CANONIZATION, in its widest sense, an act by which in the Christian Church the ecclesiastical authority grants to a deceased believer the honour of public cultus. In the early Church there was no formal canonization. The cultus applied at first to local martyrs, and it was only in exceptional circumstances that a kind of judiciary inquiry and express decision became necessary to legitimate this cultus. The peculiar situation of the Church of Africa explains the Vindicatio martyrum, which was early practised there (Optatus Milevit., i. 16). In the cultus rendered to confessors, the authorization of the Church had long been merely implicit. But when an express decision was given, it was the bishop who gave it. Gradually the canonization of saints came to be included in the centralizing movement which reserved to the pope the most important acts of ecclesiastical power. The earliest acknowledged instance of canonization by the pope is that of Ulric of Augsburg, who was declared a saint by John XV. in a.d. 993. From that time the pontifical intervention became more and more frequent, and, in practice, the right of the bishops in the matter of canonization continued to grow more restricted. In 1170 the new right was sufficiently established for Pope Alexander III. to affirm that the bishops could not institute the cultus of a new saint without the authority of the Roman Church (Cap. Audivimus, Decret. De Rell. et venerat. Sanctorum, iii. 115). The 12th and, especially, the 13th centuries furnish many examples of canonizations pronounced by the popes, and the procedure of this period is well ascertained. It was much more summary than that practised in modern times. The evidence of those who had known the holy personages was collected on the spot. The inquiry was as rapid as the judgment, and both often took place a short time after the death of the saint, as in the cases of St Thomas of Canterbury (died 1170, canonized 1173), St Peter of Castelnau (died on the 15th of January 1208, canonized on the 12th of March of the same year), St Francis of Assisi (died on the 4th of October 1226, canonized on the 19th of July 1228), and St Anthony of Padua (died on the 13th of June 1231, canonized on the 3rd of June 1232).
At this period there was no marked difference between canonization and beatification. In modern practice, as definitively settled by the decrees of Pope Urban VIII. (1625 and 1634), the two acts are totally distinct. Canonization is the solemn and definitive act by which the pope decrees the plenitude of public honours. Beatification consists in permitting a cultus, the manifestations of which are restricted, and is merely a step towards canonization.
The procedure at present followed at the Roman curia is either exceptional or common. The approval of immemorial cultus comes within the category of exceptional procedure. Urban VIII., while forbidding the rendering of a public cultus without authorization from the Holy See, made an exception in favour of the blessed who were at that time (1625) in possession of an immemorial cultus, i.e. dating back at least a century (1525). The procedure per viam casus excepti consists in the legitimation of a cultus which has been rendered to a saint for a very long time. The causes of the martyrs (declarationis martyrii) also are exceptional. Juridical proof is required of the fact of the martyrdom and of its cause, i.e. it must be established that the servant of God was put to death through hatred of the faith. These are the two cases which constitute exceptional procedure.
The common procedure is that in which the cause is prosecuted per viam non cultus. It is, in reality, a suit at law, pleaded before the tribunal of the Congregation of Rites, which is a permanent commission of cardinals, assisted by a certain number of subordinate officers and presided over by a cardinal. The supreme judge in the matter is the pope himself. The postulator, who is the mandatory of a diocese or ecclesiastical commonalty, is the solicitor. He must furnish the proofs, which are collected according to very stringent rules. The promoter of the faith, popularly called the "devil's advocate" (advocatus diaboli), is the defendant, whose official duty is to point out to the tribunal the weak points of the case.
The procedure is loaded with many formalities, of which the historical explanation lies in the tribunals of the ancient system, and which considerably delay the progress of the causes. The first decisive step is the introduction of the cause. If, by the advice of the cardinals who have examined the documents, the pope pronounce his approval, the servant of God receives the title of "Venerable," but is not entitled to any manifestation of cultus. Only in the event of the claimant passing this test successfully can the essential part of the procedure be begun, which will result in conferring on the Venerable the title of "Blessed." This part consists in three distinct proceedings: (1) to establish a reputation for sanctity, (2) to establish the heroic quality of the virtues, (3) to prove the working of miracles. A favourable judgment on all three of these tests is called the decree de tuto, by which the pope decides that they may safely proceed to the solemn beatification of the servant of God (Tuto procedi potest ad solemnem V.S.D.N. beatificationem). In the ceremony of beatification the essential part consists in the reading of the pontifical brief, placing the Venerable in the rank of the Blessed, which is done during a solemn mass, celebrated with special rites in the great hall above the vestibule of the basilica of St Peter.
The process of canonization, which follows that of beatification, is usually less lengthy. It consists principally in the discussion of the miracles (usually two in number) obtained by the intercession of the Blessed since the decree of beatification. After a great number of formalities and prayers, the pope pronounces the sentence, and indicates eventually the day on which he will proceed to the ceremony of canonization, which takes place with great solemnity in the basilica of St Peter.
The extremely complicated procedure which is prescribed for the conduct of the cases in order to ensure every opportunity for exercising rigour and discretion, considerably retards the progress of the causes, and necessitates a numerous staff. This circumstance, together with the custom of ornamenting the basilica of St Peter very richly on the day of the ceremony, accounts for the considerable cost which a canonization entails. To prevent abuses, a minute tariff of expenses was drawn up during the pontificate of Leo XIII.
The Greek Church, represented by the patriarch of Constantinople, and the Russian Church, represented by the Holy Synod, also canonize their saints after a preliminary examination of their titles to public cultus. Their procedure is less rigorous than that of the Roman Church, and as yet has been but imperfectly studied.
See J. Fontanini, Codex Constitutionum quas summi pontifices ediderunt in solemni canonizatione sanctorum (Rome, 1729, a collection of original documents); Pr. Lambertini (Pope Benedict XIV.), De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione (Bologna, 1734-1738), several times reprinted, and more remarkable for erudition and knowledge of canon law than for historical criticism; Al. Lauri, Codex pro postulatoribus causarum beatificationis et canonizationis, recognovit Joseph Fornari (Romae, 1899); F.W. Faber, Essay on Beatification, Canonization, etc. (London, 1848); A. Boudinhon, Les Procès de béatification et de canonisation (Paris, 1905); E. Golubinskij, Istorija Kanonizaçii sviatich v russko j çerkvi (Moscow, 1903).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)