The saint(s) go marching in

Glenn Davies

The world held its breath for Pope Benedict XVI to declare Mary MacKillop to be in line for sainthood over last weekend. The technical term in the Roman Catholic Church is canonisation, the culmination of a three-step process. The first step is to determine whether the person's life possesses "heroic virtue". Once so determined, the title Venerable is applied (as is now the case for the late Pope John Paul II). In Mary MacKillop's case she became Venerable in 1992. Then follows the search for attestation of a miracle. Once confirmed the subject is beatified and the Venerable becomes Blessed. Again this happened for Mary MacKillop in 1995. The final step to sainthood is the attestation of a second miracle. This was the Pope's recent announcement, which enables Mary MacKillop to be canonised and receive the title of Saint.

Now no one wishes to belittle Mary MacKillop's achievement in Australia"”the founding of a religious order and her work among the poor with the establishment of an orphanage, a women's refuge and a home for older women. Those achievements can be celebrated at home and abroad and no-one should complain. It is not the woman but the theology behind this move with which Anglicans would disagree. Firstly, to award such a person with sainthood for these achievements and two alleged miracles is to misunderstand what the Bible describes as the qualifications of a saint.

Put simply, anyone whose sins have been forgiven by God, through faith in Jesus Christ, is a saint. Through God's Holy Spirit, faith in Jesus makes us whole, indeed "holy". It is not the achievements of a person's life, but rather the gift of God through Christ, that makes us saints. Anyone looking at the letters of the Saint Paul can see how he writes to ordinary Christians as "saints". It is not some rarefied title, but the humbling appellation that reminds us we belong to God and in his sight we are "holy".

The second problem with the Roman Catholic Church's process of canonisation is that it obscures the importance of God's description of his people and replaces it with a human analysis of miracle working. Who can prove that the reported miracles were actually the work of Mary MacKillop? Did the persons healed pray to only Mary or did they not also pray to God? Even if they prayed to Mary MacKillop, what evidence is there that it was Mary MacKillop's intercession that healed them? Furthermore, what evidence is there in the Bible that the departed saints (I use the term advisedly) pray for us?

The New Testament describes all Christians as saints. Thus the authors of the various books of the New Testament are described by the church as St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke, etc. Yet there is no evidence in the early church history that any of these Christians were scrutinised for two miracles, before we rightly referred to them as saints.

We do greater honour to the work of Christ if we regularly refer to all Christians as saints and not be scared that such an appellation is the result of human pride. On the contrary, it is a title that God has bestowed upon us through our union with Christ, and we should therefore own it with pride.