Historical Sketch of Canonization


The Construction of Processes for the Canonization of Saints

THE Processes, or Courts of Enquiry, in causes of canonization are either Ordinary or Apostolic. The Ordinary Process is so called because it is formed by the authority of the Bishop or Ordinary of the diocese, and it enjoys the right to enquire into the reputation for virtues and miracles in causes of Confessors, or the reputation for martyrdom and miracles in causes of Martyrs. The Ordinary Process has also power to examine whether the decree of Urban VIII. regarding noncultus has been observed, and also to enquire into the case excepted by the Bull of Urban VIII. if these investigations, as often happens, are held before the Introduction of the cause in Rome. The Apostolic Process is so called because it always derives its authority from the Supreme Pontiff. All the Processes held after the Introduction of the cause are Apostolic. When the Commission of Introduction is signed the Holy See is said to place its hand on the cause, and no one of inferior authority, not even the Bishop, can afterwards take part in the proceedings except by special delegation from Rome. This rule is imperative, and was more strictly enforced by a new Papal Decree as recently as 1894. It was found that, after the first Episcopal Processes, Postulators sometimes sought further information from Bishops for the purpose of meeting difficulties raised by the Promoter of the Faith. And, as this practice was not in conformity with the common law of the Church, and might open the way to grave abuses, it was strictly forbidden by a decree of Pope Leo XIII. in 1894.

In processes of canonization everything is reduced to an exact science. The legal procedure of civilized nations is based largely on the established methods of the Church. But nowhere else do we find the same severe regularity and strict discipline that are practiced in these examinations. The utmost care and accuracy are observed at every stage, and, looking at the matter from the purely human point of view, it must be admitted that if there is any institution, any known method of investigation, capable of arriving at a full knowledge of the truth, the calm, deliberate procedure of the Church is eminently entitled to this distinction. The great object of all the enquiries, from beginning to end, is to avoid all possibility of error or deception, and to ensure that the truth will shine forth in all its brilliancy and splendor. With this end in view the Church has ordained, under pain of invalidity, that the same person can never hold two offices of a different nature. No one who is a witness can ever become a Postulator either in the same or any subsequent Process of a particular cause. And the reason is clear. The Church desires to prevent all abuse, and if a Postulator, for example, became afterwards a Judge it is obvious that his impartiality might be open to suspicion.

In the formation of Processes, whether Ordinary or Apostolic, it is required by Canon Law that a number of officials be appointed to discharge the various duties. These officials are, chiefly, the Postulator of the cause, the Judges, the Fiscal Promoter or Promoter of the Faith and Sub Promoters, Notaries, Messengers, Witnesses, Secretaries, and the Bearer.


The Postulator is the official who promotes the cause and expedites all the proceedings. He is said to be a general Postulator when appointed by the head of a religious order, according to the constitutions of the order, to promote the causes of any of its members who may have died in the odor of sanctity. A special Postulator is one who is nominated to promote a particular cause, and he must be deputed by the person or persons who undertake to devote attention to the cause and supply expenses, whether they are private individuals, or a body of priests, or a religious sodality of which the deceased was a member. In order that the Postulator may act in a recognized legal manner he must receive a mandate or commission of Procuration, confirmed by the Bishop of the diocese, giving him the requisite faculties, and amongst others the power to substitute Vicars or VicePostulators in his stead.

When there is question of causes already introduced in Rome there must be one principal Postulator who has his residence in the Eternal City. The VicePostulators must be elected by him, and no one can act validly who is otherwise deputed. The term Postulator is generally applied to the VicePostulators when they are actively engaged in the promotion of the cause, and the word Procurator is often used in the same sense. The context sufficiently indicates the meaning, but, strictly speaking, the Procurator is an expert official appointed by the Chief Postulator in Rome to deal with the cause before the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and to prepare petitions for obtaining the necessary rescripts and decrees..

Before any Process in the cause is actually begun the Postulator must take an oath, technically known as the oath of calumny, by which he solemnly swears that he considers the cause just, and that he has undertaken it from zeal for the honor and glory of God.

