Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Invocation of saints

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae (Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.)

Of all the words we associate with the invocation of saints, these are the best known and most often said. A friend of mine, questioned by critics who assumed he was committing some sort of idolatry, answered that he was not praying to Mary, but asking her to pray for him. As such, he was not treating her as a deity, but as another person whose prayers, unhindered by the weakness of the flesh, could be a great aid in helping him against the perils of this world. 

This whole subject begs genuine and sincere questions. Anglicans have no set doctrine on the matter of addressing specific saints, but a wide range of practice and points of view. On the subject of saintly intercession, it seems unthinkable that, for example, the same St. Paul who wrote the following words, has ever ceased to pray for those yet enduring the battle of the Church Militant:

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son, etc. (Col. 1:9f)

The writer to the Hebrews tells us, concerning those who have gone before us with the mark of faith, "we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses." (Heb. 12:1) To expect their intercession is to understand that saintly spirits cannot be devoid of charity. The question, however, is one of invocation. When did this practice begin, and what was it in the earliest days? But, first, we must consider the word "saint" itself. 

The word simply means "holy." In the famous "Hail Mary" devotion, "Holy Mary" means "Saint Mary" (Sancta Maria). Some have insisted on translating "the communion of saints" (communio sanctorum) as "Holy Communion," to make it speak of the sacrament. But, this is not the sense of the phrase in the Apostle's Creed as Christian writers have recorded the Church's general understanding. Generally, it has been understood to mean that the Church is one in Christ, so much so that death is no real barrier to fellowship or κοινωνία (koinōnia).

It is, however, quite obvious that the Bible does not use the word "saint" the same way that people have been generally using it for the last several centuries. To some people it may be shocking that every Christian is called to be a saint, as St. Paul wrote. For example in Romans 1:7 and in I Corinthians 1:2, he tells everyone in the Church that each one of them (that is, of us) is called to be a saint, using the same word that he used in both of these openings of his Epistles to say that he, Paul, was called to be an Apostle. The word is "κλητός" (klētos). It is an invitation, a calling, and by usage, a vocation such as Paul's own Apostolic vocation. The meaning is clear: Each and every Christian is called to be a saint, ἅγιος (hagios), called to holiness, no matter what other calling one may have. It is the New Testament word that corresponds to the Hebrew word חָסִיד  ( [C]Hasid), as in Hasidic Judaism.

The Bible does not restrict the word "saint" to those who have died and who have been canonized. According to the Bible, the Church has saints both militant and triumphant. Living people, not yet departed, are called saints in the Scriptures, made holy and set apart to God by baptism, and sanctified in life by the Holy Spirit Who provides them with virtues. We need to be aware of this, because in modern usage it is reserved to the departed and canonized individuals whose names are known. We need to recover the older and Biblical meaning in order to understand the Scriptures, and to gain the proper view both of what God calls us to, and what He by His grace can make of each one of us.  

In ancient times, after a while, the Church kept its departed heroes in mind, remembering them in the Eucharist, invoking their names as the names of living spirits whose temporary departure from the body (awaiting the General Resurrection on the Last Day) should not make the living think of them as separated, as if by a great gulf too wide to traverse. They are alive in a heavenly realm with Christ, where the angels and saints make a great company around the throne of God. Neither should they be thought of as far away, beyond the reach of our love, nor us beyond the reach of theirs ("Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Rom. 8:35,38,39). 

It took time for the word "saint" to acquire its modern usage, and even longer for that usage to be taken for the only working definition of the word. An elaborate system of canonization has evolved over many centuries, especially in the Church of Rome. Today, a departed and very special person goes through stages of beautification, and is tested supposedly by working miracles and having his reputation endure a trial. At this trial "The Devil's Advocate" lists all the reasons why said person is not a saint. If all goes well, the canonization goes through, with the Pope declaring the person a saint as an infallible teaching, in each case, of the Church. The meaning, due to the evolution of ideas (today called "Doctrinal Development"), is that the canonized "saint" has been allowed directly into the presence of God to behold the Beatific Vision (Matt. 5:8), without suffering the pains of a punitive Purgatory.

It is all very inspiring and grand to some people. But, if you were to ask me to justify this elaborate system with the Bible, or even with the witness of the Fathers of the Church, I would have to answer that the task is impossible. It is not from the Bible, and was not known in the ancient centuries of the Church. It has grown over the years. No such process of canonization was known in Antiquity, and I can make no case for it now, especially with its dependence on doctrinal innovations such as Purgatory. 

But, that saints of the Church Triumphant, who possess the virtue of charity, pray for those yet in the Church Militant, surrounding them in a cloud of witnesses , I do not doubt. Certainly, Heaven is all around us, the glory of it hidden from our mortal eyes to protect us from a sight we cannot endure in this fallen condition. We are not ready to see the glory of God all around us (Isaiah 6:3).

What then of invocation? Did any Ecumenical Council establish a doctrinal and authoritative dogma about it? No. A dogma about invocation does not exist. What does exist is very old practice, practice that is mostly devotional. The questions that arise generally are about whether or not the practice is dangerous, or whether or not it contradicts the Gospel. Does it amount to idolatry when Christians ask those who have departed, but who surround them in the great cloud of witnesses, to pray as intercessors? Does it make those departed saintly spirits into extra mediators, as if we needed more than the One Mediator Himself? 

The answer to these questions is no; no more than my asking you to pray for me, or you asking me to pray for you. It would not be idolatry, obviously, nor is it logical to treat simple intercession as if it were equal to Divine-human Mediation, which only one Man, Jesus Christ, may do (I Tim. 2:5). I do ask you to pray for me. St. Paul, in his Epistles, both said he prayed for his children in the Faith and asked them to pray for him. No one can suggest, with any plausibility, that this amounts to anything that diminishes the unique role of our Lord and Savior. 

