On canonizations – official and otherwise

5 10 2010

Of late I have slowed down my investigations into “folk Catholicism”. My conclusion is gradually becoming one of not seeing much difference between these unapproved practices and “official” ones. The roots of both are usually the same, and their flavors are remarkably similar. And for many people, they can exist side by side without much anxiety as to how they “fit together”.

In some of the most “folk Catholic” places, particularly in Latino communal settings, it is very common to see statues of John Paul II and Mother Teresa a few feet from Santa Muerte love soaps or las Siete Potencias Africanas candles. Being the Internet-literate Catholic that I am, I was thus a little fascinated by the whole idea of beatifying Cardinal Newman. I suppose I have to reveal my ex-Lefebvrist bias, and state that theologically I don’t trust canonizations in the last forty years. The streamlining of the process and the elimination of the devil’s advocate makes me feel that canonizations in the Church have become far too political (Escriva de Balaguer, I am looking in your direction.) But that distrust is a complicated one, for I know that there are a ton of traditional saints, like my beloved Saint Barbara or St. Expedite, who wouldn’t pass the test of a devil’s advocate today.

Nevertheless, these “questionable saints” and the numerous miracles they have worked through the centuries are far better proof of holiness than having devotees backhandedly bribe a bunch of Vatican officials to raise someone to the altars, or being canonized because you set a “good example” for everyone else (especially in “below the belt” issues, like St. Maria Goretti or Gianna Molla: immolating themselves on the altar of femininity). Nevertheless, I am not just going to eat my sour grapes, in that I too venerate or at least understand the veneration of questionable “saints”, and in spite of my reservations (which I feel I can maintain at the end of the day), I am prepared to live and let live.

On the face of it, I think Newman is not a good choice to be canonized. It’s not like he’s cranking out the miracles, or that he is popular amongst anyone other than academics in the English-speaking, developed world. In some ways, his beatification is just a means for the Church to cover its posterior in that the beatification of Newman is the canonization of the shape that Catholic theology has taken in the last seventy years or so. Before, Catholicism was conceived of as a static thing, with scholastic philosophy being seen as a “philosophia perennis” that dealt with questions untouched by time and floating in the ether. With Newman, history enters in and breaks apart such a Platonic palace in the sky. Just as a law school in former East Germany used to have engraved over the door Marx’s last thesis on Feurbach (“Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”), so somewhere in the Vatican they may engrave the famous phrase: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”. It just makes sense in a world where the truth is bureaucracy, and bureaucracy is truth.

Of course, what is even more self-serving is that some are even making noises to canonize G.K. Chesterton, and many are even patting each other on the back for making such an opportune suggestion. Sure, he ate too much and doesn’t seem to have done anything more heroic than skillfully mock those he didn’t like. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be a saint, does it? In that sense, the canonization of someone like Escriva, at least in the Latin American context, was sort of a minor baptism of the reign of modern technocracy. Perhaps Chesterton would become the patron saint of the rightwing Catholic Internet. Maybe his beatification would be the canonization of militant Internet Catholicism’s nastiest habits. Each generation seems to have a way to deify its own vices.

But like I said, I understand and even defend cults to questionable figures, in spite of the fact that they have a similarly strange logic behind them. Why not light a candle to Pancho Villa or Juan Soldado? Why not wear a scapular of Jesus Malverde? Unlike Newman and Chesterton, these folks don’t have the “right kind of people” behind them. They will never be ready for primetime, so to speak. So the fact that I have any reservations about people venerating Newman, Chesterton and Co. is hypocritical. I am perfectly ready to be called the black tea pot. I am short and somewhat stout after all.

My revenge, however, is to imagine some sort of Catholic dystopia where all of these things start to run together.. where Wall Street brokers clutch medals of Jesus Malverde or Gauchito Gil while doing their deals… where Bolivian peasants offer llama’s blood on a roadside shrine to Cardinal Newman… where Ivy League co-eds dance to cumbias devoted to Maria Lionza… where street thugs tattoo images of G.K. Chesterton on their backs for protection, and affectionately call him, “el Gordo”. Hey, peasants in Spain used to invoke St. Thomas Aquinas for protection against locusts, even though they had never cracked open a volume of the Summa in their lives (it helps that they couldn’t read). Perhaps such a dystopia would be my sweetest revenge.


Actions

Information

53 responses

12 10 2010
Mark of the Vineyard

Yes, Kardecians believe in reincarnation and also in benign possesion by the dead. To them, Jesus was just the most spiritualy evolved human that ever lived.

12 10 2010
Robert Hiyane

Doesn’t Allen Kardec (I think it was his book Jesus of the Spirits or something like that) a believer in not only communicating with the dead and what he would perceive as a benign or positive form of possession but also reincarnation?

8 10 2010
john burnett

It happens that i did a huge paper on Joachim when working on my master’s— my mentors offered to accept it as my thesis, but i decided i didn’t want a degree in the thought of a 12th-century crackpot, so i should stick to my original plan of doing OT.

I don’t know that Joachim particularly ‘renounced the logic of salvation’, or that he was so into ‘the freedom of creative thought and act’ in that somewhat neutral sense; he just thought that the imminent coming of the Spirit would render institutional forms unnecessary.

His whole system was based on an intensive study of the Book of Revelation, and he was one of the first to unleash the insanity surrounding that book that has beset the West ever since. His whole numerical scheme was based on patterns of 6’s and 7’s; by calculating these, he thought he could predict the coming of Christ, etc. (Oddly, Douglas Adams hit the nail right on the head when in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the “Meaning of Life” turned out to be “42”— (i.e., 6×7).)

History was thus divisible into three ages, those of Father, Son, and Spirit. Being mathematically based, it was all kind of inexorable. The Age of the Spirit would dawn in 1260. At this time, the covenant would be written on everyone’s heart, and there would be no further need for law.

