Monday, August 18, 2008

Saintmaking Infallibility?

Yesterday after Mass the usual gang sitting at the coffee hour table engaged in an interesting conversation. One of the men, an older and very experienced one deserving of respect, opined that the Church had changed the process of Canonization to such an extent that infallibility is no longer attached to it. In other words, in the Church today it is not possible to figure out who is or is not a canonized Saint. We went back and forth and around the table on it, and it was as always a fun conversation. I didn’t quite catch the full reasoning but the points he made were this:

  1. Today, the Bishops decide who is worthy (In their dioceses I assume) and then forward it on to the Vatican, where more Bishops investigate and deliver the new Saint to the Pope.
  2. The Pope signs off on the new saint.

But according to this gentleman, there is no infallibility attached to the act. I don’t understand where he is coming from on this point considering this is exactly the same method used in an Ecumenical Council. This is also precisely the method in which the Bible was compiled (and with even less process than today’s canonizations). It is my understanding that a Pope is so protected by the Holy Spirit that even if he makes a choice on Faith or Morals using “Rock, Paper, Scissors” he cannot be wrong. It is simply not possible.

I should also add that the Pope refusing to sign off on anything false is a historical fact. Consider the study brought to Paul VI regarding human reproduction. So many in the Church thought they were in the middle of the Catholic sexual revolution. What did they get? Humanae Vitae.

Consider the consequences of a loss of infallibility regarding the canonizations process. If just one new “Saint” were made and by chance the Church was wrong about that person’s soul being in Heaven, and it had officially declared them as so being, it would mean that the Church had endorsed praying to someone who’s soul was possibly in Hell. We know this is not possible by our Faith because the Church is indefectible. And that is really the bottom line.

I also have looked for the actual declarations of new saints. I found one online at the Opus Dei website. Here is quoted text from the recent Canonization of St. Jose Maria Escriva in 2002:

“Therefore, today, in a solemn Mass in St. Peter's Square, before an immense multitude of the faithful, we have pronounced the following formula: In honor of the Blessed and Undivided Trinity, for the uplifting of Catholic faith and the increase of Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and that of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and our own, after careful deliberation, having called frequently upon God's help, and with the advice of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define Blessed JosemarĂ­a Escrivá to be a Saint, and we inscribe his name in the catalogue of the Saints, ordaining that, throughout the universal Church, he be devoutly honored among the Saints. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

And what we have declared, we desire to be in force both now and in the future, anything to the contrary notwithstanding.

Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's, the sixth day of October, in the two thousand and second year of our Lord, of our Pontificate the twenty-fourth.

John Paul
Bishop of the Catholic Church

Marcello Rossetti, protonotary apostolic”

Compare this to the decree on Saint Francis of Assisi in 1228:

Therefore, since the wondrous events of his glorious life are quite well known to Us because of the great familiarity he had with Us while we still occupied a lower rank, and since We are fully convinced by reliable witnesses of the many brilliant miracles, We and the flock entrusted to Us, by the mercy of God, are confident of being assisted at his intercession and of having in Heaven a patron whose friendship We enjoyed on earth. With the consultation and approval of our Brothers (i.e. the cardinals), We have decreed that he be enrolled in the catalogue of saints worthy of veneration.

9. We decree that his birth be celebrated worthily and solemnly by the universal Church on the fourth of October, the day on which he entered the Kingdom of heaven, freed from the prison of the flesh.

10. Hence, in the Lord We beg, admonish and exhort all of you, We command you by this apostolic letter, that on this day reserved to honor his memory, you dedicate yourselves more intensely to the divine praises, and humbly to implore his patronage, so that through his intercession and merits you might be found worthy of joining his company with the help of Him who is blessed forever. Amen.

You could almost say that the modern decree is actually more clear than an older form, but neither being any more or less infallible than the other.

Now, I will say this, because I have great respect for those who are my elders and have been in the Faith far longer than I’ve been alive, that I have a lot of research to do on the matter. It is true that the Canonization process for a while was a bit loose and even the Vatican sort of admitted that… So are there problems with the methods of selecting prudent choices? That’s a real possibility. I said at the table that I will be reading up on this and I will. It was mentioned that you could read documents on either side of the coin. I don’t want to read an opinion paper so I’m going to read what the Church herself has to say about it, because she is the only one who has competency in the matter.

Here are a few links we can all read up on:

New Laws for the Causes of Saints

Divinus Profectionis Magister, John Paul II


Jeff Miller said...

It is an infallible act and as you observe the language used is exactly the type of language that triggers an infallible definition.

Jimmy Akin has posted on this fact before.

Moonshadow said...

Wiki linked to this CDF document:

"With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations ..."

You might also read the "Papal infallibility and canonization" section of this article.

the Church had changed the process of Canonization to such an extent that infallibility is no longer attached to it.

Eh, if anything the process has been improved. But, consider the "purge" that occurred when the church calendar was revised in 1969: some saints got demoted or, at least, lost their feast day, because their historicity could not be confirmed (e.g., Valentine, Christopher). They were legend.

Matt said...

I thought about St. Christopher regarding the infallibility issue. But if I remember correctly, St. Christopher was never formally canonized but is a saint through popular acclamation. Same with Valentine I believe.

Since we've had canonizations there is no wiggle room on whether someone is real or not, a saint or not.

This is also important I think because lets say for instance my country has a saint that was instrumental in a military defeat against your country. Well, if we are both Catholic countries and my country goes around saying St. So'n'So and your country calls him Heretic So'n'So then we've got a problem don't we? But as we know the Pope's word is above the kings of the earth, so he gets to decide. The decision is final to boot.

I will read that New Advent article too, once I finish the the official sainthood rules, it looks pretty thorough.

bilbannon said...


On morals, Popes can be incorrect. A series of Popes supported torture after 1252 AD and Ad Extirpandam and light torture existed in church courts themselves and yet section 80 of John Paul's Splendor of the Truth calls it...torture... intrinsically evil. Canon 24 of the Third Lateran Council gave perpetual slavery of sea captains who helped the Saracens as a reward to privateers who captured them and again section 80 of Splendor of the Truth called slavery an intrinsic evil and yet it was supported in canon law (see Aquinas who cites same in the Supplement to the ST in the section on marriage subsection marriage of slaves.

They....Popes... are protected when
they access the process of declaring something infallibly in morals (see section 62 of Evangelium Vitae) and they are protected perfectly then only.

Matt said...

Hi bilbannon,

So are you saying a Pope can be wrong regarding a Canonization? Those other points you bring up are interesting however the Church does teach that infallibility is assured when the Pope teaches ex cathedra on faith and morals, provided the correct conditions exist of course.

I doubt very highly the 3rd Lateran Council meant to teach as a doctrine of the faith perpetual slavery. Nor the the Second Vatican Council mean to declare any number of things as dogmatic.

Moonshadow said...

gave perpetual slavery of sea captains who helped the Saracens as a reward to privateers

Sounds fair. Ah, kidding ...

section on marriage subsection marriage of slaves

This seems like the Faith working within a culture, not unlike guidelines for reconciliation after procuring an abortion in our "culture of death." Forgiveness doesn't mean abortion is approved any more than marriage means slavery is approved.

It seems to me that the cultural conditions underpinning Canon 24 of Lateran III no longer exist, so efforts to glean any "eternal truth" from it take the canon out of context.

As for Ad exstirpanda, try Jimmy Akin's article on "Identifying Infallible Statements".

bilbannon said...

No....I was just dealing with the moral level not the canonization issue about which I would wait for it to be defined not by Catholic writers but by Rome in a formal way that passes muster under canon 749-3 which requires no doubt about the infallibility.
Many things are left in the open question stage until then. For centuries the Church accepted the castration of castrati for Rome's choirs while two schools of theology argued each side of whether that was legit as an act to alter the sexual member. St. Alphonsus Ligouri in his Theologia Moralis in the 1700's avers that each school of thought on that question had merits with the pro castrati school being "probable" but the anti castrati school being "more probable".
Fr. Brian Harrison's essay on torture online is great to read for the dogmatic questions you bring up. He shows that torture was condemned by one Pope/ b rought back by others/ and condemned again by others. Was the Holy Spirit vacillating? No....He is only guaranteed in the infallible venue and though the ordinary magisterium can be that infallibility on an issue if the longevity and universality is there, canon 749-3 makes it difficult to say that such an issue is definitely infallible since the OM is amorphous by nature. Arguably the death penalty was given to the Gentiles in Genesis 9:5-6 and reigned within the church from Augustine (after Romans 13:3-4 became canon)til 1969 and then one Pope...john Paul II... saw fit to virtually throw it out in so many words with Benedict concurring at the time.
A similar vanishing of an issue is husband headship....6 times clearly in the NT and nowhere in the present catechism nor in Vatican II due to insecurity in our leaders on women's current place in the relationship as to jurisdiction. As one female poster to RCM said last year....if both are equal in jurisdiction, the woman is leading. But again it shows that longevity and universality are not always as honored as we pretend.

Jimmy did an odd thing in your link. He defended the 1530 papal statement condemning Luther's view (which is now Rome's view by the way) with a little too much indulgence and casuistry and then he showed that it was not infallible in the second place which begs the question of why he defended it at though he wanted it to be true in some sense but then wanted it to be separate from infallible. I agree with the second part of his plan not the tendency to stretch logic to defend wrong statements and justify them by cultural context which is rampant in Catholic apologetics people ...
Much that Popes wrote was not infallible and yet is taken for infallible as the default position on bulls and encyclicals which is a bad habit. A series of Popes from 1452 til the early 1500's were a real cause of Iberian invasions of the New World and the slavery that ensued and because Catholics over stated papal wisdom, there were few who parted company with their view....Pope Paul III in 1537 and Cardinal Cajetan prior to that date did protest what those Popes achieved
(see middle of 4th paragraph of Romanus Pontifex 1452 which gave Portugal the right to perpetually enslave and invade native groups who resisted Christ and to take their assets which is exactly what Spain and Portugal did for over 150 years...Spain being given the same rights by Pope Alexander VI in 1494 whereupon the world was divided by the Popes of that time for those two countries....a fact left out of the renditions of that history by apologetics writers including two Popes of the 19th century who also did not notice that Brazil was the last nation out of the slave trade in 1880 and is a Catholic country. Portugal was the last Euro nation out of slavery but by that time was not really Catholic anymore.

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton