Reading around the Internet some of the reflection about today’s beatification of John Paul II, I would like to point out to a couple of aspects which are, in my eyes, rather important in order to put today’s events in the right perspective. Though I have already written a similar post here, I’d like to tackle the issue again from the point of view of the effect it causes on others, particularly non-Catholics.
1) A beatification has the same rank of a private revelation. No Catholic is obliged to believe that the person made blessed really is in Paradise. This obligation only comes into effect with the canonisation. This should, I think, always be said very clearly when you discuss the matter.
2) A beatification (or a canonisation) exclusively deals with the saintly life and heroic virtue of the blessed or saint and with the presence of the required number (if any; for the beatification of martyrs no miracles are required) of miracles, but is no endorsement of the operate of a person as a Pope, or in whatever other public role he might have been involved. Please stress this to everyone you talk about the matter. This should also be stressed with much energy whenever someone mentions the beatification.
3) The great “expansion” of the number of beatifications starting from JP II is, in my eyes, questionable; still, given the fact that as a Catholic do not have to believe a single one of the beatifications anyway I allow myself to feel relaxed on the point. My – or your – questioning the opportunity of such a number of beatification is therefore perfectly orthodox.
4) More delicate is the question about canonisations. As Catholics, we are bound to believe that the canonised person is in Paradise. As Catholics, we must believe that the Holy ghost would never, ever allow a Pope to make a mockery of the process. Every criticism of the new canonisation process must therefore keep this truth in sight: that every canonisation is to be accepted by the faithful as truth, be they very few or very many. This is very important if we want to avoid confusing our interlocutors.
5) Personally, I didn’t like JP II’s pontificate; not one bit; neither as a whole, nor in any one of his single most defining traits. I’d say that after Paul VI, JP II can be considered the worst Pope of modern times, by a comfortable margin. But this is my assessment of his pontificate, not of his saintliness. I strictly detach the first (the in my eyes catastrophic effect of almost 27 years of “Wojtylism”, by which an entire generation of Catholics grew up without even knowing the Ten Commandments, but ready to fill airports) from the second (the fact that the man was really trying to do his best, and was personally very holy).
6) “Holy” doesn’t mean, again, perfect in the same way as heroic virtue doesn’t mean perfection. People have their own foibles and character’s traits, the blessed and saints as everyone else. Even Padre Pio had his shortcomings, and was harshly criticised because of them. But we honour the saint anyway; even more so, because in reflecting about the shortcomings of very saintly men we can better understand how difficult it was for them, as for everyone else.
I assume that every conservative Catholic can easily agree with all the above points, though there will be obvious differences in the assessment of the concrete situation. Again, by every criticism we run the danger of confusing the Catholics and must, therefore, be particularly prudent.
If I were challenged by non-Catholics, or by non conservative Catholics, to say a word about the beatification I would accurately separate:
a) the man from the pope,
b) the canonisation from the beatification and
c) my dislike with this or that part of the new procedure with the Catholic Truth concerning canonisations.
As Catholics, please let us be mindful that whilst we can criticise the beatification procedure as much as we want, we must be mindful not to give the impression that we have ceased to believe in the binding value of the canonisations.
In addition, by the appalling ignorance about Catholicism now rampant ever among Catholics themselves, I wouldn’t give any critical, liberal Catholic a reason to believe that Catholic truth are considered not so untouchable, if even conservative Catholics appear to attack them.
Within the boundaries of acceptance of Catholic truth in the matter, I’d say that everyone should feel free to exercise his criticism as much as he likes.
A non-Catholic seeing that a Catholic can be very critical, but is always loyal will register the fact and, at a more or less conscious level, remain impressed.
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.
Mark O’Shea has an article about the canonisation of Non-Catholics, whereby a reader asks him whether the Church should not canonise C.S. Lewis (not a Catholic but a valiant fighter for Christianity throughout).
O’Shea’s answer is basically that the Church should not canonise non-Catholics because this would – irrespectively of the good life and intention of the person in question – downplay the very important difference between those who have the Truth and those who haven’t.
In my eyes, there is another important observation which should be made: in order to canonise someone, the Church needs miracles. Unless I am mistaken, She needs two of them for a non martyr and one for a martyr. Miracles show the will of God in the matter. No miracles, no will of God, no canonisation even if one went to Paradise with the limo.
Now this should introduce an important consideration: how is it that there are no miracles attributed to obviously saintly Protestants? Please let us again remember what the Church says about miracles, that they occur so that God may give us certainty that the person in question is in Heaven. Now, it would appear that God wants to give us proof that a lot of Catholics went to Heaven, but doesn’t want to give us the same guarantee about Protestants.
If he wanted, he would inspire Christians (not necessarily Catholics) to pray for a saintly person’s intercession (some Anglicans do it; Episcopalians might do it) and then He would allow miracles linked with this person to happen. And then the Episcopalians or Anglicans would be able to boast of their own great saints, of the Anglican Padre Pios so to speak and claim that evidently one way is as good to arrive at destination as the other. This just doesn’t happen and whilst I do not doubt that the Anglicans have their own catalogue of “saints”, I doubt that anyone of them would pass the standard demanded of the Catholic ones.
This doesn’t mean that many Protestant are not in Heaven of course; but it certainly means that entrance into Paradise through the window (or the back door) is something God doesn’t want to put a great stress on.
There is only one Church. It is the one of St. Francis, of St. Dominic, of St. Teresa of Avila, of St. Catherine of Sienna, of Padre Pio, of all Her great heroes.
God has shown to us that those great man to whom inexplicable events are linked are invariably Catholic. This happens for a reason and if you ask me it is nothing to do with what the Church should or should not do, because the Church doesn’t create the process.
It has to do with what God wants.
God wants you to be a Catholic.