The Personalist Project

I'm rushing out the door to France, but I can't go without saying something about the double canonization tomorrow—the canonization of two personalist popes.  An NRO interview with George Weigel is very good. I especially appreciate this part of his analysis [my bold]:

I think Pope Francis’s decision to waive the normal requirement for a second, post-beatification miracle for John XXIII and to celebrate his canonization together with that of John Paul II (after a post-beatification miracle due to his intercession had been confirmed) was inspired and bold. What Pope Francis may be saying is that here are the two bookends of the Second Vatican Council: the pope who had the courage and wisdom to summon the most important Catholic event in 500 years, and the pope who had the courage and wisdom to give that council an authoritative interpretation. I’d also suggest that John Paul II completed the work of John XXIII, by giving post-conciliar Catholicism a new vision of its evangelical, missionary potential — which happens to be the reason John XXIII called Vatican II...

It's easy for us to forget now that before John Paul II, the Church was divided between two bitterly antongistic camps: liberals who, citing "the spirit of Vatican II," were abandoning orthodoxy and trampling Tradition, and conservatives, who rejected or deprecated the Council as a modernist disaster and sought to retore the pre-Vatican II status quo.

John Paull II—in his exceptionally warm, open, faith-radiating personality, his dramatically new mode of pastoral approach, and his simultaneously orthodox and original body of teaching—showed us how to love and live the Council within the living Tradition of the Church. He showed how the depths of the riches of our divine patrimony as Catholics were exactly what allowed us to meet the challenges of the modern world with courage and grace, rejecting its errors and embracing its valid insights and achievements. He taught us that the real "Spirit of Vatican II" is the Holy Spirit—the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, Who instructs and consoles our hearts, Who leads us into all Truth, and Who has promised to protect the Church from error.

In the essential philosophical personalism of his teaching, he laid out for the world—with matchless intellectual creativity, depth and rigor—the dialectical relation between the objectivity of truth and the subjectivity of the human person. He showed how the typically modern aspiration toward freedom and autonomy, the rejection of coercion, and the yearning for authenticity are not only not menaced by objective Truth, but only fully answered by Truth. But truth not as law, but as person. Truth not imposed, but proposed, in love and for love. He showed that there is no conflict between moral absolutes and human freedom. On the contrary, our ability to make free decisions about ultimate things is the glory of the human person.

Wiegel also thoroughly the charge that JP II presided over the decline of the Church, and that he knew about the sex abuse scandals and covered them up.

And he provides this interesting bit of perspective: 

From the mid 17th century on, the Church used a rather complex (and frankly adversarial) legal process to test whether popular reputations for heroic virtue — the definition of “sanctity” the Church uses in assessing these things — were warranted. That process was reformed by John Paul II in 1983, so that the current process more closely resembles a doctoral seminar in history than a trial. 

I hadn't know that the "adversarial" approach to canonization was so relatively new in Church history. That rather takes the sting out of the traditionalist charge that the process has been "watered-down." It also seems to me much more like John Paul, who urged us all to eschew a "hermeneutic of suspicion" and rejoice in the profligate generosity of God in creating a great multitude of saints in every new generation.

Comments (7)

Patrick Dunn

#1, May 8, 2014 9:14am

I do not know what to make of the canonizations except to say that I accept them because I believe I must.  They are infallible pronouncements and so I must submit and try to understand. 

What I've observed continuously, and the canonizations are another instance of it, is confusion, a tension, division.  In contrast to your post, there is the view of this writer, to cite an example, who believes that

"John Paul II's record on sexual abuse was abysmal, full stop, even if there may be some room to doubt his personal culpability. I've sometimes wondered if his personal charisma blinded him to the obviously un-Catholic spirit of personal obedience written into the heart of the Legion of Christ, led by the noted abuser, liar, womanizer, and drug-addict Marcial Maciel. Or if his view of priestly abuse allegations were shaped by his experience in Poland, where communist authorities routinely accused priests in order to undermine the church. But for over two decades he was the supreme authority in the church, and he did next to nothing to abate this crisis.


Patrick Dunn

#2, May 8, 2014 9:18am

There is still much goodness and grace in the church today, and much growth and heroism among its members in Africa and Asia. But for the Western world, the post-Vatican II era, the one that is supposedly being consolidated and sanctified by these canonizations, has been one of shocking decline in Catholic practice, weakness of faith, and demoralizing immorality. Why the rush to canonize those who initiated and oversaw it?


I do not see the upcoming canonizations as the celebration of a great era in the Church — almost the opposite. It is another sign of the Church's auto-demolition, in which the shepherds who oversaw the Church in her agony are sainted, and our heretics speak with the holy fury of prophets."

I do not necessarily share this writer's views.  That's precisely the problem: I do not know what the truth is anymore.  But their very existence, and the contrast one can draw from any number of sources, is startling to me.

I only see confusion, division.  I see the "Traditionalists" and then I see the "Neo-Catholics", and then there's the "liberals" and "progressives".  Where is God in all of this, truly?

Katie van Schaijik

#3, May 8, 2014 10:33am

Patrick, I don't find that tension and confusion you are finding, except among traditionalists, who (as a rule) have never liked or understand Vatican II.

The passage you quote seems to me also to suggest a mistaken view of sanctity—as if it's incompatible with a bad record in this or that respect. Sanctity is about the generosity and completeness of our gift-of-self, in love, to God, and His work of grace in us. It's not about human faultlessness.

I also think George Weigel's interpretation of JP II's too-slow response to the abuse scandals is convincing. 

Most importantly, it seems to me that the center of unity in the Church is the Pope. Those who are standing in conscious solidarity with him are experiencing peace and joy and hope and continuity. Those who don't are full of tension and gloom, even anger. They seem mad that the Pope isn't running the Church the way they think it should be run.

Patrick Dunn

#4, May 8, 2014 11:43am

Thank you for replying.

To the point about sanctity, I think the distinction made is correct, but there is another: that between sanctity and canonization.  I think people are struggling with the canonization side, not JP II's personal holiness.  It goes beyond the abuse scandals, such as the with ecumenical gestures that left many confused.  I don't think canonization, especially of a Pope, can be separated from their aspects of their lives that would contribute to a "bad record."

Secondly, I don't believe everything can be explained away by an ad hominem appeal, as if to suggest that all tension is due to pettiness, nor to an appeal to factionalism (just a Trad fad thing).  I think instead that there is serious concern.  Perhaps it is ultimately groundless, but the fact that the concern itself exists is real. 

It's not evident what it means to be in solidarity with the Pope.  The center of unity in the Church is Christ, the Pope is His Vicar.  With the multitude of communciations coming from the Pope, it is hard to know what is binding today.

And it's Cardinal against Cardinal in the Church today.  I do not understand how that does not tear at a Catholic's heart. 

Katie van Schaijik

#5, May 8, 2014 11:47am

Hasn't it always been Cardinal against Cardinal in the Church?

Patrick Dunn

#6, May 8, 2014 12:35pm

I think such a glib and obtuse remark is beneath the dignity of the concerns I've raised, and below both of our dignities as persons. 

Can you please delete my permission to comment on this site any further?  I want to be charitable, before all else.  Thank you.

Katie van Schaijik

#7, May 9, 2014 2:43am

How is that comment glib or obtuse, nevermind beneath anybody's dignity? 

That Cardinals are at odds with one another is par for ecclesial history. That being the case, I can't understand why the fact that Cardinals today are disagreeing with one another should be seen as especially scandalous or worrying for Catholics.

(My blocking your ability to comment can't save you from being unchartitable, as I'm sure you realize. Plus I'd miss you.)

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