Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Canonization

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
CANONIZATION, a ceremony in the Church of Rome,

by which persons deceased are ranked in the catalogue of the saints. This act is preceded by beatification ; and after the merits of the individual have been duly tested

aud approved, the Pope decrees the canonization.

The term was not introduced till the 12th century. The first person who availed himself of it was Udalric, bishop of Constance, in his letter to Pope Calixtus II. relative to the canonization of Bishop Conrad. The act, however, dates from a much more remote antiquity. The ceremony was originally only a commemoration of the martyrs, whose assistance was invoked in the name of the church militant to which they had belonged. Originally bishops decided whether or not the candidate had fairly vindicated his claim to the honour ; but they only acted as the organ of public opinion. Orthodoxy was certainly considered of great importance, as may be seen from the fact of the ex clusion of Origen and Tertullian, those great though erratic geniuses of the early church, from the title. As soon as the power of Home was once more upon the ascendant in Europe, the popes naturally appropriated to themselves the important privilege of canonization. None but martyrs were at first admitted into the category of saints, but in course of time the privilege was extended to some of those pious men who, without having sealed their testimony with their blood, had evinced the sincerity of their belief by the purity of their practice. In later times, however, the Pope assumed the right of admitting into the sacred catalogue potentates whose claim seems to have largely consisted in their support of his temporal interests. Not able instances of this are the names of the emperor Henry I., canonized by Eugenius III., and Edward the Confessor of England, canonized by Alexander III.

So long as the right of according the honours of canoni zation was vested in the bishops, there was no public guarantee that it had been exercised with rigour or discre tion. But when it passed into the hands of the popes, means were taken to prevent any but really meritorious persons from being enrolled in the holy category. Even then, however, a very simple ordeal sufficed. A few miracles reported to have happened at a tomb were enough to give its inmate a claim to have his name inscribed in the canon of the mass among the number of the happy. A Roman Catholic writer, the editor of Butler s Lives of the Saints (ed. 18G6) states that "the proceedings of a beatification or canonization are long, rigorous, and ex pensive." It has been asserted that the discovery of the last-named feature of the process prevented the somewhat parsimonious Henry Y II. of England from carrying out his desire for the canonization of King Henry VI. ; Bacon, however (History of Henry VJI.}, inclines rather to the belief that the obstacle here was the pope s fear it would "diminish the estimation of that kind of honour" to give it to such " a simple man." At a later period, when the ceremony was only performed after a considerable lapse of time, reasons were always hard to be found why the saintly candidate should be rejected. In modern times the court of Rome has shown itself extremely averse to promiscuous canonization ; and since the days of Benedict XIV., the promoter of the faith, popularly known as the advocatus diaboli, or devil s advocate, has exercised extreme severity in sifting the claims of aspirants. It is further necessary that a period of a hundred years should elapse between the death of the saint aud his admission into the calendar. But the more pious men of every country in Europe have of late evinced so little ambition to secure this posthumous compliment, that it may now be considered to have gone fairly out of fashion. It is also probable that the far more stringent rules of evidence and the growth of physical science have tended to render proof of the supernatural much more difficult than it seemed to be to our mediaeval forefathers. It may be observed that the Lutheran divines of the century after the Reformer s decease frequently refer to him as B. (i.e., Beatus) Lutherus.

On the day of canonization the Pope and cardinals officiate in white ; while St Peter s church is illuminated and hung with rich tapestry, upon which the arms of the Pope, and of the prince or state requiring the canonization, are embroidered in gold and silver.

Beatification, which frequently precedes canonization, gives an inferior status to the deceased person, and appears rather to recommend him as a fit object for the cultus of his co-religionists than to enjoin it.

See Du Gauge Glossarium, s. v. " Canonizare," and the references there given to St Augustine on St John, ths Bull of Pope John XV., and (for the ceremonies) to the Ceremoniale Eomanum, lib. i. sect. 16. Compare Milman, Lat. Christianity, bk, xiv. chap il, and preface to Forbes s Kalendar of Scottish Saints, 1 872. For the Roman Catholic statement of the case see Alban Butler s Lives of the Saints, preface to edition of 1866, and an Essay on Beatification, Canonization, &c., by F. W. Faber (London, 1848). But the great authorities on the subject to which all Roman Catholics refer are the decrees of Pope Urban VIII., and a treatise on the entire subject by Pope Benedict XIV.