Do the Saints Pray for Us? A Response to Perry Sukstorf and Marcia Fleischman

Feb 15th, 2014 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Last week (February 14, 2014), the McClatchy-Tribune News Service published a syndicated column (Voices of Faith) that was critical of Catholics and their devotion to the saints. I first discovered it in my own local Birmingham News. The piece was written by Rev. Perry Sukstorf and Rev. Marcia Fleischman. The newspaper included no Catholic rebuttal. As a convert to Catholicism, I thought the article really missed the point of devotion to the saints. I would now like to explain why.

Revelation

The authors make two substantive claims. First, Sukstorf and Fleischman argue that Catholic practice obscures the meaning of salvation. Sukstorf states that Catholic belief is “no longer about one’s faith in Christ, but about outward works.” Fleischman contends, “We are all saints. No one is supposed to be elevated over any other.” These writers assume the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone.  They think Catholics lay too much stress on the moral life. But sainthood, they claim, is not about living an exemplary life; it’s about faith in Christ.

Second, these writers assert that prayer to the saints is unnecessary. “Each person can present all concerns . . . to God directly, Fleischman writes, “no priest or saint [is] needed.” She complains, “people . . . worship another person’s mystical experience instead of developing their own.”

Let’s begin with the first claim. Is it true that we are accepted by God on the basis of faith alone? That the quality of our moral lives has no bearing on our acceptance with God? Is it true that God makes no distinctions based on our works? That we are all equal? The Bible says otherwise.

Jesus himself distinguishes (on the basis of works) those “least in the kingdom of heaven” from those “greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:19) Similarly, Christ promised heaven to those who give alms and hell to those who are uncharitable. (Matthew 25:41-43) St. Paul also teaches judgment according to works: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” (Romans 2:13) And finally St. James: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24)

Rev. Sukstorf argues that Catholics confuse faith and works, but this is not true. For the Catholic, faith in Christ is not opposed to the moral life. Faith opens the door to the moral life. Through faith, God’s love is “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:5) Saving faith is a faith that works through love. (Galatians 5:6) Sukstorf argues that Catholic practice is “no longer about one’s faith in Christ, but about outward works.” From the Catholic point of view, this is simply a false dichotomy.

When Catholics say that some believers are set apart as moral examples, that some Christians should be recognize for the quality of their lives, we are confessing the teaching of Christ and Scripture. But there is more. Not only does God distinguish between “the greatest and the least;” St. James says that he listens to the prayers of the righteous more than to the prayers of the wicked. “The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 4:3; James 5:16). This is why Catholics actively seek out the prayers and intercession of the saints. Their prayers “availeth much.” This is why the prayers of the saints are necessary.

Sukstorf and Fleischman accuse us of confusing the meaning of salvation. The truth, however, is that Catholic belief and practice is grounded in a very biblical understanding of salvation. In the Bible (especially in the book of Ephesians) we learn that God wants to do more than save individuals. He wants to create a new human community, a family of God. We call this family the Church. This community is not like a normal human society. It is a supernatural community that transcends time and space. It encompasses everyone who is joined to Christ through faith – those on earth as well as those in heaven. It is a communion of love. In it, we support one another especially through prayer. As St. James says, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another.” (James 5:16)

We find a beautiful picture of this community in the Book of Revelation. The biblical writer depicts angels and saints in heaven, “elders” who have already passed through death. These saints are praying and worshipping God and offering up the prayers of those still on earth. (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3) It is a picture of the next life we also find reflected in Jewish literature from before the time of Christ. (2 Maccabees 15:12-16; Tobit 12:12-15)

This biblical picture of the Church explains why the earliest Christians found no difficulty asking for the prayers of the saints. This wasn’t a distraction from Christ. It was proof that the faithful on earth and the faithful in Heaven are still joined through Christ in holy friendship. Nor was devotion to the saints something that medieval Catholics made up. Even Protestant historians like Joachim Jeremias and secular historians like Peter Brown recognize that the practice is of Jewish origins. It reflects a thoroughly Hebraic, biblical, and communal picture of salvation. (Passages like 2 Kings 13:20-21 show how old these attitudes are.)

Peter Brown also notes that pagans in Rome were perplexed by Christian devotion to the saints and their relics. Early Christians worshipped in cemeteries, catacombs, and among the dead. This was something pagans did not do. But the pagans failed to grasp why Christians did this. The earliest Christians believed in resurrection: the dead in Christ will rise again. Devotion to the saints and their relics witnessed to this faith. For Catholic Christians, death does not have the last word.

Again, devotion to the saints is not something that appeared in the middle ages. It’s been part of Christianity from the beginning. Nor is it simply a Roman Catholic practice. Wherever you look in the ancient Christian world – Latin, Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Malabar (Indian), Assyrian (Persian), Catholic or Orthodox – we find devotion to the saints. Consistent opposition to the practice arose only in the Protestant Reformation – some 1500 years after the resurrection of Christ.

Some non-Catholics wonder, “Why bother praying to saints? Why not just pray directly to God?” This objection simply doesn’t do justice to Catholic belief and practice. Of course Catholics pray directly to God! But biblical religion is a corporate affair. We pray directly to God, but we also pray and suffer for one another. St. Paul says we are Christ’s co-laborers. (2 Corinthians 6:1) He could even say, “I fill up in my own flesh whatever is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24)

The Bible says the church is “a mystery.” (Ephesians 5:32) One great mystery is why God would use men to accomplishes his purposes. God can give grace and forgiveness to each one directly, of course, but he also chooses to use human instruments. Christ told his apostles, “Whoever sins you forgive are forgiven.” (John 20:23). “What you bind on earth is bound in heaven.” (Matt. 18:18). God struck down St. Paul, but then sent him to Ananias to be baptized. (Acts 9:11-19)

One reason for this great mystery is that Christ wants to identify with us in the work of salvation. He identifies with us so closely that whatever you do to Christians, you do to Christ. When Saul was persecuting the infant Church, Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) The early church father St. Gregory of Nyssa once said, “He who beholds the church really beholds Christ.” This captures the logic of Christian devotion to the saints. We do not worship the saints. We venerate Christ in his members.

If you are a non-Catholic Christian, we commend you for praying to God. By all means keep on praying! But Catholics are not wrong to love our brothers and sisters in heaven, or for also believing that they love and pray for us. Catholics and non-Catholics alike ask Christian friends to pray for them.  How much more our Christian friends in heaven! Scripture says they do, and so does the unbroken practice of Christian faith down through the centuries.

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  1. “We do not worship the saints. We venerate Christ in his members.” Thank you for writing this. I’ve found it very helpful.

  2. My latest Roman Catholic real life experience for this Protestant was praying to the dead during a Roman Catholic wedding last September. I can say I was sufficiently spooked by it.

    I hear there’s more of that kind in an RC funeral.

    Granted, at age 31, I’ve still never been to mass. Despite never really having stopped going to worship service every Sunday.

    All about me. Peace.

  3. God is immeasurably greater than any human being. So if I can pray to God or pray to a human, why would I ever choose the latter? It would be like praying to Lois Lane when I could be addressing Superman instead!

  4. I am a non catholic pastor. On a journey of truth. God has led me to listen and learn of His Church. I began praying to the saints fall of 2013 and I can tell you praying for their intercession has not separated me from Christ or minimalized Christ in my praying or worship. On the contrary, it has drawn me into a closer communion with Christ.

  5. Irish Protestant,

    Because God desires that Lois Lane have the opportunity to participate in reconciling all things to Himself; just as He wishes you also to have that opportunity. Such opportunity enables His children to be sources of good for others in imitation of the Father, to establish unique networks of spiritual friendship, and so to advance in dignity. Of course, God could do everything by Himself (and more efficiently to boot); but precisely because He is a Father, He enlists the participation of His children. Salvation is a communal affair.

    -Pax

  6. Is there any 2nd/3rd century evidence of Christians praying to Mary and the saints? I’ve heard the claim that these practices did not become widespread until after Nicea.

    Peace,
    John D.

  7. JohnD (re: #6),

    I believe that the earliest Marian prayer of which we have external record is the “Sub Tuum Praesidium” prayer recorded in the third century on Egyptian papyrus:

    Under your mercy we take refuge, O Mother of God. Do not reject our supplications in necessity, but deliver us from danger, [O you] alone pure and alone blessed.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  8. JohnD,

    http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-intercession-of-the-saints

  9. Concerning the prayer Bryan has referenced (re: #7), with the minimal surviving documentation we have from the early centuries of the church, it is safe to assume that the surviving artifacts were not ground breaking occurances. Rather, it is safe to assume that the practice that they evidence had been going on in some established manner for some reasonable amount of time. Squeeze that amount of time, or expand it as you feel inclined, but the sentiment expressed on that scrap of papyrus was not rejected by the church. Rather,the surviving usage shows that the church accepted the practice,

  10. Bret, Bryan, and George,

    Thanks for the quick replies. It does seem like the evidence of explicit “prayer to saints” pre-Nicea is sparse (though not nonexistent). Nonetheless, the principles behind “prayer to saints” can certainly be argued from Scripture and Tradition pre-Nicea as Dr. Anders does in the original article.

    Peace,
    John D.

  11. “Because God desires that Lois Lane have the opportunity to participate in reconciling all things to Himself; just as He wishes you also to have that opportunity. Such opportunity enables His children to be sources of good for others in imitation of the Father, to establish unique networks of spiritual friendship, and so to advance in dignity. Of course, God could do everything by Himself (and more efficiently to boot); but precisely because He is a Father, He enlists the participation of His children. Salvation is a communal affair.”

    I think there’s a confusion here between God choosing to work through his holy church, i.e. through his saints, both triumphant and militant (so to speak), and the separate issue of to whom should we pray.

  12. David,

    Thank you for replying to this column, brother. I was born and raised in Alabama, and I know well the anti-Catholicism that still exists in the heavily Protestant evangelical deep South. Sadly, I’m not too terribly surprised that this column was published, without a Catholic rebuttal, in a “deep Southern” newspaper. Progress is definitely being made, between serious Catholics and serious Protestants in the South, but many anti-Catholic myths still persist there.

    With all of the above said though– perhaps I’m naive, but honestly, I am *astonished* to find that, in America in 2014, a faith-oriented piece could be published, written by Protestant ministers, for *broad syndication* in American newspapers, that contains such serious ignorance of, and misinformation about, Catholic belief and practice. Thank you for responding with accurate information, and in charity, to the numerous problematic statements, and the ominous “hints” in the column, about what we, as Catholics, supposedly believe and do regarding the Saints.

    For any and all Protestants reading here, I’m a Catholic, and I certainly don’t “worship” the Saints. Nor does any fellow Catholic whom I know, whether in the U.S. and/or internationally. We pray to God directly, *and* we ask the Saints in Heaven to pray for us, because they are *alive* with God in eternity– more fully alive than they ever were while in this life, and more fully alive than any of us here at this very moment! I don’t *have* to ask them to pray for me– but given that I *can*, why would I *not*?

  13. I have heard the analogy made that, just as we ask fellow believers to pray for us, so to we can ask the departed saints to pray for us. However, when I ask my fellow believer to pray for me, he is present with me and can hear me, or is a recipient of written correspondence containing my request. How do dead saints hear our requests for prayer? They certainly are not omniscient as God is. They are not present in the room with us when we make our request (and if some would suggest they are, then I shudder to think what else they are observing!). Therefore, how do they receive our requests for prayer?

  14. SeanC (re: #13),

    How do dead saints hear our requests for prayer? They certainly are not omniscient as God is.

    Omniscience is not required.

    They are not present in the room with us when we make our request (and if some would suggest they are, then I shudder to think what else they are observing!). Therefore, how do they receive our requests for prayer?

    All that is needed is some means by which saints, who are dead to us but alive in Christ, can come to knowledge of prayer requests from those still living (the Church militant). Surely, a the almighty God is capable of providing such a means. We can have faith that He does so even if we can’t explain the mechanics of how it works.

    Peace,
    John D.

  15. SeanC (re: #13)

    How do dead saints hear our requests for prayer? They certainly are not omniscient as God is. They are not present in the room with us when we make our request (and if some would suggest they are, then I shudder to think what else they are observing!). Therefore, how do they receive our requests for prayer?

    I have addressed that question in comment #7 in the “A Catholic Reflection on the Meaning of Suffering” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  16. David A and Bryan C,
    I have always been inspired by the articles and discussions on this website. I also read the article and your response. Hope you don’t mind, but I thought it would be helpful for the pastor to have a look at your response so I forwarded him the e-mail from C2C. I’m happy to say he responded. His response did give a bit more of his perspective, but also, requires a proper response from the numerous “Authority” and “Scripture” blog articles you all have written in the past. Here it is:

    My original email (C2C forwarded article info not included here):
    Subject: Fw: Called to Communion
    Thought you might find this informative and will help with what may be some misunderstandings (re: your McClatchy-Tribune News article).
    Peace,
    Joe

    His reply:
    Thanks for you note. I was not aware that others were reacting to the article in this way or that it was being so widely distributed. Very exciting! Where are you writing from, if I may ask?

    The amazing thing is that when you are assigned to write a 250 word essay for the Saturday religion page it’s very difficult to say anything, let alone explain yourself fully. I stretched my portion to 350 words and they accepted it, but it was still woefully inadequate length to have a meaningful discussion. So, I simply tried to hold up what I thought was the most valuable component of the Communion of Saints as it is held among our tradition.

    Which leads us to the other difference between Lutherans and Catholics. The writer of the blog used scripture within the context of church tradition whereas the reformers decided that church tradition did not hold the same authority as scripture, therefore scripture must interpret itself. Hence, our different readings of the same text.

    I’m glad my writing was able to inspire discussion of this topic. I just hope it spurs people to Christ and does not serve up people to the devil by way of a counterproductive argument on lesser doctrines of the Church.

    Peace today,

    Pastor Sukstorf

  17. Andrew Buckingham –

    My latest Roman Catholic real life experience for this Protestant was praying to the dead during a Roman Catholic wedding last September. I can say I was sufficiently spooked by it. I hear there’s more of that kind in an RC funeral.

    Yes, its easy to be spooked by things we are not familiar with. I went to a the funeral of a friend’s mother once at their evangelical Church, and I was sufficiently spooked by everyone standing up with their hands in the air and their eyes closed singing praise and worship music. The reason I was spooked was that it didn’t conform to what I perceive to be “normal” worship. So certainly one’s own experience of being spooked does not automatically negate whether or not worship is valid. The question is not whether or not you were spooked. The questions “Should you have been spooked?”

    Of course, my answer is no, you shouldn’t have. If you were in communion with the Church Jesus established and prayed like God intended for you to pray, you would not have been spooked at all. Praying to Saints has been an ordinary experience of Christians since the beginning. The early Christians venerated the relics of martyrs, and as Bryan established, prayers to the Virgin Mary were written down very early (they likely existed orally prior to being written down). In fact, not praying to saints seems as more of an innovation than praying to Saints. You were spooked because it doesn’t conform to your perception of your style of worship and prayer. For you, anything outside of your own experience is innovative. However, you should question whether or not it is your style of worship and prayer that is innovative.

    (Of course, Catholics should do that as well and most of us have only to discover that, aside from language, we would feel quite at home with the way the early Church worshiped and prayed because we are actually in communion with the earliest of Christians. We do not simply try to mimic the early Church. We are the same Church!)

  18. Fr. Bryan O,

    Thank you for your response.

    There’s a lot I want to say in response. But for now, I’ll just say this.

    When I was interviewed by my session to become a member of the OPC, they asked me about “who I am.” The elders made me think and squirm a little. They said, “how does St. Paul address the members of the churches, again, again, and again?”

    I sat there, flummoxxed.

    The elder told me then, and I believe now, that I am a saint.

    Can you believe you are actually comboxing with one of the same?

    Again, there’s much to say.

    I await your response. If I’m not clear, I’ll clear my intention and point here, up. This is a good place to have this discussion.

    It was still spooky. Granted, your being spooked in the eeeeevangelical setting is justifiable.

    I am not an evangelical, proper. I’m a confessional reformed protestant.

    Peace,
    Andrew

  19. Greetings Andrew,

    Thank you so much for commenting. However, I am not entirely sure what point you are making about the intercession of the saints.
    Are you suggesting that because you are a saint (that is, a holy one set apart by God, consecrated to him, and part of Christ’s body through faith) that the Saints in heaven do not pray for us? If I am reading you correctly, I am not sure how that conclusion follows.

    Often, I think, there is a simple equivocation involved in Catholic/Protestant discussion of the saints.
    “Saints” as those consecrated to God in this life through faith; “Saints” as those who have completed their journey and are now in heaven.

