Dear Matthew Alice: Are there any saints in the Bible? I don’t recall reading about Saint Abraham or Saint Lot. A Catholic friend said that Peter was the first pope and thus the first person who could decide someone was a saint. Does that mean there are no saints before him? Does a person get picked to be a saint by committee, like in the primaries, or does the pope decide by himself? — Kate in P.B.
In the Old Testament, all the pious or godly are called saints (hasid); the New Testament’s saints are any baptized believers in Christ (hagioi). During the First Century, cults of worship evolved around people who were considered especially Christ-like, particularly martyrs; so until the Tenth Century, sainthood was conferred by consensus, not papal decree. There were more than 20,000 popular saints by that time, including some biblical figures. At that point, the Church decided some control was needed and the pope would designate saints. Pope John XV declared the first in 933, Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg. Since then, the Church has made the qualifications for official sainthood more stringent and set up a bureaucracy of committees to review petitions. By the time the candidate’s name makes it to the pope’s desk, it’s pretty much a done deal.