Catholic Encyclopedia – Beatification and Canonization



According to some writers the origin of beatification and canonization in the Catholic Church is to be traced back to the ancient pagan apotheosis. In his classic work on the subject (De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione) Benedict XIV examines and at the very outset refutes this view. He shows so well the substantial differences between them that no right-thinking person need henceforth confound the two institutions or derive one from the other. It is a matter of history who were elevated to the honour of apotheosis, on what grounds, and by whose authority; no less clear is the meaning that was attached to it. Often the decree was due to the statement of a single person (possibly bribed or enticed by promises, and with a view to fix the fraud more securely in the minds of an already superstitious people) that while the body of the new god was being burned, an eagle, in the case of the emperors, or a peacock (Juno’s sacred bird), in the case of their consorts, was seen to carry heavenward the spirit of the departed. Apotheosis was awarded to most members of the imperial family, of which family it was the exclusive privilege. No regard was had to virtues or remarkable achievements. Recourse was frequently had to this form of deification to escape popular hatred by distracting attention from the cruelty of imperial rulers. It is said that Romulus was deified by the senators who slew him; Poppaea owed her apotheosis to her imperial paramour, Nero, after he had kicked her to death; Geta had the honour from his brother Caracalla, who had got rid of him through jealousy.

Canonization in the Catholic Church is quite another thing. The Catholic Church canonizes or beatifies only those whose lives have been marked by the exercise of heroic virtue, and only after this has been proved by common repute for sanctity and by conclusive arguments. The chief difference, however, lies in the meaning of the term canonization, the Church seeing in the saints nothing more than friends and servants of God whose holy lives have made them worthy of His special love. She does not pretend to make gods.

The true origin of canonization and beatification must be sought in the Catholic doctrine of the worship (cultus), invocation, and intercession of the saints. As was taught by Saint Augustine (Quaest. in Heptateuch., lib. II, n. 94; Reply to Faustus XX.21), Catholics, while giving to God alone adoration strictly so-called, honour the saints because of the Divine supernatural gifts which have earned them eternal life, and through which they reign with God in the heavenly fatherland as His chosen friends and faithful servants. In other words, Catholics honour God in His saints as the loving distributor of supernatural gifts. The worship of latria (latreia), or strict adoration, is given to God alone; the worship of dulia (douleia), or honour and humble reverence, is paid the saints; the worship of hyperdulia (hyperdouleia), a higher form of dulia, belongs, on account of her greater excellence, to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church (Augustine, Reply to Faustus XX.21; cf. City of God XXII.10) erects her altars to God alone, though in honour and memory of the saints and martyrs. There is Scriptural warrant for such worship in the passages where we are bidden to venerate angels (Exodus 23:20 sqq.; Joshua 5:13 sqq.; Daniel 8:15 sqq.; 10:4 sqq.; Luke 2:9 sqq.; Acts 12:7 sqq.; Revelation 5:11 sqq.; 7:1 sqq.; Matthew 18:10; etc.), whom holy men are not unlike, as sharers of the friendship of God. And if Saint Paul beseeches the brethren (Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Colossians 4:3; Ephesians 6:18-19) to help him by their prayers for him to God, we must with even greater reason maintain that we can be helped by the prayers of the saints, and ask their intercession with humility. If we may beseech those who still live on earth, why not those who live in heaven?

It is objected that the invocation of saints is opposed to the unique mediatorship of Christ Jesus. There is indeed “one mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus”. But He is our mediator in His quality of our common Redeemer; He is not our sole intercessor nor advocate, nor our sole mediator by way of supplication. In the eleventh session of the Council of Chalcedon (451) we find the Fathers exclaiming, “Flavianus lives after death! May the Martyr pray for us!” If we accept this doctrine of the worship of the saints, of which there are innumerable evidences in the writings of the Fathers and the liturgies of the Eastern and Western Churches, we shall not wonder at the loving care with which the Church committed to writing the sufferings of the early martyrs, sent these accounts from one gathering of the faithful to another, and promoted the veneration of the martyrs.

