Thursday, July 13, 2017

Royal Saints and the Catholic Church

I recently had an exchange online (not the usual unpleasant sort) which I thought worth bringing to these pages as others may find it interesting. The question put to me was why, in the long history of the Roman Catholic Church, have relatively so few royals been raised to the status of recognized sainthood by the Church. Is it harder for monarchs to achieve sainthood? Is something blocking their way? My short answer was that it comes down to a little of column “A” and a little of column “B”. For one thing, the Catholic Church hierarchy today holds a vastly different broad view of politics than in the past. Whereas the historic Catholic Church held that, as Pope Pius VI said, monarchy is the best form of government, the Catholic Church of today is all about liberal, representative democracy, or at least so they claim. It would certainly be difficult to imagine His Holiness Pope Francis being very praiseworthy of any monarch as an ideal Christian ruler. Loyalty and obedience are not so popular as diversity and human rights nowadays. Yet, this was not always the case.

St Louis IX w/Crown of Thorns
Most Catholics, and indeed most western Christians of any sort know of some saintly monarchs as these tend to date from before the Protestants came to be. Most will have at least heard of one king-saint from most countries that have been around a long time. There is King St Louis IX of France, King St Ferdinand III of Castile, King St Edmund the Martyr of East Anglia, King St Stephen of Hungary, King St Olaf II of Norway and so on. However, given the huge number of kings over thousands of years of Christian history, most of that history being dominated by monarchies and practically nothing else, their ranks can seem rather thin. Why is this? As stated at the outset, my immediate response is both that of royal worthiness as well as political machinations that would block the causes for the canonization of royals. In each case, human frailty plays the dominant part I would say. In the first place, monarchs are usually figures of wealth, power and prestige and, as such, they doubtless face a greater degree of temptation than an ordinary person would. In this way, yes, it is probably harder for a monarch to be worthy of canonization than a lesser person would be.

It would, however, be absurd to think that politics does not play a part in this either and not simply today when monarchy is the exception rather than the rule and traditional monarchies are frowned upon as being ‘backward’ and ‘authoritarian’. Christian monarchs, unfortunately, have a long history of fighting with other Christian monarchs and this applies to Catholics just as much if not more so than to Protestants. When one considers the monarchs who have been recognized as saints, such as those mentioned above, I direct your attention to who their enemies were. In most cases, their enemies were non-Christians; pagans or Muslims and the opinion of pagans and Muslims tended to hold little weight in the Catholic Church in those days. If, however, the Catholic Church had moved to canonize someone like King Henry VI, a monarch who was once considered saintly by a great many people in England, one could expect the French to protest against this vociferously as Henry VI had not only claimed the French Crown (as many English monarchs did) but was the only one to actually be crowned King of France in Paris. Likewise, being of the House of Lancaster, the notables of the House of York might have opposed it too. For a time, it seemed that the Tudors might have pushed for his canonization but then the break with Rome over the marriage of King Henry VIII brought all of that to a total halt.

Blessed Innocent XI
So, you can see how this would play out. Try to canonize a French monarch, you upset the Germans. Try to canonize a German monarch, you upset the French. This also applied to the Roman Pontiffs themselves. Pope Innocent XI, for example, was beatified centuries after his death but his cause never progressed beyond that point and the reason for this is well known to those familiar with his case. At the time of his pontificate, the most powerful Catholic monarch was King Louis XIV of France and, as we have discussed before, the Popes tended to oppose whichever Catholic monarch was the strongest in their time and Pope Innocent XI was very much opposed to King Louis XIV of France. As such, when his cause for canonization came up, French clergymen blocked it from going forward and it was not until the 1950’s that he was beatified and his cause has not progressed since for, while there is no longer a French monarchy to oppose it, there are few who feel strongly about pressing it either. Doubtless there have been other, similar cases. Now, as I have also mentioned before, contrast this with the sudden flurry of papal canonizations. Since the Second Vatican Council, every deceased pope has either been canonized or is at some point along in the process of being canonized (John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I & John Paul II). A few have pointed out, particularly given how poorly the Catholic Church has fared in this era, that this looks like an effort to ‘canonize the council’.

The person who raised this issue also pointed out that out of 46 (or 47 depending on how you count them) Holy Roman (German) Emperors, only one, Emperor Heinrich II, is recognized as a saint. Once again, it would be foolish to think that the long history of rivalry and antagonism between the popes and the German emperors played no part in this being the case. All of the most famous German emperors could expect heavy opposition to any consideration of their piety. Even someone as widely admired as Emperor Otto the Great would likely be opposed given that he was quite strict about the Church in his lands being answerable to him. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa is possibly the most famous of the Medieval German monarchs yet, as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, he was a villain and, to be fair, from the standpoint of the Church, it is just as legitimate that they view him as such as it is for the Germans to view him as a hero for his victories. Even an emperor most Catholic monarchists admire perhaps more than any other, Emperor Charles V, would be an almost impossible case. It would be hard to imagine the Catholic Church canonizing a monarch who waged war against the Pope, regardless of the circumstances.

Empress Maria Theresa
There are also those monarchs who might have been more easily canonized in the past than today. Queen Isabella I of Castile, for example, has a small but fervent following who wish for her to be canonized, yet such a cause could expect to attract immense criticism upon the Church from Jewish, Muslim and Native American groups and advocates. Such criticism is basically groundless and shouldn’t have any impact but realistically it should be expected and not surprising that the Church would wish to avoid the whole subject and everything it would bring up from the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition to the voyage of Columbus. The Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary, would also, I think, be worth consideration for canonization, yet she too would attract a great deal of opposition due to her attitude toward the Jews and such a cause might also generate political opposition from Poland. Again, such cases would bring up issues that the Church would rather not deal with.

