General Information

Canonization is the final step of the process by which a deceased person's name is inscribed in the catalog of Saints in the Roman Catholic church. Originally the process took place locally and the bishop proclaimed someone a saint. Gradually it was reserved to the pope, and the process used since 1918 is described in detail in the Code of Canon Law.

An exhaustive investigation is made of the person's life to determine extraordinary holiness. The steps of investigation involve an initiation of the process by a competent person or group; the advancement of the investigation by the advocate of the cause, called the postulator; objections to the evidence by the promotor of the faith, popularly called the devil's advocate; the initial judgment of the validity of the process in terms of veracity and authenticity; the declaration and celebration of beatification, by which the person is called blessed; and celebration of canonization, by which the person is called saint.

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Besides the investigation into the life of the person, which documents their holiness, canon law demands a confirmation of holiness in the form of Miracles. It is believed that the miracles constitute an irrefutable proof of God's approval of the person's life.

Joan A. Range

Kemp, E. W., Canonization and Authority in the Western Church (1948; repr. 1980).


Advanced Information

Canonization is a legal process in the Roman Catholic Church whereby a departed "servant of God," already beatified, is declared a saint. Such persons are entered into the "canon" or catalog of saints invoked at the celebration of Mass. Beyond the heroic virtue and miraculous power verified already at beatification, saints must perform at least two additional miracles.

In the early church elevation to sainthood was essentially a local affair and not distinguished from beatification. In an effort to curb superstitious abuses Pope Alexander III (1159-81) ruled that the Roman See would henceforth approve all canonizations. This led eventually to the complicated legal processes worked out by Pope Urban VIII in the seventeenth century and given authoritative exposition in Pope Benedict XIV's Heroic Virtue in the nineteenth.

There are several noteworthy differences between beatification (the first step) and canonization. Since Vatican Council I canonization is considered an infallible papal act, thus guaranteeing that these saints are indeed worthy of veneration and able to intercede for the faithful. The beatified receive only local recognition, while saints are venerated throughout the Catholic Church. The cult of the beatified is only permitted, while that of the saints is mandated. Saints alone become patrons of churches and are portrayed with the nimbus (gloriole). However, both beatification and canonization are judgments (the latter infallible) by the church that the person now reigns in glory, is worthy of veneration and imitation, and is able to intercede for the faithful.

J Van Engen
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

NCE, III, 55-61; DTC, II, 493-97; E. W. Kemp, Canonization and Authority in the Western Church.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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