Saint for Thee but not for Me

A lot can be said (and has been said) about the changes made to the canonization process since the second Vatican council. Many traditionalists have been forced to take on a defensive stance in light of the ever-present modernism that has infested the Church. The constant influx of information, facilitated by the internet, has pushed some to a constant state of panic, cynicism, sadness and criticism.

As a “traditionalist” myself, I have my fair share of questions when it comes to some choices made by the Church hierarchy. However I would like to discuss the danger of “de-canonizing” individuals and how certain criticisms are prone to bite back particularly from the Eastern Orthodox.

Sainthood is a complex issue. Like many things, it has developed and become more sophisticated over the centuries. In the Catholic Church, canonization is an infallible declaration that the person is in heaven and has shown heroic virtue. The topic of sainthood is all the more complex when we take into account the Eastern Catholic veneration of post-Schism saints.

Understandably, many traditionalists are critical of how fast and how many canonizations that have taken place since the Second Vatican council. Saints like St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, St. John Paul II, and St. John XXIII usually come under grave scrutiny; typically accused of cooperating with modernism, watering down the faith and grave sins. I am in no position to defend these saints from the serious accusations thrown at them because ultimately I don’t know.

What I do know is that the accusations made are very similar to that of polemical Eastern Orthodox trying to discredit Roman Catholic saints.

I have heard Eastern Orthodox accusations towards our beloved saints like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Marie May Alocoque, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila and many others.

I would like to show a brief comparison of the traditionalist criticism of St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy Devotions vs. The Eastern Orthodox accusations to show the parallels and hopefully, to highlight the dangers of undermining inerrant Church proclamations.

Traditionalists on St. Faustina

Taken primarily from Church Reasons to Condemn the Divine Mercy Devotion by Msgr. Patrick Perez. All these are the claims made, not necessarily accurate.

  • It was forbidden: Pope Pius XI put it on the Index of Prohibited books and Pope John XXIII condemned it twice through the Holy Office
  • There’s no evidence: the Holy See supposedly found no evidence of supernatural origins
  • The Image is creepy
  • Mercy without justice: the Divine Mercy Image and devotion is said to promote unconditional mercy without penance or reparation as opposed to the Sacred Heart devotion which is said to emphasize the whole story of redemption
  • Presumption and pride: Jesus tells St. Faustina that he will unite himself more intimately to her than any other, refers to her as “beloved pearl of my heart” and says that her love is purer than the angels and that she would be exempt from judgement. These statements are supposed to reveal St. Faustina’s pride, as though she considered herself above the Virgin Mary.
  • Jesus said he would “Bless the world“…but then WWII happened
  • Oddities like the Host jumping out of the tabernacle and into her hands undermines traditional Catholic teaching about only consecrated hands touching the Eucharist

Eastern Orthodox on Catholic saints and devotions

Taken from The Error of the Sacred Heart Devotion By Monk Aiden Keller, A Comparison: Francis of Assisi and St. Seraphim of Sarov By Orthodox and The Difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy is well Illustrated by 5 Favourite Catholic Saints by Prof. Alexei Osipov published on Russian and more. All these are the claims made, not necessarily accurate.

  • It was forbidden: Pope Clement XIV condemned the Sacred Heart devotion in 1772. The Sacred Heart devotion is heretical because it promotes worship of Christ’s body seperate from the Word. Ignatian spirituality is also forbidden since it promotes imagining and contemplating heavenly things which is forbidden by many Eastern saints.
  • Spiritual deceit and pride: Catholic saints are particularly accused of this vice. St. Francis of Assisi would plead to experience the sufferings of Christ before receiving the stigmata showing that he deemed himself worthy to suffer as Christ did. His humility is deemed to be false and orchestrated. St. Therese of Lisieux thought herself born for glory and that she would be a great saint.
  • Overly passionate, sensual. Catholics are accused of being overly carnal, reducing the mystical to an intense physical and in some cases, sexual, experience. St. Marie Alacoque spent nights in “amorous colloquies with her beloved Jesus.” Many saints have had experiences of a mystical marriage to Christ.
  • Bare minimum to be saved. The Jesuits who spread the Sacred heart devotion were also spreading a theology that supposedly overemphasized Christ’s humanity. They attempted to make Christianity more palatable and less demanding, promoting the bare minimum for a sinner to be absolved.
  • Images of Sacred Heart are effeminate, Catholic statues, images and statues are in opposition to the theology of the icon.
  • Oddities like the Virgin Mary sprinkling breast milk on St. Bernard’s lips or St. Catherine of Siena exchanging hearts with Christ
  • And many others…

In this brief and general comparison, I hope to have highlighted the similarities between the criticisms. We see in both there is a spirit of division and cherry picking in order to fabricate outrage; similar to the way Mohammedans treat the scriptures to cast doubt on the deity of Christ.

The polemical EO criticism of the Sacred Heart devotion is particularly worth noting since it is typically used as a contrast to the Divine Mercy devotion. In no way am I interested in undermining any of our beloved saints or devotions (a Catholic defense of each is definitely needed) but I want to stress that carelessly throwing doubts at our recent saints opens the door to a whole load of other doubts. I would argue that St. Faustina’s private revelations and writings (as well as the others typically attacked by traditionalists) are quite tame compared to some of our traditional saints!

This does not necessarily mean we must follow blindly, but some of the criticisms show a lack of nuance and ignorance about pre-Vatican II saints. We must critically analyze those on the path to canonization but once a canonization is in place we must at the very least acknowledge that they are not in hell, lest we concede that sede vacante. The Catholic faithful are not bound to have a devotion to or be particularly fond of every single saint but I have seen people even declare that some of the aforementioned saints must be in hell! What utter scandal on top of whatever the saint is accused of.

When we look even at pre-schism saints in the early church we see something remarkable: imperfect people. From St. Cyril of Alexandria who is said to have “inflamed tensions” which led to the murder of a pagan philosopher to St. Jerome and his fiery temper to Saint Peter himself, denying Christ three times, one can acknowledge error while respecting the saint’s sainthood. We can also acknowledge the diversity of mystical experience, often weird and hard to explain but not necessarily outside the realm of orthodoxy, especially when we approach these questions in their proper contexts and in a true Catholic spirit.

The subject of how laity must respond to present Church mandates and relate to the hierarchy is under much dispute, ranging from complete submission to a state of anarchy. I think it is important to be prudent, consistent and reasonable when we cast our doubts lest we push others, or ourselves off of the Barque of the Church. Consider the story related by Abba Dorotheas discussing the dangers of undermining hierarchy:

A certain monk began saying “Oh, Abba Zosima doesn’t know anything. Now Abba Macarius is another matter; he’s the one to listen to.” Then he started saying, ” Oh Abba Macarius doesn’t know anything; Abba Anthony is the one to listen to.” And so it went: soon Abba Anthony wasn’t worth listening to, either, and only Saints Peter and Paul were worth listening to. Then he finally said that there was no point in listening to the apostles; only Christ was worth listening to. And soon he began to blaspheme the Holy Trinity, and lost his mind. And this was the logical conclusion.”

As quoted by Fr. Daniel Sysoev, ROC, in A Sobering Book: Explanation of Ecclesiates

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