How the Making of Saints Led to the Eating of Sausage

In other words, you don’t want to see how they make saints any more than you want to observe the making of sausage. Consider, for instance, Francis Oakley’s review of a new book on canonization:

During much of the first millennium of Christian history, when it came to the recognition of sanctity, spontaneity seems to have been the order of the day. That is to say, the initiative was usually taken at the popular local level in Christian communities where cults of martyrs, confessors, and other saintly individuals had welled up and found expression in rituals and offerings at the tombs of the deceased or pilgrimages to reputedly holy sites. Official ecclesiastical sanction for such cultic practices was at first no more than sporadic. In the latter part of that era, however, local ordinaries increasingly undertook to exercise at least a supervisory role in relation to such saintly cults. And in a third phase, the one on which Prudlo focuses in this book, the high medieval quickening of papal centralization led to the growing papal domination of the process of saintly canonization, culminating in the fourteenth century with what almost amounted to papal monopolization of the whole business. “Almost” because, as Prudlo prudently concedes, that development may not have been “fully completed” until Urban VIII in 1634 definitively reserved to the papacy the prerogative of canonization.

The church that Jesus founded? Hardly.

The implications of this process for papal infallibility are also intruiguing:

the accumulating discourse pertaining to infallibility in canonization provided a new vocabulary and a new lexicon with which to carry on development of the infallibility discussion into the Counter-Reformation and beyond. It is true that when the First Vatican Council came finally to define the dogma of papal infallibility it made no mention of infallibility in canonization and focused exclusively on the broader issue of ex cathedra papal doctrinal definitions on matters of faith and morals. But recondite though the canonization-infallibility nexus may be, Prudlo’s findings are directly and significantly pertinent to the ongoing debate about the historical origins of the infallibility dogma and any historians working henceforth in that conflicted field will certainly have to take those findings into account.

In other words, papal infallibility is bound up with the debatable practice of recognizing saints.

Notice too that the doctrine of infallibility was originally designed to restrict, not enhance, papal authority:

the doctrine had been advanced with the goal not of enhancing papal power but of limiting it via the insistence that popes were bound by the inerrant, irreformable teachings of their predecessors. It is not surprising, then, that Pope John XXII (1316–34), no theologian but a canonist of distinction, seeing the insistence on papal infallibility as an infringement upon the pope’s sovereignty, described it as a “pestiferous doctrine” and treated it accordingly as some sort of dangerous novelty.

Meanwhile, everyone should have known that if Paul could refer to the Corinthians as saints, such hoops and hurdles were hardly necessary or very sanctified.

6 thoughts on “How the Making of Saints Led to the Eating of Sausage

  1. Do all those people around the little baby really want to hear that “the promise” includes various promises, some of them warnings?

    Mike Horton–”Covenant theology does not teach that the covenant of grace itself is “breakable”. God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not… The word proclaimed and sealed in the sacraments is valid, regardless of our response, but we don’t enjoy the blessings apart from receiving Christ with all of his benefits. …..To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong?

    John Calvin—“The integrity of the sacrament lies here, that the flesh and blood of Christ are not less truly given to the unworthy than to the elect believers of God; and yet it is true, that just as the rain falling on the hard rock runs away because it cannot penetrate, so the wicked by their hardness repel the grace of God, and prevent it from reaching them. “


  2. Credibility was shredded again with the elevation of John Paul The Great. Who can take that one seriously? Much less Good Pope John. We might as well canonize Dorothy Day… oh, wait…


  3. In other words, papal infallibility is bound up with the debatable practice of recognizing saints.

    Many things are not worth dividing over, but some things are.

    2 Corinthians 10:17 But HE WHO BOASTS IS TO BOAST IN THE LORD. 18 For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.


  4. Eamon Duffy’s review of Carlos Eirie–Though he provides a vivid account of Pascal and Jansenism to illustrate the divisions within seventeenth century French Catholicism and emphasizes the violent opposition encountered by Catholic reformers like Charles Borromeo and John of the Cross, Eire’s treatment of the divisions within Catholic reform in general is less vividly realized than his treatment of the corresponding tensions with Protestantism.\

    Eire never mentions, for example, the so-called “Spirituali,” the remarkable group of reform-minded Italian Catholics, which included Michelangelo and was loosely associated with the Englishman, Cardinal Reginald Pole, while he was governor of the Papal Legation of Viterbo in the 1530s and 1540s. This group became suspect as it inclined dangerously towards the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The group patronized outstanding preachers like Bernard Ochino and Peter Martyr Vermigli who later seceded to Protestantism, and was responsible for the distribution of tens of thousands of copies of the notorious tract Beneficio di Cristo, written by a Cassinese protégé of Pole’s, and which incorporated without acknowledgment swathes from the first version of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.

    Some of Pole’s closest associates in this group, including his friend Cardinal Giovanni Morone, would be arrested and imprisoned in the 1550s on suspicion of heresy by the fanatical Carafa pope, Paul IV. Carafa tried unsuccessfully to recall Pole himself from his crucial role as Archbishop of Canterbury and papal legate in Mary Tudor’s England, in order to burn him. Released on Carafa’s death, Morone would go on to become a dominant figure in the final sessions of the Council of Trent, and some of the reform measures Pole devised for England, including the establishment of seminaries, found their way via Morone into the Council’s proceedings. But Morone doesn’t even make it into the index of this book, and it would be hard to gather from Eire’s account that the Council itself was at times a cock-pit for contested conceptions of Catholic reform, disagreements which would persist and issue, among other places, in the quarrels over Jansenism.


  5. Kenneth Woodward’s very good MAKING SAINTS is the go to source on all this, one that makes you want to be Catholic even as it shows the cracks in the system. Randall Sullivan’s MIRACLE DETECTIVE, on the other hand, is a great read that suggests the whole thing — with Medjugorje as an unseemly epicenter — is a depressingly unsolvable and spiraling human mess.Coming years after both, Maureen Mullarkey unflinchingly dissolves all the moments of Catholic envy and makes you realize that whatever else the parade of postconciliar popes have been successfully accomplished, overseeing maintenance to the safeguards to viable orthodoxy may not be one of them. And no, I am not playing Devil’s Advocate: JPII abolished that role long ago!


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