Let one instance suffice. In the circular epistle of the Church of Smyrna we find mention of the religious celebration of the day on which Saint Polycarp suffered martyrdom (23 February, 155); and the words of the passage exactly express the main purpose which the Church has in the celebration of such anniversaries:

We have at last gathered his bones, which are dearer to us than priceless gems and purer than gold, and laid them to rest where it was befitting they should lie. And if it be possible for us to assemble again, may God grant us to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom with gladness, thus to recall the memory of those who fought in the glorious combat, and to teach and strengthen by his example, those who shall come after us.

This anniversary celebration and veneration of the martyrs was a service of thanksgiving and congratulation, a token and an evidence of the joy of those who engaged in it (Muratori, de Paradiso, x), and its general diffusion explains why Tertullian, though asserting with the Chiliasts that the departed just would obtain eternal glory only after the general resurrection of the body, admitted an exception for the martyrs (De Resurrectione Carnis, xliii).

It must be obvious, however, that while private moral certainty of their sanctity and possession of heavenly glory may suffice for private veneration of the saints, it cannot suffice for public and common acts of that kind. No member of a social body may, independently of its authority, perform an act proper to that body. It follows naturally that for the public veneration of the saints the ecclesiastical authority of the pastors and rulers of the Church was constantly required. The Church had at heart, indeed, the honour of the martyrs, but she did not therefore grant liturgical honours indiscriminately to all those who had died for the Faith. Saint Optatus of Mileve, writing at the end of the fourth century, tells us (De Schism, Donat., I, xvi, in P.L., XI, 916-917) of a certain noble lady, Lucilla, who was reprehended by Caecilianus, Archdeacon of Carthage, for having kissed before Holy Communion the bones of one who was either not a martyr or whose right to the title was unproved.

The decision as to the martyr having died for his faith in Christ, and the consequent permission of worship, lay originally with the bishop of the place in which he had borne his testimony. The bishop inquired into the motive of his death and, finding he had died a martyr, sent his name with an account of his martyrdom to other churches, especially neighboring ones, so that, in event of approval by their respective bishops, the cultus of the martyr might extend to their churches also, and that the faithful, as we read of Saint Ignatius in the “Acts” of his martyrdom (Ruinart, Acta Sincera Martyrum, 19) “might hold communion with the generous martyr of Christ (generoso Christi martyri communicarent). Martyrs whose cause, so to speak, had been discussed, and the fame of whose martyrdom had been confirmed, were known as proved (vindicati) martyrs. As far as the word is concerned it may probably not antedate the fourth century, when it was introduced in the Church at Carthage; but the fact is certainly older. In the earlier ages, therefore, this worship of the saints was entirely local and passed from one church to another with the permission of their bishops. This is clear from the fact that in none of the ancient Christian cemeteries are there found paintings of martyrs other than those who had suffered in that neighborhood. It explains, also, almost the universal veneration very quickly paid to some martyrs, e.g., Saint Lawrence, Saint Cyprian of Carthage, Pope Saint Sixtus of Rome [Duchesne, Origines du culte chrétien (Paris, 1903), 284].

The worship of confessors — of those, that is, who died peacefully after a life of heroic virtue — is not as ancient as that of the martyrs. The word itself takes on a different meaning after the early Christian periods. In the beginning it was given to those who confessed Christ when examined in the presence of enemies of the Faith (Baronius, in his notes to Ro. Mart., 1 January, D), or, as Benedict XIV explains (op. cit., II, c. ii, n. 6), to those who died peacefully after having confessed the Faith before tyrants or other enemies of the Christian religion, and undergone tortures or suffered other punishments of whatever nature. Later on, confessors were those who had lived a holy life and closed it by a holy death in Christian peace. It is in this sense that we now treat of the worship paid to confessors.

It was in the fourth century, as is commonly held, that confessors were first given public ecclesiastical honour, though occasionally praised in ardent terms by earlier Fathers, and although an abundant rewards (multiplex corona) is declared by Saint Cyprian to be theirs (De Zelo et Livore, col. 509; cf. Innoc. III, De Myst. Miss., III, x; Benedict XIV, op. cit., I, v, no 3 sqq; Bellarmine, De Missâ, II, xx, no 5). Still Bellarmine thinks it uncertain when confessors began to be objects of cultus, and asserts that it was not before 800, when the feasts of Sts. Martin and Remigius are found in the catalogue of feasts drawn up by the Council of Mainz. This opinion of Innocent III and Benedict XIV is confirmed by the implicit approval of Saint Gregory the Great (Dial., I, xiv, and III, xv) and by well attested facts; in the East, for example, Hilarion (Sozomen, III, xiv, and VIII, xix), Ephrem (Greg. Nyss., Orat. in laud. S. Ephrem), and other confessors were publicly honoured in the fourth century; and, in the West, Saint Martin of Tours, as is gathered plainly from the oldest Breviaries and the Mozarabic Missal (Bona, Rer. Lit., II, xii, no. 3), and Saint Hilary of Poitiers, as can be shown from the very ancient Mass-book known as “Missale Francorum”, were objects of a like cultus in the same century (Martigny, Dictionnaire des antiquités chrétiennes, s.v. Confesseurs).

The reason of this veneration lies, doubtless, in the resemblance of the confessors’ self-denying and heroically virtuous lives to the sufferings of the martyrs; such lives could truly be called prolonged martyrdoms. Naturally, therefore, such honour was first paid to ascetics (Duchesne, op. cit., 284) and only afterwards to those who resembled in their lives the very penitential and extraordinary existence of the ascetics. So true is this that the confessors themselves are frequently called martyrs. Saint Gregory Nazianzen calls Saint Basil a martyr (Orat. de laud., P.L., XXXVI, 602); Saint Chrysostom applies the same title to Eustachius of Antioch (Opp. II, 606); Saint Paulinus of Nola writes of Saint Felix of Nola that he won heavenly honours, sine sanguine martyr (“a bloodless martyr” — Poem., XIV, Carm. III, v, 4); Saint Gregory the Great styles Zeno of Verona a martyr (Dial. III. xix), and Metronius gives to Saint Roterius (Acta SS., II, May 11, 306) the same title. Later on, the names of confessors were inserted in the diptychs, and due reverence was paid them. Their tombs were honoured (Martigny, loc. cit.) with the same title (martyria) as those of the martyrs. It remained true, however, at all times that it was unlawful to venerate confessors without permission of the ecclesiastical authority as it had been so to venerate martyrs (Benedict XIV, loc. cit., vi).

We have seen that for several centuries the bishops, in some places only the primates and patriarchs (August., Brevic. Collat. cum Donatistis, III, xiii, no 25 in P.L., XLIII, 628), could grant to martyrs and confessors public ecclesiastical honour; such honour, however, was always decreed only for the local territory over which the grantors held jurisdiction. Still, it was only the Bishop of Rome’s acceptance of the cultus that made it universal, since he alone could permit or command in the Universal Church [Gonzalez Tellez, Comm. Perpet. in singulos textus libr. Decr. (III, xlv), in cap. i, De reliquiis et vener. Sanct.]. Abuses, however, crept into this form of discipline, due as well to indiscretions of popular fervour as to the carelessness of some bishops in inquiring into the lives of those whom they permitted to be honoured as saints. Towards the close of the eleventh century the popes found it necessary to restrict episcopal authority on this point, and decreed that the virtues and miracles of persons proposed for public veneration should be examined in councils, more particularly in general councils. Urban II, Calixtus II, and Eugenius III followed this line of action. It happened, even after these decrees, that “some, following the ways of the pagans and deceived by the fraud of the evil one, venerated as a saint a man who had been killed while intoxicated”. Alexander III (1159-81) took occasion to prohibit his veneration in these words: “For the future you will not presume to pay him reverence, as, even though miracles were worked through him, it would not allow you to revere him as a saint unless with the authority of the Roman Church” (c. i, tit. cit., X. III, xlv). Theologians do not agree as to the full import of this decretal. Either a new law was made (Bellarmine, De Eccles. Triumph., I, viii), in which case the pope then for the first time reserved the right of beatification, or a pre-existing law was confirmed. As the decretal did not put an end to all controversy, and some bishops did not obey it in as far as it regarded beatification (which right they had certainly possessed hitherto), Urban VIII published, in 1634, a Bull which put an end to all discussion by reserving to the Holy See exclusively not only its immemorial right of canonization, but also that of beatification.

Nature of beatification and canonization

Before dealing with the actual procedure in causes of beatification and canonization, it is proper to define these terms precisely and briefly in view of the preceding considerations.

