Why didn't the Catholic Church canonize saints from the beginning?

The Catholic Church, as we know, is the One, True, Holy, Apostolic Church of God. But there is one thing that bugs me: Why did the Holy See have to be asked to canonize saints instead of doing it themselves? Why didn’t the Holy Spirit guide the Church to do this earlier? Before year 993, people were then believing in ‘saints’ that were mere legends. This could have opened them to demonic worshiping! What I’m trying to get to is : Why didn’t the Holy See do anything official up until 993?

While infallibility in the matter of morality and doctrine is provided the Holy See as a preventative charism, the Church as a whole is the Body of Christ, and for nearly a millennium, the assumption by the popes was that the local traditions were to be relied on. Almost certainly, Rome was asked to investigate unlikely claims made about the sanctity or extent of miracles claimed for a saint, and after enough of these investigations were set on foot and reported negatively, the Holy See had to take into its own hands the canonization process. There is far too much for the popes and the curia to do in the world at any one time for them to go looking for trouble – they have to be asked to intervene when a problem is unmanageable in terms of local authority.

If I recall the history of Saints, the early Church both recognized the faithful who were Saints and saw the benefit of prayer to them.

Now as to the process, early on Saints were determined by acclamation - either through the petitions of the faithful or the knowledge of the early Church bishops or more likely through martyrdom. Although scattered in small groups in various countries, it was probably well known to Rome who was particularly Holy and deserving of Sainthood from the Bishops and through councils. As the Church spread and grew it needed to codify the way it was run which lead to the establishment of a formal process.

I think what you are seeing is the change from a small group of scattered Churches to a more homogeneous worldwide Church and the institution of codified rules and laws needed to run such an organization.

Where did you get the idea there were no canonizations prior to 933? I’m afraid you are looking at history through the lens of modern Roman Catholic practice. Church authority was never centralized as it is today. It was the local faithful who first began to revere someone as a saint. Then, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit a cult began to grow around the saint. That was how they were recognized.

Because it wasn’t necessary. It’s still not necessary, but it seemed expedient to do so at the time.

Before year 993

You got the year right. That’s unusual.

people were then believing in ‘saints’ that were mere legends. This could have opened them to demonic worshiping!

Most Saints were actual people. Legends were sometimes recognized by local Bishops as “Saints” (and everybody knew they were legends). This would be the equivalent of canonizing the Good Samaritan from Our Lord’s parable. This person is a fictional example of an ideal to which we should aspire. Nobody would claim that Our Lord held up a demonic example, simply because his subject was fictional. How could anyone claim that his Church did this?

What I’m trying to get to is : Why didn’t the Holy See do anything official up until 993?

Because it wasn’t necessary. It is still not necessary. Can you cite a Saint (canonized by a local Bishop before the rules of 933) that you feel is of demonic origin?

Sorry, DavidFilmer, if you took offense of what I said? When I typed it, right after, I noticed it looked rather offensive at the Church. I worded it terribly. I am gravely sorry.

I think you worded it just fine, and I think it was a good question, and it was my pleasure to reply. I took no offense whatsoever (and now I’m concerned by why you think I might have done so). I was impressed that you correctly cited the year of the “modern” system - there are several “versions” out there, and you cited it correctly, so I was actually impressed by both the question and the factual circumstances.

Don’t worry too much about causing offense in this particular forum. It’s hard to accidentally offend most of the regulars. People ask about the Catholic Faith - some might view this as an attack on the Faith. We don’t do that here. The purpose of this Forum is to answer questions exactly like the one you asked. Feel free to play as much “hardball” as you wish - we don’t mind (in fact, that’s what gets us regulars really excited - most of us would not be here if not for questions like yours).

You asked a good and reasonable question. Ya done good, matey! (better than many.) I hope I provided a good and reasonable reply. That’s (hopefully) what happens here. Feel free to ask any follow-up questions - that’s also what happens here.


Thanks! I really appreciate your reply! I feel as if I’ve joined a great community for my spiritual life. :thumbsup:

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