11 March 2018


As if he has not yet created enough divisions within the Church Militant, PF intends this year to perform the highly divisive act of canonising Blessed Paul VI. Even he, judging from what he said in giving this information to the Clergy of the City, can see that this canonisation business has become a silly giggle: "And Benedict and I are on the waiting list", he quipped. Delightfully humorous. A very witty joke.

I share the views of many, however, that the joke is a bad one, in as far as this projected canonisation is fundamentally a political action to be linked with the apparent conviction of PF that he himself is the champion and beneficiary of B Paul's work at Vatican II and afterwards. I do not accept that he is. But, today, I do not intend to enable comments which discuss these questions of the prudential order (or comments which simply rant).

Instead, I have some queries which are genuinely questions with regard to important theological matters antecedent to any imminent canonisations.

My mind really is not made up regarding the Infallibility of an act whereby the Roman Pontiff 'canonises'; and the probably but certainly related question of whether a de fide assent is required.  I assume that everybody with an interest in this subject knows exactly what the Vatican I text of Pastor aeternus said and did not say about Papal infallibility. I have also found it useful to have read parts of Benedict XIV's De Beatificatione et Canonizatione, and Liber 1 Caput LXV really is required reading; it can be found by googling Benedicti papae XIV Doctrina de Servorum Dei beatificatione et ..., and then scrolling down to pages 55-56 (42-43 in the printed book which Google copied). It was written before the election of the erudite and admirable Prospero Lambertini to the See of Rome.

Theologians of distinction can be listed who have taught that Canonisation is an infallible act of the Papal Magisterium. But, with regard to those who wrote before 1870, is there not a prior question that has to be asked? The Church had then not defined (i.e. put limits, 'fines', to) the dogma of Papal Infallibility. The terms of Pastor aeternus were (to the chagrin of Manning and the palpable relief of Newman) extremely limited. Therefore, can we be sure that those pre-1870 theologians really were categorising canonisation as infallible in the sense of the word infallible as defined with all the limitations of the 1870 decrees? Or, because of the limits imposed by that definition, might they have used a different term had they needed to develop their arguments within the confines of what Pastor aeternus lays down? Is this why Benedict XIV accepts the possibility of arguing that what a Roman Pontiff decrees may be infallible, but still not be de fide? It is in logic obvious that a proposition may be true, and may be demonstrably true, without it being incumbent upon anybody to accept that truth. But after 1870, I assume, this is changed as far as ex cathedra papal pronouncements are concerned, because the scope and function of the term infallibilis have been changed to imply and include the notion that a proposition is not merely true but is also of faith.

In assessing the arguments of such pre-1870 writers, should we pay attention to the general extent which they assert when talking about the authority of the Roman Pontiff? That is: if a writer is very generous in his estimate of the fields to which papal infallibility extends, he is unlikely to be writing in terms of something like the highly limited 1870 definition. But if an author is very much more sparing and circumspect in associating infallibility with papal interventions, he is more likely to have in mind a concept of infallibility resembling that of Vatican I.

As a consequence of this, when we turn to theologians who wrote later than 1870, and who argued that papal canonisations are infallible, should we not subtract from the arguments with which they sustain their conclusions the mere citation, qua authorities, and without further discussion, of those earlier, pre-1870, theologians? In other words, should not the event of 1870 have the effect of pruning back some previous theologically luxuriant growths?

And there is another question raised by the Definition and Practice of Papal infallibility which the pontificate of B Pius IX bequeathed us. It implies an assumption that the Roman Pontiff is acting with the morally unanimous, collegial, assent of the whole ecclesia docens. I know that, for some traditionalists, Collegiality is a dirty word; but B Pius IX and Pius XII wrote to the bishops of the entire world seeking their counsel before defining the two Marian Dogmas ('Is it definable? Is it opportune to define it?') and ... well ... I'm just an ordinary Catholic ... the praxis of those two pontiffs is good enough for me! But do Popes seek the counsel of all their Venerable Brethren before canonising?

