Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Saints and Airbrushing History

The dying Emperor Augustus cried out, "I'm becoming a God!"
It strikes me dying Popes might cry out, "I am becoming a Beatus!"
Apparently Paul VI might be declared "Blessed" next year, John XXIII is already beatified as is John Paul II, there is strong lobby for Pius XII and of course John Paul I, I have always had a sneaking admiration for Pius XI but no-one else is that interested.
My Orthodox friends are horrified by the haste of some of our beatifications and canonisation, and so I am I. I am not sure what we mean any longer when we beatify someone or canonise them, in the past three criteria where necessary:

  1. They were in heaven: proved by miracles
  2. They had an enduring and wellfounded cultus
  3. Their holiness was outstanding and an example to the faithful
Obviously those who have been beatified and canonised fulfil all of these requirements, however there does seem to be a danger of writing history with an airbrush in our present day haste to raise certain individuals to the altar. Although in all cases there is holiness, in many there seem to be many other issues too. Too often beatification/canonisation can be seen as a political act, placing the Blesseds or Saints actions and words beyond question.
There is always the danger when the following generation beatify their benefactors, their teachers, friends, patrons and masters that it is ideas that are being raised to the altar rather than individuals, it is a piece of nepotism, even more worrying than that of the Borgias
In the case of St Jose-Maria Escriva who was certainly outstanding but with the extreme haste of his canonisation one wonders quite what influence Opus Dei and its money, and the political situation in Spain at the time of his death,  had on the speed of his canonisation. Would a great deal really have been lost by letting the euphoria following his death have settled down for a few decades and for his cultus to have bedded down more firmly in the Church outside of Opus Dei and Spain before his canonisation?
In the case of Pius XII there are obvious questions being asked both inside and outside the Church, not just about his wartime record but also about his private life, which seems to be a little eccentric: that nun, the monkey glands, for example. 
Paul VI, "Hamlet" as his predecessor called him, is possibly even more ambiguous, he certainly suffered, he lived with self-doubt all his life, he was too ill even to attend seminary, even in his lifetime there were rumours about blackmail, which were spread by his enemies, but which have never been answered. I wonder is it right for someone with so many enemies to be raised to the altar, shouldn't a reconciliation be necessary first?

I am not arguing for or against the raising to the altar of anyone, just simply expressing mistrust of  "Santo subito". Had Marcel Maciel's crimes been a little better hidden, it would not be difficult to imagine him carried to the altar by the money and enthusiasm of his followers. Again I ask would waiting a century do any harm? In the age of the global village would expecting "many" miracles, increasing the number be a problem? Would demanding a strong widespread and deep seated cultus be too much to ask?


Sixupman said...

Well said, Father, the situation I find disconcerting and demeaning of Mother Church.

Wynn said...

I quite agree, Father.

Except that I wouldn't be so enthusiastic about saying "Obviously those who have been beatified and canonised fulfil all of these requirements." (Was that written, I wonder, with the tiniest bit of tongue in cheek?) Certainly the first criterion – whether the person is in heaven – is a judgement (infallible, I think?) of the Ordinary Magisterium. But the other two criteria have an awful lot of wiggle room in them. Enduring … well-founded … outstanding … exemplary … these are all questions, not of fact but of degree (as the first criterion is not), with a great deal of grey area between the black-and-white extremes. I don't think that faithfulness to the Magisterium obliges one to accept anything other than the basic judgement as to the person's heavenly status. (Imagine if Maciel had been beatified/canonised, which could very easily have happened. One would, of course, accept that, cleansed from his sins and in God's great mercy admitted to the Beatific Vision, he was indeed in heaven and in a position to intercede for us. But as to the other criteria … ?)

Wasn't it the case in the past that fifty years had to elapse before a Confessor could be raised to the altars? Why was that ever dropped – along with the rôle of Advocatus diaboli? As with so many things, there was about the former ways of doing things a wisdom, a perspective and an acceptance that all things are to be understood sub specie æternitatis which we just seem to have abandoned, to the whole Church's detriment.

johnf said...

I agree Father. It is indecent haste. There should be say a 50 year moratorium on such moves to raise someone to the altar.

A Reluctant Sinner said...

Hear, hear!

Frederick Jones said...

Little St Hugh of Lincoln, St William of Norwich, St Simon of Trent?

Conchúr said...

50 years is too short. It should be 100 years at least.

Wynn said...

Not sure about that, Conchúr. Would one really wish that St Thérèse, for example, could not have been considered for beatification until 15 years ago?

Of course one can always argue that "exceptions" should be allowed for – and indeed, if I am right that there used to be a 50-year rule in force, St Thérèse was made an exception to it, being beatified only 25 years after her death. The trouble with exceptions is that they easily become the rule, especially when you're talking about people who, almost by definition, were "exceptional". Soon enough, if a particular individual is not deemed worthy of fast-tracking, it'll be assumed that there must be something wrong with their cause. (We're certainly getting to that situation, as Father points out, with the beatification of Popes.) Whatever period – 50, 100 years – is deemed appropriate should be stuck to regardless. There's nothing to prevent the growth of a cultus from which the Church may benefit even before beatification takes place; indeed the prior existence of a cultus is, as pointed out, one of the criteria.

Martyrs, naturally, are and always have been a case apart.

Jacobi said...


I couldn't agree more with your views on early sainthood. I have, I think, recently commented on John XX111, Paul VI and Jean Paul II, who, holy men though they were, had their faults.

