I’ll never forget sitting at a table outside a café in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while a Pentecostal street preacher screamed his odd form of Christianity at the passing college students. He had the sort of rhythmic drive that Black Baptist and Pentecostal preachers cultivate, based on repeating one line over again, (e.g., Jesse Jackson’s “I am somebody”) then saying a couple of other lines, and finally repeating the “lead line.” This man’s lead line was, “Only Jesus can save ya!” (Of course, the line is true. Jesus is the Savior of mankind, so there’s no disagreement there… 1 ) But then the preacher worked some anti-Catholic sneers into his rhythm: “Mary can’t save ya!” “St. Joseph can’t save ya!” Then he returned to the main line: “Only Jesus can save ya!”
What was the man’s point? It was a vulgar caricature of Catholic devotion to the saints, the claim that we somehow dethrone the God-Man and replace Him with a pantheon of lesser divinities. Certain Fundamentalist forms of Protestantism tend to seize upon devotion to the saints with a particular spleen (probably because most of these sects view sanctity as impossible, or at least only an external reality).
As with all Catholic doctrine, the Church’s teachings concerning devotion to the saints are divinely taught and Biblically provable. Such is the claim I wish to back up in this article.
“Pray for Us”
A good place to start is with the line that all Catholics learn — or used to learn — virtually from the time they can speak: “Pray for us!” as in, “St. Joseph, pray for us.” The line is calling upon one person to pray for another (or others). In other words, the Catholic, by uttering such a prayer, is putting someone “in between” himself and God. This is known as “intercessory prayer” and it is very biblical, as the following passages from the New Testament show:
“Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance…” (Col. 4:2-3 KJV 2 ) Here, St. Paul asks for prayers to be offered so that God will bless his preaching ministry.
“Brethren, pray for us.” (I Thess. 5:25 KJV)
“But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.” (Philemon 1: 22 KJV)
Perhaps the most emphatic one is I Tim. 2:1-4: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (KJV)
As Mark Alessio points out elsewhere in this magazine, this passage immediately precedes the verse which reads, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Many Protestants cite this verse as if it refuted the principle of intercession (either “up to God” through saints, or “down from God” through the priesthood and sacraments), but they do this at the expense of the four preceding verses, which show that men’s interceding for other men is “good and acceptable in the sight of God.”
Many other verses prove the same principle, but multiplying them is unnecessary since all God has to do is say something once for it to be true.
The idea that Jesus’ unique mediation is not threatened when someone comes “between me and Jesus” by way of intercessory prayer is clearly taught in the Gospels. In our Lord’s public life, He constantly had go-betweens, either dispensing His gifts (e.g., the disciples distributing the five loaves to the five thousand — Matt. 14), or receiving petitions from other people who did not go “directly to Jesus.” One example of this is in the Gospel of St. John (12:20-23), when certain Gentiles came to see our Lord. They first went to Philip, saying: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Philip approached Andrew, who was greater in the apostolic hierarchy than he, since he was the protoclete, or, “first-called.” Then Andrew and Philip together approached Jesus. What happens as a result of this intercession? “And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.” Then our Lord goes on to explain that the Father was soon to glorify Him. Soon, the Father’s Voice is heard, testifying to the glory He has given and will give the Son. The approach of the Gentiles to Jesus occasioned all this. Thus, an act of intercession brought on something good.
Another act of intercession which we see in the Gospels appears earlier in St. John (2:1-11), at the wedding feast of Cana. When the young couple run out of wine at their feast, the Blessed Mother approaches our Lord, Who seems not interested in helping them and explains that His “time has not come.” But what does He do? After His Mother instructs the stewards, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it,” Jesus works His first public miracle. This miracle not only spares the couple embarrassment, but also gives His disciples Faith in Him. So again, we have an example of good things happening to people because someone (the Blessed Mother) intercedes for them.