The Postulator occupies a most important position in causes of canonization. He is, under God, the prime mover in the whole undertaking. His duties are manifold and arduous, and his services, as will be seen, are required from beginning to end. He must, at the very beginning, be possessed of such information regarding the life of the servant of God, respecting his virtues, gifts and miracles, that he can reasonably conclude that the cause may be submitted to the judgment of the Congregation with a fair prospect of success. Hence he must be in a position to prepare statements and articles concerning the miraculous gifts of the servant of God and the possession of virtue in the heroic degree; and he must be capable of supplying abundant evidence in proof of his assertions. And in particular he is required to give a full account of the origin of the person in question, his native country, his parents, his youth and adult years; of the state of life he selected; of his spiritual exercises, endowments, and studies, with all the circumstances of time and place; how the servant of God lived in a most praiseworthy manner, faithfully discharging the duties of his state in life, and practicing exercises of piety and devotion to the end of his days.

It sometimes happens that the same person who is Postulator in the early stages is selected after the Introduction of the cause to be Postulator in the Apostolic Processes. In these circumstances he is assisted by an Advocate of the Curia who defends the cause before the tribunal of the Congregation.


Judges are either Ordinary or Apostolic. The Ordinary Judge is he who by virtue of his office and ordinary authority exercises jurisdiction; and therefore the Bishop is Judge in his own diocese, and has the right to form the ordinary Process and act alone as Judge. The same privilege is enjoyed by Vicars Apostolic, and Administrators of a diocese, also, when the see is vacant, by the VicarCapitular. The VicarGeneral, though regarded in Canon Law as the Ordinary, cannot by virtue of his office form the Ordinary Process or exercise the functions of Judge in causes of canonization. If the Bishop, through some legitimate cause, cannot act he may depute the VicarGeneral or some other dignitary to take up the duties in his stead; but in this case the deputy must have two assistant Judges, the one a graduate in Canon Law and the other a Master in Theology. If the Bishop appoints another Bishop to act in his place the delegated Bishop requires no assistant Judges, for a Bishop, in the language of the Church, is said to be the acme of dignity. The Ordinary Judge can always discharge judicial duties in the Informative Process and also in the Processes regarding noncultus and the Excepted Case when these are formed before the Introduction of the Cause. But, after the Commission of Introduction is signed by the Pope, no Ordinary can act as Judge unless delegated by the Holy See.

Apostolic Judges are those who are commissioned by the Holy See. The number required, the authority to subdelegate, and their powers generally are regulated altogether by the terms of the Remissorial Letter through which they receive their delegation. As a general rule the Bishop of the Diocese, the VicarGeneral and four dignitaries or Canons are nominated, with the clause added that where the Bishop is the presiding Judge he can act validly with only one of the dignitaries or Canons; when the Vicar General takes the place of Judge he must have two dignitaries or Canons, and if both the Bishop and VicarGeneral are legitimately impeded the four dignitaries or Canons can act conjointly. If the Process is held in a place where no dignitaries are available, members of the clergy who are not dignitaries may, by Papal delegation, be empowered to act as Judges. Other concessions are made when there is real necessity, but the rigorous character of the judicial office is always strictly safeguarded. No layman can ever act as Judge; and the Pope is Supreme Judge in all causes of canonization.

In all Processes the Judges, in presence of the other members of the Court, bind themselves by oath to the faithful discharge of their judicial duties and the due observance of secrets; and these solemn obligations are imposed under the penalty of perjury and excommunication reserved to the Pope. Cardinals and Bishops take the oath standing and touching the breast, others on bended knees and touching the book of the Holy Gospels. At the proper time they receive the oaths of the Postulator, of the witnesses, and of all the officials who are to be sworn.

The quality which, above all others, should adorn a judge is strict impartiality, and in the momentous business of the canonization of saints this characteristic should be supreme. The law of the Church prescribes all the precautions that are humanly possible for the careful investigation of the truth, and the Judges are strictly bound to carry out these provisions to the letter. They can perform no judicial act except in the presence of the Promoter of the Faith,. whose duty it is to detect and point out all irregularities. The general decrees direct that the witnesses be sworn and their evidence taken in a church or oratory, or some place set apart for a religious purpose, in order that the sacred character of the surroundings should deter them more and more from the violation of their oath. And, except in case of grave necessity, such as severe illness, if a witness is sworn or examined elsewhere the evidence is inadmissible. Besides the witnesses produced by the Postulator the Judges are bound, under pain of invalidity, to examine independent witnesses, but the duty of calling them is by custom carried out by the Procurator Fiscal or Promoter of the Faith. Then again it is the duty of the Judges to examine any witnesses whom they know to be unfavorable to the cause, in order that the whole truth may be known. They must take all possible care and diligence to see that the witnesses are faithfully examined and that they give their evidence in the vernacular in full length and completeness.

