After the examination of the virtues inquiry is next made regarding the miracles and supernatural gifts of the servant of God, whether, apart from his natural powers, he was endowed by God with the grace of eloquence, of knowledge, counsel, or the like; had he foretold future free events; had he healed the sick; whether he possessed a supernatural insight into the human heart; was he gifted with ecstasies and visions.
In regard to miracles wrought after death, it is asked if there is any evidence of curing the sick, or any remarkable occurrence considered miraculous; did God show the efficacy of his intercession by any signs or portents; was his body incorrupt, or did a supernatural odor proceed from it. On all these matters the Process pronounces careful judgment.
The above summary, freely translated from the terms of reference of the Process, shows how thoroughly searching and rigorous is the examination of the individual virtues and miracles. It is to be noted, moreover, that the examination is not strictly confined to the points mentioned above; additional information may be sought for and given according as may be required by the peculiar state or condition of the servant of God.
In all causes the Process on the Virtues institutes a minute inquiry into the sufferings of those whose beatification is under consideration. It was necessary that Christ should suffer and so enter into His glory, and the same is true in its measure of the saints. It is then a part of the work of this Process to inquire into the sicknesses of the servant of God, and the ordinary afflictions of life, the coldness and falling away of friends, the ridicule of the world, the opposition of even good men, the disfavor of those in authority; all his trials and sufferings are closely examined, and the manner in which he bore them.
It may seem strange at first sight that holy personages should have to suffer heartbreaking tribulations from ordinarily good Christians. Yet the fact remains, and there are innumerable instances of the opposition and suspicion of good men when there was question of the plans and modes of action of the saints. In the cause of St. Theresa it came out in evidence that she was so abandoned by everyone that nobody would. even hear her confessions. St. Philip Neri was persecuted by Roman prelates, and his pilgrimages were put down to vain glory. St. Alphonsus. Liguori was made the laughing stock of Naples, and at one time of his life "he was denounced from the pulpits of Rome as a warning to other selfsufficient dreamers." It is unnecessary to multiply instances. In a great multitude of cases, perhaps the majority, the saints suffered opposition and persecution from good men and prelates in authority. And this thwarting of good men is most ingeniously urged by the Promoter of the Faith as an objection against their sanctity. No writer, ancient or modern, can criticize the actions of the saints with greater severity than the Promoter of the Faith, and many an objection made by critics in the world is nothing more than a repetition of those which have been already urged with the greatest shrewdness and persistency before the Congregation. All these objections have to be answered by the Postulators to the satisfaction of the Roman Tribunal. Sometimes they are able to show that the servants of God were the victims of calumny, and there are instances of malicious conspiracies being formed against them. But, apart from special malice of this kind, it would seem that the heroicity of a virtue renders it misunderstood by those who have not a spiritual discernment; and whilst a proportion of worldliness remains in the ordinary faithful they will find many things uncongenial and objectionable in the lives of the saints.
In the examination of witnesses before this Process it is not expected that each individual witness should give evidence on all the points upon which inquiry is to be made ; it is sufficient if one witness, for example, testifies to the origin of the servant of God, another to his faith, or some act of faith, a third to his charity towards God and his neighbor, and so on with the rest. And sometimes the evidence of a witness is altogether confined to some unfavorable circumstance. For inquiries are always made not only in regard to those things which redound to the credit of the servant of God, but also into all matters which might be an obstacle to the final success of the cause.
The Process on the individual Virtues and Miracles may, as its title indicates, examine miracles as well as virtues. Sometimes the examination of the miracles is confined exclusively to the special Process on the individual miracles. But, even when the miracles as well as the virtues are investigated, the inquiry into the virtues and into their heroicity forms the primary work of this Process, nor does the Sacred Congregation pronounce judgment on the miracles until a favorable decree is first issued regarding the possession of virtue in the heroic degree.
Since then the term "heroic virtue" and the corresponding one "heroicity of virtues" enter into and express the very essence of the inquiry on the virtues, it will be necessary to explain their meaning at some length. The usages of ecclesiastical language do not permit us to speak of the saints directly as heroes, for, though the numberless martyrs who despised death and gave their lives, for the faith, and the confessors, who lived a life on earth not human, but angelic, must be regarded as heroes in the highest sense, yet the name of hero seems to carry with it a certain show of vain glory which is despised by holy men and condemned by the Christian religion. But their virtues must, nevertheless, be described as truly heroic, and the term has a strict technical sense in the language of writers on this subject.