Joachim developed his system because he hated the new scholastic method that was coming into vogue in the universities; he wanted theologians to base their ideas on the monastic practice of meditation on Scripture, and not on Aristotelean logic— but in writing his hyper-logical, mathematical How-To’s, he out-systematized the systematicians and turned scripture into a hard-and-fast, airtight, numerical qabalah with powerful predictive potential!

The idea of a system which could figure everything out (and especially ‘prove’ that one’s own ideas where the aim of God’s whole plan) had sufficiently electrified Europe by the end of his life that he had to submit his books to Innocent III in 1200, but he died two years later so nothing came of any potential condemnation at the time. Nonetheless, his interpretations of ‘biblical prophecies’ continued to sweep through Europe with hurricane force: you name anyone who was anyone in Western Europe after him, and within three degrees of separation you’ll find someone reading Joachim and handing on the pattern of his ideas. Apocalyptic speculation got so heated up around 1260 that Pope Alexander IV condemned his writings and set up a commission which at the Synod of Arles (1263) declared his theories heretical. Two and a half centuries later, Christopher Columbus could still regard himself as a Joachimite messiah; and Marx was a crypto-Joachimite, via ideas he Thomas Münzer.

It’s not so much that his ideas were dangerous to the institution, as that he really was crazy, and his ideas were at the bottom of a *lot* of mischief that ensued in subsequent history. It’s as if, having read Hal Lindsay and Tim LaHaye, the Jehovah’s Witnesses had taken over all the capitals of Europe and were busy making policy. Joachim’s approach to reading scripture is part and parcel of the way the masses read it, even today— especially when it comes to parts like Daniel and Revelation.

The great historian Eric Voegelin has a good deal to say about him in *Science, Politics, and Gnosticism*. (I strongly recommend that little book on general principles!) I would not say Joachim tried to bring Vatican legalism to an end— though like others, he was surely reacting in some sense to the newly hypertrophying powers of the papacy— he firmly believed in the papacy, and attacked the Eastern Church for not being on board with it. He just thought the state/church would ‘wither away’ (where have we heard that before?) due to the outpouring of Spirit.

But this idea was then picked up by people who really believed they were chosen by God to ‘implement’ the New Age, and *that* move is at the foundation of an awful lot of the further development our Western political and philosophical tradition. It’s one thing to believe in freedom, self-determination, and so forth. It’s quite another to believe that you and your army are God’s Own instrument, specially chosen to usher in the Age of Spirit for mankind!

If memory serves, Joachim was actually canonized by his order, but his order went defunct not much later. I think Berdiaev has his own ideas about what it was all about, which one might not agree with. Sorry I don’t recall too much more, but (again) the discussion in Voegelin is very interesting and useful.

Sorry also if when i submit this comment it ends up out of order. I find the procedures somewhat opaque.

8 10 2010
Mark of the Vineyard

Sure. the deceased in question is Dr. Sousa Martins. Even in Fátima you find a bunch of those corny stores selling his bust, right along side St. Expeditus, St. Rita, JP II, and sometimes Yemenja 😀

I did find a case of someone who went into one of those kitsch stores proding to see if they had any medals with his effigy and they happened on one of the few sellers that was “serious” and outright said that the man is a “alma penada” since he was a mason and commited suicide, so the Church cannot ascertain his salvation.
You find a lot of funny stuff in Fátima. Like the girl who sold me my godson’s baptismal towel with the dove representation of the HS on it and commented “See, this one is nice, it has the dove of peace on it.”

Spiritists here (and we have a bunch of them, especially of the Kardecian brand, given the influx of Brazilians) consider him their patron.

8 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Hey, Mark, can you hook me up with a name on that one?

8 10 2010
synleszka

Canonise Joachim de Fiore? His announcement of the beginning of the era of the Holy Spirit in 1200 is viewed by some as the beginning of the modern era because it renounced the logic of salvation, the logic of the Son and paved the way for the era of the freedom of creative thought and act, the era of the Holy Spirit. This opinion attributed to Fiore, is dangerous for the institutional hierarchical Church. Christianity has revolved around the concept of law, perceived in a most draconian way as a set of penal regulations and Fiore sought to bring this legalistic ecclesisastical ideology to an end. Sadly, the thought of Fiore has degenerated and lost its teocentric focus becoming a godless version of the revelation received by Fiore into a degenerated ideology of the modern “scientific worldview”. Also, it is interesting that Fiore is called the father of proletariat communism. It is said that Fiore through his teachings taught the salvation of the proletariat, that Marx acknowledged that humanity can attain salvation and prosperity but sadly Marx did not partake of the Mystical Life of Christ, instead he relied on the application of the simplistic yes/no scheme to religion, albeit forgetting that God is irrational sui generis.

Source: Berdiaev

8 10 2010
Mark of the Vineyard

Here in Portugal there is a popular devotion to a 19th century doctor. Many Catholics (and non-Catholics) pray to him and atest to miracles. In the capital (where he lived) there is a statue to him and it is constantly full of flowers and candles. People also want him canonized. Now, the fact that he was a Spiritist, a notorious anti-Catholic, and commited suicide does not seem to pose any problem to them in wanting him canonized.

8 10 2010
Olivier le Humanzé

Robert, I read recently that the Angelic Doctor was the original Deep Fat Friar.

8 10 2010
Robert

John,

Your views on aseticism sound awfully like Eastern Orthoodx (Fundementalist) ones. Thank God I belong to a Church which has , through the long centuries simplified and done away with much of the Platonic theology and morality of the East and made things a lot, lot simpler for the average lay person to get graces and attain Heavenly blessings. Why do I need to live like an Egyptian hermit when I could just get their indulgences to satisfy for my good works?

That’s Catholicism for you, a religion that’s the be all, cure all for lifes troubles.

8 10 2010
Robert

Arturo, perhaps your views on the saint factory as being a modern form of clericalization are on the mark.