Time should be allowed to elapse and some historical perspective emerge before such decisions are made - and the miracles are all-important.

Personally, I would agree with you and support Pius XI, but mainly because in his use youth he was a splendid mountaineer, something I dabbled with in mine, so he must be a good, eh, now what's the word, eh, he must be sound!

NBW said...

Father, you've raised some very good points.
I've always wondered why Bl. Margaret of Castello is still Blessed(1609) and others have become saints in very little time.

Matthew Roth said...

I agree to an extent, Father. Some are probably rushed through, but I also think it's better not to wait to open the process in some cases that will be monstrous (like Bl Teresa of Calcutta or Bl John Paul II). Relying on documents makes for a harder case than relying on both eyewitnesses and documents. Also, I think that the Church will be prudent in moving through each stage of the process.

Terry Nelson said...

Father, isn't the pope infallible in issuing a decree of canonization?

Fr Ray Blake said...

That was the general opinion but it is a little difficult to justify, especially with some of the more obscure saints, of whom we know no historical facts, just rather late miracle stories, especially so in the case of those raised to the altar by legend.

It would be a hermeneutic of rupture to suggest that saints declared popes are somehow different from those of the 1st millennium who are listed (canonised) by acclamation.

R J said...

Was it not Vespasian, rather than Augustus, who when dying said "Vae, puto deus fio" (Oh dear, I think I'm becoming a god)?

Victor said...

Exactly father, there is no difference - and it is not only popes who can be infallible but also (in very limited cases) the whole People of God (i.e., the Church). If some obscure saint has been venerated as such since 1500 years, he might well be obscure, but there is no doubt to me that he is, in fact, a Saint.

Fr Ray Blake said...

The Churches magisterium is termed ordinary, the personal magisterium of the Pope is extraordinary

Your last sentence seems to be like a suggestion for "spiritual rain", it is there even if you can't see it, feel it etc, it is not quite logical.

Sixupman said...

Since 800 AD, by my calculation, only 8 Popes have been elevated to the status of Blessed and 9 Popes elevated to the status of Sainthood.
[ex 1985 E&W Catholic Directory, omitted, apparently, from 2012 edition]. Proves your point Father.

Sadie Vacantist said...

The recent beatifications of J23 and JP2 are looking more and more like a bail out of the Second Vatican Council. Endless QE is being extended to this council with the Vatican functioning as central banker.

GOR said...

You hit on something that has bothered me for some time, Father. Not just the seeming ‘inevitability’ of beatification for recent Popes, but the ‘volume’ of beati and sancti in the John Paul II years. I felt that somehow it cheapened the whole process.

Perhaps that even contributed to the notion that “we’re all going to heaven” implied in so many funeral services of recent decades. While St. Paul frequently addressed his letters “to the saints at…” we know he wasn’t implying communal sanctity already realized, but the ‘call’ to that state in which we all participants. But there is still the Lord’s admonition that “many are called, few are chosen…”

We are still a Church of sinners – hopefully striving for sainthood!

Fr Ray Blake said...

JPII wanted "saints for today", especially martyrs, it was also to highlight the "universal call to holiness" of VII, most people have not responded.

I was a little surprised 7/8 year olds knew nothing of S Francis of Assisi recently at Mass.

Genty said...

Instant gratification and contemporary celebrity may have something to do with it; a sign of the times. The misconstruing of the Church being "open to the world" has, I fear, resulted in a measure of contamination.

Just another mad Catholic said...

1) I think 100 yrs or even 50 is too short, by that time the vast majority of people who knew the saint personally are going to have gone to judgement themselves and won't be able to give evidence to said sanctity.

2)I think the point about St JoseMaria is invalid, it took longer to cannonize the good Father than it did to cannonize a certain french Carmalite.

3) I don't think that the universality of cultus should be taken into consideration, I doubt most english Catholcs know much about St Francis Xavier Cabrini whilst I wouldn't expect spannish Catholics to be experts on Cardinal Newman

4) this whole discussion must be very amusing for said Sancti as there is no envy in heaven

Fr Paul Hayward said...

There were over 300,000 people present at the canonisation of St Josemaria Escriva in 2002, from a huge variety of countries, and from every continent. The vast majority of that crowd were not members of Opus Dei. If that is not sufficient to qualify as evidence of cultus "outside of Opus Dei and Spain", then almost every other saint would have to be excluded from canonisation. If it is the Church's role to get people to heaven, it does not seem out of place to celebrate when She succeeds in this endeavour. The more the better!

Physiocrat said...

A 100 year rule would be a good start. We are suffering from inflation of canonised saints.

It is not as if there is a shortage of them in the calendar. And new ones can mean that old favourites get elbowed out.

And whilst on the subject, I have not heard the Gaudeamus introit sung for a while.

Just another mad Catholic said...

Dear Physiocrat

If you introduce a 100 year rule then how are you going to interview those who knew the proposed Saint for evidence of heroic sanctity? It is pretty hard after all to interview a corpse

Dr. Adam DeVille said...

Yves Congar's hilarious diaries of Vatican II record a comment from an unnamed curial official describing Paul VI's tortured personality as "Peter in chains and Paul outside the walls" all in one go!

Frederick Jones said...

I thought that the Almighty made saints but the Church merely recognised them.

Adulio said...

I was under the impression that Paul VI beatification was a no go, after the following book was published:


The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...