Many Old Testament figures led lives that are comparable to modern day saints. Yet none of them seem to be given the title of "Saint". Why is this?

My first thought was that perhaps a Saint needs a connection to Jesus, which all Christian Saints do. But part of Jesus' claim to legitimacy was that he was a descendent of people like David and Ruth. Furthermore, Moses and Elijah were present during Jesus' transfiguration, so they have a direct connection to Jesus. Yet none of these have the title of "Saint". Why not?

There are saints like St. Moses, but they are different people than these Old Testament figures.

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    In the Eastern Orthodox Church they are, in fact, regarded as saints, and their lives are listed in the Synaxaria along with "conventional" saints: Life of Moses, Life of Elijah. <strike>Perhaps there is a tradition of honoring them thus in the Uniate churches</strike>. I stand corrected by @DickHarfield. I didn't remember my catechism.
    – user22553
    Sep 10, 2016 at 0:47
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    A quick Google search would show that lots of people talk about the "Old Testament Saints". If you'd like to ask specifically about the Catholic canonisation process then it would be good to be more specific than just using tags.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 10, 2016 at 10:13

3 Answers 3


Although they are not usually described formally as saints, the Catholic Church does actually consider Old Testament figures to be saints, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

61 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.


In Israel, St James Vicariate actively celebrates many biblical saints in their liturgies, notably in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

St James Vicariate celebrates the Feast of the Prophet Elijah on July 20, the Feast of Saint Ezekiel on April 10, the Feast of King David on December 29, the Feast of Moses Giver of the Law on September 4 and the Feast of mother and seven sons who died as martyrs on August 3. There are other biblical saints that St James Vicariate celebrate and may be found here.

Although many biblical figures are indeed saints, though they seem not to be traditionally honored with the title "saint" but with titles such as prophet, king, etc. Notwithstanding, they are nevertheless saints and may be called saints in litanies, etc.

Figures from the Old Testament are never referred to as saints. Were there no saints in those days?

It is true that, in the Catholic Church, Old Testament figures have not been formally canonized and given the title of “saint.” I suspect that this has to do with the historical process by which that title came to be assigned.

In the earliest centuries of the Church, only those who had been martyred for their faith were commemorated liturgically on their anniversaries. St. Martin of Tours, who died in 397, was probably the first non-martyr assigned a feast day. Since then, sainthood has generally been ascribed to people who provided outstanding examples of lives modeled after the teachings of Jesus (which would exclude those who lived before Christ).

Does that mean that we cannot pray to Old Testament figures or seek their intercession? By no means. The word “saint’ is commonly taken to mean someone who followed the will of God and is now in heaven. Surely, Moses and Elijah are safely there, since they appeared with Jesus on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration.

Catholic Churches of the Eastern rite (Greek or Byzantine, for example) do, in fact, celebrate specific feast days for Old Testament figures: Joshua and Moses, Daniel, the seven Maccabee brothers, etc.

The “Roman Martyrology,” a compilation of those honored as saints, includes such notable Old Testament figures as Isaiah, Abraham, and King David. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also has this to say in No. 61: “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.”

So the great figures of the Old Testament, though never formally canonized by the Latin-rite Church, are worthy of our devotion and our imitation. - Were there no saints in the Old Testament?

  • Might it be that, per OT scripture, their status was a matter of record and the process of canonization is not deemed necessary for these OT leaders of the faith? Sep 13, 2016 at 15:32

Abraham, Moses, Elijah, et al. are all saints because Christ's descent into hell liberated them, who had been awaiting His redemption in the "Bosom of Abraham" (cf. the answer to question: "According to Catholicism, when exactly were the souls of those who died before Christ conducted to heaven?").

This explains the celebration of Saints Adam and Eve:

As we have said elsewhere, Adam and Eve are not called saints in ordinary reference, historical or scriptural. But they may be called saints on their feast day, which is the vigil of Christmas, because we know from sound Catholic tradition that they repented of their great sin, lived lives of holiness and are now in Heaven. Adam is the father of the human race. Eve, his wife, was formed from Adam’s body. All of us have descended from these two. Adam was created in a state of paradisal innocence, with no human frailties or weaknesses. Adam sinned by disobeying the command of God not to eat a forbidden fruit. The whole human race inherited original sin because of Adam. Adam personally repented. Adam lived for 930 years. By his sorrow, his contrition, his pleading and his love, Adam finally won God’s full forgiveness for himself. Adam died and went to the Limbo of the Just [i.e., the Bosom of Abraham], which is called “hell” in the Apostles’ Creed. This was not the hell of the damned. It was the place where the Just had to wait for the coming of Christ. Adam ascended into Heaven in body and in soul with Our Lord on Ascension Thursday, forty days after Easter. Adam’s feast is the vigil of Christmas, which is also the feast of Eve, his wife, who is with him in Heaven.

St. Abel:

Abel was the son of Adam. He was the first one ever to die. The first death in the history of all creation was a murder, and the first one to die was a saint. Abel is mentioned in the Roman Canon of the Mass and is invoked for the dying. The holy ones of the Old Testament are not usually called saints when they are referred to scripturally or historically. The one day on which they are granted the title of saint is the day on which the Catholic Church especially commemorates them. There are forty-two of these holy ones. In the order in which their feasts occur in the year, they are: Abel (January 2), Malachias (January 14), Micheas and Habacuc (January 15), Amos (March 31), Ezechiel (April 10), Jeremias (May 1), Job (May 10), Eliseus (June 14), Aaron (July 1), Osee and Aggeus (July 4), Isaias (July 6), Joel and Esdras (July 13), Elias (July 20), Daniel (July 21), Samona, the mother of the Machabees, and her seven sons (August 1), Samuel (August 20), Josue and Gedeon (September 1), Moses (September 4), Zacharias (September 6), Jonas (September 21), Abraham (October 9), Abdias (November 19), Nahum (December 1), Sophonias (December 3), Ananias, Azarias and Misael (December 16), Adam and Eve (December 24), Baruch (December 28), and King David (December 29).

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