The principle of intercession, of mere men being bridges between other men and Jesus, can be pushed even further. Because we believe that God works through men (priests, hierarchy, saints, etc.), Catholics will even acknowledge that some men can “save” others — in a purely secondary sense. (Here is a point where I disagree with the street preacher.) While Jesus is the only one Who saves, by His merits as the Man-God, these others help, and in helping they become “secondary causes” of salvation. Just as a murderer is the first cause of the murder, but the gun is the secondary cause. One could just as truly say “President Kennedy was killed by a gunshot” as “President Kennedy was killed by a sniper.” This secondary causality can be applied in the matter of salvation. Protestants will often fraudulently object to this elevation of mere creatures. But once again, the Catholic position is biblical, as we see in this utterance of St. Paul: “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22 KJV)
Here we touch upon the doctrine of the communion of saints. The saints, because they do their good works “in Christ,” can participate in Jesus’ mediation to the Father through Their Spirit. So when a just man prays for someone to the Blessed Trinity or to a particular Person of the Trinity, the prayer has merit because it is done in Christ, that is, as a member of His Body, the Church. Even our merits and sufferings can be applied to other members of the Church: “[I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind [NIV has “lacking”] of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24 KJV)
Paul Prayed to Saints
The Apostle Paul, (Saint Paul, that is) explicitly asks saints to pray for him in the Bible, just as Catholics today do. The reader may be astonished, but the claim is true. St. Paul prayed to saints. Here’s proof:
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 1:1 KJV)
Here is St. Paul writing to the Ephesians. He calls them saints. At the end of the book of Ephesians (6:18-19), he tells these saints to pray for him:
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly…” (KJV)
A similar pair of passages is found in chapter one of the Epistle to the Philippians: In verse one, St. Paul calls them “saints,” and in verse 19 he expresses confidence in their prayers. One of our above proof texts establishing the biblical nature of intercessory prayer was Colossians 4:2-4, in which St. Paul implores the prayers of the Colossians. Here again St. Paul is praying to saints, for that Epistle was addressed “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse…” (1:2 KJV) So what do the above passages prove? They prove that St. Paul invoked the prayers of saints. In other words, he prayed to saints.
It would be beneficial at this point to explain what “pray to saints” actually means. In normal parlance, the modern English language, Prot-estantized as it is, has lost the basic meaning of the word “pray.” Unfortunately, “to pray” is now restricted to an activity directed only toward God. But as the following from Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary shows, that is neither the etymology of the word, nor its basic meaning:
Main Entry: pray
Etymology: Middle English, from Old French preier , from Latin precari , from prec- , prex request, prayer; akin to Old High German frAgEn to ask, Sanskrit prcchati he asks
Date: 13th century
1. ENTREAT, IMPLORE — often used as a function word in introducing a question, request, or plea (pray be careful)
2. to get or bring by praying
1. to make a request in a humble manner
2. to address God or a god with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving 3
Note that the very last meaning concerns God. It is correct, then, to pray to someone other than God, since it simply means to “entreat, implore… [or] to make a request in a humble manner.” This can be done to God or to man.
So when a Catholic “prays” to a saint, he “implores” the saint to intercede with him before God. This is exactly what St. Paul did in the above-cited passages. He prayed (entreated, implored) saints to pray for him to God.
(While we are defining things, now would be a good time to say what “saint” means. It would be, if the word had not already been defined in Fr. Feeney’s “What a Saint Is” in this magazine. The reader is therefore referred to that article if he does not already know.)
But Dead Saints?
Any antagonistic Protestant who has persevered this far in the article has probably thought to himself something like this: “You’re cheating! Everyone knows that Catholics pray to dead people! Even if ‘pray’ does mean what you say it means, and even if Paul ‘prayed to saints,’ there is still no biblical warrant for praying to dead people! Besides, communication with the dead is explicitly forbidden in the book of Deuteronomy.”
