Do You Know How Many Popes Have Been Canonized?
Approximately one-third of the individuals who succeeded St. Peter have been formally recognized as saints. Out of the 266 popes, including Pope Francis, who have held the position since St. Peter, 82 have achieved universal canonization. It is worth noting that all of the first 35 popes were canonized, with 31 of them being martyrs.
The most recent canonized popes, prior to the canonization of Paul VI, were Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in 2014. Additionally, Pope John Paul I was beatified in 2022, which is one step away from canonization.
Interestingly, out of the 82 canonized popes, only eight have been canonized since the 11th century. It is important to remember that during the first millennium of the Church, there was a lack of formal processes for canonization.
The eight popes canonized since the 11th century are as follows: Pope Benedict IX (#142), Pope Gregory VII (#156), Pope Gregory X (#193), Pope Pius V (#224), Pope Pius X (#256), Pope John XXIII (#260), Pope John Paul II (#264), and Pope Paul VI (#262).
In the early years of the Church, the process for determining sainthood was not as well-defined. However, in 973, Pope Benedict VI canonized Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg, marking the first instance of a person being canonized by a pope. In 1243, Pope Gregory IX affirmed that only the pope possessed the authority to declare someone a saint, a practice that continues to this day. Equivalent canonization, a type of canonization in which the pope confirms devotion to a well-established saint, also exists. Pope Francis recognized Pierre Faber and Pope Benedict XVI recognized Hildegard of Bingen through this process.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law stipulated that the cause for sainthood could not commence until 50 years after the candidate’s death. However, Pope John Paul II reduced this waiting period to five years. In certain cases, such as with the passing of Pope John Paul II, the time frame can be skipped or shortened.
On average, it takes around 180 years for a person to be canonized after their death. Pope St. John Paul II, however, was canonized only nine years after his death.
Let us now explore some of the popes who have been canonized and who have steadfastly protected the Church founded by Christ Himself throughout the centuries.
- Pope #2: St. Linus (67-76) – St. Linus, succeeding only St. Peter, was entrusted with the office by both St. Peter and St. Paul after the establishment of the Christian Church in Rome. The specific responsibilities given to Linus were somewhat unclear due to the ongoing establishment of the Church hierarchy. However, it is known that Linus was martyred and buried near St. Peter. His name is mentioned in the Roman Canon, and St. Paul also references Linus in his Second Epistle to Timothy.
- Pope #3: St. Cletus (76-90) – Also known as Anacletus, Pope St. Cletus is believed to have divided Rome into 25 parishes and ordained an unknown number of priests. He is mentioned in the Roman Canon, and there is no record of his martyrdom. He was buried near his predecessor, Pope St. Linus.
- Pope #4: St. Clement I (88-99) – Born in 35, St. Clement became pope sometime between 88 and 90 and was consecrated by St. Peter himself. St. Paul refers to Clement as a “fellow-worker,” indicating his significant involvement in the early Church’s formation. St. Clement is recognized as the first Apostolic Father, a term for those who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries and learned from the original Twelve Apostles. He wrote extensively about the teachings of St. Peter and St. Paul, including the authority of the Apostles to ordain bishops, which laid the foundation for the Church hierarchy. Clement was martyred by drowning in the year 99.
- Pope #64: St. Gregory I (590-604) – Also known as St. Gregory the Great, he played a crucial role in guiding the papacy during the decline of the Roman Empire. With immense intelligence, deep spirituality, and boundless energy, Gregory set the course for the papacy throughout the Middle Ages. Born into wealth in Rome, he became the city’s prefect but eventually renounced worldly possessions. He used his wealth to establish monasteries, even converting his own palatial home into one. Gregory served as a papal envoy to Constantinople before accepting the position of Pope in 590 due to popular pressure. By the time of his death, he had laid the foundation for medieval Christendom. St. Gregory I is revered as the “Father of Christian Worship” for his significant contributions to revising Roman worship, with Gregorian chant named in his honor. He is recognized as a Doctor of the Church and is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers.