Why did the definition of the term Saint change?


I met up with one of my evangelical friends and had a three hour Bible discussion to try to expalin our view to the other etc. Anyway aside from the usual discussion of sola fide, once saved always saved, intercession of saints and purgatory which I knew well enough to not only explain the Church’s teaching on and back it up with scripture, I got asked two questions I couldn’t answer. One was to do with indulgences, which I asked my priest about and it turns out I had a potentially heretical view of it and thus luckily Father corrected me on this, but the other question was the following:

Why does the Catholic Church use the term ‘Saint’ to denote someone who is in Heaven, as opposed to all Christians in general as the term is used in the Bible?

I was wondering what the answer to this is as I know it’s just semantics which we shouldn’t argue over, but I still couldn’t come up with an obvious answer


Saint is a term to denote a member of the Body of Christ - The Church. Those who are in heaven, cannot stop being saints, so those whom we are ‘sure’ of, are given ‘saint’ as a title.

As for “Saint DrDave” well it’s entirely possible that I won’t be a saint tomorrow. Please God that I remain His.

Hope that helps

Regards Doc


The Church uses the original term and a more specific term.

saint (small s) = believer in general

Saint (capital S) = someone in heaven


Every person in a state of grace – living or dead – is a saint.

A few select saints are canonized (formally declared to be saints). The Catholic Church doesn’t canonize people as saints until after death, for the obvious reason that even the most devout believer living here on earth still might fall into sin (think King Solomon).

Nobody ever “changed” the definition of a saint. The Catholic Church is well aware that every person in a state of grace is a saint – we just don’t canonize people until we know how their life story turned out, that they remained a saint until death.


Catholics use it in both senses “Saint” and “saint”.


It’s quite straightforward :slight_smile:

A saint = one who is holy - and the basic meaning of being holy is of being “set apart” [by God]. God is holy in this sense - He is apart from, other than, not in a class with, His creatures.

In this sense, there is no necessarily moral quality in holiness; no moral goodness or moral excellence. What there is, is the status of consecration to the service of a god.

A saint in Christianity is set apart - “holy” in that sense - so that he or she may become holy in moral character, with a holiness derived from, & reflecting, & leading to ever-fuller communion with, Christ “the Holy One of God”. And “the Saints” are those Christians in whose lives Christ’s Presence through His grace is particularly remarkable; Saints are saints who are holy, both in being set apart by God for Himself, & in living lives that show His true character. All Christians are called by God to be holy & Christ-like; some, by His grace, heed this call, & prefer nothing whatever to Him. All this is wholly His doing, “Who is marvellous in His Saints.”

So veneration of “the Saints” is not forgetfulness of the rest of the saints; of us - it is a recognition that certain saints are saints in name, & also, what is far more important, in reality. The difference is one of degree. It is simply a fact that some Christians do not impress others as holy & Christ-like, whereas others do. And the Church recognises this fact, by canonising at least some of the Saints - that is her recognition of what God has done in them. They are, in their measure, men “approved by God”, just as Jesus their Lord was (in the words of St. Peter):
*]Act 2:22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:[/LIST]And a Saint is a great miracle & a great sign, a revelation of the power & grace of the Blessed Trinity :smiley: Like all God’s works, the Saints point not to themselves, but to Him :slight_smile:

Hope that helps :slight_smile:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.