12 February 2015

When one Pope undercuts his predecessor in a doctrinal matter ...

The rites of Canonisation have tended  ... this will not surprise you ... to vary in the last seventy years. The most recent changes before this pontificate, which took place under Benedict XVI, seemed designed to impose on the rites a theological meaning which they previously had not so explicitly expressed. As  Pope Benedict left the rite, before the singing of Veni Creator Spiritus the Pontiff asked for prayer that Christ the Lord would not permit His Church to err in so great a matter. And, in the Third Petition the Cardinal Prefect for the Causes of Saints informed the Pontiff that the Holy Spirit "in every time renders the supreme Magisterium immune from error (omni tempore supremum Magisterium erroris expertem reddit)". These phrases, added by Pope Benedict, were in formulae cut out by Pope Francis when he canonised a number of beati on 32 November 2014. He also used the same abbreviated form of canonisation when he canonised S Joseph Vaz this year.

It is not easy to avoid a suspicion that Pope Benedict's additions were intended to give support to the view, which has for centuries been a matter of debate, that acts of canonisation should be seen as infallible acts requiring to be accepted as de fide. (I wrote about this in 2014: 24 February; 26 April; 8 July; I do not intend to repeat what I wrote there ... if you are interested in my views, there they are). I simply wish now to point out that, if the formulae introduced by Benedict XVI did affect this theological question, then, surely, so does the action of this Pontificate in removing them. In the gradual accumulation of evidences and precedents which gradually build up an established judgement of the Magisterium, surely phrases which were introduced into rites by one Pontiff and, very soon afterwards, removed by the next, have less auctoritas than established and immemorial formulae which have been used by successive pontiffs for centuries.

Canonisation raises questions which, for centuries, interested specialist students of Canon Law. They interested Pope Benedict XIV, Prospero Lambertini. However, they were not things which concerned non-specialists. Ordinary Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and laity naturally and very properly just accepted the judgements made by the Sovereign Pontiff in this as in so many other matters. But the situation is not the same now. There has been, in some quarters, an uneasy suspicion for some time that canonisations have turned into a way of setting a seal upon the 'policies' of some popes. If these 'policies' are themselves a matter of divisive discussion and debate, then the promotion of the idea that canonisations are infallible becomes itself an additional element in the conflict. Canonisation, you will remind me, does not, theologically, imply approval of everything a Saint has done or said. Not formally. But the suspicion among some is that, de facto and humanly, such can seem to be its aim. This is confirmed by a prevailing assumption on all sides that the canonisations of the 'Conciliar Popes' does bear some sort of message.

Personally, I feel just that little bit more confident in my earlier conclusion, that to dispute the judgement made in and by an act of canonisation would be temerarious and indisciplined and reprehensible rather than being a sin against Fides. In other words, I feel happier with the theological implications of Pope Francis' actions than I did with the implications of what Pope Benedict did. In practical terms, I feel that Pope Francis' excisions from the rite ought to make the canonisations of S John XXIII and S John Paul II (even though those canonisations were performed according to the rite of Pope Benedict), and the eventual canonisation of B Paul VI, just that little bit less of a problem for particularly tender consciences, because the act of canonisation does not now come before us weighed down with quite that same degree of Authority which Pope Benedict deemed it to have.

7 comments:

Fr PJM said...

Agreed, Father.
But, on the bright side, since these were regular, no short-cut canonisations, that means, does it not, that there were TWELVE recognised miracles?

Don Camillo SSC said...

I still cannot see why opinions regarding the wisdom or unwisdom of the policies of canonised Pontiffs should affect judgements about their holiness. Even perfect charity, I would have thought, does not render someone immune from erroneous judgements in practical matters.

wolskerj said...

All these papal canonizations do tend to make the Popes look more and more like Roman emperors being deified after death. I find it unseemly, and somewhat embarrassing.

Raider Fan said...

55 of the first 58 Popes were Canonised; maybe we are just getting back up to speed after being shagged-out from that rabbit start :)

Jacobi said...

I am sure that St John XXIII was a holy man and is now in heaven. He was also naïve, not too bright, and in calling the Vat II against advice, exercised poor judgement and precipitated one of the great disasters in the Catholic Church.

Now Paul VI, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI had their faults too, Benedict for, uncharacteristically for a German, quitting.

But enough said.

Jon said...

wolskerj,

Indeed. Exactly the parallel that occurred to me. No matter how strong, the faith of us all has if not a an Achilles heel, then a heel of play-doh. Mine happens to be this ridiculous saint press, stamping out heaven-bound popes like Neros in Elysium. It's been a personal scandal to me.

Although I'd prefer the clarity of BXVI's view, I have to say I'm grateful that Francis has muddied the water, and I'm even more grateful to Father for pointing it out. I wasn't aware of the change. Perhaps I'll sleep better tonight.

Woody said...

Father can corrct me if I err, but I believe that the matter of the policies of a pontiff, or a king or tsar, for that matter, involve the virtue of prudence, and so are relevant to the heroic virtue or not,mof the servant of God. Of course it is not so simple a matter as saying that he got his head cut off, or was riddled with bullets, as with Nicholas II, and thus could not have been prudent, just as any martyr employs prudence in a different way. The assessment of policies is also fraught with peril, as we usually do not know everything that was considered by the pontiff or ruler, or how it fit into the divine plan. One thinks again of Tsar Nicholas, who was glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate not for his policies, which were admittedly in some cases flawed, but for his being what they call a Passion-bearer, primarily after his deposition and imprisonment.