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Canonization of Saints

by Msgr. P. E. Hallett


Msgr. Hallett gives a detailed outline of the history and the processes of beatification and canonization.

Publisher & Date

The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, London, 1952

Most of the writers on the subject of canonization of the saints begin by contrasting it with the pagan custom of apotheosis. Under the Roman Empire this was an honour reserved to the members of the Imperial family, and not, like Christian canonization, a distinction given to those who have lived lives of heroic sanctity, whatever their worldly position. More important still, the pagan superstition claimed to confer divinity upon men, a claim abhorrent to Catholics and, indeed, philosophically impossible. In all that we shall have to say about canonization we shall presuppose a knowledge of the Catholic doctrine upon the subordinate position of the saints. They are creatures and can never be otherwise; but they are the glorified members of Christ's Mystical Body, that is, the Church, and as such are to be honoured by us and in return are able to help us by their powerful intercession.

We may see in the concluding chapters of the Book of Ecclesiasticus an attempt to draw up a formal list of the saints of the Old Testament. "Let us praise men of renown, and our fathers in their generation…their glory shall not be forsaken. Their bodies are buried in peace, and their name liveth unto generation and generation. Let the people show forth their wisdom and the Church declare their praise" (chapter 44). The writer then gives his list, Henoch, Noe, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, etc.

Honour Paid To Martyrs

Coming now to Christian times, we have evidence from the earliest days of the Church's history of the honour and veneration she paid to her martyrs, and therein we may see the germ of the whole system, afterwards elaborated in such detail, of beatification and canonization. We read, for example, of the zealous care of the faithful to preserve the bodies, or a part of the relics, of the martyrs, and, on the other hand, of the efforts of the pagans, by burning the bodies, casting the ashes into the Tiber, etc., to hinder them. For it was the Christian custom to give honourable burial to the tortured remains, to erect above them an altar, and thereupon to offer the Holy Mass, the Eucharist, or a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for the glorious constancy of His martyrs. Even in so early a book as the Apocalypse we have evidence of this practice. "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God and for the testimony [greek] which they held" (vi. 9).

Even at this very day we have essentially the same procedure in the elaborate rite for the consecration of a church. The relics of martyrs are brought into the sacred building in solemn procession, not in sorrow but in joy, and laid to rest beneath the altar. The older churches, those in Rome for example, may often be considered as the triumphal monuments erected above the bodies of the martyrs. Thus "martyrium" was the early word for a church, and the altar over a martyr's tomb, e.g., St. Peter's in Rome, was and is called the "confessio," which is merely the Latin for the Greek "martyrium."

Whilst the early honour paid to the martyrs was generally confined to one place, yet there was naturally a tendency, especially where the witness of a martyr had been especially heroic, or otherwise noteworthy, for it to spread to other churches. Often the facts of the martyrdoms were written out and communicated to other churches. Well-known early examples are the letter from the Church of Smyrna, recounting the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Evangelist, and the letter from the Churches of Lyons and Vienne concerning their many martyrs to the churches of Asia and Phrygia. The names of martyrs thus commended in authentic letters would be added to the diptychs of other churches.


It may be well to say a little about these diptychs. They were folding tablets, which stood upon the altar and contained the names that were to be mentioned in the Mass. Often they were read out by the deacon to the people, or whispered in the ear of the priest. In some of the old manuscripts the names are written in the margin of the Mass book. On these tablets were entered names both of the living and of the dead, and the latter were again divided into two classes, those for whom we pray and those for whom it would be wrong to pray. The last-mentioned were, of course, the martyrs for, according to the well-known words of Innocent III, "he does an injustice to a martyr who prays for him." In the Roman Missal we have now the memento of the living, followed by the prayer "Communicantes," with a list of saints and, after the Consecration, the memento of the dead followed by the prayer "Nobis quoque peccatoribus," with a further list of saints. There seems no doubt that originally the two mementos followed each other without a break, and that the two lists of saints were united. Thus does the Canon of the Mass, with its mention of the name of the Pope, the bishop, the faithful throughout the world, the living, the souls in Purgatory, and the saints, recall the old diptychs. In many old Missals, indeed, the memento for the living has the rubrical direction "Super diptyca." In the names of the saints, then, in the Mass, we have the Church's earliest list of canonized saints, for to canonize meant originally to place the name of the saint in the Canon of the Mass (See Du Cange, s.v.).

Owing to the enormous numbers of the early martyrs and the later canonizations, it has not been possible to continue to add their names to the Canon, and although we still speak of the addition of each new saint to the catalogue or album of the saints, no such list actually exists in this world. Even the Roman Martyrology does not serve the purpose, for it contains, in addition to Old Testament saints, many names, which are reckoned amongst the blessed only, and not amongst the saints. Since, however, the reign of Pope Benedict XIV no new names, save those of canonized saints, have been added to it.