Of course, canonizations are much more common among the ranks of the clergy. Not only are they less susceptible to political objections but, even among the hierarchy where the temptations associated with power and prestige are more common, they are also the ones who determine whether a cause goes forward or not which makes things much easier of course. This is not to imply that the system is out or order of course, only that any system consists of human beings and human frailty applies to the clergy as well as the laity. It also cannot be denied that even among the clergy, political opposition can still cause complications. The cause of Saint Josemaria Escriva, for example, was the source of considerable controversy because of his association with the regime of Generalissimo Franco in Spain or the cause of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac who was imprisoned by the communists and martyred after World War II for complicity with the Axis regime of the Independent State of Croatia. This sparked immense opposition and it remains to be seen if his cause will progress further. The cause to canonize Pope Pius XII himself is also very well known for the political opposition it has aroused due to accusations that he was insufficiently zealous in opposing the Nazi and Fascist government all the way to accusations of sympathy and collaboration with them, all of which has aroused considerable debate and acrimony. To date he has reached the status of “venerable”.

King Baudouin of the Belgians
Unfortunately, the enemies of traditional authority are also not always the only source of opposition to royal saints. For example, I would think that the Belgian monarchs King Albert I and King Baudouin worthy of examination but of course the mainstream types will not push for causes for them, because they were monarchs and held traditional moral views, yet there are likewise intransigent types on the right who will neither take up their cause because of their opposition to a Belgian monarchy existing in the first place (though this is absurd given that Belgian independence came at the expense of a Protestant monarch and their previous, failed, bid for independence was against a Catholic, Habsburg monarch who far-right Catholics heartily despise). King Baudouin has been talked about more than others, particularly by the Pro-Life, anti-abortion community given his public stand on that issue. However, that would also then invite opposition from leftists everywhere and no doubt they would also take issue with his words of praise for King Leopold II at the granting of independence to the Congo. The (now retired) Cardinal Godfried Daneels, while praising King Baudouin, said some years ago that a cause for canonization was “not going to happen”.

There is also the fact that, sadly, for a great many people Catholic monarchies in particular are seen as a source of division rather than unity, nothing but an open door to trouble that is best avoided. In Spain, France and the former Italian states (basically an all Bourbon problem) there continues to be intense internal dynastic disputes which are unrelenting and which the Church, as with most others, would certainly wish to avoid getting in the middle of. The left is content to let the feuding monarchists focus on fighting each other and the right would prefer not to get caught in the crossfire and look for other, non-royal alternatives. Even if there was a worthy candidate, the Church would have to show considerable courage to canonize someone in such a position, given the intense opposition it would immediately attract from the opposing faction of the various Bourbon family branches.

Blessed Maria Cristina di Savoia
However, while all of this must seem grim to Catholic monarchists, and it is certainly far from ideal, if one is prepared to not be partisan on the subject, there is still room for hope. Royal canonizations are rare but they are certainly not unheard of, even today. The most prominent example, of course, is the beatification of Emperor Charles of Austria and a French bishop did, in 2009, open a cause for his wife Empress Zita of Bourbon-Parma which it would be hard to imagine anyone objecting to and, while extremely rare certainly, saintly royals who are husbands and wives are not without precedent. There are also currently a number of potential royal saints under consideration within the historic ranks of the Italian royal House of Savoy. Maria Cristina of Savoy, Queen of the Two-Sicilies, was beatified in 2014 (being a Savoy means taking neither side in the feuding branches of the Bourbon-Two Sicilies dispute), Princess Maria Clotilde of Savoy has a cause open, making her a “Servant of God” and Queen Elena of Italy (wife of King Victor Emmanuel III) is, last I heard, under consideration for a cause of her own. All of this is good to see, though I would caution that the Italian Royal Family has a history of royals being beatified but not going on to sainthood. Still, there are royal causes being pressed which I fully support and am grateful for.

Blessed Charles of Austria
Certainly, there are many others that I would think certainly at least worthy of consideration and some I think should have been canonized long ago. Speaking of the House of Savoy, almost every recent royal consort would be worthy of consideration, Maria Pia of Savoy, Queen of Portugal, King Charles Emmanuel IV and his Bourbon bride would both be worth looking into I think. On the subject of the Bourbons, I think it odd that King Louis XVI and his Habsburg bride Queen Marie Antoinette have not been canonized already. The Dauphin, Louis XVII, would seem to be a child martyr to me and his sister Marie-Therese would seem more than worthy of consideration I think. There are others of course but, much beyond that, in France or Spain or Italy, with the Bourbons you start running into the dynastic disputes that make them all untouchable without kicking off a firestorm of acrimony. King Baudouin of the Belgians is, I think, deserving and I have been told that there has at least been talk of a potential cause for Queen Astrid. There are also others among the ranks of the Habsburgs who I would think would be possibilities given that the current family leadership has, since the days of Archduke Otto, become ‘acceptable’ to the powers-that-be and considering that, thankfully, the followers of the Habsburgs have shown more loyalty and adaptability than those of the Bourbons so that it remains one of the few Catholic dynasties that is not at the center of any serious inheritance disputes.

Clearly, there are obstacles and plenty of difficulties but hope remains and there are plenty of causes worth pursuing. Certainly, nothing will happen if no one at least tries.

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