Interesting side note, For most of my life I made an internal distinction between “going to Heaven” when I died, and becoming a full fledged saint. In my Italian upbringing a saint was seen as more of a supernatural superhero who cured illness, raised the dead, and comforted the afflicted. I doubt that I (Or many Catholics for that matter) Identified sainthood as just the Churches rubber stamping a person past the pearly gates. It was seen as something miraculous for a person to become a saint, something that was almost like the powers given to comic book superhero’s. Very few people ever imagined becoming saints themselves (Or would want to be).
This more cultural view of the saints certainly doesn’t gel well with the more modern view of the “call to holiness” which the Church tries to shove down our throats. I can understand how making too many saints at once out of ordinary people would downplay the whole miraculous concepts and superhero statues that the old saints had. I just wish that the Church would make some kind of formal distinction between “sainthood” and going to Heaven-hood.

8 10 2010
Robert

I don’t see why you couldn’t have an overweight saint? A lot of saints were known to be obese. St Anthony and Thomas Aquinas was known to weigh in at around 400 pounds each. Many a hefty man has been called to the Lords service (Yeah, I know that they all supposedly had a “gland” problems, but given the known propensity for corpulent clergy, especially monks I kind of doubt that excuse).

Besides a saint can have faults and imperfections of a venial nature, yet still be canonized. Canonization does not require us to believe that the person ascended up to Heaven at the exact moment of their death, only that they are in Heaven at the time of their canonization.

I for one think that we need more rotund men and women raised to the altars. After all fat people are known for being jovial and kind. What better way to shows that even those with imperfections can become perfect in Gods eyes.

Also, I have no idea why some people oppose the concept of a “saint factory”. What’s wrong with making more saints? It must mean that the Church has made it easier to get to Heaven and whom, except for the self righteous and sadist would have a problem with that? I, knowing full well my own faults and imperfections, surely don’t.

7 10 2010
Adeodatus

Let’s not forget Father Seraphim Rose….I’d love to hear what Arturo thinks about him.

7 10 2010
john burnett

I like what FrGregACCA says. Here are people known and loved by their communities, who knew and loved their communities. And as the Optina Elders said, ‘the grass on the path to their graves was still worn out, long after they died’.

In Africa, veneration of ancestors— all ancestors— is the main form of religion. All are venerated partly out of fear that they might do something damaging; the family has to keep them happy. Partly also, by presiding over all their descendants, they fulfill an important function in keeping large numbers of people unified. However, generally, after four generations, they are no longer remembered— for it’s about that long that any living memory of them exists in the community. My grandfather’s brother told me, in his 90’s, a couple of stories that his grandmother told him about her childhood and the people she knew. I guessed we were talking about just before the 1700s maybe. That’s about as far as anyone can ever go. The ancestors fade; even their graves are forgotten. I am the only one left who heard those stories, and i don’t even know the names of those people, though because his sister wrote down the family tree, i could look them up.

It may be that some will pray to someone they knew, who has passed on. If the intercessor delivers, word will get around. In time, though, memory may fade. That’s ok. If they got big enough, they may still have a day on the local calendar, like Ss Martyr Theodota and her three sons in Bithynia (ca. 304). We remember Theodota; we even know a couple of things about her; she still intercedes, perhaps especially for people named after her! Or it may be that holy people are long forgotten, and then God manifests them, like Ss Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene of Lesvos (+1463).

If God manifests them as great saints, they will still be known at least to their communities after 4 or 5 or 10 generations. Perhaps, if God wills, they might even attain to even greater universality, if people from other communities also come to know them as powerful intercessors. To be a saint of the universal Church means that the whole Church venerates you— not because some universal ‘authority’ ‘decreed’ you ‘universal’, but because your intercessions are truly known, universally. St Seraphim of Sarov, I suspect, has even made some inroads into other religions, so far has his holy fame has traveled beyond Sarov, because of his teachings, instantly recognizable to any spiritual person, and because of the power of his intercessions.

I too don’t think any of this is the same thing as that dystopia. God can, and does, manifest his true saints. He doesn’t need our bureaucratic process.

And by the way, i should mention that i have the same problem with some of the modern Orthodox canonizations, particularly in America. Was there any cultus before they were named? With St Herman and St John Maximovitch, yes indeed there was. But with some of the others? I can’t say they are *not* saints, but….

May God be glorified in his saints!

7 10 2010
FrGregACCA

I disagree, however, that it sounds like Arturo’s “dystopia”. These Saints were, before their deaths, integral members of their various communities. People knew them, conversed with them, face-to-face. I think that we in general should be more aggressive in venerating Saints such as these after they fall asleep in the Lord, whether publicly or privately. I can think of a couple of people right now who, having departed this life, occupy niches in my private pantheon of Saints (and, I am quite sure, in that of others as well).

7 10 2010
Sam Urfer

“Italian urban piety produced a peculiar kind of holiness. The final chapter of Part I focuses on the most distinctive spiritual characteristic of the communes, their lay saints. Medieval “sanctity” has also been the object of much historical and anthropological study in recent years. So, too, the urban context of medieval Italian saints is now getting the attention it deserves. Still, the towering figure of Saint Francis of Assisi—and his order—so dominate the landscape that we easily forget that he exemplified a common lay style of holiness. The holy men and women of the cities deserve a portrait in their own right because they represent the holiness venerated by their contemporaries. The saints are not a stand-in for ordinary lay piety. First, they were saints and, by that standard, exceptional. There is no question that a certain, more or less sizable, proportion of the lay population was not pious at all and perhaps even religiously indifferent. Second, with a couple of exceptions, the saints were very much influenced by traditional monastic asceticism and so distanced themselves from many aspects of ordinary life, such as children and marriage. The exceptions include Saint Facio of Cremona, Saint Pietro Pettinaio of Siena, and Saint Omobono of Cremona. Ascetic as they were, they did not become full-fledged penitents. The lay saints were above all good neighbors, exceptional principally in the intensity with which they lived the common religiosity. The women saints did not enter cloisters or join organized religious orders. The men practiced worldly professions or dedicated themselves to organized charity. Even hermits, like Saint Giovanni Buono of Mantua or Saint Galgano of Siena, never ceased to be part of the city landscape. Their neighbors responded to these remarkable individuals by “canonizing” them, that is, by praying to them after death and expecting miracles. Cities collaborated in the cults, erecting shrines and fostering devotion. Sometimes devotees called in the papacy to validate a saint, but this was neither necessary nor common. A network of local shrines imposed a kind of “charismatic” overlay on the religious geography of civic and ecclesiastical institutions. The saint, living at home or supernaturally present at his shrine, was a fixture of urban religious geography.”