I will first address the last part of that objection, the part about communication with the dead being forbidden. It is, as far as I can tell, the scriptural passage most commonly cited against prayer to saints. Here is the text in question: “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” (Deut. 18: 10-11 KJV. Verse 11 in the NIV reads, “or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.”)
This passage clearly condemns several pagan practices that were common among the people who inhabited the land that God promised the Israelites. This is obvious from verse 9: “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.” (KJV) Among these ways was something we today would call a “seance.” Clearly this is not at all what Catholics do when we pray to saints. As a lifelong Catholic, I can say that I have never witnessed nor heard of any devotion during which St. Patrick (or any other saint) was conjured up to speak to those assembled.
If all communication with the deceased is evil, then Jesus did something evil during the Transfiguration: “And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.” (Mark 9:4 KJV; see also Matt. 17:3) This communication even passed to the three Apostles who witnessed the scene, for they knew who it was speaking to Jesus. St. Peter’s words on the occasion make it obvious that at least he knew that they were Moses and Elias.
Again, if any and all communication with dead people was forbidden, then one of the prodigies that God caused upon the death of our Lord was an occasion of sin. “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” (Matt. 27: 52-53 KJV) If they “appeared to many,” — even without saying a word — these dead folks were communicating with the living. Even their mute appearance would communicate the fact of their resurrection. If such a thing were evil, then these “saints” (as the Bible calls them) were not really “saints.”
“To Die Is Gain”
— (Phil. 1:21)
After reading the proof text about the dead who arose on Good Friday, someone may think that I have neglected the fact that these people were not “dead,” since they “arose.” One may argue that the incident would not refute the Deuteronomy 18 accusation leveled against Catholics.
This too would be a false objection.
It leads us into a bigger question: “Are the saints really ever dead?” In the sense that their souls are separated from their bodies, of course they are dead. After all, so was Jesus when His adorable Body was in the tomb, but “he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” (I Pet. 3:19 KJV) As with our Lord, so with all men: “death” is only of the body, not of the soul. The only exception to this is the “second death” mentioned in the book of the Apocalypse (2:11; 20:6; 20:14; & 21:8), which is spiritual, and which is a clear reference to damnation, i.e., everlasting torment in hell.
In the case of Jesus, His soul, which was alive, “descended into hell” as the Creed says. His body was simply awaiting the Resurrection. The same is true for us all. If we are judged after death, then death is simply the separation of the soul and the body. Clearly St. Paul thought of his soul detached from its body to be alive when he said this: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (II Cor. 5:8 KJV) What is “present with the Lord” but his living soul?
If we need any further proof of this, our Lord Himself assures us, contrary to the false doctrine of the Sadducees, that the soul is alive after the death of the body. “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt. 22:31-32) Note that in the context, our Lord was defending the doctrine of the resurrection, but He actually made a bigger point, to wit, that if God identifies Himself with these men, they are not dead but living. Since Abraham is indeed “living” then communicating with him is not communicating with the dead, but with the living.
Regarding the lack of biblical warrant for praying to the deceased, we observe the following: First, to assume that there has to be a positive, explicit, biblical mandate for everything a Christian does is a gratuitous and self-defeating proposition. It is self-defeating because the Bible nowhere states anything like the following: “Don’t do X unless X is positively mandated in the Bible.” It is self-defeating because the Bible does not say it. In addition, certain religious acts of Protestants show that they do not consistently apply their own standard. For instance, singing “Amazing Grace” is not warranted in the Bible, yet Protestants who attack us for being non-biblical shamelessly sing it regularly, and they do so as a part of their religion.
Second, while there is no passage which expressly declares that praying to those who have died is to be done by Christians, there are passages which show that both praying for and asking the prayers of other members of the Church are commendable acts. When joined with the fact (as we have yet to establish) that the souls of the righteous dead can and do pray for us in Heaven, then the obvious conclusion is that we can and should ask for their prayers.