Caution Of Ecclesiastical Authority

From the earliest times it was realized by the Church how necessary it was to get authentic information so that true martyrs should be distinguished from false claimants to that honour. Sometimes it was possible to get copies of the official legal reports preserved in the State archives. The acts of St. Justin Martyr are recognized as possessing this official character. Sometimes the martyrs themselves would write a narrative, like the precious and touching composition of the heroic African martyr, St. Perpetua. Often a Christian scribe would attend the court and take down a verbatim report of the proceedings, using, as we are assured, a species of shorthand. Thus, according to the "Liber Pontificalis," St. Clement, Pope (a.d. 90 to 112) appointed seven notaries, so that each, in the portion of the city of Rome assigned to him, might diligently enquire into, and commit to writing, the acts of the martyrs. In such a manner were the official "Acts of the martyrs" drawn up, many of which have come down to us, though, unfortunately, in later times combined with many legends. On the anniversaries of martyrdom the "Acts" were in many places read out in the church, though Rome seems always to have shown especial caution in the matter. A decree attributed by savants in part, at least, to the sixth century, and included in that section of the Corpus Juris (Dist. xv. c. iii.) which gives a list of the books received by the Catholic Church, may be translated as follows: "Also the Acts of the holy martyrs, resplendent with the glory of numberless torments and heroic witness unto death. What Catholic doubts of the greatness of their sufferings in the arena, or imagines that they could have endured by their own strength without the grace and help of God? But according to ancient custom the Acts are not read in the Roman Church, because of its great cautiousness, for they are written by unknown persons and are esteemed superfluous or imperfect by infidels and the unlearned." At a later period, however, they seem to have been read even in Rome.

At an early date ecclesiastical authority drew up lists of authentic martyrs, "martyres vindicati," as they were called, and forbade public honour to be given to any others. Thus in the fourth century, Lucilla, a wealthy matron of Carthage, was rebuked by the archdeacon Caecilian for kissing, before the reception of Holy Communion, the relic of some martyr not yet "vindicatus." The local bishop was the competent authority for the martyrs of his diocese, though Africa was an exception, for there the right was reserved to the primatial See of Carthage.

In forming their judgment, there is ample evidence that the bishops took account, not only of the prodigies which sometimes accompanied the deaths of the martyrs, e.g., the bursting forth of a stream, as in the case of St. Alban. and of the miracles which were said to be wrought by their intercession, but also of their previous lives. According to the well-known dictum of St. Augustine, it is not the suffering that makes the martyr, but the cause for which he suffers. This local approbation usually was followed by the erection of a church, or at least an altar, where Mass could be offered in honour of the martyr.

Distinction Between Canonization And Beatification

We are now in a position to make a broad distinction between beatification and canonization. Some writers say that at first there was no distinction between them, but it would be truer to say that the custom of beatification alone was at first in vogue, and that only at a later date did canonization arise. For, as we now distinguish the words, beatification means the giving of permission for a local honour or cultus, whilst canonization means the official commendation of the cultus of the saint to the Universal Church. Evidently, then, although a local bishop could permit the honours of beatification, yet to decree the honours of canonization could be within the competence of him only who exercises jurisdiction in the Universal Church, that is, the Supreme Pontiff. Thus, whilst the cultus of the more famous Roman martyrs, such as St. Agnes and St. Lawrence, spread to the whole Church, many examples show the care with which the acts of martyrs who suffered elsewhere were brought to Rome for the approbation of the Pope.

With the exception of Our Blessed Lady, all the saints mentioned in the Canon of the Mass are martyrs, as indeed were all the saints of the first three centuries of our era. Only in the fourth century does the cultus of any who were not martyred seem to have established itself, and then only after long discussion. Our Lord's words: "Whosoever shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. x. 32) were understood only of the witness borne to Christ by martyrdom. "Confessor" is the Latin for the Greek word "martyr," and at first they were regarded as synonymous, but at length the word confessor gained the specialized meaning which now it has of one who, though not a martyr, yet bears witness to Our Lord by a saintly life. In the sixth century, St. Isidore writes: "There are two classes of martyrs, one in open suffering, the other in the secret virtue of the soul. Many have withstood the onslaughts of the devil, and resisted all the lusts of the flesh, and as they have thus sacrificed themselves in their hearts to Almighty God they have become martyrs when the Church was in peace, just as they would have been martyrs if she had been suffering persecution."

Amongst the earliest confessors whose cultus was authorized were the hermits of the desert in the East and St. Martin of Tours in the West. As confessors were honoured, so, too, were virgins and widows who were not martyrs.