Papal infallibilty is nothing but one modality within the infallibility of the Church. So is it rational to assign infallibility to some canonisations - those personally enacted by the Pope - and not to those enacted by a different authority (the oft-quoted Quodlibet IX:16 of S Thomas is not necessarily limited to papal canonisations.)? We know that popes cannot delegate their infallibility. There are the saints on the calendars of sui iuris churches: such as that of the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch (after all, it is arguable that, as a successor of S Peter, this Patriarch is, after the Bishop of Rome himself, the senior prelate of the Catholic Church) which include some who lived outside visible unity with the See of Rome in recent centuries and were canonised by Byzantine synods ... and whose names are certainly not on any Roman 'list'. Incidentally, my recent mention of S Gregory Palamas in this context was intended to establish some preliminary data to the present discussion.

I believe the Ukrainian Church includes Saints canonised up to the time of the Synod of Brest. And the 'two lungs' rhetoric of JP2 implies that, although the Latin Church is de facto very much larger than the Oriental Churches in Full Communion with Rome, theologically these latter are not just almost-irrelevant, tolerated, anomalies. What would a rounded and complete understanding of Canonisation within the Catholic Church have to say about Melkite and Ukrainian praxis? And what would be the bearing of that upon the question of the Infallibility of Canonisation?

Papal infallibilty resides in the papal munus docendi, the ministry of doctrinally binding the whole Church, not part of it: so is there a distinction between those Saints who are by papal authority to have a compulsory cultus in every local Church, and those whose commemoration is confined to some localties; or is optional in the Universal Church? If the sui iuris Churches not of Latin Rite do not promptly include a Latin Saint, when he/she is canonised, on their Calendars, and the Roman Pontiff tolerates this, does this mean that he is not imposing that cult on the Universal Church and thus is not using his Universal munus docendi?

The actual formula of canonisation is in fact merely an order that X be placed on the List* of Saints of the 'ecclesia universalis'. What exactly ... physically ... is this 'list'? And furthermore, Benedict XIV explicitly says that "writing a name down in the Martyrology does not yet bring about formal or equipollent canonisation" (descriptio in martyrologio nondum importat canonizationem formalem, aut aequipollentem). But even if it did, would this mean that the Martyrologium Romanum, theologically and juridically, applies to sui iuris Churches not of the Roman Rite? If it doesn't, does this mean that 'ecclesia universalis', in the context of papal canonisation, really means 'ecclesia Latina universalis' (because, after all, the Latin Church is pretty world-wide)? And if this be true, what then becomes of the observation of Benedict XIV that an act of 'canonisation' which lacks complete preceptive universality is not in the strict sense canonisation? [Are there other loose ends arising from the fact that Roman documents seem quite often to sound as though they are majestically addressing the whole Church, but, when you get down to it, are really pretty obviously addressing the Latin Church (Sacrosanctum Concilium is an example of that)?]

Finally: S Thomas held that canonisation was medium inter res fidei, et particulares; and Benedict XIV concludes his discussion of this matter by saying that plures magni nominis auctores deny that an act of canonisation is de fide; he gives a fair wind to their arguments; then summarises the arguments of those, inferioris notae doctores, who affirm that it is de fide; concludes by saying Utraque opinio in sua probabilitate relinquenda videtur, donec Sedes Apostolica de hac re judicium proferat. Benedict XIV went on to give his own private opinion as favouring the positive thesis (canonisations are of faith), but added "But before a judgement of the Apostolic See, it does not seem that the mark of heresy should be branded onto the contrary opinion."

In 1998, the motu proprio Ad tuendam fidem of B John Paul II was accompanied by a Commentary written by the CDF and signed by its august Cardinal Prefect. Paragraph 6 of this, combined with paragraphs 8 and 11, appears to lead to the conclusion that canonisations are to be given the same "full and irrevocable assent" as that required by the Creeds and the doctrinal definitions of Ecumenical Councils and of Roman Pontiffs speaking ex cathedra. Have I understood this correctly? But can such a dicasterial 'Commentary' be deemed to be that "judgement of the Apostolic See" which was required by Benedict XIV in order to settle this question?