    If you presume the Protestant doctrine of perseverance, then I can see why there might seem to be much less distinction between the two groups. Protestants might object to singling out the second class for the quality of their moral lives. But even then, I don’t see how this affects the claim that those saints in heaven pray for us.

    Thanks again,

    David

  20. Andrew B (re: #18)

    In addition to what David just pointed out in #19, I would also direct you to my comment to Darryl (on OLTS) back in July of 2012, regarding equivocation on the term ‘saint.’

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  21. David,

    What would you have me, a saint, do, as regards your communion, the Roman Catholic Church?
    Peace,
    Andrew

  22. JohnD (re: #6)

    It is important to consider also the evidence from The Martyrdom of Polycarp (cap. 17-18):

    ‘[...] it is neither possible for us ever to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the whole world (the blameless one for sinners ), nor to worship any other. For Him indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore; but the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the Lord, we worthily love on account of their extraordinary affection towards their own King and Master, of whom may we also be made companions and fellow disciples!

    The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed the body in the midst of the fire, and consumed it. Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.’

  23. Hi Andrew,

    As it pertains to this article, I would hope you would make an effort to understand thoroughly the Catholic doctrine on the communion of saints, to appreciate why someone like me – a former PCA Protestant – might come to embrace it.

    More generally, I hope that you and I might one day partake of the same Eucharist, to share more explicitly in the same communion of saints.

    More modestly, I hope we can be friendly and charitable towards one another, have interesting discussions, and grow in our knowledge and appreciation of each others’ traditions.

    -David

  24. As a lifelong Evangelical Protestant confirmed into the Church on Valentine’s Day, my reservations about Saints dissolved upon realizing the following:

    (1) Christ’s followers are baptized into one body, becoming members of His body, branches of His vine. (1 Cor. 12:13)

    (2) When Christians become one body in Christ, they also individually become members of one another. (Rom. 12:5) If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:26)

    (3) Christ’s members should pray and intercede for one another. (1 Tim. 2:1) The prayers of a righteous member are especially effective. (James 5:16)

    (4) Death doesn’t win. (1 Tim. 1:10) Christ’s body isn’t fragmented and disjointed, it remains one even when members depart from earth.

    With this in place, the Scriptural and historic evidence for intercession of Saints made more sense, and my reservations slowly began to thaw. By all means, retain a healthy opposition against the idolatry that would occur if one’s focus on an interceding member (earthly OR Saintly) begins to ecclipse Christ!

    In my experience, most theological issues are illuminated by finding their place in the anatomy of Christ’s body. To understand soteriology, make a flow-chart of Christ’s statements in John 15:1-13 regarding the branches of Christ’s vine (easily understood also as members of His body). To understand the Eucharist, tie a rubber band around your finger, wait five minutes, and compare Christ’s words in John 6:53 (that members that reject blood have no life in them), recalling what you read in John 15 (members/branches must constantly remain connected to the nutrient-sending vine).

  25. David:

    You wrote:

    More modestly, I hope we can be friendly and charitable towards one another, have interesting discussions, and grow in our knowledge and appreciation of each others’ traditions.

    Thank you for your reply.

    Despite the many differences that I percieve still exist between your traidition and mine, you can know that I stand fully united with you on the statement I have just cited. I want to thank you for taking the time to write this blog where I can comment on it, and for yours and all the catholics who interacted with me here and over the last couple years.

    May we dwell on Psalm 133 in sincerity, and may we consider the current state of the Christian Religion, and may God grant us the ability to work with those with whom, while we hold to different beliefs for this reason or that, may yet still be children of the same One who is the sustainer of all things.

    Take care.

  26. The Church’s teaching regarding intercession of Saints does not threaten Christ’s role as the one mediator between God and man.

    I was always particularly struck with the beauty of the Penitential Rite during Mass:

    I confess to almighty God,
    and to you, my brothers and sisters,
    that I have greatly sinned
    in my thoughts and in my words,
    in what I have done,
    and in what I have failed to do;
    through my fault
    through my fault
    through my most grievous fault . . .

    My Protestant mind always started to balk when the Penitential Rite continued . . .

    Therefore, I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
    all the angels and saints,

    but then I realized a familiar concept . . .

    and you, my brothers and sisters,

    After hearing the Penitential Rite enough times that my mind didn’t shut down at the mention of Mary and the Saints, I could listen long enough to realize that both earthly and Saintly intercessors were not being asked to do anything of themselves, but rather,

    to pray for me to the Lord our God.

  27. I suggest getting a copy of Louis Marie de Montfort’s “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin” and thumbing through it. Consecration to Mary is all about Jesus. I have heard non-Catholics dismiss Alphonsus Ligouri’s “Glories of Mary” as too much for them to digest. They won’t be able to say the same for “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin” though.

  28. Sean asked…..

    “How do dead saints hear our requests for prayer? ”

    Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” Mark 12:24-27

    Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. – Matthew 17:3

  29. johnnysc,

    Thanks for reply no. 28. I don’t understand how it relates to my question, “How do dead saints hear our requests for prayer.” The Mark 12 passage refers to the resurrection of the dead, that when the dead rise, they will be like angels. Perhaps I’m missing the point.

    As for the Transfiguration in Matthew 17 passage, you have two dead saints physically appearing with Jesus have a conversation. I imagine if one of the departed saints appeared in my bedroom, I could ask him to pray for me. However, for billions of Christians, that is pretty rare I would suppose. I don’t think this answers my question, either.

  30. Sean….

    Jesus said….. that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.

    You don’t think God can allow such things?

    You keep saying ‘dead’ but again Jesus is telling you that God is not the God of the dead but of the living and he is referring to the patriarchs who have passed from this earth long before.

  31. Hi SeanC,

    Re: 29:

    My understanding of heaven is that once we are in complete union with God in the Beatific Vision, we will know all things “fully”, compared with now, when we know things only in part. Paul attests to this in 1 Corinthians 13:

    … as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

    In Hebrews chapter 11, Paul discusses the faithful dead – Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthat, David, Samuel, the prophets, and many more, who were commended for their faith, but who did not receive the fulfillment of perfection so that God could fulfill that promise in those who have faith in Christ. Then at the beginning of chapter 12, he describes these faithful dead as “witnesses” to us:

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

    Since the faithful dead “witness” us, that implies to me that they see us, witness our actions, and hear what we say, especially our prayers when we address them. But they don’t witness us by natural means through their bodies (which resting until the resurrection), but through supernatural means, through their union with God in the Beatific Vision.

    Hope this helps,
    Jonathan

  32. SeanC,
    Are you asking/saying that if you can understand the “mechanics” of how some soul in heaven can comprehend with that soul’s “mind” a request from a person who is part of time and space, that you will then believe *that* they can hear our prayers?
    If as Jesus says, they will be like angels, and angels can appear and disappear and comprehend language that Mary or Abraham or others are speaking, then I’m personally not concerned with the mechanics of how an angel can do that, but I’m happy that God is such a loving Father of a family that he utilizes all of the Body of Christ in His family to carry out His will.

  33. We keep being scolded to have faith that God *could* do this; but this fails to properly answer the questions we Protestants keep asking: 1) Where is the evidence (beyond specifically Catholic in-house assertions) that He actually *does* do so; 2) *Why* would He do so when part of the purpose of the Incarnation was to allow us to pray to Him through Christ His Son (not to or through saints); and 3) Why would *we* ever pray to mere mortals when we can pray directly to the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the universe, LORD of heaven and earth, and of everything (including the saints) therein?

    When would a time ever come when I would think, “OK, I’ve prayed to God for 1, 2, 3, 6, 12, 24 hours, now I’ll pray to one of the saints. Let’s see . . . there are several thousand . . . I’ll start with the ‘A’s . . . this could take a while . . .” Logically, there is simply *no* conceivable occasion when it would be preferable to pray to a saint rather than to God Almighty.

    Occam’s Razor comes into play here — something that Catholics should know about!

  34. […] – Shaun McAfee Why Mary’s Picture Hangs in Catholic Homes – Anabelle Hazard Do the Saints Pray for Us? – David Anders Two Examples of Private Revelation – Mark Shea ‘Judge Not’ […]

  35. Irish Protestant,

    You write: “Logically, there is simply *no* conceivable occasion when it would be preferable to pray to a saint rather than to God Almighty.”

    Let me ask you – Logically, is there any conceivable occasion when it would be preferable to ask your friend, neighbor, pastor, or spouse to pray for you, rather than simply praying by yourself, alone, to God Almighty?

    Furthermore, there are a of Christians in the world you can ask for prayers. Several billion. It might take a while to ask them all. Is that a reason not to ask one of them to pray for you?

    Finally, the evidence that God makes our prayers known to the Saints is both from Scripture and from Sacred Tradition. I’ve cited both in the article above. Nor are these merely “in-house Catholic assertions.” As I noted, devotion to the saints is not a uniquely Catholic practice. However, to reject that devotion seems to be a uniquely Protestant practice.

    Where is the evidence that we should reject a practice with universal sanction, apart from in house Protestant assertions?

    -David

  36. Re: 33

    Hi Irish Protestant,

    I agree with David – it doesn’t seem like you have addressed the evidence from scripture and Tradition that the saints in heaven both (1) pray to God, and (2) know and witness our lives and actions. In addition, you haven’t addressed the scriptural command that we who make up the Church should pray for each other (and ask each other to do so).

  37. Seems like these discussions always boil down to the authority issue.
    Jesus AKA God AKA Our Father is married to the Church, The Bride of Christ (capitalized because Jesus is not a polygamist). We are children of both, because when married the two become one flesh and Jesus did not leave us as orphans. God helps us understand this dynamic that transcends time and space, by creating an earthly family construct which we all live in, ideally that’s an earthly father and mother who love and care for our well being and we the children are to honor our father and mother. So when “Dad’s not home” the weight of Mother’s authority when speaking for Dad carry’s equal weight, AKA what mom binds on earth will be bound in heaven. You don’t obey your mother and I can say, being a father myself, that any good father is going to have some serious consequences for the child who doesn’t obey dad’s bride.
    Mom and Dad give us a full plate of Dad’s grace to eat for dinner because they know what’s good for us and we should all be wise to clean our plates, not be pickers and choosers and play like we are the one’s who make the rules of dinner. It will help us to be able to “run the race” along side Paul when we go outside to play the game of life.
    Peace to all my friends in Christ

  38. Hi Joe,

    If Catholics and Protestants want to discuss areas of disagreement, then they must almost always address authority. If we want to know what does or does not belong to the deposit of faith, how can we fail to address the sources of revelation? Catholics believe that Christ instituted both the Magisterium of the Church and sacred tradition. (We note that he nowhere endorsed the Protestant canon of scripture as our final authority.) Protestants, by contrast, believe that the Holy Spirit confirms the final authority of the biblical canon in the hearts of individual believers. The Catholic claims are objective and historical. The Protestant position is illuminist and subjectivist. These are two fundamentally different paradigms for understanding the transmission of the faith.

    -David

  39. Is it Catholic theology that a saint in heaven actually sees what is happening in a person’s life, or only somehow hears the prayers of people on earth? If the answer to the former question is “yes,” does that mean the saints are seeing me when I take a shower, kiss my wife, and kick the dog? I understand God sees all of that because he is omniscient.

    Related to this question, is it Catholic theology that deceased believers (such as one’s mother or uncle) can be prayed to, and do they have the same ability to see, hear, and perceive what a human being on earth is doing in his daily life that is not “prayer”?

  40. Jonathan,

    Re #31

    You said:

    “Since the faithful dead “witness” us, that implies to me that they see us, witness our actions, and hear what we say, especially our prayers when we address them. But they don’t witness us by natural means through their bodies (which resting until the resurrection), but through supernatural means, through their union with God in the Beatific Vision.”

    Agreed that IF the faithful departed/asleep/dead (choose your adjective) witnesses see us and hear us, it must be supernaturally done that is enabled by God. I get that Catholics believe that the saints “hear” requests to the saints offered in prayer. Do Catholics really believe that the departed witnesses are actually watching what we do even when we are not “invoking” them to intercede or pray for us?

  41. Joe B,

    Re: #32

    I don’t think you can press the analogy of deceased/departed believers in heaven to angels farther than Jesus said. Your logic seems to lead to a result that probably isn’t what you intend, but please clarify. What I hear you saying is that since angels can appear and disappear and speak directly with people, and that since departed souls are “like angels” according to Jesus, then people can speak directly to souls in heaven. However, your argument would lead to the conclusion that the departed souls in heaven can appear and disappear and speak directly with people, as well. Is that what you think or intended to communicate?

  42. Jesus Christ and His Church, the Catholic Church, are One and the Same. In order for protestants to get where they are at they have to separate Jesus from His Church. We all know the result of that…..some have women ordination, some accept homosexual marriage, some even accept abortion ( never mind the many interpretations of God’s Word).

  43. “Let me ask you – Logically, is there any conceivable occasion when it would be preferable to ask your friend, neighbour, pastor, or spouse to pray for you, rather than simply praying by yourself, alone, to God Almighty?”

    This is confusing prayer *with* others, with prayer *to* others. There’s certainly scriptural warrant for the former; none whatsoever (aside from Catholic in-house assertions) for the latter.

  44. “Is it Catholic theology that a saint in heaven actually sees what is happening in a person’s life, or only somehow hears the prayers of people on earth? If the answer to the former question is “yes,” does that mean the saints are seeing me when I take a shower, kiss my wife, and kick the dog? I understand God sees all of that because he is omniscient.”

    This highlights some of the problems with this Catholic pray-to-the-saints idea. If the saints in heaven know our needs and desires — presumably by seeing into our souls — then they are on par with God Almighty Himself. If they can’t, and need things recited and explained to them (“You see, Mary, my cat Tiddles died last month and I’m still getting over it, so will you please pray for me?”), then why would I ever choose to pray to a saint when I can pray to God who knows me better than I know myself, and can actually do something about it (rather than just shunt the request on to the “higher ups, so to speak).

    As I said, it makes no logical sense whatsoever.

  45. There was a time in the Catholic Church when Popes were said to be chaste if they limited their sexual liaisons to women.

    Please…don’t compare the goofy actions of sinners to who is REALLY a Christian…or not.

    Christ knows who the believers are and who the unbelievers are. And they can be found in ALL manner of churches where His Word is present in some way.

  46. Hello Irish Protestant,

    You write:

    This is confusing prayer *with* others, with prayer *to* others.

    I am puzzled by this. You seem to believe that there is a real distinction between asking my friend on earth to pray for me and asking my friend in heaven to pray for me. You have said several times that the latter is useless, but not the former.

    I don’t see that the “with/to” distinction you assert corresponds to anything real in Catholic dogma, theology, or practice. But perhaps you intend something I don’t quite grasp.

    Could you please spell out for me what you take to be the conceptual difference between asking my neighbor to pray for me and asking a saint to pray for me? Simply changing prepositions doesn’t elucidate this. Please give me a definition, if you might, so that we have something substantive to discuss.

    Thanks so much,

    David

  47. Steve Martin,

    I wonder if you would mind providing some documentation for your claim that Popes were considered chaste if they limited their liaisons to women. Clearly, Gregory VII – who taught a great deal about clerical chastity – certainly never held this view.

    Consider, also, canon 3 of the 1st Lateran Council (1123):

    “We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, and subdeacons to associate with concubines and women, or to live with women other than such as the Nicene Council (canon 3) for reasons of necessity permitted, namely, the mother, sister, or aunt, or any such person concerning whom no suspicion could arise.”

    I’m having a hard time seeing how this implies the liceity of clerical (and papal) concubinage.

    -David

  48. Steve,

    I freely admit that clerics (including Popes) have violated these canons. There are still dissenters today who flaunt the canons. But that does not mean that the church ever taught that clerical concubinage was lawful.

  49. Steve…..you wrote

    “Please…don’t compare the goofy actions of sinners to who is REALLY a Christian…or not.
    Christ knows who the believers are and who the unbelievers are. And they can be found in ALL manner of churches where His Word is present in some way.”

    I was not talking about individual protestants. Of course we are all sinners. I am referring to the various denominations and what they hold to. Yes there are all manner of churches and but Jesus founded a Church and instituted the Sacraments. That Church is the Catholic Church

  50. IP you wrote…….

    This is confusing prayer *with* others, with prayer *to* others. There’s certainly scriptural warrant for the former; none whatsoever (aside from Catholic in-house assertions) for the latter.

    Perhaps understanding that ‘to pray’ means to ask. So whether it is a friend or the saints in Heaven you are essentially praying to them. Maybe someone can chime in here but I’m understanding it as intercessorary prayer.