Canonization, generally speaking, is a decree regarding the public ecclesiastical veneration of an individual. Such veneration, however, may be permissive or preceptive, may be universal or local. If the decree contains a precept, and is universal in the sense that it binds the whole Church, it is a decree of canonization; if it only permits such worship, or if it binds under precept, but not with regard to the whole Church, it is a decree of beatification.

In the ancient discipline of the Church, probably even as late as Alexander III, bishops could in their several dioceses allow public veneration to be paid to saints, and such episcopal decrees were not merely permissive, but, in my opinion, preceptive. Such decrees, however, could not prescribe universal honour; the effect of an episcopal act of this kind, was equivalent to our modern beatification. In such cases there was, properly speaking, no canonization, unless with the consent of the pope extending the cultus in question, implicitly or explicitly, and imposing it by way of precept upon the Church at large. In the more recent discipline beatification is a permission to venerate, granted by the Roman Pontiffs with restriction to certain places and to certain liturgical exercises. Thus it is unlawful to pay to the person known as Blessed (i.e. the Beatus, Beatified), public reverence outside of the place for which the permission is granted, or to recite an office in his honour, or to celebrate Mass with prayers referring to him, unless special indult be had; similarly, other methods of honour have been interdicted. Canonization is a precept of the Roman Pontiff commanding public veneration to be paid an individual by the Universal Church. To sum up, 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.

In exceptional cases one or other element of this distinction may be lacking; thus, Alexander III not only allowed but ordered the public cultus of Bl. William of Malavalle in the Diocese of Grosseto, and his action was confirmed by Innocent III; Leo X acted similarly with regard to Bl. Hosanna for the city and district of Mantua; Clement IX with regard to Bl. Rose of Lima, when he selected her as principal patron of Lima and of Peru; and Clement X, by making her patron of all America, the Philippines, and the Indies. Clement X also chose Bl. Stanislaus Kostka as patron of Poland, Lithuania, and the allied provinces. Again, in respect to universality, Sixtus IV permitted the cultus of Bl. John Boni for the Universal Church. In all these instances there was only beatification. The cultus of Bl. Rose of Lima, it is true, was general and obligatory for America, but, lacking complete preceptive universality, was not strictly speaking canonization.

Canonization, therefore, creates a cultus which is universal and obligatory. But in imposing this obligation the pope may, and does, use one of two methods, each constituting a new species of canonization, i.e. formal canonization and equivalent canonization. Formal canonization occurs when the cultus is prescribed as an explicit and definitive decision, after due judicial process and the ceremonies usual in such cases. Equivalent canonization occurs when the pope, omitting the judicial process and the ceremonies, orders some servant of God to be venerated in the Universal Church; this happens when such a saint has been from a remote period the object of veneration, when his heroic virtues (or martyrdom) and miracles are related by reliable historians, and the fame of his miraculous intercession is uninterrupted. Many examples of such canonization are to be found in Benedict XIV; e.g. Saints Romuald, Norbert, Bruno, Peter Nolasco, Raymond Nonnatus, John of Matha, Felix of Valois, Queen Margaret of Scotland, King Stephen of Hungary, Wenceslaus Duke of Bohemia, and Gregory VII. Such instances afford a good proof of the caution with which the Roman Church proceeds in these equivalent canonizations. Saint Romuald was not canonized until 439 years after his death, and the honour came to him sooner than to any of the others mentioned. We may add that this equivalent canonization consists usually in the ordering of an Office and Mass by the pope in honour of the saint, and that mere enrollment in the Roman Martyrology does not by any means imply this honour (Benedict XIV, l, c., xliii, no 14).