To be frank with you, I am more impressed by writers who merely call the public rejection of a papal act of canonisation 'temerarious', than I am by those who invoke the I-word. The I-word surely means, from 1870 onwards, that, as a matter of divine Faith, one must accept something in ones heart. Use of temerarious (Suarez; Benedict XIV) means (I take it) that a public rejection is rash and unsafe and that, accordingly, one should refrain from disturbing the peace of the believing community by publicly attacking an authoritative inclusion of a person on the List* of Saints; and, furthermore, that one should preserve an interior awareness of ones own fallibility (after all, someone has to decide whether X goes into ... or does not go into ... the canon, and the decision is certainly way above my pay grade).

Finally: I have a prejudice against potentially causing people problems of conscience by telling them that something is of divine Faith when (even if "just possibly") it might not be. After all, a lex dubia does not bind. And it potentially damages the authority of the Roman Pontiff to be rash in spraying the I-word too liberally around ... a point which poor Manning never grasped.

There is further Magisterial evidence to be considered, which comes from this present pontificate, before I will enable comments. 
*List: canon in Greek; catalogus in Latin (if you see what I mean!)


Joshua said...

May I offer the example of an undoubted saint, who is yet included neither in the old (immediately pre-conciliar) nor the new (post-conciliar) Roman Martyrology? St John of the Nettles (San Juan de Ortega) falls in this category - even though at the request of the Spanish bishops' conference, the Holy See appointed him Patron Saint of Surveyors! (For details, I refer you to an old blog post of mine.)

As to the question, however - surely if canonizations are not infallible, then we cannot know for sure if Saint X is in heaven, and thus worthy of veneration, able and willing to intercede for us when we call upon him? - and if that is the case, then the cultus of the Saints becomes dubious: and the Protestants are right!

DeHereticoComburendo said...

Yet respecting your house rules, might I attempt an opinion ”of the prudential order” but relating to a different proposed canonisation - and therefore see my comment enabled on a technicality?

Liberation Theology icon Archbishop Romero’s projected raising to the altars is apparently to be confirmed by the miracle of a Salvadoran lady’s miraculous survival from HELLP Syndrome.

Wikipedia informs me that, for this dread disease, the prognosis is poor: “With treatment, maternal mortality is about 1 percent”. No sniggering at the back there, please.

mark wauck said...

Recently--in fact, on 3/18--Fr Hunwicke made reference to "Bergoglian ecclesiological errors regarding the alleged role of the Holy Ghost in daily inspiring the Roman Pontiff to espouse or disseminate new doctrine." I suggest that canonization is one of several topics that would benefit from scrutiny from the same or a similar standpoint. It all amounts to variations of "creeping infallibilism" (I'm quoting myself, as far as I know), which also extends to such "pious" beliefs as that conclaves are guided by the Holy Spirit, etc.

The whole business of the Apostolic See reserving canonization to itself and regulating the process arose from a perceived need to prevent abuses. But from there it seems it was a short step to invoking "infallibility" and the Spirit to guarantee that everyone would be on board, to lend authority, etc. To do otherwise might be to admit that the Church could make a mistake--the horror! Laudable goals in principle but subject to their own forms of abuse. How often do we see this notion of infallibility in canonizations used to extend an aura of divine approval to organizations founded by saints? To forestall criticism?

If we wish to descend to the argument of reductio ad ridiculum, which is clearly invited, consider: if we are to believe de fide that Don Bosco and Sister Faustyna lived lives of heroic virtue, how far does this extend? Are we also to believe that the former's guardian angel appeared to help him in the form of a German Shepherd, that the Devil appeared to the latter in the form of a black dog? After all, would a canonized saint, one who led a life of heroic virtue, lie about such a thing?

Ridiculous, you say? But then how are we to judge the life of heroic virtue of a JP2 when measured against some less than savory aspects of his papacy: Assisi, the sexual scandals that continue to metastasize at an alarming rate, the seemingly reckless canonizations? And if canonization doesn't address these issues, exactly what good is it? Do we drag the Spirit into such an abused process simply to test the faith of the laity?

rick allen said...

