Saturday, June 10, 2006

a question re: infallibiility

I'm having a Devil's Advocate moment.

Here's my question: the declaration of canonization is supposed to be infallible. But what does it mean when a saint who never actually existed is infallibly canonized?

Several of the "Fourteen Holy Helpers" apparently never existed. For example, Saints Christopher and Barbara. (See also here and here.)

Here is a relavent quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Is the pope infallible in issuing a decree of canonization? Most theologians answer in the affirmative.

And from St. Thomas (Quodlib. IX, a. 16):

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 we must piously believe that in this matter also the judgment of the Church is not liable to error.

The image above is of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.


Pontificator said...

There can be only one answer to your questions: If the saints in question did not exist, then they did not exist; but they should have! :-)

The young fogey said...

I think the issue with SS. Christopher and Barbara isn't that there's proof they never existed, which would be scandalous, but that there is no proof they did.

Such weren't 'de-sainted' as popularly misrepresented. The church calendar periodically fills up with saints' days interrupting the liturgical cycle and now and then the church prunes the calendar to free up the cycle again. In the latest pruning such saints were easy 'targets'!

Then there was the case of St Philomena, a modern (19th-century) cultus that came from mistaken archæology. After the mistake was discovered - even the name 'Filumena' was wrong (scrambled lettered tiles) - the cultus was suppressed in 1961, nothing to do with Vatican II. But she was never formally canonised. The cultus had been found to be free of doctrinal or moral error and was tolerated.

And there's St Jehosaphat as in Jehosaphat and Barlaam: simply a christianised re-telling of the story of the Buddha! But again that may not have been a formal canonisation, simply a tolerated mediæval cultus.

St Dymphna, a patroness of the mentally ill, whose feast was last month, has a fantastical legend 'so bizarre it has to be true', a Christian princess whose widowed father had an incestuous passion for her and had her killed when she said no. It may be another case of what I'm talking about. She's not on the traditional universal calendar of saints. Probably an informal, spontaneous cultus that's tolerated.

J-Tron said...

Does the problem lie with the Roman position on papal infallibility or the Roman position on saints? I would venture to say a little from column A and a little from column B. Infallibility in this sense is problematic because it can be shown to be applied to what may be a false claim (IE, the existence of saints who never lived). On the other hand, if the understanding of saints came more from a local recognition that becomes widespread, as in the Orthodox world, the whole problem of a top down decree about someone's potential "sainthood" would be solved anyway.

Of course, I suppose the other way out is to take a view of infallibility that says that the pope is only infallible when he is correct. I'm told that some Roman Catholics have tried to float this idea. And on a common sense level, I suppose that is true. Then again, in that sense I'm also infallible, as is WB, as are Unitarians.

First Apostle said...

Young Fogey: Are you certain about your point that Rome has simply pruned Christopher and others out of the calendar? I was under the impression that it was something more like "de-sainting". Loads of saints don't get officially commemorated anymore. I always thought it was a bigger deal for Christopher - that he was no longer a saint because his story doesn't stick.

Anonymous said...

WB -

Don't forget St. Aldate and St. Frideswide...


B. Wylderd said...

Are there folks that scoff at the idea of biblical inerrancy while empbracing notions of papal infallibility? I would find that wierd but I'm sure there must be.

Mark said...

Papal infallability, an innovation which didn't become dogma until the 19th century, is one reason I can't cross the Tiber.


Drew said...

In defense of the Holy Helpers, they're still in the official list of saints (the Roman Martyrology), as in--for example--St. Valentine. Their feasts have simply been moved from "global" feasts to "local" feasts. In the example of St. Valentine, he is still liturgically commemorated on February 14, but only in his home diocese of Rome.

First, it is important to note that Catholic teaching has not held canonizations to be infallible, and so the premise is flawed. Many theologians did, but then again many theologians embraced limbo, and the Vatican backed away from the concept recently. Limbo was not, afterall, ever in the Church's own articulation of the faith. It was never a dogma.

Second, I must take big issue with J-Tron. His appeal to the practice of popular acclamation of sainthood spreading locally then globally as a way to AVOID these confusions is incorrect. In fact, those saints which did not exist were none of them, of whom I am aware, canonized by the pope--Papal involvement in canonization datesw to the 11th century, after the cults of the purely legendary saints had taken hold, locally.

