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Papal lowlights

Does it sometimes seem like the path from papacy to canonization is a little too smooth these days? If so you will be glad to be reminded that not every pope is a promising candidate (and compared to some past bishops of Rome, the last five or ten were most certainly saintly). At the Toast, Josh Fruhlinger has compiled rejection letters from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to a few applicants whose cases are less than convincing. Stephen VI, for example: may not be aware that the Congregation has access to extensive historical records that do not necessarily corroborate all the material in your application packet. For instance, while we agree that the ordination of your predecessor, Pope Formosus, was irregular in several aspects, a wise and even-tempered administrator of the Church would have reacted to such problems in a forward-looking way, perhaps by reforming administrative processes to prevent them from recurring.

Instead, you dug up Formosus’s body, prop it up on a throne, and put it on trial — a trial that, from all reports, consisted primarily of yelling at said corpse. This made everyone very uncomfortable. A saint should provide a calming sense of God’s love to his flock, a sense of righteous unity in Christ, rather than a feeling of creeping, surreal horror.

Read the whole thing here.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Haha!  Love Josh!  

Comics Curmudgeons is a great place to discuss Mark Trail and Funky Winkerbean!

^^^YES!!!!!! Solid recommendation.

I'm disappointed that he didn't respond to my personal favorite, Sixtus IV.  How can you not love a guy who starts a war, is losing so he places an interdict on the guys he attacked for not stopping the fighting?  Apparently he did this at least twice. 

What I would really like to know is what happened to stop the church naming the early popes as saints. Look at the list. The first not to be called St. was Liberius in the mid fourth century. What did he do and how must he feel sitting among all those canonized colleagues? Of course he turned out to be some kind of antipope. But then they went back to automatic canonization until Anastasius II (496-8). How terrible was he? Was his occupancy of the throne of Peter just too short to make this kind of judgment? Anyway, perhaps we would be better off if we just canonized all of them, as the early church seems to have done, thus saving invidious comparisons and unnecessary judgments about issues that always remain obscure (Pius XII and the Jews?). 

One of the worst things that JP II did was to abolish the office of devil's advocate.  It put a restraint on the company men.

Anyway, perhaps we would be better off if we just canonized all of them

Or none. Funny idea, but we might leave the question of who is with God in heaven to the Being best qualified to answer it, and hope we find out for sure later on.

What's the deal with the intercession of the saints, anyway? It sounds a little like lobbying. Was it modeled on people seeking favors at the imperial court from officials who had the emperor's ear?

"What's that you say, JPII? I should cure Mary Smith's psoriasis? Yeah, she's been at me about that for a while now. Honestly, though, I've been awfully busy keeping the sparrows in the air, and stuff. But if you say so, okey-dokey. Thanks for reminding me."

John Prior,

Stephen Colbert explains "the intersession of the saints" as only he can...they are God's Customer Service Department.  Lose your keys?  No need to bother the Boss, just call St Anthony.  TV not working for the Big Game.  Ask for St Clare.  that way God can focus on the big need to bother with the small stuff...

Pope Formosus!?!  I haven't heard that name in years.

Way back in the Jurassic period, the drama department at St. Edward's University in Austin TX received a lot of acclaim in the Texas theater world - admittedly a very small universe - for their production of The Death and Trial of Pope Formosus.  [Notice the order of "death" and "trial" in the title!].

I don't remember much of anything from the plot of the play, but I do remember the elaborate staging, costuming and make-up that adorned the actors.  The only enduring image I have remaining from the play is trial scene where the desicated body of Formosus sits on the papal throne with a mitre on it's head while other clerics should epithets at the corpse. 

[For those who may not realize it:  St. Ed's is a university that was founded by the same man, Rev. Edward Sorin CSC, that founded the University of Notre Dame in Indiana - at roughly the same time too.  St. Ed's was administered by the Brothers of Holy Cross.] 

The title role was portrayed by one of the quirkiest, funniest, lovable Holy Cross Brothers ever, Dunstan Bowles CSC of very fond memory.  Dunstan was one of the more popular professors at St. Ed's - walking around campus you always could hear students reciting "Mary had a little lamb ..." or the alphabet at the top of their lungs during their breathing exercises.  His classes always closed out - the jocks especially loved Dunstan.  

Dunstan was an unusual man who must have been near fifty-years old at the time I knew him.   Yet, Dunstan had the spirit of an artist that embraced the cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s America.  

I don't know if Dunstan was of "sainthood" caliber, but I'm sure he is at home now in the company of angels.

That's suppose to be:  "shouted epithets at the corpse."  I think I need another cup of coffee.  

[It would be nice to have an "edit function" on these blogs.]

Saints are really a fourth century creation. The Roman system of patronage translated easily into a system where advocates in heaven would replace advocates on earth. One could hardly get along in Roman society without a patron or godfather. so too it was thought in the spiritual realm. This is why each town had the original body of Martin of Tours. How could one be without the most powerful patron saint?

(Abe, any other questions?)

I pray a lot about (not so much to) a goodly scattering of saints to whom I am attracted for various reasons. From the sound of things above, some readers would just as soon do without them. But I, for one, would miss saints.

It was reading the lives -- and probably excruciatingly badly written lives -- of saints, not the Gospels, that inspired Ignatius Loyola to stop getting arrested for drunk and disorderly and to make something of himself.

We are discussing this on the assigned feast of another of those saints who, very frankly, probably never existed. But Cecelia can serve as a model to dedicated virgins even if she never lived, I guess.

I'm not against saints, Tom. I hope heaven is crowded with all kinds of people, including lots whom we took to be reprobates when they lived among us. I am just not sure that anyone here is competent to say exactly who they are. And when popes start punching the tickets of their predecessors, it seems a little, well, unseemly.

I think I prefer the old, unofficial way of venerating people whom the local community believed to be godly. There's room for error in that, of course, but probably not much genuine harm. It would also give the hierarchy additional time for the more congenial work of identifying and shaming sinners.

What's the deal with the intercession of the saints, anyway? It sounds a little like lobbying. Was it modeled on people seeking favors at the imperial court from officials who had the emperor's ear?

Exactly!  If you see prayer as a personal relationship with Jesus/God, why would you pray to saints instead?  The idea of praying to saints to intercede with God seems to be based on a kind of hierarchical system left over from the middle ages.  As for Colbert's example of why pray to saints ... God isn't out boss, he's supposed to be our father.  A scary pope: Alexander VI - Rodrigo Borgia ...

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