Constantly, however, the Church had to guard against the extravagant and unauthorized devotion of the people. St. Gregory the Great had to make a rule that the bodies of the Popes should be carried to their sepulchres without palls, because the people, out of reverence for the pontifical dignity, used to tear these coverings to pieces and honour them as sacred relics. In the life of St. Martin of Tours we read that near his episcopal city there was a shrine much honoured by the people as the tomb of a martyr. Upon doubts arising, the holy bishop went to the place and solemnly adjured the supposed martyr to declare himself. Hereupon we are assured that a dark shade appeared and confessed that he had been a robber, who was put to death for his crimes. Amongst others, Charlemagne and St. Anselm of Canterbury might be named as the authors of synodal laws that no public honour should be paid to new saints without the authority of the bishop.

Often the episcopal approbation took the form of, or at least was accompanied by, the solemn translation of the body of the saint, i.e., its removal to an honourable place under an altar. Thus we in England used to celebrate the feasts of the translation of St. Thomas, St. Swithun, etc.

Up to the twelfth century, then, the position was that local bishops could beatify the servants of God by permitting public cultus, e.g., the erection of altars, the celebration of feasts, the offering of Holy Mass in their honour within the limits of their diocese. Of all those thus locally honoured, however, only those are now considered as beatified whose cultus, either expressly or tacitly, has been accepted by the Holy See, and only those as canonized saints whose cultus has been extended to the Universal Church.

An interesting case is that of the Emperor Charlemagne. He was canonized on December 29th, 1165, by Paschal III. This prelate, however, was an anti-pope, one of a series raised up by the notorious Emperor Frederic Barbarossa in rebellion against the lawful Pope Alexander III. Yet Charlemagne has since that time received a local cultus in certain parts of Germany, Belgium, and France, against which the supreme pontiffs have never protested. In virtue then of this toleration, and not of course in virtue of the act of the anti-pope, which was null and void, it has been held (e.g.. by Benedict XIV, writing as a private theologian, not officially as Pope) that he is to be considered as beatified.

Gradual Centralization

Long before the tenth century we find many examples of the papal approbation being sought for local cultus. Thus Offa, King of Mercia in the eighth century, is said. to have obtained from Pope Hadrian I the canonization of St. Alban, the protomartyr of England, who had long been locally honoured in this country. But yet the first formal decree of canonization seems to be that of St. Ulrich, Bishop of Augsburg, which Pope John XV issued in a synod at the Lateran of the year 993. For some centuries these decrees were ordinarily, although not exclusively, issued in councils or synods, as the following extract from the Bull of canonization of St. Edward the Confessor will show. "Having seen the letters of Our predecessor, Pope Innocent of holy memory, and having received your evidence (he is referring to the English bishops), although so difficult and sacred a matter is rarely granted, save in a solemn synod, yet after counsel taken with Our brethren, according to the ardent desire of Our son the King (Henry II) and of all of you, we decree that the body of the Confessor be honoured and glorified with due rites upon earth, just as the Lord has already by His grace glorified him in heaven." Pope Alexander III, who thus canonized St. Edward, canonized also St. Thomas of Canterbury. Another important act of the same pontiff was the issuing of a decree in 1181, which led to a far-reaching change in discipline. A gross abuse from the diocese of Lisieux had been brought to his notice, whereby the honours of martyrdom were being paid to a man who had died in a drunken brawl. The Pope answered: "The Apostle says that drunkards shall not possess the kingdom of God. Therefore presume not henceforth, to honour that man, for even though many miracles were performed by him, it would not be lawful for you to venerate him publicly as a saint without the authority of the Roman Church."

Although it was by some maintained that this decree was only of particular application, yet gradually it established itself as a general rule, and the power of beatification, or allowing a local cultus, became lost to the diocesan bishops and reserved exclusively to the Pope. The process was very slow, and some bishops maintained their right of granting permission for local cultus until a very late period. The last instance, recorded by Benedict XIV in his classical work on the Beatification and Canonization of the Saints, is as recent as 1603, when the Archbishop of Malines allowed in his diocese the public cultus of Blessed, now Saint, Boniface of Lausanne. But the decrees of Pope Urban VIII, which came into full force in 1634, finally decided that no public honour could be allowed to any who had not been beatified by the Apostolic See, with certain exceptions for those who had been honoured from time immemorial. He also forbade the printing of accounts of miracles, favours, revelations, visions, etc., and the giving to pictures the aureole or other characteristic mark of sanctity, in regard to all not yet beatified and canonized, without the leave of the Bishop and the Holy See. This is the reason for the protestation we so often see printed at the beginning of lives of the servants of God who are not yet canonized.

From the time, then, of Urban VIII, the processes for the causes of beatification and canonization have been established in substantially the form they now have, although some modifications were introduced by the code of Canon Law, which came into force in 1918. Before, however, giving an account of these processes, it will be well to say a word as to what they effect.

