|Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre|
As with the question of the invalidity of the Novus Ordo, those who affirm that there is no Pope over simplify the problem. The reality is more complex. If one begins to study the question of whether or not a Pope can be heretical, one quickly discovers that the problem is not as simple as one might have thought. The very objective study of Xaverio de Silveira on this subject demonstrates that a good number of theologians teach that the Pope can be heretical as a private doctor or theologian, but not as a teacher of the Universal Church. [....]
The visibility of the Church is too necessary to its existence for it to be possible that God would allow that visibility to disappear for decades. The reasoning of those who deny that we have a Pope puts the Church in an extricable situation. Who will tell us who the future Pope is to be? How, as there are no cardinals, is he to be chosen? This spirit is a schismatical one for at least the majority of those who attach themselves to certainly schismatical sects like Palmar de Troya, the Eglise Latine de Toulouse, and others.
Since then, SSPX has walked a fine line, acknowledging the legitimacy of the last several popes while criticizing their theology and their teachings. The consensus seems to be that the post-Conciliar popes were privately heretics, but that the papacy was protected by the Holy Spirit to prevent them from formally spreading this heresy from the Chair. In this view, the SSPX made their peace with the idea that John XXIII and John Paul II were popes. But it makes it virtually impossible to accept either of these men are Saints.
Now, SSPX and similar groups face an impasse: canonizations are infallible. So either (a) John XXIII (who opened the Second Vatican Council) and John Paul II (who implemented it) are Saints in Heaven, or (b) these were false canonizations. The fine line seems to have come to an end.
A. Canonizations are Infallible
When the pope canonizes a Saint, it's infallible (this argument doesn't cover the popular canonizations of the early Church, some of which have been expressly affirmed by the Church, but which might theoretically be fallible). Here are five reasons we can know that these canonizations are infallible:
1. The Saints Tell us This.
|Fra Angelico, The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (1424)|
To suppose that the Church can err in canonizing, is a sin, or is heresy, according to St. Bonaventure, Bellarmine, and others; or at least next door to heresy, according to Suarez, Azorius, Gotti, etc.; Because the Sovereign Pontiff, according to St. Thomas, is guided by the infallible influence of the Holy Ghost in a special way when canonizing saints.Likewise, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
In Quodlib. IX, a. 16, St. Thomas [Aquinas] 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.I know of no Saints who endorse rejecting canonizations, although I'm open to any evidence you might have on this score.
2. The Language Used is the Language of Infallibility
Here's what the pope declares in canonizing someone:
In honor of the Holy Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, with the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and of Our Own, after long reflection, having invoked divine assistance many times and listened to the opinion of many of our Brothers in the Episcopate, We declare and define as Saint Blessed N. and inscribe his/her name in the list of the saints and establish that throughout the Church they be devoutly honored among the saints.That's the language of infallibility. In fact, the language used in Unam Sanctam (and later, Vatican I's formula for ex cathedra statements) comes from the language of canonizations.
3. Canonizations Flow from the Deposit of the Faith
|St. John Paul II|
- Condemning heresies that arise after the Apostolic era;
- Infallibly declaring the Anglican ordinations "absolutely null and utterly void";
- Applying the Deposit of Faith to modern topics (like contraception, in vitro fertilization, cloning, nuclear warfare, etc.).
- Declaring a particular man to be either a pope or an Antipope. (e.g., resolving the Western Schism);
- Declaring a Council a legitimate Council or a Robber Council. (For example, Leo used this authority in rejecting the legitimacy of the so-called “Second Council of Ephesus”)
The argument against infallibility would reduce all of these to merely probable opinions.
Think of canonizations as something of the opposite of anathemas: if an anathema declares that a particular individual or teaching is contrary to the Deposit of the Faith, a canonization does something like the opposite, declaring the life of a particular person to be consistent with the Way laid out in the Deposit of Faith. Obviously, it doesn't mean that the individual was right on all points, just as the condemnation of a heretic doesn't mean that they were wrong on all points.
