Fourth Sunday of February 2011:
Some of the canonizations since Vatican II have raised quite a few eyebrows, and the news of the proximate beatification of John Paul II simply adds to the mystification of many souls. Are canonizations infallible acts of the extraordinary magisterium of the Pope? The Angel of Theology, Saint Thomas, explains that a particular canonization is somewhere between general truths (dogmas) and judgments of particular cases because the Church could err based on false witnesses. “Since the honor given to the saints is a certain profession of faith by which we believe in the glory of the saints, we need to believe piously that in this also, the judgment of the Church cannot err.” (Quodlibetales IX, last article). This puts the question in its proper perspective.
By the time of St. Thomas, the process of canonization had become both centralized (Rome had the final say on all judgments) and complex, involving a triple judgment of the Roman court: the orthodoxy of the writings (both private and public); the heroism of the virtues, and the authenticity of the miracles. This process is as enlightening as it is enigmatic: since the divine origin of the miracle is virtually impossible to assert (save rare exceptions since the devil can capably ape God), its authenticity depends on the heroism of the virtues. But judging the heroism of virtues can also prove very difficult since we judge them only by their exterior acts and a judgment of intention is easily fallible. Thus, such a judgment refers us to the first requirement, doctrinal orthodoxy. Hence, all sainthood ultimately hinges on the soundness of doctrine of the candidate, which is easy to determine.
If theologians speak of “infallible canonizations”, this is precisely because the canonizations rely firstly on the doctrinal test.1 Considering that the Popes were, back then, using great caution, with specialized judges, double-checking everything, such declarations closely approached the extraordinary infallible definitions proper to universal dogmas.
This being said, it is not difficult to see how far the present status of “canonization” differs from former times, which makes us very suspicious of the infallible character of them:2
The popes today have utterly refused to seal authoritatively any documents coming out of Rome given the democratic inversion of the “sense of faith”, the principle of collegiality whereby Episcopal conferences de facto dictate Rome’s decisions, and the doctrinal subjectivism prevalent everywhere.
The brutal simplification of the processes under John Paul II, together with the escalating number of canonizations, suggests the loss of the quality of the “extraordinary magisterium” attached formally to canonization.
Holiness now is defined in the capacity to give of oneself to others and to welcome life;3 it is simply a sign of the dignity conferred on a disciple of Christ. Today, one only needs to be an “authentic Christian” and some publicity to make his way to the altars.
The candidate has to pass through the sieve of “ecumenism” held by the Secretariat of Christian Unity, which stopped people like Isabella of Spain. John Paul II enlarged martyrdom to ecumenical dimensions. He even evoked the “martyrs of the other religious confessions.”4 Today in Argentina the process of “martyrdom” is open to Marxist bishops and guerillas.
Saints are now chosen depending on how they “consecrated” the post-Vatican II era: Msgr. Escriva, John XXIII, John Paul II.
Little concern is given to suspicion of heterodoxy. For instance, witness the beatification of John XXIII who fell silent rather than forcefully defend papal infallibility5 or Cardinal Ferrari befriending modernism in the time of St. Pius X.
The method of attributing miracles to Mother Teresa (and John Paul II) raised a storm of controversy as both persons were treated by doctors, and nothing proved the divine origin of the cure.