I recall a very well known theologian, possibly the only real theologian in the Charismatic Movement during the 1970s, named W.J. Ern Baxter. He told a story about how his grandmother always prayed for him in the early days of his preaching ministry, and that when she died he felt a great loss because she could pray for him no longer. His story would end by telling how other people volunteered to pray in her place, and everyone would feel good inside. With all due respect for the man, a very learned man, why did he assume that his grandmother could no longer pray for him? Is death such a boundary as all that? The Lord Jesus told us, "For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him." (Luke 20:38)

I cannot promise, however, that specific saints hear specific requests, for though the Church has long practiced calling on departed saints by name, each one is still a limited, finite being who waits to be clothed again in the resurrection. We must not imagine that they have become omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent. Like the angel who spoke to John on Patmos, they are our fellow servants. Nor can I recommend endless learning about specific saints, as if that constituted necessary religious instruction, in place of learning the Bible and the substance of our Faith. Nor can I accept the judgments of the Church of Rome about every person they recognize in the manner in which they use the word "saint."

Yet, knowing that the cloud of witnesses surrounds us, I can say as a devotion the words from the Gospel of Luke that constitute the Hail Mary (Luke 1:28, 42,43) and follow them with Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. I cannot promise anyone that she herself hears all those requests for prayer, having no chapter and verse to point to. After all, she is only human. But, I cannot doubt that she, along with St. Paul and so many others, pray for those of us who have yet more to endure in this battle, before we too may rest a while.

45 comments:

Jack Miller said...

Well thought out and well said.

Jack

Fr. Wells said...

"Praying to the saints" must be distinguished from invoking the saints and from asking them for their prayers on our behalf. There is a world of difference between saying "St -----, pray for us," and "St ----, help me to find my lost car-keys." The former is entirely defensible, the latter is evidence of unresolved polytheism.

The whole topic is mysterious because of the mysterious nature of prayer itself. Too much popular talk of prayer ("prayer changes things" or "the power of prayer") suggests a notion which is superstitious and irreverent. The assumption of "prayer changes things" is that God can be manipulated or coerced if only we jump up and down and scream loud enough, like the priests of Baal on Mt Carmel.

Prayer does not change anything whatever, it does not even change us. "Prayer is an offering of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies."

When we say, "St -----, pray for us," or "Holy Michael Archangel, defend us in battle," can they hear us? That question is rooted in a dubious notion of what prayer is. Even if the "saints under the altar" some of whom are listed n the Litany of the saints cannot hear us cannot hear us, our invocation of them honors God by acknowledging that we are joined with them in an unbreakable communion. Even if Michael cannot hear us at all, we honor God for His protection of us by means of His angels.

A great Puritan theologian, Richard Baxter wrote (Hymn 599, stanza 2):

Ye blessed souls at rest,
Who ran this earthly race,
And now from sin released
Behold the Saviour's face,
God's praises sound,
As in His sight
With sweet delight
Ye do abound.

The psalmist wrote (Ps 103:20),

"O praise the LORD, ye angels of his, ye that excel in strength...."

George said...

Fr. Hart, great explanation. I was having brief discussion with someone about this. I was having a hard time articulating the point.

One point I am curious about. I believe it is related. if maybe you could enlighten me a little. I read recently that eastern orthodox conception of heaven and hell are different than ours. In the eastern view when you die God's fire/light shines upon the person and they brought into righteous with Christ. Now in that process those who didn't have faith and rejected God this fire/light shines upon them but for them it is negative experience. My understanding is their belief is after death there is no hiding from God. The verse used to reference this point I believe was our reading for Trinity sunday.
Now this make sense in their terms that Heaven and Hell are not somehow separate "places" and God is present everywhere. Those after they die can still pray for us.
Does this work in the context of our understanding of the after-life? And when asking for prays of intercession of someone who has departed this life?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

George:

The image brings to mind Jacob Marley, tortured by his inability to help those in need after life. The theory you mention is not some official doctrine, but it is quite a favorite of many Orthodox. The fire, they say, is the love of God, painful because the sinful soul cannot respond.

The fires of Gehenna, however, are spoken of by Jesus in the context of fires burning trash in a dump. At least, that is how the ancients would have taken reference to fires in Gehenna, or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, the national dump of Israel. Like Dante's poem, the fire in the EO theory begins with missing the point.

James said...

Very insightful comments.

Fr Hart, I believe in a type of Purgatory, though not one so elaborate as the Roman conception. When you use so blunt a phrase as "burning trash in a dump" it makes me think also of the chaff being burned away, and of gold being tried (Scripture also speaks of works being tried). I cannot articulate my exact beliefs regarding a purgatorial process, but it makes sense to me that, though forgiven (saved [past tense], being saved [present tenst] and saved [eternal, future sense]) there are things we cling to in this life hard to overcome (pet resentments, prideful ways of thinking, etc) that we may not fully overcome until after death.

So much for a layman's thoughts, but I do believe there is a kind of cleansing that takes place after death that may not be fully accomplished in this life, and not because of any insufficiency on Christ's part, but solely our own.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The only caveat, James, is that we not confuse the purifying fire, which is also mentioned in Scripture, with the fire of Gehenna. The former speaks of great hope, and the latter of hopelessness.

welshmann said...

Frs. Hart and Wells:

I am reminded of the trick questions put to the Lord by the Sadducees, who believed in neither angels nor the resurrection. The Lord pointed out that the Father says, "I AM the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob." Not "was", but "am". He pinned His whole argument on the tense of a verb! In so doing, He made no artificial distinction between the living and the dead; both are alive and well before God, if they have faith in Him.

Since we are expressly commanded to pray for one another, I wonder if we should maybe conclude with a degree of certainty that the departed saints do, in fact, pray for us. The question of whether or not they can hear us ask for their prayers seems like an interesting but ultimately unnecessary speculation.

Experience is not a basis for doctrine, but it can open people up to the truth. The idea of the departed saints praying for us became very real for me when my dad died a few years ago. One of my siblings always wondered why he didn't pray more for healing; certainly, he believed in it. After he was gone and I had some time to reflect on things he had said and done, I realized that he didn't pray for himself because he was too busy praying for my other sibling, who is not a believer. Ultimately, I suspect that he asked to be released from the flesh so that he could be closer to the Throne and thereby more effectively intercede for his unbelieving children and grandchildren.

Like I said, I know I cannot prove any of this, and it certainly is not a basis for authoritative teaching, but it does make the idea of the saints in heaven praying for us sound very reasonable.

welshmann

Derril said...

Although the following quote is in the context of living persons, it seems likely to also be applicable to prayers of saints in the Church Expectant or Church Triumphant for us.

"The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16b)

Joe Oliveri said...

"Praying to the saints" must be distinguished from invoking the saints and from asking them for their prayers on our behalf. There is a world of difference between saying "St -----, pray for us," and "St ----, help me to find my lost car-keys." The former is entirely defensible, the latter is evidence of unresolved polytheism.

Precisely so. It is an ersatz and gravely warped theology which treats saints (in the modern understanding of that term) as demigods, each with his or her assigned "function" among a heavenly pantheon. At best, the notion seems quaint; but one cannot shake the idea that such a notion makes a mockery of the economy of Grace.

aaytch said...

How do you square your view with Article XXII? It says "The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God."

It seems to make no distinction between "invocation" of Saints (capital S) and worshiping or adoring Relics. If it takes overly much complex word parsing to square it up, then the interpretation is suspicious.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Aaytch:

Good question, and I was hoping someone would bring it up.

So, how do I "square" an explanation of the term "invocation of saints" (I.O.S.) with the Article, or how do I "square" my acceptance of a properly understood and balanced practice of I.O.S.? The first would not matter; so I assume the second meaning is what you have asked about.

But, let us be very clear about Article XXII. The issue in that Article is Purgatory, concerning which all the remaining items it listed were practiced before the Reformation strictly for the purpose of getting "time off." To gaze at a specific relic gave so many years "off" as each was allotted by the pope, or to call on a specific saint was to gain a share of his merits as allotted also by the pope. This is clear because the Article does not say that these "are fond things," in the plural; it says that it is "a fond thing" in the singular. The fond thing is the whole doctrinal system of Purgatory, quite clearly "vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God," because it is a false religion altogether that has no room for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It seems to make no distinction between "invocation" of Saints (capital S) and worshiping or adoring Relics.

I see no reason to repeat what I have written in the essay. I have made it very clear that idolatry is a separate issue. Of course the danger of overlapping these things is obvious, and often this danger becomes actualized in "Romish" imaginations. But, so is the danger of treating death like an absolute barrier within the Church, which would make it an absolute barrier "in Christ." Has this led to rejection of the whole doctrine of the Resurrection? For the answer to that, look at modern mainstream Protestant churches, beginning with the Episcopal Church wherein all orthodoxy is merely an option at best. So, we need our Anglican balance to prevent one heresy or the other.

aaytch said...

So your view is that "is a fond thing" refers narrowly to the system of Purgatory. My reading is that "the Romish Doctrine" refers to a grouping of sins, and this is why the punctuation between "Purgatory" and the rest of the list is merely a comma. The Romish Doctrine pertains to idols; their worship, invocation, and adoration.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

My reading is that "the Romish Doctrine" refers to a grouping of sins...

No, that cannot be right. "The Romish Doctrine" has to mean the teaching of the Church of Rome. The English Reformers would not condemn all of the teaching of the Church of Rome, for in doing so they would condemn the Faith expressed in the Creeds. Gone would be the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, and so on. In proper grammar, the subject of the sentence is clearly stated at the beginning: "The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory."

Besides which, in the sixteenth century we see historical evidence to inform us. We know that "The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory" contained the entire system I have described in my comment above. That is not mere opinion.

For the rest, my essay has put forth theological clarity that goes back in time much further than the issues faced by the Reformers who wrote the Articles. One use of the phrase "I.O.S." does not call for an overly simplistic reaction, as such reaction to labels and categories stifles all thought, including theological thought.

aaytch said...

Well it is one thing to join with the voices of the saints of all ages (convocate), as we do in the Nunc Dimittis for example, making their prayers ours, or perhaps invoking their words or deeds to our memories. But it's another thing altogether to invoke their active participation with us in our prayers, as if they were able to do so.

For the record, I did not mean to say, nor did I say the Reformers condemned all the teaching of Rome, but rather only its idolatry; the worship, invoking, and/or adoration of ancestral saints.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...as if they were able to do so.

So, I take it that you do see death as an absolute barrier, even in Christ. Watch your step, because the next one may be to reject the Resurrection; that is where you seem headed.

...but rather only its idolatry; the worship, invoking, and/or adoration of ancestral saints.

Yes, well such misdirected worship and adoration (in a word, λατρεία) is quite wrong, as my essay clearly states. It is, also as my essay clearly states, another subject altogether.

aaytch said...

Please read Homily VII of the 2nd Book of Homilies, "On Prayer" http://www.anglicanlibrary.org/homilies/bk2hom07.htm in which you find NO approbation to invoke anyone in prayer other than God Himself, and a great many approbations to NOT invoke the saints. This is ample illustration that Article XXII is likely to be about more than Rome's doctrine of Purgatory. It is a blanket condemnation of Rome's idolatry.

Here are a few excerpts (I apologize in advance concerning my zealous use of cut and paste):

"... we must call neither vpon Angel, nor yet vpon Saint, but only and solely vpon GOD, as Saint Paul doeth write (Romans 10.14)? How shall men call vpon him in whom they haue not beleeued? So that Inuocation or Prayer, may not be made without Faith in him on whom they call, but that we must first beleeue in him, before wee can make our Prayer vnto him, whereupon wee must onely and solely pray vnto GOD. "

"Thus you see, that the authority both of the Scripture, and also of Augustine, doeth not permit, that wee should pray vnto them (John 5.44). O that all men would studiously read, and search the Scriptures, then should they not be drowned in ignorance, but should easily perceiue the trueth, as well of this point of doctrine, as of all the rest. For there doeth the holy Ghost plainely teach vs, that Christ is or onely Mediatour and Intercessour with GOD, and that we must not seeke and runne to an other."

"Is not that man thinke you vnwise that will runne for water to a little brooke, when he may aswell goe to the head spring? Euen so may his wisedome bee iustly suspected, that will flee vnto Saints in time of necessity, when hee may boldly and without feare declare his griefe, and direct his prayer vnto the Lord himselfe."

"But that we should pray vnto Saints, neither haue we any commandement in all the Scripture, nor yet example which wee may safely follow. So that being done without authority of Gods word, it lacketh the ground of faith, & therefore cannot be acceptable before GOD (Hebrews 11.6). For whatsoeuer is not of faith, is sin (Romans 14.23)."

"Let vs not therefore put our trust or confidence in the Saints or Martyrs that be dead. Let vs not call vpon them, nor desire helpe at their hands: but let vs alwayes lift vp our hearts to GOD, in the name of his deare Sonne Christ, for whose sake as GOD hath promised to heare our prayer, so he will truely performe it. Inuocation is a thing proper vnto GOD, which if wee attribute vnto the Saints, it soundeth to their reproach, neither can they well beare it at our hands"

"Let vs not therefore dreame either of Purgatory, or of prayer for the soules of them that be dead: but let vs earnestly and diligently pray for them which are expresly commanded in holy Scripture, namely for Kings and Rulers, for Ministers of GODS holy word and Sacraments, for the Saints of this world, otherwise called the faythfull..."

welshmann said...

Fr. Hart:

I am always a little puzzled when I hear a Continental (in the historical sense) Protestants disparage holy relics. Condemn the abuses of the late Medieval Church, to be sure, but relics actually have a pretty sound footing in Scripture. II Kings 13:21, Acts 19:12.

welshmann

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Aaytch:

Did you actually read my essay, or are you reacting to the title? If you read the essay you might appreciate the distinction between your concerns (including abuses that the excellent homily addresses) and the one specific and defined thing I have advocated(You might reread Fr. Wells' comment, second from the top). Nothing in the homily is at odds with what I have written - or I would never have written it, would I?

Welshmann:

Yes, I have used the II Kings reference before. Of course, there is no problem of λατρεία involved in that story, but there is an account of how God displayed His power through the relics of the prophet. The Acts reference combines that with something essentially sacramental in nature.

Fr. Wells said...

Welshmann: I cannot accept either of your texts as any sort of Biblical grounding for the later cult of relics. The incident from II Kings is told as an extraordinary miracle, a remarkable occurrence recounted as unique. If Elisha's bones had been placed in a silver reliquary and visited by a swarm of pilgrims, you might have a case. But it did not develop in such a manner.

The Acts 19 episode involving the hndkerchiefs or aprons of Paul is also extraordinary, as verse 11 plainly states. These isolated manifestations of God's power were characteristic of the Apostolic age but never became normative.

You are using these texts in the same way that the Mormons use the reference to the "Baptism of the Dead" in I Cor 15 as a basis for proxy baptism.

aaytch said...

Did you actually read my essay

I have read the essay several times, and Fr. Well's comments as well. Unfortunately I still find myself equating your approved IOS with the disapproved IOS of Article XXII (and the associated Homily). I find no essential difference between "St. Antoine pray for me (as I look for my car keys)", and "St. Antoine help me to find my car keys." Furthermore, if St. Antoine is positioned face-to-face with God, there's no point in his praying (by faith) at all, at least not in the sense that I pray. Maybe I don't fully understand the dogma, but this is the reason why I suspect the underlying concept of IOS is Purgatory, whose occupants need to pray.

Also, upon hearing my request, why would St. Antoine not say to me "Don't tell me about it; you have direct access to the Father on account of the Son." ?

No, I will stick with my plain understanding of the matter: "Let vs not therefore put our trust or confidence in the Saints or Martyrs that be dead. Let vs not call vpon them, nor desire helpe at their hands: but let vs alwayes lift vp our hearts to GOD, in the name of his deare Sonne Christ, for whose sake as GOD hath promised to heare our prayer, so he will truely performe it."

When I consider those that have gone before me into Heaven, I am thankful for our Common Prayer; that my voice is joined with the voices of the saints of all ages, and with their shouts of Glory in eternity. But I do not count any other type of joining between the living and the dead as warranted or edifying.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. Wells and Welshmann:

I understand the point each of you has made. I think it comes under what we may call the Nehushtan principle (II Kings 18:4).