In fact, the Eastern churchs had more embarrassing mistakes, which took hold in part because of their decentralization (as a matter of statement, not a value judgement). For example, (largely obsolete) conviction of many Easterners that St. Chrisopher was a dog-headed monster.

Scranton Priest said...

From the The Ecole Glossary we have the following, on the legend of Josehat and Barlaam:

According to an international best-seller of the Middle Ages, Ioasaph (also rendered Josaphat or Yudasaf) was the philosophically inclined crown-prince of "Inner Ethiopia, called India", whom the desert hermit Barlaam of Senaar or Balahvar of Serendip converted to faith in the True God. Versions of the story were written in nearly every widely-spoken European and Middle Eastern language and in the Ge'ez tongue of Ethiopia; the True Faith was variously identified as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Manichæism. The most influential retelling was the Greek version by "John the Monk", identified by tradition with St. John of Damascus but by several modern scholars with St. Euthymius the Georgian. The Greek text skillfully interweaves narrative action in exotic "Ethiopian" locales, entertaining fables (some later to re-appear as Sufi stories), and a detailed exposition of Orthodox Christianity based in part on the writings of John of Damascus and in part on an apologetical work of the second century, the original of which was rediscovered in the 1800s.

According to all versions of the story, Ioasaph's father was warned by an astrologer that his son would join an illegal religion and become a monk after experiencing sorrow; to forestall this, the king imprisoned his son from birth in a pleasure-palace. Ioasaph's quest for truth began when he managed to leave the palace briefly and observed old age, poverty, and disease in the city. A very similar story is, of course, told of Gautama Buddha, and the name "Yudasaf" bears an obvious resemblance to "Budhasaf", the standard Persian transcription of "Bodhisattva"; some scholars hear echoes of Sanskrit in other proper names as well. It is therefore frequently asserted that the story of Barlaam and Ioasaph originated as a Persian, probably Manichæan, retelling of the the life of Buddha, whom Mani numbered among the prophets. On the other hand, the most famous and central episode in Gautama's life, his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, is entirely lacking, and there is an equally complete absence of distinctively Buddhist theology or doctrine. It seems not impossible that the story may simply have been Sanskritized in the East in the same way that it was Hebræized in the Latin West where the names of the protagonists were conflated with "Balaam" and "Jehosaphat". Curiously, in spite of the existence of an Ethiopic version, the occurrence of at least one Nubian place name in the Greek, and the marked resemblance of the setting to the Axumite Empire, scholars do not seem to have suggested that the story might have roots in the African as well as the Indian "Æthiopia".
--Norman Hugh Redington.

There is always more than meets the eye.

The young fogey said...

Drew seems to have answered for me. Papal infallibility is nothing to do with it. Nobody was de-sainted - that's impossible. Except maybe Philomena but even that cultus is tolerated - churches named for her kept their name (there is also a real, very obscure St Philomena with no cultus) - but there is absolutely nothing liturgical for her, not even as a local option. Quite simply somebody honestly goofed when they jumped to the conclusion that she existed.

In ever other case the universal calendar was pruned and the edited-out saints were kept for local veneration as Drew explained.

My opinion: completely unrelated to the Novus Ordo, which I hate, I understand the desire to restore the liturgical cycle by weeding the universal calendar, but at a time when the world was secularising, getting rid of the universal commemoration of popularly venerated saints seems a mistake only hastening the de-Christianising of society. (I mean, banishing the real Santa Claus?! Please.) I am a big proponent of sober Mass-and-office Catholicism but the liturgical cycle and devotions to saints have the same goal of bringing people closer to God.

Isn't the story of the Buddha (Gautama Siddhartha) much older than that of Christ? Are you saying, scranton priest, then that the Near Eastern (Persian) story on which the Buddha's is based is older than Christianity?

MM said...

Pontificator, I like your style- and I think you are right.

The Church can canonize mere legends.

What the quandry does to devotional attention to the purely "legendary" saint is another matter- no one should be praying "to" a myth- perhaps this is a valuable occasion for clarifying what we all really mean and practice when praying with the saints...