Christianity Knowledge Base

St Bridget of Sweden pictured with a halo. In Christian iconography, saints may also be depicted with wreaths, palm branches, and white lilies.

In religious belief, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness, likeness, or closeness to God. However, the use of the term saint depends on the context and denomination. In Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Oriental Orthodox, and Lutheran doctrine, all of their faithful deceased in Heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honor or emulation.[1] Official ecclesiastical recognition, and consequently a public cult of veneration, is conferred on some denominational saints through the process of canonization in the Catholic Church or glorification in the Eastern Orthodox Church after their approval.

General characteristics[]

The English word saint comes from the Latin sanctus, with the Greek equivalent being ἅγιος (hagios) 'holy'.[2] The word ἅγιος appears 229 times in the Greek New Testament, and its English translation 60 times in the corresponding text of the King James Version of the Bible.

Catholic Church[]

Cimabue Saint Francis Fragment

A portrait depicting Saint Francis of Assisi by the Italian artist Cimabue (1240–1302)

According to the Catholic Church, a saint may be anyone in Heaven, whether recognized on Earth or not, who forms the "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1). These "may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5)" who may have not always lived perfect lives, but "amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord".[3] The title Saint denotes a person who has been formally canonized—that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the church as holder of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and is therefore believed to be in Heaven by the grace of God. There are many persons that the church believes to be in Heaven who have not been formally canonized and who are otherwise titled saints because of the fame of their holiness.[4] Sometimes the word saint also denotes living Christians.[5]

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "The patriarchs, prophets, and certain other Old Testament figures have been and always will be honored as saints in all the church's liturgical traditions."[6]

In his book Saint of the Day, editor Leonard Foley says this: the "[Saints'] surrender to God's love was so generous an approach to the total surrender of Jesus that the Church recognizes them as heroes and heroines worthy to be held up for our inspiration. They remind us that the Church is holy, can never stop being holy and is called to show the holiness of God by living the life of Christ."[7]

The Catholic Church teaches that it does not "make" or "create" saints, but rather recognizes them. Proofs of heroic virtue required in the process of beatification will serve to illustrate in detail the general principles exposed above[8] upon proof of their holiness or likeness to God.

On 3 January 993, Pope John XV became the first pope to proclaim a person a saint from outside the diocese of Rome: on the petition of the German ruler, he had canonized Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg. Before that time, the popular "cults", or venerations, of saints had been local and spontaneous and were confirmed by the local bishop.[9] Pope John XVIII subsequently permitted a cult of five Polish martyrs.[9] Pope Benedict VIII later declared the Armenian hermit Simeon of Mantua to be a saint, but it was not until the pontificate of Pope Innocent III that the Popes reserved to themselves the exclusive authority to canonize saints, so that local bishops needed the confirmation of the Pope.[9] Walter of Pontoise was the last person in Western Europe to be canonized by an authority other than the Pope: Hugh de Boves, the Archbishop of Rouen, canonized him in 1153.[10][11] Thenceforth a decree of Pope Alexander III in 1170 reserved the prerogative of canonization to the Pope, insofar as the Latin Church was concerned.[10]

Alban Butler published Lives of the Saints in 1756, including a total of 1,486 saints. The latest revision of this book, edited by Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater, contains the lives of 2,565 saints.[12] Robert Sarno, an official of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints of the Holy See, expressed that it is impossible to give an exact number of saints.

The veneration of saints, in Latin cultus, or the "cult of the Saints", describes a particular popular devotion or entrustment of one's self to a particular saint or group of saints. Although the term worship is sometimes used, it is only used with the older English connotation of honoring or respecting (dulia) a person. According to the church, Divine worship is in the strict sense reserved only to God (latria) and never to the saints. One is permitted to ask the saints to intercede or pray to God for persons still on Earth,[13] just as one can ask someone on Earth to pray for him.