Papal infallibility and canonization

Is the pope infallible in issuing a decree of canonization? Most theologians answer in the affirmative. It is the opinion of Saint Antoninus, Melchior Cano, Suarez, Bellarmine, Bañez, Vasquez, and, among the canonists, of Gonzales Tellez, Fagnanus, Schmalzgrüber, Barbosa, Reiffenstül, Covarruvias (Variar. resol., I, x, no 13), Albitius (De Inconstantiâ in fide, xi, no 205), Petra (Comm. in Const. Apost., I, in notes to Const. I, Alex., III, no 17 sqq.), Joannes a S. Thomâ (on II-II, Q. I, disp. 9, a. 2), Silvester (Summa, s.v. Canonizatio), Del Bene (De Officio Inquisit. II, dub. 253), and many others. In Quodlib. IX, a. 16, Saint Thomas says: “Since the honour we pay the saints is in a certain sense a profession of faith, i.e., a belief in the glory of the Saints [quâ sanctorum gloriam credimus] we must piously believe that in this matter also the judgment of the Church is not liable to error.” These words of Saint Thomas, as is evident from the authorities just cited, all favouring a positive infallibility, have been interpreted by his school in favour of papal infallibility in the matter of canonization, and this interpretation is supported by several other passages in the same Quodlibet. This infallibility, however according to the holy doctor, is only a point of pious belief. Theologians generally agree as to the fact of papal infallibility in this matter of canonization, but disagree as to the quality of certitude due to a papal decree in such matter. In the opinion of some it is of faith (Arriaga, De fide, disp. 9, p. 5, no 27); others hold that to refuse assent to such a judgment of the Holy See would be both impious and rash, as Francisco Suárez (De fide, disp. 5 p. 8, no 8); many more (and this is the general view) hold such a pronouncement to be theologically certain, not being of Divine Faith as its purport has not been immediately revealed, nor of ecclesiastical Faith as having thus far not been defined by the Church.

What is the object of this infallible judgment of the pope? Does he define that the person canonized is in heaven or only that he has practiced Christian virtues in an heroic degree? I have never seen this question discussed; my own opinion is that nothing else is defined than that the person canonized is in heaven. The formula used in the act of canonization has nothing more than this:

“In honour of . . . we decree and define that Blessed N. is a Saint, and we inscribe his name in the catalogue of saints, and order that his memory by devoutly and piously celebrated yearly on the . . . day of . . . his feast.”

(Ad honorem . . . beatum N. Sanctum esse decernimus et definimus ac sanctorum catalogo adscribimus statuentes ab ecclesiâ universali illius memoriam quolibet anno, die ejus natali . . . piâ devotione recoli debere.)

There is no question of heroic virtue in this formula; on the other hand, sanctity does not necessarily imply the exercise of heroic virtue, since one who had not hitherto practised heroic virtue would, by the one transient heroic act in which he yielded up his life for Christ, have justly deserved to be considered a saint. This view seems all the more certain if we reflect that all the arguments of theologians for papal infallibility in the canonization of saints are based on the fact that on such occasions the popes believe and assert that the decision which they publish is infallible (Pesch, Prael. Dogm., I, 552).

This general agreement of theologians as to papal infallibility in canonization must not be extended to beatification, not withstanding the contrary teaching of the canonical commentary known as “Glossa” [in cap. un. de reliquiis et venerat. SS. (III, 22) in 6; Innocent., Comm. in quinque Decretalium libros, tit. de reliquiis, etc., no 4; Ostiensis in eumd. tit. no 10; Felini, cap. lii, De testibus, etc., X (II, 20); Caietani, tract. De indulgentiis adversus Lutherum ad Julium Mediceum; Augustini de Ancona, seu Triumphi, De potestate eccl., Q. xiv, a. 4). Canonists and theologians generally deny the infallible character of decrees of beatification, whether formal or equivalent, since it is always a permission, not a command; while it leads to canonization, it is not the last step. Moreover, in most cases, the cultus permitted by beatification, is restricted to a determined province, city, or religious body (Benedict XIV, op. cit., I, xlii). Some, however, have thought otherwise (Arriaga, Theol., V, disp. 7, p. 6; Amicus, Theol., IV, disp. 7, p. 4, no 98; Turrianus on II-II, V, disp. 17, no 6; Del Bene, De S. Inquisit. II, dub. 254).

Present procedure in causes of beatification and canonization

We must first distinguish causes of martyrs from those of confessors or virgins, since the method followed is not entirely identical in both cases.

The beatification of confessors

In order to secure beatification (the most important and difficult step in the process of canonization) the regular procedure is as follows:

Choosing of a vice-postulator by the postulator-general of the cause, to promote all the judicial inquiries necessary in places outside of Rome. Such inquiries are instituted by the local episcopal authority.

