Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Canonisation and Infallibility

A recent question on the Medieval Religion discussion group as to whether canonisations are infallible acts of the Pope elicited this response from Fr Paul Chandler, who is a Carmelite in Australia, and which I thought might be of interest to readers:

Until recently it was indeed the general opinion of theologians that canonizations are infallible. There were dissenting opinions, however: Augustine of Ancona (1243-1328) held that it was impossible to judge definitively the state of a person's conscience and that canonization could not therefore be infallible. Cajetan (1469-1534) held a similar position.

In recent times there has been controversy (see, for example, Francis A. Sullivan's treatment in Magisterium (1983)), a disagreement which extends into the Vatican's Congregation of Saints, where officials have argued contradictory positions (Daniel Ols, “Fondamenti teologici del culto dei Santi,” in Dello Studium Congregationis de causis sanctorum, pars theologica (Rome, 2002): 1-54.

The traditional opinion is summed up pretty fairly in the old Catholic Encyclopedia (1913).

Is the pope infallible in issuing a decree of canonization? Most theologians answer in the affirmative. It is the opinion of St. Antoninus, Melchior Cano, Suarez, Bellarmine, Bañez, Vasquez, and, among the canonists, of Gonzales Tellez, Fagnanus, Schmalzgrüber, Barbosa, Reiffenstül, Covarruvias (Variar. resol., I, x, no 13), Albitius (De Inconstantiâ in fide, xi, no 205), Petra (Comm. in Const. Apost., I, in notes to Const. I, Alex., III, no 17 sqq.), Joannes a S. Thomâ (on II-II, Q. I, disp. 9, a. 2), Silvester (Summa, s.v. Canonizatio), Del Bene (De Officio Inquisit. II, dub. 253), and many others. In Quodlib. IX, a. 16, St. Thomas says: "Since the honour we pay the saints is in a certain sense a profession of faith, i.e., a belief in the glory of the Saints [quâ sanctorum gloriam credimus] we must piously believe that in this matter also the judgment of the Church is not liable to error." These words of St. Thomas, as is evident from the authorities just cited, all favouring a positive infallibility, have been interpreted by his school in favour of papal infallibility in the matter of canonization, and this interpretation is supported by several other passages in the same Quodlibet. This infallibility, however according to the holy doctor, is only a point of pious belief. Theologians generally agree as to the fact of papal infallibility in this matter of canonization, but disagree as to the quality of certitude due to a papal decree in such matter. In the opinion of some it is of faith (Arriaga, De fide, disp. 9, p. 5, no 27); others hold that to refuse assent to such a judgment of the Holy See would be both impious and rash, as Francisco Suárez (De fide, disp. 5 p. 8, no 8); many more (and this is the general view) hold such a pronouncement to be theologically certain, not being of Divine Faith as its purport has not been immediately revealed, nor of ecclesiastical Faith as having thus far not been defined by the Church.

What is the object of this infallible judgment of the pope? Does he define that the person canonized is in heaven or only that he has practiced Christian virtues in an heroic degree? I have never seen this question discussed; my own opinion is that nothing else is defined than that the person canonized is in heaven. The formula used in the act of canonization has nothing more than this:
"In honour of . . . we decree and define that Blessed N. is a Saint, and we inscribe his name in the catalogue of saints, and order that his memory by devoutly and piously celebrated yearly on the . . . day of . . . his feast."
(Ad honorem . . . beatum N. Sanctum esse decernimus et definimus ac sanctorum catalogo adscribimus statuentes ab ecclesiâ universali illius memoriam quolibet anno, die ejus natali . . . piâ devotione recoli debere.)

