The Holy Catholic Church has always been accused of creating saints when she, through the Pope, is infallibly canonizing holy man and/or woman who are believed to be in Heaven enjoying the beatific vision of God. For the anti-Catholics, the Church has no authority to create saints since the Holy Bible is clear that those who are called saints are not the ones proclaimed by the Holy See but all those who are set apart for Christ (technically, all Christians), misinterpreting 1 Corinthians 1:2. However, does the Catholic Church really create saints during the canonization?
Prior to 13th century AD, the Holy Catholic Church did not have any formal process for canonization. Usually martyrs and those known to have lived a righteous life were recognized “saints” by the early church at the time of their deaths and is commonly done by acclaimation. The tombs of martyrs were marked and kept as places for veneration and the anniversaries of their deaths were remembered by enlisting them on the local Church calendar. However, after the legalization of Christianity in AD 313 by the late Roman Emperor Constantine I, basilicas and shrines were started to be built over their tombs. As time went on, the Church saw the need to tighten the canonization process as sometimes figures of legends were honored as saints in some local Christian communities. Therefore, in the year AD 1234, the late Pope Gregory IX established procedures to investigate the life of a candidate saint and any attributed miracles to ensure the authenticity and preservation of the deposit of faith. In AD 1588, the late Pope Sixtus V entrusted the Congregation of Rites (later named the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints) to oversee the entire process. Beginning with Pope Urban VIII in AD 1634, various popes have revised and improved the norms and procedures for canonization (Edited from Saunders, Rev. William. “The Process of Becoming a Saint.” Arlington Catholic Herald.)
Hence, the term canonization came from the root word “canon” that was derived from the Greek word “kanon” meaning a “standard or measuring rod“; thus, only applying this standard of holiness of life to certain Catholics who lived exemplary Christian lives which can only be attested that they are indeed in Heaven by means of performance of miracles through their intercession.
That is why, when the Pope pronounced the decree of canonization, he is NOT creating saints as what the Church is being accused of; rather, he is only, with guidance of the Holy Spirit, recognizing and enrolling them to the calendar of those who are worthy to be honored, venerated, remembered, and imitated as true heroes of authentic Christian faith. With the following words, the the pope decrees:
“In honor of the Blessed and Undivided Trinity, for the uplifting of Catholic faith and the increase of Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and that of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and our own, after careful deliberation, having called frequently upon God’s help, and with the advice of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define Blessed N to be a Saint, and we inscribe his name in the catalogue of the Saints, ordaining that, throughout the universal Church, he be devoutly honored among the Saints. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
INDEED, such declaration and definition does not equate to creation or making of a saint. It only shows that the Church, through a lengthy process of prayer and study, has recognized the holiness of the individual and finally adding him/her to the list of those worthy of homage. It is God Himself who made everyone saints as written in Colossians 1:12 — “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” — and it is the same God Who gave His Church the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19) with the guidance of the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13) for He will never leave her until the end of times (Matthew 28:20).
By the way, the Church never rejects the truth that those who are set apart for Christ are called saints for they are indeed sanctified by the Holy Spirit when they were baptized making them members of the Church, His Body. However, 1 Corinthians 1:2 does not either reject the authority of the Church to formally recognize her departed members who needed to be set as examples for her living members on how to truly follow the Lord. In fact, one’s membership to the Church does not automatically make him qualified for beatific vision but only by responding to the call of God to be perfect as the Father is perfect. Those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus are called to be saints, asked to holiness, and invited to perfection.