So, are there unique Episcopal saints or not?

Noticing some fair-haired children in the slave market one morning, Pope Gregory, the memorable pope, said (in Latin), “What are those?” and on being told that they were Angels, made the memorable joke — “Non Angli, sed Angeli” (“not Angels, but Anglicans”) and commanded one of his saints called St Augustine to go and convert the rest.

W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman, 1066 and All That (1930)

The Durham Herald-Sun reports on celebrations of a local woman who has been made a saint by the Episcopal Church.

Is that right? Do Episcopalians have their own saints?

No they do not. While the events recounted in the story are correct, the reporter has muddled her terminology, using Catholic language to describe a Protestant phenomenon.

The lede sentence of the story entitled “Pauli Murray celebrated as saint at annual service” states:

The Rev. Pauli Murray, the Durham-raised woman who went on to become the first African-American female Episcopal priest and was made a saint by The Episcopal Church in 2012, was celebrated July 1 at an annual service held at St. Titus’ Episcopal Church in Durham.

The article recounts the sermon given at the service. The details of her life show Murray to have been an exemplary, worthy individual — perhaps even a saint in colloquial language. But the article asserts that she was not that sort of saint but an individual “made a saint” by the Episcopal Church in 2012.

I understand what the reporter is trying to say, but her infelicitous language will confuse all but the most devoted Anglican observer. The Episcopal Church has no power to make her, or anyone a saint. Nor do the Catholics or Orthodox “make” saints — they recognize them, canonize them, but God alone makes them.

Is Pauli Murray a saint? Yes and No.

She is a hero of the church who in 2012 was added to the sanctoral calendar of the Episcopal Church and whose day of commemoration is July 1. The church’s sanctoral calendar in the beginning of the Book of Common Prayer lists the feast days and commemorations of the saints and heroes of the church — but notice only some individuals are called saints: Mary, Joseph, Peter, Paul, Matthias, Bartholomew, Matthew, Michael, Luke, James, Simon, Jude, Andrew, Thomas, Stephen and John.

All others are identified by titles such as priest, missionary or theologian. The only people called saints are New Testament figures. Episcopal Churches are often named after saints from the post-Biblical age (St. Augustine and so forth), and those individuals identified by the universal church as saints are often called saints. But Anglicans have not created their own saints since the Reformation, with but one local and much disputed exception: King Charles I (St. Charles the Martyr).

What is the difference between a hero of the church and a saint? The answer is theological. Blame Calvin for this. The lyrics of the hymn “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” spells out the Episcopal/Reformed view. Thus, worshippers sing:

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It’s hard to be a saint in the city

I recently cataloged about 1,000 of my 1,300 or so vinyl records (the classical music remains to be done), something I’d been meaning to do for many years. For a vinyl obsessive, this means checking liner notes and record quality. It’s fun to see who appears on which albums. You begin to see more clearly those trends across labels, decades, producers. It’s fun.

I’m nowhere near the obsessive of Dawn Eden, who was profiled in the New York Times Sunday Magazine by Alexandra Molotkow. The piece has gotten mixed reviews but I rather enjoyed it. I will acknowledge that it’s a weird piece. For instance, it’s a profile of Eden but it doesn’t mention her until you’ve read six paragraphs on Curt Boettcher, a pop-music producer with a distinct sound (think “Cherish” by the Association).

Eden, who I have had the pleasure of reading for many years, used to be a rock historian and journalist. She repopularized Boettcher. And she converted to Christianity and has written about it at length. Molotkow’s piece is an exploration of Molotkow’s interest in Boettcher (and, therefore, Eden since she wrote extensively about him). There is, perhaps, a lack of coherency to the piece but it worked for me. We have the journey of Dawn Eden from a rock historian battling demons to a Christian woman whose latest book is “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds With the Help of the Saints.” And then there’s the journey of Molotkow, a seemingly secular woman trying to relate to someone she has “otherized.” She comes to realize she’s been reductive and unfair.

It all gets a little meta, but I enjoy reading about how someone overcomes prejudgments and learns to deal with a source or subject on their terms. On that note, Ann Rodgers of Religion Newswriters Association has a tremendous piece on just that in the latest RNA newsletter (sorry, not linkable). She gives advice to religion news writers about how to interview subjects whose views you dislike. It’s good advice for all reporters.