The Acts of each Session must be signed at the end of the Session by the Judges present, otherwise the Session is regarded as null and void.

When the Process is complete the Judges must write to the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation stating what weight in their opinion is to be attached to the evidence. These statements are of very high importance. If they consider the evidence true they must say so in express terms. Should a witness contradict himself the Judges should say whether, in their opinion, the discrepancy was to be attributed to malice or to weakness of memory. They are to make known whether any witness was to be suspected, whether any witness was so rude and uncultivated as to think he could pay homage to the servant of God by exceeding the bounds of truth in his favor. In a word, the Judges should state all the facts which would help to throw additional light on the enquiry. These letters are regarded as official, and they are secretly preserved in Rome with the records of the Process.

Other duties of the Judges will appear in the description of the various Processes. It may be observed here that the Judges are unique in this respect that they are the only officials who receive no payment for their work.


The Fiscal Promoter fills a position of very grave responsibility. He is the agent of the Crown, the representative of ecclesiastical authority And in all Processes for the canonization of saints the Church must be officially represented. But the name of this representative varies in different Processes. When engaged in Episcopal Processes his title is the Fiscal or Fiscal Promoter, and in Apostolic Processes he is officially known as the Promoter of the Faith. His duties both in Episcopal and Apostolic Processes are substantially the same; but, when engaged in a Process constructed by episcopal authority, he is forbidden, by a decree issued in 1893, to assume the title of Promoter of the Faith, this title being confined to those, and those only, who represent the Church in Apostolic Processes. In Episcopal Processes there is, as a rule, only one Promoter Fiscal, who is delegated by the Bishop; but in Apostolic Processes there is a Promoter of the Faith residing in Rome who enjoys and exercises the right to depute two SubPromoters to assist him.

There is perhaps no official connected with causes of canonization so well known to the public as the Promoter Fiscal or Promoter of the Faith. In popular language he is designated the "advocatus diaboli," or "devil's advocate," a name that has passed into current use in most languages, and is frequently applied to a person who adopts a destructive attitude towards any scheme or project. The somewhat frivolous appellation took its origin from a rough method of reasoning. The Postulator of the cause and the Promoter of the Faith are on opposite sides, and hence the Promoter of the Faith came to be regarded as the adversary of the saint. But the prime adversary of saints and of sanctity is the devil, and it was but another step to look upon the Promoter of the Faith as his advocate.

Coming to the important duties of this official, it must not be supposed that his sole occupation is to impede the progress of the cause in which he is engaged. He is a public minister duly appointed by the Church, and the reason of his existence is to ensure that none except those who are worthy will receive religious honor and veneration. In a general way his duties are to see that all the forms of law are carefully observed throughout the course of the Process, to point out any errors or weak points that may appear in the evidence, and raise all possible objections that the whole truth may be discovered and all the facts shown up in their true light. Not only can there be no valid Process without him, but he must be present at every session of the Process, otherwise the session would be null and void, and he has the right to intervene in every single act of the Process.

And, according to the Decrees of Urban VIII. instituting the office of Fiscal Promoter, it is a part of his duties to draw up the Interrogatories and set them in order from the Articles supplied to him by the Postulator of the Cause. The terms "Articles" and "Interrogatories" are of frequent occurrence in works on the canonization of saints, and it may be well to explain their meaning before proceeding further. By the word Articles is meant a simple statement of the facts connected with the life and works of the servant of God which the Postulator of the cause intends to prove before the Process. They correspond with the pleadings in our law courts, and are generally written in Latin; but, in order to be understood, they may be also given in the native language of the witnesses. An example will make the matter clearer.

