Saturday, 6 July 2013

Canonising Vatican II?

The other news out of Rome yesterday is the Pope's decision to canonise both Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.

Status of the causes

We are not quite there yet - it is not the approval of miracles that is crucial, but rather the promulgation of the decree regarding the public ecclesiastical veneration of the individuals concerned (note some of the reports say he has actually 'signed the decree', but its not clear exactly what he has signed - from the reading of the text it sounds more like an approval of the miracle and to go to the next step of holding a consistory).

So to take an extremely unlikely scenario, if Pope Francis were to die before the actual ceremony, assuming he hasn't actually signed the formal decree yet, the next Pope would have to decide whether or not to proceed.

Is canonisation infallible?

While traditionalists may well be tempted to join the liberals and scream 'creeping infallibility' on this one, I'm afraid the pre-Vatican II consensus of theologians is pretty clear cut on this (**And on this, rather than join the predictable histrionics over at Rorate Caeli's combox, enjoy this rather clearheaded analysis of the reasons why this is bad decision-making, and a dissection of the spin from John Allen and others, over at Heresy Corner).

But the more crucial issue is perhaps just what this implies.  The old Catholic Encyclopaedia, for example, argues that it probably is an infallible decision:

"Is the pope infallible in issuing a decree of canonization? Most theologians answer in the affirmative. It is the opinion of St. Antoninus, Melchior Cano, Suarez, Bellarmine, Bañez, Vasquez, and, among the canonists, of Gonzales Tellez, Fagnanus, Schmalzgrüber, Barbosa, Reiffenstül, Covarruvias (Variar. resol., I, x, no 13), Albitius (De Inconstantiâ in fide, xi, no 205), Petra (Comm. in Const. Apost., I, in notes to Const. I, Alex., III, no 17 sqq.), Joannes a S. Thomâ (on II-II, Q. I, disp. 9, a. 2), Silvester (Summa, s.v. Canonizatio), Del Bene (De Officio Inquisit. II, dub. 253), and many others. In Quodlib. IX, a. 16, St. Thomas says: "Since the honour we pay the saints is in a certain sense a profession of faith, i.e., a belief in the glory of the Saints [quâ sanctorum gloriam credimus] we must piously believe that in this matter also the judgment of the Church is not liable to error." These words of St. Thomas, as is evident from the authorities just cited, all favouring a positive infallibility, have been interpreted by his school in favour of papal infallibility in the matter of canonization, and this interpretation is supported by several other passages in the same Quodlibet...."

What does infallibility mean in this case though?  The entry continues:

"This infallibility, however according to the holy doctor, is only a point of pious belief. Theologians generally agree as to the fact of papal infallibility in this matter of canonization, but disagree as to the quality of certitude due to a papal decree in such matter. In the opinion of some it is of faith (Arriaga, De fide, disp. 9, p. 5, no 27); others hold that to refuse assent to such a judgment of the Holy See would be both impious and rash, as Francisco Suárez (De fide, disp. 5 p. 8, no 8); many more (and this is the general view) hold such a pronouncement to be theologically certain, not being of Divine Faith as its purport has not been immediately revealed, nor of ecclesiastical Faith as having thus far not been defined by the Church.

The Encyclopaedia argues that the decree says nothing about the 'heroic virtues' of the saint, just attests that they are in fact in heaven:

What is the object of this infallible judgment of the pope? Does he define that the person canonized is in heaven or only that he has practiced Christian virtues in an heroic degree? I have never seen this question discussed; my own opinion is that nothing else is defined than that the person canonized is in heaven. The formula used in the act of canonization has nothing more than this:

"In honour of . . . we decree and define that Blessed N. is a Saint, and we inscribe his name in the catalogue of saints, and order that his memory by devoutly and piously celebrated yearly on the . . . day of . . . his feast."

You can find a more recent opinions on this subject essentially saying the same thing here and here.

Canonising Vatican II?

Decisions to canonise or delay the canonisation of saints are inevitably political, and Fr Z argues that this is one is about sending a message that Vatican II is here to stay.


But while we are bound to accept the Popes decision on the sainthood of these two Popes, we are not bound to accept any of the hoopla around them.

Saints are human: many sinned, but distinguished themselves by picking themselves up again; many made bad prudential decisions.

We are all permitted, within the specified limits, to focus on those saints whose lives aid us, and ignore those who don't!

All the same, this business of canonising pretty much every Pope who holds the Office is a peculiar one.  The modern enthusiasm is for canonising lay saints who provide models closer to those of the ordinary faithful to emulate - how do Popes fit that model?!  Is this not a manifestation of clericalism?

And a particularly strange one for a Pope who generally disdains the title and trappings that point to the Office rather than the man, and instead signed his first encyclical simply 'Franciscus', dropping the usual 'PP'!


A Canberra Observer said...

unseemly haste.
and if actually to canonise *that* council, then foolhardy, in my unlearned opinion.
And with JPII we get a canonisation of whole bunch of dubious praxis and rupture decisions. female servers, Assissi etc

Kate Edwards said...


JPII's decision to abolish the devil's advocate to ensure the case against canonisation was properly explored, and to put huge resources into pumping out more saints, has been a disaster.

And as for approving JXXIII without even an attested miracle?!

Anonymous said...

The canonizations-as-infallible viewpoint makes very little sense to me for several reasons. Let me see if I can toss them out in a succinct manner.

