Who Really is a Saint?

Who Really is a Saint?

Richard Hollerman

There has been much discussion of late about the Catholic practice of sainthood. Just this past Sunday the city of Rome hosted the grand ceremony that supposedly elevated two former “popes” to the status of saints. Some 800,000 people are reported to have filled the plaza before Saint Peter’s in the “Eternal City” of Rome.

One of the local stories said that “the world watched Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II become saints of the Catholic Church in a simple Mass on the steps of Saint Peter’s Square” (Patrick Svacina, “Fort Worth Faithful Join Massive Crowd to Witness Historic Event,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 29, 2014). Some 1,000 cardinals and bishops joined the “reigning Pope” to witness this long-awaited event.

One report stated that this was the “first time a reigning and retired pope have celebrated Mass together in public in the 2,000 year history of the church” (Nichole Winfield and Daniela Petroff, “Benedict Joins Francis in Ceremony Aimed at uniting wings of church,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 29, 2014). Victor Perez of Houston, apparently a Catholic priest, exclaimed, “This is such a historic moment.  John Paul was so impactful on the church. He completed the work of Vatican II. Today honors the last 50 years of what God has done in the church” (Ibid.). While we deny that the Catholic Church as has a 2,000 year history (it is more like 1,600 years) and also deny that God has done something in the church, still we must all admit that this is an amazing and historic event.

The occasion that allowed John Paul II to be canonized happened in Costa Rica. A woman by the name of Floribeth Mora was in bed and waiting to die from a brain aneurysm. While lying there, she looked at a photograph of John Paul II in a newspaper. The newspaper image talked!  It told her “Stand up. . . Don’t be afraid.” She felt that she was healed—and this was just what was needed to provide the necessary miracle to grant John Paul the saint status.


“Mora, her doctors and the Catholic Church say her aneurysm disappeared that day in a miracle that cleared the way for the late pope to be declared a saint on April 27.” Floribeth was considered “a guest of honor.” Now this woman is “an adored symbol of faith for thousands of Costa Ricans and Catholics around the world” (nbcnews.com/ storyline/ new-saints/miracle- woman-floribeth-mora -carries-john-paul- ii-relic-n90681).

Biblical Teaching

The reader has often read or heard of certain “saints” that have risen to that status through the Roman Catholic Church (or Orthodox Church). But what does the Word of God reveal about sainthood? 

Generally, the term is found in the plural in the New Testament. Found only once in the Gospels (Matthew 27:52), the terms is found frequently in Acts and the following letters.  The significant fact to know is that all believers are called “saints.” It was not reserved for especially holy people.  (Notice Acts 9:13, 32; 26:10.)  Paul the apostle writes that the Spirit intercedes for the “saints” (Romans 8:27). He says that we are to “contribute to the needs of the saints” (12:13).  He writes that he is going to Jerusalem with aid for the “saints” (15:25, 26). Only one time is the term used in the singular: “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:21a).

The term “saint” comes from the Greek hagios, which means separated or set apart.  While every believer with the status as a saint should have the moral character of a saint (a separated one), sometimes it doesn’t have that significance. For instance, Paul writes to the assembly in Corinth, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Here were “saints” who were not living up to their position of sainthood!

A few times, it does seem that the character of the people was is in view: “in a manner worthy of the saints” (Romans 16:2); “. . . for the equipping of the saints for the work of service” (Ephesians 4:12); “. . . as is proper among saints” (5:3). (Much help with this information has come from The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible.)

It is important for us to remember that God uses “saints” to refer to Christians in general and not to a certain class of Christians. Paul writes, “. . . to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints” (Romans 1:7). On occasion when this subject has been discussed, I’ve said, “I am Saint Richard.” Of course, I explain that every Christian is a saint. And we must realize that no one in the New Testament used “Saint” as a title as it is done today in Catholicism.

How Many “Saints” are Recognized in Roman Catholicism?

As we noticed earlier, Catholics are rejoicing that two more people have been canonized and recognized as saints. But there are many more!  “Saint Ulrich of Augsburg” was the first to arise to saint status by means of a pope in 993.  The Vatican’s Roman Martyrology lists some 7,000 people who have been made saints by the Catholic Church (nbcnews.com/storyline/ new-saints/how-do-you- become-saint-what- know-about-canonization- n89846). Some believe that the number could be as high as 10,000!

More and more men and women have been canonized in recent years.  Pope Francis has canonized 817 people (most were martyrs killed together by Muslims from Turkey). John Paul II canonized 482 (with more than 400 killed as martyrs). Pope Benedict XVI canonized 45 people who were added to the list of saints. (Ibid.) Interestingly, only about one-third of popes have been declared saints themselves. The first thousand years produced many saints.  Of the first 55 popes (as Catholicism reckons them), 52 of them are now saints.  But in the past 1,000 years, only seven have been declared saints. (Ibid.)

Some who were declared saints are now not considered to have reached that status. Saint Philomena was declared a saint in 1935 but this was later retracted. Have you ever seen a medal hanging from the mirror of a Catholic’s vehicle?  It was thought that Saint Christopher (patron of travelers) was a saint until 1969, but some Catholics still carry the medal regardless of his lack of sainthood status. Saint George (patron of warriors) was also demoted in 2001. (Ibid.)

How Did Catholic Sainthood Develop?

It is thought that the term “saint” came to denote spirituality. We can see how this was possible. If the term not only means a Christian but also a particularly “holy” or “separated” one, it might be applied only to a certain few people. Perhaps a person was martyred for his or her faith, or perhaps the person was thought to work miracles. Maybe a person became a monk, priest, or nun.  In this way, the word “saints” was transferred from common Christians to those with a special rank or level of “sainthood” or spirituality.

The sainthood status does lead to certain other unscriptural views. “According to Roman Catholic theology, individuals can store up a reservoir of merit, by good deeds and blameless lives. That reservoir of such merit becomes available to other humble Christians in answer to prayers offered to the saint.  Those who feel themselves particularly in need of merit would then pray to the saint for help and merit” (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible). The prayers to these supposed saints would very easily lead to actual worship of the saints. In time, there would be candles lit for the saints and images or paintings would be produced and adored.

Of course, all of this is an abomination to God. The Lord Jesus clearly affirms, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only” (Matthew 4:10; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:20).  Prayers are meant only for God. Worship must only be directed to God. Images are forbidden.

Let’s View Sainthood as God Does

We have noticed that a saint is a person who is a Christian. It refers to those who have been born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), those who have come to God through faith in Christ (John 3:16-17, 36), those who have turned from their sins and have been baptized into Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5). It refers to all of God’s children—and not 7,000 or 10,000 Catholics.

We must see the doctrine and practice of Catholic (and Orthodox) sainthood as contrary to Scripture. Let’s view it as an abomination to God and something that we can’t endorse at all. Personally, I even hesitate referring to such Catholics and Orthodox as being saints; e.g. “Saint Augustine” or “Saint Thomas Aquinas” or “Saint Cyprian.” No, these were not saints in the Biblical sense. They were false teachers, whether in the third century, the fifth century, or later.

If you are a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, you—personally—are a saint! You need not wait until you die and you need not wait until a reigning pope recognizes you as such. You are a saint now!

(Note: We have used “pope” in this article to identify certain Catholic leaders even though we recognize that the term is an arrogant use of “Father” in an unscriptural sense.)










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