Sunday, February 26, 2023

"Preserve His Church from Falling Into Error" — The Canonization of St. Bonaventure

I was recently made aware of a fascinating text from the pontificate of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) with import to the infallibility of canonizations. The text in question is the 1482 Superna caelestis, the canonization bull for St. Bonaventure. 

After relating the virtues and miracles of the saint, Pope Sixtus relates how petitions had reached the Holy See from all orders of Christendom requesting the canonization; he specifically mentions Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, King Louis XI of France, and King Ferdinand of Sicily among the royal sponsors, as well as a host of Italian nobles. He also mentions petitions from the cities of Florence, Siena, Lyons, Paris, Venice, and Bagnoregio, places where the cultus of St. Bonaventure was thriving. The Bishop Protector of the Franciscans, as well as the Minister General, were also petitioning for canonization. Recognizing the existence of such widespread devotion to the saint from so many quarters, Sixtus said the Christian people "with such earnestness and such perseverance requested it [canonization] from Us that We would think it hard and impious to resist them in a thing so pious, which they even seemed to request as having been moved by God." (§13)

There was a slight complication, though. Pope Sixtus was himself a lifelong member of the Franciscan Order and expressed concern lest the canonization seem to be motivated from Franiscan partisanship rather than proper devotion. He therefore wished extra diligence to be taken in the inquiries of the saint's virtues and miracles. The pope says, "lest in this We seem more ably moved by our own affection than in due devotion, We applied that diligence and gravity, which the magnitude of the matter demanded. For We committed to three of Our venerable brothers, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, to order an inquiry into the truth of the miracles." (§14)

Pope Sixtus must have experienced some scruple on this point, because he relates that he was unhappy with the first report: "Nor content with this, when the process itself had already nearly been completed, and those who had been delegated had reported most faithfully; We however, to whom it did not seem that in proceeding such solemnity, as is required, was observed, ordered it to be begun anew." (§15) It is difficult to say what Sixtus meant that the report had not proceeded with appropriate solemnity; given the concerns stated in §14, we may presume the pope did not consider the report sufficiently thorough. Perhaps the cardinals treated the report as a mere formality, whereas Sixtus desired something more substantial. Whatever the case, the pope felt compelled to order the process to begin again, this time observing greater attentiveness.

The second report met the pope's expectations, and Sixtus reported that "it had been thoroughly proven from more abundant reporting and the faith of more worthy witnesses concerning this undertaking, that many and great miracles were worked by God through this Saint" (§16). The time was ready to move on to canonization.

We must pause to appreciate the balanced approach taken by the pope. In the first place, note that he takes care to point to a preexisting cultus for justification of the canonization, even listing the various centers where Bonaventure's cultus was flourishing. The cultus attested to the veneration of the saint, and the pope's canonization is the acknowledgement of a matter of fact. So well attested was the cultus that the pope thought "it hard and impious to resist" moving forward with the canonization. He was not interested in using canonization to fabricate a cultus, but rather as a means of affirming one that already existed.

Second, the pope's desire to avoid even the appearance of partisanship is praiseworthy. He was aware that the canonization could elicit gossip; perhaps the canonization of a Franciscan saint by a Francsican pope would constitute a conflict of interest? "But mindful, that We had entered in same Order of Minors by vow...[and] lest in this We seem more ably moved by our own affection than in due devotion," the pope ordered extra diligence in the investigation of Bonaventure's life, going so far as to command a second investigation when he found the first insufficiently solemn. Sixtus had a pastor's mind; he wished to avoid the mere appearance of impropriety, ensuring that the canonization proceedings were unassailable as far as human prudence was concerned.