"My mind really is not made up regarding the Infallibility of an act whereby the Roman Pontiff 'canonises';"

How can it be a part of the deposit of faith ( or a legitimate development thereof) that x individual is a saint in heaven? How does a saint like St. Christopher get "demoted" if his canonization (under the pre-modern but still Church-recognized norms) was as valid as any other?

To me to canonize is simply to authorize certain public observances on behalf of one so honored. Surely you don't think that Paul Vi is not a saint in the sense that he's been damned. Presumably you think his life's work is not comparable to that of others who have been canonized. But I don't think that canonization requires the assent of faith to such a judgment.

So I guess I'd put canonization under the pope's governing authority rather than his teaching authority. It's not infallible, but it's legitimate. I would certainly find it a little churlish for Catholics to complaining about, say, Paul VI getting canonized, as if there were some scorecard of "progressives" and "traditionalists"

I would agree with you that this "santo subito" business has gotten a little out of hand, as has the tendency to canonize popes. But I recognize that there are institutional structures that tend to get popes and founders of religious orders canonized, and tend to give us laity rather the short shrift. But, really, it's no skin of my nose or (to use another nasal simile), nothing to get my nose out of joint about. Pope St. Pius X is nowhere near one of my favorite saints, but my son went to a high school named after him, and I certainly never gave it a second thought.

Arthur Gallagher said...

Infallibility relates to dogmatic pronouncements about doctrines. Canonization involves the liturgy. So, its like mixing apples and oranges.

Neither is it a declaration that the the Pope is pardoning anyone, so as to loose them of their sins, which might be infallible.

It is a declaration that the cult of the deceased person is approved for public worship.

I have no trouble believing that Paul VI has made it into heaven. I have known of criminals who received the most startling graces at the time of their last illness. Why not a man who was prayed for every day by millions of people?

My problem is that the one true Church should not act like some silly sect, and go about canonizing everybody it can, nolens volens, (Latin for willy-nilly?) in order to serve some agenda.

Paul VI inspired no legacy of popular devotion, and there are disturbing facts about his behavior vis a vis various people (e.g. Cardinal Stepinac,)and his disloyalty to Pius XII, and shabby treatment of others. Just for making Rembert Weakland Archbishop of Milwaukee, when he knew exactly what he was should settle the matter permanently.

It is simply not edifying, and indeed, will cause many people to question their faith.

He did one very good thing- Humanae Vitae. He should be honored for that. But that's about it.

mark wauck said...

Btw, as we comment on these matters it's good to bear in mind something that we have today from no less a personage than Tucho "Heal Me With Your Kiss" Fernandez, in an interview with Andrea Tornielli:

"Until now, only few Catholics have been able to criticize the Popes, but now there is enormous freedom to do so without anyone being punished for it."

And as if that weren't enough good news for one day Tucho also confirms that the Dubia have been answered:

"Amoris laetitia implies a paradigmatic shift in the way complex situations are treated, ... It certainly goes beyond the possibility for some remarried divorcees to receive communion. This shift, which prevents us from being hard and mathematical in our judgements, is very annoying for some. But the Pope had a note published in the “Acta Apostolicae Sedis” as “authentic magisterium”. Only the Pope can make such a decision and Francis did so. Therefore, there is no confusion."

So maybe there are bigger fish to fry than the infallibility (or not) of canonizations. As Bergoglio himself clearly implied, that's just bread and circuses for the masses.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Father. Were there a prize for the ecclesiastical neologism of the year, you'd win it hands down for Alpha Traditional Liturgy.


As for Canonisations being infallible, ABS has a lay friend who makes a good case by citing the words of the Pope doing the Canonising;

In honor 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.


Who knows, maybe it was his heroic wearing of The Ephod while Pope that clinched the canonistion

Banshee said...

Actually, there are some people devoted to Bl. Paul VI. And frankly, it's not surprising. He may have been a doofus much of the time, but he was a real prophet with Humanae Vitae. And there were quite a few other times he did right in a big way.