The preparation of the inquiries (processus) all of which are carried on by the ordinary episcopal authority. They are of three kinds: (a) Informative inquiries regard the reputation for sanctity and miracles of the servants of God, not only in general, but also in particular instances; there may be several such inquiries if the witnesses to be examined belong to different dioceses. (b) Processes de non cultu are instituted to prove that the decrees of Urban VIII regarding the prohibition of public worship of servants of God before their beatification have been obeyed; they are generally conducted by the bishop of the place where the relics of the servant of God are preserved. (c) Other inquiries are known as Processiculi diligentiarum and have for their object the writings attributed to the person whose beatification is in question; they vary in number according to the dioceses where such writings are found, or are thought likely to be found, and may not be judicially executed before an “Instruction” is obtained from the promotor of the Faith by the postulator-general and by him sent to the bishop in question.

The results of all these inquiries are sent to Rome, to the Congregation of Rites, in charge of a messenger (portitor) chosen by the judges, or by some other secure way, in case a rescript of the congregation dispenses from the obligation of sending a messenger.

They are opened, translated if necessary into Italian, a public copy is made, and a cardinal is deputed by the pope as relator or ponens of the cause, for all which steps rescripts of the congregation, confirmed by the pope, must be obtained.

The writings of the servant of God are next revised by theologians appointed by the cardinal relator himself, authorized to so act by a special rescript. Meantime, the advocate and the procurator of the cause, chosen by the postulator-general, have prepared all the documents that concern the introduction of the cause (positio super introductione causae). These consist of (a) a summary of the informative processes, (b) an information, (c) answers to the observations or difficulties of the promotor of the Faith sent by him to the Postulator.

This collection of documents (positio) is printed and distributed to the cardinals of the Congregation of Rites forty days before the date assigned for their discussion.

If nothing contrary to faith and morals is found in the writings of the servant of God, a decree is published, authorizing further action (quod in causâ procedi possit ad ulteriora), i.e., the discussion of the matter (dubium) of appointment or non-appointment of a commission for the introduction of the cause.

At the time fixed by the Congregation of Rites an ordinary meeting (congregatio) is held in which this appointment is debated by the cardinals of the aforesaid congregation and its officials, but without the vote or participation of the consultors, though this privilege is always granted them by rescript.

If in this meeting the cardinals favour the appointment of the aforesaid commission, a decree to that effect is promulgated, and the pope signs it, but, according to custom, with his baptismal name, not with that of his pontificate. Thenceforward the servant of God is judicially given the title of Venerable.

A petition is then presented asking remissorial letters for the bishops in partibus (outside of Rome), authorizing them to set on foot by Apostolic authority, the inquiry (processus) with regard to the fame of sanctity and miracles in general. This permission is granted by rescript, and such remissorial letters are prepared and sent to the bishops by the postulator-general. In case the eye-witnesses be of advanced age, other remissorial letters are usually granted for the purpose of opening a process known as “inchoative” concerning the particular virtues of miracles of the person in question. This is done in order that the proofs may not be lost (ne pereant probationes), and such inchoative process precedes that upon the miracles and virtues in general.

While the Apostolic process concerning the reputation of sanctity is under way outside of Rome, documents are being prepared by the procurator of the cause for the discussion de non cultu, or absence of cultus, and at the appointed time an ordinary meeting (congregatio) is held in which the matter is investigated; if it be found that the decree of Urban VIII has been complied with, another decree provides that further steps may be taken.

When the inquiry concerning the reputation of sanctity (super famâ) has arrived in Rome, it is opened (as already described in speaking of the ordinary processes, and with the same formalities in regard to rescripts), then translated into Italian, summarized, and declared valid. The documents super famâ in general are prepared by the advocate, and at the proper time, in an ordinary meeting of the cardinals of the Congregation of Rites, the question is discussed: whether there is evidence of a general repute for sanctity and miracles of this servant of God. If the answer is favourable, a decree embodying this result is published.

New remissorial letters are then sent to the bishops in partibus for Apostolical processes with regard to the reputation for sanctity and miracles in particular. These processes must be finished within eighteen months and when they are received in Rome are opened, as above described, and by virtue of an equal number of rescripts, by the cardinal prefect, translated into Italian, and their summary authenticated by the Chancellor of the Congregation of Rites.

The advocate of the cause next prepares the documents (positio) which have reference to the discussion of the validity of all the preceding processes, informative and Apostolic.

This discussion is held in the meeting called congregatio rotalis from the fact that it is only judges of the Rota who vote. If the difficulties of the promotor of the Faith are satisfactorily answered, the decree establishing the validity of the inquiries or processes is published.

