The solemn declaration by the Pope that a deceased member of the faithful may be proposed as a model and intercessor to the Christian faithful and venerated as a Saint on the basis of the fact that the person lived a life or heroic virtue or remained faithful to God through martyrdom. The Martyrs were the first to be venerated in the Church as Saints. Martyr means to be a "witness." The Church gave to them to rightful honor for the way they excelled in love of Christ, preferring Him even to their own lives, and for the way they excelled in living a life in imitation of Him.
Heroic virtue is not limited to martyrdom - In fact, living a life of heroic love in an hidden and unspectacular way for many years may be more difficult than to shed ones blood for Christ in an instance.
Therefore the Church began to investigate the lives of those who were known to have lived a heroic life of Christian charity and to then present their lives as a model to be imitated. The first formal Canonization was of St. Ulrich in 993.
Courtesy of: http://www.schooloffaith.com
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