John Paul a Saint?
Millions are rejoicing with the news that the Vatican will proceed on Sunday with the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Especially in Poland, the home country of Karol Wojtyla, and the town of Wadowice, where Wojtyla was born, people are glad to know that soon their home town boy may soon be considered a Catholic Saint. How does Saint John Paul II sound? (Poles Filled with Joy over Upcoming Beatification of Pope John Paul II, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, p. 9A).
Poles consider John Paul to already have a special position in Gods sight. The beatification is largely a formality because they already consider their native son the holiest of men. The mayor of Wadowice is reported to have said, For us, in fact, the Holy Father was already a saint during his lifetime, and after his death, even more. Some are more critical, charging John Paul with having covered up the sexual immorality issues of the clergy and bringing the well-known sex abuse scandal.
Not only in the highly-Catholic Poland, but around the world, people are glad that steps are being taken to elevate John Paul to the status of Sainthood. Of course, he was not the first one to be recognized as a saint, for the Catholic Church has recognized many other saints before the present era. In fact, it is thought that even angels are saints! One source states: There are over 10,000 named saints and beati from history, the Roman Martyology and Orthodox sources, but no definitive head count. (catholic.org/saints/faq.php) Most of these are unknown to the common Catholic, but they are the subject of intense interest by the Catholic faithful.
Beatification is a necessary step in the process of recognizing someones status as saint. In order to proceed, Catholic authorities must be convinced that at least one person received a miracle after praying to the departed Catholic saint. Then, an additional miracle is required in order to achieve full sainthood. This process may be explained as follows:
In 1983, Pope John Paul II made sweeping changes in the canonization procedure. The process begins after the death of a Catholic whom people regard as holy. Often, the process starts many years after death in order give perspective on the candidate. The local bishop investigates the candidate’s life and writings for heroic virtue (or martyrdom) and orthodoxy of doctrine. Then a panel of theologians at the Vatican evaluates the candidate. After approval by the panel and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope proclaims the candidate “venerable.”
The next step, beatification, requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate’s death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. When the pope proclaims the candidate beatified or “blessed,” the person can be venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance.
Only after one more miracle will the pope canonize the saint (this includes martyrs as well). The title of saint tells us that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven, and is to be honored by the universal Church. Canonization does not “make” a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done. (Ibid.)
This view of sainthood took some centuries to develop, but today this theology is well-developed and not really questioned. Probably most Catholics just assume that this process of canonization is Gods will and pleasing to Him. If one were to ask the average Catholic, probably he or she would have no idea whether this doctrine can be established by the Scriptures.
As a matter of fact, the Catholic doctrine of sainthood is not found in Gods word but was a later development, one that progressed along with the apostasy that occurred after the apostolic times. Apostasy or the falling away from the faith and the truth began in the first century and continued through the second, the third, and especially the fourth century. By the time of Constantine in the 300s, there was very little in common between the developed institution called the Catholic Church and the primitive simplicity of the early body of Christ, as begun by Jesus and founded on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone (Ephesians 2:20).
Saints comes from the Greek hagioi, which means sanctified, set apart or separated ones, those who have been set apart from the world and sin and set apart to God and His service. Every Christian is a saint since everyone who has been born of the Spirit and reconciled to God and everyone has also been separated from the realm of the world and brought into the kingdom of Gods Son (Colossians 1:13). Paul writes to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints (Romans 1:7). When Paul speaks of the Lords second coming, he writes, . . . when he comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed (2 Thessalonians 1:10). Here we see that the saints are the believersthose who have believed. W. E. Vine, the Greek scholar, explains:
Since every believer is sanctified in Christ Jesus, 1 Corinthians 1:2; cf. Hebrews 10:10, a common NT designation of all believers is saints, hagioi, i.e., sanctified or holy ones. Thus sainthood, or sanctification, is not an attainment, it is the status into which God, in grace, calls sinful men, and in which they begin their course as Christians, Colossians 3:12; Hebrews 3:1. (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
Lets encourage people to understand the Word of God so that they will not fall into the quicksand of false teaching and deceptive religious practice. Not everyone who has accepted this Catholic doctrine of sainthood has a closed heart. There must be some out there who would accept the truth of God if they only knew it. Therefore, lets patiently and lovingly point out what God has said about who true saints are. And lets rejoice in the blessed privilege we have of being a person set apart from sin, Satan, and the world right now.
Does this mean that I, personally, am Saint Richard? No, actually, we should point out that Saint or saint was never meant to be a title. Making the simple term saint into a title is part of false religion and reveals the human tendency to elevate one person above another. Lets recognize the term as simply a common noun that has profound meaning but is never to be used as an official title. It is a status we have received by Gods grace.