The problem was that he just didn't keep it up, and that he was easily shamed or tricked out of good policy into bad.

(And that's actually a pretty common fault among a certain kind of canonized saint: the kind who founds religious orders, starts important movements, and then finds herself locked in a cell somewhere and written out of the official histories. Obviously bishops of Rome fare a little better during their lifetimes.)

And since he was obviously elected _because_ he wasn't a good administrator, and because he was easy to trick and manipulate, it's not fair to make his manipulators into the measure of his personal holiness.

So yes, there's obviously a question of whether it's prudent to canonize him and make him an example of holiness. But OTOH, everybody is a doofus sometimes. There are canonized popes out there who got pretty close to being tricked into heresy, so a pope who got tricked into other stuff is not outside the pale.

I just wish he was getting canonized by somebody other than Pope Francis, because I don't think that's very helpful in healing the wounds of the Church. But I don't recall the Vatican ever asking me for my opinion.

Banshee said...

Re: Il Grigio, Don Bosco's guardian angel/feral dog who was always appearing out of nowhere --

There are photos of the same dog (according to the older monks, who were shocked out of their bird) showing up in the 1960's, at the translation of his relics making a brief stop in his town. He got into church and sat under the catafalque, apparently to guard or escort his body. And then he left again when the body left.

So yeah, don't be disbelieving Don Bosco.

Banshee said...

St. Christopher is still a real saint. The legend is not currently supposed to be true, but the supposition is that there really was a real guy somewhere who was a saint. False legends, or bad transmission of biographical material, does not make a saint cease to exist, or cease to be counted a saint.

He's just not a saint in the universal saint list for Masses, that's all.

Shrug. Tons of Irish and Spanish and other saints that aren't in the Roman martyrology, but they're still real saints. Some bishop somewhere said they count, so they count.

Banshee said...

And why wouldn't St. Faustina have seen the devil in the shape of a black dog?

Seriously, if you are going to discount all the saints who said they had visions of the devil, either trying to trick them or scare them, you would have to start chopping off a pretty long list of the biggies. St. Perpetua. St. Ignatius of Loyola. Tons of others if you start thinking about it. The only reason it's not a bigger subject is that the Church traditionally believes in ignoring demonic tantrums, to a certain extent.

But yeah, anybody who comes up with a really good project that the demons really don't like, will often find himself the subject of demonic tantrums, or at least a huge increase in the local influence of Murphy's Law. If it ever happens to you, it's unmistakable and exasperating. (Why some saints get visual aids too, I don't know. Probably they are paying more attention to spiritual stuff, or they are higher value targets that merit more firepower.) Ignoring this junk usually makes it go away, although getting blessings or using sacramentals is always a good idea.

Liam Ronan said...

“Some men say the earth is flat.
Some men say the earth is round.
But if it is flat. Could Parliament make it round?
And if it round. Could the kings command flatten it?” - St. Thomas More

mark wauck said...

While this news item may seem off topic, it does deal with the two pontiffs who are, according to Bergoglio himself, slated for canonization in the not too distant future. And so it should be a comfort to all the faithful to know that there is a profound unity between their two pontificates. I quote from VaticanNews: Pope Benedict XVI: there is continuity with Pope Francis' Pontificate. So, Ratzinger wrote a letter on the occasion of the publication of eleven (!) books on the theology of Bergoglio. And in that letter Ratzinger expressed the view that:

“Pope Francis is a man with profound philosophical and theological formation and [these books] are helpful to see the interior continuity between the two pontificates, even with all the differences in style and temperament.” That is, the differences are not of substance.

And for all my past criticisms of Ratzinger, I totally agree with him on this score. Which simply confirms me in those past criticisms.

Calvin Engime said...

Father, I think you are interpreting the Vatican Council's definition too narrowly—docemus et divinitus revelatum dogma esse definimus: Romanum Pontificem, cum ex Cathedra loquitur, id est, cum omnium Christianorum Pastoris et Doctoris munere fungens, pro suprema sua Apostolica auctoritate doctrinam de fide vel moribus ab universa Ecclesia tenendam definit, per assistentiam divinam, ipsi in beato Petro promissam, ea infallibilitate pollere, qua divinus Redemptor Ecclesiam suam in definienda doctrina de fide vel moribus instructam esse voluit.