A saint may be designated as a patron saint of a particular cause, profession, or locale, or invoked as a protector against specific illnesses or disasters, sometimes by popular custom and sometimes by official declarations of the church.[14] Saints are not believed to have power of their own, but only that granted by God. Relics of saints are respected, or venerated, similar to the veneration of holy images and icons. The practice in past centuries of venerating relics of saints with the intention of obtaining healing from God through their intercession is taken from the early church.[15] For example, an American deacon claimed in 2000 that John Henry Newman[16] (then blessed) interceded with God to cure him of a physical illness. The deacon, Jack Sullivan, asserted that after addressing Newman he was cured of spinal stenosis in a matter of hours. In 2009, a panel of theologians concluded that Sullivan's recovery was the result of his prayer to Newman. According to the church, to be deemed a miracle, "a medical recovery must be instantaneous, not attributable to treatment, disappear for good."[17]

Once a person has been canonized, the deceased body of the saint is considered holy as a relic.[18] The remains of saints are called holy relics and are usually used in churches. Saints' personal belongings may also be used as relics.[18] Some of the saints have a special symbol by tradition, e.g., Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr, is identified by a gridiron because he is believed to have been burned to death on one. This symbol is found, for instance, in the Canadian heraldry of the office responsible for the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Stages of canonization[]

Formal canonization is a lengthy process, often of many years or even centuries.[19] There are four major steps to become a saint.[20] The first stage in this process is an investigation of the candidate's life by an expert. After this, the official report on the candidate is submitted to the bishop of the pertinent diocese and more study is undertaken. The information is then sent to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints of the Holy See for evaluation at the universal level of the church.[21] If the application is approved the candidate may be granted the title Venerable (stage 2).[21] Further investigation, step 3, may lead to the candidate's beatification with the title Blessed,[21] which is elevation to the class of the Beati. Next, and at a minimum, proof of two important miracles obtained from God through the intercession of the candidate are required for formal canonization as a saint. These miracles must be posthumous.[21] Finally, in the last stage, after all of these procedures are complete, the Pope may canonize the candidate as a saint[21] for veneration by the universal church.

Eastern Orthodoxy[]

Храм Спаса на Крови 2018

Mosaics of saints in Church of the Savior on Blood, Saint Petersburg, Russia

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, a saint is defined as anyone who is in Heaven, whether recognized here on Earth, or not. By this definition, Adam and Eve, Moses, the various prophets, except for the angels and archangels are all given the title of "Saint". Sainthood in the Orthodox Church does not necessarily reflect a moral model, but the communion with God: there are countless examples of people who lived in great sin and became saints by humility and repentance, such as Mary of Egypt, Moses the Ethiopian, and Dysmas, the repentant thief who was crucified. Therefore, a more complete Eastern Orthodox definition of what a saint is, has to do with the way that saints, through their humility and their love of humankind, saved inside them the entire church, and loved all people.

Orthodox belief considers that God reveals saints through answered prayers and other miracles. Saints are usually recognized by a local community, often by people who directly knew them. As their popularity grows they are often then recognized by the entire church. The word canonization means that a Christian has been found worthy to have his name placed in the canon (official list) of saints of the church. The formal process of recognition involves deliberation by a synod of bishops. The Orthodox Church does not require the manifestation of miracles; what is required is evidence of a virtuous life.

If the ecclesiastical review is successful, this is followed by a service of Glorification in which the saint is given a day on the church calendar to be celebrated by the entire church.[22] This does not, however, make the person a saint; the person already was a saint and the church ultimately recognized it.

As a general rule, only clergy will touch relics in order to move them or carry them in procession, however, in veneration the faithful will kiss the relic to show love and respect toward the saint. The altar in an Orthodox Church usually contains relics of saints,[23] often of martyrs. Church interiors are covered with the icons of saints. When an Orthodox Christian venerates icons of a saint he is venerating the image of God which he sees in the saint.

Because the church shows no true distinction between the living and the dead, as the saints are considered to be alive in Heaven, saints are referred to as if they are still alive, and are venerated, not worshiped. They are believed to be able to intercede for salvation and help mankind either through direct communion with God or by personal intervention.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the title Ὅσιος, Hosios (f. Ὁσία Hosia) is also used. This is a title attributed to saints who had lived a monastic or eremitic life equivalent to the more usual title of "Saint".