The Postulator states and intends to prove, regarding the birth, native land, and the early youth of the servant of God, how far it is true that "the servant of God was born in _______ in the diocese of ________ , on the ______ day of the month of _____, in the year ________, of pious and respectable parents, __________________, whose first care was that the infant should be regenerated by the waters of Baptism on the day____________, in the Church of _____________, and should receive the name__________The parents endeavored, with enlightened care, to instill from the cradle into the heart of the child lofty sentiments of piety and religion. At a suitable age the child was strengthened by the Sacrament of Confirmation, and proved responsive to the pious teaching of his parents. All of which will be proved by competent witnesses, who have derived their knowledge from what they have seen or heard; and the same is certain from tradition and reputation, and it is public and notorious." All the Articles are written in a similar manner, and the number varies with the number of acts to be proved, with the virtues, miracles and supernatural gifts of the servant of God. The articles are the foundation of the whole process, and the greatest care must be taken to secure accuracy.

The Interrogatories are the questions upon which the witnesses are to be examined. They are based upon the Articles, and must be drawn up so as to avoid carefully what is known in the legal practice of this country as leading questions, or questions which suggest the answer that is expected. Suggestion is strictly prohibited in criminal causes; and causes of canonization are in this respect on a par with criminal causes. An example of a leading question or suggestion would be"Did the servant of God on such a day [naming the exact time] take a vow of chastity?" "When commanded by his Superior to do such a thing did he give this reply [stating the reply]?" Instead of assuming such forms the questions should be general. For example, did the servant of God take any vows? Was he or she obedient? The Interrogatories are kept carefully closed and sealed by the seal of the Judges, nor should they be ever opened except during the examination, and in presence of the Procurator Fiscal or Promoter of the Faith.

By longestablished custom it belongs to the Procurator Fiscal or Promoter of the Faith to call official witnessesthat is to say, at least two independent witnesses besides those selected by the Postulator of the cause. He also calls hostile witnesses, if any such are known to exist; and both classes of witnesses have to be called under pain of invalidity. Usage has also sanctioned that the Procurator or Promoter should be the examiner of the witnesses in all Processes.

Like the Judges, this official is sworn to the faithful discharge of his duties and the religious observance of secrets. Nor has he satisfied his obligations until the acts of the Process are carefully revised and a faithful copy has been made, which must be compared with the original. The copy is sent to the Congregation, and the original report of the proceedings is sealed and preserved in the Episcopal archives. At the close of the Process the Fiscal Procurator or SubPromoter writes a letter to the chief Promoter of the Faith residing in Rome stating what weight is in his opinion to be attached to the evidence adduced in the course of the enquiry. This letter is afterwards made use of when the Process is opened before the Congregation.


In all Processes for canonization it is absolutely necessary that there should be a Notary. He is appointed by Episcopal or Apostolic authority, according to the nature of the Process; and the office may be filled by a competent layman, provided that he is duly appointed by ecclesiastical authority. In reality there are two Notaries, but the duty of the first is confined to the first session of the Process, and consists in recording that the second was duly elected and took the requisite oath. The term Notary always refers to the second official unless the contrary is clearly indicated.

The duties of this official, who is sometimes called the Actuary, are to write in the Latin language a faithful account of all the acts and minutes of the Process, and to take down with his own hand, under pain of invalidity, all the depositions of witnesses at the dictation of the Judge or Promoter of the Faith. If the evidence presented is documentary he must prepare a copy, which is to be compared with the original, in the presence of the Judge or Fiscal. It belongs to his office to see that all the witnesses sign their depositions, and that the proceedings of each session are signed by the Judges, by, the Fiscal or Promoter, and by himself. The Interrogatories of the Fiscal and the depositions of witnesses are sealed by the Judges and given into the custody of the Actuary. The signature and seal of the Actuary give authenticity to every act of the Process.

This officer is sworn like the others, and it is of the highest importance that his work should be performed with the utmost care. By a special Decree of Pope Clement XII., if the servant of God is a Religious, the Notary, in enquiries regarding his reputation for sanctity of life, can never be taken from the same Order of which the deceased servant was a member. This precaution has been adopted to ensure perfect accuracy and impartiality.


There may be one or more messengers in these courts, and they are expected to execute faithfully the commands of the Judges. Their chief duty is to summon the witnesses, to notify to the Procurator Fiscal or the Promoter, and to the witnesses, the day and hour at which they are to appear before the Tribunal; also to make known to the Judges that these citations have been issued. The office of Messenger in these courts is regarded as honorable, and is often held by clerics or by members of noble families. Messengers are sworn to the loyal discharge of their duties.

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