What then is heroic virtue as understood by the Church? In discussing the question theologians and canonists do not express themselves in the same way, but there is no substantial difference in the meaning. Virtue may be defined briefly "a habit of right conduct"; and this habit may be acquired by repeated acts or may be directly infused by God. "Heroic virtue" is a habit of performing continuous acts possessing the quality of goodness in a very remarkable degree. Heroicity is described by one writer in metaphysical language as a certain excellence in an action arising from the habit of charity whereby the operations of the faculties under the dominion of the will are closely directed to an exceedingly lofty supernatural end. Perhaps the clearest and most popular definition of heroic virtue is that which describes it as a "habit of performing those good acts which exceed the mode of working followed by estimable men who live in grace and act worthily." Another writer explains heroic virtue as a quality arising from the repetition of acts of virtue which can ordinarily be performed only with very considerable difficulty. For example, in the matter of abstinence, to carefully observe the Lenten regulations would belong to the ordinary exercise of that virtue, but it would be abstinence in the heroic degree to prolong the Lenten fast throughout the entire year.
These definitions give us but a vague idea of the meaning of heroic virtue. To understand more clearly the standard of perfection which must be attained by holy men and women before they can receive the honor of beatification it will be useful to devote attention to the usage followed by the Church in these investigations. Cardinal Lambertini, afterwards Pope Benedict XIV., is regarded as the decisive authority on this subject. In his great work on the Beatification and Canonization of Saints he treats this question at considerable length, and explains in what consists the heroicity of each of the three theological and four cardinal virtues. For years he held the important office of Promoter of the Faith and being one of the most learned theologians of his own or any other age, his writings show a wonderful weight and wealth of knowledge. The following paragraphs, condensed from his work, give some idea of the practice of the Holy See and the principles on which it is based.
(I) Heroicity is nothing else than the excellence of the work, arising in general from the difficult and arduous nature of the work itself. In judging the excellence and difficulty of a work the circumstances must be carefully considered. For to take an instance, if a child fasts, as was done by St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, such an act would be considered excellent, but it need not be so if done by an adult; and in like manner the act of St. Louis, King of France, ministering to the sick in a hospital was regarded as a work of excellence, not so, however, if done by a person of humble rank.
(2) A few acts although heroic are not enough but to prove the existence of heroic virtue manifold actions endowed with the quality of heroicity must be performed. For virtue must burst forth into action, being called by God that talent in the Gospel which cannot remain idle; and in the race of virtue, the saying has become proverbial that "whoever is not going forward is going backward." The length of time during which excellence of life must be manifest is not defined, but it is most strictly required that there should be numerous acts and a permanent and habitual practice of heroic virtue. In the case Of St. John Francis Regis it was admitted that, ten years of the greatest toil and charitable zeal spent in Apostolic missions were sufficient to justify a decree concerning his virtues without making it necessary to scrutinize the acts of his previous life.
(3) In regard to the three. theological virtues, it is not strictly required that each of them should be shown to have existed by manifold and continued heroic acts. The reason is that, from their own nature, and from God's liberality in the first infusion of them, these virtues are intimately connected with each other. The Council of Vienne teaches as the more probable opinion that the theological virtues are infused into infants as well as adults in baptism, and this opinion is now regarded as certain. Moreover, most theologians infer from the Council of Trent that infused habits of faith, hope, and charity are given in justification. Then the very nature of these virtues, for there is no account taken of a vain hope or dead faith, shows the inseparable connection that exists between them. Hence the heroic exercise of one of the three is taken as adequate proof, if none other is at hand, of the possession of the other two virtues. Still a special inquiry is made in regard to charity in the heroic degree, for charity is the "bond of perfection," as the Apostle testifies, it includes all the other virtues, and on the eminence of charity the splendor and eminence of the other virtues depend.
(4) The Holy See not only requires the possession of these virtues in the sense explained above, but inquires further how the person to be beatified possessed the spirit of prayer, vocal and mental, and the practice of frequenting the sacraments of Penance and the Blessed Eucharist as most powerful means for preserving sanctity of life and advancing in perfection. And, as some of those who are canonized were sinners before they were saints, being glorious examples of repentance, the Sacred Congregation diligently inquires into the sins which sometimes occur, and the subsequent repentance by which they atoned for their past transgressions. An inquiry is also made into the bodily mortifications which were practiced by the servants of God in the course of their lives.
