizing a person, the Church simply declares as fact something that has already taken place.

To answer your last question, many many people (i.e., John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio, John Bosco, etc.) were all generally referred to as "saints" during their lifetime. But, the official declaration by the Church always comes after the person has deceased.

For more information on how a person is canonized, see "The Canonization Process". For more information on Catholic theology regarding the "communion of saints," see the CCC, nos. 946-962.

I think that answers all of your questions.

Pax Christi,


  1. When the saints were human, were they also sinners?

  2. Of course they were! No saint lived an absolutely perfect life on earth except for Mary. So, they sinned and they were capable of sinning, but b/c of their heroic virtue and holiness they were able to gain victory and mastery over sin. I think it's safe to say that the saints did not sin as often as most people do, but they did still sin.


Related Posts with Thumbnails