But this was still not sufficient for Sixtus. Before canonization, Pope Sixtus summoned a public consistory of clergy and laymen and imposed a triduum of prayer and fasting to seek God's will on the matter. The rationale for this consistory is fascinating. We shall quote the pope at length:

And since one and the same had been the opinion of all, namely that he should be registered among the number of the Saints, We thereupon held a public consitory, in which, with a great multitude of bystanders, We publicly proclaimed a triduum of prayers and fasting, so that God might enlighten us as to the correct course to pursue, and preserve His Church from falling into error, who strove to conform Herself to that [Church] Triumphant. (§16-17)

From a plain reading of this text, it does not seem that Sixtus believed canonizations are infallible. Why pray and fast for three days in order to "preserve His Church from falling into error"? This language strongly implies that Pope Sixtus believed it was fully possible for the Church to err in canonizing Bonaventure. 

The case is not so cut and dry, however, for shortly thereafter, when Sixtus moves on to the actual decree of canonization, he says:

Confident that God will not allow us to fall into error in the canonization of this saint, by His divine authority and that of His holy apostles Peter and Paul, we decree that Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, of blessed memory, Professor of Theology, of the Order of Friars Minor, who was raised from the office of Minister-General to that of Bishop and Cardinal, is a saint, and is to be inscribed in the catalogue of saints, and joined and associated with them. (§19)

In this section Sixtus seems to be implying the opposite of what he stated prior, for here he expresses confidence that "God will not allow us to fall into error in the canonization of this saint." The inability to fall into error is infallibility. Yet immediately prior he stated that he ordered three days of prayer and fasting so that God might "preserve His Church from falling into error" in the matter of the canonization. 

What is the solution to this apparent contradiction?

There are several possibilities that come to mind:

(1) Sixtus's latter statement that the canonization could not be errant is seen as a consequent of the prayers and investigations carried out previously. Since it would be possible for the canonizationtmo be errant, Sixtus wished to ensure it wasn't by means of careful deliberation and prayer, essentially saying, "After all the public devotion, all the inquiries, all the prayer and fasting, God would not permit an error." 

(2) It is possible that Sixtus did not know or was not sure whether infallibility would extend to protect canonizations. That would not be incompatible with theologians later concluding with certainty that they do. His latter statement could then just express confidence that God has heard his prayer in the particular case.

(3) Pope Sixtus may have believed in the infallibility of canonizations and prayed for preservation from error anyways. It is not inappropriate to pray for what God has promised to grant, since God commands us to pray and desires to work through our prayers. For example, we know that the Mass, offered according to the Church's rite, is always pleasing to God, yet the rubrics contain prayers that it may be acceptable nonetheless.

As to which is correct, if any, I could not say. With age I have become keenly aware that I am not competent to speculate on the finer points of theology, so I must profess ignorance as to the correct solution. In this essay I mean only to bring this document to the attention of minds wiser than my own, who may perhaps shed light on the proper interpretation of this document. 

I want to thank my friend dom Noah Moerbeek, CPMO for drawing my attention to these passages. The official Latin text of Superna caelestis can be found in the Opera Omnia S. Bonaventurae, ed. by the College of St. Bonaventure, Ad Claras Aquas, Florence, 1882: vol. I, p. XXXIX-XLIV. I used the English translations of the relevant texts as found in Saint Bonaventure: The Serpahic Doctor and Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Cardinal Bishop of Albano, by Fr. Laurence Costelloe, O.F.M. (Longman & Greens, 1911), pages 119-120, but the English document is also available on Papal, albeit with a slightly different rendering, though the meaning conveyed is the same.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Review: "The Once and Future Roman Rite" by Peter Kwasniewski

[Feb. 12, 2023] When Peter Kwasniewski's The Once and Future Roman Rite was announced (TAN Books, 2022), I was a little confused. Angelico Press had only recently published Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright (2020), a fantastic apologetic for the Traditional Latin Mass. I wrote a review of Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright on Unam Sancam Catholicam, describing it thus:

This book presents a forceful, cogent argument for the Traditional Latin Mass, yet without relying on the Novus Ordo as a punching bag to establish the point. The book is not about how the Novus Ordo is so bad—rather, it is a fulsome apologetic for the goodness, truth, and beauty found in the Traditional Latin Mass.

