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Refuting the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Prayer to the Saints

June 22nd, 2007
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Dr. James White offers a helpful refutation of the popular way among Roman Catholics to defend their practice of praying to the saints. His foil here is a Roman Catholic layman named Armstrong who self-published a book titled, "The One Minute Apologist."

Under the broad topic of Mary and the Saints, Armstrong attempts to
defend Rome’s doctrine of prayer to saints. Once again, we find no
evidence that he is interested in responding to the strongest
objections to his position, but only to the weakest. But despite this,
even in responding to the weakest argumentation, the number of circular
arguments and simply false assumptions is great indeed. Armstrong
rightly lays out the objection: "The Bible forbids communication with
the dead. It also tells us there is only one mediator between God and
men: Jesus." Exactly, and, if he has taken the time to listen at all,
he knows that the vacuous, yet nigh unto universal, argument of Roman
Catholic apologists regarding asking a friend to pray for you (this is
somehow taken as having relevance to Jesus’ role as the sole mediator
between God and men). The fact that Jesus role as mediator is
essentially and necessarily different is lost on those who use this
facile argumentation, for Christ has a grounds upon which to stand as a
mediator that no one, including Mary, possesses. This has been
explained many times, but Roman apologists continue repeating their
simplistic argument as if no one has ever responded to it.

   Armstrong’s "one-minute" reply is that James 5:16-18 tells us that
"the prayers of certain people are more effective than those of
others." Of course, what James 5 tells us is that "the prayer of a
righteous man has great power." From this, it seems, you can create a
direct proportion statement, so that the saints, being perfected, have
the greatest "prayer power co-efficient" possible. But please notice,
there is nothing in James 5 about dead people praying for us. Nothing
at all, in fact, just the opposite. The example Armstrong relies on
specifically says, "Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves."
Yes, he was…and that likewise means he was alive!
   From this Armstrong recalls the examples of Abraham and Moses who
interceded with God, which is, again, quite true. But it is likewise
irrelevant since, obviously, they were both alive at the time of their
intercession with God. Then we have the statement,

If, then, the Blessed Virgin Mary were indeed sinless, it
would follow (right from Scripture) that her prayers would have the
greatest power, and not only because of her sinlessness but because of
her status as Mother of God. So we ask for her prayers and also ask
other saints, because they have more power than we do, having been made
perfectly righteous (according to James 5:16-18).

   You
will remember that back in the days of the Reformation a common
complaint made by the Reformers was that Rome’s defenders were
sophists, men who tried to look wise while promoting the most amazingly
incoherent statements. Little has changed over the centuries. You take
the statement that a righteous man’s prayers have great power, which is
said only of the living, transport this into another context, attach it
to Mary (assuming her alleged sinlessness), and then "follows" "right
from Scripture" (!!) that her prayers would have "the most power."
Then, you throw in the other saints, who now have more power (because
the prayers of a living righteous man have great power), and tie it all
up with another reference to James 5, and voila! the Roman position.
Not compelling? Of course not. It really isn’t meant to be. It is meant
to have just enough appeal to it to keep the person who wants to believe it in a state of faith. 
   This is then followed by the constant false appeal to
inter-Christian prayers as if they are relevant. "Most Protestants are
quite comfortable asking for prayers from other Christians on earth;
why do they not ask those saved saints who have departed from the earth
and are close to God in heaven? After all, they may have passed from
this world, but they’re certainly alive — more than we are!" That
sounds so nice, but it is double-talk. Passed from this world = dead to us.  Alive to God?  Of course.  Spiritually alive?  Completely.  But the prohibition of contact with the dead is specifically in the context of people living on earth seeking to have contact with those who have "passed from this world"!
This kind of argumentation leaves the prohibition of contact with the
dead meaningless and undefined. Further, there is a substantive, clear
difference between asking a fellow believer to pray for you, and the
prayers that are addressed to Mary and the saints. I have never asked
anyone to save me from the wrath of Jesus, and yet that is what we read
in this famous prayer:

O Mother of Perpetual Help, thou art the dispenser of all
the goods which God grants to us miserable sinners, and for this reason
he has made thee so powerful, so rich, and so bountiful, that thou
mayest help us in our misery. Thou art the advocate of the most
wretched and abandoned sinners who have recourse to thee. Come then, to
my help, dearest Mother, for I recommend myself to thee. In thy hands I
place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul. Count me
among thy most devoted servants; take me under thy protection, and it
is enough for me. For, if thou protect me, dear Mother, I fear nothing;
not from my sins, because thou wilt obtain for me the pardon of them;
nor from the devils, because thou are more powerful than all hell
together; nor even from Jesus, my Judge himself, because by one prayer
from thee he will be appeased. But one thing I fear, that in the hour
of temptation I may neglect to call on thee and thus perish miserably.
Obtain for me, then, the pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final
perseverance, and the grace always to have recourse to thee, O Mother
of Perpetual Help.

