Canonization is the process used in traditional Christianity of recognizing those persons who have lived exemplary lives suitable of identifying them as Christian Saints. It is currently practiced by the Roman Catholic Church and its appendages, by the Eastern Orthodox Church, and by the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
The process of an individual being declared a saint in the Roman Catholic Church began in the 900s, when the church in Rome demanded that all saints throughout her jurisdiction be added to an official list to be kept in Rome. Before that time, the name "saint" was applied more informally, and many early saints have never been formally canonized. The first saint to be added to this official list was Saint Ulrich of Augsburg, who was canonized in 993.
Canonization is considered to be an infallible act of the pope, and is therefore taken very seriously. St. Thomas says: "Since the honor we pay the saints is in a certain sense a profession of faith, i.e., a belief in the glory of the Saints [qu� sanctorum gloriam credimus] we must piously believe that in this matter also the judgment of the Church is not liable to error." For this reason, the process has evolved and bureaucratized over time into a multi-stage study of the life, writings, and after-life (miracles) of the candidate. The process involves several steps, including beatification, and the last is canonization.
Historical development of the process
According to some writers the origin of beatification and canonization in the Catholic Church is the ancient pagan apotheosis. Pope Benedict XIV examined and refuted this view. He showed that both the grounds for and meaning of apotheosis differ markedly from Christian beatification. Apotheosis often came from the statement of a single person that while the body of the new god was being burned, an eagle (for emperors) or a peacock (Juno's sacred bird) (for imperial consorts) was seen to carry heavenward the spirit of the departed (Livy, Hist. Rome, I, xvi; Herodian, Hist. Rome, IV, ii, iii). Apotheosis was awarded to most members of the imperial family, with no regard to virtues or remarkable achievements. Also, apotheosis was often given to escape popular hatred by distracting attention from the cruelty of imperial rulers. 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.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, canonizes or beatifies only those whose lives have been marked by heroic virtue, and only after this has been proved by common repute for sanctity and by conclusive arguments. Finally, the Church sees saints as nothing more than friends and servants of God whose holy lives have made them worthy of His special love. The saints are not "worshipped" by Catholics.
The origin of canonization and beatification comes from the Catholic doctrine of the devotion to, invocation and intercession of the saints. As was taught by St. Augustine, Catholics honour God in His saints as the loving distributor of supernatural gifts. Scholastic theologians have defined three types of worship. Strict adoration, or latria (λατρια), is given to God alone. Honor and humble reverence, or doulia (δουλια), is given to the saints. A higher form of doulia, hyperdoulia (υπερδουλια), is given to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church erects altars to God alone, though in honour and memory of the saints and martyrs. There is Scriptural warrant for such honor in the passages where we are bidden to venerate angels (Ex 13:20ff; Jos 5:13ff; Dan 8:15ff; 10:4ff; Luke 2:9ff; Acts 12:7ff; Rev 5:11ff; 7:1ff; Matt 18:10; etc.), whom holy men are not unlike, as sharers of the friendship of God.
The basis of prayer to saints is simply that, as believers can help each other with prayers (intercessory prayer) while living, so they may pray for the living after their deaths. Thus, praying to St. Paul is a prayer asking Paul, alive in heaven, to pray for the believer. As Paul's holiness is attested in his beatification and canonization, his prayers will be well received.
A different service is provided by the beatified in the celebrations of their feasts. In the celebrations of feasts, believers celebrate the holiness of the blessed and are reminded of their good examples.
It follows naturally that for the public veneration of saints the ecclesiastical authority of the pastors and rulers of the Church was constantly required. The Church did not grant liturgical honours indiscriminately to all those who had died for the Faith.
The first practice of beatification and canonization was directed toward martyrs. 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.
The honoring of "confessors" -- of those, that is, who died peacefully after a life of heroic virtue -- is not as ancient as that of the martyrs. In the beginning, "confessor" denoted only those who confessed Christ when examined in the presence of enemies of the Faith, or, as Pope Benedict XIV explains, 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 honor paid to confessors. It was in the fourth century that confessors were first given public ecclesiastical honor, though occasionally praised in ardent terms by earlier Fathers. Still Robert Bellarmine thought it uncertain when confessors began to be objects of public veneration, and asserted that it was not before 800, when the feasts of Sts. Martin of Tours and Remigius are found in the catalog of feasts drawn up by the Council of Mainz. However, in the East, for example, Hilarion, Ephrem of Syria, and other confessors were publicly honoured in the fourth century; and, in the West, St. Martin of Tours, and St. Hilary of Poitiers were objects of a like honor in the same century.