Actually sounds kind of like your “dystopia” in the original post.

7 10 2010
Sam Urfer

Interesting factoid: the first Papal canonnization was St. Homobono of Cremona, a tailor and well-t0-do merchant, in 1199. Medieval Italy actually was chock-full of lay saints in the early republican city-states. Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. has a book that you might find interesting: “Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes, 1125–1325”, http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/0-271-02477-1.html

Here’s a bit from the opening chapter: http://www.psupress.org/justataste/samplechapters/justatasteThompson.html

“There is probably no period and place in Christian history where ordinary people had a greater impact on forms of devotion than in the communal republics of Italy. The world of the communes came between the rule of the count-bishops of the old empire and the later rule of the princes. The cities produced a religious culture truly their own. Communal Italy also produced the single largest concentration of lay saints in Christian history, the modern age included.”

7 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Some have brought up the “new regime” of the saint as the “common, everyday Joe” since Vatican II. I have covered this topic before, and I think it is a distortion of what sanctity has actually meant in the context of the everyday life of the believer. I will have to use again the term, “sainthood as Catholic of the Month Club”. People haven’t really asked for reasons why 200 years ago (a fraction of the time it took in the process of making a saint) few if any lay people were ever canonized, and why it was even uncommon for simple parish priests to be elevated to the altars. It is a question worth asking, but I think that the answer points in an obvious direction: sanctity was seem as an extraordinary event. As ritual and the spectacle elevated the believer from everyday life, so did the concept of the saint. There was also a heavy dose of clericalism involved, but it doesn’t seem that the faithful really cared all that much.

Does the familiarity with the saints make people want to approach them more? Since the creation of the saint factory, in the developed world at least, the cult of the saints has diminshed a great deal in many places, often as a conscious policy of the clergy. To be perfectly blunt, the popularity of the saint has nothing to do with how much we can identify with him/her, except in anything but an abstract setting. Do you honestly think that people are going to stop praying as much to St. Martin of Tours, seen as a Roman soldier on a horse dividing his cloak for a beggar, just because someone “just like them” was canonized? People pray to saints because the saints work miracles and answer prayers. Certain contemporary saints seem to be pretty good at that: St. Therese, Mother Teresa, John Paul II, etc. But sometimes, a process leading to canonization is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yes, if you promote somebody enough, and people start praying to them, it seems that it is only a matter of time before something unexplained happens. That is just the nature of the world in which we live. I am pointing out that in the case of executed criminals, murder victims, and other far from heroically saintly people, all of that happens pretty spontaneously. If that is the case with unofficial saints, in terms of the official saint, one needs to ask, cui bono? Why is this cult being promoted? What is its implication in the wider church and society?

Perhaps the idea of “saints being people just like me” is the ultimate clericalization of Catholic consciousness: a statement, to paraphrase the great Stephen Colbert, that “I am Church, and so can you”. As in many other things, Vatican II was Trent carried on by other means. But you’ll have to excuse me for thinking that we should question motives, or analyze what changed in the idea of sanctity in the modern Catholic ethos.

7 10 2010
Robert Hiyane

John Paul Pope brought the saints to all people and not just one continent.

7 10 2010
Visibilium

Newman’s beatification was pretty entertaining from my nosebleed seat. It’s a fine joke to play on the obstinate Brits, who never learned how to bend over for Apostolicae Curae.

A clever lad could view Newman as an anti-miraculous cattle prod.

7 10 2010
vito

Don’t know if St. Bruno said that, but Joachim the Calabrian abbot (1135?-1202?) who Dante mentions in the Divine Comedy said: The true ascetic counts nothing his own save his harp. There was some talk of his canonization some time back, but I doubt if it’s in the cards–too controversial.

6 10 2010
john burnett

sorry— that previous note was to robert.

Vito— the history of canonization is interesting. Wikipedia has a handy summary. “Formal” canonization— meaning, the vatican process— didn’t really come into full force until 1170, So St Bruno would have been one of the last not subject to it.

Happy feast day. By the way, wasn’t it St Bruno who said, “A good monk is content with *one* book a year”?

uh oh.

6 10 2010
john burnett

Hard to resist saying, Sorta like ‘christianity lite’, then?

Or quoting Mk 10.24— “Children, how difficult it is to enter the regime [basileia] of God!”

But should we suppose that all those ascetics (and there are many kinds of asceticism) were just fasting because they preferred low-protein diets? That there wasn’t something *essential* in what they did?

But you raise another issue— ‘attaining heaven’— can we find that ideal expressed anywhere in the Old or New Testaments? We read about ‘entering God’s regime’ (basileia means the activity of ruling, not a place you can go), and Jesus taught us to pray that God’s regime come ‘as in the sky, even on the ground’ (ok, i’m a literalist— ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, if you like— but the point is: ‘on earth’, right?) And we read about the conditions for actually becoming participants in God’s life: love, forgiveness, give up everything you have (a necessity!— read Lk 14.33), and do all this ‘even unto death, death on a cross’.

So what i don’t get is, ‘attaining heaven’ aside, how is it that we could not be encouraged to do all this in our everyday lives before? And how will manufacturing ‘easier’ saints help us to do it better?

We still have to read the gospels and respond to them. I’m all for the intercessions of God’s own, but crawling on our knees to a statue of JP2 won’t do as much for us, no?

6 10 2010
vito

Today (Oct. 6) is celebrated the feast of St. Bruno (1030?-1101) founder of the Carthusians who died in the Charterhouse in Calabria. He was never formally canonized.