Significance Of Beatification And Canonization

Whilst we are at liberty privately to venerate and invoke the intercession of any one whom we may think to be in heaven, yet the Church will not allow any act that betokens religious honour or cultus to be paid publicly to any one whom she has not declared blessed. Beatification, however, permits a certain cultus, but always limited very strictly. The limits are set down in the decree of beatification, and vary from case to case. Thus a feast may be celebrated in honour of Blessed Richard Reynolds in every Bridgettine Convent, and each bishop in England may erect one altar, and one only, in his diocese to the martyr's honour. Relics of the beatified may be exposed for veneration in churches only where their Mass and Office is permitted. Churches may not be dedicated to them, nor may they be chosen as patrons of nations, dioceses or religious bodies.

Canonization on the contrary, decrees the public cultus of the Universal Church to the saints. Benedict XIV enumerates seven acts as constituting this official cultus. (1). All Christians are commanded to regard them as, and call them, saints. (2). They are invoked in the public prayers of the Church, and it is forbidden any longer to pray for them. (3). Churches and altars may be dedicated to God in their honour. (4). Mass is offered and Divine Office recited in their honour, and though this Mass may not be prescribed for the universal Church, but only for one or more dioceses, yet it may be said, as a votive Mass, anywhere throughout the Church. (5). Feast days are assigned to them. (6). Their images are depicted with the aureole or other attributes of sanctity. (7). Their relics are publicly honoured.

Canonization is the final and irreformable judgment of the Church, and therefore we are bound, as her dutiful children, to believe that saints duly canonized are in heaven.1 Beatification, on the contrary, is not a decree for the whole Church, but rather of the nature of a local tolerance and therefore we are not bound to believe that the beatified are in heaven, although we should be extremely rash not to do so, especially where they have been formally beatified by the Church, and not merely allowed to retain an immemorial cultus.

May we not regard it as a ground for hope, and as a sign that the mercy of God is, in the language of Holy Scripture, above all His works, that His Church has authority to draw up a list of those who are certainly in heaven, but no such authority in regard to those who are lost?

We come now to the procedure in causes of beatification and canonization.

Ordinary Processes

Any Catholic may petition the bishop to begin the proceedings. The first step will be to appoint a postulator. He must be a priest ordinarily resident in Rome, and it is his duty, either in person or by his deputies, called vice-postulators, to make the formal request to the competent court for the introduction of the cause, to urge it forward in every legitimate way, to draw up a brief statement of the facts which he proposes to prove, to get the witnesses, and to give in their names to the court, to put in documents in evidence and, last but not least, to provide for the expenses of the whole proceeding.

The bishop then will begin by collecting information in judicial form, which is intended to provide a prima facie case to induce the Holy See to take up the cause. Hence these processes are called "informative" or "ordinary," as being under the jurisdiction of the local bishop or ordinary, and in his ecclesiastical court. Over the sessions of the court one judge alone may preside, if he be the bishop himself. If, as is usually the case, the bishop cannot undertake this arduous work, he must appoint three judges to act in his name.

An important official is the promoter of the Faith (popularly known as the "Devil's Advocate"). He should be present at every session, or at least examine the acts afterwards. He is appointed by the bishop in the "ordinary" processes, and has a right of intervention at every stage, for it is his duty to put forward every objection that can be conceived against the cause.

The hardest worked of all the officials is the notary, who may, however, have an assistant. He has to take down a verbatim report of everything, questions and answers, and he is not permitted the use of shorthand. There should be also a cursor or messenger, whose duty it is to summon the officials to the various sessions, and to serve citations upon the witnesses.

All the officials in the bishop's court have to take oaths of secrecy until the process is published, and oaths to carry out their duties faithfully, and to take no bribes, whilst the postulator has to swear to use no fraud or deceit. Besides the witnesses the postulator offers, the promoter of the Faith will call any whom he may think likely to give adverse testimony, and the judges may call any others whose names happen to be mentioned in the depositions of others, or any who, in their opinion, may throw light upon the facts. Moreover, it is a rule of Canon Law, which the promoter of the Faith should promulgate in places where it may be useful to do so (e.g., in religious houses where the cause concerns a member of the community) that anyone who is in possession of facts which seem to him or her to tell against the sanctity of the servant of God, or against the miraculous character of any fact which is being investigated, is under a strict obligation to reveal them. Even heretics and infidels are received as witnesses, but not the father confessor, even though his penitent should have released him from the obligation of the seal of confession. Every witness takes a two-fold oath, first, to tell the truth, and then, when what they have testified has been read over to them, and they have made any additions or corrections they wish, that what they have testified is true. They also have to take an oath to observe secrecy until the process is completed and published.

The postulator offers his witnesses to the court but retires, while they are examined, behind closed doors. All questions are put to them by the judges, though they may be suggested to the latter by the promoter of the Faith. Witnesses are first examined on a series of questions drawn up in writing by the promoter. These are under seal, are opened only in court, and then re-sealed until the next session, so that even the postulator is ignorant of their tenor. Next the witnesses are asked for their evidence upon the statement of facts which the postulator has handed in as the case he proposes to prove.

