Dr John Lamont made the theological case against the infallible nature of decrees of canonisation on Rorate Caeli a couple of years ago: here's the first post, and here is a follow-up. The other day I stirred up Twitter by repeating some of his arguments and it didn't surprise me at all to see a fair amount of resistence to this idea from traditionally-inclined Catholics.
This follows very naturally from the fact that a lot of old books and old authorities say that canonisations are infallible. What one has to remember is that St Alphonsus and the rest used the term 'infallible' in a far looser way than Vatican I's definition, and when the term is used today it is that definition which tends to uppermost in our minds. Again, the process of determining the sanctity of individuals has been vastly, well, 'speeded up' would be a polite term. Saints generally needed four miracles to be canonised in the past, now they need two. And so on.
But I'm not going into all that again: Dr Lamont lays it all out. No one outside Twitter has ever seriously suggested that the infallibility of canonisations was itself a doctrine of the Church which requires the assent of Catholics. So we can agree to differ, as theologians in fact always have.
I want to point out something else which is of huge importance. The process of canonisation has always required money - the researchers have to be paid - and many of those canonised have well-funded supporters. Having rich chums does not in itself show that a person is not holy - even Christ had some rich friends, after all. But joined to a, ahem, streamlined process, there is a potential problem.
Among those being touted for canonisations there are bound to be celebrity Catholics backed by rich and powerful institutions associated with them which are determined to gain the prestige of having a founder or member canonised, and who fall below the moral standards of sanctity. We have seen how some of these institutions operate. The Legionaires of Christ were able to gain presigious endorsements not for a few years after concerns were raised, but for decades. They paid off some witnesses and denounced others. I think we are fortunate that the monster Macial died after being exposed.
It says something about the capacity of ecclesial institutions to discern who is holy and who is a career criminal that one after another of the founders of successful religious orders and institutions are found, often after their deaths, to have been evil men. The latest is Jean Vanier. A few years ago the suggestion that Vanier was anything other than a saint would have been shouted down by thousands of people genuinely moved and influenced by his work and writings. I don't blame them. Vanier was clever and he was careful. Are we quite sure that no one has been more careful?
At some point one of these individuals is going to be canonised. In fact, I would be very surprised if that hasn't already happened. Who could even read a short account of the life and work of all the people canonised since the system was, er, 'reformed' in 1983? There are thousands of them. But plenty of well-resourced people in the secular media will be happy to make it their business to find some dodgy ones.
One fine day in the next ten years credible allegations will be made against a beatus or canonised saint. Remember, you read it here first. And if we are not careful, the people defending the indefensible will be the conservative and traditional Catholics, the ones who want to defend the whole system and the very concept of heroic virtue and sanctity.
The liberals will just walk away from the shambles. Heck, they don't even believe in supernatural virtue, let alone miracles.
Those Catholics most queasy about the accelerated canonisation process, the ones most leery about canonising every Pope since Vatican II, the ones least comfortable about the scramble to find people to canonise who tick various ethnic and ideological boxes: these are the people who are going to be left to defend the 'St Jean Vanier' or the 'St Marcial Maciel' to be revealed in the future. As the details gradually emerge, as they tend to do, they will be utterly humiliated, and forever associated with the crimes of the accused.
My friends, you are walking into a trap.
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I very much agree I haven't liked the number and speed of Canonisations the last 20-30 years Personally I don't think anyone should even be considered for Canonisation until they have been dead 100 years If they are still remembered and revered after that length of time then they can be considered As for Canonising Popes it's become a semi corrupt circle of Papal aggrindisement 'I canonise my predecessor and my successor will canonise meReplyDelete
The "singular 'they'" is a weapon of Cultural Marxism. Catholics must start eschewing it.Delete
How is this different from the old argument that we shouldn't believe the pope is infallible in dogma either because it will come back to bite us one day when the pope defines an error?ReplyDelete
Dr Shaw's not arguing for the non-infallibility of canonizations (in this post). He's pointing out that the streamlined process, combined with the fact that many recent canonizations are blatantly made for political reasons, is going to come back and bite us. Maciel was one of the most wicked men who God ever allowed to walk the earth, yet he was beloved and revered by JP2 and other luminaries, and may well have been canonized if his evil hadn't come to light.Delete
The argument for the non-infallibility of canonizations (in the Vatican I sense of the word 'infallible') is simple: a person's being in heaven is not part of the deposit of faith, and is therefore not the subject matter of a dogmatic declaration. See the Lamont article for the details.
That is not the doctrine of Vatican I and not what Lamont thinks. The Church is capable of defining not only what is contained in the deposit of faith, but also what is necessary to guard and expound it. Lamont argues that the Church infallibly proposes the sanctity of some individuals, such as certain Doctors of the Church, but doesn't think it would be contrary to the purpose of the magisterium if the Church occasionally instructed the faithful to venerate someone who is in hell.Delete
"How is this different..."ReplyDelete
Normally when the Pope defines a dogma he makes sure that it is something that could not be proven false even if it were false.
Similarly, you will never be able to prove that someone is not in heaven, even someone like Marcel Maciel. But "this person was heroically virtuous" can definitely be disproven. So if canonizations are claiming the latter, they are NOT like the dogmas, which are things that could never be proven false in any case.
And, if the Pope claimed to be infallible about things that could be proven false if they were false, it is equally true that you should not believe him about that, and believing it would in fact come back to bite you.
Spot on !ReplyDelete
The canonization of popes is embarrassingly like the deification of Roman emperors after their deaths.ReplyDelete
Founders of orders are almost automatically canonized. The so-called miracles for many modern saints are very suspect as well.ReplyDelete
The "miracles" have been dumbed-down, too. Used to be something like raising the dead, replacing an eyeball, or growing a missing six inches of a femur overnight, to healing a fetus of a disease that normally has a survival rate of 98%, or healing a hangnail, or reducing cholesterol levels.ReplyDelete
Wow. Dr.Atkins can be declared a saint now under VII era rules.Delete
Don’t let the fake canonizations of false prophet antipope Francis lead you to bad conclusions about canonizations. You have already fallen into the Francis is Pope trap.ReplyDelete
The doctrine of infallibility as defined by Vatican I has been defined rather narrowly over the last 150 years. The process of canonization can also be "tweaked" to deal with current standards.ReplyDelete
Are there saints who are no longer in the calendar? How is this phenomenon possible theologically possible?ReplyDelete