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.”