6 10 2010
Robert

I’m very fond of the “saint factory” that JP II created. It gives hope that ordinary people, not just a small handfull who live strict, asetical lifestyles can attain Heaven. This fits right in with the post Vatican II concept of making religion easier for the common masses of people to follow. Simply put, we can all be encouraged to become saints now because sainthood is easier to aquire.

What’s wrong with that?

6 10 2010
Adeodatus

I see what you mean. But I think that there’s still a difference between a statue outside of the church, or a shrine in someone’s home to someone who isn’t officially canonized and actually having a side chapel with kneelers and votive candles, visible from the narthex during Mass, prior to beatification, and even prior to being declared ‘venerable’. I also think that it’s surprising that an American Bishop, steeped in a culture without much folk piety would consecrate a church like that.

6 10 2010
James Kabala

I think my comment was misunderstood.

6 10 2010
Mike Walsh, MM

Arturo,

If any deliberate “streamlining” of the process has occurred (especially under JPII) I would say it consists mainly of a) lighting a fire under bishops who would otherwise be sitting on causes (for reasons I gave before) that others wish opened, and b) allowing for a less strict, less legalistic interpretation of the evidence that might otherwise impede a legitimate cause.

“Why does every founder of every two-bit religious order need to be canonized?”

A good question, IMHO. Another issue here is the desire (again, especially on the part of JPII) to use canonizations as a tool for evangelization: a saint of our own, especially in those places where the Church could use some publicity. But this is hardly a new motive.

“Call me old school, but I am an unenthusiastic Catholic who thinks that if it isn’t at least a hundred years old, it’s nothing to get excited about.”

You are old school, but I like that about you. The best argument I have heard against recent canonizations is essentially this one: that time should be an essential factor, and that a long tradition of veneration is itself evidence of authenticity. But therein also lies a dilemma, for a delay in the decision to open a cause (as indeed in the case of the founder of a religious order) is viewed with suspicion by the Congregation for Causes: it raises the possibility that those interested waited until there were no more living witnesses. Call that legalistic, if you like. Another aspect to this perceived haste is that it is in part an artifact of the digital age: information about a cause spreads rapidly, and a previously laborious process has been expedited by such novelties as document scanning and databases.

6 10 2010
john burnett

about the narcotraficantes, i wonder what that says about the state of the church?

about the buddha, was he not a saint? (heh heh. i have a degree in buddhism, so i’m a little partial.) But anyway, i don’t know much about the process of his ‘canonization’, except that it was, again, kind of a popular movement, and whatever else it says in the introduction of the loeb edition of st john of damascus’ barlaam and ioasaph (for those who don’t know, ioasaph being a corruption of a corruption of a corruption of the word boddhisattva). I get your point, but i’m not 100% sure this canonization was a bad thing!

i’m not aware of such ‘saints’ as you’ve been writing about, in orthodox lands. There may be some; i’m just not aware. But i think there are more or less none, because even in greece i never heard of them. There are, of course, hugely popular saints (nectarios is probably the most), as well as miraculous icons and e.g., holy springs etc— but these cults are not so extra-ecclesial as the ones you mention. If it’s an icon, there’s always an akathist to attend at the church where the icon (or copy) is kept (which you can also recite at home)— that sort of thing. That seems to be one big difference between popular religious culture in greece and in, say, mexico. But someone more familiar with the territory than i am ought to talk about this.

in general, i think devotion to the saints is somewhat more loosely tied (and sometimes not tied at all) to the church’s liturgical life in RCism than in Orthodoxy. So, while you might be right that la Difunta Correa or Sarita Colonia would get canonized popularly if popular canonization still took place— and in those cases, esp. Sarita, maybe it wouldn’t be wrong— but in any case it seems that it would still be tied more closely to the eucharistic life of the church.

what’s interesting is the cultural split that can occur between a people and its church.

6 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Arturo, canonization by popular acclaim isn’t quite by popular acclaim *only*, though. I suppose that’d be one difference between the kind of folk piety that gives Maria Lionza and the piety of the catholic (small c) Church— the bishop has to approve, and bless.

I am sure the narcotraficantes could bribe a bishop to canonize la Santa Muerte if that were the case. Certainly, la Difunta Correa or Sarita Colonia would be so in in that case. Hey, if they could backhandedly canonize the Buddha, anything’s possible, right?

6 10 2010
john burnett

Arturo, canonization by popular acclaim isn’t quite by popular acclaim *only*, though. I suppose that’d be one difference between the kind of folk piety that gives Maria Lionza and the piety of the catholic (small c) Church— the bishop has to approve, and bless.

Henry Karlson, good case in point, about the two Symeons. And that’s still going on— the abbot of Philotheou Monastery on Athos put a nun in a monastery under him on the calendar 400 days after she died— because he knew her to be a formidable holy woman. As a great elder and as an abbot, he had the ability to discern— this would have been the same with St Symeon the New Theologian who, after all, is one of only three saints to merit the title ‘theologian’.

But even St Symeon could place his elder only on the calendar at his own monastery, as was also the case at Philotheou and the convent at Thassos where the nun lived. Wider adoption must be approved by the bishop, who may simply approve, or may in fact convene the whole Church for a service of glorification. Beyond the local diocese, veneration spreads as God wills. St Seraphim of Sarov and St Herman of Alaska have become quite well known in Greece, simply by word of mouth and by the power of their intercessions. But even Sergius of Radonezh is not so well known there.

Sanctity is very much a local thing. They should acclaim someone a saint, only who knew him or her. It is a question of whether, as one of the Optina Elders put it, the grass on the path to a person’s grave is still worn down or not, some years after s/he died. It is not, and i suspect by the nature of the case cannot be, the concern of a faraway bureaucracy.

6 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

If we had canonization by popular acclamation today, the Argentine cumbia singer Gilda and la Santa Muerte would already be saints, instead of being deemed as superstitious cults. Careful what you wish for, because they’re not putting up roadside shrines down there to John XXIII and Gianna Molla.

