3 October 2018


There is liturgical evidence, which I do not think has been widely noticed, concerning the authority carried by an act of Canonisation.

The rites of Canonisation have tended  ... this will not surprise you ... to vary in the last seventy years. The most recent changes before this (PF) 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 PF when he canonised a number of beati in 2014; and subsequently.

It looks to me as though Pope Benedict's additions were intended to strengthen the view that acts of canonisation are infallible and require acceptance de fide. I wish now to point out that, if the formulae introduced by Benedict XVI did affect this debated 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 the future Pope Benedict XIV, Prospero Lambertini. However, they have in the past not been 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, indeed. 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 meaning or message.

Personally, I feel more confident in my earlier conclusion, that to dispute the judgement made in and by an act of canonisation would not actually be a sin against fides. In other words, I feel happier with the theological implications of PF's' deletions than I did with the implications of what Pope Benedict added (see above). In practical terms, I feel that PF's excisions from the rite ought to make the 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 with which Pope Benedict had wished it to be endowed. And I would regard the observations I made in the previous part of this series, about schismatic canonisations subsequently adopted within the Catholic Church, as also pointing in the direction of canonisations (at least pro eo) not necessarily being de fide.


A Daughter of Mary said...

But, Father, this is a terrible situation for us pew sitters. If now, canonization can be seen as almost a 'believe it or not' situation are we left with reverence to Saints we like, and ignoring those put (forward by Francis) who we don't like? The idea that even Saints from ages long ago 'had their faults' leaves me wondering about St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Teresa of Jesus, and St. John of the Cross. Because they each may have bad days here and there are we to use our private judgement and have doubts about their sanctity?

Are we to lump in Paul IV and John Paul II - because they had very obvious problems with Tradition and what we have always believed to be Truth - with those Saints who were not perfect in every possible way? Can you have 'sanctity' without personal holiness? Is there a difference?

I feel very let down by all this. I want to believe as I always have. I do not want all this craziness to spoil my love for my Church, or to spoil my love for my Saintly Friends. When will all this end?

I'm sorry if this does not meet your standard of discussion. I am not a theologian, but someone who looks into the faces (in photographs and other images) of my Saint Friends and who wants to just BELIEVE without twisting myself into a pretzel!

Stephen said...

Fr. Hunwicke:

I would like to raise a point in support of your position, but which I do not recall being addressed in any online discussions of the infallibility of canonizations.

My point has to do with the type of certainty we can attain to from a legal proceeding. We should remember that for a long time the Roman Church used a canonization process that was in many ways a legal proceeding; this process even provided for a lawyer to argue against the sanctity of the deceased (i.e., the devil's advocate).

When the Church uses a legal proceeding, it does not declare that the faithful must assent as a matter of faith to the Church's findings of fact or conclusions of law (to use my American legal jargon). Instead, the Church declares that the faithful may have moral certainty in the Church's ruling. For instance, when a marriage tribunal rules that a marriage between Mr. A and Ms. B is actually invalid, the faithful are not required to accept that as a matter of faith. What the tribunal is saying is simply that Mr. A and Ms. B (assuming they acted in good faith in the annulment proceedings) may have moral certainty that they are not actually married to each other and may therefore marry other people. The tribunal can be mistaken--especially if witnesses were not truthful--but the end result of a proper legal proceeding is simply a moral certainty that the marriage was invalid.

Another example has to do with apparitions. When a bishop "approves" a Marian apparition, he is declaring that the Church, after a rigorous investigation, has determined not that the fact of the apparition is an article of faith, but that the faithful may have moral certainty that they are venerating Mary and not a deception of the devil. But it's only moral certainty, not metaphysical certainty, and not the certainty of faith.

It would seem to me that canonizations are most similar to other legal proceedings and findings regarding apparitions.

Alan said...

I can't make any useful comment on profound issues of theology, Father, but I hope you'll permit me a non-scholarly comment based on my rainy-day activity this Monday on the penultimate day of a holiday. A rainy Monday is bad news for a holidaymaker in Italy, since museums are closed. Since I was in Brescia, I invested four euros in a two-zone bus ticket,and ventured out to the northern terminus of line 10, at Concesio.

It was in the parish church of Concesio that Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was baptised in 1897. The whole of Brescia is delighted that "our boy done good". I was particularly smitten by one large billboard announcing "Paolo VI santo" juxtaposed with an another hoarding advertising a push-up bra. (Presumably ladies are to be persuaded that their elevated assets will catch the eye even of a canonised Roman Pontiff.)

However, Concesio is completely over the top. Every house, in Via GB Montini and Piazza Paolo VI, the Scuola d'Infanzia Paolo VI, the P6 youth centre... are decorated with yellow and white paper chains and posters. The parish church has a splendid collection of third-class relics, and a freshly painted life-size icon of the soon-to-be-saint.

What may perhaps give the present Pope pause for thought is that among the attributes assigned to Paul VI is "defensore della famiglia".