Canonization of saints

Another procedure that added further to the business of the curia and to the prestige and authority of the papacy involved the canonization of saints. Like provisions, the rise of this institution was passive before it was codified as an exclusive power of the apostolic see. Ulrich of Augsburg is often credited as the first saint canonized by the papacy. In 993 Pope John XV declared that his memory should be revered and 'consecrated to divine worship'.11 Ulrich's canonization and other early examples of papal saint-making, such as St Knud of Denmark (1096), did not, however, immediately create a binding precedent. Throughout the twelfth century, local saints continued to be recognized in the old liturgical fashion, by the re-interment of the holy man or woman in the sacred space of the church under the supervision of the bishop, accompanied by the composition of hymns and readings for the new saint's feast. Nevertheless, the popularity of papal approbation grew during this time. While the actual number of canonized saints was never very high in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (on average about one every two or three years starting with Alexander III),12 control of sanctity became an important symbolic monopoly in the pope's jurisdictional arsenal. When exactly a consensus began concerning the papal right to canonize is a matter of debate among legal historians. Alexander III's decretal 'Audivimus' (1171 or 1172) later became the authoritative basis for the claim that 'without the permission of the pope, it is not permitted to venerate anyone as a saint', as Gregory IX declared in the Liber extra of 1234.13 Yet Alexander's letter seems originally to have implied only that a 'saint' of questionable moral standing should not be revered 'without the authority of the Roman church'. Since 'Audivimus' was included in the Compilatio secunda (1210-15), most historians would agree that

11 John XV, Epistolae et privilegia, PL 137, col. 846.

12 According to André Vauchez, Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, trans. Jean Birrell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 25 (canonizations under Alexander III, Clement III and Celestine III) and 61 (for canonizations in the period 1198-1431).

13 Emil Friedberg, ed., Corpus iuris canonici, vol. 2 (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1881), lib. 3, tit. 45, c. 1.

by the time ofInnocent III, canonization was seen as a prerogative of the pope alone.14

In the twelfth century, a variety of tribunals heard evidence of a prospective saint's qualifications, and the final decision might even be handed back to local officials. Under Innocent, a regular procedure for dealing with canonization petitions developed. After an initial request from a local church, often lodged cooperatively by both lay and ecclesiastical leaders, an inquest was authorized by the curia, provided the candidate's case looked promising. Headed by three commissioners, typically including a bishop and a prelate from a regular cloister, frequently in company with the metropolitan, the panel looked into the saint's life (seeking evidence of virtue and, obviously, orthodoxy) and miracles. In proving the latter, it was often necessary to go into graphic detail about the nature of the illnesses and wounds healed by the holy person's intervention, a trait that not infrequently made the resulting dossiers grotesque reading. When the investigation was complete, an account of the vita et miracula was dispatched to Rome, where the final decision would rest with the pope and the cardinals in consistory.

As the process became more systematic, it also became more rigorous. While few petitions were rejected in the twelfth century, of the nearly four dozen processes authorized by Rome from Innocent III to Clement IV, only twenty-three won approval in the end, and six of those were first returned to the local church in need of further evidence.15 Not surprisingly, political concerns played a large role in determining which requests would succeed and which would fail. While sanctity remained a spontaneous communal phenomenon to the extent that papal canonization was only an official recognition of an already existing cult, those cults that were submitted to Rome and that the apostolic see chose to acknowledge tended to come disproportionately from the ranks of the regular religious and their social networks. The rising prominence of saints from Italian cities, for instance, owed much to the papacy's sponsorship of the mendicant orders that inspired these urban holy men and women.16

14 At one extreme, Eric Kemp has argued that Alexander III was already 'quite certain of his right to control the veneration of any new saints' in 1171. See his Canonization and Authority in the Western Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 98-9. On the contrary, Stephan Kuttner, 'La réserve papale du droit de canonisation', Revue historique de droit français et étranger 4.17 (1938), 172-228, asserts that, even after the Compilatio secunda, canonists ignored the juridical possibilities of 'Audivimus'.

15 Vauchez, Sainthood, 52-3, 61.

16 Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M. Bell, Saints and Society: Two Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000-1700 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 168.

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  • Tiana
    What is the audivimus and canonisation?
    8 years ago

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