6 10 2010
James Kabala

Well, Newman has been dead 120 years (and he is only beatified, for that matter; it could be another decade or two before he is canonized, if ever). Most of the others you have mentioned were more genuinely “fast-tracked.”

I was wondering about your thoughts on the canonizations by acclamation of the first millennium. There are periods where it seems as if every halfway decent bishop has the title “Saint” attached to his name. Were they all great miracle-workers, or were people simply looser with the title? In a way post-1983 is a return to this earlier era.

6 10 2010
Manuel

If GKC were a saint I would not pray to him as much as I think more people should read him.

6 10 2010
Manuel

The same could be said of Mexico, where he remains very popular for his multiple visits to the country. There is even a statue of him right out in front of the new Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City. Many people pray to him.

6 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

That’s one of my points, though. Why do we have to streamline it, and if it hasn’t been so streamlined, then why has the creation of saints gone up so exponentially. I know you think so-and-so is a saint, but why does he have to be canonized RIGHT NOW! It even took Aquinas fifty years to be canonized, and while St. Francis was on the “fast track”, who in recent memory has been the equivalent of St. Francis? Why does every founder of every two-bit religious order need to be canonized? Why not wait a couple of hundred years, and then worry about whether or not someone should be elevated to the altars or not?

I admit that this isn’t just a “post-Vatican II” problem. As in many things, the pre-Vatican II period set the stage for this stuff (the Little Flower, Don Bosco, etc.) But one thing that has exploded in Catholicism is enthusiasm and the lust for the now. Call me old school, but I am an unenthusiastic Catholic who thinks that if it isn’t at least a hundred years old, it’s nothing to get excited about. I’m in the minority in this day and age, but that’s just how I see it.

5 10 2010
Sam Urfer

I meant in no way to denigrate Chesterton himself; he seems like a nice guy, and I like his writing well enough, by and large, and I dig his approach to politics and economics, for the most part.

As a bit of context, I have been to a talk at my parish where the canonization of Chesterton was proposed, and I was not convinced that it was more than fanboy-ism carried on by other means, though the presenter himself seemed a decent sort. I’m not lining up to buy the holy cards and candles, is all I’m saying.

5 10 2010
FrGregACCA

I’d support a “St. G.K.” if only for the following quote:

“Capitalism is contradictory as soon as it is complete; because it is dealing with the mass of men in two opposite ways at once. When most men are wage-earners, it is more and more difficult for most men to be customers. For the capitalist is always trying to cut down what his servant demands, and in doing so is cutting down what his customer can spend … He is wanting the same man to be rich and poor at the same time.”

Doesn’t sound all that “conservative” to me…

5 10 2010
Sam Urfer

Actually, your “dystopia” doesn’t sound half-bad to me.

I am not a fan of the “St. Gilbert” club, but it is important to note that the man didn’t eat a lot; he could barely be bothered to take time out of working to eat his dinner. Dude had glandular issues, big time (literally). Also, he may have spent a lot of time arguing, but he was good friends with his rhetorical opponents; George Bernard Shaw was one of his closest companions. While I don’t see it happening, there is a *case* for him, even if it is primarily focused among conservative Catholic nerds. I’m with Henry, though; I’ll take Tolkien with his crazy personal holiness and distinct lack of apologetic-iness any day of the week.

Mr. Burnett:

Padre Pio? St. Faustina (her feast is today)? Relax, you worry too much.

5 10 2010
Adeodatus

I think that John Paul II is a case where, at least among polish people, folk piety and official piety are in line. In Poland there is talk of many miracles performed through his intercession,and , many churches have a statue/image of him. Even in the States, take a look at this parish near chicago, who in building their new church, installed two side chapels: one for the Mother of God of Czestochowa, and the other one for John Paul II.
Here’s the site:
http://www.milosierdzie.us/index.php?art_id=16#

It seems that canonization means little here, such that even the clergy don’t care about official approval.(the local American Bishop consecrated this church without any problem)

5 10 2010
Henry Karlson

St Symeon the New Theologian, imo, is an important figure here. Many people (beyond those who study him) do not know that he formed a cult around his mentor, and one of the major theologians in Constantinople took the cause against Symeon’s cult of his mentor, Symeon the Pious. St Symeon made an icon of him and venerated him when he died. Now, St Symeon the Pious was, for the most part, a difficult saint — he was a “fool for Christ” known to walk the streets of Constantinople in the buff. St Symeon the New Theologian suggested his mentor had become “as innocent as Adam before the fall” and so failed to recognize any problems being naked in public. One can understand the dismay an intellectual would have with a fool for Christ, especially when their behavior seemed to go against the “moral code.” St Symeon, however, was able to convince the Patriarch of his mentor’s holiness, and converted him into a follower of his mentor, leading to his mentor’s official recognition as a Saint. One of the key things in the debate which was put into play was the ability for the Christian to venerate those whom they respected before official recognition of their cult had been established. This is, imo, the pious tradition which so many have forgotten, but one which has given me my freedom for my own veneration of many figures (including those who predated Christ like Socrates).

5 10 2010
john burnett

Mike, what you say about weeding out ‘inappropriate cults’ is nice, but the point is that the effort of “identifying” saints is active, aggressive, legalistic, rationalistic, and bureaucratic from the git go.

Someone takes it into his head that Balaguer, for example, “ought” to be on the calendar, “for the edification of the faithful”, and ‘proposes’ him; the bishop ‘promotes’, a ’cause’ is opened, investigators are sent, lawyers summoned, arguments given, a debate ensues, one (*one*!) ‘unexplainable’ cure ‘identified’, a panel of properly trained men renders a formal decision, a decree is issued, a papal ceremony (infallibility guaranteed!) occurs, with all due celebrity, and we start naming parishes. A flurry of holy cards, the sunday school press roars into action exactly once… and…. NEXT CASE!