  51. Re: #40

    Hi SeanC,

    Do Catholics really believe that the departed witnesses are actually watching what we do even when we are not “invoking” them to intercede or pray for us?

    In Hebrews 12:1, St. Paul indicates we should “lay aside sin” and “persevere in running the race”, because of the cloud of witnesses which surrounds us. Therefore, it seems it is not necessary to “invoke” the saints in order for them to witness our actions. Rather, it is because they witness our actions that they can respond to our requests (but only if what we request is in accordance with God’s will).

    Again, my take on Corinthians 13 is that the saints in heaven share in the full knowledge of God, and that knowledge includes knowledge of the actions of those who are still here.

  52. [If there was a 'Reply' option to individual comments on this blog, replying to specific comments would be considerably easier.]

    “I am puzzled by this. You seem to believe that there is a real distinction between asking my friend on earth to pray for me and asking my friend in heaven to pray for me. You have said several times that the latter is useless, but not the former. I don’t see that the “with/to” distinction you assert corresponds to anything real in Catholic dogma, theology, or practice. But perhaps you intend something I don’t quite grasp. Could you please spell out for me what you take to be the conceptual difference between asking my neighbor to pray for me and asking a saint to pray for me? Simply changing prepositions doesn’t elucidate this.”

    I don’t recall ever using the word “useless.” Can you quote where I wrote that?

    I have said a couple of times that praying TO the saints in heaven makes no logical sense, when one can pray directly to God instead. Sure, Christians can pray with each other, in fact we are told to. But when it comes to whom we should pray TO, it’s clear that we are to pray to God and not to any part of the Creation.

  53. IP,

    I am sorry if I misrepresented you. I thought you considered prayer to the saints to be “useless,” since one can pray directly to God instead.
    In your most recent comment, you distinguish praying “with” fellow Christians from praying “to” the saints. I want to make sure we are not having a merely semantic dispute.
    In my mind “praying to” the saints is exactly the same as “asking the saints to pray with me.” It is no different from asking my pastor or friend at church to pray with me for the same intention.

    Do you ask your friends and relatives to pray for certain things? Do you think this is appropriate? Perhaps you don’t. If I understand your objection to Catholic devotion, it would seem that “it would make no logical sense” to ask my friend to pray for me “when I can pray directly to God instead.” But if you do ask your friends and neighbors for prayer, how is this different from asking anyone for prayer? Is it the medium you object to? Or is it the fact of petition?

    There may be a clue in your statement: “it’s clear that we are to pray to God and not to any part of the Creation.”

    To make sense of this, I’d have to know what you mean by “pray.” Webster gives this as one definition of “pray,” “to seriously ask (someone) to do something.”

    This is what Catholics mean when they “pray” to the saints. It is just the same as the archaic, ‘I pray thee,” Or, “Prithee.”

    But perhaps, in your mind, “to pray” means “to worship with the honor due to God alone.” If that is your concern, then rest assured I agree with your criticism. One should never worship anything other than God with the honor due to God alone. However, that is not what Catholics do when they invoke the saints. Any more than I am adoring my friend on earth with divine honors if I ask him to pray for me.

    -David

  54. “I thought you considered prayer to the saints to be “useless,” since one can pray directly to God instead.”

    No, I’ve been saying it’s pointless rather than useless. And I’ve given some reasons why that surely has to be the case.

    “you distinguish praying “with” fellow Christians from praying “to” the saints. I want to make sure we are not having a merely semantic dispute. In my mind “praying to” the saints is exactly the same as “asking the saints to pray with me.” It is no different from asking my pastor or friend at church to pray with me for the same intention. Do you ask your friends and relatives to pray for certain things? Do you think this is appropriate? Perhaps you don’t. If I understand your objection to Catholic devotion, it would seem that “it would make no logical sense” to ask my friend to pray for me “when I can pray directly to God instead.” But if you do ask your friends and neighbors for prayer, how is this different from asking anyone for prayer? Is it the medium you object to? Or is it the fact of petition?”

    But asking a fellow Christian to pray for me is manifestly not the same as petitioning a saint in heaven to do so. Repeatedly claiming that it’s no different doesn’t make it so. In order to ask the saint in heaven to pray for me I first have to pray to him or her! And, for all the reasons I’ve already given, when I pray to a heavenly being I prefer that being to be God Almighty, Creator of all the saints. What could that saint do except shunt the prayer along to the “higher ups” anyway? Thus praying to a saint would make no logical sense.

    “There may be a clue in your statement: “it’s clear that we are to pray to God and not to any part of the Creation.” To make sense of this, I’d have to know what you mean by “pray.” Webster gives this as one definition of “pray,” “to seriously ask (someone) to do something.” This is what Catholics mean when they “pray” to the saints. It is just the same as the archaic, ‘I pray thee,” Or, “Prithee.” But perhaps, in your mind, “to pray” means “to worship with the honor due to God alone.” If that is your concern, then rest assured I agree with your criticism. One should never worship anything other than God with the honor due to God alone. However, that is not what Catholics do when they invoke the saints. Any more than I am adoring my friend on earth with divine honors if I ask him to pray for me.”

    In other words, you’re using the same word in two different ways, meaning one thing when you ‘pray’ to a saint and quite another when you pray to the saint’s God. Catholics need to make this abundantly clear when they make their praying-to-saints claims i.e. specify that they are giving the word ‘pray’ an entirely different meaning when they apply it to saints in heaven, than the normal meaning that all Christians understand when applying it to praying to God. But I haven’t noticed Catholics doing this, and even if you did it would still be needlessly confusing and obscure. It would be better to drop the word ‘pray’ altogether when applying it to addressing saints in heaven.

  55. Hello IP,

    I confess to being a bit confused by a few of your recent comments.

    For instance, what, precisely, is the difference between pointless and useless? I’m not sure I see the distinction.

    I’m also confused by this: “But asking a fellow Christian to pray for me is manifestly not the same as petitioning a saint in heaven to do so.”

    Your explanation is that we “pray” to saints, but “ask” fellow Christians for prayer. How, exactly, do you distinguish between “praying” and “asking.”

    My contention, again, is that these terms are synonyms. The history of English and Romance usage reflects this, as does Catholic theology.

    Consider the French, “Je vous prie,” or “pregare” in Italian.

    So I know what we’re talking about, could you please give me your definition of “to pray?”

    thanks,

    David

  56. Re: #55

    Hi Irish Protestant,

    You said:

    What could that saint do except shunt the prayer along to the “higher ups” anyway? Thus praying to a saint would make no logical sense.

    If this is your position, then what exactly is the use of asking a fellow Christian to pray for me? It seems you must believe he does more than just “shunt the prayer along to the ‘higher ups’”, but what does a fellow Christian do in intercessory prayer that the saints can’t do?

  57. Hi IP,

    James 5 : 16 says : “Confess you faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”. (KJV)

    since, there is no righteous man, as Rome 3:10, who was James talking about in 5:16 ?

    Pax Christi

  58. “what exactly is the use of asking a fellow Christian to pray for me?”

    Simple. Two people are then praying directly to the higher-ups.

  59. “what, precisely, is the difference between pointless and useless? I’m not sure I see the distinction.”

    Without wishing to sound smart-ass, simply look them up in a dictionary. These words have distinctive meanings.

    “Your explanation is that we “pray” to saints, but “ask” fellow Christians for prayer. How, exactly, do you distinguish between “praying” and “asking.””

    If I ask you for ten dollars, am I praying to you?

    “My contention, again, is that these terms are synonyms.”

    Only if you wish to redefine them as such, and that takes you into “private interpretations,” something I thought Catholics disapproved of!

    “Consider the French, “Je vous prie,” or “pregare” in Italian.”

    Are we debating this in English? Did you post in English or French, or Italian?

  60. David, you said in #53:

    “In my mind “praying to” the saints is exactly the same as “asking the saints to pray with me.” It is no different from asking my pastor or friend at church to pray with me for the same intention.”

    I think the use if the word “pray” is my and most Protestants’ hang up with the phrase “pray to the saints” or “pray to Mary.” To us, and I think most non-Catholics, one should only pray to God. Prayer is a word reserved for describing the communication between God and men. When I ask God for something or thank him for something, I would describe that as “praying.” If I ask my wife to pass the butter or thank my friend for buying me a cup of coffee, no one.I have ever known would say I am “praying” to my wife or my friend.

  61. Irish Protestant,

    You wrote:

    “If I ask you for ten dollars, am I praying to you?”

    Answer: Yep. That’s exactly what you are doing.

    You are fond of dictionaries. Merriam-Webster gives this definition of “To pray.”

    “to seriously ask (someone) to do something.”

    -David

  62. Sean C,

    I agree with you. Most Protestants think of “to pray” as a word reserved, almost by definition, to God.
    If you’ve been following the conversation with IP, you see that we seem to be bogged down in semantics.

    To avoid confusion, I’d be perfectly happy to use another word or phrase to describe our relationship to the saints. How about “invoke their intercession.” That’s much more precise, and captures exactly what’s going on in Catholic belief and practice.

    -David

  63. Irish Protestant,

    “what exactly is the use of asking a fellow Christian to pray for me?”
    Simple. Two people are then praying directly to the higher-ups.

    But if I ask someone to pray for me, then I’m _not_ praying directly to the higher-ups. They are praying for me, at my request, acting as an intermediary for me. That’s what we call intercessory prayer.

    The bottom line is if you want to pray directly to God, don’t ask someone else to pray for you. But if you believe there is power in someone else praying for you, then ask a righteous person to do so.

  64. “I think the use if the word “pray” is my and most Protestants’ hang up with the phrase “pray to the saints” or “pray to Mary.” To us, and I think most non-Catholics, one should only pray to God. Prayer is a word reserved for describing the communication between God and men. When I ask God for something or thank him for something, I would describe that as “praying.” If I ask my wife to pass the butter or thank my friend for buying me a cup of coffee, no one I have ever known would say I am “praying” to my wife or my friend.”

    Amen, Amen and Amen!

  65. You wrote: “If I ask you for ten dollars, am I praying to you?” Answer: Yep. That’s exactly what you are doing.

    Then I suggest that you have redefined the word to mean what you want it to mean.

    “You are fond of dictionaries.”

    No, I’m not. You are. And, with respect, you seem to search them till you find a definition into which you can fit your dogma!

    That is the sort of “private interpretation” I thought Catholics denounced.

  66. “To avoid confusion, I’d be perfectly happy to use another word or phrase to describe our relationship to the saints. How about “invoke their intercession.” That’s much more precise, and captures exactly what’s going on in Catholic belief and practice.”

    I sincerely commend you for retracting and admitting that we should not, indeed cannot, PRAY to saints. If more of your brethren would do this, beginning from the papacy down, the Christian unity we all pray for would again become a real possibility.

  67. Hi Irish Protestant,

    I have not retracted anything that I have said. In the article under discussion, I said that the Saints Pray for us, and that we should follow the universal practice of the Church in asking for these prayers. Since then, you and I have been in an interminable discussion about the meaning and etymology of the English word “Pray.” It seemed pointless to me and merely semantic.

    If we can get beyond the semantics, I wonder if you would like to respond to this formulation of the thesis:
    “the Saints Pray for us, and that we should follow the universal practice of the Church in asking for these prayers even as we would ask the prayers of our friends on earth.”

    -David

  68. “the Saints Pray for us, and that we should follow the universal practice of the Church in asking for these prayers even as we would ask the prayers of our friends on earth.”

    Well, it’s not the universal practice of the Church, is it? You’re arguing that it should be; I’m responding that as well as lacking biblical support, such an idea also lacks logical coherence. That’s the way our discussion has gone; it hasn’t been about “semantics.”

  69. “If we can get beyond the semantics, I wonder if you would like to respond to this formulation of the thesis:
    “the Saints Pray for us, and that we should follow the universal practice of the Church in asking for these prayers even as we would ask the prayers of our friends on earth.””

    From this Protestant’s standpoint, now that we have the semantics issue resolved, I would adopt that thesis IF I had some objective basis to support the proposition that the departed saints could hear our requests. Again, when I ask a friend to pray for me, he has to be in the same room, on the telephone, or receiving my written correspondence. My dead great-grandfather isn’t with me to hear my prayer request, and if he is, then that’s creepy to think he’s watching me while a bathe or doing other private things.

  70. Hello ALL Here:

    I think the Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp [who lived 70 to 156 AD] provides and example of the Practice of the Veneration of Saints which would of course be put into the Apostles Creed [Baptismal Symbol of the Church of Rome]. The relevant parts of the Martyrdom of Polycarp are as follows [Fr. Jurgens Faith of Our Fathers Volume 1, p. 31]

    “Christ we worship as the Son of God; but martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord; and rightly so, because of their unsurpassable devotion to their own king and Teacher. With them may we also become companions and fellow disciples. [18, 1] When the centurion saw the contentiousness caused by the Jews, he confiscated the body (4), and, according to their custom burned it. [2] Then, at last, we took up his bones, more precious than costly gems and finer than gold, and put them in a suitable place. [3] The Lord will permit us, when we are able, to assemble there in joy and gladness; and celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already engaged the contest, and for the practice and training of those who have yet to fight.”

    Complete link to the Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp is below.

    http://newadvent.org/fathers/0102.htm

    This passage is entirely consistent with the practice of Honoring and venerating the Saints and while the text does not clearly show those early Catholics gathered at that time asking for Saints to pray for them in heaven, it does again show an early example of the notion of the Doctrine of Communion of Saints as defined in the Catholic Church [and other Apostolic Churches, Eastern Orthodox, etc]

  71. SeanC,

    You wrote:
    “I would adopt that thesis IF I had some objective basis to support the proposition that the departed saints could hear our requests.”

    One basis for this proposition is the image of departed saints reflected in Revelation 5:8 – They are depicted as actively offering up the prayers of those on earth. The act of offering anything requires the conscious intention to do so. Thus, the Biblical data demands that the saints in heaven are conscious of our prayers, at least in a general way, and associate themselves with them by intention.

    The biblical data also support the idea that a saint’s mediation may be possible whether or not the saint is directly conscious of our petition. In the 2 Kings passage referenced above, we find an instance of a miraculous relic. Originally, this was the principle way in which the Church sought the mediation of saints – through contact with their relics. The Blessed Virgin Mary is an exception, obviously, since she left no first class relics. The “sub tuum” prayer (from 2nd or 3rd century Alexandria) is thus an important witness that these two kinds of petition existed side by side in antiquity.

    Finally, the question of devotion to the saints cannot be separated from the liturgical and devotional history of the Church. To say, “I will only practice devotions that I find completely and overtly represented in Scripture” is to adopt an attitude towards Christian worship that would have made Christian worship impossible prior to the formation of the canon. This is why the fathers of the 2nd century took the belief and practice of apostolic churches to be the norm – rather than appeal to an inchoate and yet unfinalized New Testament. So, as a Catholic, I would also add that we know the saints hear our prayers because the practice of the earliest Christians (which is normative) presumes it, and because the Church teaches that they hear our prayers.

    On a related note, have you considered how the Protestant “regulative principle of worship,” if strictly applied, would in fact destroy certain mainstays of Protestant worship? For instance, Scripture nowhere represents baptism performed during a Eucharistic assembly or Sunday liturgy. Should we therefore not baptize on Sundays or in Church? Likewise, Scripture nowhere shows us explicitly that communion was ever administered to women. Should we therefore withhold communion from women?

    Inevitably, therefore, the question of devotion to the saints is connected to another question: How do we know what is or is not a binding norm for Christian worship?

    -David

  72. IP,

    From antiquity to the Reformation, such devotion was the universal practice of the Church. It remains the practice of those Christian groups that can actually trace their history to antiquity.
    The only systematic opposition to such devotion arose in only one corner of the Christian world (western europe), and very late (16th century). To reject such devotion is to take a stance at odds with what was, prior to that rejection, the universal witness of the Christian faithful.

    As to the charge of incoherence, I understand coherence to mean that ideas are intelligible (can be conceived) and involve no contradiction.
    I would express the theory in question as follows:
    1. People (living and dead) pray for one another.
    2. God chooses to use those prayers as a means to accomplish his purposes in the lives of the people involved.
    3. God is able to make my intentions known to others, even if they are physically absent. (I don’t have to know how he does this.)
    4. For the reasons I stated to SeanC above, God, in fact, does this.

    Do you think that two or more of these propositions are in contradiction? If not, where is the incoherence?
    But perhaps you think one or more of these propositions is untrue? That would be fine, and we could discuss it. But it would not make the theory incoherent, merely false.

