A reader, in consequence to reading my last article on Assisi 1986, made the following comment to me (see italic below), and I responded in four points further below.
“I get that Honorius was a heretic, and was still the Pope, and that doesn’t break Catholicism. But Honorious was also condemned as a heretic. What if he had been canonized as a saint instead? What would you make of that?
John Paul II was *manifestly* heterodox by the standards of Pre Vatican II Catholicism. Pius X and Pius XI would have totally considered him a modernist for interfaith worship. You can’t for a second convince me that isn’t the case.
And yet, Francis has *canonized him as a saint*. And not just him, but John XXIII and Paul VI as well.
The ‘trads way out’ here seems to be, in essence, ‘Well, but canonizations aren’t infallible, or even if they are, they only mean a person is in heaven and a person can do all kinds of horrible things and still be in heaven.’ Yet Pius XI taught that saints are ‘an example for every class and profession.’
How has the ordinary magisterium not basically rubber stamped error at this point, by canonizing all the popes of Post Vatican II?”
Here is my attempt at answering this most important and well-thought question
(1) The condemnation of Pope Honorius is really an insignificant event when we are ascertaining the subject of what to do in the case of a present and active Pope who fights the Christian tradition. Why is that? Because during the Pontificate of Honorius, he was never caught in error or disgrace, and died happily in the peace of the Church. Not only that, but his predecessors stood strong in defense of his orthodoxy, and was even defended by St. Maximos the Confessor and the dyothelite monks who followed him. It was only 40 years after his death that 2 letters that he wrote were scrutinized at the Council of Constantinople (681) and were deemed filled with heresy. By today’s standards, St. Thomas Aquinas would have to deserve the very same punishment of post-humous excommunication and anathema since he rejected the Immaculate Conception before it was defined (e.g. Honorius called into question 2 thelemas (wills) in Christ before it was dogmatically defined). All it proves to contemporary Papal thinkers is that a Pope can commit error in his ordinary capacity of magisterium. So much for Honorius and St Thomas Aquinas.
(2) Far more relevant is the Vigilius-event, where a sitting Pope was called to the carpet for false teaching, and even removed from the diptychs of divine services in Constantinople for refusing to abide by the Imperial condemnation of the Three Chapters, penned by Emperor Justinian. Although we know Vigilius himself was orthodox, from beginning to end, the bishops under Justinian, by the instigation of the latter, felt he was heterodox, and removed his name from the diptychs “lest they be found holding the communion of a heretic” (etc,etc). Thankfully, Vigilius was never canonized, may he rest in peace no less because of that. As for the significance of this for the present day, I’ll let the canonists, theologians, and Episcopal College worry about it.
(3) When it comes to St John Paul II, the difficulty lay in the tension I presented in my article. JPII was resolute, by way of assertion, against the idea of religious relativism, syncretism, and indifferentism. He abided by the potency of damnation for those who refuse to heed a culpable response to the gospel of repentance, faith, and baptism. On the other hand, he stretched the capacity to allow a certain communicationis et adoraverunt eum (communication in worship) which most likely exceeded his asserted position that it was not a violation of divine law (I’m not a judge in the Church). His situation is there more complex than Arius, Nestorius, Eutychios, Luther, Calvin, etc,etc. These latter men were heretics by profession. JPII asserted the divine law contra syncretism/relativism, but put something into practice which, by praxis, may have rendered his profession of orthodoxy null and void. Be that as it may, what sort of crime is this? Is it a crime of heresy, or a massive sin against prudence? Again, I’m just as opposed to what happened under JPII as anyone should be, but I’m not certain just exactly what penal consequence would have fallen upon him for (1) admitting the right doctrine, but (2) committing something which contradicts that in praxis.
(4) Finally, there was no attempt by the Cardinals or the Bishops to call JPII to the carpet for Assisi in such a way that would require a renunciation of his actions. Therefore, if we keep the best possible scenario in our presumptions, JPII may have thought what he was doing was in line with orthodoxy, and never was adequately challenged in order to consider repentance. With that in mind, there were plenty of things to admire about him, his theology, and his piety. Could he have been a true disciple because of the latter, despite the former? Since canonizations are infallible The Catholic today has no choice but to stack his best at that conclusion. Would he have been canonized in a pre-Vatican II world? Certainly not. Not in anyone’s dreams. But then again, would St Thomas Aquinas have been canonized in the 7th century when they were willing to drag up a letter or two from someone who lived half a century prior and post-humously anathematize them? Most certainly not. Change? You bet. But what kind of change?