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The current Roman Catholic definition of saint appears to be something like the following:

Most people use the word “saint” to refer to someone who is exceptionally good or “holy.” In the Catholic Church, however, a “saint” has a more specific meaning: someone who has led a life of “heroic virtue.” This definition includes the four “cardinal” virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice; as well as the “theological” virtues: faith, hope and charity. A saint displays these qualities in a consistent and exceptional way. When someone is proclaimed a saint by the pope – which can happen only after death – public devotion to the saint, called a “cultus,” is authorized for Catholics throughout the world. - Mathew Schmalz, Associate Professor of Religion, College of the Holy Cross

Very many of Paul's New Testament letters are addressed to "the saints in" whatever region. Many English translations insert a phrase, "called (to be) saints" in some of the letters but not all of them; one example of each is offered below:

To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. - Romans 1:7

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. - Colossians 1:2

Merely reading the greetings as they stand it appears that Paul either considered all believers to be saints or he considered them to be a category among living believers: Hence the phrases "and to the faithful" (Ephesians 1:1) and "with the bishops and deacons" (Philippians 1:1).

Going by the current Catholic definition of saint, which indicates that the title is only conferred (by a Pope) upon the deceased, one would have to deduce that Paul is including dead people in his address. Since this cannot possibly be the case it must be assumed that the Catholic definition of saint has changed over time.

I have two related questions: 1) When did the Roman Catholic definition of saint change and restrict this nomenclature only to the dead when Paul clearly applies the title to the living?, 2) Does this change or alter the way Paul's letters are read or does a modern Catholic ignore the Catholic definition when reading the New Testament? In other words, do modern Catholics parenthetically think something like "but not real saints" when reading these letters?

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  • Please research communion of saints. scborromeo.org/ccc/p123a9p5.htm
    – Grasper
    Dec 7, 2021 at 14:21
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    What Greek word is translated “Saint”?
    – Kris
    Dec 7, 2021 at 14:49
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    There are different definitions of the word, just like many other words in the dictionary. You can not limit Catholicism to one definition! Mathew Schmalz is somewhat bias in his understanding of our definitions for both are valid.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 7, 2021 at 15:17

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When did the Catholic definition of saint change and how is the change applied in personal study?

  1. When did the Roman Catholic definition of saint change and restrict this nomenclature only to the dead when Paul clearly applies the title to the living?,

  2. Does this change or alter the way Paul's letters are read or does a modern Catholic ignore the Catholic definition when reading the New Testament? In other words, do modern Catholics parenthetically think something like "but not real saints" when reading these letters?

The Church recognizes both definitions, however the first definition refers to canonized saints whom we believe are very much alive in heaven.

The second definition is still in use but seems to be less in use in our modern era. It is simply not in vogue these days. Many like myself are very comfortable with both expression of the word, saint.

The Church often refers to those living extremely holy lives as saints while living amongst us.

I do not see any problem with different definitions of the word being in use today. I am sure other denominations do the same: Orthodox, Lutherans, etc.

The term saints is even held in the Douai-Rheims version of Catholic bibles so there is no issue here!

To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. - Romans 1:7

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, and Timothy, a brother,

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus, who are at Colossa. - Colossians 1:2

Here follows one Catholic definition of saints (based on Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary), but many others are out there on the net.

Saints

A name given in the New Testament to Christians generally (Colossians 1:2) but early restricted to persons who were eminent for holiness. In the strict sense saints are those who distinguish themselves by heroic virtue during life and whom the Church honors as saints either by her ordinary universal teaching authority or by a solemn definition called canonization. The Church's official recognition of sanctity implies that the persons are now in heavenly glory, that they may be publicly invoked everywhere, and that their virtues during life or martyr's death are a witness and example to the Christian faithful. (Etym. Latin sanctus, holy, sacred.)

In modern times many prefer to call those who are canonized saints as saints, while the term saint used by St. Paul is refer to as the faithful. It is not a big deal which way you go. Catholic will understand both meanings.

The living are still referred to as saints in the Apostle’s Creed of Pope Paul VI.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Any personal studies in this domain will simply have to be applied to one’s preferred usage of this term.

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