the Carmel

The Saints on Trial

Everything is obscure in the process of canonization. And first of all the very fact of judging the dead, which goes against the usual principles of law. The aim is, it is true, not to condemn, but to glorify. To understand this procedure, we must go back to the first centuries. The saint is first of all a martyr, whose remains are venerated, a confessor who preached Christianity, a bishop who founded the local church, a hermit or an ascetic who gathered disciples. The saint remains alive in the memory of the faithful through his coveted and displaced relics. What makes the saint is also a memory maintained by the liturgy, a venerated tomb and a life story (hagiography), such as the Life of Martin of Tours by Sulpice Sévère.

From the 1634th century, the making of saints became an ecclesiological issue, the papacy reserved this power for itself by regulating it. The Catholic Reformation must justify the worship of saints, questioned by Luther. In XNUMX, Pope Urban VIII, in the constitution Cælestis Jerusalem, put in place procedures which remained until the modifications recently introduced, from Pius XI to John Paul II.

To understand how the making of a saint took place in Thérèse's time, one must bear in mind three distinct elements which constantly interfered with each other: the matter of the judgment, the judicial procedure, the roles of the institutions clerics.

1 – Let's start with what is the subject of the review. Holiness is judged in three joint ways. The first concerns the behavior of the person, the heroic practice of the virtues. The other two inscribe the saint in his time by his reputation (fama sanctitatis) and by his ability to perform miracles. But two other different elements are examined in a canonization process, the writings and the cult. We look closely at the writings to avoid proposing, as models, people who would have made unorthodox or even morally reprehensible remarks. But the behavior of clerics and faithful is also monitored to prevent them from anticipating canonization by rendering public worship to the future saint.

2 – All this lengthy verification is done within the framework of a codified procedure which has all the characteristics of the legal process. First, the procedure takes place before a tribunal composed of judges who hear witnesses. The cause is there supported by a defender (Roman postulator who delegates his functions to a vice-postulator and who is helped by lawyers); On the other hand, a kind of prosecutor intervenes, who underlines the weaknesses of the dossier: he is called the devil's advocate, whereas he is, as the promoter of the faith, the representative of the institution. The fixed legal vocabulary quickly becomes incomprehensible jargon and the obligation of secrecy makes the whole procedure more opaque. Within this framework, each of the “subjects” examined is subject to a specific procedure. There is, from the start, a separate trial of the writings and another, called non-cult. And in the main trial, the three “files” – virtues, reputation, miracles – must be “documented” from separate questions. As a result, the trial is long (sometimes centuries), expensive and of uncertain outcome. To make it succeed, it is necessary to have an institution, like the great religious orders – which have many saints – or the new congregations.

3 – The ecclesiological context. The bishop where the potential saint died (we will speak of a servant/servant of God) opens the trial and instructs it by calling witnesses. Hence the need to start it early. Rome then intervenes through the congregation of the Rites and through the pope himself who sanctions each stage of the process. The papal administration must take its time, deadlines are the rule to avoid any excitement or pressure. The Congregation of Rites intervenes in two ways: first by verifying that the diocesan process (ordinary process) is solid, which allows Rome to take over the investigation on its own by opening a second process under the same conditions as the first but in the name of the pope (apostolic process). Then, by making a final judgment on each of the elements of the file, writings, virtues, miracles, etc. So many opportunities for delay, blockage, abandonment. And in the end, we find another duality to access recognition, since the procedure is split, concerning miracles, for beatification and canonization.

Therese's trial

This procedure, strictly ecclesiastical, calls on the laity as witnesses, lawyers or experts (doctor for miracles). The proclamation of a new saint is a pedagogy in action of the holiness of the Church in her history, as evidenced by the incorporation of the blessed into the sanctoral. But canonization also obeys political purposes, whether internally (to satisfy a religious family) or externally (to honor a nation).