Subject Matter Of Ordinary Processes

Before we can give an account of the matters treated in the bishop's court, we must make a distinction between those processes, which follow the ordinary course and those, which are claimed as exceptions from the decrees of Urban VIII. This Pope exempted from his decrees all those cases in which, by the common consent of the Church, or by immemorial custom, by the writings of the fathers and the saints, or by the long-continued tolerance of the Holy See, public cultus had been allowed. The time requisite for this immemorial custom or long-continued tolerance is laid down as one hundred years, but exceptions have been allowed. Thus our English martyrs who were beatified by Leo XIII were allowed to come under this head, the precedents for the toleration of the Holy See being enumerated in the decree as follows: "Gregory XIII granted in their honour several privileges appertaining to public and ecclesiastical worship; and chiefly that of using their relics in the consecration of altars, when relics of ancient holy martyrs could not be had. Moreover, after he had caused the sufferings of the Christian martyrs to be painted in fresco by Nicholas Circiniani, in the church of St. Stephen, on the Coelian Hill, he permitted also the martyrs of the Church in England, both of ancient and of more recent times, to be represented in like manner by the same artist in the English church of the Most Holy Trinity in Rome, including those who, from the year 1535 to 1583, had died under King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth, for the Catholic Faith and for the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff. The representations of these martyrdoms, painted in the said church, remained, with the knowledge and approbation of the Roman Pontiffs who succeeded Gregory XIII, for two centuries until ... they were destroyed. ..." Here a very great concession was made, for 1583, the date of the painting of the pictures, is far less than a century before Urban VIII. We may remark, in passing, that this is the reason why no martyrs who suffered after 1583 are included in the list beatified by Leo XIII.

But if a cause is to proceed in the ordinary method, a beginning will be made when a bishop, either spontaneously or at the request of the faithful, institutes three proceedings. They are called "de scriptis," "de fama sanctitatis et miraculorum," and "de non cultu." The first is the collection and examination of the writings of the servant of God. Letters, books, diaries, sermons, etc., printed or in MS., must be sent in to the bishop, autographs or at least certified copies. Although the final judgment is reserved to the Holy See, yet the bishop will naturally not proceed with the cause if he finds, from the writings, that there is no hope of a successful issue.

The second is an informative process upon the reputation of sanctity enjoyed by the servant of God, upon the fact of his martyrdom or the exercise of heroic virtue, and upon the report that miracles have been worked through his intercession. On this we may note that the difference between the cause of a martyr and a confessor or virgin, is that for the latter it must be proved that the virtues were exercised in an heroic degree, whilst for the former it is sufficient to prove the fact of martyrdom. Martyrdom for the faith of Christ, by itself, is accepted as a proof of heroic charity, according to the text, "Greater love than this no man hath, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John xv. 13). At this stage, miracles need not be proved in detail, for all that the informative processes are intended to do is to provide a ground for the Holy See to open the cause officially.

Thirdly, a process must show that the decrees of Pope Urban VIII, prohibiting public cultus, have been obeyed.

Procedure In Rome

Authoritative copies of these processes are then sent under seal to Rome, with letters from the bishop certifying their genuineness. They are considered by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, within whose competence comes everything connected with beatification or canonization. One of the cardinals of this Congregation takes charge of each cause, studies it specially, and reports to the Congregation upon it. He is called the "Ponente," or "Relator."

First comes up for treatment the process "de scriptis." The writings are examined by two revisors appointed by the Cardinal Relator, who are unknown to each other, and give separate verdicts in writing. What they are chiefly concerned about is purity of faith and morals. For martyrs it is important to know that it was for the true faith they died, for heresy also has had sufferers unto death. One instance will show the broad-minded way in which the writings are dealt with. Father Henry Walpole, S.J., was induced in prison to sign a promise to attend the Protestant Church. Documents in proof of this were produced, and yet, in view of his final constancy and heroic martyrdom, it was decided that these documents need be no obstacle, and Father Walpole was declared blessed in December 1929.

If the report upon the writings is favourable, the record of the informative processes, that "de fama sanctitatis et miraculorum," has to be considered. The evidence is as a rule extremely voluminous and unwieldy. For St. Teresa of Lisieux, the "Little Flower," for example, it amounted to 3,000 pages of close writing, the outcome of 109 judicial sessions of five or six hours each. The postulator therefore usually employs an advocate to draw up a summary, which is called the "positio," or statement of the case, with arguments to support it. This is shown to the official of the Congregation of Rites, who acts as promoter of the Faith, and with its help, and the help of the original evidence, he draws up his objections in writing. To these the advocate in turn replies. The three documents, the "positio," the objections and the reply, are now printed and circulated to the members of the Congregation thirty days before their meeting. At their meeting the Cardinal Ponente puts the question whether the cause should be introduced, and, with the help of the printed documents, the members give their decision. If it is favourable, they recommend that the Pope, if he wills, should sign the commission for the introduction of the cause. If he does so, the cause is withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the local bishop and placed henceforth under the authority of the Congregation of Rites.