Meanwhile all necessary preparation is made for the discussion of the question (dubium): Is there evidence that the venerable servant of God practiced virtues both theological and cardinal, and in an heroic degree? (An constet de virtutibus Ven. servi Dei, tam theologicis quam cardinalibus, in heroico gradu?) In the causes of confessors this step is of primary importance. The point is discussed in three meetings or congregations called respectively, ante-preparatory, preparatory, and general. The first of these meetings is held in the palace of the cardinal relator (reporter) of the cause, and in it only consultors of the Congregation of Sacred Rites, and with their chairman, or prefect, presiding, the third is also held in the Vatican, and at it the pope presides, and both cardinals and consultors vote. For each of these congregations the advocate of the cause prepares and prints official reports (positiones), called respectively report, new report, final report, concerning the virtues, etc., — positio, positio nova, positio novissima, super virtutibus. In each case, before proceeding to the subsequent meeting, a majority of the consultors must decide that the difficulties of the promotor of the Faith have been satisfactorily solved.

When the Congregation of Rites in the above described general meeting has decided favourably, the pope is asked is asked to sign the solemn decree which asserts that there exists evidence of the heroic virtues of the servant of God. This decree is not published until after the pope, having commended the matter to God in prayer, gives a final consent and confirms by his supreme sentence the decision of the congregation.

The miracles now remain to be proved, of which two of the first class are required in case the practice of virtues in the heroic degree has been proved, in both ordinary and Apostolic inquiries or processes by eyewitnesses — three, if the eyewitnesses were found only in the ordinary processes; four, if the virtues were proven only by hearsay (de auditu) witnesses. If the miracles have been sufficiently proven in the Apostolic processes (super virtutibus) already declared valid, steps are taken at once to prepare the documents with regard to miracles (super miraculis). If in the Apostolic processes only general mention has been made of the miracles, new Apostolic processes must be opened, and conducted after the manner already described for proving the practice of virtues in an heroic degree.

The discussion of the particular miracles proceeds in exactly the same way and in the same order as that of the virtues. If the decisions be favourable, the general meeting of the congregation is followed by a decree, confirmed by the pope, in which it is announced that there is proof of miracles. It must be noted here that in the positio for the ante-preparatory congregation there are required, and are printed, opinions of two physicians, one of whom has been chosen by the postulator, the other by the Congregation of Rites. Of the three reports (positiones) above mentioned, and which are now also required, the first is prepared in the usual way; the second consists of an exposition of the heroic virtues of the servant of God, an information, and a reply to later observations of the promotor of the Faith; the last consists only of an answer to his final observations.

When the miracles have been proved, another meeting of the Congregation of Rites is held in which it is debated once, and only once, whether or not, given the approbation of the virtues and miracles, it is safe to proceed with the solemnities of beatification. If a majority of the consultors be favourable, a decree to this effect is issued by the pope, and at the time appointed by him the solemn beatification of the servant of God takes place in the Vatican Basilica, on which occasion a pontifical Brief is issued permitting the public cultus and veneration of the beatified person now known as Blessed (Beatus).

The beatification of martyrs

The causes of martyrs are conducted in the same way as those of confessors as far as the informative processes and those de non cultu and ad introductionem causae are concerned. But when once the commission of introduction has been appointed they advance much more rapidly.

No remissorial letters are granted for Apostolic processes concerning the general reputation for martyrdom and miracles; the letters sent call for an immediate investigation into the fact of martyrdom, its motive, and the particular miracles alleged. There is no longer a discussion of the general reputation for martyrdom or miracles.

The miracles are not discussed, as formerly, in separate meetings, but in the same meetings that deal with the fact and the motive of the martyrdom.

The miracles (signa) required are not those of the first class; those of the second class suffice, nor is their number determined. On some occasions the decision as to miracles has been entirely dispensed with.

The discussion as to martyrdoms and miracles, formerly held in three meetings or congregations, viz. the ante-preparatory, preparatory, and general, is now usually conducted, through a dispensation to be had in each instance from the sovereign pontiff, in a single congregation known as particularis, or special. It consists of six or seven cardinals of the Congregation of Rites and four or five prelates especially deputed by the pope. There is but one positio prepared in the usual way; if there be an affirmative majority a decree is issued concerning the proof of martyrdom, the cause of martyrdom, and miracles. (Constare de Martyrio, causâ Martyrii et signis.)

