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Cause of Canonization for Early Christians
Question from Joe on 7/12/2005:

Mr. Bunson,

Who would initiate the cause for canonization an early Christian that moved about frequently. Take John Cassian, for instance. He was ordained to the diaconate in Constantinople and probably the priesthood when he was in Rome. Even before all this he was a monk professed in Bethlehem. Is there any way to resolve such a cause now that the Vicar of Christ alone can declare one a saint and not the voice of other fellow Christians?

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 8/7/2005:

I would suggest that the best place to start is to contact the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and inquire as to the current status of John Cassian. Revered as a saint in the Eastern Church, he was never canonized in the West, although his feast is kept in southern France, particularly in Marseilles, on July 23.

Regarding causes, the process of canonization – the accepted procedure by which the Church determines whether a person is eligible for beatification and canonization – is deliberately a very lengthy one. The process requires the careful study of the life of a candidate, his or her writings, the eyewitness testimony of those who knew them, and the meticulous examination of any miracles attributed to their intercession. To make clear the process of canonization, Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister on January 25, 1983. Several key points in the process are noteworthy:

To begin a cause, it is necessary for at least 5 years to have passed since the death of the candidate. This is to permit greater balance and objectivity in making an evaluation of the case and to let the emotions towards the candidate dissipate.

The bishop of the diocese in which the person whose cause is being considered died has responsibility for starting the investigation. The bishop requests from the Holy See formal permission (called a nulla osta) to launch the formal investigation. Once granted, the bishop forms a diocesan tribunal to investigate the candidate’s Christian virtues and determine whether they were heroic. All documents are then gathered together and the candidate is given the title of Servant of God. Overseeing this phase is a postulator.

The title Servant of God is a declaration that the Church’s proper authorities have determined preliminarily that a candidate led a life of demonstrable holiness. If, at a later date, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Pope concur that a person led a life of heroic virtue, he or she will be named venerable.

Upon completion of the diocesan investigation, all documents are submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. The officials of the congregation then assemble the official summary of the documentation, a positio, that demonstrates the heroic exercise of virtue by the candidate. Nine theologians then review the positio and give their vote for or against the cause proceeding. If the majority of the theologians approve, the cause is passed on for examination by cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation. If they also approve, the prefect of the congregation sends all materials related to the cause to the Holy Father, who gives his approval and authorizes the congregation to draft the relative decree.

A miracle must then be attributed to the Servant of God and proven through appropriate canonical investigation. Once confirmed, the candidate may be beatified and receives the title of Blessed.

A second miracle is required for canonization. The miracle must be attributed to the intercession of the Blessed and must have occurred after his beatification. Once canonized, the Blessed received the title of Saint.


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