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.

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Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong

Didn’t the Reformation start with objections to the cash nexus between grace and financial contributions? So how much did the Council of Trent reform ecclesiastical abuses in the light of recent announcements about new criteria for becoming a saint?

To approve a miracle, at least 5 out of the 7 members of the body of medical experts within the congregation must approve, or 4 out of 6, depending on the size of the group, as opposed to a simple majority.

In case a miracle report is rejected on the first go-around, it may only be reexamined a total of three times.

In order to reexamine a miracle claim, new members must be named to the consulting body.

The president of the consulting body may only be confirmed to one additional five-year term after the original mandate expires.

While in the past payments to experts could be made in person by cash or check, now the experts must be paid exclusively through a bank transfer.

I don’t know about you, but my impression of the miraculous is that if part of a group of believers thinks an unusual event was not miraculous, then it probably was not. Generally speaking, the works of God are pretty straight forward to those with eyes of faith (questions about ongoing miracles notwithstanding). And do we really need science to tell validate a miracle? Isn’t faith sufficient?

But the kicker is the financial aspect to these policy changes:

In his book “Merchants in the Temple,” Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi charged the congregation was among the most reluctant Vatican offices to cooperate with new transparency measures imposed as part of Francis’s project of Vatican reform, and asserted that the average cost of a sainthood cause was about $550,000.

U.S. Catholic officials traditionally have used $250,000 as a benchmark for the cost of a cause from the initial investigation on a diocesan level, to a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, though that cost can increase depending in part of how many people take part in the canonization ceremony and the logistics of organizing the event.

In March, Pope Francis had already approved a new set of financial procedures for the congregation, outlining procedures for handling contributions and specifying which authorities are charged with overseeing the flow of money.

Also notice that even though the path to sainthood has become more — let’s say — complicated, those already saints stay saints:

The new rules are not retroactive, and hence they do not invalidate any beatifications or canonizations performed under earlier procedures.

Fulton Sheen’s advocates are no doubt disappointed.

For any apologist out there, this is the sort of thing that makes no sense to a Protestant (and is truly audacious). We do concede that sainthood can be bought. The price that Jesus paid with his precious blood is worth more than all the silver and gold you can put in a Vatican bank safe. So yes, there is a payment for sanctity. But it is entirely beyond the economic calculations of this world.

One might think that after five hundred years, Roman Catholic bishops might have learned that lesson.

Maybe not a Rich Man but What about a Fat One?

If being rich makes it difficult to enter the kingdom of God, how about obesity? This is the debate that some are having over the canonization of G. K. Chesterton:

Whether or not a person was temperate in food and alcoholic consumption is not only relevant, but absolutely central to the question of sanctity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if a person is not temperate in food and drink and the use of other created goods, there is no way they could be a saint.

Remember, a saint possesses not only natural virtue, but supernatural virtue. This means, of course, faith, hope and charity to a heroic degree, but it also means that even the saint’s natural virtues are elevated and oriented towards supernatural ends. For example, a virtuous man has formed the habit of prudence, which is the virtue of being able to identify and pursue the good in particular circumstances; i..e, of making good decisions. The saintly man, however, not only exercises natural prudence, but also demonstrates supernatural prudence; i.e., the virtue of prudence ordered towards supernatural ends, meaning exceptional discernment and good sense in spiritual matters.

Now, since supernatural virtue is a requisite of sainthood, and since grace builds on the natural virtues, it follows that a person who lacks even one of natural cardinal virtues cannot be “saintly” in the strict sense. Natural virtue is the foundation of supernatural virtue; if a natural virtue is obviously lacking, they cannot possess the supernaturalized version of that virtue which is built upon the natural. We may still have an exceptionally virtuous person, but nevertheless one with a major defect that makes it inappropriate to classify them as a saint. A person certainly cannot possess supernatural temperance if they lack even the natural virtue of temperance.

Is this being a bit too nitpicky? Absolutely not. Whether or not a person is a saint is a question of their character and conduct on the most personal level.

As much as the Obedience Boys can come across a more-devout-than-thou (or more likely, more-concerned-for-holiness-than-bad-Lutherans), I am glad they are still talking like Protestants. Indeed, it is a mystery to me that Christians would import pagan virtues into any scheme of divinely revealed holiness, almost as mystifying as the stakes for sanctity being so high not here and now — since you’ll have time in purgatory to burn off sin — but in the afterlife. If only Chesterton had remained a Protestant. He could have been a twentieth-century saint.

