In order to understand at best what a canonisation case is, we need to look at the history of
canonisation back to the origin of the Church. Then at a second stage, we’ll have a look at
how it works nowadays.
I. A bit of history
1. The three first centuries
All the Saints were martyrs from the persecution. In the year 312, Constantin
becomes emperor of Rome and the Edict of Milano grants the freedom of the Cult
to the Christians… consequently, there are no more martyrs. The Church pays a
solemn cult to the martyrs and local churches hold registers with names and burial
places: martyrologies will be the only legal witness of the canonisation of
2. From 5th to 10th centuries
Without shedding their blood, Christians stand out in firmly defending their faith,
“confessing their faith” through the sanctity of their life. The Church then
- the martyrs who shed their blood to witness to their faith,
- the “confessors” who witness to their faith through the sanctity of their life.
During this long period of 5 centuries, there is no real canonical trial declaring
What was important was “vox populi” (voice of the people). And what was
- “Fama sanctitatis” (reputation of sanctity), acknowledgement of a miracle or of
- presentation of a biography to the Bishop / the Synod / Religious Superior…
pointing out especially the miracles that were attributed to them,
- approval of the Cult (transfer of relics) by the Bishop / Synod… dedication of
a church and of a day to celebrate the anniversary of the death (dies natalis)
“the Pope does not intervene because of his authority but as a person”
But the certainty of the sanctity of the canonised person being not always granted, the Pope
reacted: INNOCENT IV intervenes and gives the 1st ever definition for canonisation.
“Canonisation consists in stating canonically and regularly that this Lord’s servant
be honoured as a saint.” 1243
3. From 12th to 17th centuries: Urbain VIII
A stricter procedure is set up. What was required was:
- a more critical investigation with witnesses to be under oath… conferred to 1
then 3 cardinals… then to a Congregation for the Rituals, then for the Cases of the
- Gregory IX, who was the friend of St. Francis of Assisi sets up a trial prior to
URBANUS VIII writes a Motu Proprio of 63 pages “Sanctitas Clarior”.
- a proof that there is no cult as yet
- investigation on the writings, the faith and the morals
- obligation to cross-examine the witnesses
BENEDICT XIV makes up a synthesis under title: “De Servorum Dei Beatificazione et
Beatorum canonizazione” (Beatification of the Servants of the Lord, and Canonisation of the
Blessed”. This synthesis is taken up in CDC (Canon Law) of 1917: Investigation on tha
writings and analysis, trial on the fama sanctitatis, life and virtues of the martyr, trial on the
absence of former cult and examination of the case by the Congregation for the Rituals.
4. From the CDC to today
Along the years, the procedure was simplified to come to the current procedure which takes
place in two steps
1. The Diocesan step
2. The Roman step
1. The Diocesan step
Usually in the diocese where the SD died… It is a real trial legally set up in front of a
court: Judge, promoter of justice, actors (acting parties), and notary. The trial is said
valid, when the rules are strictly followed.
The goal: to come to the moral certainty of the heroic living out of cardinal and
theological virtues and vows for a religious of the SD… but only the Pope inspired by
the Holy Spirit will convert it into authentic certainty. The final conclusion happens
under the formulation of a doubt: “An Constet? …” The doubt is lifted by the vote of
II. The Practice
During the diocesan step… under the form of questions.
1. Who may be candidate?
Any catholic person who dies in the odour of sanctity and fulfils 3 conditions
- Fama sanctitatis
- Moral and theological virtues at a heroic level
- Lack of insurmountable obstacle
2. When to start?
- between 5 and 30 years after the death
- why 5 years : danger of enthusiasm…
- after 30 years, there might be a danger of “fraud or wilful misrepresentation”
- Recent and ancient cases
3. Who “starts”?
- a physical or legal person who requests it to the Bishop… this person is called
“the ACTOR”. Immense work especially as to what concerns the search for
- The task is conferred to a POSTULATOR appointed by the ACTOR and
approved by the Bishop.
- He must write a biography of the SD and officially requests for the opening of
the case. BRIEF.
- He has to introduce EYEWITNESSES. There are no longer any of them for Fr.
Chevalier… therefore we may refer exclusively on documents.
4. How must the Bishop start?
- Refer to the Bishops of the Region
- Inform the faithful of the Postulator’s request and ask for their opinion
(religious week in Bourges)
- Appoint two theologians critics for the faith and the morals
- Appoint two historians/archivists experts
- Reauest for the Nihil Obstat of Rome who needs to investigate around the
This is where we stand as of today for P. Chevalier
Once all this is accomplished, it fits to move ahead to the opening of the trial.