Earth to Rome

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It is a popular and fun fact that Protestants do not pray to the Saints whereas Roman Catholics do. This comes as no surprise. You may say with Brent, “Duh, okay, I knew that.” Yet still, here are some reasons. Protestants have no doubt that the saints glorified praise the Lord, and cry out “How long?” Nevertheless we think to have the ability to pray to them is impossible because they are not omniscient. Saints remain finite even while glorified. To deny that is to deny the creator creature distinction and unravel the mystery of the Triune God into Theosis at best and pantheism at worst.

On the other side the Romanists hold that the saints are able to pray for and affect the lives of saints on earth. Not only the Saints, but the Angels and the blessed virgin do pray for and effectively apply grace to the saints militant. The reason for this is the backbone of Roman Catholic theology is a unity with the grace and being of God who gives grace within the creature to which one must respond. This grace can be had and developed (responded to) to such an extent that one may find he/she has extra grace left over for others. This grace may then be dispensed by the church to those who need it who are in the church militant.

Here is an illustration of the topic. Romanists do not often pray to the Old Testament Saints. There is a liturgy in the Roman communion, which prays to the OT saints (http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=467), but it is not the typical one heard on the lips of those doing penance. They pray to the saints of the Christian era, those in the New Testament, but not nearly as often those of the Old Testament. As an outsider, I think this makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, it makes sense if you consider the dirty laundry in the Old Testament. The OT saints were not so saintly. Read Genesis… all of it. Read Judges! To quote George Takei, “O My!”  If you need extra grace, probably the best place to go is not the Old Testament. Second, much church history done by the ancient, medieval, and modern church has been hagiography. Hagiography refers to holy history. This is the sort of thing that does not look at the events of a person’s life through the context of their thought, environment, and other contexts, but through the lens of the greatness of the individual. Everything the protagonist does is good, and everything the antagonist does is bad. The Bible, New Testament and Old, does not do hagiography. Many people cannot fathom it, though. They read the Bible and get confused because there are so many sinners in the mix, and because people naturally think that a history approves of everything it records, because they think in terms of hagiography. The bible does not play that game. It shows things how they were. Think of Gamaliel. He was an enemy of Christianity, generally, but Paul still mentions him positively in terms of his education. The book of acts records him somewhat dispassionately as a wise man who told the Sanhedrin to cool their fires against the church since he believed it would come to nothing.

Here is the bottom line: the earthiness of the Bible has no place in the worldview of the Roman communion. The hagiography of the saints of the Christian era more easily fits into their theology. What is revealed in this comparison is a pair of distinct religious practices coming from distinct religious worldviews. For Romanists the human condition is one of being a sinner which makes me less spiritual, and more earthly. Grace from God is the implanted power of grace within, to which, when responded to, God gives more grace. Grace as a substance then is the very being of God infused within the individual. For the Protestant reformed catholic tradition the human condition is that we are sinners, criminals, who will die because there is a curse on the physical world, and thus we need grace (which is not the Divine essence) but the Divine work of incarnation and atonement. Further, when the Protestant becomes justified, he remains but saint and sinner simultaneously until he/she dies, and remains tempted by the world until he/she dies, and then will get sick and finally die! That’s not very triumphal. Which is the truth of this all.

Protestant tradition is authoritatively taught by Scripture that we have the power of the Gospel to endure and persevere through the trials, sorrows, sadness, sin, guilt of the world in which we live. We are also taught by general revelation that our we sin and die, and the world sins and dies. That is why justification by the imputation and application of Jesus’ righteousness to us is so important. The ministry functions a lot differently in protestant thought too. The ministry does not dispense grace from the saints, Christ, the Angels and the virgin, but rather proclaims God’s promises in Christ and the Holy Spirit applies grace through the ministry. One of Luther’s 95 theses (if memory serves) was the rhetorical question: why does the Pope not pardon and release all sinners from purgatory out of mere love? The implicit answer is: because he cannot.

