Daily Archives: February 2, 2011
Following a very interesting intervention of Schmenz in reply to a former post, I spent some time looking for some credible description of how a Catholic is to react to a decree of canonisation or beatification. This particularly in view of the upcoming beatification (and one day, perhaps, canonisation) of the late Pope JP II, an event which will clearly excite both an oceanic wave of enthusiasm and a smaller, but noticeable one of dismay.
I have already made clear that in my eyes the worth as a Blessed of John Paul II is to be seen in his saintly character, not in his working as a Pope. This is nothing new or wrong as a beatification or canonisation isn’t, nor could it ever be, a seal of approval of political action.
Now let us see what the Catholic Encyclopedia says on the matter of canonisation.
1) There are two types of canonisation, formal and equivalent.
Formal canonization occurs when the cultus is prescribed as an explicit and definitive decision, after due judicial process and the ceremonies usual in such cases. Equivalent canonization occurs when the pope, omitting the judicial process and the ceremonies, orders some servant of God to be venerated in the Universal Church; this happens when such a saint has been from a remote period the object of veneration, when his heroic virtues (or martyrdom) and miracles are related by reliable historians, and the fame of his miraculous intercession is uninterrupted
2) It is evident that modern canonisations are all formal ones; that they are the object of a prescription; that the decision is explicit and definitive. That they, as such, bind every Catholic. In matters of canonisation, “ours is not to reason why“. This is only logical, as the nature itself of the canonisation is to give the faithful certainty, not hope, that the canonised person is in Heaven.
3) Whether the decree of canonisation is an expression of Papal Infallibility (as, says the Catholic encyclopedia, most theologians think) or not, the result of the canonisation is evidently not less binding, and this is what interests us here. When the Church formally decrees that Titius or Caius are Saint Titius and Saint Caius, every Catholic is bound to accept this as part and parcel of his Catholic belief. Still, this mandatory belief does not stretch to the man in question having done everything right and not even to his having had heroic virtue; what every catholic is bound to believe is merely that the canonised person is in heaven.
Very different is the case of Beatification. The Catholic Encyclopedia again:
This general agreement of theologians as to papal infallibility in canonization must not be extended to beatification, not withstanding the contrary teaching of the canonical commentary known as “Glossa” […] Canonists and theologians generally deny the infallible character of decrees of beatification, whether formal or equivalent, since it is always a permission, not a command;
Clearly, here the Church is not saying “you have to believe”, but “you are allowed to believe”. You can therefore – as long as no canonisation intervenes – refuse to believe that the one or other person declared Blessed is in heaven in the same way as you can, say, not believe in the Fatima apparitions.There can be no question of infallibility, because there is no question of prescription in the first place.
In practical terms, this means that a Catholic is allowed to question the prevalent opinion that, say, John Paul II is in heaven but is not allowed to question the prescriptive decree that, say, Padre Pio is.