Dives & Lazarus
There is, among certain non-Catholics, a false assumption that the elect in Heaven are oblivious to what goes on outside of Heaven. There are several reasons why this is an absurdity. One reason is that our Lord, in the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31), tells a parable in which one of the elect — Abraham — holds a conversation with someone who is not among the elect. In this parable of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is in Hell and cries out to “father Abraham.”
Abraham, it must be admitted, was not in Heaven, but he was in the place where all of the just of the Old Testament were awaiting Jesus’ triumphal entry into Heaven on Ascension Thursday. 4 However, he was still among the number of the elect, as is clear from the context of Luke 16. Abraham said to Dives: “And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” (KJV) That “great gulf” (“chaos” in the Catholic Bible) did not prevent one of the reprobate from communicating with Abraham, one of the elect. If such is the case, it would be absurd to assert that a saint on earth — and that is what a righteous Christian is — cannot communicate with a saint in Heaven.
“As the Angels”
There are two places in the Gospels (Matt. 22:30 and Mark 12:25) where our Lord tells us that the just men in Heaven are “as the angels.” Noting, then, the dealings between angels and men in the Bible can give us an insight into our access to the saints as intercessors. First of all, there are several instances of angels communicating with men as the emissaries of God: the three angels who visited Abraham (Gen. 18 KJV), the angel(s) who twice let the Apostles out of prison (Acts 5 and 12), the one who told Philip to go to the eunuch of Candace (Acts 8), one who stirred the waters of the pool of Bethsaida (Bethesda in KJV) and gave it curative powers (John 5), and many, many others. St. Paul sums up their role when he calls them “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” (Heb. 1:14 KJV)
Such special angelic apparitions aside, each of us, in our daily life, has a guardian angel who is appointed to watch over us: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” (Ps. 91 [DRV 92]:11-12 KJV) Our Lord testifies to the reality of Angel guardians when He says, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven.” (Matt. 18:10) What can be gleaned from these passages is that, while the angels are beholding the vision of God in Heaven, they are also attending to the needs of people on earth. To hold that the Holy Angels are ignorant of the activities of those whom they guard is simply an absurdity. It is no wonder, then, that King David calls upon the Angels in Psalms 102 and 148 (103 and 148 in KJV) to join him in praising God. There is a brotherhood of divine charity between them and us.
If the Holy Angels can have familiar concourse with human beings on earth, then the righteous men in Heaven can too. And if holy people on earth can call upon the angels, then they who are “as the angels” in Heaven (namely, the saints) can also be invoked.
The Heavenly Jerusalem
Still, many Protestants speak as if the saints in Heaven were not interested in what happens on Earth. In other words, they are either too caught up in God, or too indifferent, or simply ignorant of what befalls their brethren on earth. This principle is unbiblical, as we will now show.
We have already mentioned the parable of Dives and Lazarus. In that parable, Dives, a damned soul, shows concern for his family on earth and fruitlessly tries to help them. If the souls of the just in Heaven cannot do the same, then damned Dives is either more knowledgeable or more charitable than the elect are. Either scenario is impossible, given common sense and the following from St. Paul:
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (I Cor. 13:9-13 KJV)
Our Lord guarantees us that “joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) Those who rejoice in Heaven must be interested in that sinner and must have knowledge of his conversion.
The book of the Apocalypse (Revelation in KJV) shows both saints and angels in Heaven being interested in the things that happen on earth and offering up prayers to God:
“And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders [men] fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.” (Rev. 5:8 KJV) These were men who were offering to God the prayers of the saints. It is to be noted, that “the saints” here could — probably does — mean the saints on earth. In this case, there are saints in Heaven (the beasts are the Evangelists, humans, and the elders are human as well) who are offering up the prayers of the saints on earth. It is a perfect example of the citizens of Heaven offering up to God the prayers of other men. Another example is in chapter 8, verses 3-4. This time, it is an angel offering up the prayers of the saints: “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.”