    -David

  73. Regarding “I would adopt that thesis IF I had some objective basis to support the proposition that the departed saints could hear our requests. Again, when I ask a friend to pray for me, he has to be in the same room, on the telephone, or receiving my written correspondence. My dead great-grandfather isn’t with me to hear my prayer request, and if he is, then that’s creepy to think he’s watching me while a bathe or doing other private things”:

    I wonder, then, why do you bother to pray to God the Father or to Jesus Christ? What is your “objective basis” for believing they exist and can hear you? Have they ever been visibly and tangibly in the same room as you? Has God ever spoken to you on the phone or sent you personal written correspondence (a letter or e-mail)? Are you also “creeped out” by the thought that God the Father, Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit see everything you do? You’ll probably say you believe that God hears you because “the Bible tells me so.” But why trust the Bible? To believe in God and in the scriptures AT ALL takes a HUGE leap of faith that many people aren’t able to take or don’t take, and they would argue with you that this whole discussion is moot at the root. You may say that you have had concrete experience of praying to God and receiving answers to your prayers. There are at least as many people (including the Church Fathers) who will tell me that they’ve had concrete experiences of the Saints through prayer. This is a primary reason that I have chosen to be a member of the Catholic Church and to trust ALL of her teachings: because I must trust SOME authority (because otherwise all I have is my untrustworthy self) to interpret the scriptures and traditions for me, and to me it is logical to trust the Church whose experience and teachings come directly from the earliest years and centuries of Christianity.

  74. I don’t know if it’ll be a helpful observation or not, but my own reasoning (as I was in the process of “reading my way into the Church”) went as follows:

    1. The early Christians asked the saints in heaven for their intercession;

    2. They did this prior to the finalization of the New Testament canon, and in a widespread way;

    3. The Jews did this in a less-formalized way prior to the time of Christ (and still do today; e.g. prayers at Rachel’s tomb, which is indirectly referenced in the New Testament itself: “a voice heard in Ramah”), so that it seems to be a continuation of the ongoing practice of the People of God, rather than a reversal or interruption;

    4. The persons involved in the finalization of the New Testament canon (Athanasius and Damasus and Augustine and other bishops of the late 4th century) clearly practiced asking the intercession of the saints;

    5. The persons involved in the finalization of the New Testament canon relied on their understanding of the Apostolic Tradition and the history and practices of the Church from the apostolic age onward in doing so;

    6. IF their understanding of the Apostolic Tradition and the history and practices of the Church was wrong to hold that saints’ intercession as an orthodox and ancient practice, THEN this suggests significant error in their understanding of the Apostolic Tradition and the history and practices of the Church.

    7. BUT, if their understanding of the Apostolic Tradition and the history and practices of the Church was badly mistaken, then that undermines our ability to trust the New Testament canon they’ve handed on to us, which we accept at least partly on their testimony.

    8. IN WHICH CASE, it would be hard to argue that, either from Apostolic Tradition OR from the Bible, it is possible to know what orthodox Christian doctrine and practice actually IS. This view leads to theological “liberalism” and makes Christian orthodoxy an unknown thing, lost in the mists of time.

    9. ON THE OTHER HAND, if the understanding of Church practice and of Apostolic Tradition of the canonizers of the New Testament is solid and reliable (even if it isn’t infallible), then we can have great confidence that we have the “right” New Testament.

    10. BUT IN THAT CASE, any suggestion that asking the saints’ intercession is forbidden by New Testament Christianity is dubious, for these men, whose understanding of Church practice and Apostolic Tradition is sufficiently reliable to give us the canon, also asked the saints’ intercession. (And saw no contradiction between that practice and the New Testament canon.)

    11. IN EITHER CASE, in proportion to the degree we mistrust the orthodoxy of those through whom we receive the New Testament canon, the reliability of that canon is reduced.

    In the above, I’m not making an argument from absolutes, like a geometric proof.

    But I’m asking whether something passes the “smell test,” in an abstract kind of way.

    I don’t think it passes the “smell test” to say: “Yeah, without the testimony of the ancient Christians, we’d have no certain and uniform New Testament; but we’re going to use the New Testament and our own 21st-century, culturally-post-Christian interpretation of it, to disregard their testimony.”

    Having reasoned that far, I ask myself: What does it *mean* if asking saints for their intercession is orthodox Christian practice?

    Well, it means I grew up in a branch of Christianity which had lost some of the ancient practice (Southern Baptists). But that’s neither a big deal, nor much surprise: As many variations as there are, it stands to reason that most of them have messed up something; if I assume from the outset that my own hasn’t, it’s more likely because of inertia and bias on my own part, than because I’ve exhaustively analyzed every issue.

    But what does it mean, if it’s NOT orthodox?

    Well, my argument pretty much suggests the answer to that question. If the early Christian witness is in error here or there but not in the main; we can still get by. But if everybody everywhere is messing up something badly, while being oblivious to it? It makes it hard to argue that anyone then could be sure what “Christianity” really was supposed to be. (Let alone now.) It pushes me towards a “Christianity” which is anything I want it to be, probably influenced largely by tropes from Hollywood movies (like the “Druidism” of those poor folk who gather around Stonehenge once a year with fantasy-movie daggers and vaguely Greek-looking robes). It means any modern version of Christianity is more of a “reconstruction” than a “continuation.”

    And if THAT is our modern situation, then I must ask about the Holy Spirit what Elijah asked about Baal atop Mount Carmel: What has He been *doing* all this time? Was He taking a nap for several hundred years? Was He away on a journey? What about this “leading us into all truth” promise?

    I wonder sometimes, if the reason that the Jesus Seminar liberals and folks like Shelby Spong lost their faith wasn’t by this kind of process: They didn’t want to accept that the Early Church was *right*; but barring that, there was no way to know what “right” was. So they drifted into sentimentalism and skepticism and apostasy.

    I don’t want to go that way.

    So — even though it’s foreign to my upbringing and initially felt weird — I now ask my brothers and sisters in glory for their prayers on behalf of me and my family and others.

    My doing so is wrapped up in my trust of Christ and the Holy Spirit not to abandon us for many centuries.

    This line of reasoning helps me. If it does not help you, disregard it of course! And I do not argue that it is mathematically certain. But I can’t bring myself to bet against it.

  75. David A. (re: #72),

    The only systematic opposition to such devotion arose in only one corner of the Christian world (western europe), and very late (16th century). To reject such devotion is to take a stance at odds with what was, prior to that rejection, the universal witness of the Christian faithful.

    Was there a strong opposition that arose prior to Nicea II that questioned the veneration of saints, images, and relics as well as prayer to saints? I haven’t researched the issue, but I would assume the canons didn’t come out of nowhere and there must have been some serious questions of Christian practice.

    Peace,
    John D.

  76. JohnD,
    The iconoclasts sometimes removed relics from the Churches, but not always.
    Interestingly, modern Nestorians (Assyrian Church of the East) reject images, but not relics or the intercession of saints. The two things are not necessarily connected. Would you, therefore, call this opposition systematic?
    The canons of Nicaea II mandate that relics always be used in the consecration of Churches. So, from a conciliar point of view, devotion to the saints is clearly enshrined by authority as universal.

    The Paulicians also rejected relics, along with sacraments and other material elements of worship. Their opposition was systematic and principled, I suppose, but their dualism clearly marks them off from mainstream of Christian faith and practice. Would a Protestant want to associate with the Paulician critique of relics?

    -David

  77. IP you wrote…..

    If more of your brethren would do this, beginning from the papacy down, the Christian unity we all pray for would again become a real possibility.”

    This is actually good to hear. If the teaching of the communion of saints is all that is keeping you from joining the Church that Jesus founded, the Catholic Church then you are not far off. Keep searching for the fullness of Truth! I will keep you in my prayers.

  78. David A. (re: #76),

    Thanks for your reply.

    The two things are not necessarily connected. Would you, therefore, call this opposition systematic?

    No. I am genuinely enquiring because I am not that familiar with the events leading up to Nicea II. I have heard of the iconoclasts but not the Paulicians. Were they around the same time period?

    Also, I have heard it claimed by Protestants that there was a list of quotations from Church fathers that opposes the use of images and veneration of saints, which some wanted read at the Nicea II council, but they were not read. Have you ever head of this? Also, what sources would you recommend for understanding Nicea II?

    Peace,
    John D.

  79. Sean, IP,

    I am surprised at your lack of attention to biblical verses pointing to the fact that the saints being members of the one body of Christ , and being made like Angels, and having full knowledge, can hear us when we ask for their prayers. You have side stepped every single one of the suggestions only to term them as “in house catholic assertions”. We should discuss to learn not to win.
    Please point out any biblical evidence that the saints cannot hear us. Also address the fact that accepting the cannon of the new testament from the church fathers, but rejecting the practice of praying to saints from the same church fathers does not make sense!

    Peace

  80. “This passage is entirely consistent with the practice of Honoring and venerating the Saints and while the text does not clearly show those early Catholics gathered at that time asking for Saints to pray for them in heaven…”

    Well, precisely. Protestants have no problem honouring the dead. It’s the PRAYING to them that’s objectionable. And, as you admit, your (extra-biblical) quotation provides no support for the latter.

  81. “From antiquity to the Reformation, such devotion was the universal practice of the Church.”

    Yes, but in God’s Divine Providence He has led His Church through a much-needed (we can see with hindsight) Reformation, and praying to saints is no longer the universal practice of the Church. So, while you may wish that it were so, you are simply incorrect to claim that it is.

    “As to the charge of incoherence, I understand coherence to mean that ideas are intelligible (can be conceived) and involve no contradiction….where is the incoherence?”

    With respect, if you can please set aside appeals to the dictionary for a moment, I’ve already explained several times why I think praying to (dead) saints is incoherent. I refer you to my post 33 above, the point-by-point, question-by-question content of which was conveniently ignored (and I was told I was just debating semantics!).

  82. “I wonder sometimes, if the reason that the Jesus Seminar liberals and folks like Shelby Spong lost their faith wasn’t by this kind of process: They didn’t want to accept that the Early Church was *right*; but barring that, there was no way to know what “right” was. So they drifted into sentimentalism and skepticism and apostasy.”

    I think their journey has more to do with historical-critical NT scholarship, and failing to reconcile it with orthodoxy.

  83. “This is actually good to hear. If the teaching of the communion of saints is all that is keeping you from joining the Church that Jesus founded, the Catholic Church then you are not far off. Keep searching for the fullness of Truth! I will keep you in my prayers.”

    Thanks Johnny. I could be doing with some prayers! My main sticking point with Catholicism is actually the elevation of Marian devotion to the point where it has become almost indistinguishable from Mariolatry. In particular, I struggle with the two “infallible” papal pronouncements. But that’s a topic for another thread . . . .

    IP

  84. Hi Ip,

    I’m sorry if you thought I ignored your earlier post. I didn’t think I did, but just to clarify, let me address your post 33 again:

    1) Where is the evidence (beyond specifically Catholic in-house assertions) that He actually *does* do so;

    The witness of Scripture and tradition that I have mentioned in the article. The data from tradition does not count as “in house Catholic assertion” inasmuch as it is not limited to Catholics, but also Chalcedonian Orthodox, Assyrian (Nestorian) , and Oriental (monophysite) Orthodox.

    2) *Why* would He do so when part of the purpose of the Incarnation was to allow us to pray to Him through Christ His Son (not to or through saints);

    Where has God revealed that the purpose of the incarnation was to obviate human intercessory prayer? Given that Scripture commands such prayer, I find that claim hard to swallow. Furthermore, I think that St. Paul says that one purpose of the incarnation was for Jew and Gentile to be made members of one body – the body of Christ. If we, then, are members of Christ, are we not to venerate the Body of Christ?

    and 3) Why would *we* ever pray to mere mortals when we can pray directly to the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the universe, LORD of heaven and earth, and of everything (including the saints) therein?

    For the same reason we would ask for the intercession of anyone – as an expression of our mutual love and concern. And also for this reason – by such veneration we testify to our belief that the saints are members of Christ’s body and, as such, worthy of honor.

    I hope this answers your question.

    -David

  85. IP,

    A question: You wrote:

    ” Marian devotion to the point where it has become almost indistinguishable from Mariolatry.”

    I found this comment very encouraging. It suggests, to me, that you recognize a principled distinction between devotion and the adoration of worship. I wonder, would you be willing to elucidate that distinction? What, in your mind, would distinguish legitimate devotion from idolatry?

    Thanks,,

    David

  86. To Leo in response to #79,

    (I am sorry, but I have not taken the time to figure out how to isolate block quotes from preceding comments.)

    You state:

    “I am surprised at your lack of attention to biblical verses pointing to the fact that the saints being members of the one body of Christ , and being made like Angels, and having full knowledge, can hear us when we ask for their prayers. You have side stepped every single one of the suggestions only to term them as “in house catholic assertions”. We should discuss to learn not to win.
    Please point out any biblical evidence that the saints cannot hear us. Also address the fact that accepting the cannon of the new testament from the church fathers, but rejecting the practice of praying to saints from the same church fathers does not make sense!”

    I can’t speak for IP, but for myself, here we go:

    First, where is it said that departed saints have “full knowledge.” I would check your sources there. That’s not in the Bible and as far as I know is not part of Catholic tradition.

    Moving on — I agree that saints are part of body of Christ. Indeed, I would say that all Christians are “saints.” Therefore, every believer, dead or alive, is a saint. Now, can they all hear our prayers? I would say, “No.” Only those who are physically present with us can hear our prayers. God can hear our prayers because He has the qualities of omniscience and omnipresence. My Christian friend who lives 1,000 miles away can only intercede, i.e, pray for me, if I communicate to him my need for prayer. Likewise, I can accept that a departed saint in heaven could intercede for me if he could receive my communication that I needed his prayer. Unfortunately, I don’t know that he can hear my request. The only way that I can know that my friend 1,000 miles away heard my request is if he tells my, “Yes, I heard you. I will pray for you.” That doesn’t happen and cannot happen with departed believers in heaven. Indeed, if a dead believer appeared to me and said, “I will pray for you,” my default presumption would be that he is either an imagination or a demon because Christians are forbidden from communicating with the dead.

    So, that means to me, I cannot know if departed saints can hear my prayer requests. Therefore, at most, it would be a mere wish or hope for me to pray, “Dear St. XYZ, pray for me as a struggle to overcome the temptation to commit the sin of ZYX,” because I do not know if he even heard my request for intercession.

    As for the argument that the departed saints are like angels, I think you go much further than Jesus intended. Jesus’s statement that the departed are as the angels was limited to the issue of whether they marry. Jesus said they do not. Therefore, at most, the analogy between the dead and the angels are that they do not marry. This has nothing to do with whether they are able/capable of interceding/praying for us.

    I hope you are not ascribing omniscience/omnipresence to angels because that, I believe, would be heresy.

    Here is my viewpoint as of now (as one who is seriously considering the claims of Catholicism): I agree that asking a living believer to pray for me is the equivalent of me asking a dead/departed believer to pray for me, but only if the dead/departed believer actually hears my request. I could sit in my living room and say out loud, “Oh, friend who lives 1,000 miles away, please pray for me.” I know for a fact that he did not hear me and know that he could not possibly be praying for me. How do I know that a departed saint can hear me if I make the same request? I can’t. It is speculation. Even if the church tradition says that he can, nobody can know. Therefore, we have entered into the realm of speculation.

    Thus, I am more confident in going straight to God with my prayer requests and including my physically present brothers and sisters who can say to me, “Yes, I heard your request and will pray for you.” Otherwise, to me, it would be vain imaginations or superstition to think that someone who died 1500 years ago, who is in the presence of God, could hear my prayer request. Maybe he can; maybe he can’t. Why waste my time talking to him?

  87. IP,

    You said:

    Yes, but in God’s Divine Providence He has led His Church through a much-needed (we can see with hindsight) Reformation, and praying to saints is no longer the universal practice of the Church. So, while you may wish that it were so, you are simply incorrect to claim that it is.

    The doctrinal chaos and cancer like schismatic history of Protestantism seem to point to something other than Providence that was at the root of the Reformation. Moreover, the fact that the Catholic Church is still here, makes the entire project of the Reformation seem less than successful. If it were to be as Providential as the Reformers themselves believed it would be, we should have expected the harlot church (Catholic) to fade into history because of its many sins and great errors. Instead, She is here and in ways stronger than ever. And, I might add, there is no “Protestant Church.” She does not exist.

    If I pack my bag and runaway from home, and claim to start the “true” Parker family, and decades later tell the family I left that their Thanksgiving Day tradition is not the true Parker ritual but min is, I have not changed a thing. I have simply run away.

  88. Hi SeanC,

    As to your claim that Catholic doctrine on the saints is a matter of speculation:

    It is only speculation if it has not been revealed by divine authority. But if it has been revealed by divine authority, then it is God’s truth, not speculation.

    But, speaking purely speculatively, how do you know that the saints have to hear our prayers in order to consciously associate themselves with them? The passage in Revelation depicts saints consciously and intentionally offering the prayers of Christians on earth. It leaves unstated whether this intentional offering involves a conscious knowledge of each petition, or only a general knowledge. The passage in 2 Kings also suggests that saints don’t need conscious awareness in order for their mediation to be efficacious. What Holy Scripture does teach, without question, is that the relics of saints (Elisha, Peter) have been used by God to effect miracles in the lives of the faithful and that the saints in heaven intentionally associate themselves with our prayers. How do you know that detailed knowledge of our petitions would be necessary for their intercession? Why couldn’t the saints say, “God, please hear the prayers of all who seek my intercession.”

    But that’s just speculation, admittedly, on my part.

    -David

  89. To Sean C, in response to #86

    Hi Sean C, thanks for your time. My intention in post #79 was to turn the table, to ask you rather to show me text that indicate that the Saints cannot hear us, apart from the fact that they are dead. But I will go ahead and address the issues you raised.

    I am just curious though. Do you pray to Angels? Since you seem to believe that they can hear us even if the Saints in heaven cant. It will be interesting to know.

    Your Q: Where does it say that departed Saints have full knowledge….?
    My Answer: I don’t know of any verse that says specifically that the Saints have full knowledge of what happens here (maybe because there was no cause to), but I know of places where the bible implies this. We may not have full knowledge now, but we will not remain like this but be transformed when we meet the Lord. 1 John 3:2 says that when the Lord appears, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. This to me shows that there is a transforming experience when we go to heaven. We shall be heavenly beings.
    As to whether they are like Angels in other regards apart from not marrying, I believe so. Luke 20:36 says that “they cannot die because they are like Angels”. So this is a second characteristics in which we are like Angels when in heaven, and don’t you think there could be others? Lets for a minute consider the Angels. They do most of the things that we would ordinarily attribute to God alone, but only THROUGH God. Perhaps our Lord didn’t talk about the resurrected brethren being able to hear us because that was not the issue at hand, and not because they cannot.
    I will like you to consider Rev 5:8 where those in heaven are offering the prayers of the holy ones to God. How else will they offer these prayers if they they don’t have knowledge of them. Now, if you like lets not say hear, but sense or know, or anything that means they, through the power of God just like the Angels, have knowledge of our prayers. Our Lord makes one strong point. In Mark 12:24 he chides the Jewish leaders for knowing neither the scriptures nor the power of God. The power of God can make those who are born of the resurrection hear us in a way different from that of any saint here on earth. The Psalmist in Psalm 148 seems to agree, for he addresses the Hosts of heaven to praise God.

    There is this anti catholic preacher, Matt Slick who has an interesting take on Rev 5:8 that you might want to consider. He believes that the Saints in heaven can hear us, but that praying to them is a sin. http://carm.org/praying-saints-biblical. Very interesting, but am not saying you should believe they can hear us because this man does though. But it points to the confusion that can arise when we o against an established christian tradition.

    Lets now look at christian tradition:

    Clement of Alexandria
    “In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]” (Miscellanies 7:12 [A.D. 208]).

    Origen
    “But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep” (Prayer 11 [A.D. 233]).

    Cyprian of Carthage
    “Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father’s mercy” (Letters 56[60]:5 [A.D. 253]).

    Anonymous
    “Atticus, sleep in peace, secure in your safety, and pray anxiously for our sins” (funerary inscription near St. Sabina’s in Rome [A.D. 300]).

    “Pray for your parents, Matronata Matrona. She lived one year, fifty-two days” (ibid.).

    “Mother of God, [listen to] my petitions; do not disregard us in adversity, but rescue us from danger” (Rylands Papyrus 3 [A.D. 350]).

    “Therefore, we pray [ask] you, the most excellent among women, who glories in the confidence of your maternal honors, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in august hymns celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away” (ibid.).

    “And you also, O honored and venerable Simeon, you earliest host of our holy religion, and teacher of the resurrection of the faithful, do be our patron and advocate with that Savior God, whom you were deemed worthy to receive into your arms. We, together with you, sing our praises to Christ, who has the power of life and death, saying, ‘You are the true Light, proceeding from the true Light; the true God, begotten of the true God’” (ibid.).

    Cyril of Jerusalem
    “Then [during the Eucharistic prayer] we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition . . . ” (Catechetical Lectures 23:9 [A.D. 350]).

    Hilary of Poitiers
    “To those who wish to stand [in God’s grace], neither the guardianship of saints nor the defenses of angels are wanting” (Commentary on the Psalms 124:5:6 [A.D. 365]).

    You said you are not sure, but I hope by now you are, or at least closer to it. the best way is to try it. Ask a Saint to pray for you for something, or look up a novena and pray with it. You will experience what believers from the early church up to now have experienced, an assurance of the support of innumerable Angels and Saints.

  90. Thank you, Leo, and the rest who have commented on this. The Revelation 5 passage appears to be the closest thing to Biblical support, but that is apocalyptic literature which muddies the waters a bit as using this as exegetical support for the question at hand. The quotes from the church fathers are helpful. As to the question whether I pray to angels, the answer is “No.” I do not pray to created beings. I am going to continue only pryaing to God. I don’t pray enough to him as it is, so I think I should focus my prayer efforts toward what I know is clear from theology (God’s omniscience), unanimous support for the practice from Scripture and tradition, and from reason: praying to God himself. To ask departed saints and Mary to pray for me would violate my conscience at this point in my life.

  91. So now I’m going to go on a journey to what will hopefully with God’s Grace be my and everyone else’s end, and let’s say I die and head to the “Pearly Gates.” I’ll apply an analogy I’ve heard from Scott Hahn regarding Marian Doctrine, to this scenario:

    I meet God and say, “God, I’m eternally grateful to be with you, and I hope you don’t mind, but on my journey, I requested that Mother Mary and other of your saints, as well as those still on earth, all of Your family to pray to You for me and my journey and various other particular parts of my life.”

    If I follow protestant logic, then God will say one of various things to me like:
    “Oh boy, that’s a big sin.” or “You really wasted your time. I didn’t allow them to hear your prayers. (Who do you think I am… God?)” or “Why did you ask people in your family to pray for you and not just ask me?”

    But, if it were even true that the saints do not have receptivity to us, I believe our merciful God would rather say:
    “Thank you for thinking so much of Me, that you thought I would gracefully and mercifully allow members of My family, who are part the Body of Christ, to participate in My divine plan of salvation. You remembered that I Am The Father.”

    I’d rather attribute too much Love, too much Mercy, too much Faithfulness and of course too much Justice to our Heavenly Father.

  92. “The doctrinal chaos and cancer like schismatic history of Protestantism seem to point to something other than Providence that was at the root of the Reformation.”

    Well, this is getting off topic but since you raised the issue, I’ll respond. The Reformation was God’s response to the moral and theological decadence into which the Catholic Church had sadly descended over many centuries. When Popes are siring multiple bastard children, and indulgences become pure commercial money grabs, something needs to be done. We’ve seen our Lord take such actions since the days of Noah, Lot, and Sodom and Gomorrah.

    “Moreover, the fact that the Catholic Church is still here, makes the entire project of the Reformation seem less than successful.”

    Not so. The attempt by God’s Reformers was to amend the Catholic Church and bring it back to orthodoxy, not to destroy it. The response by the errant Church oligarchs was, sadly, excommunication.

    “If it were to be as Providential as the Reformers themselves believed it would be, we should have expected the harlot church (Catholic) to fade into history because of its many sins and great errors.”

    No, if the errant Church had only listened to God speaking through his Reformers, it would have amended its ways and there would have been no schism.

    “Instead, She is here and in ways stronger than ever.”

    Yes, she has undergone a Counter Reformation and repented, and hence has re-established herself.

    “And, I might add, there is no “Protestant Church.” She does not exist.”

    Can you please point out where I ever claimed that there was such a thing?

    “If I pack my bag and runaway from home, and claim to start the “true” Parker family, and decades later tell the family I left that their Thanksgiving Day tradition is not the true Parker ritual but min is, I have not changed a thing. I have simply run away.”

    The Reformers didn’t run away. They attempted to reform God’s fallen Church and were excommunicated in return.

  93. “Please point out any biblical evidence that the saints cannot hear us.”

    Please firstly point out where I ever claimed that they can’t.

  94. “I found this comment very encouraging. It suggests, to me, that you recognize a principled distinction between devotion and the adoration of worship. I wonder, would you be willing to elucidate that distinction? What, in your mind, would distinguish legitimate devotion from idolatry?”

    I agree that that’s a tough question that seems to defy tight definition and distinction. However, like the (apocryphal?) judge who commented on the difference between erotic literature and pornography, while strict delineation is difficult, “You know it when you see it.” I suggest that one knows Mariolatry when one sees it. Christ tends to take a back seat, in practice (devotional emphasis) but not of course in theory (doctrine).

    The two “infallible” pronouncements on Mary are my stumbling block. I have no problem with someone *choosing* (freely) to believing either or both (since they are neither creedal nor heretical). But in order to be a Catholic I would be *required* to believe both, and profess them as part of my faith. That, for me, is a step too far. I hold Pius XII in high regard but wish he had not issued his “infallible” statement in 1950.

  95. I asked: Why would *we* ever pray to mere mortals when we can pray directly to the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the universe, LORD of heaven and earth, and of everything (including the saints) therein?

    You replied: For the same reason we would ask for the intercession of anyone – as an expression of our mutual love and concern.
    ————
    Well, we’ve been over this ground before, so I’ll leave it at that.

  96. Gentlemen,

    In general, let’s try to keep the discussion focused on the topic of the article: “Do the Saints Pray for us.”
    Questions about the Reformation and Catholic Hierarchy can be discussed on other threads.

    Thanks,

    David

  97. Well, we’ve been over this ground before, so I’ll leave it at that.

    Yes, but I’m still not sure I see your point. You have argued for a principled distinction between asking a friend to pray and asking a dead friend to pray.
    As near as I can tell, the difference (in your mind) is that asking a dead friend amounts to a kind of idolatry. This is where we got into a long discussion about the meaning of the word “to pray” which I considered to be a semantic distraction. I’m not sure why asking a dead friend would be idolatry, unless you think that lawful human communication must take place through some material medium – like air or the internet – and not via divine omnipotence. But again, I’m not sure why this would be the case, since there is no divine command to this effect.
    But perhaps I’ve misrepresented you.

    -David

  98. Christ tends to take a back seat, in practice (devotional emphasis) but not of course in theory (doctrine).

    I may not be reading you correctly, but it seems to me that you are suggesting the line between devotion and idolatry is located in the affections and intentions. If one’s intentional awareness is focused more on Mary and less on Christ then that would count, in your book, as idolatry? It is not a matter of doctrine (as I read you), but of one’s relative affective relationship to Christ and/or Mary? And this is something that you feel competent to judge in others? Since, as you said, “You know it when you see it?” Am i reading you correctly?

    -David

  99. Irish Protestant, referencing #92

    As a refugee from Protestantism, I would take exception to the idea that the Reformation was an attempt to “reform” the Church. The Protestant Reformation, whether German or Swiss, occurred outside of the Church. One cannot reform the Church from the outside, and indeed that has proven to be the case.

    The most that might be said is that early Luther made a claim (or perhaps more correctly had a claim made on his behalf), but if my reading of Protestant historians is any indication, once he set himself on the course that he took, he was departing from the Church, and certainly the history of that era recognizes that fact.

    I don’t believe the Calvin ever really wanted to reform the Church. He was a creator and had his own idea of what should and what should not be permitted. His followers appear to have caught that bug as well, in part by taking exception to some of Calvin’s directives by reforming them.

    No one outside of the Church is capable of reforming it as an institution.

    I managed to figure that out as an evangelical, looking out at the landscape of denominations which included several Lutheran churches,
    several varieties of Calvinist belief (both Presbyterian and, I think, Reformed),
    multiple differing Methodist churches,
    an overwhelming variety of Baptist churches with their different statements of belief,
    and more than a few varieties of Pentecostalism.

    Claiming scripture as the basis for belief, as evangelicalism does, did not prohibit them from splitting over various considerations. To give some credit where it is due, Luther did give us sola scriptura which was the basis for our particular outlook. I could point to the pertinent references in scripture as a justification for what I/we believed and used as a defense against those who believed differently.

    I managed to figure that out because Protestantism was antagonistic to itself. If my current reading is correct, that fact is still true.

  100. Dear Dr. Anders,

    I’ve heard that a justification for praying for the saints’ intercession is that they’re in heaven and therefore can somehow hear us. (They’re not dead; they’re alive in Christ in heaven with Him). But what about praying for their intercession before they’re canonized? If we don’t know they’re in heaven, why would we be justified in praying to them? (Perhaps they’re in purgatory, or even in hell if they committed a mortal sin prior to death). I don’t see how it’s okay to pray to saints before they’re canonized. And if it is, then it would seem to undermine a common Catholic justification for the doctrine of the communion of saints — that they’re in heaven and so can hear our prayers.

    –Christie

  101. Christie (re: #99),

    I’m not Dr. Anders, but here’s a quick comment.

    But what about praying for their intercession before they’re canonized? If we don’t know they’re in heaven, why would we be justified in praying to them?

    I think it’s analogous to asking people on earth to pray for you. Suppose you ask someone (or a group) to pray for you, and then they forget to pray, choose not to pray, or actually turn out not to have faith and are pretending to be religious for evil reasons. Was your asking then not justified? No, especially if the people purported themselves to be faithful Christians. And, if asking others to pray is what Catholics mean by “praying to” saints, then this would seem to answer your objection.

    However, I’m sure Dr. Anders can give a fuller answer regarding all the details of praying to a non-canonized person.

    Peace,
    John D.

  102. Hi Christie (#99),

    Thanks for the question, hope you’re doing well. Hope you don’t mind if I jump into the conversation. You wrote,

    But what about praying for their intercession before they’re canonized? If we don’t know they’re in heaven, why would we be justified in praying to them? (Perhaps they’re in purgatory, or even in hell if they committed a mortal sin prior to death). I don’t see how it’s okay to pray to saints before they’re canonized.

    I think you are right to show hesitance in praying to those who might not be in heaven or on their way to heaven. Church tradition has been divided on the question, and to my knowledge there has been no definitive Church teaching on the subject. In favor of souls in purgatory praying for us include St. Alphonsus Liguori:

    They are unable to pray or merit anything for themselves, yet, when they pray for others, they are heard by God.

    and St. John Vianney:

    If one knew what we may obtain from God by the intercession of the Poor Souls, they would not be so much abandoned. Let us pray a great deal for them; they will pray for us.

    Alternatively, St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa writes,

    Those who are in Purgatory though they are above us on account of their impeccability, yet they are below us as to the pains which they suffer: and in this respect they are not in a condition to pray, but rather in a condition that requires us to pray for them.

    However, St. Robert Bellarmine did not find St. Thomas persuasive on the subject, and argues that in virtue of their greater love of God and their union with Him, their prayers may have great intercessory power, for they are really superior to us in love of God, and in intimacy of union with Him (De Purgatorio, lib. II, xv). I tend to agree with Bellarmine, as I don’t understand why their pain would create a condition where they are unable to pray for us. I would add that those in purgatory are closer to God than we are, since they are already on their way to Beatific Vision, and as they are in the process of being cleansed, would seem to qualify as the “righteous men” described in James 5:16 as being able to offer prayers “powerful and effective.” Furthermore, to ask for their prayers would be to exercise the virtue of hope that those who died exhibiting faith are on their way to God. Not to say that we have access to the mind of God regarding whether any specific person is in heaven – but we can certainly exercise the virtue of hope, especially when we have good evidence and reason for such hope. in Christ, Casey

  103. “Yes, but I’m still not sure I see your point. You have argued for a principled distinction between asking a friend to pray and asking a dead friend to pray.
    As near as I can tell, the difference (in your mind) is that asking a dead friend amounts to a kind of idolatry. This is where we got into a long discussion about the meaning of the word “to pray” which I considered to be a semantic distraction. I’m not sure why asking a dead friend would be idolatry, unless you think that lawful human communication must take place through some material medium – like air or the internet – and not via divine omnipotence. But again, I’m not sure why this would be the case, since there is no divine command to this effect.
    But perhaps I’ve misrepresented you.”


    Yes, as far as I’m concerned, I haven’t argued any of these things. I’ve simply stated that in my view asking a (living) fellow Christian for his/her prayers for me, and PRAYING to a (dead) saint are two entirely different things. They constitute a category difference.