The ministry assumes Christians are not on conquerors but are sinners who need to be sanctified, assured of justification, pardon, God’s power to deliver through the Gospel. In the face of trial the ministry tells individuals that the calamities that happen are  part of the curse, and that Jesus hated death, and so should we, and we must endure through the power of his resurrection. The ministry points to the world as a series of useless methods to human happiness which ultimately are vanity. Triumphalism and conquering are not ours now, but we are more than conquerors in this life because we have all in the next.

This does not mean that protestants don’t seek to progress in the faith, to learn, to find healing of sin’s effects, to seek the kingdom’s mission, or sanctification. We just also realize that temptation, sorrow, and the world are going nowhere until we die. We realize that the saints glorified were no different from us, and thus they can’t help us. Only Christ helps us, Who is applied to us by the Holy Spirit speaking the promises to us from Scripture (usually by a minister or other Christian), Whom we embrace by faith alone.

Two worldviews create two practices. One brings the merits of heavenly people to earth, and the prayers of earthly people to heaven. The other brings poor earthly people to a new heavens and a new earth through Him who has entered the New Creation in his resurrection.

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4 thoughts on “Earth to Rome

  1. I suppose once again that is where the Protestant and Roman Catholics divide. We Protestants do not base our theological views on subjective experience but upon the revelation of God in Scripture. In fact, I would argue that this has always being part of the true Apostolic biblical tradition, that scripture alone is the highest Authority which informs our understanding, and it seems to militate against those arguments from personal experience, and unless we have confirmation from a Divine interpreter that prayers have been indeed answered by the Saints’ prayers, then there’s no way to justify that belief. Thank you again for the interaction as this has been very beneficial for this conversation.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind and well informing reply. Of course having been the recipient of many answered prayers from God, because of the prayer’s of the saints, I cannot agree with “all” that you said. In saying that, I cannot do anything but believe that it is “possible” for the saints to help us.

    You know the main thing I think for all of us is to believe “all things are possible with God.” In believing this, then we can believe He hears each and every prayer. He stands ready to help us in whatever way He chooses, to get that prayer answered. (Of course if it is according to His will) In that we should all receive great comfort. Again thank you and God Bless, SR

  3. Thanks for reading and for the respectful response. Allow me to respectfully respond. As I said in the paper, the saints are alive, and do pray and praise God in heaven, but that does not lead to the conclusion that they are able hear our prayers. The basic problem here is that is inconsistent with the catholic doctrine of the creator creature distinction. The basic contention of which is that humans do not share in the Divine essence, and that means the attributes. One of the attributes of God is omniscience. At best the confusion of the creator with the creature in the mingling of the attributes with humanity is a rehashing of the Nestorian heresy, at worst it divinizes the human being and becomes utterly Platonic, not Christian.
    The question that needs to be answered is not: can they help us? Rather it is: is it possible? The answer for humans is that we have sensory perception. If humans are bound by space and time then there is an impossibility that they can hear our prayers. With what organ would they do so? I don’t grant that because the NT states that we will be as the angels that that refers to the entirety of our being, but rather to the need to procreate, the context bears that out. Further, I’d argue that because angels are creatures locally and temporally conditioned, then prayer to them is also impossible if they are in heaven (not to mention that I also assume this would be idolatrous, but that is another matter). So, even if we grant that humans became like angels in all of their attributes, to pray to them would still be impossible without them being omniscient or omnipresent. Again, they are creatures, and this is subject to the argument above. There are many other specifics I could point out, but this gives me cognitive rest.
    That was not the point of my article though. The purpose was to show the difference between the two traditions, and how they result in different spiritualities.
    As for the second half of your response, then, regarding the new covenant and Christ’s insufficiency as mediator. I would point to Anselm and Augustine as examples first of examples of those who did not trust in other mediators, and saw Jesus as the only mediator, because we brought nothing which we did not receive. For example,
    Augustine – Nicene Fathers and Post Nicene Fathers Vol 8. p. 322
    “18. With reason there followeth, “I will enter into the power of the Lord:” not mine own, but the Lord’s. For they gloried in their own power of the letter, therefore grace joined to the letter they knew not.…But because “the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive:”3 “I have not known literature, and I will enter into the power of the Lord.” Therefore this verse following doth strengthen and perfect the sense, so as to fix it in the hearts of men, and not suffer any other interpretation to steal in from any quarter. “O Lord, I will be mindful of Thy righteousness alone” (ver. 16). Ah! “alone.” Why hath he added “alone,” I ask you? It would suffice to say, “I will be mindful of Thy righteousness.” “alone,” he saith, entirely: there of mine own I think not. “For what hast thou which thou hast not received? But if also thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou hast not received.”4 Thy righteousness alone doth deliver me, what is mine own alone is nought but sins. May I not glory then of my own strength, may I not remain in the letter; may I reject “literature,” that is, men glorying of the letter, and on their own strength perversely, like men frantic, relying: may I reject such men, may I enter into the power of the Lord, so that when I am weak, then I may be mighty; in order that Thou in me mayest be mighty, for, “I will be mindful of Thy righteousness alone.””
    Here is from Chrysostom,
    What does this mean? That he has justified our race not by right actions, not by toils, not by barter and exchange, but by grace alone. Paul, too, made this clear when he said: “But now the justice of God has been made manifest apart from the Law.” But the justice of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ and not through any labor and suffering. (Discourses Against Judaising Christians, Discourse VII:2)

