Even without a second miracle

The new pope is helping some previous ones get to be saints.

Showing more of his sprightly personality and his priorities, Pope Francis sped two of his predecessors toward sainthood on Friday: John Paul II, who guided the Roman Catholic Church during the end of the cold war, and John XXIII, who assembled the liberalizing Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

In approving the sainthood of John XXIII even without a second miracle attributable to the pontiff, Francis took the rare step of bypassing the Vatican bureaucracy.

Ok but so how does all this work? Are there rules, or is it just whatever the pope feels like? And if popes can speed other popes, why mess around, why not just make it that all popes are saints?

And then how does it actually work? Is the current pope magic? Does he make people into actual saints by being magic and saying the right words while being magic? What’s the mechanism here? Is it a placebo or is there an active ingredient? Or to put it another way, if being a saint is a real thing, how can it be up to a pope whether someone is one or not?

You might think the church is fine with magic but actually it isn’t. It frowns on magic. It wants everyone to be very clear that religion is a different thing altogether. Religion is grown up and serious and real, and magic is just childish and spooky, also dangerous.

But then how can popes make people be saints? Especially when there is no second miracle and they have to bypass the Vatican bureaucracy?

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis was eager to canonize John XXIII. “Despite the absence of a second miracle it was the pope’s will that the sainthood of the great pope of the Second Vatican Council be recognized,” he said. But he played down the fact that Francis had bypassed a second miracle. “There are lots of theologians who in fact discuss the principle of the fact that it’s necessary to have two distinct miracles.”

Oh, I see. They’re on it. Ok then – I feel much better about it now.



  1. rnilsson says

    But what the world anxiously wants to know is of course whether this Pope can miraculously magicify his Predecessor while that one is still (more or less) alive? How does THAT work? Eh?

  2. rnilsson says

    Oh. Afterthought: Can they not, in that case, also dispense with the requirement of a First Miracle? Or was that simply the magification of other Predecessors? I confess to ignorance in these matters. (Tip to Pope: Try that!)

  3. says

    The way my family always explained papacy to me was that each pope is infallible (which is what made JP2 apologizing for the actions of past popes as big a deal as it did).

    Apparently one of the promises of Jesus was that whatever the pope dictated on earth, he would make happen in heaven. So if the pope declares someone a saint, Jesus will make it so.

  4. Corvus illustris says

    … Francis took the rare step of bypassing the Vatican bureaucracy …

    Not so rare, because JP_2 did the same thing, infamously canonizing Josemaria Escrivà, the founder of Opus Dei, in spite of objections raised by the part of the Vatican bureaucracy charged with finding reasons not to canonize (used to be called the Devil’s Advocate). It is good to be king, infallible, Pope. J_{23} , who seems to have been a decent sort, was canonized as a sop to the liberal wing of the RCC. Coulda been worse.

  5. Brian E says

    I guess when there’s no rubber on the road, no empirical facts that can break your path. One idea is as good as another. I.e. magic.

  6. rnilsson says

    Thanks, Brian @#5. Place your bets, folks.

    Still waiting for the fighting over papal beards to begin in earnest.

  7. Al Dente says

    God whispered in Francis’s ear that John should be canonized. It’s a miracle! And therefore counts.

  8. says

    Some of the Vatican’s profound problems = clerical sex abuse, abnormal governance, and lately the money problems at the Vatican bank date back to Pope John Paul’s pontificate. The Vatican just might want to wave the magic wand so as to make the recent scandalous reminders fade away from the memories of the flock. Camouflaging things by canonising two popes at the same time, could be seen as a perfect deflection from the reality of the scandals. Also, it would take the limelight away from the fast-track process in the case of Pope John Paul II. It just doesn’t seem right that Pope John XXIII had to wait half a century and Pope John Paul II a mere wet weekend in comparison. But we all know that the Vatican is notorious in trying to hide its dirty laundry.

    It’s rather ironic that Pope John Paul beatified John XXIII, who was deemed ‘a good pope’ at the same time as Pope Pius XI who was criticised by Jews for condoning the seizure of a Jewish boy and allegedly referring to Jews as dogs.

    The good, the bad and the ugly!

  9. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    I’ve wondered how these rules work too. Before someone “becomes” or is “made” a saint they are, presumably, a non saint (i.e. random dead catholic person). Would not praying to a non-saint be a) heretical and b) ineffectual? Do papal edicts turn non-saint dead people into saints? Does god/Jesus/whomever have to change their relationship with the now sainted person and start taking their phone calls and following them on Twitter? They are now, because of human action, suddenly entitled time to intercede with god/Jesus/whomever because the Pope gave them a promotion? (Like saints can change god’s mind because he doesn’t have all the information, can’t be bothered with details and didn’t make the right decision in the first place.) It sounds like the flip side of the problem of immaterial entities having measurable effects in the physical universe.