Here, we can see the absurdity of one of the major arguments against JPII's canonization. Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, in his argument against John Paul II's Sainthood, begins from this premise: “If John Paul II is a saint, his theology must be irreproachable, down to the smallest detail.” This is a troubling assertion, to say the least. And indeed, his whole argument relies upon the truth of this premise. To take an obvious example, Jerome and Augustine are both Saint (indeed, Doctors of the Church), yet they argued with one another one certain theological points. Aquinas got the Immaculate Conception wrong in the Summa (although he may have realized this mistake later in life). If even the Doctors of the Church can't meet Gleize's made-up standard, maybe the problem is with his standard, rather than the Catholic Church. Even Saints make mistakes.
Still, Gleize's extreme position to one side, canonization of an individual does show that they aren't formal heretics. By definition, they had a faith. We know this because they were saved. This assessment is directly tied to the Deposit of Faith. We can prove this negatively, as well: it would be impossible for the Church to canonize an unrepentant heresiarch without betraying the Deposit of Faith.
4. The Council of Constance Condemned Wyclif for Rejecting Specific Canonizations
Speaking of condemning heresies, one of the propositions for which John Wyclif was condemned by the Council of Constance was his claim that “Augustine, Benedict and Bernard are damned, unless they repented of having owned property and of having founded and entered religious orders; and thus they are all heretics from the pope down to the lowest religious.”
This is but one of the many arguments presented by Frederick William Faber (an Anglican convert to Catholicism who you may know as the author of the hymn “Faith of Our Fathers”) for the infallibility of canonizations in his book on the subject.
5. The Implications of Venerating a Damned Sinner Would be Impossible.
An error in infallibility would require all Catholics to liturgically celebrate a damned sinner. Imagine, for example, if the Saints in the Roman canon (most of whom lived after the Apostolic era) were in hell. The Eucharistic Prayer would require us to pray to God that we may share in their “fellowship.” Here's a translation of the prayer in question:
To us also Thy sinful servants, who put our trust in the multitude of Thy mercies, vouchsafe to grant some part and fellowship with Thy holy Apostles and Martyrs: with John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and all Thy Saints. Into their company we beseech Thee admit us, not considering our merits, but freely pardoning our offenses. Through Christ our Lord.It's not just that these Saints aren't in Hell... it's that they can't be in Hell without dismantling Catholicism.
B. The Implications for Traditionalists
Since canonizations are infallible, we can see why the SSPX and similar groups face an impasse. There are basically two options:
- Option A: These are False Canonizations.
This is only possible if Pope Francis isn't really the pope. Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize's position is sedevacantist, even if he doesn't openly acknowledge it. But this is impossible for reasons that Lefebvre and plenty of others have pointed out. You just can't square such a position with Christ's promises to the Church.
- Option B: John XXIII and John Paul II are Saints in Heaven.
|St. John XXIII; St. John Paul II.|
It should also suggest a reassessment of Vatican II. There's talk of beatifying Pope Paul VI, as well. This prompted Patrick Archibold of Creative Minority Report to remark, “Nothing against Pope Paul VI, but why don't they just canonize Vatican II and get it over with?” Now, I know Archibald was being sarcastic here, but there is some truth to this! The canonizations seem to be a confirmation from the Church (infallibly!) that Vatican II wasn't some mistake that the Church is just going to bury and move past. Now, there's obviously still room to criticize how the Council's reforms were implemented, but it seems impossible to view the Council itself as something wicked.
Finally, it should suggest a reassessment of SSPX itself. St. John Paul II excommunicated Abp. Marcel Lefebvre and called the Society back to full communion (a call that it has resisted, because it can't get the terms that it wants). Who wants to side with a man who died an excommunicant over a canonized Saint? From a Catholic perspective, the choice is simple.
So there it is. Either SSPX has been far too harsh against St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, or it's been far too optimistic about the existence of the papacy. Either way, the decades-long tightrope that the Society has been walking seem to have come to an end.