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Aaytch:

I find no essential difference between "St. Antoine pray for me (as I look for my car keys)", and "St. Antoine help me to find my car keys."

Neither do I see any difference. So, again, did you actually read the essay, or for that matter Fr. Wells' comment? If so, you picked a very irrelevant illustration, unless you wrote to agree with both him and me.

Unfortunately I still find myself equating your approved IOS with the disapproved IOS of Article XXII (and the associated Homily).

The differences are very clearly presented in my essay. I suggest you try to "square" your persistent take on this whole thing with what I actually said, specifically:

"The questions that arise generally are about whether or not the practice is dangerous, or whether or not it contradicts the Gospel. Does it amount to idolatry when Christians ask those who have departed, but who surround them in the great cloud of witnesses, to pray as intercessors? Does it make those departed saintly spirits into extra mediators, as if we needed more than the One Mediator Himself?

"The answer to these questions is no; no more than my asking you to pray for me, or you asking me to pray for you. It would not be idolatry, obviously, nor is it logical to treat simple intercession as if it were equal to Divine-human Mediation, which only one Man, Jesus Christ, may do (I Tim. 2:5)."

I know what is in the homily, and I am certain about the meaning of the Article, for reasons you have dismissed, but which you have to refute.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

One more thing. You need to explain what you mean by "But I do not count any other type of joining between the living and the dead as warranted or edifying."

Joining? Do you mean communion? If so, I take you back to my earlier caveat: "But, so is the danger of treating death like an absolute barrier within the Church, which would make it an absolute barrier "in Christ." Has this led to rejection of the whole doctrine of the Resurrection? For the answer to that, look at modern mainstream Protestant churches, beginning with the Episcopal Church wherein all orthodoxy is merely an option at best. So, we need our Anglican balance to prevent one heresy or the other." What do say in response to that warning?

aaytch said...

The differences are very clearly presented in my essay.

If you find the differences to be so clear, please provide the words and context of an IOS prayer that you would approve. The only one that I know you approve is "Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." I find no essential difference between that and "St. Antoine, pray for me while I look for my car keys", which you and/or Fr. Wells seemed to approve earlier, but which you now say you disapprove.

Your position, as I understand it, is that my asking you to pray for me, or you asking me to pray for you is not idolatry, nor is it logical to treat simple intercession as if it were equal to Divine-human Mediation, which only one Man, Jesus Christ, may do (I Tim. 2:5).

And yet, in the homily I find no allowance for your position. Since it is a homily on "Prayer", and there are many references of invocations or prayers to saints, then why doesn't your point of view stand out.

Joining? Do you mean communion?

No. I do not mean Holy Communion. I mean communicating with the dead. I find no warrant in Scripture, nor any reason why it might be edifying. This has nothing whatsoever to do with lack of belief in the resurrection, or belief that the resurrected are not alive before the throne and in the courts of the Lord. It means just exactly what I said and no more. Death is not a "barrier" between earth and heaven, but neither is it a bridge. The only one who can bridge the temporal and the eternal is God. We pray with the saints in heaven because we sense the joy they have found and the satisfaction they have brought to our Lord, and perhaps these saints remember us in some way. But we do not expect them to know anything about us except what God himself should tell them, and we definitely do not expect them to be concerned for our welfare, for they more than even we are fully aware that we are in good hands. In short, we do not expect to have direct communication with them until (unless) we are reunited in heaven.

aaytch said...

I also direct you to this fine article about prayers for the dead... from the Church Society. Although it is not specifically about "invocation of saints", it is relevant to Anglican tradition and its formularies.

http://www.churchsociety.org/crossway/documents/Cway_106_WhatShouldWePray.pdf

Finally, I have to point out that the Mary prayer that leads your essay is not in the 1662 BCP, but was brought back into Anglican liturgy only with the Oxford movement. As such, it is NOT truly Anglican.

welshmann said...

Fr. Hart:

You saved me (and your readers) from a lengthy post.

welshmann

Fr. Wells said...

I wish that "Aatch" would read carefully the chapter on the Communion of Saints in the Westminster Confession of Faith, a document with no authority for Anglicans but one which represents a high water mark for Puritan theology. That might help him understand Fr Hart's point.

Much of this discussion both pro and con grows out of a shallow concept of the nature of prayer. I have no problem with saying (and indeed I frequently say) "Father Fred, pray for me," when I walk past the site of his home. Fr Fred V. Yerkes was a saintly priest who fell asleep in the Lord over 20 years ago. The last time I saw him in the world I asked for his prayers, at a time when I truly needed them.
Even yet I say, "Fr Fred, pray for me" with the absolute certainty that he does indeed pray still. To unpack the phrase, "pray for me" means "I am thankful for the union and communion which we still have in Christ and for the knowledge that your prayer-life is now more intense and that I still benefit from it."

Prayer (I repeat myself) is the offering of our desires to God, even when we say "St Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us." We need to disabuse ourselves of the sub-Christian notion that prayer is a bratty child trying to coerce or manipulate his Father. As long as we think of prayer in terms of wheedling God to get what we want from Him, then IOS is a very bad thing to do.

I am horrified by the suggestion sometimes offered, that invoking the saints is pulling strings in the corporate office, using special influence to get through the call-screener. Most Marian prayers, particularly the "Memorare," have that false notion as their sub-text.
It is simply blasphemous to suppose that God is more likely to give a positive answer to a saint in heaven than to a saint on earth. When we offer our prayers for the healing of a sick child, our case is no stronger if we ask the saints to pray for us. The reality is they are already busy on our behalf!

