Saturday, July 6, 2013

Only Jesus can make a Saint

While the Vatican headlines announce Pope Francis clearing the way for John Paul II and John XXIII to be declared “saints”, I am thankful that Jesus cleared the way for me to be a Saint categorically. I don’t deserve the title “saint”, but Jesus does, and I’m united to Him by faith.  Only Jesus can make a Saint.

Romanism has many complex doctrines, practices, processes, and traditions. One of the more interesting-especially for it’s creativity- is how a person is declared a “saint”. In fairness, Romanism teaches that all people in heaven are saints. Sainthood on earth has to do with naming really special dead people saints so when referring to them, you must properly use “saint” before their name. You know- St. Mary, St.Paul, St. Bonaventure, St. Joan of Arc, St. Anthony, St. Louis, etc. What’s so special about saints that get named on earth than all those in heaven? Well, they did more impacting stuff than the rest of us, according to...someone. Mary is the mother of Jesus, so of course she’s a saint, right? Paul was an Apostle, so there again, it’s obvious he’s a saint. Bonaventure had a cool name and he was a significant church leader in his day-BAM- Saint. Joan of Arc basically championed a protestant-like position about God’s grace which got her burned at the stake by the Catholic Church...and so was made a saint. Wait a minute...that’s confusing, right? Thankfully, the matter got cleared up a few years later when the Roman Church retried the case and found her innocent. Unfortunately, she was already dead. If only the Pope would have been more involved in her case from the beginning, I’m sure he would have exerted his infallible powers and avoided the whole debacle. Instead, the Roman powers screwed up, killed her, then recanted killing her...well anyways, she’s a Saint for sticking up to an erring church. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes something like six to eight thousand saints.

How does one become a saint in the Roman system? 

I grew up Roman Catholic. I actually tried hard to be a good, learned Catholic. I remember what I was taught about this subject, but have since learned Roman doctrine usually has more than one angle or explanation. Basically the process is dependent upon evidence presented to Church officials proving the  person in consideration in fact lived a holy life, had “faith”, and had a special commission from God. Leaders in the church will also look at miracles done by the person while alive and dead (yes...miracles after dying!) as evidence that God is working through that person. After a person dies, if they are potentially saint material, they are labeled “Servant of God”. Then, shortly thereafter, the label “Venerable” will be attached to their name. “Blessed” is the next title of honor bestowed (beatification), and finally, they are called “Saint”. Canonization is being named or declared a Saint. To be canonized these days, considerable research is done about the person’s life. A certain amount of miracles have to be attributed to the person up for sainthood-which is the most mysterious of all criteria.

The actual act of canonization usually takes place in St. Peter’s Square outside the Vatican in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Word on the Vatican street is that John Paul II and John XXIII are going to made saints soon by Pope Francis. If you aren’t aware of John XXIII, you can still see his dead body on display at St. Peter’s. He was the Pope who called for the Second Vatican Counsel in the 1960's.

The current Pope, of course, in the Roman system, is the one who makes the final declaration on sainthood. The Pope is the final authority in the Roman Church, not Scripture. No, the above beatification and canonization processes are not found in Scripture, but rather the result of hundreds of years of tradition.

Protestants, in my opinion, get too bent out of shape when Roman Catholics make saints. I used to be that way, but not any more. John Paul II can be labeled a “saint” by Pope Francis, but so what, really? It’s not the same meaning as the Apostle Paul’s uses of the label “saint” for all those who are Christians, or to use Paul's designation- for those “in Christ”. To be “in Christ” is to be a person who has faith in Jesus Christ's work on the cross alone for the forgiveness of their sins. The instrument of faith is what God uses to put us “in Christ”. Once we are “in Christ”, we are, in fact, saints. Saint is just a translation of “holy one”. In Christ, we are holy. In Christ, in a legal sense, we have Christ’s righteousness credited to our account, and are therefore declared holy. If you have faith (trust, reliance, dependence) in Christ, you are a saint- even before you go to heaven.

Scripturally speaking, the “saints” are the body of Christ, Christians, the church. All Christians are considered saints because they are “in Christ”. The New Testament is replete with examples of Christians being called saints. In the book of Acts (9:32) "Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda". Later in the same book, chapter 26- "And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons …“ Philippians 4-"Greet every saint in Christ Jesus…" How about Paul in Ephesians 5? - "For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ". So, the saints aren’t only in heaven, if a living person is “in Christ”, they are a saint on earth.

So I don’t get too wound up by the latest round of new saints named by the Roman Catholic Church. I just view it as one of their less impacting unscriptural traditions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not keen on what Pope Pius XII said and how it promotes praying to saints-

“There is good reason why the cult of the saints in heaven is valued by Christian people, that is, so that they may employ their help, and that they may be raised up by the protection of those in whose praises we delight. And from this, it may be easy to understand why the holy liturgy offers us many formulas of prayers in which it invokes the assistance of the saints in heaven.” 

But still, I have far more concern about Romanism’s view of divine authority, Mary, communion, justification, and anathema-pronouncing on us Protestants than I do their delight in declaring people like John Paul II and John XXIII saints.

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”   - Saint (when he wrote it) Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:2

1 comment:

Woody Woodward said...

Your thoughts on Sainthood in the Catholic relm remind me of an event that was quite amusing at the time. It was back in 2000 when the book I wrote was at the publisher. Over and over I referred to the many elderly brave warriors that I had met in the former Soviet Union as “saints”. Those that stood their ground for Christ during those terrible 60 black years of the Communist reign. The publisher told me he had a problem calling any living folks saints. He said that name must be reserved for the dead and only those the Pope would deem worthy to be called such. I told him all that who are in Christ Jesus are saints and I wasn’t going to change my wording to please the Catholic church.