The Congregation then examines the process showing that no public cultus has been given to the servant of God, and if it is satisfied upon this point the cause proceeds, though no formal decree is issued. Though the cause is now formally accepted by the Congregation, yet no public honour may be given, and the servant of God (contrary to former usage) may not yet be called "Venerable."

Apostolic Processes

From this point the processes are called "Apostolic," because, even though they take place in the diocesan court, they are held by the authority of the Holy See and governed at every step by its instructions. From Rome are sent what are called "Remissorial Letters to five ecclesiastics empowering them to act as judges in the processes. If the local bishop is among the number, he acts as their president, but in any case he is required to lend to the judges the support of his authority. Instructions are also sent by the Promoter General of the Faith in Rome to two ecclesiastics who are to act as his delegates and are called sub-promoters. It is sufficient if three of the judges and one of the sub-promoters are present at each session of the court.

The first process concerns the reputation for sanctity, and the report of miracles or martyrdom, but if there is no doubt that this general popular opinion remains, the Roman authorities will easily allow the process to be omitted, as the ground has already been covered in the informative process.

The second process, or set of processes, is much more important, for it is no longer concerned with report or general estimation, but has to show that the servant of God exercised each of the theological virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity, and the four great moral virtues, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and that not in any ordinary, but in an heroic, degree. Instead of this, for martyrs, as we have said, it is required that the fact and the cause of martyrdom be proved. Normally, too, Rome gives instructions for the body to be exhumed and minutely examined. Then at least two miracles must be definitely proved in detail, although for the beatification of martyrs they are sometimes dispensed.

The procedure, in regard to judges, witnesses, promoter of the Faith, and their respective oaths, etc., is much the same as in the earlier informative processes. When, however, miracles of healing come up for discussion, the court obtains the help of a doctor, a specialist, if possible, in that particular kind of disease, which is alleged to be miraculously cured, who assists in the examination of the witnesses by suggesting the questions that will make for clearness and the discovery of the complete truth.

The evidence of these apostolic processes is, again, usually most voluminous. For St. Teresa of Lisieux, for example, it amounted to 2,500 pages, the product of 91 sessions. It must, however, be copied by hand and the copy certified as correct. Whilst the original is to be kept sealed and unopened (save with the permission of the Holy See) in the bishop's archives, the copy is, as before, taken to Rome.

Further Procedure In Rome

The first matter to be decided by the Congregation of Rites is that its instructions have been carried out, and that the copy received from the local courts is to be accepted as valid. For this the advocate prepares a "positio," the promoter of the Faith his objections, and the advocate his replies, all of which are printed as before. If the Congregation is satisfied upon this point, the way is open for the discussion of the evidence upon, first, heroic virtue or the fact of martyrdom, second, the miracles proposed. For each of these matters, three sessions of the Congregation are required, named respectively, ante-preparatory, preparatory, and general. The ante-preparatory is held at the house of the Cardinal Relator, and attended by the officials of the cause and the consultor of the Congregation, but the second is held in the presence of all the cardinals who are members of the Congregation. In each there will be judgment given upon the printed documents, consisting, as before, of a "positio" by the advocate, objections by the promoter of the Faith, and the advocate's replies. After the preparatory session, the Cardinal Relator goes to the Holy Father to acquaint him with the main facts of the case and the outcome of the discussions. At the general session the Pope himself presides, and after consideration of a final "positio" by the advocate, with a brief summary of all that has already been done, the members of the Congregation give their vote, which is, however, only consultative, as the final decision rests with the Holy Father. If it is favourable there will be promulgated a decree which confirms the fact of the heroic virtue or martyrdom of the servant of God. Once this stage is reached, the servant of God may be styled " Venerable," though no public religious honour may yet be given. It may be as well to notice that under the former regulations the title "Venerable" was granted at a much earlier stage.


Next must come three similar sessions of the Congregation for the discussion of the miracles proposed. The procedure is similar to that just described for the consideration of the fact of heroic virtue, except that the services of two experts are enlisted. These will be usually physicians or surgeons and, if possible, specialists in the disease alleged to have been cured. They have to testify that a complete cure has really taken place and that it cannot be explained by natural laws. If they both agree in rejecting the miracle, the Congregation of Rites will not consider it further. Two miracles are sufficient if they can be proved by eyewitnesses, but three or four will be required if the evidence is second-hand.

The cautiousness of the Holy See in accepting miracles is proverbial. In Benedict XIV's monumental work will be found the criteria of a true miracle, and many examples of miracles rejected through lack of such criteria. Any cure that could be attributed to autosuggestion, anything of the nature of hysteria, etc., will be rigorously excluded. Cures of epilepsy, etc., have been rejected, for it can hardly be proved that the disease will not recur. It is useless to put forward cures where there has been an operation, for it will be held that the operation, rather than the intercession of the servant of God, was responsible for the cure.