Canonization Fall Out

If you like the social aspect of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, you feel warmed and filled after the recent canonizations:

Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II can rightly be called “the human rights popes.” In their teaching and their actions, they did more to advance the church’s teaching on human rights and to promote the dignity and rights of the human person globally than any other pope. Blessed John’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris brought about a sea change in the Roman Catholic tradition. It declared for the first time the Catholic Church’s full commitment to the modern human rights agenda, encompassing democratic freedoms and economic, social, and cultural rights. Blessed John Paul built on the foundation of John XXIII by unremittingly reminding the world of the inviolable dignity of the human person and her rights on pastoral visits all over the world. This is why in 2011 the United Nations honored him as a “consistent promoter of peace and human rights.” He trenchantly reminded Christians not to dismiss human rights as a product of the Enlightenment, or a “wish list” of political parties. Rather, argued the pontiff, Jesus Christ and his Gospel are the ultimate source of human rights. Moreover, John Paul argued that the rights of the poor and marginalized cannot be postponed because affluent nations and individuals think their “freedom” entitles them to hyper-consumption (see Redemptor Hominis, no.16). He also penned the Church’s most complete ethic and spirituality of labor, Laborem Exercens. John Paul maintained that the Son of God became a carpenter, thereby revealing that all work possesses equal dignity because it is done by a human being. All workers – not just those highly valued by the market – must be guaranteed rights such as a just wage, affordable healthcare, rest, retirement pensions, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, maternity leave, and safe working conditions (no. 19).

But if you are concerned about liturgy and piety, then cool and unsatisfied:

Then we have the canonization of John Paul II, which is being treated in media accounts as the Traditionalist half of a political process. On the same Sunday, both John Paul II and the liberal hero Pope John XXIII will be canonized. We are told that Pope Francis is trying to effect the reconciliation of two spheres in the Catholic world, and consolidate the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, which sought to bring the church up to date with the modern world. This narrative leaves me cold.

Like a lot of Catholic Traditionalists, I have extremely mixed feelings about John Paul II. He inspired many of the best men in todays’s church to join the priesthood. But I do not consider him a representative of Traditionalist views. He made additions to the Rosary, which have been thankfully ignored by the faithful. His allowance for the Traditional Latin Mass was insultingly ungenerous. He made bold ecumenical gestures that seem impossible to reconcile not only with the texts of Vatican II, but also with the teachings of the pre-conciliar church.

I find that John Paul’s writings are alternately inspiring, opaque, and incomprehensible. His governance of the church was lax in the extreme, to the point of negligence. Even before his death, my view was that here was a celebrity pope who traveled while Rome burned in scandal.

John Paul II’s record on sexual abuse was abysmal, full stop, even if there may be some room to doubt his personal culpability. I’ve sometimes wondered if his personal charisma blinded him to the obviously un-Catholic spirit of personal obedience written into the heart of the Legion of Christ, led by the noted abuser, liar, womanizer, and drug-addict Marcial Maciel. Or if his view of priestly abuse allegations were shaped by his experience in Poland, where communist authorities routinely accused priests in order to undermine the church. But for over two decades he was the supreme authority in the church, and he did next to nothing to abate this crisis.

There is still much goodness and grace in the church today, and much growth and heroism among its members in Africa and Asia. But for the Western world, the post-Vatican II era, the one that is supposedly being consolidated and sanctified by these canonizations, has been one of shocking decline in Catholic practice, weakness of faith, and demoralizing immorality. Why the rush to canonize those who initiated and oversaw it?

Meanwhile, Jason and the Callers are up to speed with more reflection on Mary (who blogs here).

Show Me Jesus

Unam Sanctam helps sort through the confusion about canonization (especially those of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II):

By virtue of this fact, the second aspect of the person’s canonization, that they are a person of heroic virtue who should be seen as a model for the faithful is not a question that is at all up for dispute. Simply because a Saint makes mistakes in his life, or even makes objectively wrong choices, has no bearing on the matter. A Saint is not a person who lived their whole life perfectly; but rather, a Saint is a person who, by the end of their earthly pilgrimage, demonstrated the fact that through God’s grace they were able to attain to an eminent degree of perfection. For this reason they should be seen by all as a model for the faithful of heroic virtue, and the fact that they have been canonized dispels any doubt there might be in the matter.