One final point. We need to keep this topic in perspective. While IOS can be documented into the ante-Nicene period, it has remained fairly marginal in Christian devotion. It is glaringly absent from the Mass of the Roman Rite, save on those very few occasions when the Litany of the Saints is recited.
A form of it turns up in the Confiteor, a late mediaeval prayer originally said privately by priest and sacred ministers. (The Commemoration of the Departed in the Roman Canon is another matter.)

No one is required to practice the IOS. The practice, no matter how ancient, remains an adiaphoron (an indifferent matter). Fr Kirby to the contrary notwithstanding, IOS is no litmus test for true Catholic faith, no shibboleth for doctrinal soundness.
So why the fuss and bother?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Aaytch wrote:

I find no essential difference between that and "St. Antoine, pray for me while I look for my car keys",

No one has mentioned the sort of "help me while" business you have dreamed up, or anything akin to it.

And yet, in the homily I find no allowance for your position.

It is about prayer, and we have already agreed that the saints are not to be treated like gods. Did you miss my point that badly?

"I cannot promise, however, that specific saints hear specific requests, for though the Church has long practiced calling on departed saints by name, each one is still a limited, finite being who waits to be clothed again in the resurrection. We must not imagine that they have become omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent. Like the angel who spoke to John on Patmos, they are our fellow servants."

Why have you chosen to ignore that?

I mean communicating with the dead.

Communicating with the dead is not the issue; such a phrase alludes to occult practices of hearing from the dead through mediums - certainly very evil, but hardly relevant.

We pray with the saints in heaven because we sense the joy they have found and the satisfaction they have brought to our Lord, and perhaps these saints remember us in some way.

Well, either you believe that, or you disagree with my essay. You can't have it both ways.

"But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." (Heb. 12:22-24)

How have we "come to" what he calls "the spirits of just men made perfect"?

But we do not expect them to know anything about us except what God himself should tell them...

Either we are "surrounded by a cloud of witnesses," and "come to...the spirits of just men made perfect," or we have not. Besides, no matter what they may know or not know, how can they not know that we are striving against evil while they are free from the dangers?

...for they more than even we are fully aware that we are in good hands.

By that logic we never need to pray for one another at all. Paul wasted his breath, and his ink, I suppose, in that passage from Colossians, and others.

For the rest, obviously, the homily is about prayer, and about matters I have addressed in perfect harmony with its meaning. Fr. Wells has said enough in the comment above that I do not need to defend my essay. Besides, it was so balanced and clear that I ought not dignify Aaytach's distortion of it anymore, especially inasmuch as the essay itself actually answers his objections.

aaytch said...

I am hearing you say, "When the saints get to go home to heaven the work of prayer continues."

Question: Do we continue to pray when we get to heaven, and will we know what to pray for in heaven since (if) we won't know what is happening on earth?

Answer: The Bible does not teach that when we go to be with the Lord we are no longer aware of continuing conditions on earth. Nor does it teach that we are aware of them. Revelation 6:10 implies that the dead remember their former lives, and that they may be aware of at least some continuing conditions on earth. However, death does not make us omniscient or omnipresent -- the dead cannot know everything that goes on in the earth, nor can they be present here as well as in heaven. Only God Himself has that ability to bridge heaven and earth.

Nevertheless, they are still "saints" (e.g. Rev. 11:18), they are still conscious, and they, like we, are still awaiting the completion of the Gospel. They are waiting for the final resurrection and the last judgment, and they are aware that before these things occur there is still evil in the world. They do not stop loving their families and friends, and they do not lose the freedom or ability to speak to God.

In fact, this ability to speak to (commune with) God is greatly enhanced for the deceased saints since they are face-to-face with God and can simply talk to Him rather than we who must pray to Him by faith.

Although we can infer that they are able to petition God on behalf of people still on earth, we cannot infer (from the Bible) that deceased saints can hear us talk to them, or that they know anything about continuing life on earth except what God may tell them (speculative: or by talking to others who died later, or to angels ).

To this you will probably want to claim support from certain verses. For example

Revelation 5:8, but this is in an allegorical book describing only deceased saints offering up the prayers of living saints. It does not say they have any knowledge of the content of those prayers. Or

Matthew 17:3, but this is not about communication between living and dead saints, but rather about communication between the incarnate Jesus and dead saints.

You might also consider the views of J.C. Ryle as propounded in "Against Ritualism, the teaching of the Ritualists is not the teaching of the Church of England"

"http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/against_ritualism.htm" http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/against_ritualism.htm

Ryle declares all forms of communication with the deceased to be incompatible with the teaching of the Church of England. That includes prayers to the virgin Mary, the archangel Michael, or to any other saint or angel. It pertains to prayers to them, or for them, or with them, and it does not matter whether the subject is as serious as one's sins or as frivolous as one's lost car keys. Below are specific references. Note please that Ryle finds, as I do, that Article XXII is not merely about the false doctrine of Purgatory, but is about the false practice of invocation of saints generally.


"5. They pray to the Virgin Mary and elevate her to a throne in heaven; [whereas] our Church declares such adoration to be superstitious and idolatrous."

"6. They pray to saints and invoke their intercession. [whereas] Our Church terms such prayers “repugnant to the Word of God.” (Art. xxii.) St. Paul says there is “one Mediator between God and man.”--1 Tim. ii. 5."

"10. They pray for the souls of the Dead, and they declare their belief in Purgatory, and in the power of the priest to relieve from its penalties; whereas our Church declares purgatory to be “a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded on no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.” (Art. xxii.)"

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Aaytch:

The problems here are, 1) You seem to think you have presented an argument against my essay, when in fact the whole comment (just above) is no such thing, and 2) in earlier comments you put help finding car keys on the same level as the intercession in Col. 1:9f (which brings us to the points Fr. Wells has made about prayer).

