Apr.28, 2014 | INTERNATIONAL
The Vatican: Sainthood Inflation
The latest Vatican canonizations of no less than five new Saints (headlined by a couple of departed Popes) is just another indication of sainthood inflation that has taken the Vatican by storm. Just in the middle of the second decade of this century and already the canonizations of this period are exceeding the combined total of the previous two centuries. If this pace continues, the 21st century will have more new Saints than the previous two millenniums combined.
Up to the 20th century, there was a temperate pace in canonizations but the advent of modernity apparently rejigged the game and ushered a flux of new sainthoods, effectively tripling the centurial average of the previous millennium. Maybe it was the post-war II boom of consumerist culture, appropriated by the Catholic Church to retain its shaky momentum and spread the appeal of its brand by frequently launching new products into the creed market. Or it may very well have been a preventive strategy against the rise of secularism and the fall in church attendance.
It could even be considered a symmetrical counter-offensive to the leaps and bounds of scientific discoveries and technological innovations of that century that set it apart from the ones preceding.
1953: DNA structure publication / 1954: 6 canonizations with at least 12 recorded miracles. Take that James Watson and Francis Crick!
1975: Gene cloning in bacteria / 5 new saints. Give me saints over bacteria any time!
1977: VHS on sale in the US / First American bishop canonized. You can now record the televised ceremony!
1998: Proof of the universe's accelerating expansion / 1999-2000: 37 new saints. I will see your acceleration and raise you a bucket-load of sancity!
Of course the big bang of canonizations has erupted during the last decades with a breathtaking speed of releases that puts Apple's product launch schedule to shame. Pope Francis for all his humility has been canonizing like a trigger-happy, tin-can shooting teenager in rural Colorado.
A year in office and he already has 10 notches on his rosary and some more up his cassock. It could be that all this frenzy of new-found sainthood is a response to the media-saturated landscape of the 24-hrs news cycle and the internet-fuelled binging of information, an attempt to keep up the pace of exposure in an extremely antagonistic and ever expanding pool of news features. And what better way of doing that than a full-regalia, popular bash, all pomp and circumstance, that goes along with such recognition of sanctity?
Packed St. Peter's square, check; giant screens throughout Rome, check; 3D screenings in churches, check; blood & exhumed tissue of the deceased popes in ornate, silver-plated reliquaries, check; "popemobile" crowd-pleasing promenade, check; mock-ceremony in exotic locale (Philippines) involving toddlers as "mini-popes" and Swiss-Guard chaperones, check.
And of course, every new Saint means a brand new feast day added to the calendar for flocks the world over to celebrate at their discretion. In effect, the Vatican has co-opted the marketing strategy of product assortment and consumer choice. With such a cornucopia of different Saints and their corresponding feast days to choose from, the Church panders to the consumer's perception of variety and fuels their desire for perpetual product renewal, notwithstanding (and ironically antithetical of) the immutable sameness of the catholic dogma.