Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Saints and Popes

With the canonisations of Pope John XXIII and John Paul II almost upon us, it is worth considering the obvious change in the nature of 'Sainthood', especially in recent years.

At one time hagiographies were for the most part brief and to the point, excelling in the supernatural, dotted regularly with the miraculous both in the saint's life and maybe more importantly after the saints death. St Thomas of Canterbury is an obvious example of a rather irascible divisive bishop, who was vindicated by his post-mortem miracles. Nowadays miracles don't seem important, some have suggested they should be dispensed with altogether, Pope John is being Canonised with only one to his name. Pope Francis has like his predecessors canonised people simply by decree, without cultus or any signs of the supernatural. Some modern miracles for example the deliverance of the American deacon of back problems as in the case of Blessed John Henry Newman have surprised even the postulators of the cause and really do seem somewhat 'thin'. In the world of the rational the supernatural becomes an embarrassment to many, even in the Church.

There are 20th Century saints like St Charbel and Padre Pio where the miraculous and the supernatural abound, where the cultus is so strong, and the popular demand for their canonisation would mean that in whatever age they would be raised to the altar, and even if they hadn't been they would be 'canonised' and their intercession sought by popular acclamation.

Pope John Paul canonised more saints than all the other Pope's in history, it was part of his sense that today holiness still exists and that holiness is available to everyone, it is very much the fruit of VII and modern spiritual movements like Opus Dei. It was almost as if every foreign trip involved the Beatification or Canonisation of a new tranche of Martyrs hardly heard of outside of their homeland or some obscure Mother Superior.

Benedict clarified the distinction between Blesseds and Saints, somewhat, the former  having a local cultus, the latter a universal one, still it seems as if many of those 'formally listed' as Saints -that is what Canonisation means, or Beati, really have little of a cult, an interest in their literary works, even the dedication of institutions constitutes honouring their memory but hardly dulia, in the religious sense of previous age, which seemed to see saints above all as powerful intercessors with God. Of the three ancient requirements:: 1) an outstanding example of Christian living, 2) a life in which grace is manifest, and 3) signs that the prospective saint's intercession is heard, the 3rd, intercession seems to have been lost as a necessity for canonisation. Those critical of the Canonisation of the these two Popes, in fact those who are anxious about the canonisation of most of the 20th century Popes, suggest that it is a way of canonising a political idea rather than people.

The old debate about whether Canonisation is infallible or not I suspect has lost its edge, in the past it was ultimately about whether and individual was in Heaven or not, now everyone goes to heaven, the process has been stripped of the supernatural element, Aquinas is often quoted, but he says, “Because the honour which we show to the saints is a certain profession of faith by which we believe in the glory of the saints, it should be devoutly believed that not even in these matters can the judgement of the Church err,” the 'err' here is not the same as the Church erring in the same sense as its teaching on doctrine. What St Thomas seems to be suggesting that we respectfully acquiesce, more for the sake of unity than anything else.

Fr Faber, who could fairly be described as an Ultramontane  in "An Essay on Beatification, Canonization, and the Processes of the Congregation of Rites" written in 1848, in the build up to VI suggests Aquinas thought Canonisation was more a pious belief rather than an inerrant act. Faber also is at pains to say the Church has never defined what it means when someone is Canonised. It is worth noting that VI seems to deliberately limit infallibility to faith and morals, and purposely avoided including the canonisation process.

The modern process of Canonisation seems more a political, a way of capturing history, rather than a declaration of something supernatural, more about the canonisation of ideas, rather than the declaration of outstanding holiness.

Around which modern Pope have Angels gathered to avert plague, which has levitated during Mass or bilocated for some pastoral errand, how many have been stigmatics, whose corpse has smelt of roses or remained incorrupt, who has appeared to countless members of the faithful after death or brought consolation to imprisoned or appeared physically on the battlefield?

6 comments:

Jacobi said...

I have no difficulty in accepting that John XXIII and John Paul II and any other popes in line for canonisation are, along with my younger brother Michael, who died baptised aged six months, saints in heaven.

That should not in any way cause us then to deny their faults - except for Michael, of course!

The last five decades have been a period of critical decline and confusion in the Catholic Church which frankly shows little sign of recovery let alone of recognition of that decline.

Now the idea that the captain of the ship takes responsibility is still generally held, as we have seen recently? On that basis, it would be wrong and counterproductive for us to turn a blind eye to their faults, or worse still, imply that they could not have any?

credidi propter quod locutus sum said...

There is a radical difference between someone who is in heaven and someone who is canonisable.
the one is subjective, down to the individuals mirroring of God's holiness, the other is Objective, an example to the universal catholic church.
In a canonisation process, Only the exterior acts of an individual can be judged.
In the case of JP II, we have an extraordinary devotion to Our Lady, a very prayerful man, but these two facts cannot be used as the unique basis for canonisation because they are interior not exterior acts. The Process is then dependent on the exterior acts of JP II Pontificate which are for some of them public dissentions from the universal teachings of the Catholic Church.
As a fact, I can state that JP II canonisation is invalid, but unfortunately how to prove that will require a greater deepening of ecclesiology. The Canonisation as far as can be told depends on the Pontiff not on the canonisation process.

M. Prodigal said...

I am reading that Pope Paul VI is to be beatified this October. There is a possible 'miracle' of an unborn child with a 'risk' of a problem who was born normal. That is not much of a miracle. And I have never heard of a cult of devotion for him. Holy Popes before VII are not canonized but these ones since seem a shoo-in.

Jane said...

JP11 surely was an example of `outstanding Christian living` - even before the papacy, he was known for his depth of prayer, his energy on behalf of youth, his outstanding intellect put at the service of the Church.

Grace was surely manifest in his life: didn`t Our Lady herself save him from assassination? He played his part in the downfall of communism, he honoured the family and the unborn, the elderly, the sick, youth and Mercy.

The miracles are there to prove that his intercession is effective.

How can his canonisation be invalid?

The odd thing is the dual canonisation -as if to dilute or distribute what will be an outpouring of love for JP11 by hid compatriots and those who were part of `Generation JP11` - the WYDers and the vigilers in St. Peter`s Square as he lay dying in the Papal apartment.

Joe Potillor said...

I still don't think enough time has passed to objectively measure the lives of either Paul Vi or especially JPII. There's something lost in typical Roman sobriety not being followed.

JARay said...

Well I have a number of relatives whom I invoke in my prayers because I feel sure that they are in heaven. I knew them, of course, and I know what kind of lives they led. They have now been dead for several years and I strongly suspect that they will each have served their times in Purgatory. They each received the Last Sacrament before death and, so far as I know, they died in a state of grace. So, I have judged that they can be invoked by me in my prayers!