Sunday, August 26, 2007

Praying to Saints

Having a blog as well as a Facebook account has its pros...and its cons.

The main "con" being time spent on either means less time for the other. And so it has been the past few weeks, where most of my Internet time is spent debating folks on Facebook, and squeezing in fewer posts on the blog. My apologies to those of you who visit Ab Opposito daily.

Anyhow, I figured you might be interested in some of the more recent conversations in a discussion on Catholicism and Protestantism. Here is my most recent post to a good-natured Evangelical named Reece:

Reece, praying to the saints seems to be a major hang-up for you. Seeing as how your interpretation is quite different from the Catholic interpretation, that is understandable.

Here again, then, is the Catholic response to your argument against praying to the angels and saints.

Let's go through this step by step, and you can respond to whatever you see as an error on my end.


Protestants often level the charge that asking the saints for their intercession violates the sole mediatorship of Christ, which Paul discusses: "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5).

But asking one person to pray for you in no way violates Christ’s mediatorship, as can be seen from considering the way in which Christ is a mediator. First, Christ is a unique mediator between man and God because he is the only person who is both God and man. He is the only bridge between the two, the only God-man. But that role as mediator is not compromised in the least by the fact that others intercede for us. Furthermore, Christ is a unique mediator between God and man because he is the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:15, 12:24), just as Moses was the mediator (Greek mesitas) of the Old Covenant (Gal. 3:19–20).

The intercession of fellow Christians—which is what the saints in heaven are—also clearly does not interfere with Christ’s unique mediatorship because in the four verses immediately preceding 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul says that Christians should interceed: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and pleasing to God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1–4). Clearly, then, intercessory prayers offered by Christians on behalf of others is something "good and pleasing to God," not something infringing on Christ’s role as mediator.


You yourself have raised the complaint that Christians on earth are to have no contact with the dead. You equate praying to the saints with necromancy, sorcery, magic, etc., as God forbid us to do in Deuteronomy 18:10–11.

But this is a mistake on your part.

God has indicated that one is not to conjure the dead for purposes of gaining information; one is to look to God’s prophets instead. Thus one is not to hold a seance. But anyone with an ounce of common sense can discern the vast qualitative difference between holding a seance to have the dead speak through you and a son humbly saying at his mother’s grave, "Mom, please pray to Jesus for me; I’m having a real problem right now." The difference between the two is the difference between night and day. One is an occult practice bent on getting secret information; the other is a humble request for a loved one to pray to God on one’s behalf.

In Jeremiah 15:1, we read: Then the Lord said to me, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people." Here it appears that God receives the prayers of the dead saints as a matter of course. Moses and Samuel were both known as intercessors, and Jeremiah lived centuries after both men.

Another problem you will run into following this particular argument, is the fact that Jesus did the same "abomination" of contacting the dead on the Mount of Transfiguration, when He talked to Moses and Elijah: men who had been dead for hundreds of years (Matt 17:1-3).

And just to clarify, as Christians we do not consider members in heaven to be in a state of "death." Either these folks are alive or they are not. Clearly, they are alive (more than we are). Jesus alludes to this fact when He speaks of "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacb," stating that "He is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Mt 22:32). Hebrews 12:1 mentions that we are surrounded by a "cloud of witnesses" -- which commentators have compared to a picture of spectators in a sports arena observing. Further proof is unnecessary.

Asking saints in heaven or angels or the Blessed Virgin Mary to pray for us is not different in essence from asking each other (those of us on earth) to pray. Mary is a lot more righteous than we are, and more alive, and with God. Angels never did sin, so they are untainted with that stain. Therefore, we can ask them to pray for us, according to the clear dictum in James 5:16.

We are not relying on the power of some "medium" (many of whom are fake to begin with, as Houdini, the Amazing Randi, and others have shown), but on the power of God. The saints can see us, hear us, and pray for us, because they are with God, out of time, and accorded the remarkable abilities that those in such situations receive as a matter of course.


You also object to the practice of praying to saints because, as you put it, "The problem is asking [angels and saints] to do something rather than asking God to do something. If God so chooses to use angels to do his bidding, great, but God isn't one of those times where you should cut out the middle man."

Now this gets back to my answer in Step 1 because you seem to have a problem with intercessory prayer in general, not just in particular with saints in heaven. If our relationship with God is one where the middle man ought to be "cut out," as you suggest, then you must *necessarily* be against praying for others (you would be a middle man) or having anyone else pray for you (they would be a middle man).

But then you run into all kinds of problems, not the least of which is 1 Tim 2:1-4 (quoted again)

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and pleasing to God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"

Of course, this is closely followed by Rom. 15:30–32, Eph. 6:18–20, Col. 4:3, 1 Thess. 5:25 and 2 Thess. 3:1 where Saint Paul directly asks others to pray for him.

So, hopefully you are now convinced your problem is not one of there being a "middle man."

You say part of the problem is asking a saint to do something rather than asking God.

Here you provide a list of Catholic prayers to various saints with the question, "What is Saint _____ asked to do?"

But I think the misunderstanding is simply a distinction Catholics make when invoking the aid of angels and saints between a "primary cause" and a "secondary cause" -- something which has probably never been explained to you.

Let me take a shot at it.

What’s a primary cause? Just that: a first—but not a sole—cause of something else. Ultimately, God is the primary cause of everything. But he sovereignly prefers to involve his creatures in his work to various degrees, which makes them secondary causes.

So what’s a secondary cause? It is a dependent but real cause. It didn’t cause the thing all by itself, but without it, the thing wouldn’t have come to be.

Think of it this way: Michelangelo is the primary cause of the Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica. His chisel is the secondary cause. When Michelangelo carves the statue, is it he or his chisel that does the carving? The answer is both. Similarly (though with a significant difference), Michelangelo’s mom and dad were the secondary causes of Michelangelo (God, of course, being the primary cause). When Michelangelo was brought into the world, was it God or his parents that caused him to be born? Again, the answer is both.

When this relationship between primary and secondary causes is pointed out, it seems fairly obvious. Most Evangelicals, for instance, would not balk at the statement that "the apostle Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans," even though they affirm (as do Catholics) that God is the true author of Scripture. Like Catholics, Evangelicals understand that God, the primary cause of the epistle to the Romans, made Paul a secondary cause of the epistle. Yet, curiously, the idea of primary and secondary causes often gets ignored when the topic of conversation turns to the intercessory actions of the angels and saints.

Catholics recognize God is the primary cause of any and all grace or assistance we receive. But the fact that you, Reece, might pray for me and God grant me grace because of your prayer, in no way reduces Him or His action. It makes you a cooperator, a "secondary cause," of His divine assistance.

In the same way, his angels and saints in heaven.

Hope that helps.

Disclaimer: Most of what you see here was stolen from Catholic Answers, Mark Shea, or Dave Armstrong. Thanks guys! :)


Mindi said...

Excellent explanation of our asking our brothers and sisters in Heaven to pray for us!

yes, God is the "God of the living, not the dead" and death is swallowed up in Victory - it does not separate us who are in Christ.

Isn't God AWESOME? He thinks of everything. :) And he's big on families staying in touch. :D

Tom & Carrie Herring said...

Thanks, mindi!

Hey, where are you from? I like your blog, btw.

Chestertonians Unite! ;)