Like many people with Catholic backgrounds, Oakland University history Professor Ronald Finucane learned early on that saints are canonized only after living extraordinary lives marked by holiness, benevolence and miraculous works.
With help from a $24,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, however, the accomplished historian expects to publish research showing that political considerations have been at least equally influential in the canonization process.
"What I’m suggesting is that the idea of holiness is immaterial in some cases," Finucane said.
"Through this work, I expect you’ll be able to see a clearer connection between saints and the politics of their times."
A graduate of Stanford University who conducted doctoral dissertation research at Oxford University, Finucane has done extensive research on belief systems of the 14th through 16th centuries. He has published five books and authored numerous scholarly articles and essays.
Throughout much of this work, the 13-year Oakland University professor has nurtured a growing interest in ties between significant historical events and papal decisions to canonize certain saintly individuals.
Finucane cited the example of St. Hyacinth, a 13th century Polish priest whose canonization was not made official until the end of the 16th century.
Following the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church was interested in minimizing the influence of divergent preachers in Poland. Canonization of St. Hyacinth helped convince ruling powers to stamp out Protestant missions.
At the same time, the church’s favorably received decision bolstered support among the Polish ruling class to join battles against Turks invading Western Europe.
Finucane explained that some 300 years after his death, St. Hyacinth’s canonization rose from scores of candidates who had been neglected during a dearth of canonizations in the previous six decades.
"In his own order alone, there were undoubtedly others who were at least as holy," Finucane said.
…Arguing that politics is undoubtedly part of any practical answer, Finucane added: "I think even the most devoted Catholics wouldn’t find this approach offensive. Some of the things I write about might surprise Catholics, but I don’t think it will offend them." [Source]
I have no doubt that politics plays its hand in the reason why some causes for sainthood are advanced at certain times. I would quibble with his statement that "holiness is immaterial in some cases." Politics at times have caused the canonization time to lengthen and not to be shortened. This was true in the case of St. Thomas More. When he cause started to move forward Catholics in England requested for the Vatican to not go ahead with it at that time. During that period of times there was still heavy persecution of Catholics in England and they felt that canonizing Thomas More could only worsen the situation. He was eventually raised to the altar in 1935.
The fact that the process of canonization might lapse three hundred years or more and then go forward might not be just because of political implications. The Holy Spirit in some cases brings this about because a certain saints life and message is needed at the time.