Monday, May 2, 2011

A Beatification...

Unless you were hidden under a rock, you must know of the beatification of John Paul II which took place this weekend past.  For those who do not know, beatification (from Latin beatus, blessed) is a recognition accorded by the Roman Catholic Church of a dead person's entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name (intercession of saints). Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process. A person who is beatified is given the title "Blessed".

Now, to be sure, this process is both mystifying to us Lutherans (and to all non-Roman Catholics) and presents us with somewhat of a conundrum.  On the one hand, John Paul II had nearly universal respect and carried out his papacy with remarkable wisdom and care for his church, in honor of the Lord.  Many of his writings speak eloquently of the catholic truth that we confess with Rome.  On the other hand, the whole premise of the canonization process is somewhat foreign to us and we are also confused by some of his statements which seem to affirm the very things that brought into focus the Great Reformation that is our heritage.

One Vatican observer has noted:  “Pope Ratzinger did not decide on the spot. He knew his predecessor and had no doubts about his personal holiness. He wanted to consult first, though, and finally decided to waive the usual waiting period of five years (before opening the cause of canonization) but not to skip the step of beatification.”  Since the Roman Catholic Church reform of 1983, one miracle must be proven to have taken place through the intercession of the person to be beatified, though this requirement is not necessary for those who died a martyr, as their sanctity is already evident because of the manner of their death.

Personal holiness is, for us Lutherans, not the issue. For us sainthood involves the good and gracious will of God revealed in Christ and the imputation of Christ's righteousness upon us in baptism.  That is not to say that we Lutherans do not acknowledge those whose faithfulness endures throughout the memory of the Church (such as the Biblical saints, the great fathers of the Church, etc.).  For us sainthood is not proclaimed as much as it is recognized -- with a view to God at work and less in terms of any recognition of personal holiness.  We do speak of the sainthood that belongs to all the baptized by God's declaration in Christ and we also recognize the particular designation of those in whom and through whom God has worked in particular ways (martyrs, renewers of the faith, etc.).

Further, while we do not speak of miracles as having been worked through the intercession of the dead, we certainly do believe the saints in heaven are praying for the saints on earth.  We as Lutherans ascribe all miracles to the good and gracious will of the Father and not to the particular cause or to the individual in whose name the cause is committed.  In the end, the whole process used by Rome is foreign to us because it introduces to the equation what we will only know in retrospect (when Lord did we see you hungry and feed you, etc.).  On the day of judgment all that is hidden from us will be revealed but the glory will always and will only belong to God and it will enough for us to hear the voice of welcome saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant..." In the end, what bothers us about this kind of process is that the emphasis is placed where it should not belong -- on the saint and on the life of the saint instead of upon Christ and what He has accomplished by His obedient suffering and life-giving death.  For us, the glory of the saints lies most supremely in the glory that points to Christ (through them).

Article 21 of the Augsburg Confession states:
The memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works, according to our calling, as the Emperor may follow the example of David in making war to drive away the Turk from his country. 2] For both are kings. But the Scripture teaches not the invocation of saints or to ask help of saints, since it sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Propitiation, High Priest, and Intercessor. 3] He is to be prayed to, and has promised that He will hear our prayer; and this worship He approves above all, to wit, that in all afflictions He be called upon, 1 John 2:1: 4] If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, etc.

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