First, for a bulk of the Church's history, canonization was not a formal process ratified by the Popes. Cults of saints typically originated locally and, over the course of decades (or centuries), became established in the regions of the world. Perhaps one could argue that some (though surely not all) of these "localized canonizations" received an implicit stamp of infallibility when certain Saints were, for instance, elevated to the universal liturgical calendar of the Roman Church, but that only accounts for a handful of Saints. Also, the universal calendar only attained a high level of prestige after the Council of Trent; most calendars in use were heavily localized throughout the Christian West.

Second, the Christian East, including the Eastern churches in communion with Rome, still embrace a very decentralized process of canonizing Saints. Moreover, many of the Eastern Catholic churches, particularly those which came over centuries after the Great Schism, have freely "imported" Saints which were always foreign to the West and without any explicit Papal approval. Are these "infallibly" Saints or just "assumed" Saints? Is St. Seraphim of Saraov, who is highly venerated among the Russian Orthodox and Slavic Catholics, and yet was never formally connected to the Catholic Church a "real Saint"? A "possible Saints"? Maybe...maybe not?

Third, with the change in praxis for canonization, there is a compelling argument to be made that such decrees are no longer infallible.

Kate Edwards said...

Good points Modestinus, and I'd really like to agree.

But the counter argument I think is that one has to distinguish between saints approved for veneration by the universal church (ie canonised, not just beatified), and locally approved cults.

I think the argument goes like this: the Church has always allowed local cults to flourish on the basis that the approval of local authorities was permissive rather than prescriptive - that is, it suggests that regarding them as a saint won't do any harm, even if it isn't necessarily true.

Once they are formally canonised however or recognised in the universal calendar of the Church, a step further has been taken.

A nice example of this was St Hildegarde of Bingen, whose sanctity was formally recognised by Pope Benedict last year when he declared her a doctor of the Church - she had long appeared in Benedictine and local calendars, but never formally recognised in the universal calendar.

And in terms of those early saints imported into the calendar, hasn't there in fact been a fairly deliberate process around those saints in the universal calendar and the martyrology, courtesy of the work of the Bollandists et al (and of course think of the massive cull done in the 1970 calendar!)?

And as for the praxis, yes it seems poor indeed and far short of the kind of scrutiny you'd want to see for something infallible. But there is a substantial Congregation of the Vatican devoted to the whole process....

Bear said...

There are several problems that I have with the assertion that canonisation of saints is infallible. Firstly, whether a particular person has been saved doesn't seem to be a matter of faith or morals (exclude all discussion of BVM in this). Is it really part of the Catholic faith that St Francis of Assisi is a saint? Where is this in public revelation?

Secondly, what about those saints listed in the canon who did not exist - for example St Catherine of Alexandria. She was removed because she did not exist and then put back in for distinctly Husserlian reasons. So can we really argue that the process is infallible if non-existent people can be canonised?

Bear said...

I certainly agree with you about canonising each Pope for being the Pope.

There is a similar trend of declaring the Pope's favourite spiritual writer to be "Doctor of the Church".

Kate Edwards said...

Bear - Catherine and other saints were victims of modernist historians who rejected the validity of oral traditions in the Church, particularly when they attested to the supernatural. It was a school of thought that also claimed St Benedict didn't exist, miracles could not be true so ipso facto the stories were false, and was also responsible for all that falsely based antiquarianism in the novus ordo. It is school of history that has repeatedly been proved wrong.

Carl Grillo said...

Carl Grillo: The solemn canonization of Saints is an infallible decree of the Roman Pontiff; not regarding a matter of faith (de fide), but regarding a matter connected with the faith. Solemn Caononization does not simply mean that such a person is among the Blessed (or in Heaven); this is Beatification, which is non-infallible and merely prudential. It means that they practiced the theological and moral virtues to an heroic degree.

See Doctrinal Commentary on "Ad tuendam fidem:" "With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations." cf. SCDF, 1998).

See also: Mgr. G. Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology 2: Christ's Church Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1957; pp. 104, 108-110, 117-118:

"Assertion 5: The Church's infallibility extends to the canonization of saints. This thesis is certain.

Canonization (formal) is the final and definitive decree by which the sovereign pontiff declares that someone has been admitted to heaven and is to be venerated by everyone, at least in the sense that all the faithful are held to consider the person a saint worthy of public veneration. It differs from beatification, which is a provisional rather than a definitive decree, by which veneration is only permitted, or at least is not universally prescribed. Infallibility is claimed for canonization only; a decree of beatification, which in the eyes of the Church is not definitive but may still be rescinded, is to be considered morally certain indeed, but not infallible.


1. From the solid conviction of the Church. When the popes canonize, they use terminology which makes it quite evident that they consider decrees of canonization infallible. Here is, in sum, the formula they use:

“By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and by our own authority, we declare that N. has been admitted to heaven, and we decree and define that he is to be venerated in public and in private as a Saint.”

2. From the purpose of infallibility. The Church is infallible so that it may be a trustworthy teacher of the Christian religion and of the Christian way of life. But it would not be such if it could err in the canonization of Saints. Would not religion be sullied if a person in Hell were, by a definitive decree, offered to everyone as an object of religious veneration? Would not the moral law be at least weakened to some extent, if a protégé of the Devil could be irrevocably set up as a model of virtue for all to imitate and for all to invoke?"