But, nothing can make people guilty of idolatry simply because they ask others to pray for them. That accusation goes way too far, condemning as sin an innocent practice. Yes, we have no revelation that justifies any teaching that departed saints hear requests, though we do have evidence from Scripture that those who have gone before with the mark of faith do surround the Church Militant. I have quoted Scripture, and you have quoted Ryle. On Reformation principles, that I assume you hold dear, which is weightier?

But, even though they might not hear us, it is not the sin of idolatry, no matter who has said otherwise. Idolatry is the worship of other gods. Yes, the "cult of saints" has led to that kind of idolatry many times. But I have condemned that in crystal clear language, and I wonder why you fail to notice.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Back in the 19th century, J.C. Ryle wrote:

...their belief in Purgatory, and in the power of the priest to relieve from its penalties...

It should be pointed out that priestly Absolution is not about Purgatory, and that it is from the verses of Scripture quoted in the Ordinal (Ordering of priests), namely John 20:22,23. Ryle, who was an extremist in his time, showed his departure from the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer both in his criticism of Absolution and in his rejection of what the Prayer Book teaches concerning Baptism. He was a forefather, it seems, of a modern school that calls itself Evangelical, but which has no more in common with the English Reformers than the man in the moon.

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.


Father Hart wrote:

"... To gaze at a specific relic gave so many years "off"..."

It seems your statement should be clarified a bit, to prevent a factual misunderstanding that does not want to die out it seems.

Never, at any time, did the days, years, quarintines, etc correspond to that same quantity off of the time to be spent in purgatory. That was a common mis-understanding that would not die out until the Second Vatican Council changed indulgences to be simply plenary (under the usual conditions) or partial.

The day, years etc - were a means of quantifying a pious act with the equivalent time of penance in the early church. That is to say, a prayer with "three days" attached to it - availed as much as three days penance assigned in the early church.

The Catholic Encyclopedia puts it this way:

"...To say that an indulgence of so many days or years is granted means that it cancels an amount of purgatorial punishment equivalent to that which would have been remitted, in the sight of God, by the performance of so many days or years of the ancient canonical penance. Here, evidently, the reckoning makes no claim to absolute exactness; it has only a relative value."

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07783a.htm



SWR

Fr. Robert Hart said...

It is fascinating to me to observe how distinctively Roman Catholic doctrine, so very, very "developed" indeed, is full of so many fine details. Logic must go to its end; but, its beginning is more interesting. In this matter it begins without revelation.

Brian said...

The day, years etc - were a means of quantifying a pious act with the equivalent time of penance in the early church. That is to say, a prayer with "three days" attached to it - availed as much as three days penance assigned in the early church.

If the Roman Magesterium has the authority to effectively give its adherents "double coupons" on prayer, then why wouldn't they open the spiritual spigot still further? Is there some interest in keeping souls locked in purgatory?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Is there some interest in keeping souls locked in purgatory?

More specifically, is there some ecclesiastical interest in keeping souls locked in purgatory? That is, since God has abdicated this responsibility to the pope, perhaps trusting that man's judgment over His own.

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.

Brian wrote:

"...If the Roman Magesterium has the authority to effectively give its adherents "double coupons" on prayer, then why wouldn't they open the spiritual spigot still further? Is there some interest in keeping souls locked in purgatory?..."


That is an oft repeated protestant thought, and does make sense if one does not realize how simple plenary indulgences are to obtain.

Among others:

30 minutes reading sacred scripture
30 minutes with the Blessed Sacrament
Public recitation of the Rosary
Stations of the Cross


If those mean and nasty Romans were trying to keep people in purgatory they would not have plenary indulgences so easy to obtain, would they?

Plenary indulgences are, of course, under the usual conditions.




SWR

Fr. Robert Hart said...

That is an oft repeated protestant thought, and does make sense if one does not realize how simple plenary indulgences are to obtain.

Yes, it makes a better argument to say that the whole damned system was never revealed by God, but dreamed up by false teachers. Not only is it no part of the Gospel, but it represents a completely alien religion altogether that has nothing to do with Christ.

Brian said...

I.N.R.I.

If those mean and nasty Romans were trying to keep people in purgatory they would not have plenary indulgences so easy to obtain, would they?

The issue isn't whether or not they are easy to obtain: Rather, the fact that the Roman Magesterium claims the ability to increase the "value" of prayer or devotional actions through indulgences shows how arbitrary the whole system really is.

Biblical soteriology is much simpler--even scandalously so.

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.

Brian wrote:

"...The issue isn't whether or not they are easy to obtain: Rather, the fact that the Roman Magesterium claims the ability to increase the "value" of prayer or devotional actions through indulgences shows how arbitrary the whole system really is..."

The Church claims no such ability to increase the "value" of anything.

If you wish to deny the teaching of The Church, that is your choice, but at least accurately articulate what The Church teaches.

The Catechism of The Catholic Church teaches quite plainly:

1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.90

See 1471 - 1479 at http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c2a4.htm#1471

SWR



O Lord Jesus Christ, who, when Thou wast about to suffer, didst pray for Thy disciples to the end of time that they might all be one, as Thou art in the Father, and the Father in Thee, look down in pity on the manifold divisions among those who profess Thy faith, and heal the many wounds which the pride of man and the craft of Satan have inflicted upon Thy people.

