The saints in glory, whether they have been formally canonized or not, are immune to irritation. Were that not the case, those canonized saints who were married men might have been chagrined to find their existence denied in a letter to the editor in the May 6 issue of The New Yorker.
Thomas A. DiMaggio of York, Pa., wishing perhaps to contribute his two cents to the current discussions of priestly celibacy, roundly assured the magazine: There is no better proof of how the Catholic Church’s view of sexuality is distorted than the fact that it has never canonized a married man.
Pope John Paul II contradicted the assumption in the first half of that sentence in a series of talks on marriage that he gave at his audiences some years ago. The church’s liturgical calendar, called the Roman General Calendar, which includes the days of the year on which the commemoration of a saint is prescribed, or at least optional, contradicts the assertion in the sentence’s second half.
If the feasts, or saints’ days, that honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, are placed in a category of their own, then there are about 100 other men and women who appear on that general calendar. There are also a few days that commemorate entire groups of saintsthe martyrs of Japan, Uganda, Korea and Vietnam. More than a half-dozen of this whole company were married mennot a great number, but at least some.
That Roman calendar is highly selectivea sort of heavenly social register that lists only those saints whose feasts are kept by the whole church.
That number is only a tiny fraction of those gathered together in the 12-volume collection known as Butler’s Lives of the Saints. This is a compendium that first appeared in London in the 18th century. A thorough revision finished in 1958 contains entries for more than 2,565 saints and blessed. That total has been considerably enlarged since then, especially by John Paul II, who has so far canonized 461 saints and beatified more than 1,200 others, some of whom were married men.
Many saints, however, were not canonized by a pope. Throughout the first Christian millennium, saints were usually proclaimed to be such when a bishop ratified local devotion to a martyr or to someone who had, as hagiographers used to say, died in the odor of sanctity.
In 1234, Pope Gregory IX, a strong-minded canon lawyer, ruled that henceforth only papal canonizations were to be considered legitimate. Now perhaps Mr. DiMaggio wants to count only married men who were not widowers entering a religious congregation after their wives died, were papally canonized and have a perch in the general calendar.
That would mean, to cite just one case, ignoring St. Basil the Elder, a fourth-century citizen of Cappadocia, a Roman province in what is today part of Turkey. Basil was the head of a family that would have made the Waltons look like a band of delinquents. Both he and his wife Emmelia were saints, and so was his mother and four of his 10 children.
In the general calendar, however, there are at least six saints who were married men. Three lived in the apostolic age or earlier: St. Joachim, the father of Mary, the great St. Joseph and St. Peter the Apostle.
Three others were formally canonized: the German emperor St. Henry II (973-1024); St. Louis IX (1214-1270), king of France and father of 11 children, and the martyr St. Thomas More (1478-1535), who was twice married. When his first wife died, More married a goodhearted widow who helped him raise his four young children.
Of course, Mr. DiMaggio has a point. Not many married men have been canonized, partly because there have been no lobbies to promote their causes. All the same, instead of saying never, he should have said hardly ever.