I wondered, therefore, how The Once and Future Roman Rite would differ from his previous work, perhaps thinking it might be a rehash of the former book from a different publisher. 

I am happy to say this was not at all the case.

Peter Kwasniewski's The Once and Future Roman Rite covers a lot of ground, but I think the most succinct way to describe this book is as an answer to the question, "What constitutes the historic Roman Rite?" Despite my years as a traditional Catholic, I must admit I did not fully realize the centrality of this question until I read this book. If your experience contending about liturgy with non-trads has often felt like fighting on shifting sand, you may want to review the fundamental concepts Dr. Kwasniewski elaborates in this work, which include questions such as—
  • What is a rite?
  • How do rites develop?
  • What do all rites have in common?
  • What makes one rite different from another?
  • What are the distinctive traits of the Roman Rite?
  • Why does the Novus Ordo does not preserve the historic Roman Rite?
The answers to these questions fill a gap that, in my opinion, has existed in traditonalist Catholic thought until recently. While we have always known the Traditional Latin Mass is far superior to the Novus Ordo, it was not as clear why, in a technical sense, the Novus Ordo was not equivalent to the historic Roman Rite, or even in what the Roman Rite consisted exactly. Reading this book made me realize that traditonalists had spent too long having the wrong arguments—Is the Novus Ordo valid? Is the Novus Ordo harmful? Was the promulgation of the Novus Ordo legal? How is the Traditional Mass better? Whether Quo Primum is still binding? 

All of these questions have their place; none of them get to the heart of the matter. Rather, the core of Catholic traditionalism hinges upon understanding the nature of the historic Roman Rite. There are multiple chapters delving into matters of what I would call "rite identification," sorting through the fine points of what makes a rite what it is. This was the most helpful aspect of the book for me personally, as clarity on this point helps make sense of other liturgical questions.

In identifying what constitutes the historic Roman Rite, Kwasniewski uses the Novus Ordo for contrast, demonstrating that the reformed liturgy lacks the constitutive elements of the historic Roman Rite. Pope Benedict's attempt to make the Novus Ordo and TLM kiss by calling them "two forms" of the Roman Rite was thus a sincere but ineffective means of squaring the circle. One may call the Novus Ordo the Roman Rite all day long—even declare it to be so in legislation—but the constitutive elements of a liturgical rite do not bend to the whims of legal positivism. One can delcare the Novus Ordo the Roman Rite, but such declarations are insubstantial, akin to the time Congress tried to declare Lake Champlain the sixth Great Lake, or when the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto from being a planet: acts that, while true "on paper," do not correspond to reality and are not generally accepted save by the gullible.

Dr. K's book also spends a lot of time delving into the thought of Paul VI and what he was thinking when he promulgated the Novus Ordo. Reading Paul VI's tragically misguided reasoning here is sure to be eye-opening. It demolishes the neo-Cath narrative of a good Council hijacked by progressive revolutionaries against the will of the pope. The lengthy analysis of Paul VI's thought demonstrates that Paul VI (and no one but Paul VI) holds ultimate responsibility for what happened. Paul VI not only deliberately willed the Novus Ordo with all its inferior elements, but he did so positively knowing the treasure he was throwing away in the Traditional Latin Mass.  The post-Conciliar auto-demolition was not the work of a small cabal of revolutionaries, nor was it the work of a hostile media (as Benedict XVI weakly asserted); it was the Church itself, with the pope at the helm, that afflicted us with this grievous wound.

So, if I were to categorize Kwasniewski's two books on the traditional Mass, I would say that Reclamining Our Roman Catholic Birthright is an excellent text to give to tradition-curious newbs who are looking for a positive, affirming introduction to the Traditional Latin Mass. The Once and Future Roman Rite, on the other hand, is a critical study of the differences between the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo that identifies the essential traits of the Roman Rite. I highly recommended Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright and I highly recommend The Once and Future Roman Rite as well. Whether you are new to Catholic traditionalism or have been around for a long time, you are sure to learn something from both of these books.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of The Once and Future Roman Rite for review.