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Pius XII and the Russian ‘Saints’

Atila S. Guimarães

Mr. Guimarães,

This is R.M. I have contacted you before addressing the topic of Russian Schismatic saints being venerated by Catholics. You had asked me to send you the documents, so that you could give an opinion based on a good source.

I am writing to you now because I was able to find the right version of Butler's Lives of the Saints (edition of 1956) with the appropriate comments regarding the authorization of Pope Pius XII for Russian Catholics to venerate post-schism Russian saints. The pages are below.

Apparently, the justification for this is the fact that in some places the Schism took a long time to be completely consummate. Please let me know what you think.

The archive I found has many other volumes of Buttler's Lives of the Saints that might be helpful to you for your website.

     Thank you,


May the Heart of Jesus in the most Blessed Sacrament be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. (Pius IX, Feb 29, 1868)

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The Editor responds:

Dear R.M.,

Thank you for sending me these documents.

I believe some observations on their value should be made before any commentary.
  1. This text on “saint” Sergius of Radonezh published in the 1956 edition of The Lives of Saints is not in the original edition of that work by Fr. Alban Butler, who died in 1773. Obviously he could not know about the reported 1940 permission of the Holy See for Russian Catholics to worship Schismatic “saints.” Therefore, this is not his opinion but that of someone else. I did not find the name of the author of this text. He seems to be hiding behind Butler’s celebrity in order to foster his ecumenical aim.

  2. Also, reference to the permission of the Holy See for the mentioned worship is lightly made, as if it were a known and well-established fact. On the contrary, such worship is a quite original step that would deserve more attention. It is only mentioned that it was authorized “for the use of the few Russian Catholics” and included in their liturgical calendar. No source - such as the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, a Decree of a Congregation or a reference in L'Osservatore Romano - is given for a reader to verify that permission by the Holy See.

    The long final note also does not mention any official source of the Holy See confirming what the author affirms. So, any English-speaking person who wants to know more about this topic would presumably have to dive into Russian-written sources to confirm whether this was in fact what the Holy See authorized and how it did so. This makes a confirmation quite difficult. It seems that it would have been more honest for the author to inform the readers of Butler’s work where they could find that authorization.

  3. The author then goes on to offer his personal opinion about the judgment of the Holy See regarding the extent of the errors of the 1054 Schism. Again, this is something that needed more documentation. He only quotes Fr. Cyril Korolevsly as an authority to back his opinion.

  4. Research on the Internet showed me that Fr. Korolevsky was a scholar and assistant of Metropolitan (Archbishop) Andrew Sheptytsky of Lviv in the Ukrainian Catholic Rite. Points of Fr. Korolevsky’s agenda included halting what he called the latinization of the Byzantine liturgies and also to foster an ecumenical union with Greek Schismatics, disregarding the Schism of 1054.

    These tendencies met the opposition of many Eastern Ukrainian Bishops who viewed this anti-latinization with suspicion. Notwithstanding, Metropolitan Sheptysky disregarded that opposition and went ahead with the publication in 1930 of a Liturgicon (liturgical norms) cleansed of “latinizations.” The Bishops who opposed this work requested Rome’s intervention. Card. Eugene Tisserant, then head of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, judged in favor of Metropolitan Sheptytsky and, indirectly, of Fr. Korolevsky, who had influenced that action. Several documents were approved by that Congregation for Eastern Rites between 1939 and 1941. Although not mentioned namely, it seems probable that the liturgical calendar for Russian Catholics was included in that package.

Supposing these data to be true, I proceed to analyze the argument.
  1. I believe the argument presented in Butler’s 1956 edition that Sergius Radonezh was a Catholic saint because he was unaware of the Eastern Schism is wrong.

  2. Indeed, Sergius lived from 1315 to 1392, about 300 years after the Schism (1054). Now, it is well known that until 1448 Moscow was officially under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. It seems to me practically impossible that 300 years after the Schism in Constantinople, Sergius would not have known that he was in a Church excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church.

    This is especially so as he was baptized in the Russian Schismatic Church (I highlighted in yellow in the photocopies above these parts to which I refer); he received the blessings of the schismatic metropolitan of Kiev to establish his hermitage-monastery; he became an abbot by the appointment of the local schismatic bishop; in questions he had on the kind of monastic life he should adopt, he appealed to the Schismatic patriarch of Constantinople; he returned to be abbot at the order of metropolitan Alexis of Moscow; he was invited more than once to accept the primatial see of the Russian schismatic church.

  3. According to this biography, he never manifested the least desire to convert to the Catholic Faith and abandon the Schismatic Church with the doctrinal errors you know it professed already at that time: the denial of the Filioque and the Petrine Primacy.

  4. So, I believe it could be said that what Pius XII did, when Card. Tisserant authorized the cult of those Russian “saints” in 1940, was to admit the same thing that Vatican II affirmed in its documents two decades later, i.e., that sanctity and salvation normally exist outside the Catholic Church.

  5. It seems to me also that the inclusion of Russian Schismatics among Catholic saints was a trial balloon to establish a common martyrology for Catholics and Schismatics, a plan that John Paul II almost achieved during the Millennium commemorations (for more, please check my Quo Vadis Petre? Chap. 1, n. 2). At the last moment, however, he met with the resistance of a group of Cardinals in Rome and had to postpone that initiative.

  6. It is also curious to note that although this permission was given to “some few Russian Catholics,” the life of Sergius Radonezh was included in an edition of a book aimed to instruct countless English-speaking Catholics. It seems to me a clear way to promote ecumenism already in 1956.

Here you have some of my thoughts on this topic. I hope they will be of some help to you.


     A.S. Guimarães


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted November 5, 2010

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