Saint Vincent’s Reading List LXI: The Reform of Canonization

Urbani VIII … Decreta seruanda in canonizatione, & beatificatione sanctorum : accedunt instructiones, & ceclarationes quas Em et Rev S.R.E. cardinales praesulesque Romanae curiae ad id muneris congregati ex eiusdem summi pontificis mandato condiderunt. Romae, Ex Typographia Reu. Cam. Apost., 1642.

Call Number: SpC. 235.24 C363u1642.

Urbani VIII title page
Urbani VIII … Decreta seruanda in canonizatione, & beatificatione sanctorum…

The decrees of the Council of Trent (1546-1564) ushered in an era of long-delayed and much-needed reform for the Roman Catholic Church. More important than even the council’s own reform decrees, Trent introduced and embedded a spirit of reform in Catholicism and in the papacy. It would be a renewed papacy which, over the decades, would lead and introduce a wide range of disciplinary reforms covering all aspects of the church’s life and mission. Accompanying its staunch theological defense of the veneration of the saints, in the face of Protestant criticisms, the Tridentine papacy also tightened the standards for beatification and canonization and put the whole process firmly under the control of the Roman Pontiff.

In 1587, Pope Sixtus V created the Congregation of Rites and entrusted it with administering the canonization process. In 1634, Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) reformed the entire process. These substantive reforms remained largely in place until 1983 when Pope John Paul II radically revised them. The reforms of Urban VIII made the canonization process long, difficult and expensive. The operating presumption of the church’s juridical process was that the proposed candidate was NOT a saint, and that her/his alleged miracles were not valid. Urban’s reforms thus placed the bar of history and miracles for beatifications and canonizations very high indeed. As a result, canonizations remained relatively rare and occasional events in Tridentine Catholicism, having the intended result of increasing devotion to the saints among the faithful. In the end, the recommendations of the Congregation of Rites, and the consistory of cardinals who received these recommendations, remained advisory to the pope, who always had the final word.

The present volume published in 1642 under the authority of Urban VIII contains the text of the reform decrees along with supplemental instructions and interpretations for the consistory of cardinals.

Vincent de Paul had his own experience with the canonization process, just prior to the Urban VIII reforms. On April 17, 1628, Vincent gave sixteen pages of sworn testimony in support of the cause of his mentor Francis de Sales who had died on December 28, 1622, and who would be canonized in 1665 [1]. Vincent’s own canonization cause from 1697 to 1737 would follow the Urban VIII requirements and process.


[1] DePaul, Vincent, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, (New York: New City Press, 1984-2014), eds., Pierre Coste, C.M., Marie Poole, D.C., eng. Ed. vol. 13a pgs. 80-96.


St. Vincent’s Reading List is a recurring blog series exploring texts known to have been read and recommended by Saint Vincent de Paul, those which can be presumed to have been read by him, and works published during his lifetime (1581-1660) illustrating his world. All materials discussed are held by DePaul University’s John T. Richardson Library. The entire series may be viewed here.

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