Oriental Orthodoxy[]

The Oriental Orthodox churches ‒ the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Tewahedo Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and the Syriac Orthodox Church ‒ follow a canonization process unique to each church. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, for example, has the requirement that at least 50 years must pass following a prospective saint's death before the Coptic Orthodox Church's pope can canonize the saint.


Main article: Saints in Anglicanism

In the Anglican Communion and the Continuing Anglican movement, the title of Saint refers to a person who has been elevated by popular opinion as a pious and holy person. The saints are seen as models of holiness to be imitated, and as a "cloud of witnesses" that strengthen and encourage the believer during his or her spiritual journey (Hebrews 12:1). The saints are seen as elder brothers and sisters in Christ. Official Anglican creeds recognize the existence of the saints in heaven.

In high-church contexts, such as Anglo-Catholicism, a saint is generally one to whom has been attributed (and who has generally demonstrated) a high level of holiness and sanctity. In this use, a saint is therefore not merely a believer, but one who has been transformed by virtue. In Catholicism, a saint is a special sign of God's activity. The veneration of saints is sometimes misunderstood to be worship, in which case it is derisively termed "hagiolatry".

So far as invocation of the saints is concerned,[24] one of the Church of England's Articles of Religion "Of Purgatory" condemns "the Romish Doctrine concerning...(the) Invocation of Saints" as "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God". Anglo-Catholics in Anglican provinces using the Articles often make a distinction between a "Romish" and a "Patristic" doctrine concerning the invocation of saints, permitting the latter in accordance with Article XXII. Indeed, the theologian E.J. Bicknell stated that the Anglican view acknowledges that the term "invocation may mean either of two things: the simple request to a saint for his prayers (intercession), 'ora pro nobis', or a request for some particular benefit. In medieval times the saints had come to be regarded as themselves the authors of blessings. Such a view was condemned but the former was affirmed."[25]

Some Anglicans and Anglican churches, particularly Anglo-Catholics, personally ask prayers of the saints. However, such a practice is seldom found in any official Anglican liturgy. Unusual examples of it are found in The Korean Liturgy 1938, the liturgy of the Diocese of Guiana 1959 and The Melanesian English Prayer Book.

Anglicans believe that the only effective Mediator between the believer and God the Father, in terms of redemption and salvation, is God the Son, Jesus Christ. Historical Anglicanism has drawn a distinction between the intercession of the saints and the invocation of the saints. The former was generally accepted in Anglican doctrine, while the latter was generally rejected.[25] There are some, however, in Anglicanism, who do beseech the saints' intercession. Those who beseech the saints to intercede on their behalf make a distinction between mediator and intercessor, and claim that asking for the prayers of the saints is no different in kind than asking for the prayers of living Christians. Anglican Catholics understand sainthood in a more Catholic or Orthodox way, often praying for intercessions from the saints and celebrating their feast days.

According to the Church of England, a saint is one who is sanctified, as it translates in the Authorized King James Version (1611) 2 Chronicles 6:41:

Now therefore arise, O LORD God, into thy resting place, thou, and the ark of thy strength: let thy priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, and let thy saints rejoice in goodness.



"Scripture does not teach calling on the saints or pleading for help from them. For it sets before us Christ alone as mediator, atoning sacrifice, high priest, and intercessor."—A.C. Article XXI.[26]

In the Lutheran Church, all Christians, whether in Heaven or on Earth, are regarded as saints. However, the church still recognizes and honors specific saints, including some of those recognized by the Catholic Church, but in a qualified way: according to the Augsburg Confession,[27] the term saint is used in the manner of the Catholic Church only insofar as to denote a person who received exceptional grace, was sustained by faith, and whose good works are to be an example to any Christian. Traditional Lutheran belief accounts that prayers to the saints are prohibited, as they are not mediators of redemption.[28][29] But, Lutherans do believe that saints pray for the Christian Church in general.[30] Philip Melanchthon, the author of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, approved honoring the saints by saying they are honored in three ways:

1. By thanking God for examples of His mercy;
2. By using the saints as examples for strengthening our faith; and
3. By imitating their faith and other virtues.[31][32][33]

The Lutheran Churches also have liturgical calendars in which they honor individuals as saints.

