Saints are present throughout the Bible. In my understanding, Protestant use of this word applies to all believers, which I understand is the New Testament (and OT?) meaning of the word.

In my limited understanding of Catholicism, it seems that the Roman Catholic church selects a subset of all believers and declares them to be saints.

Is this then to the exclusion of other believers, ie saying that not all believers are saints?


4 Answers 4


I am a Catholic, and though I'm certainly not professing to be an expert on doctrine... the answer I've been given goes along the lines that The Catholic church will not declare that any given deceased individual is in Hell (or not in Heaven) as we can't know the forgiveness of our Lord, but that there are individuals who, after careful examination of their earthly deeds and the fruits of their lives, we believe are in Heaven - those individuals we refer to as Saints. It is (or should be) the goal of every Christian to become a saint after their death, and therefore to believe and behave in as saintly a manor as possible throughout their life.

  • Now THIS is what I was looking for, thanks. So Catholics are saying that those they declare to be saints are almost certainly in heaven, saints by NT standards, right? Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 15:09
  • That's my understanding, though (and I may be mis-reading here) the cause/effect feels backwards in the way you phrase it from what I'm expecting. One could only be considered a Saint because we believe them to almost certainly be in heaven, not that they're almost certainly in heaven because we have determined that their life was saintly.
    – StevenV
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 16:54
  • That doesn't sound like I'm explaining it very well either. I'm not saying they're in heaven simply because the church gives them a "this one's a saint" toe-tag. More like 1.their life & its effect we believe them to be in heaven, 2.people like that are called "Saints", 3.therefore those are Saints. I suppose that it would be difficult, from the viewpoint that Sainthood = as close to perfection as a human can be, to say that we (living) are Saints as we continue to be fallible creatures. Sainthood could only be something that could be determined after one's life is complete.
    – StevenV
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 17:05
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    +1. This is why posthumous miracles are required for the Church to declare someone a saint. Miracles can only be granted if the "saint" is actually in the presence of God to procure them. Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 19:44
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    @Wikis Canonizations are considered to be infallible.
    – user
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 2:38

I was reading this while writing this months blog article on "What is the Church"

"The Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as 'alone holy,' loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God." The Church, then, is "the holy People of God," and her members are called "saints."

CCC 823

Curiously enough, we Catholics hold that everyone is more or less in the Catholic Church; otherwise the church wouldn't be universal, which is to say, catholic.

So, it may be fallacious reasoning, but I like to think that we the living, are all saints and those who are dead are hopefully saints because all things are possible with God.

  • Thanks for this, Peter. When I wrote the question I was hoping you would add a Catholic answer. Great! Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 15:29
  • Btw, does "everyone" only extend to Christians or to all people? Why then do some Catholic churches exclude Protestants from Communion? Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 15:58
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    @wikis all people. Catholic Churches exclude anyone from communion who A.) doesn't believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist (that it is the Body Blood Soul and Divinity wholly present, that is to say, it is not bread and wine anymore) B.) people who, because of their state in life cannot believe in A. (young children or professed members of other religions) and C.) Catholics who are not in a state of grace until they go to confession. None of these people, however, are incapable of attaining full communion with the Church, but it requires an extra step.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 16:30

If you look up the catholic Liturgy, you will find that their understanding of holiness is not so narrow. They still sing from Didache "who is holy may he draw near" and in the greek catholic Liturgy the priest says before communion "Holy things for the holy" (the answer begins with "One is holy..." as to remember that human can be holy only by grace, not by his or her merits)

Also the RC theology says much on idea of "sanctifying grace" which is not something reserved to canonized saints.

So it is a myth that Roman Catholic theology refuses to admit the term "holy/saint" as something every Christian can and should attain. They simply don't go around saying proudly "I'm holy" but prefer to use this word to show respect to people that surpass them in faith and good deeds.

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    So, everyone is a saint or just a few? Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 4:56
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    According to Didache ("If anyone is holy, let him come. If anyone is not, let him repent.") and Eastern Liturgy ("Holy things for the holy") the group of "saints" is equal to a group of "people that are able to receive Eucharist". For a Roman Catholic theology it would be strictly "a person in state of sanctifying grace".
    – zefciu
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 5:57
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    Wikis: generally RCC reserves those revealed to the Church as sanctified to be officially dubbed saints. In our tradition, it is held without question that the greatest saints are unknown (except perhaps, the Mother of God) but when we say someone is a saint it has connotations for imitation of their life and acceptance of their words which should make us cautious of throwing the term on any person we admire.
    – user304
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 18:43

I'm not Catholic. Some of my fellow Protestants do criticize the Catholic church on this point. Personally, I think it's not a big deal, it's just a case of using a word with two slightly different meanings.

Like, forms that asks for your address typically ask for street, city, state, zip. "City" here clearly means the name of the community you live in, regardless of size. But in other contexts we use "city" to refer to a particularly large population center, like New York or Los Angeles. So the word "city" has (at least) two related but distinct meanings: any population center, or a particularly large population center.

In the same way, "saints" is used to refer to any Christian, and is also used by the Catholic church to refer to Christians who have demonstrated particularly extraordinary faith.

I'd be interested in hearing a more detailed response from a knowledgeable Catholic.

  • 1
    good point, but as I understand it there's actually something special about these "saints" in Catholic tradition. Like you say, an answer from a Catholic is eagerly awaited... Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 3:23
  • There's certainly "something special" about them: they are exemplary, particularly faithful or holy people. 'Not sure if you mean something more specific than that.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 28, 2012 at 20:15

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