  4. I read your post and I would “respectively” like to clear up some things. I am a Catholic. It is true, “Catholics do pray to the Saints and ask for their prayers.” Now we must ask ourselves, “Do their prayers help us?”
    First off: We must remember they are not dead. They are alive in heaven and are closer to God then any of us are.

    The author of Hebrews wrote “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Heb. 12:1 The “cloud of witnesses in Greek nephos marturon is a great amphitheater with an arena for the runners (us on earth) and many tiers of seats occupied by the saints in heaven, which rise up like a cloud. These martyrs are not merely spectators but they also cheer us on in our race to heaven. The Saints are concerned for our welfare. Paul says, we become spectacles, not only to men, but to angels as well. 1Cor. 4:9

    We also see where Moses and Elijah came down from heaven and spoke with Jesus. They did this in the presence of Peter, James, and John. This to me shows and is verified proof, those in heaven are concerned about us.

    Jesus says, that He could ask for the assistance from angels so one would think if He could we can also. Jesus also says, we will be like angels when we get to heaven. If the angels can assist people on earth, and the saints are like angels, then they can too.

    We also see an angel from heaven comforting Jesus in the Garden and they ministered to Jesus after His temptation in the desert.

    In Rev. 1:4 God sends forth His angels to assist us, who participate in God’s work by giving us grace and peace.

    When Jesus died on the Cross, many saints were raised from their grave and went into the city to appear and interact with the people, just as Jesus did after His Resurrection.

    Are not the prayers of the saints offered to God as golden bowls of incense?

    So, if we are going to be “like angels in heaven,” and the angels in the Bible assisted and appeared to others on earth, even to Christ Himself, would it not stand to reason, those who have died and are with God now, will not do the same thing?

    Yes, on earth the saints were no different from us. They are no longer on earth, and are in a glorified state in heaven. We see with Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man those in heaven not only see what is down below, but they also communicate.

    Did not Lot venerate “two angels.” Did not Daniel fall prostrate to venerate Gabriel? Did not angels come to Abraham? Again, if the saints are “going to be like angels in heaven” it stands to reason, the saints will do the same.

    Christ does help us. Christ has done all He can do to help us. But we need to look very carefully at Scripture and see what it actually says. Christ is the one mediator between God and man. But…Christ mediates the New Covenant to God, per Scripture. It also says, “Christ died for all “past” sins, not past, present and future, because we have a part to play in our present sins, which is repentance, and the future we have not committed yet.

    If Christ is our only help, then why are we commanded by Him and Paul to “pray for one another?” Does not Scripture show us from the OT on to the NT, to Revelations, intercessory prayers are not only needed from others, but we are more or less commanded to pray for one another? God answered a lot of intercessory prayers. So if Christ is our “only help” then why does He tell us to “pray for one another?” If Christ is our “only help” then why ask someone else to pray for you? You and Jesus should be able to work it out alone, or anyone for that matter.

    As far as OT saints, I ask David and Moses for prayers all the time, and so do many Catholics. God Bless, SR

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