The intercession of saints was criticized in the Augsburg Confession, Article XXI: Of the Worship of the Saints. This criticism was rebutted by the Catholic side in the Confutatio Augustana,[34] which in turn was rebutted by the Lutheran side in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.


While Methodists as a whole do not venerate saints, they do honor and admire them. Methodists believe that all Christians are saints, but mainly use the term to refer to biblical figures, Christian leaders, and martyrs of the faith. Many Methodist churches are named after saints—such as the Twelve Apostles, John Wesley, etc.—although most are named after geographical locations associated with an early circuit or prominent location. Methodist congregations observe All Saints' Day.[35] Many encourage the study of saints, that is, the biographies of holy people.

The 14th Article of Religion in the United Methodist Book of Discipline states:

The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.[36]

Other Protestantism[]

In many Protestant churches, the word saint is used more generally to refer to anyone who is a Christian. This is similar in usage to Paul's numerous references in the New Testament of the Bible. In this sense, anyone who is within the Body of Christ (i.e., a professing Christian) is a saint because of their relationship with Christ Jesus. Many Protestants consider intercessory prayers to the saints to be idolatry, since what they perceive to be an application of divine worship that should be given only to God himself is being given to other believers, dead or alive.

Within some Protestant traditions, saint is also used to refer to any born-again Christian. Many emphasize the traditional New Testament meaning of the word, preferring to write "saint" to refer to any believer, in continuity with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.


Main article: Tzadik

The term Tzadik, 'righteous', and its associated meanings developed in rabbinic thought from its Talmudic contrast with Hasid, 'pious', to its exploration in ethical literature, and its esoteric spiritualization in Kabbalah. In Hasidic Judaism, the institution of the Tzadik assumed central importance, combining former elite mysticism with social movement for the first time.

See also[]

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  • Calendar of saints
  • Communion of saints
  • Hagiography
  • Hallow
  • Mar
  • List of canonizations
  • List of saints
    • List of saints from Africa
    • List of American saints and beatified people
    • List of Breton saints
    • List of Canadian Catholic saints
    • List of Canarian saints
    • List of Coptic saints
    • List of saints of India
    • List of saints of the Augustinian Order
    • List of saints of the Benedictine Order
    • List of saints of the Carmelite Order
    • List of saints of the Dominican Order
    • List of saints of the Franciscan Order
    • List of saints of the Society of Jesus
    • List of Russian saints
  • Martyrology
  • Saint Companions



