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!)