    Or, are these people already saints and the word just has to filter down to Earth? It’s not like god/Jesus/whomever will have not noticed the saintliness of a person in the first place and actually needs a papal prod to get a clue, as these people were allegedly living in a godly manner to start with. How is divine recognition of saintliness communicated? How does someone “know” that a given dead person is saintly enough to be reliably prayed to? Is it all a matter of PR? Are there lesser known saints that, because they aren’t as well publicized as a dead pope or “Mother” Teresa, haven’t yet been invoked and are waiting around to perform a miracle? Isn’t it likely that a well-loved person who is ill or injured will have different people praying to different saints to cure them? How do those who prayed know which saint performed a given miracle? Do saints have particular ways of healing that can be distinguished from each other? (If serial killers can have behavioral signatures, why not saints?) Aren’t the proponents of traditional, well-established saints going to claim the miracle for their own guy or gal against the champions of some upstart John-Paul-come-lately not-yet-a-saint? What about competing not-yet-saints? Who gets credit and how is that determined? With centuries of time to figure these things out I’m sure catholic theologians actually do have rules for how all this stuff is supposed to work, but I imagine these rules look a lot like the rules for Calvinball.


  10. says

    Hope this clears things up a bit:

    1. The pope/the Vatican/the Church doesn’t *make* anyone a saint. They only recognise that someone is a saint.
    2. A saint is merely someone who has been saved. Those souls who are saved/holy are supposed to be able to influence God to produce miracles on behalf of their clients (think the old Roman system of patrons and clients) or petitioners. Your dearly departed great-grandmama is probably a saint and petitioning her to get Mary to speak to Jesus for you is quite all right. (No great heresy if she’s actually in Purgatory, she just won’t be able to help you.) Petitioning a saint recognised and already known to work miracles might just be a safer bet though–the bigger (the most holy, the most cruelly martyred, the most magical), the better.
    3. In the (distant) past the recognition happened spontaneously due to the saint’s popularity (and sometimes reports of miracle-working) before death. The earliest saints were martyrs–many of whom practically volunteered and forced authorities to dispatch them; a slow mo version of suicide by cop–and they were believed to be on the fast track to a blessed afterlife and to have the Emperor’s Jesus’s ear. But not just that. The saint’s relics (parts of his or her corpse, clothing, objects associated with his or her death etc.) were supposed to be magical (though no one actually used that word out loud, all of the mechanisms and effects of relics and saints’ powers while alive were straight out of Ye Olde Hellenic Magickal Grimoire–if you know what I mean). With so many popular local saints piling up over the centuries, the Curia decided to “make sure” that the candidates were properly vetted and “standards” put in place to weed out from veneration those they deemed unworthy (what to do when some locals wanted to recognise some popular heretic after all).
    4. So there’s nothing outlandish (except for the whole notion of sainthood of course) in the Pope unilaterally recognising someone a saint.

  11. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    Ophelia @15: Erm…Ibis, my questions weren’t actually literal, you know.

    Yes, but some of mine @13 were!

    Thanks Ibis. That helps. Sort of. Doesn’t make any more sense than it did before, but I can see where I was going “wrong” in some of my questions (basically my first para in #13).

  12. Al Dente says

    Thanks, Ibis3, for the explanation of saints. You showed that Your Name’s not Bruce? was right, sainthood is calvinball.

  13. Claire Ramsey says

    Well. We’re all Buddhas, you know. In case you’re interested. And we don’t need no stinkin’ pope, either. No stinkin’ rules and no faked miracles necessary. We just get to be damn Buddhas. Just because. That’s how it is.

    There are moments when this information is useful.

  14. Deepak Shetty says

    “There are lots of theologians who in fact discuss the principle of the fact that it’s necessary to have two distinct miracles.”
    Bah. Everyone knows there must be three miracles – holy trinity and all that jazz.

  15. grumpyoldfart says

    At least the people have stopped talking about child raping priests. Well done Frankie, that’s what you were elected to do.

  16. Corvus illustris says

    Marie-Thérèse O’Loughlin @12:

    It’s rather ironic that Pope John Paul beatified John XXIII, who was deemed ‘a good pope’ at the same time as Pope Pius XI who was criticised by Jews for condoning the seizure of a Jewish boy and allegedly referring to Jews as dogs.

    It’s another application of the balance principle, as with canonizing J_{23} and JP_2 at the same time. P_{11} calls Jews dogs, J_{23} does what he can to save Jewish lives in WW_2 by certifying baptisms/conversions that may or may not have occurred.

  17. Ichthyic says

    Francis took the rare step of bypassing the Vatican bureaucracy.

    I rather think, based on what this Pope has done so far, and the things he’s said, that bypassing the bureaucracy is the primary purpose of this exercise.

    I actually don’t think he cares about the notion of sainthood itself.

    I expect him to get sick or “have an accident” sometime within the next year, that will force this one to “retire” even faster than the last.

    the lid is coming off the fact that the CC has been nothing more than an extortion and profiteering racket for a hundred years or more.

    all of the scandals that they have LET come to light over the last couple of decades likely are nothing more than a last-ditch effort to cover the core criminality at the heart of the Vatican to begin with.

    The Catholic Church, as it stands, is doomed. the people who follow it will, and have been, forming their own versions of the church to fit their beliefs, and that will continue to erode away the rest of the church.

    I expect the CC as we have known it for the last several hundred years won’t last more than another 15 years, max.

    but then….


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