It’s as systematic as the Summa. We even read, ‘Religious orders who regularly deal with the congregation often have their own designated postulators general.’

No. No. No. No. and NO!

If God wants us to know someone as his very own, then let HIM show that person to be the saint s/he is.

Or are we afraid that if we cease to ‘identify’, he won’t do so either? Or do we fear that people will start asking, Hey, why aren’t there any Benedicts, or Martins, or Gregories any more?

Arturo wrote of ‘the veritable “saint factory”… created when JPII came into office’. Here’s an entire industry that should never have existed, even since the 11th century!

Interesting time period, by the way— seems the Vaticanization of canonization seems to have occurred just as ‘theology’ was moving out of monasteries, where it had meant ‘experience’, into universities, where it means ‘science’ and ‘research’. Thus, “the last case of canonization by a metropolitan is said to have been that of St. Gaultier, or Gaucher, abbot of Pontoise, by the Archbishop of Rouen, A.D. 1153, just as Averroes was beginning his career. A decree of Pope Alexander III, A.D. 1170, gave the prerogative to the pope thenceforth, so far as the Western Church was concerned.” On the basis of rational, indeed scholastic investigation, Rome now determined all cases, even though the vast majority of candidates were not known and had never even set foot there.

You know, the problem isn’t so much these ‘saints’ themselves— as the *need* of a rationalistic, bureaucratic institution to have them— *especially* today when, by its own admission, it is discovering that it is almost completely irrelevant.

In such a climate, we can’t really trust— in fact we don’t really even want— God to do any “identifying” for his part. No no no! That would not be a process we could control.

And, after all, we’re perfectly capable of “identifying” who is a saint on our own, aren’t we, by the light of our reason!

But what is it, exactly, that is becoming irrelevant— if not the whole procedure, and the institution that seeks to bolster itself up by it.

Ah, Ss Xenia, Seraphim, and Nectarios, talk to us now, we *need* you!!

5 10 2010
Mike Walsh, MM

John,

I cannot agree. The Church doesn’t “make” saints, it merely identifies them. And that is the sole and entire reason for the canonization process: to identify the truth, and do so in such a way as to avoid profligate, intemperate, and even scandalous behavior, to encourage the faithful in the veneration of the truly saintly, and to discourage the development of inappropriate cults. And I can cite numerous instances in which someone like yourself has objected to a particular candidate, and his testimony was treated with the utmost respect by those in charge of examining the cause. And I know of a couple of causes that are being seriously considered, and feel –as I suspect you would– that they are undue, inappropriate, and being used to promote an agenda apart from the edification of the faithful. But I also have every confidence that in time the officials appointed for the examination of these causes will see through them. That, again, is why we have the process. Then again, I could be wrong, my objections unfounded, and the candidates indeed worthy of our veneration. That also is why we have the process, and why, also, we believe that God is involved in it, however clumsy and human the Church may otherwise be.

5 10 2010
john burnett

For God’s sake, let *GOD* reveal his saints!!

*Stop!*— just *STOP!*— “making” “saints”!

Who do we think we *are*??!

And what do we even *mean* when we say “saint”??!

Some guy *we* think “people” “ought to” venerate, so *we* promote their “cause” to have them “made” a saint—

what LIES!!

What LIES about GOD!!

5 10 2010
Max

“It’s not like he’s cranking out the miracles, or that he is popular amongst anyone other than academics in the English-speaking, developed world.”

I’ll grant the first point, but the second needs to be qualified – Newman does have a following outside of the English-speaking world; his works were already being translated into other European languages during his lifetime, and a lot of Newman scholarship has been done by French- and German-speakers (and even by some Slavs and Scandanavians, for that matter).

You can still say that this is primarily an academic following, albeit not an exclusively anglophone one, but there have been some non-academic Newman fans around the edges, e.g. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose group that opposed Hitler.

“. . . where Bolivian peasants offer llama’s blood on a roadside shrine to Cardinal Newman . . .”

I would like to see that. On the other hand, I once saw a roadside shrine in the Andes with a large icon of the Theotokos of Vladimir, before which local women would advance on their knees to make offerings. I think that was the moment when I started to realize that the “RC = universal and Byzantine/Orthodox = particular” view was complete nonsense.

5 10 2010
Mike Walsh, MM

As one actively involved in several causes –and learning on the fly, as it were– I see little that could be called “streamlined” about the process. The sheer amount of documentation involved and the commitment of personnel required has caused more than one prelate to balk at the prospect of opening a cause. As for the loss of the “devil’s advocate” that was simply a change in nomenclature, as the “promoter of justice” has precisely the same responsibilities, if not as flamboyant a title.

5 10 2010
Olivier le Humanzé

Or how about Fr. McGivney? What will his inevitable canonization mean to anyone–KCs included–other than “boy, those KCs have some clout?” (And I’m a member of the KCs!)

5 10 2010
Henry Karlson

I’m mixed about Cardinal Newman. I do think he was a saint, and worthy of the respect given to him. There is much of value in his work and writings, much which has helped people who have not read much of Newman (his defense of the laity, for example, could be used to support to “folk Catholicism”).

However, I fear his being made a saint is doing to him what Dorothy Day feared would happen to her if and when she is made a saint. It is being used to limit Newman, to put him into a neat little box, and that is the problem. Not all canonizations are like this, to be sure; St Seraphim of Sarov, for example, I think is a fine example (in the Orthodox tradition) where canonization broke through such rigid boxes and let public devotion reign.

Nonetheless, what I am more concerned with is the way others who I view could be, and should be, considered saints have been, and continue to be ignored. Of the four I believe should be considered, I believe all of them would raise eyebrows, though which one would raise the most, I do not know:

Cardinal Bessarion and Cardinal Isidore would cause all kinds of ecumenical problems. I am very ecumenical, but I also do not think ecumenism should be a reason, of itself, as a reason to distance onself from saints.