As an example we may give the two miracles accepted for the beatification in 1908 of Gabriel Possenti, of the Sorrows, a Passionist, who was canonized in 1920. The cures both occurred in the year 1892. The first was of Maria Mazzarella, a girl of 17, who appeared to be dying of tuberculosis, being covered all over the body with abscesses, and looking like a corpse. The third day of the novena she was not expected to live the night, but in the morning she arose, put on her clothes, and came down stairs perfectly cured. The second was of Dominic Tiberi, who suffered from chronic hernia of a most distressing character, from which it often seemed that he was about to die. He dragged himself to the saint's tomb in church, and thence went to his doctor, who found him perfectly cured with no trace left of his disease.

Even after a satisfactory result from the three sessions of the Congregation for the discussion of the miracles, a further session is held, in the presence of the Pope, "De Tuto," as it is called, the question being discussed: "Is it safe to proceed to the beatification of the servant of God?" On this question being satisfactorily answered, the Pope, if and when he wills, orders the issue of the decree of formal beatification.

The above-described procedure is modified for causes which are excepted from the decrees of Urban VIII, for in these, far from proving that no honour has been paid to the servant of God, the postulator seeks to show that public honour has been paid with the tolerance of the Holy See from time immemorial, and to obtain now its official confirmation. Besides this, it has to be shown that the reputation for sanctity and the general report of miracles has lasted up to the present time, but no miracles have at this stage to be proved in detail. With these exceptions, the procedure is the same, and if the cause goes through satisfactorily, the servant of God is said to be equivalently beatified by the decree in which the Pope confirms the immemorial cultus.

Procedure For Canonization

The procedure for canonization is, first, the production to the Sacred Congregation of Rites of an authentic document to prove the fact of beatification, either formal or equivalent, and in defect of such document a judicial process to establish the fact and, secondly, processes to prove miracles in detail. Just as for beatification, these must be proved by the apostolic processes in the local bishop's court, and then discussed in three sessions of the Congregation of Rites in Rome. Only miracles granted since beatification are taken into account, and these must be two in number for those formally beatified, three for those equivalently beatified, for, as we have said, in their case no miracles have, up to this point, been required to be proved in detail.

Eight instances of miracles accepted can be found in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis for 1925, in which year four saints were canonized, SS. Teresa of Lisieux, Peter Canisius, John Eudes, and Magdalen Sophie Barat. Thus for St. John Eudes were accepted the cure of Sister Johanna Beatrice of Tours from diabetes with complications, nephritis, furunculosis, and abscess, and the cure of Bonaventure Romero from traumatic peritonitis and grave fracture of the skull. Each cure was proved to have been instantaneous and perfect.

After discussion in three sessions of the miracles, the Congregation of Rites holds, as before, a still further session, "De Tuto," after which, if all has gone well, the Pope, after imploring the guidance of the Holy Spirit, arranges, if he thinks fit, the day for the solemn canonization.

The canonization, on May 19th, 1935, of SS. John Fisher and Thomas More was the first occasion, since the days of Urban VIII, of a formal canonization with a dispensation from the proof of miracles. Martyrs have always been, by the law of the Church, in a favoured position and, as we have said, dispensation from proof of miracles has often been granted for their beatification. But on this occasion it was held that the provision of law permitting such a dispensation was applicable also to canonization, in accordance with the words of Canon 2139 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law. This decision may have far-reaching consequences.

The processes we have outlined are those prescribed in the Code of Canon Law. It must be remembered, however, that the Pope, like the King in English law, is the source of all authority in purely ecclesiastical law, and can therefore suspend or modify procedure if he wills. In the plenitude of his power he could canonize saints without any preliminaries at all, although, of course, he would never do so.

Equipollent Canonization

Thus, in cases where there has been local honour (which, as we have said is, if tolerated by the Holy See, equivalent to beatification) paid from time immemorial, the Pope has in several instances extended that cultus to the Universal Church, without judicial process, thereby exercising his power of canonization. St. Ephrem is one example. He had been honoured in Syria since the fourth century, being one of the very first confessors, as distinct from martyrs, to receive public cultus. By Benedict XV, he was nominated a Doctor of the Church, and his feast extended to the whole world. This is called equipollent canonization.

Another instance is St. Albert the Great, Doctor of the Church, canonized by Pius XI, in December 1931. Although, as has been said, in these cases there has not been a judicial process, with evidence taken under oath, etc., yet lest anyone should think that these steps were taken lightly, let him study the volume giving the grounds for St. Albert the Great's canonization. It is a large folio volume of 818 printed pages, containing critical discussions of his life and writings, a full list of precedents in the shape of papal decrees, a detailed account of the local cultus he has received, etc., etc. The Promoter of the Faith, or Devil's Advocate, had his opportunity of objection, and his judgment is incorporated in the volume.

Ceremonies Of Beatification

We may conclude by some account of the ceremonies of beatification and canonization. There is no record of any ceremony of beatification in St. Peter's, Rome, until after the middle of the seventeenth century. Before that time a celebration would be held in some church particularly connected with the newly honoured servant of God, but Pope Alexander VII decreed that in future the beatification should always take place in St. Peter's. The first was that of B. Francis de Sales, in 1662. (He was canonized three years later.)

The ceremonies include, in the morning, the promulgation of a plenary indulgence to all who visit St. Peter's on that day: the reading of the decree of beatification in the presence of all the cardinals of the Congregation of Rites, the clergy of St. Peter's, the faithful, etc.: the singing of the Te Deum: the unveiling of the picture of the new " beatus," to whom all do reverence: the recitation of the prayer or collect: the incensing of the relics and, finally, High Mass sung by a bishop. In the evening, about the hour of Vespers, the Pope visits the basilica to pay his homage to the "beatus."

Ceremonies Of Canonization

In the days when the Popes did not so constantly remain in Rome, as at present, they often canonized saints away from the Holy City. Thus St. Edmund of Canterbury was canonized at Lyons, St. Thomas of Hereford and St. Thomas Aquinas at Avignon. Earlier canonizations, too, taking place as we have said in a General Council, were not always even in a church: several, for example, were in the Lateran Palace. But since the canonization of St. Stanislaus, martyr, in 1253, solemn canonizations have always taken place in a church, and Benedict XIV ruled that henceforth they should always take place in St. Peter's, Rome.

The ceremonies are the most splendid and magnificent that the Church can command. The vast basilica of the Vatican is decorated and illuminated, and the expense is so enormous that often it is arranged that several saints are canonized on the same day, in order that the various postulators may share the cost. Pictures representing the new saint, and scenes from his life, hang upon the walls. The Pope, surrounded by a brilliant company of cardinals and bishops, presides over the ceremony. An advocate, on behalf of the postulator of the cause, makes a formal request to the Pope for the canonization ("instanter"). On behalf of His Holiness, a prelate replies that, though the virtues of the servant of God are clear and evident, yet before canonization God's guidance must be asked. Then are recited the Litanies of the Saints. A second time the advocate asks for the canonization ("instanter, instantius"), and a similar reply is made. Then is sung the "Veni Creator." A third time the request is made ("instanter, instantius, instantissime"), and now at length the prelate signifies that the Pope will grant the favour desired.

The Pope then pronounces the following or a similar formula: "To the honour of the holy and undivided Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian religion, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and of Ourselves, after mature deliberation and many petitions for the Divine assistance, with the advice of Our venerable brethren the cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops and bishops at present in Rome, We decree and define that N. is a saint, and We insert his name upon the catalogue of saints, commanding that his memory be annually venerated by the Universal Church upon the day of the month. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."

After the advocate has returned thanks, a solemn Te Deum is intoned, the bells are rung in all the churches of the city, and in olden times guns were fired from the castle of St. Angelo. Then the Supreme Pontiff, after reciting the collect of the saint, sings High Mass in his honour.

In cases, however, of equipollent canonization, where the Holy Father, without judicial forms, issues a decree confirming immemorial local cultus and extending it to the Universal Church, these elaborate ceremonies are not observed.

Readers will be interested to know something of the expenses of these processes and ceremonies, but it is only possible to give vague indications, as the labour involved varies from case to case and the expenses of the ceremony of canonization may be shared by two or more postulators. Expenses are obviously heavy, as notaries and advocates have to be paid for their services, witnesses indemnified against loss, etc., etc. Father Beccari, S.J., who was the postulator for the cause of the English martyrs, writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia, gives L 4,000 as a minimum estimate of the expenses up to beatification, and a further L 2,000 up to the time of canonization. The costs of the final ceremony for the canonization of St. Anthony Maria Zaccaria and St. Peter Fourier, under the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, of which Fr. Beccari speaks for purposes of illustration, came to nearly L 9,000. The changing value of money must also be taken into account.

Large though these sums appear to be, where popular devotion has been aroused there need be no difficulty about finance. For the canonization of St. Teresa of Lisieux, the Little Flower, generous offerings flowed in from the whole world.

"God is wonderful in His saints: the God of Israel is He who will give power and strength to His people. Blessed be God" (Ps. lxviii. 36).


1. The statement in the text would command the assent of theologians generally, though a few have held that it is not strictly "de Fide." In any case it is only the fact of the saints being in heaven that we are bound to believe and not necessarily the grounds alleged for their sanctity or the miracles asserted to have been wrought in attestation of it. Even in regard to the Church's official definitions it is, strictly speaking, only the defined doctrine itself we are bound to believe, not necessarily the reasons alleged in support of it.

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