The preceding verses show the intercession of angels and saints in Heaven. The following three excerpts, also from Revelation, prove that the elect souls in Heaven are aware of and concerned with the goings on here below:
“And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, We give thee thanks, O LORD God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.” (Rev. 11:16-18 KJV)
“And I heard a loud voice saying in Heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye Heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” (Rev. 12:10-12 KJV)
“And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in Heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.” (Rev. 19:1-3 KJV)
After listing the great deeds done by many of the saints of the Old Testament (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Sarah, Moses, etc.), St. Paul continues: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1 KJV) These people are witnesses compassing us about. What does a witness do? Among other things, he watches.
And why shouldn’t the saints in Heaven be interested in us down here? After all we “are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19 KJV) We are one with the saints in Heaven, if we are in the “one body” of Christ. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Rom. 12:5 KJV) There are not two bodies of Christ, one in Heaven and the other on earth.
St. Paul writes to many of the Churches under his care that he prays for them always. (For instance, Col. 1:9: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you.…” KJV) He makes it known many times that he has great solicitude for his spiritual children everywhere: “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” (II Cor. 11:28 KJV) In his tenderness as a father, he calls the Galatians, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” Bearing this tremendous charity of the Apostle in mind, the reader is asked to imagine Paul after he achieved his great desire to be with Jesus in Heaven (“I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” — Philippians 1:23 KJV). Imagine the Apostle being united face to face with his Lord Whom he served faithfully and to Whom he prayed so constantly for the flock entrusted to him. Now imagine that St. Paul, in Heaven, is so selfish and so pusillanimous that he forgets his spiritual children. The thought is downright impious.
Or consider St. Stephen:
“But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into Heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the Heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:55-60 KJV)
Now in the non-Catholic’s mind, Stephen can pray for his enemies at the last minute, before he is joined to his Lord, but from that moment on, Stephen is too busy praising God and looking at angels to worry about us miserable wretches on earth. (Those folks in Heaven aren’t very nice, are they?)
Confirmed by Tradition
Although many non-Catholics have a total disregard for the writings of any early Christian, especially ones with the word “saint” in front of their names, there are those Protestants who have or claim to have, an interest in maintaining some sort of continuity with the religion believed and practiced by the Fathers of the Church. One Church Father who is popular with these people is St. Augustine. John Calvin cites him as an authority. The nineteenth-century Calvinist-Baptist preacher from England, Charles Spurgeon, claimed to preach the same truth as this giant of Roman Africa. Ignoring for a moment the heavy-handed history revisionism required to advance such an insane proposition, I could appeal to a Protestant who admires the memory of St. Augustine. On the present issue, I cite this passage — from a Protestant translation (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers) — in which the “Doctor of Grace” takes to task the Manichean heretic Faustus, who attacked Catholic devotion to the saints:
“It is true that Christians pay religious honor to the memory of the martyrs, both to excite us to imitate them and to obtain a share in their merits, and the assistance of their prayers. But we build altars not to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs, although it is to the memory of the martyrs. No one officiating at the altar in the saints’ burying-place ever says, We bring an offering to thee, O Peter! or O Paul! or O Cyprian! The offering is made to God, who gave the crown of martyrdom, while it is in memory of those thus crowned. The emotion is increased by the associations of the place, and love is excited both towards those who are our examples, and towards Him by whose help we may follow such examples. We regard the martyrs with the same affectionate intimacy that we feel towards holy men of God in this life, when we know that their hearts are prepared to endure the same suffering for the truth of the gospel. There is more devotion in our feeling towards the martyrs, because we know that their conflict is over; and we can speak with greater confidence in praise of those already victors in Heaven, than of those still combating here. What is properly divine worship, which the Greeks call latreia, and for which there is no word in Latin, both in doctrine and in practice, we give only to God. To this worship belongs the offering of sacrifices; as we see in the word idolatry, which means the giving of this worship to idols. Accordingly we never offer, or require any one to offer, sacrifice to a martyr, or to a holy soul, or to any angel. Any one falling into this error is instructed by doctrine, either in the way of correction or of caution.” (Against Faustus, 20:21)
We see here that St. Augustine is defending the Faith against the same attacks that my street-preacher friend leveled at it: that in expressing our devotion to the saints, in seeking their prayers, and in studying their lives, we are engaging in some form of idolatry.