Later on, the names of confessors were inserted in the diptychs, and due reverence was paid them. Their tombs were honored with the same title as those of the martyrs. It remained true, however, that one could not venerate confessors without permission of the ecclesiastical authority.
For several centuries the bishops, in some places only the primates and patriarchs, could grant martyrs and confessors public ecclesiastical honor; such honor, however, was always decreed only for the local territory over which the grantors held jurisdiction. Still, it was only the Bishop of Rome's (Pope's) acceptance of the honor that made it universal, since he alone could permit or command in the Universal Church. Abuses, however, crept into this form of discipline, due to popular fervour and the carelessness of some bishops in inquiring into the lives of those whom they permitted to be honored 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. Even after these decrees, "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". Pope Alexander III (1159 - 1181) prohibited popular 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." Thus, the pope for the first time reserved the right of beatification. Some bishops did not obey it in as far as it regarded beatification (which right they had certainly possessed before this), so Urban VII 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.
The process begins at the diocesan level, with the bishop giving permission to open an investigation of the virtues of the person who is suspected of having been a saint. This investigation may not open until permission is given by the Vatican, and not sooner than five years after the death of the person being investigated. However, the pope has the authority to waive this waiting period, as was done for Mother Teresa. When sufficient information has been gathered, the subject of the investigation is called "Servant of God", and the process is transferred to the Roman Curia—the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints—where it is assigned a postulator, whose task is to gather all information about the life of the Servant of God. When enough information has been gathered, the congregation will recommend to the pope that he make a proclamation of the Servant of God's heroic virtue, which entitles him or her to receive the title "Venerable". A Venerable has as of yet no feast day, but prayer cards may be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle wrought by his or her intercession.
The next step depends on whether the Venerable is a martyr. For a martyr, the pope has only to make a declaration of martyrdom, which then allows beatification, yielding the title "Blessed" and a feast day in the Blessed's home diocese and perhaps some other local calenders. If the Venerable was not a martyr, it must be proven that a miracle has taken place by his or her intercession. Today, these miracles are almost always miraculous cures, as these are the easiest to objectively establish. (The patient was sick, there was no known cure for the ailment, prayers were directed to the Venerable, the patient was cured, and doctors cannot explain it.)
To pass from Blessed to Saint, one (more) miracle is necessary. The declaration of sainthood is considered to be infallible, while declarations of venerability and beatitude are not. A saint's feast day is considered universal, and may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic church, although it may not appear on the general calendar.
In the case of persons that common usage has called saints from "time immemorial" (in practice, since before 1500 or so), the Church may carry out a "confirmation of cultus", which is much simpler. For example, Saint Hermann Joseph had his veneration confirmed by Pope John Paul II.
Main article: Historical process of beatification and canonization
The process for making a saint was previously considerably more involved. To achieve the declaration of venerability, the process was essentially the same, but with more people and reports involved. Beatification of a non-martyr required three miracles if direct witnesses to his or her sanctity could be called, and four if this was not possible. For a martyr, one miracle less was needed, and the requirement of miracles could be waived by the Congregation of Rites.
Two additional miracles were required for the canonization.
Eastern (Eastern and Oriental Orthodox) form
In Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy, canonization continues to be practiced much as it was during the first millennium of Christianity: People are recognized as saints primarily because they are seen to have preserved the image of God in themselves, and in that sense are living icons. This recognition happens through the simple process of adding a person's name to the list or canon of saints who are honored throughout the year. Canonization does not make a person a saint; canonization simply recognizes that a person is already a saint. There is no single comprehensive list of all Orthodox saints, and no bureaucratic process to go through before adding a saint to the canon.
The process traditionally is a matter of "ripple effect" more than anything. Individual Orthodox Christians may venerate someone on a purely personal level. Eventually, a parish priest or two may include commemoration at the local parish. A Bishop may determine that the saint in question is suitable for commemoration throughout his entire diocese, at which point he will have a "Glorification" ceremony to announce this. A synod of Bishops may determine that the saint is of sufficient importance to be commemorated throughout their jurisdiction or sub-jurisdiction and likewise have a broader Glorification ceremony. Once this has happened, it is usual for most other jurisdictions to simply accept the saint as appropriate for personal veneration, although the saint still might not be added to their calendars. In theory, all synods of all Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions could hold a massive co-Glorification ceremony and announce the suitability of a person to be venerated in all jurisdictions. In practice, addition to additional calendars beyond this point has been a matter of quiet administrative detail.
This form of canonization is a formalization of the list of writings accepted by a religious group as inspired or by a cultural group as centrally important for study; the phrase used to describe that process is usually "canon formation" (see Biblical canon).