Difference between Nun and Saint (Are They Really Different?)

As a passionate theologian, I take time to examine the many doctrines supported by various Christian denominations. I developed a great interest in the doctrine of sainthood in the Catholic Church. Among the things I wanted to know is who exactly is eligible to become a saint. My curiosity was sparked by the widespread misconception among many Christians who often believe nuns and saints have many similarities. A couple of months back, I visited a Catholic diocese in my hometown, where I engaged the leadership on this subject. The nuns and Catechists there were so friendly and generous with insights. While teaching a theology class on Biblical Sainthood last month, a student asked whether nuns are also considered saints owing to their position in the church and society. Many students attempted to answer the question as expected and shared their opinion on the subject. Having spent a week at the Catholic diocese studying this doctrine, I had a straight answer to this question. So, what is the difference between a nun and a saint?

There is a clear difference between a nun and a saint. While both bear a legacy of special devotion and exemplary service to society, nuns are specifically women who are subject to solemn vows and bear the title while still alive on earth. On the other hand, Saints are believed to be in heaven and receive this canonization only after death.

I invite you to read on and learn more about nuns and saints, their roles in the Catholic Church, and how one can transition into sainthood.

What Is The Difference In Roles Between A Saint And A Nun?

Difference between Nun and Saint
Difference In Roles Between A Saint And A Nun. Image source: Pixabay

Nuns serve humanity and the church in the physical realm. They are real people living in the physical world where people can see and interact with them. Since they are subject to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they spend their lives in enclosed convents and monasteries, from where they dedicate their lives to prayer, reading, and recitation of the scriptures. The nuns pray for the well-being of the church and become emblems of perpetuating God’s will on earth. They act as an extension of God’s love for humanity by serving the community. Nuns offer their knowledge and skills to unpaid service to the community. They help and support those who are truly needy, promote good deeds through charity work, and help the church on welfare matters.

On the contrary, saints are people who are no longer alive. Even though they are dead, they are believed to be in heaven with God by their exemplary life of devotion to God and service to humanity. In their position, they pray and intercede for those Christians who are still alive as well as for those in purgatory. Saints, therefore, offer prayer and guidance to believers but not in the physical realm so that the believers, too, may reach the perfection they were able to attain. They are the perfect role models to believers in perfect Christian living.

Why are saints more important in the Catholic Church than nuns?

Saints are considered to be in heaven, a place of perfection away from the temptations and tribulations of the physical world. They are, therefore, at a place where even the nuns aspire to attain. Saints are considered heroes of the Christian faith since they were able to overcome the challenges of the physical realm, pleased God, and somehow attained perfection, which earned them a place in heaven where God is. The prayers of the saints for the church are considered much more effective, holy, and acceptable to God. Their guidance for the believers is also counted as divine and perfect. While nuns also commit to praying for the church, they are also subject to the battles of the flesh and are striving to reach the perfection which the saints have already attained.

Can a nun be considered a saint?

A nun cannot be considered a saint since the designation of a nun exists only in the physical realm, that is, while they are still alive here on earth, as opposed to sainthood, which is for the afterlife. The New Testament in Acts 9:13 introduces a wider context of sainthood. Nuns can fall under the category of saints since the context here refers to the entire body of believers. However, the Catholic doctrine has a more specific context of sainthood which refers to people who have been canonized and presented to the universal church as people worthy of honor on account of their exemplary heroic life of faith and impact before they died.

In their mortal bodies, therefore, nuns cannot be considered saints but can merit canonization into sainthood when they die.

Are there any living saints in the Catholic Church today?

There are no living saints in the Catholic Church today. According to the catholic doctrine, the process of canonization of a believer into sainthood begins sometime after they have died. All saints are believed to be in heaven with God and earned the right to be there by their victorious life of faith while here on earth. Those who are still alive can only aspire to attain sainthood after death and therefore dedicate their lives to doing God’s will through praying for the church, serving humanity, and doing their best to overcome sin. When they die in this state, they may be considered for canonization into sainthood.

How Can A Nun Become A Saint?

Difference between Nun and Saint
How Can A Nun Become A Saint? Image source: Pixabay

The Catholic doctrine stipulates a process through which any believer can be canonized to become a saint after they die, nuns included. For one to be considered for this extensive process, they must first have demonstrated exemplary Christian life. This can be through their dedicated life of prayer, active service to the community, dedicating their wealth to helping the poor, promoting good deeds in society, and quashing evil.

The process of beatification for any person deemed worthy of canonization is initiated by the Bishop of the particular diocese in which the nun served. This is done five years after death. The Bishop is responsible for all the processes at this diocesan investigation stage, after which he passes over to the next stage done by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This body conducts further investigation and proofing of the person’s works, after which beatification is done. If every detail is confirmed, the Pope completes the canonization process and declares the nun a saint.

Do You Have To Be Dead To Become A Saint?

Yes, one must be dead for them to become a saint. A person who is still alive on earth is considered subject to the weaknesses of the flesh and the temptation to sin, which they are battling to overcome and fulfill the will of God. After committing their lives to exemplary service to God and humanity and dying while doing so, they merit becoming saints. Sainthood is a state beyond the physical world where perfection is considered to have been attained. This perfection cannot be attained in the mortal body and flesh. Hence, one must die to become a saint.

The Catholic doctrine also considers the canonization process only for a person who has died. This can, therefore, not be done for a believer who is still alive.

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