13 March 2018


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 confirm 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 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' actions than I did with the implications of what Pope Benedict did. 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.


mark wauck said...

If I may introduce a slightly discordant note into these considerations of matters theological and canonical, it seems to me that the injunction "Call no man father" militates against this whole business of canonization. Nothing could be more human than to revere those who came before and who have provided us with inspiration and guidance, and yet ... There is a manifest danger in the attempt to elevate such reverence and deference to a matter of the Faith--a misplacing of priorities that in some ways strikes at that very Faith. I say this as one who reveres, for example, the legacy of Aquinas, and yet that reverence and deference for his teaching is not based on any New Stuff that he came up with but rather for his having recalled us to the most central insights and tenets of that Apostolic Tradition that should be the touchstone of our Faith.

Re B16's attitude toward canonization, I would like to add that this is yet another example of his desire to extend the understanding of the nature and extent of Apostolic Tradition beyond anything that I consider reasonable. I think the fathers of V1--and above all Newman (yes, I will appeal to him)--would agree on that score.

thomas tucker said...

I just find it very odd that if the Pope and ordinary magisterium are infallible, we can't even understand or agree on which teachings are infallible and which aren't. Isn't that strange, or is it just me?

Calvin Engime said...

A suggestion has been made of whether Newman would consider the infallibility of canonisation reasonable, and I wish to call attention to the 1877 preface to the third edition of the Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, wherein Blessed John writes (p. lxxxiv): 'I will give some instances of [the principle...that no act could be theologically an error, which was absolutely and undeniably necessary for the unity, sanctity, and peace of the Church...rightly and successfully used], and of these the most obvious is our doctrine regarding the Canonization of Saints. The infallibility of the Church must certainly extend to this solemn and public act; and that, because on so serious a matter, affecting the worship of the faithful, though relating to a fact, the Church, (that is, the Pope,) must be infallible. This is Lambertini's decision, in concurrence with St. Thomas, putting on one side the question of the Pope's ordinary infallibility, which depends on other arguments. "It cannot be," that great author says, "that the Universal Church should be led into error on a point of morals by the supreme Pontiff; and that certainly would, or might happen, supposing he could be mistaken in a canonization." This, too, is St. Thomas's argument: "In the Church there can be no damnable error; but this would be such, if one who was really a sinner, were venerated as a saint," &c. —Lambert. de Canon. Diss. xxi. vol. i. ed. Ven. 1751.'

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Calvin: the point you put is in fact the implied question to which my piece above is the answer. Rather than enabling your comment, I venture to commend my argument to you. It is the best I can do!

mark wauck said...

@ thomas tucker

That people should disagree on virtually any topic isn't so strange. What's strange, to me, is that so few should point out what Fr Hunwicke points out at very regular intervals, namely that, in the words of V1:

"the holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles."

You can call what goes beyond this what you will--"theologizing," "the traditions of men," whatever--but there we have a very concise and logical delimitation of sacred dogma. If a teaching isn't traceable to the Apostolic Tradition, as guarding that Tradition or faithfully expounding it, then in my book it ain't infallible--no matter who's promulgating the teaching.

That's the easy part. The hard part is the research and analysis that goes into such a determination, and is part of the reason for the current paralysis of so many otherwise good and well intentioned people.

the Savage said...

Perhaps it could be said that these are pastoral, not dogmatic, canonisations!

mcgod said...

As a student in a Jesuit school in the 1950's we tried our argumentative practice out on our priestlY teachers who challenged our thinking constantly Canonisation and its effect came into not a few of the discussions I remember that it was emphasised that the effect of Canonisation was to hold the subject up as a life worthy of emulation by the faithful everywhere. The statement that the subject was certainly in heaven was supposed to be underscored by the acceptance of miracles attributed to the subject's intercession In our present age where acceptance of miracles is doubted by our rationalist society This canonisation process is now questioned But we did learn that whether there is a definitive statement of heavenly glory for someone or not we should apply our own reason to our acceptance of the statement. It is not a matter on which our faith should depend

modesty still a virtue said...

Is it possible that Pope Benedict using the formula added indicates an intention to pronounce infallibly, while Pipe Francis in removing the formula also indicates his lack of intent to do the same. So one could be bound by the canonisations of the former but not the latter?

Stephen said...

OMG! Wherefore this persistent desire among westerners for a formal rescript on absolutely everything??? And we easterners are the ones accused of not being able to let go of the Empire. Hah! Is there some deep-seated pathos to paint yourselves into corners so that you must be forced into some new mental ju-jitsu to get out of it?
Goodness, if a person, Pope or otherwise, has after death a cult among the faithful that a few miracles may have encouraged, he's a saint. If he's forgotten over the years a bit, no big deal. He'll still be remembered.

Look, it's like this place in Pittsburgh, which I love.
Saint Anthony Chapel
"Home to the largest collection of publicly venerable Christian relics in the world outside of the Vatican."

All wonderful and good, but only made so because of the Incarnation. Same with the Saints. To paraphrase the great prayer of St. Patrick, Bishop of Armagh,Enlighter of Ireland and Equal to the Apostles, If it ain't about Christ, it ain't nothing.

Pulex said...

Two remarks.
1. Regarding the example of some Saints in Oriental calendars (e.g. Palamas), a similar situation exists in the West, too. Charlemagne is being venerated as a Saint with his own feast and proper Mass and Office in some German dioceses (Aachen, of course), but not in Rome where he did not get an entry even in Martyrology. Maybe because he was divorced-remarried? Should we believe that the Heaven has compartments, and you can be in the German Heaven (Walhalla?), but not in the Roman one?

2. A Church music blog which is not known of criticizing Popes, has run an article by an unnamed Monsignore on this topic:
It contains a phrase: "Two centuries later, the lengthy legal process ... was reformed by the will of Papa Wojtyla, indeed the very concept of “sanctity” was changed by the Apostolic Constitution Divinus perfectionis Magister of 29 January 1983 = AAS 75 (1983) 349/55." (emphases mine) If the author is right, the canonizations after 1983 maybe are quite a different thing than those before, which should be taken into account applying the Vatican Council definitions.

Arthur Gallagher said...

It seems to me that the prayer that Our Lord would not let the Church to err in so great a matter rather cuts against the idea that canonization is an infallible act.

RodH said...

For me the question is not whether the process under Francis is now to be trusted, but whether it WAS to be trusted before BENEDICT.

If it was THEN...it SHOULD BE now.

Should be............