The Council said, tenendam, not credendam. The Roman Pontiff is possessed of infallibility when he defines not only what is to be believed, but even what is to be held. (Ad tuendam fidem makes the same distinction: "I also believe everything contained in the word of God.... I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.") Though something may not be contained in the word of God, scriptum vel traditum, and therefore not to be believed by divine faith, the Roman Pontiff can nonetheless infallibly define it if it pertains to faith or morals.

And that this was the mind of the Fathers is proved by consulting Bishop Gasser's relatio of July 11, 1870, which is in Mansi 52, columns 1204–32.

At col. 1226, Gasser explains the meaning of the expression "that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed." He says, "At vero 3° cum dogmatibus revelatis, ut paulo ante dixi, veritates alias magis vel minus stricte cohaerent, quae licet in se revelatae non sint, requiruntur tamen ad ipsum depositum revelationis integre custodiendum, rite explicandum et efficaciter definiendum; huiusmodi igitur veritates, ad quas utique etiam per se pertinent facta dogmatica, quatenus sine his depositum fidei custodiri et exponi non posset, huiusmodi, inquam, veritates non quidem per se ad depositum fidei, sed tamen ad custodiam depositum fidei spectant." Gasser says that all Catholic theologians agree that the Church is infallible in defining truths of this kind, such that to deny this infallibility would be a grave error.

What the Council's definition left open is whether this infallibility is itself a credendum or a tenendum. Meaning: if it is a dogma revealed by God that the Church is infallible in defining errors to be opposed in lesser degrees, it is likewise a dogma revealed by God that the Roman Pontiff is infallible in defining errors to be opposed in lesser degrees; but it is in any case theologically certain that he is infallible in such definitions.

Gasser's relatio also shows that the Council's definition was not predicated on an assumption that the pope would act collegially. In col. 1214, Gasser takes up the question of whether conditions should be inserted into the apostolic constitution "quae bonam fidem et diligentiam pontificis in veritate indaganda et enuntianda". He considers the proposal that the Roman Pontiff "debet ante definitionem consulere rectores ecclesiarum ut certus sit de consensione ecclesiarum" in particular. All such conditions, Gasser says, pertain to the pope's conscience, not his relation to the universal Church in which he possesses infallibility; they belong to the moral rather than the dogmatic order. And the pope's charism of truth is not dependent on his conscience, which is accessible to God alone. The gift of infallibility would not serve its purpose if it could be undermined by the bad faith and negligence of the pontiff. Do we want to go down the road to a kind of magisterial Donatism where the assent owed to the papal magisterium depends on whether the pope has cooperated adequately with the grace of his office?

Richard Chonak said...

Dear Fr. Hunwicke,

If possible, would you consider devoting some explanation to your point that since 1870 the I-word has meant that a proposition is of divine faith? I've been treating the latter as a proper subset of the former, and would appreciate some discussion of the topic.

Chris Jones said...

Perhaps as a non-Catholic I simply don't understand Catholic teaching, but none of this makes sense to me.

It seems obvious to me that canonisation is not a fit subject for an exercise of infallibility under the terms of Pastor Aeternus -- it's not a doctrinal definition of either faith or morals. It is not even a definitive judgement as to whether the person being canonised is in heaven. Whether a given individual is part of the Church Triumphant is not at issue in a canonisation, it is a precondition for canonisation even to be considered. What is at issue in canonisation is whether it is fitting for the person -- who is already presumed to be in heaven -- to be publicly venerated in the Church's worship. That is a pastoral and prudential judgement, not a doctrinal definition.

In arguing for Papal infallibility, Catholics often make much of the severely limited circumstances in which it is exercised, and its consequent rarity. The 'creeping infallibilism' which seeks to ascribe infallibility to such prudential judgments certainly undermines that sort of argument.

If I am misunderstanding of Catholic teaching, I welcome correction.