(5) Lastly, the Sacred Congregation requires that these virtuous acts, though difficult to infirm human nature, should be elicited promptly, easily and with delight, for readiness and ease in these noble practices denote a habit of virtue already acquired. And when to these qualities are united a certain pleasure and sweetness, in all circumstances, they indicate a habit already formed and in a degree of intensity amounting to heroicity. It will be seen then that sadness and gloom and depression are utterly alien to the spirit of the saints, and when spiritual writers inculcate the duty of being glad and joyous their teaching is based on the highest authority. Mortification and suffering may weaken the body, but they cannot impair the vigor of a soul which is earnestly striving after the ideal state of humanity. This state is attained in its perfection only in the future life, but the foretaste of it which the saints enjoy produces a joy and gladness of soul which coexists with the greatest trials and tribulations. Heroic virtue never allows anything mean or low or deliberately evil, but at all times retains that calm joyous elevation of soul which tends with its might to the highest goodness and the following of God.
The efficiency of these rules as tests of sanctity, and the care exercised by the Church in applying them, will be better understood if some attention is directed to their application in detail. It has been stated already that the scope of the inquiry for canonization not only includes the theological and chief moral virtues, but also that virtue which is suited to the person's particular calling or state in life. And it often happens that many of those proposed for beatification have attained to certain stages in the process and no further. This takes place not only in the case of persons of humble and obscure origin, but even with those who have all the advantages of the patronage of sovereignty and the influence of religious orders. In these investigations nothing avails but the undoubted merits of the candidate ascertained by an inquiry founded on the eternal principles of truth and justice.
The case of Cardinal Ximenes, Archbishop of Toledo, is a conspicuous example. At the age of fortysix he threw up the most brilliant prospects of preferment, and entered the Franciscan Monastery at Toledo. And when, thirteen years later, he was appointed Archbishop of Toledo, he refused to accept the office until he received an express command from the Pope. Even when compelled to yield he continued as Archbishop the life of mortification and austerity of the Franciscan Order, and being admonished by the Pope to maintain the dignity of his exalted office, he hid the hair shirt of the monk under the gorgeous robes of the Bishop. The princely revenues of his See were devoted to works of charity; and his munificence as a patron of art, letters and religion, expending vast sums on churches, hospitals and schools and other works of benevolence, elicited the admiration of all contemporary historians. For many years he held the position of regent of Spain; and in times of great difficulty and danger he conducted the affairs of the kingdom with consummate ability and skill. And yet Benedict XIV. relates that, when, after his death, his beatification was proposed, the Promoters of the Faith raised the objection that he had shown an excessive affection for his own relations. He had brought about the marriage of his brother John to Eleonora, the wealthy daughter of John Zapata, Lord of Barajas, and of his nephew, Benedict, to Benedict's cousin, to whom he gave a large dowry out of his ample revenues and possessions. To the objection raised the Postulators replied by showing that these marriages were merely permitted and not sought by him, that he hoped by these wealthy alliances to help the University of Alcala and other works of learning and religion ; and that the dowries were not derived from the property of the Church, but from the ample revenues which he legitimately acquired whilst administering the affairs of the kingdom.
Again, in the case of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who had been declared by Urban VIII. a "servant of God," it was objected that he had paid to his own relations pensions out of the revenues of the Church. And here, too, the Postulators endeavored to meet the objection by showing that, the relatives were very poor, and that the revenues of the Church may be used in moderation to provide assistance for needy relations. The Apostolic Canons and the Council of Trent declare that, if relations are poor, assistance may be given them as to the poor and without carnal affection. But in the case of these two venerable servants of God the Sacred Tribunals were not satisfied that the bounds of moderation were not exceeded, distributive justice, which should be the special virtue of prelates, was not strictly observed, and, notwithstanding their unrivaled influence at Rome, and their undoubted merits in other respects, an indefinite postponement took place, and the honors of canonization were denied them.
It is obvious to anyone acquainted with Christian teaching that the principles governing these examinations are not a mere arbitrary collection of rules devised by the Church, but that they are founded on the revelation made by God and preserved in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The saints are perfect in proportion to the fidelity with which they have copied the model of our Divine Master. Their sanctity is measured by the manner in which they observed the law of God, and followed the counsels of perfection. There are those who say that it is not possible to know the degree of virtue to which a person has attained as it implies measuring the supernatural. But virtue cannot remain hidden in the heart, and must show itself in the actions of daily life. And it must be evident to any unprejudiced person that the severe and rigorous tests of this Process are eminently calculated to find out how far the life of the servant of God has conformed to the standard of perfection revealed to us by God.
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