Acclaimed by Four Centuries: Aspects of the Canonical Cause

In the Spirit of the II Vatican Council

Vatican Council II, convoked in I 962 by Pope John XXIII and brought to a close in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, was unquestionably the most significant event in the life of the Church in modern times. Thousands of Bishops gathered during its four sessions, with the presence of observers from the major religious entities of the world, to discuss under the authority of St. Peter's successor the special needs of the Church in our challenging Twentieth Century.

The lasting monument of the Second Vatican Council is the corpus of sixteen documents – four constitutions, nine decrees, three declarations – promulgated for the life and growth of Christ's Mystical 'Body at this critical juncture of human history. These documents of Vatican II give expression to the eternal truths of the Savior as authoritatively interpreted and applied by the Church to the world of our day. They bring to the attention of the faithful, and serve to embody, many of the fundamental values and eternal verities enunciated in the Gospel of Christ.

For the post-conciliar Church, the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of the Five Martyrs of Georgia has a special timeliness. Three affirmations of the Second Vatican Council are particularly pertinent in this matter.

Lumen Gentium

In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 50 -which has been called "the most imposing achievement of Vatican II" – the Council affirmed: "The Church has always believed that the Apostles and Christ's martyrs, who have given the supreme witness of faith and charity by the shedding of their blood, are quite closely joined with us in Christ." The statement accentuates the special value for the faithful deriving from the honor which, through the centuries, Catholic piety spontaneously pays to those who, at the cost of their very lives, witness to Christ's teachings. "She (the Church) has always venerated them with special devotion, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy Angels. The Church too has devoutly implored the aid of their intercession."

Apostolicam Actuositatem

Reaffirming the Savior's teaching on the unity and indissolubility of the bond of a Christian marriage ( cf Mat. 5.32; Mark I 0.11-12; Luke 16. I 8), in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11, the Council taught that "the Creator of all things has established the conjugal partnership as the beginning and the basis of human society." Consequently, "it has always been the duty of Christian couples…to manifest and prove by their own way of life the unbreakable and sacred character of the marriage bond…” Calling the family "the first and vital cell of society," the Council points out the special importance of this recognition in those parts of the world where the Church is just being established: "At all times and places, but particularly in areas where the first seeds of the Gospel are being sown, or where the Church is still in her infancy or is involved in some serious difficulty, Christian families give priceless testimony to Christ before the world by remaining faithful to the Gospel and by providing a model of Christian marriage throughout their lives.” With today's rampant disregard of the sanctity of the marriage-promises, the heroic death of the Five Martyrs of Georgia in defense of that teaching is a vivid reminder of the fidelity, even in the face of death, expected of Christ's followers.

Dignitatis Humanae

In what may justly be considered an expression of approval for the position taken by the Martyrs when they denounced the scandalous conduct of the young heir of the cacique of Guale, the Council pays tribute to the Apostles "(themselves willing martyrs) and other witnesses to the truths proclaimed by the Savior. The Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, 11, points out that, like the Master Himself and the Apostles, so down through the centuries the faithful messengers of the Gospel "did not hesitate to speak out against the governing powers which set themselves in opposition to the holy will of God. 'We must obey God rather than men' (Acts 5.29). This is the way along which countless martyrs and other believers have walked through all ages and over all the earth."

”Rule of l221," ch. 16:10-11, in The Writings of Saint Francis, trans. Ignatius Brady (Assisi: Edizioni Porziuncola, 1983) 77. Henceforth, Brady.

St. Bonaventure, Major Life of St. Francis, chap. 12: I, trans. Benen Fahy in Marion A. Habig (ed.), St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of the Sources for the Life of St. Francis, 4lh rev. ed. (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), 721. Cited henceforth as Omnibus.

Ibid., chap. 3:1, pp. 646-47.

Thomas of Celano, The First Life of St. Francis, chap. JO: 29, trans. Placid Hermann in Omnibus, 247.

Ibid., chap. I 5, p. 258.

Bonaventure, Major Life, chap. 9:5, in Omnibus, 701.

St. Francis, "Letter Addressed to the Whole Order," in Brady, 121.

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The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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