Saints who died for their faith met the ultimate test of love in following Christ.
Saints are "Holy people, a title for all God's people but applied in some contexts to a small group seen as the most dedicated ones," according to The Holman Bible Dictionary.
All the followers of Jesus were referred to as saints during the earliest formation of the church.
In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul exhorted Christians to observe the examples of those who demonstrated great faithfulness in following Christ and advised them to imitate those models of behavior and devotion.
As Roman persecution produced more martyrs, Christians began in their prayers to seek intercession of the martyrs before God. Their petition was that they would have strength to imitate the martyrs in their complete devotion to God.
"St. Peter" depicts one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. Tradition has it that Peter became the first bishop of Rome and was martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero about 54-68. Historical documents record that Peter was crucified.
The Book of Revelation, written to encourage the suffering, persecuted church, uses the word saints 13 times, more often than anywhere else in the New Testament.
As faithful witnesses for Jesus, saints name Christ as Lord over all in Revelation.
In the Gospels, the only reference to saints is found in Matthew 27:52, which tells that at the Crucifixion, the dead saints are resurrected.
Other references include Romans 8:27, "Now he who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God."
No one knows whose images are depicted in this fresco, "Six Saints," which was found in Sant'Agnese fuori le Muri (St. Agnes outside the Walls Church) in Rome.
The emphasis on holiness begins in the Hebrew Bible where "Holiness is clearly portrayed as an encounter with the living God which results in a holiness of lifestyle (Isaiah 6)," according to Holman. "So holiness is more than a one-time separating and uniting activity. It is a way of life. 'Ye shall be holy: for I am holy,' (Leviticus 19:2). Saints are people who try to live holy lives (Daniel 7:18-28)."
Holman adds, "Little wonder then that the early church considered witnesses who were martyred for their testimonies to be saints. In fact, soon these saints were accorded special honor and then even worship. Unfortunately, the term saints came to be applied only to such special people."
An example of an early Christian saint is Romanus, a Roman who is identified as one of three people who were martyred along with St. Lawrence. The date of martyrdom is Aug. 10, 258, according to Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia.
"There is no reason to doubt that this mention rests upon a genuine ancient tradition," the reference book notes.
This deacon, possibly St. Lawrence, was an early church martyr who died Aug. 10, 258, in Rome.
"In the purely legendary 'Acts of St. Lawrence,' the ostiary (porter) Romanus is transformed into a soldier."
The grave of St. Romanus is mentioned in seventh-century writings. Also, in 303 or 304, a deacon called Romanus of Caesarea in Palestine was martyred at Antioch.
Deacon Romanus openly called for Christians to stand firm in the faith rather than obey the edict of Emperor Diocletian to offer sacrifices to Roman gods.
He was tortured in various ways in prison, including having his tongue cut out. Finally, he was strangled. Some historians believe there were two martyrs named Romanus at Antioch. Others believe the only Romanus is the one mentioned by the church father Eusebius in "De martyribus Palestin," (The Martyrs of Palestine).
This fresco of two unknown holy men under elaborate bordered arches was found in Sant'Agnese fuori le Muri (St. Agnes outside the Walls Church) in Rome.
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, near the end of the great Roman persecutions, the veneration of saints which had been reserved for martyrs was extended to survivors who had defended and suffered for the faith.
Soon, the veneration "was extended to those who had been outstanding for their exemplary Christian life, especially in austerity and penitence, as well as to those who excelled in Catholic doctrine (doctors), in apostolic zeal (bishops and missionaries), or in charity and the evangelical spirit. ..."
A person's holiness or sainthood was determined in the early church by the extent of his or her celebrity among the people.
A new saint|
Bishop Placido Rodriguez, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lubbock, will go to Mexico July 30-31 for the canonization of Juan Diego by Pope John Paul II.
About 3 million people are expected to attend the Mass in Mexico City.
Juan Diego, a poor, Indian man, is said to have encountered a vision of the Virgin Mary on the Hill of Tepeyac as he was on his way Dec. 9, 1531, to attend Mass. The dark-skinned apparition is known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is the patron saint of Mexico.
The Miracle of Guadalupe was recognized officially by the Vatican in 1745. A large new basilica was dedicated in 1976 at the site of Juan Diego's vision.
Gradually, the church intervened, giving authority to the bishop to decide who qualified for sainthood. Still, the people played a major role in bringing candidates to the bishop's attention.
In the Roman Catholic Church today, a person is decreed a saint only by the pope. The Vatican has a department devoted to exhaustive investigation of those proposed for sainthood. Its charge is to determine if the proposed saint's life and actions merit the designation. Canonization is irrevocable.
The first documentation of the transition from episcopal to papal canonization is that of St. Udalricus in 972. Then, in 1234, under Pope Gregory IX, papal canonization became the only legitimate form for the naming of saints.
As the Roman Catholic Church further developed the process of canonizing saints, it set procedures of investigation into the saint's life and miracles.
However, the Roman Catholic Church regards all those in heaven as saints, not just those canonized.