The arguments from history and archaeology which defend our position on the saints are copious. St. Augustine was not an aberration, for the Fathers were in complete agreement. For further information on these arguments, the reader is referred to Adam Miller’s excellent booklet, Venerating the Saints (see details at the end of this article), and Joseph Gallegos’ online collection of patristic passages, “Veneration and Invocation of the Saints,” at The Coronum Apologetic Website .
These selections provide proof that the doctrines we are defending in this article represent historical Christianity, while the new religions of the Protestant Reformation represent innovations, alterations, and mutilations of that Faith “once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3 KJV)
In his survey of early Christian writers, Adam Miller makes the following point, which will be our last word on the historical argument:
“It must be recognized that these same men and women were willing to die rather than deny Christ and offer sacrifice to an Emperor or to a pagan deity. Yet they still honored and venerated the martyrs. The distinction was quite clear to them between the veneration given to the saints and the worship and adoration due unto God alone. Again, keep in mind that the early Church, in a society where gods and goddesses abounded, was quite conscious in guarding against anything that would detract her members from Christ and His supremacy. Nevertheless, as we will see, the early Church both allowed and even promoted devotion to the saints because they knew that Christ was glorified in His champions.” (Venerating the Saints, pgs. 18-19)
Back to the Bible
In our missionary work, which is done person-to-person, using such Catholic literature as the present magazine, I have offered Protestants to read, among other things, lives of the saints. A common retort is that they just read the Bible; they aren’t interested in saints. This response betrays a spiritual blindness, because the Bible is, in large part, a collection of lives of the saints. The Acts of the Apostles is an inspired account of the lives of the Apostles. The Gospels, in telling the history of Jesus, also tell of those whose lives He touched and made holy. Many who saw and heard Jesus responded ill, but some responded well, and, in varying degrees, bore fruit in their souls, “some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.” (Matt. 13:8 KJV) Chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, mentioned already in this article, is a catalogue of Old Testament saints who did wonderful deeds by the power of God’s grace. And isn’t that what Christianity is all about? sinful humanity returning, one soul at a time, to its Creator and through His Grace being united to Jesus, our Head, King, Lord and firstborn Brother? Each saint is united with Jesus intimately, in a communion of Faith and Charity. Those in Heaven — where sin cannot mar their life with God — do so “face to face.” Each saint can say with the Apostle Paul — and we will give him the last word —
“And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:20 DRV)
1 Well, there actually is some disagreement. The reader is asked to persevere a few more pages to discover it.
2 KJV stands for King James Version (Protestant Bible). DRV stands for Douay Rheims Version (Catholic Bible). NIV stands for New International Version (Protestant Bible). All of the spelling and punctuation standards employed in Scriptural texts (including capitalizations) are strictly according to the versions quoted.
3 Courtesy of Merriam Webster’s on-line Dictionary: http://www.m-w.com/ . Once I used a Protestant’s own dictionary (American Standard, if I recall correctly) to show him what the word “pray” means. He objected that the dictionary was “secular,” and therefore, not reliable. I pointed out that there is no “inspired” English dictionary, and unless he was able to find a Biblical definition of the word, I would stick with the one in his dictionary. He became frustrated.
4 Our Lord refers to this place as “Abraham’s bosom.” It is also commonly referred to as the “Limbo of the Fathers” or the “Limbo of the Just.” It is not to be confused with the Limbo of Infants. The Limbo of the Just was emptied on Ascension Thursday, while the Limbo of Infants still exists.