"A Higher Status than Sainthood"?

How silly some secular reporting is. Cathnews is carrying this story from the Irish Times: John Paul ‘to be more than a saint’, the main thrust of which is:

AN IRISH Catholic bishop has predicted that Pope John Paul II, who arrived in Ireland 30 years ago today, will most likely have a higher status than sainthood in the Catholic Church. The Bishop of Meath, Most Rev Michael Smith, who was centrally involved in organising the papal visit, said he would not be surprised if Pope John Paul II was made a Doctor of the Church.

I won’t speculate about what his Lordship said that gave the reporter the impression that being a “Doctor of the Church” was a “higher status” in the Kingdom of Heaven than “sainthood”, but you and I know that it ain’t so. There is no higher calling or status that any human being can attain than the beatitude of sainthood. Anything else you might be – like, for eg., pope or a doctor of the Church or a Catholic blogger – is in a different category all together.

However, I do believe that the good bishop is right in his guess about the “Doctor of the Church” status of the late pope. Whether that decision will be made in our life time, I very much doubt. These things take time. St Therese of Lisieux, for instance, died in 1897, was canonised in 1925, but only declared a Doctor of the Church by JPII in 1997. There are only thirtythree doctors of the Church, none thus far from the 20th Century. Perhaps John Paul II will be our 20th Century Doctor? I for one think that the “John Paul the Great” title will only catch on if he is accorded the status of “Doctor of the Church”, but I don’t think that will be in our generation. Future generations are far more likely to appreciate him than today’s.

Of course, John Paul II isn’t the only theologian pope with which we have been blessed in the past 100 years. Next to John Paul II, Pope Pius XII would be another, if the number of times his writings are quoted by the 2nd Vatican Council are any indication. It could be possible more easily to proclaim Pius XII a “Doctor of the Church” than a “Saint” in the current climate. “Doctor of the Church” is a statement of the value and authenticity of his teaching, not of the holiness of his life. I don’t dispute the latter, but unfortunately, there are still those who are stoking the fires of controversy in that camp.

But of course, we are now in the 21st Century and must be looking ahead for today’s “Doctor of the Church”. Who could that be, I wonder? Could we have back to back papal Doctors? According to the Irish Times, Bishop Michael Smith:

also suspected Pope Benedict might, in time, become a Doctor of the Church. “In this generation we are very blessed to have had two popes who have made an enormous contribution to church teaching and church belief.”

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6 Responses to "A Higher Status than Sainthood"?

  1. Tony says:

    I have an idea. Why don’t we give the saints titles like they do Cardinals? Thus: Deacon Saint, Priest Saint and Bishop Saint. Then we could talk about all saints being equal but some being more equal than others!

    Afterall what is bound on earth is bound in heaven.

    Brilliant. Yes?

    • Anne says:

      Tony you are dribbling again (lol)
      Its your beard it gets in the way of your thought processes. Perhaps its also the shades of grey appearing.

  2. Joshua says:

    “Doctor” (teacher) is simply a short descriptive title indicating something of the saint’s earthly witness, such as “Confessor”, “Bishop”, “Virgin”, “Martyr”, etc. The main consequence is that each different category gets an appropriate Mass and Office.

  3. Gareth says:

    No doubt JP was a pretty holy guy, but I think His Lordship is getting a bit carried away with considering him up there with the Doctors of the Church.

    • Anne says:

      Actually Gareth I would disagree with you on this one. I think JPII will be declared “Doctor of the Church” and maybe in our lifetime. This Pontiff has written more on the holiness of sexuality than any of the previous writings of 15 hundred years or more. He has left some fantastic work. His Theology of the Body will be used as text book material for the next hundred years. We have not even begun to delve deeply into the meaning of this tome. At many levels it is magnificent. Apart from this his encyclicals are pure joy. So Gareth I believe that JPII will be declared Doctor of the Church just as surely as sainthood. I have heard him speak really close up and his voice was captivating. He exuded a feeling of peace so deep. As I stood about 4 metres from him all I wanted to do was weep and thats all I could do and I dont know why.
      I do the same at Marian processions (eg Fatima & Lourdes, I cried so much it was embarassing) and Eucharistic processions. I dont know why I cry and cry but its something from deep within.
      JPII Doctor of the Church? absolutely.

  4. Gareth says:


    I disagree with some of the above, but will not go into major detail besides stating that when the church (or up until the 1960s at least) confirms that someone is a saint (and a Pope in particular), they are just not making a point about that person’s interior life, but also the line of theology the given person expoused and supported in their life and what this has to offer for the church as a whole.

    In other words, in making public a person a saint, the church should is also be making a statement about the theology that person supported in their lifetime.

    We don’t hold up other public figures such as politicans as role models, simply because they were ‘good people’, but rather we honour the policies they expoused. And same goes with the church.

    For example, St Pius X was not just a very holy man – but he also had offered the church a great theology on frequent reception of the Eucharist and at the time the church wanted to make a big statement about daily Mass.

    St Therese was not just a holy Nun, but her theology of the ‘little way’ had much to offer the every day believer.

    St Pius V was not just a holy man, but the church also in making him a saint wanted to have something to say about the great reforms that stemmed from Trent.

    John Paul II’s constant support and whole papacy based on the Second Vatican Council disqualifies him from being excluded from such a group. JPII’s whole Papacy was based on the support of this Council and it is only fair that a future generation truly weigh up the effects of it in future years and determine whether a Pope that wholeheartily supported its reforms is truly worthy of being a role model for the church??

    While no doubt, he was a man with a great interior life, the jury is still out on what precisely the reforms of the Second Vatican Council gave the church besides a great confusion…… enough said.

    In declaring JPII a role model in the way that other great Doctors of the church are such as Aquinas and St Alphonsus, I believe the church would be sending the faithful a very confusing message.

    And not too mention, that the church very rarely makes Popes saints, let alone Doctors of the church.

    Anne, I too once stood very close to JPII and had the same feelings.

    But, with the benefit of hindsight, it is time to leave nostagalia alone and truly weigh up the real benefits of the reforms that have come from the church over the past fifty years.

    And that is why I believe that it should be left to future generations to decide which Pope’s line of theology and policies are worthy of sending a message to the church.

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