Baptist Seminary Professors Say Canonization of Two Popes Highlights Doctrinal Differences Between Catholics and Evangelicals

John Paul II, John XII
John Paul II, John XII

The Roman Catholic Church’s canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II highlights important doctrinal differences between Catholics and evangelicals, two seminary professors have noted.

With more than 1 million people watching in St. Peter’s Square and on giant screens across Rome, Pope Francis installed two of his predecessors as saints Sunday (April 27). It was the first time the Catholic Church had canonized two popes at once, a move that some observers said was intended to unite rival constituencies within Catholicism — progressives who admire John XXIII and conservatives who celebrate John Paul II.

The ceremony also illustrated the different definitions of “saint” held by Catholics and evangelicals, Rex Butler, professor of church history and patristics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press in written comments. As a resident of Louisiana, where approximately 30 percent of the population is Catholic and Roman Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination, Butler is well acquainted with the differences between evangelicals and Catholics.

For Catholics, “a ‘saint’ is a holy man or woman of extraordinary virtue who died with more merit than was necessary to enter heaven,” Butler said. “Their extra merit then is stored in the Treasury of Merit — also called the Treasury of the Saints — and made available [through papal indulgences] to other, lesser Christians” to decrease their punishments in purgatory. “Also, saints in heaven are asked to pray on behalf of Christians on earth and in purgatory,” he said.

But for evangelicals, “the title ‘saint’ is used appropriately for any person who is made holy through salvation by grace through faith,” Butler said. “Certainly, this is how Paul understood the term ‘saints’ in his letters to the churches (1 Corinthians 1:2; Romans 1:7). Evangelicals disagree that Christians should ask for saints’ prayers because our only mediator is Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).”

For someone to become a saint, the Roman Catholic Church typically must certify that at least two miracles have been performed through their intercession since their death. The process of canonization also involves a lengthy investigation of the saint’s life and taking relics — a vial containing his blood in John Paul II’s case and a piece of skin removed from his body for John XXIII. These relics were presented before the altar at Sunday’s canonization ceremony.

John XXIII, who was pope from 1958-63, is remembered for convening a council of the Catholic Church known as Vatican Council II. Though he did not live to see the council conclude its work in 1965, John XXIII is credited with spearheading reforms initiated at Vatican II. Among them:

— The church began conducting mass in the languages of common Catholics rather than exclusively in Latin.

— The church affirmed that non-Catholics, while not experiencing the fullness of salvation, could be saved through God’s grace as they lived according to the dictates of their consciences or obeyed the tenets of their religions.

— In mass, the altar was brought forward toward the congregation and the priest began facing the people.

— Laypeople were given bread and wine in communion rather than just bread, as was the practice before Vatican II.

— The church began fostering ecumenical relationships with Protestants and non-Christian religions like Judaism and Islam.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
David Roach

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