The Examination of the Writings
ACCORDING to the Decrees and Constitutions of the Holy See, the writings of the servant of God, if any such exist, must be carefully examined before the Introduction of the Cause. The law of Urban VIII. directs that a "most diligent enquiry be made as to whether the servant of God whose canonization is sought wrote any books, tracts, meditations, or the like; for if any such have been written no enquiry is to be carried on until such books are carefully examined by the Congregation to see whether they contain any errors contrary to faith or morals, or any novel doctrine opposed to the sound and pure teaching of the Church."
Under the general head of writings come all books, treatises, tracts, essays, petitions, sermons, meditations, letters, and written matter of any kind, whether written by the hand of the servant of God, written by his directions, or dictated to a secretary. The examination of the writings took place occasionally, by special dispensation of the Pope, after the Introduction of the Cause. The object of the dispensation was to hasten the work of the "Process lest the proofs should perish" and prevent the loss of important evidence. But the dispensation is rarely granted at the present day. And the reason is clear; for if any writings came to light which contained anything contrary to faith or morals1 the cause would come to nought, and all the labor and expense of the other enquiries would be in vain.
According to the usage which now obtains the search for the writings is carried on during the existence of the Informative Process. And since this quest is carried out before the Commission of Introduction is signed, it can be done validly and legitimately by the Ordinary. Nevertheless, in order that the search may be made most carefully, and according to the requirements of Canon Law, the Holy Father commits authority to the Bishop of the diocese where the writings may exist to carry it through, and proceed according to the directions given by the chief Promoter of the Faith. And if the Promoter suspects that writings of the deceased are preserved in other places besides those named it is his duty to procure a mandate from the Congregation directing that a search be made in such places with the same care and formality.
In order to carry out faithfully the trust committed to him the Ordinary, either by his own act or that of his subdelegate, institutes a special Process or Court of enquiry. And on account of the extreme care and diligence observed inthe search, the Process is technically known as "The Little Process of the Diligences." For the establishment of this Court the Ordinary summons to his presence the Promoter of the Faith and the Notary, explains to them the business on hand, and directs that the letter of the Congregation and the instructions contained in it be read. The Ordinary then issues a command that a public edict be prepared to be posted on the doors of the Cathedral Church of the diocese, and in other places, according to the usage followed in diocesan promulgations. In this edict, which is sometimes sent to parish priests, all persons are admonished and commanded, under pain of censure if necessary, to hand over to the Ordinary any writings of the servant of God in their possession, and also to make known to the Ordinary the names of all persons who hold such writings.
The Little Process of the Diligences, like other Processes, consists of several sessions, and the proceedings just described form the work of the first session.
In the second session witnesses are sworn and examined. Those who surrendered writings of the servant of God are examined under oath as to the authenticity of such writings, the places where they were preserved, and other circumstances. It may sometimes happen that a witness, who is giving up writings of the servant of God, testifies, in the course of examination, that other persons possess such writings and have not handed them up to the Judge of the Process. In these circumstances the Bishop sends a messenger to summon such persons, and leaves nothing undone to have the writings produced before the Process.
Should it come to the knowledge of the Ordinary that writings of the servant of God are preserved in any Library, College, or Public Institution, a special session is held there, and the custodian is examined with all the usual solemnity.
The work of the Process is brought to a conclusion by a special session in which all the collected writings of every kind are carefully packed and sealed by the Ordinary for transmission to the Congregation of Rites. The Notary makes a complete and accurate inventory of the writings, setting out the number of pages they contain, and any other circumstances worthy of note. And, as in other Processes, an authentic copy of the work done is made; this copy is compared with the Original, signed by the Notary, and sealed by the Judge of the Process. It is carefully preserved in the episcopal archives.
When the writings are all discovered and collected, they are sent by an accredited Bearer to the Congregation of Rites. Here the work of examination begins. A Cardinal Relator of the cause is selected, and the Postulator petitions the Pope to grant him authority to depute Revisers, who, under the law of strict secrecy, submit the writings to the most careful scrutiny. One or more Revisers are selected, according to the extent and character of the writings to be examined. The names of the Revisers are never revealed to the Postulator of the Cause. Their duties, in a word, consist in carefully examining the writings to see if they contain anything contrary to faith or morals or to sound and pure doctrine.
Various contingencies may arise from this examination. If nothing unfavorable is found the Cardinal Relator submits the decision of the Revisers to an ordinary meeting of the Congregation, and this Tribunal decrees that "the cause may proceed further." If, however, the Revisers should find anything censurable in the writings, their judgment is submitted to the Congregation by the Revisers themselves, who also state whatever may be advanced from the writings in defense of the servant of God. Should the Congregation decide that the difficulties here have been met by this statement it decrees as before that the cause may proceed. It may, however, happen that the objections are of a more serious nature; and if there is any proposition opposed to faith or morals this would be destructive, and the cause would at once come to nought. There is one other alternative: the objections may not have been completely answered by the Revisers, and yet they may not be of such a formidable character as to be judged fatal to the cause. In these circumstances the decision of the Revisers is handed to the Promoter of the Faith for his consideration. On the other hand, the Advocate selected by the Postulator prepares a reply. Copies of this reply are given to the Promoter and Subpromoter of the Faith, to the Master of the Apostolic Palace, to the Procurator of the Cause, and to other officials. A special meeting of the Congregation is summoned to pronounce judgment. The Procurator pleads in favor of the cause, the Promoter, on the other hand, as in duty bound, urges the objections. The arguments on both sides are carefully heard and weighed with the utmost care. There is no middle course now; the judgment must be either favorable or fatal to the cause. If the Congregation considers that all difficulties have been satisfactorily overcome it publishes a favorable decree, reserving, however, to the Promoter of the Faith the right to raise objections from these writings against the virtues of the servant of God.
If but little written matter is left by the deceased no Revisers are appointed, and the Cardinal Relator treats of it before an ordinary meeting of the Congregation.
All the writings are restored to the original owners when the final examination is complete. But they must not be returned at this stage, for the Promoter of the Faith must examine them anew to see if they contain anything derogatory to the claim for heroic virtue in the servant of God.
The examination of the writings is no empty formality; it has happened that causes, otherwise progressing favorably, have come to an end or have been deferred for a long time by reason of difficulties arising from this revision. Benedict XIV., Book II., chap. 31, gives an instance of a servant of God who taught in his theological works that the Pope could dispensewith regard to those countries in which there is no wineto the effect that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass could be offered with bread alone. The teaching was based on a supposed decree of Pope Innocent VIII. granting permission to have Mass offered in Norway under the one species. The difficulty was discussed at great length, and finally it was decided that the cause could proceed. The reason of this favorable decision was that the servant of God taught this proposition at a time when the alleged decree was regarded as authentic and legitimate. But the decree, as a matter of historical fact, was an impudent forgery; it was issued in the name of the Pope, but the authors of the forgery were convicted and suffered the death penalty for their crime.
1 If the objectionable sentiments were submitted to the judgment of the Church, or retracted afterwards by the servant of God, they would not form an obstacle to the beatification
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