Back to the Sunday magazine piece:

When she learned of [Boettcher's] death, she decided to write his biography. His obscurity seemed like an intolerable injustice, and correcting it gave her a sense of purpose. When she felt suicidal, she told herself she couldn’t die because she had to write his story. And her efforts went a long way toward reviving his music. She wrote the liner notes to several CD reissues of his work, which spread the cult of Boettcher. (She conducted the Gary Usher interview in 1988, quoted above, that is included in the Sagittarius liner notes.) This April, the singer Beth Sorrentino released an album of Boettcher covers, produced by Sean Slade (Radiohead, Hole). But Eden never did write that biography.

What ultimately allayed her depression was not Boettcher, but God. In October 1999, she had a “born-again experience,” and if her name sounds familiar, it’s because she has been very public about it: she has blogged about conservative and religious matters on her site, The Dawn Patrol, since 2002, and was fired from a copy-editing job at The New York Post for inserting pro-life terminology into an article on in vitro fertilization. (She now says she regrets this.) Her first book, published in 2006, was called “The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On.”

I have read this book; I have pored over The Dawn Patrol. I’ve spent years wondering what kind of person Dawn Eden might be. I was interested in Boettcher myself, and thanks to Eden’s obsession with him, I became interested — and even a little obsessed — with her.

Molotkow’s first interest in Eden was as rock historian:

That was my introduction to Dawn Eden. An Internet search yielded another Eden, a more recent iteration: strident conservative; chastity advocate; favorite target of the Web site Gawker. Initially I hoped to connect with her, this fellow Boettcher obsessive. Now I wondered what on earth we had in common.

I found a contact e-mail for her but sat on it for years. I worried that, because she had renounced her secular past, she would shoot me down in a blaze of hellfire for even asking about her former preoccupations. Finally, I decided to get in touch. She responded right away. She seemed delighted by my interest. Boettcher’s music was still a part of her, she wrote me: “Understand, I am not at all like those ‘born-again’ rockers who adamantly refuse to say anything at all about their pre-Christian days.”

Eden is now studying toward an advanced degree in sacred theology at the Dominican House of Studies, and while she still writes, her tone is milder than in the past. Before our first, lengthy conversation, she suggested to me that I look for the “point of continuity” between her old and new lives. It turned out to be easy to find.

Ah, the old “strident” adjective. So interesting to see when that’s pulled out. I understand it’s only to be used on conservatives or traditionalists, never for progressives or liberals. But it’s really not appropriate for Eden. She’s not loud or harsh or unpleasantly forceful.

But the writer susses out how Eden’s obsession with Boettcher compares to her interest in the lives of saints and what those lives can say to fellow believers.

And it ends:

Eden knows this, too. Boettcher had faults like anyone — he could be a tyrant in the studio — and he had qualities that might not appeal to a practicing Catholic. For starters, he was gay. When I asked Eden if she now felt conflicted about his sexuality, she said she probably did. But she added that she didn’t want her views to affect the way she told his story. She could still relate to him, she said, as a person looking for love; she heard a “longing for God” in his music. While she strained, sometimes, to reconcile her worldview with Boettcher’s, I strained to reconcile mine with hers. At these times I learned more about her than him, and I learned something about myself as well: how badly I wanted to find a bridge between us. She mythologized Boettcher; I mythologized her. We both worked, in our way, to find what we needed in someone else. But you can’t really know someone you don’t really know.

It requires a bit of a circuitous route for a secular writer and news outlet to begin to understand the interest in the lives of saints (or, really, those who are interested in the lives of saints). So be it. I found it edifying in any case. And I look forward to reading Eden’s latest book on what the saints have to offer those who have sexual wounds.

Once again: God cures someone, through the prayers of JPII

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that almost every story written about the Vatican decision to recognize the sainthood of the Blessed John Paul II (and, in a surprise of timing, John XXIII) is going to include a phrase or two about the former pope performing a miracle of healing, or words to that effect.

Trust me, I am well aware of the fact that many Catholics use language, from time to time, saying that this or that person was “healed by” prayers “to” a particular saint. At this point, however, I guess the big question is whether journalists should strive to include at least one passage in these stories that actually discusses what Catholic doctrine says about saints, intercessory prayers and miracles.

Please ponder this less than perfect analogy. By now, in the post-Sept. 11 age, most journalists are aware that the term “jihad” has a rather complex meaning. While many Muslims consistently use this term in reference to “holy way,” the actual definition of the word means “struggle” or “effort.” One online dictionary states both parts of the equation thusly:

1: a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty; also: a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline

Now, I think most editors would consider it wrong if a reporter wrote a story in which the term “jihad” was frequently used and never paused to explain what this doctrinal term truly means for believers in the Muslim faith, as well as mentioning how the term is commonly used in reference to armed struggle. In other words, journalists should — to help readers fully understand the reference — describe precisely what Muslims believe about this term and this concept.

