Beatification and canonization since Vatican II: 1

What has the Church traditionally done to determine if someone is a saint? What about the new process introduced after Vatican II—and how has the introduction of Modernism caused doubt about post-conciliar canonizations.

In this extensive article "Beatification and Canonization since Vatican II", published by SiSiNoNo in June 2011, Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, theology profesor at the Econe seminary, analyses the principles involved in the beatifications and canonisations and the difficulties arrising from the new doctrines of the Second Vatican Council.

Fr. Gleize raises in particular three difficulties:

  1. the inadequacy of the procedure,
  2. the collegiality,
  3. and the concept of heroic virtue.

Introduction of Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize

It is a manifest work of divine inspiration that, spurning visible things, men should seek only what is invisible.”[1]

The heroic virtue of the saints is the most telling indicator of the divinity of the Church. And ordinarily, this mark is itself authenticated; it receives the seal of the Church, which answers for its own holiness by canonization, the solemn act by which the Sovereign Pontiff, making a final, definitive judgment, declares the heroic virtue of a member of the Church.

Canonization comes under the category of disciplinary facts, among which theologians classify the various laws promulgated for the good of the whole Church and which correspond to secondary objects of the infallible teaching authority [magisterium]. Among these are the universal liturgical law, which prescribes the manner by which the worship due to God is rendered; canonization, which is the law by which the Church prescribes the veneration [cultus] of one of the faithful departed who exercised perfect holiness during his lifetime; the solemn approbation of religious orders, which is the law by which the Church prescribes respect and esteem for a rule of life that is a sure means of sanctification.

The infallibility of these laws is understandable because by them the Church manifests to all the faithful the means required for conserving the Deposit of Faith.[2]

These laws, therefore, are not the expression of a purely legislative power; they correspond formally to the exercise of the Church’s teaching power because they are intrinsically linked with revealed truth.[3]

By establishing infallibly certain facts which are outside the domain of revealed truths, the Church presupposes the profession of a formally revealed principle which is to be defended through its concrete applications.

On this point as on so many others, the conciliar aggiornamento was to leave its traces. The reforms that resulted from the Second Vatican Council affected every domain. They imposed on faithful Catholics, and continue to impose, not only a new magisterium and a new theology, but also a new liturgy, a new Mass, new sacramental rites, new saints, new canonizations, and new communities, new “orders”—the religious character of which is open to question.

All of this has not come to pass without posing real problems, the thorniest being that of the infallibility of the new laws.

The question of infallibility itself depends on another, namely the validity of this legislation. In effect, these laws are infallible qua laws in the same way that a supreme teaching is (under certain conditions) infallible precisely insofar as it is an act of the supreme teaching authority.

Infallibility is a property which supposes the essential definition of the act to which it corresponds. If the definition is changed, by the very fact the property attached to it changes. If the act becomes doubtful, its infallibility becomes doubtful also.

That is why, if one wishes to resolve the difficulty posed by the post-Conciliar novelties, there are only two possible solutions.

In the first solution, one establishes that the new laws resulting from Vatican II are legitimate laws in accordance with the requisite conditions and then one must state that they are infallible. In the second solution, one establishes that the new initiatives resulting from Vatican II are more often doubtful and lacking sufficient guarantees to be considered legitimate laws in the traditional sense of the term, and this authorizes a legitimate doubt about their infallibility.

But, in any case, one cannot give a solution that both admits the new post-Conciliar initiatives are legitimate laws in accordance with the requisite conditions and denies their infallibility. For this infallibility, though not yet solemnly defined, is a long-established position of both theology and of the Church’s ordinary authoritative teaching [ordinary magisterium].

One may say that it is proximately definable and its denial would be rash.

Following Archbishop Lefebvre, we defend the second solution. We say that the new post-Conciliar legislation (new Mass and new liturgy, new canonizations, new Code of Canon Law) is not infallible and does not oblige because we have serious reasons to doubt its very nature as law. In this argumentation, everything will depend on the legitimacy of the new canonizations and beatifications.

In the first part we shall reiterate the traditional principles concerning the nature and infallibility of canonizations in comparison with beatifications.

In the second part, we shall examine the difficulties posed by the post-Conciliar initiatives.

Part I: The traditional principles>


1 St. Thomas Aquinas, On the Truth of the Catholic Faith (Summa contra Gentiles), tr. Anton C. Pegis, F.R.S.C. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1955), p. 72.

2 Cardinal Louis Billot, S.J., L’Eglise: Sa Constitution Intime (Courrier de Rome, 2010), Nos. 578-582, pp. 189-193.

3 The power of the supreme teaching authority [magisterium] is not only the power to expound purely speculative truth: it also has as its object practical truth, which leads a good number of authors to consider the power of jurisdiction as a potential totality [un tout potentiel], of which the analogous parts would be teaching authority (magisterium) and government. On the status of the question, cf. Timothy Zapelena, S.J., De Ecclesia Christi, pars altera, thesis XVI, p. 120ff.