This is not to say that elements of the pontificates of John XXIII or John Paul II are not problematic; they certainly are. This is for history to assess. Because of the changes in the process and the manner in which these canonizations are proceeding, it has been the position of this blog that there is an unfortunate confusion in modern canonizations when it comes to saints who also held ecclesiastical office vis-a-vis the question of whether a saint who was personally holy but had significant failures in the exercise of their office should be considered a model of heroic virtue (see here and here). Without reopening that argument, it suffices to say that a saint must always be a role model for heroic virtue in so far as we are talking about their personal holiness, which is the fundamental reason for their canonization. In the case of John Paul II, Cardinal Amato said very plainly that the canonization is based on the late pontiff’s personal holiness, not how he administered his papacy or the impact he had in the world. We may not appreciate that distinction or think it is helpful, but at least in making this statement the Vatican has, in a certain sense, sorted out the question of whether John Paul’s canonization means he was also a model pope. The answer is clearly no, and Cardinal Amato’s answer thankfully allows us to maintain this point whilst simultaneously affirming the legitimacy of his canonization as a true exercise of the infallibility of the pope.

“An eminent degree of perfection” in this life? When did Rome become Wesleyan?

What did Paul say?

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
(Romans 7:18-25 ESV)

This is one of those thorny matters the Callers need to ‘splain (like how such perfection is possible apart from Christ).

Defying Logic

Let me see if I get this straight. You can qualify to have performed a miracle if someone prays to you and their petitions receive the requested outcome. That, anyway is what might push Archbishop Fulton Sheen over the top to become a full-blown saint:

Bonnie Engstrom, whose completely healthy son, James Fulton, is the stillborn baby allegedly healed through Archbishop Sheen’s intercession, told the Register the family was overjoyed with the news.

“Right now, I am just thrilled. We’re going to have steak for dinner; we’re going out for ice cream — we are just going to celebrate this. It is so exciting,” said Engstom, a mother of six who also blogs at A Knotted Life.

Engstrom told the Register that she and her husband, Travis, had entrusted this particular pregnancy from the outset to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen. Throughout the pregnancy, all the signs pointed to a healthy, normal pregnancy. And then came the delivery, at their home in Goodfield, Ill., on Sept. 16, 2010: Their newborn had no pulse, and for the next 61 minutes, a nightmare unfolded.

Engstrom was going into shock. Travis called 911 and performed an emergency baptism before ambulance crews came to rush the baby to the hospital. Bonnie only had one thought.

“I remember sitting there, on my bedroom floor, saying Fulton Sheen’s name over and over again,” she said. “That was about as close to a prayer I could get.”

Her shock at the unfolding scene made it “impossible for me to think of anything else,” shared Engstrom.

For 61 minutes, James Fulton Engstrom had no pulse and was medically dead, as medical professionals did their best but failed to resuscitate him. The only hope they had was to revive the infant long enough for Bonnie and Travis to hold him and say their brief hellos and good-byes. When the doctors finally gave up and started to certify death, Engstrom said, “that’s when his heart shot up to 148 beats per minute” — just like any healthy newborn.
Engstrom said she later learned that her husband had been fast at work starting a prayer chain in that difficult hour, asking others to pray — all over the world — specifically for Archbishop Sheen to intercede and ask God to save their little boy.

Astonished by James Fulton’s inexplicable return from death, the doctors told the Engstroms that their son must have suffered severe organ damage from the oxygen deprivation and would be severely disabled. Those predictions, however, never came to pass, and their baby was soon weaned off the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit machines and drugs.

“He’ll now be 4 in September,” Engstrom said. “He’s a normal, healthy little boy — just cute and really happy.”

A couple of questions that perhaps only Bryan Cross’ razor-sharp mind can answer: 1) why wouldn’t these folks simply pray directly to God through the name of Christ (and why Fulton Sheen who has been dead for 35 years or why not John Paul II)? 2) how exactly would you verify that Sheen performed this miracle instead of God? 3) If deceased believers can hear our prayers, does that mean they can hear and see whatever we say and do (which is a form of divine omniscience, right)? I mean, if Sheen can hear a prayer, is it possible that my parents can see when I am over the speed limit?

Here’s another reason for being thankful that Christ’s righteousness is all I need to be a saint.