Acta Sanctorum

So if I have this right, it is now the official position of the Catholic church that:

  1. The late Pope John Paul II has the ongoing power to cure brain aneurysms.
  2. As far as we know, he has chosen to employ this power exactly once. (He also once cured a case of Parkinson’s.)
  3. While hundreds of thousands of others have suffered and/or died from brain aneurysms, John Paul has not been moved to intervene.
  4. The one victim he troubled himself to save was selected not because she was particularly deserving or particularly valuable to society, but because she chose the right guy to pray to — sort of like having to suck up to the teacher to get a good grade.
  5. All of this makes John Paul II particularly fit for veneration.

For God’s sake (you should pardon the expression), if you’re looking to make the case that John Paul II was capable of performing (or at least catalyzing) genuine miracles, isn’t the defeat of Soviet Communism good enough? That right there makes him a saint in my book — though if I ever come to believe that he can cure aneurysms and has been holding out on us, I might have to retract my endorsement.

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24 Responses to “Acta Sanctorum”

  1. 1 1 Harold

    I think the next pope did his bit to defeat Russian communism as well, back when he was plain old Joseph Ratzenburger.

    Actually, I think it is unfair to criticise Joseph for involvement with Hotler Youth. Which of us could say we would behave differenctly in the circumstances?

  2. 2 2 Stuart Williams

    Technically, I think Catholics believe God cures people; the saints act only as pleaders. So cures are few and (apparently) arbitrary because that’s how God moves (in a mysterious way). Allegedly.

  3. 3 3 EricK

    What I don’t get is why, with a long list of saints with a track record of miraculously curing conditions, anybody would pray to a recently deceased person on the off-chance that they also had this power.

  4. 4 4 Ken B


    Although to be fair, many of the heroes of the end of communism — Walesa, Solzhenitsyn, Yeltsin — had their failings too.

  5. 5 5 mathgeek

    Well… I think that if you believe in Heaven after death, you’re going to have a really hard time arguing the greatest good is to save people from life-threatening illnesses.

  6. 6 6 Al V.

    Well, the logic of religion is often hard to follow. I once had a conversation with an evangelical Christian that went thus:

    Me: “I am a good father, a good husband, do charitable works in my community, but because I am atheist, I will go to hell. Meanwhile, you could be a wife-beating pedophilic axe-murder, but because you are ‘saved’, you will go to heaven?”

    Him: “Yes.”

  7. 7 7 Martin-2

    Steve, these objections were settled centuries ago. You should try reading a book some time…

    …is what I expect someone to say very soon.

  8. 8 8 Ken B

    @Martin-2 #7: And I know whom you mean!

  9. 9 9 Ken B

    @Al V.:
    Not the best example! I find his logic easy to follow.

  10. 10 10 iceman

    It’s a simple matter of incentives — he only needed 2 posthumous miracles for sainthood (although apparently even that can be waived!). Can’t blame him for that, I’m sure it takes a superhuman effort.

  11. 11 11 Martin-2

    Ken B #8 – And now that I’ve anticipated him his point is invalid!

  12. 12 12 Eric Crampton (@EricCrampton)

    If I understand things correctly, all we then need to do is have everyone pray to Steve Landsburg for divine intervention for their ills. In the 1% of cases where there’s a weird unexplained recovery, we credit Steve. Enough people doing this and reporting only the successes and we’ll have a pretty clear-cut case for beatification.

    Let us pray…

  13. 13 13 Doctor Memory

    What a difference a letter makes: I initially read your headline slug as “acta santorum” and had a quite different and all-too-vivid image of what you were describing.

  14. 14 14 Gordon Landwirth

    He could have given us a whole new, vastly superior healthcare system: “Papamacare”.

  15. 15 15 Gordon Landwirth

    Re: my #13, that label assumes integration of this papal power into “Obamacare”. Of course, alternatively we could have just gone pure “Papacare”, but I think even Il Papa and his boss are political pragmatists (omnipotence only goes so far) so I’m assuming some such compromise/combination.

  16. 16 16 Swimmy


    You might appreciate Tim Minchin’s “Thank You God” if you haven’t heard it:

    It’s a catchy and condescending song about this topic.

  17. 17 17 Dave

    Hasa diga eebowai

  18. 18 18 Advo

    The critical question here is: Why does god hate amputees? According to the faithful, god heals all kinds of maladies: cancer, heart disease, ebola, aneurysms, etc. yet for some reason, there doesn’t appear to be a single case where he made a limb grow back!

    Why is that???

  19. 19 19 Bob Murphy

    Steve Landsburg wrote:

    So if I have this right, it is now the official position of the Catholic church that:

    The late Pope John Paul II has the ongoing power to cure brain aneurysms.

    Steve, what in the linked article led you to believe that? Was there a specific sentence? I didn’t see any speculation about the late Pope’s abilities.

  20. 20 20 Ken B

    @Bob Murphy 19:
    The church does not teach that any saint can heal. God heals. It does teach saints can be prayed to to intercede on the supplicant’s behalf. John Paul II will fall under the ambit of that. It is common to pray to Saint Bilbo for whatever Bilbo is reported as having “cured” (ie interceded successfully), so he will be prayed to for brain aneurysms, with the approval of the church.

  21. 21 21 Brian

    While I enjoy a good spoof as much as the next guy and wish Steve good luck in his sainthood gambit, I think it’s worth noting that the logic of canonization is not quite as you’ve expressed it.

    Canonization is about identifying persons from the past who are worthy of emulation as Christians. They all have at least one aspect of their lives–call it their killer app–that elevates them spiritually above other examples. This is the finding at the venerable stage that the candidate displayed “heroic virtue.” But the Church has no desire to promote paragons of virtue who do not inspire people to emulate them. So canonization requires evidence that the faithful are so inspired. A natural part of such a “cult,” one that springs spontaneously from the religious faithful, is asking for cures through the intercession of those in heaven. Since “miracles” are rare, by definition, and uncontrollable, the confirmation of such miracles indicates that a robust veneration exists. The same proof could, in fact, be supplied by an systematic record of failed attempts too, but human nature being what it is, such an approach is hard to implement.

    There is no suggestion that the saint himself is responsible (directly) for the cure, and in fact ANY dead person could be the focal point of an intercession. Consequently, your points 1 – 4 are all rejected by normative Catholic theology, while point 5 gets it exactly backwards.

    I mention this only to point out that there’s nothing inherently illogical about the process of sainthood. I only hope, Steve, that your misunderstandings are not held against you in your own campaign for sainthood. ;) Pax vobiscum.

  22. 22 22 Steve Landsburg

    Brian: Thanks for this.

  23. 23 23 Ken B

    Pray, v.
    To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.

    –Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
    A wonderful book btw.

  24. 24 24 Dick White

    These comments seem to be in spirit of light hearted fun. Lest one take offense, Brian at #21 summarizes nicely the actual Catholic Church teaching in these matters.
    Note to Advo at #18, perhaps Christ’s restoration of the High Priest’s servant’s ear (severed by Peter’s sword) [see Luke 22:51] might give you some amputee comfort.

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