I was told that St. Stephen was the first saint but read that Ulrich of Augsburg was the first to be officially canonized. Chronologically, however, shouldn't Joseph or John the Baptist be the first saint? The penitent thief is also a saint, St. Dismas, and he was the first saint to die after Jesus.

  1. Does Stephen get honored as the "first saint," and if so, why?
  2. Did the rules for becoming a saint change, and if so, how?
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    Your question is obviously concerning the Catholic faith, since Saint has very different connotations between Catholicism and Protestantism. Also please distinguish between Martyrdom and Sainthood. – BYE Apr 23 '14 at 15:01
  • I don't know the difference. Is one a subset of another? – Clint Eastwood Apr 23 '14 at 16:49
  • Martyrs have died for the cause of Christianity, but as I understand the Catholic Sainthood they do not have to be martyred. Not being a Catholic I am not familiar with the nuances of Catholicism even though my wife is. My suggestion is that you post that question as an inquiry about the Catholic belief. Surely you will get a good answer from someone. – BYE Apr 23 '14 at 17:21
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    @Bye the Eastern Orthodox Church and other branches of Orthodoxy also recognize saints. Saints are simply those who have gone to heaven. Those whom we call "saints" are those whom we are sure have done so. In the Orthodox Church, Old Testament Patriarchs are also considered saints. – user22553 Sep 7 '16 at 14:45
  • Unless you can cite a source for this assertion other than "I was told" the answers can't address that opinion/hearsay at its root. This is multiple questions in one. – KorvinStarmast Feb 3 '17 at 16:11

St Stephen is considered a saint and a martyr in many Christian denominations. Because St Stephen is the very first martyr of the newly founded Church of Jesus Christ, he is given the title of Protomartyr or first martyr of the Early Church.

Many consider the first Saint of the Early Church to be the Thief on the Cross after all did not Jesus himself promise the Good Thief paradise that very day.

Two men were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on his right hand and one on his left (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27-28,32, Luke 23:33, John 19:18), which the Gospel of Mark interprets as fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12. According to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, respectively, both of the thieves mocked Jesus (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32); Luke however, mentions that:

39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us."

40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? 41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 He replied to him, "Amen I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise." 23:39-43 - Penitent thief (Wikipedia).

In the Early Church, the voice of the people was considered enough to canonize someone a saint, Vox populi Vox Dei, the Voice of the people is the Voice of God.

Who is actually the first saint is a question only God can answer. Did St Joseph or St John the Baptist enter heaven first as a saint we may never know here on earth? Many denominations have some Old Testament Saints also.

Since the faithful of the Early Church the canonization process was rather simple, the Church in the West (Catholic Church) started to impose norms for recognized canonizations:

In the Medieval West, the Holy See was asked to intervene in the question of canonizations, so as to ensure a more authoritative decision. The canonization of Saint Udalric, Bishop of Augsburg, by Pope John XV in 993 is the first undoubted example of a papal canonization of a saint from outside Rome; some historians maintain that the first such canonization was that of Saint Swibert by Pope Leo III in 804.

Thereafter, recourse to the judgment of the popes was had with greater frequency. Walter of Pontoise was canonized by Hugh de Boves, the Archbishop of Rouen in 1153; Walter was the last saint in Western Europe to have been canonized by an authority other than the pope. "The last case of canonization by a metropolitan is said to have been that of St. Gaultier, or Gaucher, abbot of Pontoise, by the Archbishop of Rouen. A decree of Pope Alexander III, 1170, gave the prerogative to the pope thenceforth, so far as the Western Church was concerned."

In 1173, after reprimanding certain bishops for having permitted veneration of a man who was far from holy, Alexander III decreed: "You shall not therefore presume to honor him in the future; for, even if miracles were worked through him, it is not lawful for you to venerate him as a saint without the authority of the Catholic Church."

The procedure initiated by the text of Alexander III, confirmed by a bull of Pope Innocent III in the year 1200, issued on the occasion of the canonization of Saint Cunegunde, led to increasingly elaborate inquiries. - Canonization (Wikipedia).

Although St Stephen is considered the first martyr of the Early Church, the Holy Innocents are considered the first martyrs of the New Testament.


Saint Stephen was the first martyr, at whose stoning Saul/Paul was present.

  1. He doesn't get the honour of "first saint".

  2. The rules have almost certainly changed since antiquity, and are now fairly rigid (two miracles are required, at least).

  • So who is the first Saint? – Clint Eastwood Apr 23 '14 at 14:50
  • Define first. You have already stated that Ulrich was the first to be canonised; Stephen was the first martyr; Dismas the first person to die after Jesus; Peter, first among equals... – Andrew Leach Apr 23 '14 at 15:00
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    I think it's a misunderstanding. Stephen was the first martyr. "First" on its own doesn't have much meaning. – Andrew Leach Apr 23 '14 at 15:16
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    @david Except that Adam was only redeemed by the second Adam, so presumably all OT people became saints at the same time. – Andrew Leach Apr 24 '14 at 8:31
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    The two miracles (or one?) are NOT required for martyrs to become a saint. – Martin Rosenau Sep 7 '16 at 18:22

We can use the word "saint" to mean "one who is canonized by the Catholic Church," or only "one who is either in Heaven or Purgatory," or "one whose salvation is not in doubt anymore."

If you mean "first saint" as in "first canonized," or "first recognized as a saint," I'm afraid I don't know. However, if instead, you mean "the first, chronologically, to attain a saintly position in Heaven, who would later come to be recognized as a saint," I think I can answer that one.

The first saint, the first warrior and the first victor in battle was Saint Michael the Archangel, who became the first to reject sin and evil, and so solidified his Heavenly position, even before the fall of Lucifer. Because of this, he was named after the war cry which he used to challenge Lucifer's ambitions. "Michael" means "Who is like God?"


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