At this point, maybe that’s the most we can hope for with the concept of divine healing in response to the intercessory prayers of the saints. One more time, here’s a word on the basics, care of Father Arne Panula of the Catholic Information Center here in Washington, D.C.:

“What must be stressed is that we pray for a saint to intercede for us with God. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that we ask the saint to pray ‘with’ us, rather than to say that we pray ‘to’ a saint,” he said.

“You see, all grace comes from the Trinity, from the Godhead. These kinds of supernatural interventions always come from God. The saint plays a role, but God performs the miracle. That may sound like a trivial distinction to some people, but it is not.”

With that in mind, let’s look at two different wordings in a new Reuters report about John Paul II. The first is a classic example of how some Catholics talk about this phenomenon. This is long, but it’s important to see all the details:

(Reuters) – Suffering a potentially fatal swelling in the brain, Costa Rican grandmother Floribeth Mora says a voice spoke to her through a photograph of the late Pope John Paul II, miraculously curing her and sealing the late pontiff’s sainthood.

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Round two: How not to report on a miracle

Being recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church is a difficult process — almost as difficult, apparently, as trying to explain that process in a mainstream new story.

I realize that tmatt just wrote an early post on this topic, but, trust me, there’s plenty more coverage out there, complete with new and unique gaffes. Let’s go with round two.

So, an official at the Vatican claims that a new miracle has been attributed to the late John Paul II, clearing the way for his canonization. The news may be fairly straightforward, but journalists seem to make the same three mistakes in their reporting:

Not defining the theological terms — The AP must assume that its readers are familiar with the process since they don’t attempt to define or explain any of the terms used in their report:

A Vatican official says a commission of theologians approved a miracle attributed to his intercession, clearing a key hurdle. The case now goes to a commission of cardinals and then Pope Francis. John Paul’s canonization is possible in autumn to coincide with the 35th anniversary of his election, though the official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to reveal details about the case that it may be too soon.

The Polish-born pope has been on the fast track for sainthood ever since retired Pope Benedict XVI waived the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the investigation into his life and virtues to begin just weeks after his 2005 death. John Paul was beatified in 2011.

Leaving terms like “intercession,” “canonization,” and “beatified” unexplained might be acceptable for the National Catholic Reporter. But a mainstream wire service should not assume its readers are fluent in Catholic.

Claiming the process makes a person a saint — As EWTN explains, “By canonization the Pope does not make the person a saint. Rather, he declares that the person is with God and is an example of following Christ worthy of imitation by the faithful.” That’s not the impression you’d get, though, from reading The Daily Telegraph:

The Polish pontiff is likely to be formally made a saint in the autumn.

Or as CBS News says:

Pope John Paul II has moved a step closer to sainthood.

Well, no. John Paul may be closer to being recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, but his status has already been determined and is not due to what CBS refers to as “the saint-making process.”

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Miracle caused by mere memory of John Paul II?

There has been another development in the canonization case of the Blessed John Paul II, which means it’s time for another round of news stories that — to one degree or another — mangle what Catholics and members of other ancient churches believe about prayer and the saints.

Before we get going, here is a handy doctrinal reminder: For Christians, only God can perform miracles. Here’s how Father Arne Panula of the Catholic Information Center here in Washington, D.C., explained it to me in 2011:

“What must be stressed is that we pray for a saint to intercede for us with God. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that we ask the saint to pray ‘with’ us, rather than to say that we pray ‘to’ a saint,” he said.

“You see, all grace comes from the Trinity, from the Godhead. These kinds of supernatural interventions always come from God. The saint plays a role, but God performs the miracle. That may sound like a trivial distinction to some people, but it is not.”

Now with that in mind, check out the lede on this quick online story from The Atlantic:

The Vatican has reportedly “approved” a second miracle that can be attributed to the memory of Pope John Paul II, opening the door for him to become a full saint faster than anyone in recent history. The Vatican won’t reveal the details of the miracle just yet, but it allegedly concerns the “extraordinary healing” of a woman in Costa Rica, who recovered from a brain injury after praying to the deceased pope. A similar healing miracle was attributed to John Paul in 2011, giving him the two miracles required to reach full sainthood.

Whoa, that contains at least one totally new twist on the usual errors.

What in the world does it mean to say that the “memory” of Pope John Paul II was the cause of a miracle? Later on in the same paragraph, we have the more familiar error — the part about the healing talking place after someone “prayed to the deceased pope.”

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