    Just as I wouldn’t PRAY to a fellow Christian, I won’t be PRAYING to any dead Christians either.

    And then, secondly, even if I believed in such a thing, what would be the point of it when I could be praying directly to God instead? Is it a volume idea or something — the more voices directed at God the more success in prayer? I can’t think of any other reasoning behind such a practice.

  104. “I may not be reading you correctly, but it seems to me that you are suggesting the line between devotion and idolatry is located in the affections and intentions. If one’s intentional awareness is focused more on Mary and less on Christ then that would count, in your book, as idolatry? It is not a matter of doctrine (as I read you), but of one’s relative affective relationship to Christ and/or Mary? And this is something that you feel competent to judge in others? Since, as you said, “You know it when you see it?” Am i reading you correctly?”

    No, but it’s off topic so I’ll leave it there.

  105. I take it that Catholics, since they pray to saints in heaven, can pray to babies? Perhaps also to foetuses?

    Or are they in Limbo? Or did Benedict abolish that? [If he did, then where did all the occupants of Limbo relocate to?]

    Things are simpler on my side of the river!

  106. IP,

    You wrote:

    Yes, as far as I’m concerned, I haven’t argued any of these things. I’ve simply stated that in my view asking a (living) fellow Christian for his/her prayers for me, and PRAYING to a (dead) saint are two entirely different things. They constitute a category difference.

    I appreciate the clarification. You are arguing for a real distinction between “asking” and “praying.” A category difference.
    Could you please elucidate that difference? Explain the categories so that I can see the real distinction. As I have said before, the only difference I can see is one of spatial location and mode of communication. I know that when I ask a saint to pray for me, that’s the only difference I’m aware of in comparison to asking my friend to pray. But you obviously see something in my act of petition that I don’t see. Can you explain?

    Thanks,

    David

  107. “Could you please elucidate that difference?”


    No, I’m sorry, I can’t. If you don’t intuitively grasp that there’s a categorical difference between asking a mate for, say, a ride home, and petitioning Almighty God, then I can’t explain it to you. You’re concentrating on semantical distinctions (and arguing that there aren’t any of consequence), while I’m arguing from category distinctions: the ontological chasm between God and man.

  108. “One cannot reform the Church from the outside”

    Especially when one is outside because one has been excommunicated i.e. shoved out the door, the door locked and barred behind one! By the way, I’m no fan of the Reformation, but I recognise its causes: a Catholic hierarchy long rotten to the core.

    The moderator has asked us not to veer off topic, so I’ll end there.

  109. Hi IP,

    I am not asking you to explain the difference between petitioning a friend and praying to God. I am asking you to explain the difference (in your mind) between petitioning a dead friend and a live one.

    Thanks,

    David

  110. You’re using “petitioning” here in an ambiguous way. I can ASK a (living) friend for a favour; I can PRAY to Almighty God as He is my Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

    We’re repeating ourselves; I think we’ll have to agree to differ on this.

  111. I am not using petitioning in an ambiguous or equivocal way.
    When I ask or petition a friend for prayer (“Hey, John, pray for me!”) and when I ask or petition a dead friend for prayer (“Hey, Augustine, pray for me”), I am doing exactly the same thing. The only difference is the medium of communication.

    -David

  112. Perhaps some of the confusion here is over how our use of the word “pray” has developed over time. While it has always had a special meaning with reference to God, it has also carried a more general meaning of petitioning which is less in use today but more so in past ages (“I pray you, tarry”).

    As I understand it, the “praying” in “praying to the saints” means nothing more than the general sense. Perhaps the confusion is compounded because when one prays to God or the saints the outward form is similar — addressing persons unseen and in heaven — but what is being communicated and effected is very different, and in fact not essentially different from asking a friend to pray for you here on earth.

  113. Wonderful article but what exactly is the Catholic view of Christians that are still living? Are they also considered as saints like in Protestant traditions (though second-class or unlike the saints in heaven)? Or are they not saints?

    Because as far as I know Catholics also consider living (here on earth) Christians are not like the saints in heaven, and that these men and women are to be like examples in their devotion to Christ and their understanding of the Faith. This follows up another question: could it be possible that there are saints in heaven that are unknown to us? That they have done their best to follow Jesus (so they are in heaven) but their works are not known to us or aren’t famous?

    Thanks and God bless!

  114. Christians that are still living are called “saints” in another sense. All God’s people, united to Christ through faith and the sacraments, are consecrated to Him and share in the holiness of the Church. But that doesn’t mean that they will continue in the grace of God and be saved.

    And, yes, most of the saints in heaven are unknown to us. Only a few have been formally canonized, but many more are in heaven.

    -David

  115. I am interested in the early documentation Christians had to the devotion of Mary and Saints as mentioned in this article . I am struggling over this issue, and would like some early historical evidence.

  116. Hi Elizabeth (#115),

    One great resources on early Christian devotion to Mary in particular is found in Mary and the Fathers of the Church: http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Fathers-Church-Blessed-Patristic/dp/0898706866/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397820749&sr=8-1&keywords=mary+church+fathers

    Others can chime in on devotion to the Saints… running out this morning, but there is plenty of evidence from the first several centuries on this. Hope this helps. God bless, Casey

  117. David,
    You are making a number of assumptions when you pray to the dead. You are assuming that they can hear you and do something about your prayer request to them when in reality no one knows the nature of the dead in the next life specifically. Not even Revelation can tell you what the nature of a dead relative of yours is doing or capable of. This the NT never teaches that we are to pray to those who have died.

    Peter and Paul mention their impending deaths in their letters and they never exhort those whom they are writing to to pray to them after they die. If anyone would have believed that praying to the dead was helpful it would have been them. Yet they say nothing. The passage in Revelation does not show someone praying directly to the saints there.

    Finally, all prayer is to be to God alone in the name of Christ. Only Christ is the Great High Priest Who intercedes for us before God. Hebrews 4:14-15

  118. Elizabeth (115),

    A book which I found helpful on the subject of Mary was “Making Sense of Mary” by Gary G. Michuta. It includes references to early documentation and develops the subject in a way that is advantageous if one is coming to it from a Protestant point of view.

    It can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Making-Sense-Mary-Gary-Michuta-ebook/dp/B00E9JBTD0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397833930&sr=1-1&keywords=Making+sense+of+mary

  119. Hi Pat,

    You are making a number of assumptions when you pray to the dead. You are assuming that they can hear you and do something about your prayer request to them when in reality no one knows the nature of the dead in the next life specifically. Not even Revelation can tell you what the nature of a dead relative of yours is doing or capable of. This the NT never teaches that we are to pray to those who have died.

    These aren’t assumptions. They are doctrines known from revelation. However, you assume that all revelation is contained in the OT and NT. This doctrine is not known from revelation, and is, in fact, contradicted by Scripture. Catholic beliefs about the saints are confirmed not only by Scripture but also by revelation transmitted through sacred tradition.

    Thank you,

    David

  120. David,
    To whom was it revealed that the dead can hear you? Its not in the NT because Jesus nor His apostle ever taught this. The only revelation that God has given the church is found only in the Scripture.

    If you are claiming that sacred tradition is revelation then you are going to need to show this and justify it without begging the question.
    To whom and when was it first revealed that Christians should pray to the dead?

  121. Hi pat,

    The only revelation that God has given the church is found only in the Scripture.

    How do you know this?

    If you are claiming that sacred tradition is revelation then you are going to need to show this and justify it without begging the question.

    It was Christ himself who gave us the principle of sacred tradition. Tradition, as you know, means “to hand on.” Christ commanded the apostles to hand on everything he taught them and he promised them his divine assistance. Jesus said not a word about restricting that tradition to writing. When we turn to consider the transmission of the faith in the apostolic era, this principle was maintained. 2 Tim. 2:2 says, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” We don’t find a word about the New Testament canon anywhere in the apostolic tradition. The most important element of tradition and the one the most strongly attested is the liturgical tradition instituted by Christ (“do this in memory of me.”) In 1 Cor. 11, Paul refers specifically to this tradition when he says, “What I received from the Lord I handed on to you . . .”

    When the Fathers of the Church took up this question (Is revelation restricted to the words of Scripture) they specifically denied this. Augustine and st. basil are particularly strong witnesses to that effect. And the doctrine of the communion of saints is part of that tradition that is strongly attested in creed and in liturgical practice from the earliest days.

    The question “who was the first Christian to pray to the dead” is a red herring, because the practice predates Christianity. It was a Jewish practice – as has been demonstrated by the likes of Joachim Jeremias in his book Heiligengraber in Unwelt Jesu. In all probability, the apostles and Christ himself grew up thoroughly familiar with the practice. It’s kind of like asking me, “Who was the first christian to receive the Gospel of mark as canon?” I’ve no idea who the first Christian was to receive Mark’s gospel. But this is not important. It is enough for me to know that the apostolic church received it as such. in the same way, the ancient church received the Jewish practice of prayers to the dead.

    -david

  122. David,
    What else is equal to the inspired-inerrant Scripture that has been handed down? What else is considered revelation i..e the Word of God? Since there is nothing else that is considered inspired-inerrant as the Scripture then all we have as revelation from God are the written Scriptures.

    “Do this in memory of me” is found in Scripture.

    Church fathers do not determine what is revelation. They do not speak for the entire church but only for themselves.

    So we don’t know who started the idea of praying to the dead. It was not a church or council that came up with this idea. Jewish customs-practices that are not grounded in the OT are not binding. We also know Jesus and His apostles never taught such a thing because there is no evidence that they did.

  123. Pat,

    What else is equal to the inspired-inerrant Scripture that has been handed down? What else is considered revelation i..e the Word of God?

    Well, lots of things are revelation that are not included in the text of Scripture. Every one of Jesus’ acts was clearly revelatory, but we know from Scripture itself that not all of these acts were included in Scripture. Also, the list of canonical books is a revealed truth, but the list of canonical books is nowhere included in Scripture. Liturgical rubrics were also revealed by Christ but not recorded in Scripture. St. Paul and the Church fathers understood that many of these things were passed on simply by tradition. This is analogous, by the way, to the way in which Hebrew Liturgy was passed down. It is very difficult if not impossible to recreate the Hebrew Liturgy relying solely on the texts of the penteteuch. In fact, when you read Leviticus one of the things that strikes you is how much of the rubrics the sacred author takes for granted. These things could only have been known to the people of God by tradition. another thing handed on by tradition is what the earliest church fathers called “the rule of truth,” or “the rule of faith.” This is the sense that the inspired texts were understood to convey. That is to say, the Fathers thought that the meaning of scripture was not self-evident. but there were passages that HAD to be received in a certain sense, nonetheless. One example of this would be Jesus’ teaching on adultery, divorce, and remarriage. The fathers gave a binding interpretation of “porneia” in that text. another example would be the interpretation of the church’s liturgy – in particular the eucharist. I could go on an on.

    But, if you deny that God can preserve an apostolic tradition outside of Scripture – if you deny that God HAS preserved apostolic tradition outside of Scripture, then you certainly cannot maintain the integrity of the New Testament canon itself – for such is an outstanding example of sacred tradition.

    -David

  124. David,
    It is true that Jesus and His apostles taught and did other things not recorded in Scripture. John says as much about Christ in John 20:30. The problem is that we do not know what these things were since we have no record of them. They are not part of revelation since we don’t know specifically what they were. If you claim to know what these things were then its up to you to give specific examples. Without specific examples, no one can claim to know what these other things were.

    Who appointed the church fathers to speak for the entire church on how Scripture is to be understood? I can understand a RC of today believing that the pope speaks for the entire RCC because they believe the pope has such power and the leaders of the church support this idea. The church fathers do not have such support to speak for the entire church. No church council gave them such authority.

    Protestants believe that the NT canon is Scripture because we have good reasons to believe that the apostles wrote those books or were written by one closely associated with an apostle. There is good historical evidence or tradition for this.
    However, you don’t have such support for praying to the dead. There is no example of an apostle praying to the dead for example in the NT or outside.

  125. Pat,

    The problem is that we do not know what these things were since we have no record of them.

    Well, that’s just not true. I gave several examples of things we know from the apostolic era that are not contained in Scripture.
    You, yourself, conceded the point when you said “Protestants believe that the NT canon is Scripture because we have good reasons to believe that the apostles wrote those books or were written by one closely associated with an apostle. There is good historical evidence or tradition for this.”

    So – you are willing to trust tradition when it concerns the transmission of the sacred text, but not for other doctrines?

    -david

  126. David,
    We trust the evidence-tradition of the transmission of the sacred text because there is evidence. There is no evidence from Jesus nor the apostles that they prayed to the dead or that they taught others to do that.

    If you want your doctrines to be apostolic then they must be firmly grounded on the Scripture alone since the Scriptures are the only teachings we have of the apostles. We don’t have the oral teachings of any apostle.

  127. Pat,

    If you want your doctrines to be apostolic then they must be firmly grounded on the Scripture alone since the Scriptures are the only teachings we have of the apostles. We don’t have the oral teachings of any apostle.

    Really? How do you know this?

    -David

  128. David,
    Show me I am wrong that there are other writings or oral teachings of the apostles that are not in Scripture. When you do that then that will prove I am wrong. If not, then it shows I am right.

  129. Pat,

    Who wrote the gospel of mark? The author’s name is not given in scripture. If you think you can answer this, that would be one example of an apostolic tradition not included in scripture. I listed several more in my comment above. liturgical rubrics would be another classic example.

    -David

  130. Pat:

    Let me put David’s point about liturgical rubrics another way. This is something that occurred to my mind before I became Catholic. How, in a world without email or electronic communication, could the various ancient churches that emerge in diverse places in the world, with different cultures and languages, all practice a liturgical form of worship that is not dissimilar? I think there is only one reasonable explanation. Jesus taught his Apostles how to worship (liturgical rubrics), and they taught their successors. That is Apostolic Tradition.

    Anyways, that is my only comment lest the flag is waved for being off topic in a thread about the Saints praying for us in heaven. My comment was intended to compliment David’s. Please carry on with him.

    Peace in Christ,

    Brent

  131. David,
    We have good evidence for who wrote the gospels. Papias tells us who wrote the gospels. This information is not considered inspired-inerrant. You have yet to show if there are any “other writings or oral teachings of the apostles that are not in Scripture.”

    In the early church when the apostles were still alive the apostles said and did things that we have no record of. Asserting some kind of “liturgical rubrics” does not prove they come from the apostles themselves. You would need some documentation from the first century to prove this. Otherwise, all you are doing is speculating.

  132. Hi Pat,

    I think we’ve got a couple of different threads to untangle here. The first is whether or not there are apostolic traditions known to us outside of Scripture. The second is what those traditions are. And the third is how reliable those traditions are.

    Regarding the first question, I think you and I agree entirely. There are apostolic traditions known to us from non-scriptural sources. You reference the Papias tradition.
    Regarding the second question – there are clearly traditions from antiquity that the Fathers held to be apostolic. St. Basil gives a list in his book On the Holy Spirit. Many of these are liturgical.

    regarding the 3rd question – are these traditions reliable? You clearly don’t think that they are. that’s fine. There is no prima facie reason that you should accept any testimony from antiquity without question. But that is another discussion that we cannot have apart from a normative conception of the transmission of Christian faith.

    That is why we have to answer – How does Christ intend for the Christian faith to be transmitted? Did he authorize the principle of scriptural transmission or did he authorize the principle of transmission via authorized representatives? The only reason to give the assent of faith either to scripture or to tradition is if that tradition possesses divine authority.

    I, myself, would never submit to Scripture on the strength of Papias’ testimony alone. Perhaps Papias was a liar? Perhaps he was mistaken? i can only consider Papias in light of all the motives of credibility for Christian faith.

    So when you say we have no evidence of the interecession of saints from the apostolic era, this statement is clearly false. We do have evidence and testimony from Christian and non-Christian sources. (See the Jeremias text listed above). But you are perfectly free to discount that evidence as unreliable. But Whether or not God preserved the theology and spirituality of christian antiquity is a theological as well as an historical question. one of the things that made me Catholic was realizing that if I rejected the testimony of Christian antiquity, then I could have no confidence that any account of christian faith possessed divine authority. If, however, I accepted that Christ intended the faith to be transmitted by tradition (which, of course, he says),and he gave a promise of divine assistance, then I had a basis for holding my assent of faith rationally.

    -David

  133. David,
    You are avoiding the argument. There is no oral teachings-writings of the apostles outside the Scripture.

    If Papias was a liar then you need to produce counter facts that shows that he was lying. Asserting that he could have been does not prove that he was. Until you can produce counter facts that shows he was lying then we must conclude he was not.

    If Papias could be lying then so could the church fathers be lying and mistaken. So could your church be lying. St Basil could be lying to.

    You still have yet to show your traditions are of divine authority. All you are doing is asserting it.

    Again, there is no evidence that the Lord Jesus or His apostles ever taught that praying to the dead is something we are to do. What we do know with certainty is that we are to pray to God and in the name of Christ. Never to the dead.

    This is not evidence but speculation: “Joachim Jeremias in his book Heiligengraber in Unwelt Jesu. In all probability, the apostles and Christ himself grew up thoroughly familiar with the practice.”

  134. Pat,

    You are avoiding the argument.

    I’m perplexed. What argument do you think I’m avoiding?

    -david

  135. Pat (#132)

    If Papias was a liar then you need to produce counter facts that shows that he was lying. Asserting that he could have been does not prove that he was. Until you can produce counter facts that shows he was lying then we must conclude he was not.

    Don’t you think you are trying to have it both ways? You seem to argue that Papias should be presumed innocent until proven guilty – with which I agree – but then when the Catholic Church says we can and should ask the saints for their prayers, you seem to assume the Church is guilty until proven innocent.

    We should trust Papias unless we have reason not to.

    We should not trust the Church unless we have reason to.

    Which is it?

    jj

  136. David,
    “There is no oral teachings-writings of the apostles outside the Scripture.” That Jesus nor His apostles taught that we are to pray to the dead.

  137. Pat,

    Again I am perplexed.
    Are you asserting that there is no evidence of oral tradition, or that there is no evidence of oral tradition that you find personally persuasive? These are two very different claims.
    Also, are you asserting that something needs to have been taught explicitly by Christ or the apostles in order to be licit or normative for the Christian faith?

    -David

  138. David,
    I am saying that there is no evidence today of any oral tradition that is found outside the NT. There might have been at one time but there is none today. That’s why my claim ““There is no oral teachings-writings of the apostles outside the Scripture.” That Jesus nor His apostles taught that we are to pray to the dead.” stands. You have not shown this to be false. To show it to be false you will have to produce something by the apostles that is not in the NT.

    Since your article is about praying to the dead I’m asking for explicit teachings by Christ and His apostles that they did teach such a thing. So far you have not demonstrated that.

  139. John,
    Unless someone can produce counter facts that Papias was lying we should accept it.

    If your church wants to claim that Jesus and His apostles taught that we are to pray to the dead then you will need to show that from the NT because all that we have from them is found in the NT only. If its not found in there then there is no reason to think they taught such a thing given how much is said about prayer in the NT. What we find is that we are to pray to God and in the name of Christ.

    This is why you should not trust what your church says about praying to the dead. The NT never taught such a thing.

  140. John,
    The Scripture does not tell us to just trust the church but to “21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;” I Thes 5:21. We are to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) who examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul taught was in line with the Scripture.

  141. Hi Pat,

    I’m really perplexed now. I’m not sure what you mean by “evidence.” One dictionary defines evidence as:
    “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.”
    Your claim, if I understand you, is that there just is absolutely no evidence that the apostles left behind ANY oral instruction not recorded in Scripture to which we have access.
    But then, in the same breath, you assert that Papias’s testimony to such a tradition is credible. I’m absolutely confused here.

    It’s worth noting, moreover, that the Papias tradition is associated with the Polycarp tradition – one of our earliest sources regarding Christian celebration of the martyrs and their relics. Why we should trust Papias, but distrust the martyrdom of polycarp, the didascalion, or the apostolic constitutions is beyond me.

    In another article I have laid out some of the biblical and intertestamental evidence for a Jewish cult of the dead predating and contemporaneous with apostolic Christianity.

    Regarding the claim that neither Jesus nor his apostles taught us to pray to the dead:

    What I have argued in this article and the one referenced above is that
    1) The Practice is Hebraic, Jewish, and contemporaneous with early Christianity.(See sources listed above)
    2) That the practice is clearly attested in early Christianity.
    3) That the practice is consistent with the picture of the afterlife we find in texts like Revelation 5 & 8, Tobit, Maccabees, 2 Kings 13, and the Book of Acts.
    4) That the practice enjoys the universal consent of the same Church that formed the New Testament canon, produced the Council of Nicaea, and transmitted the liturgical tradition of the earliest Christians.

    I don’t remember arguing that there is explicit evidence that Christ commanded the practice. However, I don’t think such evidence is necessary to justify it. There is, for example, no explicit evidence that Christ or the apostles ever gave communion to women. But, I trust, you would balk at anyone who wanted to deny communion to women on those grounds.
    Ultimately, therefore, the question of the communion of saints cannot be separated from Ecclesiology, from issues that are as much theological as historical.

    -David

  142. Pat (#@139)

    John,
    Unless someone can produce counter facts that Papias was lying we should accept it.

    If your church wants to claim that Jesus and His apostles taught that we are to pray to the dead then you will need to show that from the NT because all that we have from them is found in the NT only. If its not found in there then there is no reason to think they taught such a thing given how much is said about prayer in the NT. What we find is that we are to pray to God and in the name of Christ.

    This is why you should not trust what your church says about praying to the dead. The NT never taught such a thing.

    But then why, on the same grounds, wouldn’t you accept the Catholic Church’s praying to the dead unless someone can provide evidence it is lying? You seem to want positive proof that the Catholic Church is right about praying to the dead, but will believe Papias unless there is counter-evidence.

    That the New Testament does not explicitly say we should pray to the dead isn’t the same as saying we should not.

    jj

  143. John,
    There is no positive evidence that the apostles taught that we should pray to the dead and there is ample positive proof that we are to pray to God and Christ. You have no good biblical reasons to pray to the dead. Its a teaching of men and not of the apostles.

    Not only does Papias give us the evidence for the authors of the gospels but also that the four names of the apostles have always been connected to those gospels.

  144. Pat (#139)

    John,
    The Scripture does not tell us to just trust the church but to “21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;” I Thes 5:21. We are to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) who examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul taught was in line with the Scripture.

    But it seems you are applying a double standard. You say you know the Gospel of Mark is by an associate of the Apostles because Papias says so and that unless we can show Papias is wrong, we must believe him. You don’t know the truth of Papias’s statement from Scripture; you have used his statement to help you determine what is Scripture.

    But when the Church says that it remembers from the Apostles that we should pray to the Saints, you say that we shouldn’t trust the Church unless we have positive proof.

    This is a double standard. Papias’s statement isn’t Scripture, but we should trust it until proven otherwise; the Church’s statement isn’t Scripture, either, but we mustn’t trust it until proven from Scripture.

    jj

  145. Pat,

    What would qualify for you as “evidence of oral teachings of the apostles” being found outside the New Testament?

    Would it, for example, qualify if a Church Father were (in describing the teachings he was giving to his hearers/readers) to say something like, “I did not invent these teachings, but had them from [some Early Church Father], who sat at the feet of [some Apostle], remembered all that [that Apostle] had said, and passed those sayings on to me”…? Wouldn’t that qualify?

    Or, how about this: What if an Early Church Father were to say, “Such-and-such is a teaching of the Church, and not an innovation, but is handed down to us from the ancient days of the Church?” …at a time when “ancient” could only refer to the 1st century?

    Or, what about if a particular teaching, which was non-obvious or open-to-debate as to whether it could be found in the New Testament, happened to crop up in many widely-distant geographical locations (India, Ethiopia, Spain, France) so early that, as a practical matter, it’s hard to imagine that teaching occurring any other way except that it was preached that way from the beginning, by the Apostles or Apostolic-era Christians who founded the churches there? Would that qualify?

  146. David,
    Don’t know why you are still confused. We both know that the only things we have from the apostles is found in the New Testament alone. If there were other writings of the apostles then we would have them. The apostles taught orally while they were alive but we don’t know what this was since we have no record of it.

    Papias tells us in the second century or so who wrote the gospels. He confirms who wrote the gospels. Much of his works are lost.

    Now what evidence is there that the apostles taught that we should pray to the dead? Since all that we have from the apostles is found only in the New Testament then we know they never taught such a thing. If you claim otherwise then please show me what apostle taught this. Without any documentation that an apostle taught this then you have no apostolic authority for praying to the dead. Even if other Jews at the time prayed to the dead does not mean they did. They were a lot of false teachings around this time as there is today.
    Of course the Scripture tells us there is an afterlife. However, those who have died have no more to do with this life. See Ecclesiates 9:5-6, 10, 12:5

    What it looks like in the New Testament church and the early church was that false teachers and their teachings were creeping into the church. Paul and John deal with some of this in their letters. This has always been a problem. We also know that pagan ideas were also coming into the church because the early Christians were pagans before and there was probably a tendency to incorporate pagan ideas into their belief systems. Praying to the dead makes sense but it’s not apostolic.
    The practice of praying to the dead doesn’t really appear until the 2nd century or so. “Among Church writers Tertullian († 230) is the first to mention prayers for the dead..” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_for_the_dead

    I know you didn’t claim explicit evidence that Christ commanded the practice. Anyone who is familiar with the gospels would know this. That is why it is cannot be justified as being taught by Him or the apostles. What can be justified is that we are to pray to God and Christ because this is clearly what they taught.

    How do you know who is in the communion of saints and that they can hear your prayers?

  147. R.C.
    What would qualify as “ evidence of oral teachings of the apostles” being found outside the New Testament” would be some document by someone who knew that apostle and this is what that apostle said. Something like that would help. It looks like Papias wanted to know things about the apostles that were not in writing. Consider this:
    “I shall not hesitate also to put into ordered form for you, along with the interpretations, everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down carefully, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I took no pleasure in those who told many different stories, but only in those who taught the truth. Nor did I take pleasure in those who reported their memory of someone else’s commandments, but only in those who reported their memory of the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the Truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders arrived, I made enquiries about the words of the elders—what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and John the Elder, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from the books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papias_of_Hierapolis

    The problem we have is that most of his works have not survived to this day. What a tragic loss that is.

    This is why basing doctrines on what is called the oral teachings of the apostles is not adequate because we don’t know what it was without any written records of it. Some of the early Christians might have known some of the things the apostles taught and said. Even if they wrote it down, we don’t have it. So were stuck with the New Testament alone.

  148. Pat (#143)

    John,
    There is no positive evidence that the apostles taught that we should pray to the dead and there is ample positive proof that we are to pray to God and Christ. You have no good biblical reasons to pray to the dead. Its a teaching of men and not of the apostles.

    Not only does Papias give us the evidence for the authors of the gospels but also that the four names of the apostles have always been connected to those gospels.

    Sure there is (positive evidence that the apostles taught that we should pray to the dead) – the statement of the Catholic Church. This article discusses some of the early (pre-Nicene) evidences.

    My point is that you accept Papias’s statement; why not Hippolytus’s, or that of the Shepherd of Hermas?

    I am simply saying that you seem to me to have a double standard: those statements which agree with you need to be disproved; those which disagree with you require Scripture – and, I suspect, explicitly commanding Scripture, not merely consistent, such as the saints in Revelation praying for us.

    Instead of repeatedly telling me that prayer to the saints is wrong because you don’t see it in Scripture, I would be glad if you would deal with what seems to me to be a double standard of evidence.

    jj

  149. John,
    No double standards. We know someone must have written the gospels even though their names are not on them. Papias is one source that tells us who wrote them. These names have always been connected with the 4 gospels and no others.

    We don’t have anything in the NT that tells us that the apostles taught that we should pray to the dead. This is easy to check by reading the NT. Since the NT is all that we have of the apostles then we must accept they never taught such a thing. The way to change this is to find a letter etc by an apostle that shows that we should pray to the dead.

    “Among Church writers Tertullian († 230) is the first to mention prayers for the dead..” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_for_the_dead.
    This is way beyond the time of the apostles.

    Do you think you should trust everything your church says?

  150. Pat,

    We both know that the only things we have from the apostles is found in the New Testament alone.

    That’s just not true. I contest that.

    The apostles taught orally while they were alive but we don’t know what this was since we have no record of it.

    Again, what exactly do you think counts as a record? I would say that 2nd century testimony is certainly “a record.”

    Now what evidence is there that the apostles taught that we should pray to the dead?

    You haven’t responded to the evidence I adduced in previous comments.

    Without any documentation that an apostle taught this then you have no apostolic authority for praying to the dead.

    This is the crux of our disagreement. You maintain that the apostolic faith can only be known by textual evidence found in Scripture. I maintain that Jesus endorsed no such principle. Rather, Jesus commissioned authorized interpreters to transmit the faith, and they, in turn, commissioned successors. It is from their successors that I learn, explicitly, that I am to invoke the Saints. Since apostolic succession and the universal practice of the ancient Church are (I believe) divine authorities, then I have warrant for the practice.
    The view that we should derive our account of Christian faith from Scripture alone, by contrast, is taught neither by Scripture, nor by tradition.

    However, those who have died have no more to do with this life

    Not true. See 2 Kings 13, 2 Maccabees 15:12-16; Tobit 12:12-15; Revelation 5 & 8.

    What it looks like in the New Testament church and the early church was that false teachers and their teachings were creeping into the church.

    Yep. And what principles do they articulate to differentiate true from false doctrine? NOWHERE do they tell us to consult the New Testament as our definitive rule of faith. Rather, they point to apostolic authority, catholicity, unity, and tradition as the proper means of distinguishing true from false doctrine.

    How do you know who is in the communion of saints and that they can hear your prayers?

    By the authority of the Church and Catholic Tradition.

    Blessings,

    David

  151. David,
    It is true that there is nothing i.e. teachings outside of the New Testament that we have of the apostles. Papias refers to the authors of the gospels but that is not a teaching of an apostle. Your church also has never produced any work of an apostle outside the New Testament. We have no record of any apostle teaching that we should pray to the dead. Even if some of the Jews at the time of the apostles prayed to the dead does not mean the apostles did.

    It is true that the “apostolic faith can only be known by textual evidence found in Scripture” since we have no record of any teaching of an apostle outside the New Testament.

    Jesus nor any of the apostles commissioned the bishop of Rome to be the supreme leader of the entire church. We don’t see a papacy for a number of centuries until Leo. So you really don’t have a apostolic succession that comes directly from the apostles.

    Praying to the dead is first mentioned by Tertullian in 230.

    What does 2 Kings 13, 2 Maccabees 15:12-16 have to do with praying to the dead?

    Tobit 12:9 says “ Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin.” If you know the Scripture well enough you would know this is a false statement. This shows this book cannot be Scripture since it contains errors.

    The early church considered the Scripture to be the rule of faith. Even church fathers appeal to Scripture as the authority and not to traditions.
    JND Kelly has points out:
    “The clearest token of the prestige enjoyed by (Scripture) is the fact that almost the entire theological effort of the Fathers, whether their aims were polemical or constructive, was expended upon what amounted to the exposition of the Bible. Further, it was everywhere taken for granted that, for any doctrine to win acceptance, it had first to establish its Scriptural basis (Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), pp. 42, 46).
    Heiko Oberman makes these comments about the relationship between Scripture and Tradition in the early Church:
    Scripture and Tradition were for the early Church in no sense mutually exclusive: kerygma (the message of the gospel), Scripture and Tradition coincided entirely. The Church preached the kerygma which is found in toto in written form in the canonical books. The Tradition was not understood as an addition to the kerygma contained in Scripture but as handing down that same kerygma in living form: in other words everything was to be found in Scripture and at the same time everything was in living Tradition (The Harvest of Medieval Theology (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1963), p. 366).”

  152. Pat (#149)

    John,
    No double standards. We know someone must have written the gospels even though their names are not on them. Papias is one source that tells us who wrote them. These names have always been connected with the 4 gospels and no others.

    But you have nothing in Scripture that tell you Papias is correct in identifying Mark as Scripture.

    We don’t have anything in the NT that tells us that the apostles taught that we should pray to the dead. This is easy to check by reading the NT. Since the NT is all that we have of the apostles then we must accept they never taught such a thing. The way to change this is to find a letter etc by an apostle that shows that we should pray to the dead.

    But Papias is not an apostle.

    “Among Church writers Tertullian († 230) is the first to mention prayers for the dead..” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_for_the_dead.
    This is way beyond the time of the apostles.

    And therefore cannot be true??

    Do you think you should trust everything your church says?

    Of course – otherwise I would not be a Catholic.

    jj

  153. Pat – my point is quite simple, though perhaps I don’t communicate well:

    - that the Gospel of Mark is Scripture you don’t require Scriptural evidence
    - that prayer to the saints is valid, you do require Scriptural evidence

    That’s all I mean by double standard.

    jj

  154. Fr. Barron, answers the question “Why pray to the saints?”

  155. Bryan,
    This sounds so reasonable but that does not mean its true. If what Fr Barron said is true then why do we not find Jesus teaching that we should pray to the dead?

    ” 5 For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. 6 Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 9

  156. Greetings from Singapore. This is my first post here but I’ve been following the postings here in CTC.

    Just want to say,

    Pat,

    During Jesus’ transfiguration, Elijah and Moses did appear and not only did they appear, Jesus actually talk to both of them. Also, the part where Peter trying to set up tents for them also mean that they look pretty much real and human. So, this is one concrete proof in the Scripture that once a person is dead and gone up to heaven, they are still pretty much themselves.

    John Tan

  157. Pat #155,

    Acts of the Apostles records that Jesus spent 40 days after His resurrection speaking to his disciples about “the Kingdom of God,” yet none of it is recorded in Scripture. Do you concede that it is possible that He taught them about intercessory prayer and the Communion of Saints? And if it is possible, why shouldn’t we trust the Church which was given Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit’s guidance “in all truth”? Moreover, that you don’t “find Jesus teaching about praying to the dead” is to beg the question. Not everything Christ taught is contained in Scripture. He founded a Church before He gave us a Canon of Scripture. His “Church” is the pillar and foundation of truth — not the bible. Peace to you.

  158. Pat said…..

    “This sounds so reasonable but that does not mean its true. If what Fr Barron said is true then why do we not find Jesus teaching that we should pray to the dead?”

    ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living…..’ Mark 22:26

  159. John,
    Never said that the people cease to exist when they die. Notice that Jesus and His disciples were not praying to Moses etc but were having a one to one conversation. Also note that this event is never used in the NT as grounds for praying to the dead.

  160. 1. We know from Scripture (even limited to the reduced Protestant canon) that because of “the power of God” those in Christ who have “fallen asleep” are to be understood as “the living” not “the dead”;

    2. We know from Scripture (even limited to the reduced Protestant canon) that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (and it follows that they could not be “witnesses,” nor could they cheer for us as we “run the race,” if they were clueless about events in our lives;

    3. We know from Scripture (even limited to the reduced Protestant canon) that there is much rejoicing in Heaven when a sinner repents…and it is reasonable to assume that this rejoicing is not merely from the angels, inasmuch as it would be strange for the angels to suddenly start rejoicing only for the oblivious saints to ask, “Hey, what’s going on? What’s the celebration for?” and the angels to refuse to answer;

    4. We know from Scripture (even limited to the reduced Protestant canon) that Christians are bidden to pray for one another;

    5. We know from Scripture (even limited to the reduced Protestant canon) that Christians are allowed to request prayer from each other;

    6. We know from Scripture (even limited to the reduced Protestant canon) that “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much”;

    7. We know from Scripture (even limited to the reduced Protestant canon) no imperfect or sinful thing is in Heaven, and consequently that all Heaven’s inhabitants are very, very righteous indeed;

    8. We know therefore that the saints in Heaven are already interceding for us to some degree, inasmuch as they are alive and righteous and aware of our difficulties, and are therefore not disobeying the injunction to pray for their brothers and sisters, but praying for us and “availing much” by doing so.

    9. The only Scripturally-sound objection to asking saints to intercede for us, therefore, is not over whether we are allowed to ask the saints to pray for us, or whether they hear us, but rather, whether they’re already praying for us as much as they’re ever going to, whether we ask them to do so, or not! (But the same could be said about prayers to God, so this objection really doesn’t get far.)

    10. More broadly, this whole topic cannot be properly understood without pointing out that the almost the whole theology of Paul revolves around Christ’s revelation to Paul on the Damascus road that Christians are parts of Christ’s body and that when Paul persecuted Christians, he was persecuting Christ. Paul hammers this theme again and again.

    For this reason, it is simply false (if one holds a Scriptural, Pauline ecclesiology) to assert that people who ask the saints for their intercession are neglecting to pray to Christ. The saints are in Christ, like my muscle cells and bones are in me. When the saints on earth did works of grace led by the Holy Spirit, it was Christ working through them. It was no longer they who lived, but Christ who lived in them. When they suffered for His sake, He suffered and thus their suffering, united to His, had real merit. And when the saints ask Our Father to help us, Christ is asking Our Father to help us.

    The old joke is that, when someone is not listening to what you are saying to them, they turn their heads away from you, put their palm out in your direction, and say, “Talk to the hand.” Well, those who are in Christ are (in a real-if-mysterious way, not a merely symbolical or analogical way) His hands, and His feet. They are in Christ. When you talk to the saints, you are “talking to the hand” (or the foot, or the eye). But “the hand” is part of Christ. (We are not Gnostics; we do not believe that the body is extraneous or dismissible; we believe rather that the body and soul together are the person.) So when you “talk to the hand” (or the foot, or the eye) you are talking to Christ. When He tells us “talk to the hand” He isn’t ignoring us; He is rather glorifying those whom He loves, for whom He died, by allowing them to have a participation in His own intercessory work.

    And isn’t that just like Our Father, to set things up that way? He is always doing that: He is always allowing us to participate in our lesser ways in doing things which He could “do better for Himself,” so to speak. Does Jesus need saints praying for His disciples who remain on earth? Of course not. But Our Father’s heart is gladdened not only when His Firstborn Son does His will, but also when Jesus’ adopted little brothers and sisters also join in.

    Given all of this, one must wonder: What went so badly wrong with the Scriptural exegesis and ecclesiology and Christology of some denominations, that they don’t preach the intercession of the saints?

  161. Hi Pat,

    I was trying to address the point you made that once a person is dead, they have no consciousness. That is not true. Sorry for my poor vocab but you know what I’m driving at. As for the apostles praying to Moses, that was not the point I was trying to make. Anyway, even if they did, what was never stated in the bible doesn’t mean that they never did. Anyway, we both know that this has been pretty much discussed and debated in this forum.

  162. R.C.
    Here is a footnote on Hebrews 11:1 from the NAB which is a RC translation:
    “[1-13] Christian life is to be inspired not only by the Old Testament men and women of faith (⇒ Hebrews 12:1) but above all by Jesus. As the architect of Christian faith, he had himself to endure the cross before receiving the glory of his triumph (⇒ Hebrews 12:2). Reflection on his sufferings should give his followers courage to continue the struggle, if necessary even to the shedding of blood (⇒ Hebrews 12:3-4). Christians should regard their own sufferings as the affectionate correction of the Lord, who loves them as a father loves his children.” Notice they say nothing about these cloud of witnesses being aware of us.

    It is true that Scripture tells us to pray for one another. It never tells us to pray to the dead.

    Here is what Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 says about the status of the dead: “5 For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. 6 Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.”

    9:10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.”

    This tells us that the dead have nothing more to do with this world. The temporary exceptions were Samuel, Moses and Elijah. After these incidents we don’t find anyone praying to them.

    There is no reason to pray to the dead for the mere fact that Christ alone is our High Priest Who intercedes for us and we are to pray in His name and not in any other.

  163. David,
    It is true that Jesus said and did things not recorded in the gospels. However, we don’t know what it was. No one does. You can speculate all you want about all kinds of things but you will never have any certainty about it. The problem with using speculations as the grounds for doctrines is that it can be used to justify anything. I dialogue with Muslims and they could speculate that Jesus told His disciples that a greater prophet would come and they were to listen to him. We know that is not in the gospels but maybe Jesus taught this during His “40 days after His resurrection speaking to his disciples about “the Kingdom of God,” yet none of it is recorded in Scripture”. Or maybe He taught them that there would be false leaders in Rome who would usurp His authority by claiming to be a supreme leader of the entire church.

    If you want to speculate that Jesus taught the disciples something not recorded in Scripture then you open yourself up to all kinds of unbiblical ideas and doctrines. It could easily be used against you.

    The church has always had a canon of Scripture. It was the OT. Only the Scripture is inspired-inerrant and not he church. The church is to support and teach the Scripture but no pass on doctrines that are not grounded in Scripture. When it does this it is not “the pillar and foundation of truth”.

  164. David,
    Here is a warning from Scripture about what you are proposing:
    “9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” 2 John

    We know that Jesus never taught such things as praying to the dead because it is never recorded in the gospels. None of the apostles in their writings tell us to pray to the dead either. Praying to the dead is an example of going to far and not abiding in the teaching of Christ.

  165. John.
    You are comparing apples and oranges. The authorship of the gospels is a historical issue while praying to the dead is a theological issue.

  166. Pat,

    Thanks for your continued interest.

    You wrote:
    “We know that Jesus never taught such things as praying to the dead because it is never recorded in the gospels.”

    You are assuming here that Jesus never taught anything not recorded in Scripture. How would you prove that? I don’t think you can.

    “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book…” John 20:30 NASB

    “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they *were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself *would not contain the books that *would be written.” John 21:25 NASB

    IC XC
    Christopher

  167. Pat (#165)

    John.
    You are comparing apples and oranges. The authorship of the gospels is a historical issue while praying to the dead is a theological issue.

    You mean the question whether the Gospel of Mark is Scripture or not is not a theological issue??

    jj

  168. Christopher,
    I agree with you. The problem is that we don’t know what else Jesus taught since we have no record of it. There is no basis to say that He taught we should pray to the dead.

  169. John,
    No. The question of who wrote the gospel of Mark is a historical question and not a theological one.

  170. Pat,

    I believe in the Bible because of the Church’s teaching about it, not vice versa. The same goes for this. If St. Mark *did not* write the Gospel of Mark (as I believe that he did), would that not be an historical question? Is the resurrection a theological question *or* an historical one? I believe it is dangerous to draw that hard an either/or distinction… perhaps it’s just me?

    IC XC
    Christopher

  171. Pat (#169)

    No. The question of who wrote the gospel of Mark is a historical question and not a theological one.

    But I thought you brought up Papias’s statement about the authorship of Mark to demonstrated that Mark was from an apostle or a close associate of an apostle, and that you intended that as proof that Mark is Scripture.

    If, however, your certainty of Markan authorship is only historical, not theological, then doesn’t it mean that you agree with Sproul regarding the canon – that it is a fallible collection of infallible books? You don’t know with divine faith that Mark is Scripture.

    I suggest, in any case, that this is getting far from the topic of whether the saints pray for us.

    jj

  172. Christopher,
    Do you believe the inspiration of the Bible depends on your church?

    Who wrote Mark is a historical question.

    The resurrection is both a historical and theological issue. It happened in history and it has theological implications.

  173. Pat,

    You quote from a footnote and say, “Notice they say nothing about these cloud of witnesses being aware of us.” This is like me quoting the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States and noting, “Notice they say nothing about The United States having won independence from the British.” One doesn’t, in a footnote, have to spell out every obvious implication of a particular passage; nor does a failure to do so prevent that implication from being true.

    You then say, “It is true that Scripture tells us to pray for one another. It never tells us to pray to the dead…,” but, Pat, John the Baptist and Peter and Paul and Timothy and Silas and Mary are significantly more alive than any earthly person you’ve ever asked to pray for you…people walking around with bodies that decay with time? With habits that still lead them into sin? Shouldn’t I admonish you, Pat, for how you have sometimes asked these near-corpses whom you happen to know to pray for you?

    You catch me asking the liveliest folk I know — people currently enraptured in the Everlasting Divine Life of the Trinity — for their prayers and accuse me of “praying to the dead!” By that standard, why shouldn’t I accuse you of “praying to the dead” catch you asking favors of people who won’t even last another two hundred years?

    Then you quote Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 and 10; these tell us of the status of those in Sheol; not those in Heaven. (But there is a difference!)

    You then draw a conclusion: “This tells us that the dead have nothing more to do with this world.” But have you not read Luke 16:19-31? Do you not notice the irony that Jesus named the character in this particular story as “Lazarus?” Do you think Lazarus, having died, had nothing more to do with this world? And doesn’t the rich man who died plead — fruitlessly in this case, but the rich man was not a saint — for his brothers? If even a sinner in fire pleads for mercy for those on earth, how much more a saint in Heaven? Are the saints in Heaven less compassionate than sinners?

    Or consider Matthew 27:51-53: Did the “holy people who had died” make any impression on the people of Jerusalem? And I have already alluded to Luke 15; are the angels the sole occupants of Heaven, the only ones who celebrate when a sinner repents? And what about at the general resurrection? Will those who have died say, “Nope, sorry; we’ve died; we can’t get involved in any events on earth ever again?” What about the souls of the martyrs in Revelation 6? Don’t they plead with God to avenge the blood of the martyrs? (Not, I think, an uninvolved attitude.)

    Or, to return to the passage in Hebrews: The “cloud of witnesses”: Are they not the saints in glory? (I say, “in glory” because, standing in the divine presence, that is precisely where they are, in the shekinah; hence, a “cloud” of witnesses.) And are they not in this passage depicted as spectators in a stadium, observing an athletic competition? What do such spectators do? Do they not cheer for the competitors, and thereby encourage them? They are not on the field, but one would never say that they were uninvolved.

    You add, “The temporary exceptions were Samuel, Moses and Elijah. After these incidents we don’t find anyone praying to them.” But Jews from time immemorial prayed at Rachel’s tomb asking her to intercede with God on their behalf (often in maternal matters). And Christians continued this tradition from the start, that Moses is “Saint Moses” and Elijah is “Saint Elijah” in ancient tradition. That it doesn’t immediately occur to you or me to murmur, “Hey, Moses, join me in praying that God would help me resist uncontrolled outbursts of anger when I see injustice” means that you and I were not raised as first-century Jews who then became Christians. But the Apostles were.

    You state, “There is no reason to pray to the dead for the mere fact that Christ alone is our High Priest Who intercedes for us…” …which doesn’t follow. Christ (not “Christ alone,” mind you; how can a person whose very body contains millions of other persons ever be called “alone?!”) is certainly our High Priest; but how is that pertinent to the question? Aaron was the High Priest at the time of the Exodus; but that didn’t prevent an Israelite from asking another Israelite to pray for them…or even, to take a lamb or some grain to Aaron to ask Aaron to offer a sacrifice on their behalf. Now we have a far better High Priest than Aaron or his sons; but our fellow Israelites can still pray for us.

    I think what you’re missing here, Pat, is the ecclesiology of the Apostle Paul. Paul/Saul learned it from Jesus when Jesus blinded Saul en route to Damascus saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” And you know the story: Saul answered, “Not so, Lord; I was just persecuting your followers, which isn’t the same thing,” and Jesus answered, “Oh, nevermind then.”

    Kidding!

    No, it didn’t go quite that way, did it? Jesus revealed to Saul that when you persecute a Christian, you are persecuting an organ in the body of Christ — His hands, or His feet, or His eye. They are “in Christ”: Notice that, despite the doctrine of the Eucharist, the Pauline Epistles say that we are “in Christ” about ten times more often than they say Christ is “in us.” Jesus’ words to Saul on the Damascus road were an epiphany; Paul constantly reiterates our membership — not like people signing up for an organization, but like cells in an organism — in the body of Christ. It’s not mere analogy; it’s metaphysical and miraculous reality.

    And that’s why the priestly ministry of Christ’s ordained clergy is just a sharing in the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ. The mission of forgiving men’s sins is shared by Jesus with His Apostles and their successors: “Whosoever’s sins you forgive….” When the Apostles preached, they also commended those who heeded them for receiving their words not as mere words from men, but “the word of God.”: They had a share in the preaching ministry of the Divine Logos Himself.

    Thus, when a saint (whether he is in Heaven already, or on earth) intercedes for a fellow Christian, is he praying “apart from Christ?” Of course not! (How is that even possible? “It is God Himself who works within you….”)

    No, the saint who intercedes is “in Christ” and thus participates in Christ’s intercessory ministry. Does Christ need any help? Of course not! But love is not like that; love does not say, “I can do this myself, so go away and don’t join in with me.” Love says, “I am doing this; how happy it makes me that you also want to do it with me!” God starts beaming with pride when the saints intercede.

    Or, to put it another way: God is a good Father. He is pleased by the obedience of His firstborn Son, naturally. But He has also adopted many other sons and daughters, and is pleased when these adopted children join His Only Begotten in conducting the family business…which includes intercession for those who need it.

  174. David A.,

    Are the saints in Heaven now? If so, they are in Heaven without their bodies, since no one receives their body until their resurrected body (save Mary & Jesus) until last day, right? Does this not-having-a-body factor into the idea of praying to saints?

    Also, can persons in Purgatory intercede for those on Earth? Or, must they wait until they enter Heaven? Lastly, and somewhat unrelated, does the not-having-a-body mean that suffering in Purgatory will be necessarily non-physical?

    Peace,
    John D.

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