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  1. Kenneth L. Woodward (1996). . Simon & Sachier. “Among other Christian churches, the Russian Orthodox retains a vigorous devotion to the saints, especially the early church fathers and martyrs. On rare occasions, new names (usually monks or bishops) are grafted onto their traditional list of saints.... Something like the cult continues among Anglicans and Lutherans, who maintain feast days and calendars of saints. But while the Anglicans have no mechanism for recognizing new saints, the Lutherans from time to time do informally recommend new names (Da Hammarskjold, Dietrick Bonhoeffer, and Pope John XXIII are recent additions) for thanksgiving and remembrance by the faithful. The saint, then, is a familiar figure in all world religions. But only the Roman Catholic Church has a formal, continuous, and highly rationalized process for 'making' saints.”
  2. Canonization (en-US).
  3. Gaudete et exsultate: Apostolic Exhortation on the call to holiness in today's world (en). Holy See (19 March 2018).
  4. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>What is a saint? Vatican Information Service, archived from What is a saint? the original Check |url= value (help) on 1999-10-13
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church (Second Edition).
  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church Chapter 2, Article 1, 61
  7. Saint of the Day, edited by Leonard Foley, OFM, (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2003), xvi. ISBN 0-86716-535-9
  8. The Catechism of the Catholic Church Archived 12 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine, from the Knights of Columbus site
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Luscombe, David and Riley-Smith, Jonathan. 2004. New Cambridge Medieval History: c.1024–c.1198, Volume 5. p. 12.
  10. 10.0 10.1 William Smith, Samuel Cheetham, A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (Murray, 1875), 283.
  11. Alexander III.
  12. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Religion: 2,565 Saints". Time. 6 August 1956. Archived from the original on 14 December 2008. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  13. The Intercession of the Saints Archived 19 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine on
  14. Patron Saints from Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) on
  15. Acts of the Apostles, 19: 11–2
  16. "Cardinal Newman declared a saint by the Pope", 2019-10-13. (in en-GB) 
  17. Jenna Russell, "Marshfield man's prayer an answer in sainthood query", The Boston Globe, 28 April 2009, B1, 4.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Relics Catholic Encyclopedia on
  19. Table of the Canonizations during the Pontificate of His Holiness John Paul II on
  20. John Paul II Sainthood: 4 Steps to Becoming a Catholic Saint (6 July 2013).
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 The Steps of Canonization. HowStuffWorks (20 April 2001).
  22. Frawley J The Glorification of the Saints in the Orthodox Church at Orthodox Church in America, Syosset, New York
  23. Hopko T "The Orthodox Faith"
  24. Article XXII.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Sokol, David F. (2001). . “In 1556 Article XXII in part read... "The Romish doctrine concerning...invocation of saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the word of God." The term "doctrina Romanensium" or Romish doctrine was substituted for the "doctrina scholasticorum" of the doctrine of the school authors in 1563 to bring the condemnation up to date subsequent to the Council of Trent. As E.J. Bicknell writes, invocation may mean either of two things: the simple request to a saint for his prayers (intercession), 'ora pro nobis', or a request for some particular benefit. In medieval times the saints had come to be regarded as themselves the authors of blessings. Such a view was condemned but the former was affirmed.”
  26. Augsburg Confession, Article 21, "Of the Worship of the Saints". trans. Kolb, R., Wengert, T., and Arand, C. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
  27. A Confession of Faith Presented in Augsburg by certain Princes and Cities to His Imperial Majesty Charles V in the Year 1530
  28. Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXI 14–30
  29. Smalcald Articles-II 25
  30. Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXI 9
  31. Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXI 4–7
  32. Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – Christian Cyclopedia.
  33. Augsburg Confession XXI 1
  34. 1530 Roman Confutation (28 December 2019).
  35. Daily Bible Study (en). Methodist Church in Britain. “[T]day we reach one of the high points of the Christian Year – All Saints Day.”
  36. . Cokesbury (2016).


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  • Beyer, Jürgen, et al., eds. Confessional sanctity (c. 1550 – c. 1800). Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 2003.
  • Cunningham, Lawrence S. The Meaning of Saints. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980.
  • Hawley, John Stratton, ed. Saints and Virtues. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. ISBN 0-520-06163-2.
  • Hein, David. "Saints: Holy, Not Tame". Sewanee Theological Review 49 (2006): 204–217.
  • Jean-Luc Deuffic (ed.), Reliques et sainteté dans l'espace médiéval [1]
  • O'Malley, Vincent J. Ordinary Suffering of Extraordinary Saints, 1999. ISBN 0-87973-893-6.
  • Perham, Michael. The Communion of Saints. London: Alcuin Club/SPCK, 1980.
  • Woodward, Kenneth L. Making Saints. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Further reading[]

  • <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Delehaye, Hippolyte (1911). "Saint" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 23 (11th ed.). pp. 1010–1011.
  • Gallick, Sarah (2014). 50 Saints Everyone Should Know. Wise Media Group. ASIN B007UI2LDE. E-book.
  • Hebert, Alber (2004-10-15). . TAN Books.
  • (2010).

External links[]

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