JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
The Latin American/North American Church Concerns office (LANACC) has announced the themes for the annual “Romero Days” conference at Notre Dame University in Indiana, which will begin with a Mass presided by Card. Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines, on Friday, March 24, the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Salvadoran Archbishop. During the annual conference being organized for the 30th year running, Fr. Robert Pelton will present an audacious thesis: that Romero should be named a “Doctor of the Church”.
Among the multitudinous number of the saints recognized throughout the millennia, there are only thirty-six who have been distinguished with the high honorific “Doctor of the Church,” which is usually reserved for the most eminent of the saints. There are three formal requirements. First, eminens doctrina (eminent learning). The candidate must demonstrate a depth of doctrinal insight. Normally, this is expressed by an extensive body of writings that reflect the authentic and vivifying Catholic Tradition. Second, insignis vitae sanctitas (a high degree of holiness). This implies a truly outstanding holiness, even among the saints. Third, Ecclesiae declaratio (the proclamation of the Church). The declaration would be made—after rigorous study is made on the subject—by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the same entity that declared Romero a blessed and a martyr, and is eventually expected to proclaim him a saint. These processes take decades to reach a doctoral proclamation, which often comes centuries after the canonizations of the saints involved in each process.
To understand the requirements, it is helpful to list some of the saints who have been recognized as doctors of the church: St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, considered the most famous theologians in Christianity, and several of the so-called “Fathers of the Church”—the Saints who founded the ancient and legendary communities in the east and the west. It is also useful to examine the characteristics of a recently recognized “Doctor”, such as St. John of Avila, the Spanish mystic recognized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. In the approval of his process, it was held to be important that contemporaries, including popes, called him “master”; that he was a theologian, an inventor and humanist; that he authored a learned treatise; that he was a friend of several prominent saints and played a leading role in the development of a systematic doctrine on the priesthood.
Would the Salvadoran martyr live up to these requirements? A “yes” answer begins to take shape at the same University of Notre Dame, where, as we mentioned at the beginning of this note, lectures on Romero have been presented for thirty years. “Can you tell me anywhere else in the world where people are studying the homilies of a bishop who’s been dead for 25 years?” asked Monsignor Ricardo Urioste at Notre Dame in 2005. Some of the outstanding presenters at the conferences have included Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, who in his 2002 address proposed Romero as “A Bishop for the Third Millennium,” and Cardinal Peter Turkson, who in his 2011 address correlated Romero with the parable of “Good Shepherd,” as well as numerous Romero scholars.
These scholars have written not only about Romero’s martyrdom, but also his thinking and preaching: they have studied his homilies and other writings, which have been published in multiple volumes, and have been translated into several languages. So much so that during the Romero’s beatification, Cardinal Angelo Amato did not hesitate to call him “a wise bishop,” while, in a White House statement that same day, President Obama called him “a wise pastor.” Pope Francis, in his message for the occasion, also presented Romero as a wise man: he acted “with knowledge and prudence,” the Pontiff said. For Cardinal Amato, Romero was a prophet “like Abraham,” while the pope said that Romero was “like Moses.” It should be noted that his figure has been defended by three consecutive popes: John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis, and already in life Romero had received honorary doctorates from the universities of Georgetown and Leuven.
Despite a high reputation as “a wise man”, there remains one problem: that Romero was not an academic. But that did not prevent him from having a great impact on theology, argues Professor Michael Lee, of Fordham University, one of those scholars who has presented at “Romero Days.” In a note in the Salvadoran press, Lee explains how Romero, despite the fact that he “did not hold a doctorate degree, had no appointment at a university, and never published a book or an academic article” he still “left a rich theological legacy.” According to Lee, in Romero's case, “his preaching and ministry served, as Martin Maier [a German Jesuit writing on Romero] has shown, as theological inspiration.”
Therefore, in his speech in which he will propose Romero as Doctor of the Church, Fr Pelton speaks of Romero as a “Pastoral Doctor of the Universal Church.” St. Ambrose of Milan, who lived in the fourth century, was the first bishop to be recognized as a pastoral doctor. In this regard, it is interesting to note the comment of Archbishop Vicenzo Paglia, postulator of the cause, that Romero is the “first martyr of the Second Vatican Council.” According to Paglia, “the martyrdom of Monsignor Romero is the fulfillment of a faith lived in its fullness; a faith that emerges strongly from the texts of the Second Vatican Council.” For Paglia, Romero is
the first witness of a Church that commingles with the history of a people with whom he lives the hope of the Kingdom ... among the first in the world who tried to translate the Council’s teachings to the concrete history of the continent, having the courage to make a preferential option for the poor, and to give witness, in a reality marked by deep inequalities, to the path of dialogue and peace.
The idea of a “pastoral doctor” takes on a larger importance after the pontificate of Pope Francis, who makes the idea of a pastoral church the quintessence of the Council. In fact, perhaps the strongest impediment facing Romero's candidacy for doctor is of a liturgical order, relating to tradition and customs. No martyr has ever been included in the list of doctors, because the Office (the prayers for the liturgical feast) and the Mass are for Confessors (saints canonized for their virtues and not for martyrdom). Therefore, Benedict XIV (pope bet. 1740-1758), the author of a classic work on the processes of canonization, states that St. Ignatius, St. Irenaeus and St. Cyprian are not Doctors of the Church for this reason.
If Romero were to be recognized as a doctor of the church, it would be historic: he would become the first Latin American doctor. In a sense, this favors him: one can wonder, who, if not Romero, should be the first doctor from the Americas? It brings to mind the words of Gustavo Gutierrez, the “Father of liberation theology,” who once said that “the history of the Church in Latin America is divided into before and after Archbishop Romero.”
Many hope Romero will be canonized this year. Others have even greater ambitions.