It is easier to indicate the culmination of Thérèse's trial (1925) than its starting point. Indeed, the ordinary trial opens in 1910; but as early as 1906, it was mentioned in the Catholic press; in 1907, the new bishop of Bayeux, Mgr Lemonnier, made a symbolic gesture, authorizing a prayer to ask for the canonization of the young Carmelite; in 1908, a new prioress, who was not from Thérèse's family, officially addressed the bishop to launch the procedure; in 1909, the choice of the main operators (Carmelite postulator and French vice-postulator, Mgr de Teil) really launched the process. This opened in May-June 1910 with the trial of the writings, at the request of the Congregation of Rites. It ends in September 1911, with the non-cult trial. But a full year (August 1910-August 1911) was devoted to the hearings of witnesses in the main trial relating to the virtues, reputation for holiness and miracles.

The diocesan file, solemnly closed by Bishop Lemonnier on December 12, 1911, was then taken over by the Roman Congregation of Rites on March 13, when it opened the authentic copy of the trial brought by Bishop de Teil. First step taken, the examination of the writings leads to a nihil obstat (December 11, 1912). Then comes the big piece, the main trial. On March 8, 1913, the Roman lawyers of the cause presented the Positio, a strong summary (summarium) of the file, with various annexed documents, for the members of the congregation. A new step: the Congregation of Rites, in January 1914, authorized the continuation of the trial without waiting for the usual period of ten years. As a result, the promoter of the faith, Mgr Verde, made his serious and reasoned remarks (animadversiones) in April, to which the lawyers responded immediately. The congregation of the Rites does not retain the objections. On June 10, 1914, the first official Roman recognition, Pius X signed the introduction of the cause.

The war which begins in Europe does not prevent the congregation of the Rites, in August, from asking the bishop of Bayeux to open the apostolic process, by first hearing the main witnesses and the oldest. This new trial opened in April 1915 and lasted until August 1916. During this time, the Roman congregation did not remain inactive: in March 1916, it ratified the non-cult trial and lightened the apostolic trial with a new inquiry into the reputation of holiness. The multiplicity of testimonies of the faithful and accounts of miracles convinced the judges. The Bishop of Bayeux can therefore continue the apostolic process by hearing the rest of the witnesses (September 1916-August 1917).

We are now entering an exclusively Roman phase. A new obstacle, of size, is removed: according to canon law, the file should have been treated only 50 years after the death of Thérèse, that is to say in... 1947. We make an exception for her. As a result, the outcome is getting closer. On August 14, 1921, the Congregation of Rites recognizes the heroicity of the virtues, but it took a vote three times to repel the objections of the new promoter of the faith, relating in particular to Thérèse's strange illness. The obstacle of the two miracles is also overcome after three examinations. On March 19, 1923, the decree di tuto gave the green light to the beatification. In Lisieux, the following days, the body of Thérèse – we can now speak of relics – is transferred to the chapel of the Carmel. On April 29, 1923, Thérèse was proclaimed blessed. His worship becomes public, with a party on October 1, an office... and statues in churches!

Canonization is in sight. It is only necessary to examine two new miracles, approved on March 19, 1925. On March 30, in a secret consistory, the pope questions the cardinals on the advisability of this canonization. Formality. On April 22, a semi-public consistory, open to all bishops, archbishops, and cardinals present in Rome, allows for broader approval. On May 17, 1925, the solemn canonization of Thérèse of the Child Jesus took place at Saint Peter's in Rome. This is the first canonization of Pius XI. It precedes by a few days that of four other French saints, two 24th century foundresses, Madeleine-Sophie Barat and Marie-Madeleine Postel (May 31), and two priests, Jean Eudes and the Curé of Ars (May XNUMX).

For Thérèse, the official honors will continue. In 1927, the decree extending her feast to the universal church (July) was the prelude to her proclamation as patroness of all the missions (December 14). While waiting for the doctorate, dismissed in 1932, granted in 1997.

By Claude Langlois, historian