There is no question of heroic virtue in this formula; on the other hand, sanctity does not necessarily imply the exercise of heroic virtue, since one who had not hitherto practised heroic virtue would, by the one transient heroic act in which he yielded up his life for Christ, have justly deserved to be considered a saint. This view seems all the more certain if we reflect that all the arguments of theologians for papal infallibility in the canonization of saints are based on the fact that on such occasions the popes believe and assert that the decision which they publish is infallible (Pesch, Prael. Dogm., I, 552).
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" [in cap. un. de reliquiis et venerat. SS. (III, 22) in 6; Innocent., Comm. in quinque Decretalium libros, tit. de reliquiis, etc., no 4; Ostiensis in eumd. tit. no 10; Felini, cap. lii, De testibus, etc., X (II, 20); Caietani, tract. De indulgentiis adversus Lutherum ad Julium Mediceum; Augustini de Ancona, seu Triumphi, De potestate eccl., Q. xiv, a. 4). 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; while it leads to canonization, it is not the last step. Moreover, in most cases, the cultus permitted by beatification, is restricted to a determined province, city, or religious body (Benedict XIV, op. cit., I, xlii). Some, however, have thought otherwise (Arriaga, Theol., V, disp. 7, p. 6; Amicus, Theol., IV, disp. 7, p. 4, no 98; Turrianus on II-II, V, disp. 17, no 6; Del Bene, De S. Inquisit. II, dub. 254).

Beccari, Camillo. "Beatification and Canonization." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 4 Jul. 2015


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Was Little St Hugh of Lincoln ever canonised?

  3. I think that, and similar cases, was a case of a local cult that was accepted by the local diocesan authorities. Central control of all canonisations took time to come about, although it grew from the tenth century, and the process has continued down to the present day. Popular devotion to victims of child murder ( though Little St Hugh may have died as a result of a pure accident has, I think, been suggested) and reflects a strong medieval concern that the innocent victim was virtually automatically perceived as being holy.

  4. Did not the local community blame the local Jews for his murder and accuse them of using his blood to make matzos?

  5. Certainly a considerable number of such cults - St William of Norwih in England, and others in France and central Europe - arose around the idea of Jewish ritual murders of Christian boys. Today we see those as unfounded claims and part, in effect , of the blood-libel. What we might consider today is the fact that these victims were, so far as we know, killed by someone, and that the modern concern with child abuse was in past centuries blamed on a scapegoat community in the Jews. A society that did not recognise child or adolescent abuse as might be done today, or indeed believe in it (and let's be honest, recent revelations of its contemporary extent have shocked the majority of people today) had to find an explanation for the murder of the innocent.

  6. Reasons to Believe in Jesus

    Reasons to believe Jesus is alive in a new life with God can be found in quotes from two prominent atheists and a biology textbook.

    Thus the passion of man is the reverse of that of Christ, for man loses himself as man in order that God may be born. But the idea of God is contradictory and we lose ourselves in vain. Man is a useless passion. (Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, New York: Washington Square Press, p. 784)

    Among the traditional candidates for comprehensive understanding of the relation of mind to the physical world, I believe the weight of evidence favors some from of neutral monism over the traditional alternatives of materialism, idealism, and dualism. (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, location 69 of 1831)

    And certain properties of the human brain distinguish our species from all other animals. The human brain is, after all, the only known collection of matter that tries to understand itself. To most biologists, the brain and the mind are one and the same; understand how the brain is organized and how it works, and we’ll understand such mindful functions as abstract thought and feelings. Some philosophers are less comfortable with this mechanistic view of mind, finding Descartes’ concept of a mind-body duality more attractive. (Neil Campbell, Biology, 4th edition, p. 776 )

    Sartre speaks of the "passion of man," not the passion of Christians. He is acknowledging that all religions east and west believe there is a transcendental reality and that perfect fulfillment comes from being united with this reality after we die. He then defines this passion with a reference to Christian doctrine which means he is acknowledging the historical reasons for believing in Jesus. He does not deny God exists. He is only saying the concept of God is contradictory. He then admits that since life ends in the grave, it has no meaning.

    From the title of the book, you can see that Nagel understands that humans are embodied sprits and that the humans soul is spiritual. He says, however, that dualism and idealism are "traditional" alternatives to materialism. Dualism and idealism are just bright ideas from Descartes and Berkeley. The traditional alternative to materialism is monism. According to Thomas Aquinas unity is the transcendental property of being. Campbell does not even grasp the concept of monism. The only theories he grasps are dualism and materialism.

    If all atheists were like Sartre, it would be an obstacle to faith. An important reason to believe in Jesus is that practically all atheists are like Nagel and Campbell, not like Sartre.

    by David Roemer