The final stage is a discussion of the security (super tuto) with which advance to beatification may be made, as in the case of confessors; the solemn beatification then follows.

This procedure is followed in all cases of formal beatification in causes of both confessors and martyrs proposed in the ordinary way (per viam non cultus). Those proposed as coming under the definition of cases excepted (casus excepti) by Urban VIII are treated in another way. In such cases it must be proved that an immemorial public veneration (at least for 100 years before the promulgation, in 1640, of the decrees of Urban VIII) has been paid the servant of God, whether confessor or martyr. Such cause is proposed under the title of “confirmation of veneration” (de confirmatione cultus); it is dealt with in an ordinary meeting of the Congregation of Rites. When the difficulties of the promotor of the Faith have been satisfied, a pontifical decree confirming the cultus is promulgated. Beatification of this kind is called equivalent or virtual.

The canonization of confessors or martyrs

The canonization of confessors or martyrs may be taken up as soon as two miracles are reported to have been worked at their intercession, after the pontifical permission of public veneration as described above. At this stage it is only required that the two miracles worked after the permission awarding a public cultus be discussed in three meetings of the congregation. The discussion proceeds in the ordinary way; if the miracles be confirmed another meeting (super tuto) is held. The pope then issues a Bull of Canonization in which he not only permits, but commands, the public cultus, or veneration, of the saint.

It is with the utmost possible brevity that I have described the elements of a process of beatification or canonization. It may be easily conjectured that considerable time must elapse before any cause of beatification or canonization can be conducted, from the first steps of the information, inquiry, or process, to the issuing of the decree super tuto. According to the constitution of this Congregation, more than one important discussion (dubia majora) cannot be proposed at the same time. It must be remembered

that the same cardinals and consultors must vote in all discussions;

that there is but one promotor of the Faith and one sub-promotor, who alone have charge of all observations to be made with regard to the dubia;

that these cardinals and consultors have to treat questions of ritual as well as processes of canonization and beatification.

To execute all this business there is but one weekly meeting (congressus), a kind of minor congregation in which only the cardinal prefect and the major officials vote; in it less important and practical questions are settled regarding rites as well as causes, and answers are given, and rescripts which the pope afterwards verbally approves. The other meetings of the congregation (ordinary, rotal, and “upon virtues and miracles”) may be as few as sixteen in the course of the year. Some other cause must therefore be found for the slow progress of causes of beatification or canonization than a lack of good will or activity on the part of the Congregation of Rites.


It will not be out of place to give succinctly the ordinary actual expenses of canonization and beatification. Of these expenses some are necessary others merely discretionary, e.g. the expenses incurred in obtaining the different rescripts) others, though necessary, are not specified. Such are the expenses of the solemnity in the Vatican Basilica, and for paintings representing the newly beatified which are afterwards presented to the pope, the cardinals, officials, and consultors of the Congregation of Rites. The limits of this class of expenses depend on the postulator of the cause. If he chooses to spend a moderate sum the entire cause from the first process to the solemn beatification will not cost him less than $20,000. The expenses of the process from beatification to canonization will easily exceed $30,000. In illustration of this we subjoin the final account of the expenses of the public solemnities in the Vatican Basilica for the canonization by Leo XIII, of Saints Anthony Maria Zaccaria and Peter Fourier, as published by the Most Rev. Diomede Panici, titular Archbishop of Laodicea, then Secretary of the Congregation of Rites.

To decoration of the Basilica, lights, architectural designs, labour, and superintendence — Lire 152,840.58
Procession, Pontifical Mass, preparation of altars in Basilica — 8,114.58
Cost of gifts presented to Holy Father — 1,438.87
Hangings, Sacred Vestments, etc. — 12,990.60
Recompense for services and money loaned — 3,525.07
To the Vatican Chapter as perquisites for decorations and candles — 18,000.00
Propine and Competenza — 16,936.00
Incidental and unforeseen expenses — 4,468,40
Total — 221,849.10 or (taking the lira equivalent to $.193 in 1913 United States money) $42,816.87.

MLA Citation

  • Camillo Beccari. “Beatification and Canonization”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 November 2014. Web. 16 August 2017. <>