Break down the walls of separation which divide one party and denomination of Christians from another. Look with compassion on the souls who have been born in one or other of these various communions which not Thou, but man hath made. Set free the prisoners from these unauthorised forms of worship, and bring them all into that one communion which thou didst set up in the beginning, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Teach all men that the see of St. Peter, the Holy Church of Rome, is the foundation, centre, and instrument of unity. Open their hearts to the long-forgotten truth that our Holy Father, the Pope, is thy Vicar and Representative; and that in obeying Him in matters of religion, they are obeying Thee, so that as there is but one holy company in heaven above, so likewise there may be but one communion, confessing and glorifying Thy holy Name here below. {190}
- from Meditations & Devotions, Blessed John Henry Newman

Fr. Wells said...

I am glad that Sean Reed had gotten the memo pertaining to the "Indulgence" for Bible-reading. It would not require 30 minutes time with the Word of God for him to learn how false a religion he has embraced. I hope he will stumble upon Ephesians 2:8,
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not yur own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

I pray that he can comprehend the truth of Romans 3:23-24, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and ae justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith."

May he come to grips with the truth of Matt 15:7--9, "You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said,
'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, in vain to they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"

I hope he will read Matt 16 in its entirety, paying close attention to Matt 16:23, "And Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get thee behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.'"

May the Spirit open his mind to hear Galatians 2:11, "But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to to his face, because he stood condemned."

I hope he will get as far as 1 Timothy 6:20, "I Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith."

The "Indulgence" for Bible-reading proves that our God truly has a sense of humor, and that St Paul was never more right than when he wrote (1 Cor. 1:23), "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men," even wiser than the Roman magisterium. What a trick for God to play on Mr JMJ and his fellow cultists!

Joe Oliveri said...

Am I to understand that it is now the position of this blog that Roman Catholics are in thrall to a "false religion" and a "cult"? Is that a misreading?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Am I to understand that it is now the position of this blog that Roman Catholics are in thrall to a "false religion" and a "cult"? Is that a misreading?

I am sure Fr. Kirby would say no. My position is rather via media on the matter. I hold to the position of Richard Hooker concerning unity and communion with Rome. Little real progress has been made since his time, and that only after the situation became worse. The Church of Rome is part of the Universal and Catholic Church. But, the teaching of purgatory and the treasury of merits is contrary to the Gospel of Christ. The Church of Rome is in need of genuine Reformation.

As for the position of this blog, other than affirming Continuing Anglicanism and working to unify the Affirmation churches into one body, on various questions there may be up to four positions of this blog.

But, after SWR's Roman sermonizing on our Anglican blog, I feel like calling the RCC a cult too, just because the RC scolding gets annoying. Nonetheless, I cannot take the matter of a doctrinal system at odds with the Gospel lightly; and that is what the whole Purgatory-treasury of merits system is; a false gospel.

SWR:

...by virtue of the power of binding and loosing...

In context that could only have referred to teaching true doctrine; but, without applying first century Jewish meaning to what Jesus said, it can be hard to understand His words.

If you wish to deny the teaching of The Church...

Obviously, no one here is trying "to deny the teaching of The Church." But, we are quite happy to argue against various teachings of Rome. The choice of words here has been heavy on both sides of that argument. But, to even so much as use the words, "if you wish to deny the teaching of The Church" is an action; the equal and opposite reaction may as well be expressed, since that is all that such language can cause.

Fr. Wells said...

Joe Olivieri asks:

"Am I to understand that it is now the position of this blog that Roman Catholics are in thrall to a "false religion" and a "cult"? Is that a misreading?"

Yes, that is a misreading of my post and a particularly bad misreading. I have never confused Mr JMJ's presentation of the faith of the Roman Catholic Church with the presentation of the real thing. What he dishes out on a regular basis is the false religion of a Latter-Day Feeneyite. Such a warped interpretation of the RCC is about like accepting Ian Paisley or Carl McIntire as representatives of Calvinism, or the Westboro Baptist Church as typical Baptists.

Sean W. Reed said...

J.M.J.


Rev. Mr. Wells wrote:

"... What he dishes out on a regular basis is the false religion of a Latter-Day Feeneyite. Such a warped interpretation of the RCC is about like accepting Ian Paisley or Carl McIntire as representatives of Calvinism, or the Westboro Baptist Church as typical Baptists. What he dishes out on a regular basis is the false religion of a Latter-Day Feeneyite. Such a warped interpretation of the RCC is about like accepting Ian Paisley or Carl McIntire as representatives of Calvinism, or the Westboro Baptist Church as typical Baptists..."

I would challenge you to point out a single instance where I have not accurately and specifically articulated the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, usually correcting misstatements and erroneous presentations of members of your ecclesial community.



SWR

Fr. Wells said...

Sean, I have known many, many Roman Catholics in my time and I know well that educated Roman Catholics consider fanatical converts to be an embarrassment.

Not that all the fanatics are converts.
I recall a Dominican priest friend of mine who had to work with a certain lay catechist (a cradle RC) whose presentation of Roman Catholicism was similar in tone and ethos to yours. As he was sharing his frustrations with me, my friend observed, "She is the perfect example of non-Christian Catholic." In her mean-spirited obsession with the errors of Protestantism, she had missed the whole point of the Catholic Faith.

Compare your own writing with that of Fr Benedict Groeschel or Bishop Robert Baker. Compare yourself even to the somwaht strident "apologists" on EWTN. Others, at any rate, will perceive the difference, even if you do not.

A leading Continuing bishop recently wrote, "The departure of Anglo-papalists
for the RCC simplifies the picture, and, to be frank, removes from the scene some problematic individuals. Rome, with its size and experience, will be much better equipped to deal with them."

I wish you a long and happy life in the RCC. Perhaps they have some blogs where you may share your thoughts and feelings.