On becoming a saint…

The Times reports (Pope Benedict XVI clears way for Cardinal Newman to become a saint) that the Vatican is likely to create the first British saint since the 1970s.  The article says that Cardinal John Henry Newman is the “most important convert from the Church of England to Catholicism”.  That’s as may be, but it’s interesting to read what needs to happen to become a saint.

From the Cardinal John Henry Newman Wikipedia page, it appears that one needs a verified miracle to be beatified, and a further verified miracle to be canonised.  The Times’ article says

The Pope opened the way for the beatification in 2001 when he recognised claims that Jack Sullivan, a Catholic deacon in Boston in the US, had been miraculously healed of a “serious debility of the spine” at the intercession of Newman, who died in 1890.
In 2000 Mr Sullivan, who is married with three children, prayed for the Cardinal’s help after being warned by his doctor that his back problem could result in paralysis. Next morning, he awoke to find that his pain had gone and that he was able to walk properly for the first time in months.

Essentially some bloke prayed to get better via the intercession of a dead religious figure, then woke up better. One does wonder how a serious investigation could “prove” that Mr Sullivan’s recovery was anything to do with someone who’d been dead for over a century, or indeed to “prove” that Mr Sullivan prayed only to the one dead religious figure.  The Times’ article doesn’t explain further.

Apparently there’s now been a second miracle (as yet uninvestigated), though the article doesn’t go into details on that one.  But I predict the miracle will have affected a strong believer, much as Mr Sullivan is reported to be a “Catholic deacon”.  Newman’s Wikipedia page does offer the following:

A second miracle would need to be confirmed before Newman could be canonized as a saint. The Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints is expected to consider the case of a 17-year-old New Hampshire resident, who fully recovered from severe head injuries suffered in a car accident after invoking Cardinal Newman.

Essentially these cases represent unexpected recovery from serious medical conditions (events which can and do occur without the intercession of dead people).  Over at the Wikipedia page for Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the Catholic body that investigates claimed miracles), I found this:

The miracle may go beyond the possibilities of nature either in the substance of the fact or in the subject, or only in the way it occurs. So three degrees of miracle are to be distinguished. The first degree is represented by resurrection from the dead (quoad substantiam). The second concerns the subject (quoad subiectum): the sickness of a person is judged incurable, in its course it can even have destroyed bones or vital organs; in this case not only is complete recovery noticed, but even wholesale reconstitution of the organs (restitutio in integrum). There is then a third degree (quoad modum): recovery from an illness, that treatment could only have achieved after a long period, happens instantaneously.

It would be interesting to know how many claims are made for each of the three degrees of miraculous intervention, and the proportion of each that pass investigation.  Also from that article, here’s the progression from dead religious person to Saint:

Stages of Canonization in the Roman Catholic Church

Servant of God →   Venerable →   Blessed →   Saint

Apparently Cardinal Newman is at stage 2 – he’s referred to as being the Venerable – while getting to stage 3 requires the approval of a miracle (this is what’s about to happen), while advancing to full sainthood (stage 4) requires the investigation and approval of a second miracle.  Presumably this is still to happen, so maybe the Times’ headline is a little premature?  As a hardened atheist, the whole process looks rather mediaeval.  And Newman’s not very active – two cures in over a century since he died seems a very minor intercession to me.

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