Saints 101: How Many Saints Are There?

Let’s first begin by re-phrasing the question: How many holy men and woman are recognized by the Catholic Church as saints? Because the answer to the first cannot really be known—the Catholic Church makes no claims that its list of saints is an exhaustive one. Certainly, there are numerous holy men and women who were, or rather are, saints, but whose status as such is not known, or, at least, not known now.

But there is no easy answer to the second question either.

Turning to Google—the obvious starting point for such an inquiry in the digital age—you’ll find an independent Catholic media site, http://saints.sqpn.com, which puts the total at 8,050. But that tally includes saints as well as blesseds and venerables and excludes servants of God, so it’s not very helpful. Plus the site does not explain how it calculated that number. (My e-mail inquiry to the author asking for documentation of how he arrived at his count never received a response.) Another Catholic outlet, St. Anthony Messenger, raises the question, but ultimately concludes there is no answer.

The first comprehensive listing which I have been able to uncover is a seventeenth century publication known as the Acta Sanctorum, or Acts of the Saints, which originated in Belgium and is affiliated with the Jesuits. So far, I have yet to see a count though.

Next, there Butler’s Lives of the Saints marked 1,486 entries when it was first published in the 1750s (and cited in St. Anthony Messenger). More recently, the Oxford Dictionary of Saints currently has 1,700 entries, but this is not necessarily limited to saints proper or to saints recognized in the Catholic Church, as opposed to saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Furthermore, none of these is an authoritative Church document, so take them with a grain of salt.

So we turn elsewhere, to official Church sources.

And we immediately run into a big problem. In the first eight or nine centuries, there was no centralized process for canonization of a saint. Instead, sainthood depended upon popular affirmation or “spontaneous local attribution.” It wasn’t until 993 that a pope canonized the first saint. And it wasn’t until about six hundred years later that the process was truly centralized into a formal process, when Pope Sixtus V established the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1588.

In 1988, the Congregation published the Index ac status Causarum, an authoritative listing of all saints recognized as such in its 400 years of operation. The total: 285. (Good luck finding this document online and if you do, you need to know Latin.)

That excludes any canonizations under Pope John Paul II.

So now, we must find how many total canonizations there were under John Paul II and how many to date under Benedict XVI. My above source for the count in the Index ac status Causarum is from a USCCB document which is dated around 2000, so we must look elsewhere for the total count for John Paul II.

For John Paul II the total, courtesy of EWTN, is 480.

For Pope Benedict XVI the tally, as of this month, is: 45. (According to this Catholic reference site. The ones this month were announced on October 21.)

THE GRAND TOTAL: 810.*

*Now, that’s an ‘at least’ number, but at least it’s something you can hang your hat on.

Some may wish to add the number canonized by popes since the first papal canonization in 993. That would bring the total to: 921. (Source here.) That’s only a probable total, since some are disputed.

Beyond that, things get murkier.

NOTE TO READERS: This is a first installment of a four-part series on saints basics, or “Saints 101” to commemorate All Saints Day.

Coming up next: What is the process for canonization?

Stephen Beale

By

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • TP

    Shouldn’t saints who are recognized in the canon of the Mass count as well?

  • TP

    And saints who are given memorials or optional memorials in the Church’s liturgical calendar would seem to be “official” as well.

  • Fr Edmund Castronovo

    The simplest and most authoritative way to determine the saints who are recognized

    by the Church, whether papally canonized or not, is to count the entries in the

    Martyrologium Romanum. This is an index of all the saints and blesseds who

    cult is recognized by the Church. It is not difficult to find, and was published in
    2001, and updated since then.
    . A very reliable and “official” resource, published by the Vatican

    Polyglot Press.

  • http://wasteyourtime.mtgames.org/ Scaevola

    I had always wondered about this. Thanks!

  • http://wasteyourtime.mtgames.org/ Scaevola

    Thanks for this. Curiosity sated.

  • GraceMary

    Thanks for the great info!

  • TP

    Thanks!

  • Francisco Garay

    I am really grateful for all the information.

  • Kyle Nguyen

    I love saints!

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