Nicholas of Cusa probably would be the one who raised the least eyebrows, but he is also very obscure. His charitable contributions combined with his work for the Church I think makes him one of the most important men of his time, and how he handled the challenges of his time I think raises up a fine example of how to deal with ecclesial challenges in any time and place.

My last choice is J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, I know some of his fans, like me, think he would be a great choice for sainthood. His challenges, and his dealing with them, are heroic; the problem is, someone would need access to his diaries, with the ability to read them, before one could really bring forward his cause. I believe they would indicate a great deal of the challenges we face in modernity, and his holding fast to the faith in the midst of such trials and tribulations are, I believe, capable of raising him up to sainthood. There are also indications, brief ones, of some extraordinary graces given to him during his life, including some sort of vision given to him in his daily eucharistic adoration.

5 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

I should add that the only reason that a folk saint is and continues to be venerated is because he or she works miracles, and lots and lots of miracles. God knows that in most cases their lives were far from edifying, or at most nothing extraordinary. More often than not, violent death becomes the locus of the miraculous.

I should add as a mandatory addendum (lest the more sensitive read this short essay wrongly) that canonization by the Church and the actual virtues that the person had in life are two separate questions. In theory, you can pray to any dead person you want, whether it be your grandmother, Juan Soldado, or Socrates, as long as it is a “private devotion”. The question of canonization is a separate issue, so please don’t think that I am attacking any one person personally (maybe Escriva), or I think that St. Maria Goretti didn’t do anything heroic, and so forth. Once the issue of canonization comes up in the context of the universal Church, one inevitably has to ask the questions: “what does this mean?”, especially in the situation where the normal marks of the canonization process (the passage of time and lots of miracles) are absent.

5 10 2010
john burnett

‘Theologically I don’t trust canonizations in the last forty years’— amen, and amen! How is it possible even to avoid the conclusion that all canonizations— Newman’s included— for a long time now have become nothing more or less than events sponsored by the Vatican’s Department of Public Relations?

I don’t like the game of ‘Orthodoxy vs Catholicism’— and it’s not like we don’t have our own sins— but at least in theory, for us, it is not possible to ‘make’ a saint. That is how it used to be in the RCC too. Do you think Ambrose, or Benedict were ‘proposed’, and then their cause ‘promoted’, with various ‘investigations’ and so forth, until it could be determined that ‘nihil obstat’? Seriously! It is for *God* to manifest his own saints; let him do so. And if he manifests none, then let us get back to work. Canonization is only ratification— acknowledgement of what can no longer be ignored or denied, because God Himself has made it plain in the sight of everyone: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things; behold, I will set you over many.’

St Xenia of Petersburg worked many, many miracles and spoke prophetically (though not in the modern, corrupt meaning of that word) over many lives for many years while living. And then, for nearly 200 years— even though for 70 of them, the Soviet government seriously tried to squelch the whole thing— there was an undeniably massive outpouring of miracles for thousands who asked her for help. It was the same for St Seraphim; the same for St Nectarios; the same for St John of San Francsico. The church eventually canonized these people because their holiness was undeniable. But the Church can ‘glorify’ (as we say) only after God had manifested his own favor through someone. The church investigates, not to ‘prove’ this one or that one is a saint, but to make sure that some kind of popular delusion is not involved. This is not just some foolish ‘investigation’ which manages to come up with a couple of ‘unexplained’ healings so-that-proves-it-s/he’s-a-saint!

Seriously, what is even the *point* of canonizing someone like Newman, or Chesterton, or Balaguer, or Goretti? Like, has God ever *shown* that they are saints? Have massive numbers of people, even in one monastery or locale, been healed, been changed, been renewed by them? Have people ever shown any great desire to pray to them? And will Newman or Chesterton ever be remembered as anything but the thinkers and literary figures they were, in 200 years? And Balaguer!— did he not cynically try to manipulate the process *even before his death*? Is that sainthood??! I’ll take von Balthasar’s opinion over the Vatican’s any day.

The whole thing is massively political, and deeply, deeply cynical— or, if somehow actually not entirely cynical, then deeply, seriously deluded. Do these canonizations not show us that none of those involved even knows, or cares, what true holiness is any more?!

The difference between folk saints and modern Vatican saints nowadays seems to be that folk catholicism is based on real needs by real folk; modern Vatican saints are as about as real as… North Korea’s record on human rights. The fathers of the church— i mean, real saints who were also real teachers of real holiness— often struggled against the popular gods of fortune etc, which *are* based on spiritual misunderstandings and often connected with real demons. But at least those misunderstandings were sincere, innocent in their own way, and grew out of real lives. Sorry, but I can see nothing sincere or innocent about the the manipulation of ‘sainthood’ to promote ’causes’.

The Mass is over; everybody go home.

5 10 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Well, with the veritable “saint factory” that was created when JPII came into office, I think it’s a numerical fact that it happened a lot less often. But of course, there were quite political canonizations that took place in the past, such as St. Joan of Arc or St. Thomas Beckett. How Charlemagne got to be blessed in some places is also beyond me. If you venerate Charlemagne, you can certainly venerate Jesus Malverde: both were thugs who supposedly did a lot of benevolent things.

5 10 2010
James Kabala

I did get laugh at the image of Chesterton as “El Gordo,” though.

5 10 2010
James Kabala

“It’s not … that he is popular amongst anyone other than academics in the English-speaking, developed world.”

I hope this doesn’t come across as trolling, but why shouldn’t they have a saint of their own? Isn’t it reverse snobbery to say that the devotions of developed-world academics are less meaningful than those of peasants?

5 10 2010
Matteo

Oh that’s right. Because no aristocratic power, no nobleman, no Power-That-Was every promoted a purported holy person’s cult out of less-than-altruistic reasons until Vatican II. No one ever did anything like that to promote “tourism” to their area or build up their coffers or bring more fame to their part of the world.

There was never any competition between religious orders regarding the fame and sanctity of their founders or more famous members.

Before Vatican II, no religious orders ever promoted the cause of their founders in order to lend more authority and power to their order.

Never, ever happened.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: