Intercession of the Saints throughout history

Discussion in 'Church History' started by Jellies, Aug 7, 2021.

  1. Jellies

    Jellies Active Member

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    I’m aware that anglicans use “tradition.” I am not very much into using things outside of the scriptures. My question is, how do I know which tradition is correct? The EO and RCC, for example, have a tradition of asking the Saints to pray for them. This EO blog says it’s a historic practice: https://lettersonorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/intercession-of-the-saints/
    Some examples :
    Hippolytus of Rome:
    [Speaking of the three youths in the fire in Daniel 30] “Tell me, you three boys, remember me, I entreat you, that I also may obtain the same lot of martyrdom with you…” (Commentary on Daniel, 30.1 [A.D. 202-211]

    John Ryland’s Papyrus, from Egypt, around 250 A.D:
    “Beneath your compassion we take refuge, Theotokos. Our petitions do not despise in time of trouble…”

    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]).


    Do you guys think these are strong enough to support saint intercession?
    It’s really interesting the Assyrian church of the East says they don’t pray to Saints:

    “The use of this term illustrates the Assyrian understanding of the role of saints. In orthodox Assyrian teaching, one does not pray to a saint; a saint is an example, a leader to be followed, a model to look up to and try to emulate. This understanding is frequently modified by local popular religion, but in general, Assyrian Christians are more akin to Protestants in this regard - the grace of God is to be received through Christ in the Holy Qurbana (Eucharist), not through the mediation of some purely human secondary figure.”

    so my question is, is there apostolic proof for this practice?
    If not, how did it develop? The papyrus one especially is clearly praying to Mary. Is there any upward trend in history where this became more the norm in Christian life? As a Protestant I always thought it was a Roman invention, yet the EO do the same thing…
    Also, did the church fathers historically believe the saved went straight to heaven? It seems to me they did
     
  2. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Prayer to the saints was an innovation if one were living in the fifth century; it is among the oldest continuous traditions if one is living in the twenty-first century. There’s certainly no biblical command for the practice. The question is ultimately whether the biblical prohibitions of:
    - necromancy,
    - divination,
    - polytheism, and/or
    - idolatry,
    should apply to the practice of the invocation of saints. The Reformers said ‘Yes’, and since there were no Protestants in the sixteenth century who dissented from this, the condemnation of the invocation of saints in the Church of England’s 39 Articles would, according to their plain sense, amount to a total ban. The old commentaries on the Articles lend further weight to this interpretation. However, those who followed in the wake of the Oxford Movement disagreed with this. So today, there are some Anglicans who approve of the practice and others who do not. Whether it is “biblical” or not depends on how broadly or narrowly one interprets the various prohibitions mentioned above. What I think everyone agrees on is that there is no command to pray to the saints, and this the liturgy disallows it, to respect the consciences of those who disapprove of the practice. Many Anglicans do practice it devotionally, i.e., extra-liturgically.

    Historic Anglicanism has tended to affirm belief in an intermediate state, with heaven or hell postponed until after the Last Judgment. Of course, in this intermediate state, one’s destiny is known and its effects are partially realized prospectively, so the theory goes. Purgatory is a version of the theory of an intermediate state, but not everyone who believes in an intermediate state believes in purgatory. The “going straight to heaven when you die” belief is something that comes more out of the Westminster Confession than what had been traditional Christianity up to that time. There is some biblical warrant for either view - “today you will be with me in paradise” vs. “we shall not all sleep” (1 Thess.) - and I’m not sure there’s a viable way to resolve it on the basis of exegesis alone, hence the appeal to tradition, which favors the intermediate state theory. Hope that helps.
     
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  3. Jellies

    Jellies Active Member

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    How do we know it’s an innovation in the 5th century? Wouldn’t it have become controversial?


    It was always also my view of an “intermediary” state. Where in tradition do we see this? Did St Augustine and the other fathers not teach that martyrs go straight to heaven?

    also, if this has been around since the 5th century I myself would hesitate to call it idolatry because then for more than 1000 years Christians were committing idolatry.

    I just really want to get to the truth of the matter. It’s clearly not commanded in scripture so I have 0 desire to do it, and yet it did come about. So I am trying to see why & when. Why did the church in the 5th century decide to come up with new traditions? And why didn’t anybody go against it?
    I remember seeing on catholic encyclopedia that the “iconoclasts” were against intercession of the Saints but have found no more on this issue. It just seems weird to me how this practice developed and then no one raised question of it until the reformation.
     
  4. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    I have not read the commentaries on the 39 articles but the Articles only condemn the Romanish Practices of invocation to the saints. Our liturgy does not offer invocationary petitions to any saints so it is not done by the church. So after thinking about it I would say that it is ok to ask for prayers from the saints in private but not within the church at an official setting
     
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  5. Jellies

    Jellies Active Member

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    I’m inclined to agree. I still feel weird “praying” to a person that isn’t God, but in moderation I don’t think it’s terrible.
    It certainly holds no place during worship in the church though.
     
  6. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    It is not praying to them but asking them to pray for you. I don't do it either
     
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  7. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    My guess is that the ‘New Science’ of the Renaissance a century earlier had, by the time of the Reformation, destroyed the view of the universe that the ancients and medievals had assumed (and in which practices such as invocation of the saints seemed quite natural). That’s one explanation for why a segment of Christendom suddenly found it objectionable. It also assumed a ‘patronage’ element (inherited from the Roman social world) to divine government that people might have begun to find objectionable as an ideal of how earthly society should be arranged.
     
  8. Jellies

    Jellies Active Member

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    Sorry for my ignorance, but can you explain more about the new science?
    I don’t know what science has to do with intercession of the Saints
     
  9. Jellies

    Jellies Active Member

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    Would you consider things like the prayer to Michael the archangel asking but not praying?

    “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen."


    Isn’t this asking an angel to do something other than praying?
    I guess prayer to angels is different from praying/asking Saints to pray for you
     
  10. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    Basically, the distinction between the ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’ realms was more fluid in the ancient world. It almost boiled down to a matter of location. Jesus wasn’t understood to have “ascended” to some otherworldly dimension; rather, heaven was literally “up there”. In our post-Cartesian world, we think of ‘mind/spirit’ as something immaterial, but many ancients - though certainly not all - thought of it more materialistically. Some, for example, thought that the primary element ‘fire’ was the constituent of ‘mind.’ Everything - the living, the dead, angels, devils, animals, the stars and planets - occupied one and the same universe. But each ‘realm’ had its own laws. Galileo and other natural philosophers during the Renaissance blew this whole worldview apart.

    That being said, the Reformers objection to invocation of the saints was more soteriological than scientific. If it is asserted that praying to the saints contributes anything whatsoever to our salvation (and why would anyone do it unless it were not useless for that purpose?), then that is a ‘work’, i.e., a human-imposed condition on the operation of God’s grace.

    The only way I know to salvage the practice is to see it not as ‘prayer’ in any sense at all, but rather as meditative ‘recitation’. For example, the seasonal Antiphons to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the conclusion of the old service of Compline (just before going to bed) were just that: antiphons, i.e., brief statements meant to orient what we’re doing. As such, they aren’t ‘prayers’, and one can recite them without without ‘praying’. Their purpose is to orient the mind toward the object of our hope: the glorious existence in heaven that awaits us.

    To put it simply, I think ‘invocation of the saints’ can be materially practiced in such a way that it doesn’t run afoul of Protestant doctrine, but only if it’s understood formally as something other than ‘prayer’.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2021
  11. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I would define prayer as a spiritual communication with or to someone who is not physically with us but is in the 'heavenlies' or 'spirit realm.' Prayers of petition are one type of prayer. Thus IMO when one is 'asking' a deceased saint to do something on one's behalf, that meets the definition of 'prayer.'

    There are some who would say that prayer is only those spiritual communications to or with God (deity), but I think prayer should be defined more broadly than that.

    Isaiah 8:19-20 seems to tell us that petitioning the dead on our behalf is not godly. And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. (ESV)
     
  12. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    We do however join our prayers and praise liturgically at the heart of the Eucharist with those that we assume are being echoed by the saints in heaven. The Church is ONE on earth and in heaven and we have no reason to believe that the saints who have passed over into glory have lost interest in what is happening to us still here militant upon earth.
    .
     
  13. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    "No reason" might be a bit overstated. I can imagine that if I pass away and become immersed in God's glorious heaven, I might be too preoccupied to notice what is happening in the mortal realm.
     
  14. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Heb.12:1.
     
  15. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Remember the crucial difference in how the Anglican concept of orthodoxy is formulated as contrasted with everyone else:

    “One faith, two testaments, three creeds, four councils, first five centuries form the boundaries of our faith.”

    Whereas the Roman and EO concept of tradition is progressive and ever-expanding, the Anglican concept limits “Tradition” within the severe boundaries of the first five centuries. And not an addition to Scripture, but rather a clarification of it. So scripture is the only revelation, the first 5 centuries help teach it; and everything outside of that is secondary. Even the Anglican divines don’t have the authority to clarify scripture, in the way that the fathers would.

    Now that being said. The fathers are not inspired and their use is merely natural, whereas scripture is inspired and supernatural. So the use of the fathers is not some supernatural witness, and a fragment or an archeological discovery can help interpret scripture, as well as a text from St Ambrose or whoever.

    I say all this as a necessary foundation for how to grapple with the doctrine of Invocation of the Saints.

    First of all, none of the statements beyond the 5th century count as explanations of Scripture. Bonaventure, Aquinas, or even Anglican divines can’t be cited as primary sources, only secondary.

    Second, even the Fathers within the 5 century not being inspired have to be interpreted through natural means: weighed against Scripture, and seen within the larger patristic consensus. Just because St Cyril said X, even if it was repeated for 15 centuries afterward, we cannot admit those 15 centuries as relevant; and if they represent an error, then it’s perfectly acceptable to trace the error to that father (them not being inspired), whose careless or novel expression of doctrine led to subsequent centuries of error.

    Now putting all that together, the simple fact is, there’s just no such thing as invoking the saints in the Hebrew OT, in the NT, and in the first 5 centuries, apart from a few exceptions.


    Now, before we get to the exceptions, it’s not licit to admit Hyppolytus of Rome because that statement has all the hallmarks of pious expression rather than a theological system. He goes against all the other church fathers before him, and after him. His successors didn’t take him up on this expression; clearly it wasn’t taken up as a road worth pursuing, but was taken as rhetoric.



    This is favorite passage for RC apologists, but it’s completely inadmissible, for one simple reason: we have no proof that it was made by a Catholic Christian. As we know from Irenaeus and others, the Christian world was flooded with heresies, so more than likely a Christian you would’ve met in that era was not orthodox and in the one true catholic and apostolic church.

    In fact we know that all the big errors which later corrupted the church, came from heresies. The adoration of images was seen as a heresy by the Fathers, and I cover in the other thread how Irenaeus traced it to a sect of heretics in Asia Minor.

    The adoration of Mary is also something which had its origin in a heretical document called the Protoevangelium of James. Thus all the early statements adoring Mary came from heretics and not from Catholic Christians. That being said, it is something which slowly penetrated the Catholic Church as well (which is why we cut off the bounds of our faith at the 5th century). So long story short, there is no evidence that this fragment came from an actual orthodox Christian, and almost certainly he or she was not. So it’s prima facie evidence of an ancient heresy, more than anything else.


    Now this is a more bona fide proof text for the Invocation, so let’s look at it more closely.

    Although we make the cutoff at the 5th century, it is undeniable that by then the Christian faith was experiencing an alteration. The mass infusion of non-jewish gentiles was corrupting all kinds of aspects of the apostolic deposit. St Epiphanius was in panic that people were starting to adore images. The eucharistic sacrifice was all of a sudden seen as propitiatory (as we discussed). St Athanasius was in panic that the divinity of Jesus was being questioned by rationalistic philosophic paganism. And the Saints were becoming invoked for the first time ever; God was not enough, God alone was too boring. The pagan gentiles wanted their pantheon in Christianity also.

    That being said I am not convinced that the St Cyril passage you quote is a full blown case of this error. Among the Anglican divines you’ll find the expression, we allow the intercession of the saints, without asking them for it. Namely, yes the saints are there, and yes they’re in communion with God interceding with God for the good of the world; but from our standpoint we should reach out to God, not them. So in a certain reading, the St Cyril quote may be seen more as an acknowledgment of the saints intercession, than a full-blown prayer to them as you find later (whole litanies addressed to Mary for instance).

    However it is also clear, that even at best it was a careless expression on his part, that amplified the larger crisis of the 5th century, where the faith was being corrupted, and by the 6th century the Catholic faith would now increasingly become the minority.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2021
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  16. Jellies

    Jellies Active Member

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    I have been doing a lot of reading and certainly by the 6th and 7th centuries veneration of relics, Mary, icons, and prayer to Saints was full blown. It’s really complicated and very wrapped up in the history of martyrs and emperors and whatnot. It is certain though that by 500 ad no later there was an established practice of praying to Saints and relic and Icon veneration. It’s very true that early veneration of Mary came from non catholic sources. Wasn’t the proto evangelium declared as heresy and close to Gnosticism or something? It’s one of those evangeliums. Pretty much claimed that Mary remained an intact Virgin through the birth of Christ and from there on that she had experienced no birth pains, etc etc. this was never accepted by the early church. I’m pretty sure even the assumption of Mary was a gnostic work. My question is, how am I supposed to deal with all this? Why did God let the church become corrupt with these things so early on? I’m not going to believe them because they’re clearly novel to the early church, but it appears to me the more Christianity became entrenched in the empires the more falsehoods arose. If I was to be transported back in time to 600 ad I would have a hard time coming to terms with their Icon worship and saint prayers. Already by this time they believed Mary to be a divine protector of the empire… and you don’t really see any Catholics arguing against this. They argued against icons, yes, but the history is muddled up bu the EO. But I don’t see anyone arguing against praying to Saints. I just would’ve thought these falsehoods would’ve crept in later rather than sooner.
    The papyrus Mary prayer seems so out of it’s time period that im honestly inclined to say it was gnostic or one of those Mary worshipper chollyndrians (?) I think they were called.
    John chrysostom also certainly talks about praying to Paul and Peter for intercession. Praying on the “merits” of the Saints. It’s almost like these people let themselves be corrupted with things outside scripture and no one thought to question it until the years leading up to the reformation.
    It’s hard to square this up with people that fervently fought for the truth of Christ too. Many of the people you see having no issue with praying to Saints are also extremely Godly people. I wonder why they let these things creep into the church…
     
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  17. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Each of these has its own separate history. The adoration of images for example was strongly resisted by the last Catholics leading up to the second Council of Nicea in 787 AD. You wouldn’t expect to find a stand for orthodoxy that late in the game, but at least half of the Eastern Church was still against adoring images at that time; can you imagine Eastern Christianity that doesn’t have to depend on icons? They even had an Ecumenical Council prior to 787 AD, and even the emperor was on their side. Although they lost tragically and images were dogmatically enshrined at a Nicea II, the Western Church actually refused to accept the Council, calling it “the heresy of the Greeks”. Around the 12th century the Popes snuck it into the official list of ecumenical councils, but yeah from 33 to 1100 AD the Western church was firmly against venerating images. So each of those problematic developments had its own trajectory.

    Think about it, if you were Satan you’d get to work, and breaking the Church would be your #1 project. Thus before the New Testament is over and ink is dry on paper, the majority of followers of the apostles, most of the Church is already in the gnostic heresy. In the 3rd century, most Christians disavowed the Trinity so as not to be killed in the persecutions. In the 4th century, “the world awoke to find itself Arian” -St Jerome. In the Old Testament, most of the Jews lose faith and fade away; the Kingdom is broken, and the bigger and more healthy Israel is lost and destroyed by the heathens, leaving the small Judea to carry the embers of faith in the one true God. Of course by the NT times, even they lost the faith, as we can read.

    The Roman Catholics like to present the history of the Church as an Empire that ever grows and conquers others with its armies. A more accurate depiction is a few huddled masses in the eye of a tornado unleashed against them by the hateful eternal Enemy, surviving only through their dependence on God.

    To be a Christian is not to walk through life triumphantly, it’s to bring the most awful supernatural forces down on you, to ruin your life, cut your relationships, make you addicted, lose your job, fail in your life. They will maim your children, break your bones, and make you suffer in every single way possible… until you renounce God, after which point the storm will calm down, and you can have a nice easy life once again. To be a Christian is a difficult and almost impossible choice.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2021
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  18. Jellies

    Jellies Active Member

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    All I’ve read is that image adoration crept in and found some pushback but it was mostly from islamsts. The EO say that to be anti image worship is to be anti incarnation and pro Islam…..
    Can you show me the source for the “heresy of the Greeks” quote? I want to look into it more.
    The EO/RC position is if the council declared their position, they must be right, because the Holy Spirit won’t lead the church into heresy. You are right that to be a Christian is to be part of the remnant minority, but how is this squared up with Catholicism as believed everywhere, always, and by all?
    The Protestant position really seems hard to defend. “You mean to tell me the catholic church fell into heresy by the 6th century?” The EO and RC have this triumphant view of the church that it can’t err. The gates of hell will not prevail. I just wonder where this notion of the church as some physical entity outside of where there is no salvation came from, and also that it can’t err. The apostles never said the church won’t err. They did say though the church is the pillar of truth. But isn’t the revealed truth to be found in scripture?
    Certainly the main truth of the gospel is held by Protestants, RC, and EO. The doctrine of the trinity, Christology, atonement of Christ, etc.
    I think our main division is the role of the church. Does the church have the power to have traditions and doctrines which are outside of the revelation of the apostles? They’d say yes, because the church is lead by the Holy Spirit. It’s a compelling point. But that’s assuming the church is seeking truth and not to support their own already existing traditions. Already in the early church I’m uncomfortable with how they seem to believe all these new practices are OK. Augustine, for ex, defends celebrating the Eucharist at the graves of martyrs and early martyr veneration, when the pagans are saying it looks like they worship the martyrs. If someone tells me it looks like I’m committing idolatry, I’d stop doing it, no matter what my intentions actually were! It seems few in the early church past like 300 ad were concerned with keeping practices and beliefs solely within scripture. I really doubt the apostles meant to set up some sort of infallible entity through councils and whatnot. It seems to me we are given all we need in the gospel. And yet the first thing the early church does it turn away from the teaching of the apostles as the only necessity and start accepting all these other beliefs.
     
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  19. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    This is correct. The apostles operated within a framework that was thoroughly Jewish, and all the way into the 4th century, the bulk of Christianity in Syria at least was still Jewish. “Infallibility” and any sort of universal hierarchy would have been utterly foreign to them. They kept the Mosaic Law and continued the practices of circumcision, Passover, Sabbath observance, etc., while also maintaining Sunday meetings, the Lord’s Supper, etc. “Saint” John Chrysostom hated these Christians and did everything he could to destroy them (and ultimately succeeded). Little wonder that later on Syria so readily accepted Islamic rule, one consequence of which was that the imperial Church was no longer in a position to persecute dissenters.
     
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  20. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    What? No French hens? No Roman cardinals? No partridge in a pear tree? :laugh:
     
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