   When Mr. Armstrong finds me bowing
down in front of one of my fellow believers, rocking back and forth
mouthing prayers while fingering a string of beads, and placing a lit
candle before them, then we can talk about parallels.
   But then we find the paragraph that drew my attention to this section.  I quote it in full:

If it is objected that the dead saints cannot hear us, we
reply that God is fully able to give them that power — with plenty of
supporting biblical evidence: 1) the "cloud of witnesses" that Hebrews
12:1 describes; 2) in Revelation 6:9-10, prayers are given for us in
heaven from "saints"; 3) elsewhere in Revelation an angel possesses
"prayers of the saints" and in turn presents them to God; 4) Jeremiah
is described as one who "prays much for the people" after his death in
2 Maccabees 15:13-14. The saints in heaven are clearly aware of earthly
happenings. If they have such awareness, it isn’t that much of a leap
to deduce that they can hear our requests for prayer, especially since
the Bible itself shows that they are indeed praying. (p. 121)

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. PEDRO
    June 22nd, 2007 at 08:46 | #1

    Not to mention that at least some think that reference to the cloud of witnesses comes from 4 Maccabees which agrees with your interpretation.

  2. Christine
    June 22nd, 2007 at 15:09 | #2

    Pastor McCain, for Catholic and Orthodox Christians Mary and the saints are intercessors — not mediators. Only Christ is the mediator. Some laypeople do not explain or understand this very well.
    As Jesus said, God is God of the living, not the dead. The departed saints are more alive in His presence now than when they were on earth, albeit their bodies await resurrection. It is our belief that the Church in heaven and the Church on earth are one body united in Christ and that our departed brothers and sisters do hear our prayers.
    As Jaroslav Pelikan stated well in his classic book The Riddle of Roman Catholicism:
    “St. Jude, help!”
    may mean officially: “St. Jude, I ask you for your intercession to our Lord Jesus Christ, before whom you and I both stand in judgment and in prayer. As you prayed with and for your fellow-believers when you were alive, I ask you you to pray for me now that, if it be God’s will, I may obtain divine help.” but popular piety is not always careful to make this distinction.
    McCain: Christine, thanks for the response which is fairly typical of Roman Catholic explanation for the unbiblical practice of praying to saints in heaven. There is no command, example, or promise in Holy Scripture for this practice, and therefore it is wrong. Our Lord invites us to pray to Our Father in heaven, in His name, but nowhere ever encourages us to pray to those in heaven.

  3. June 22nd, 2007 at 19:55 | #3

    Pr. McCain,
    I do not always of course agree with Dr. White’s Calvinist theology but he does have helpful materials in this field.
    Sometimes these Calvinists do get things right! ;-)
    Christine,
    But why go to the saints in heaven, isn’t Jesus a friend of sinners and is merciful?
    What about Mt 11:28?
    Lito

  4. John C. Hudelson
    June 23rd, 2007 at 13:52 | #4

    Praying to the saints could be thought as consulting with the dead.
    Deuteronomy 18:10-11 (NIV):”Let no one be found among you … who is a medium or a spiritist or who consults the dead…”

  5. Christine
    June 25th, 2007 at 08:57 | #5

    Yes Lito, Jesus is a friend and merciful to sinners. He is our only mediator. He is the Rock and light of my life and that of all Christians.
    Catholic and Orthodox Christians ask the prayers of His faithful servants who now stand fully in His presence, unlike those of us who are still pilgrims on earth. They are as real to us as the earthly relatives and friends who we also ask to pray for for us and do not cease being our brothers and sisters in faith because of death.
    When Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration they were very much alive even though their physical bodies sleep as they await to be reunited at the parousia.
    Please note that in Deuteronomy the passages refer to sorcery, mediums, spiritists, witchcraft, etc. That is in no way related to the intercession of the saints. We ask for their prayers in accordance with God’s will.
    Pastor McCain, I respect your answer, consistent with Lutheran practice and belief. Catholics, of course, base their practice on the great Tradition as well.

  6. June 25th, 2007 at 18:23 | #6

    Christine,
    There are plenty of examples and even commands for us to ask the prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ in church cf James 5:13-18. In fact we can go to an elder of the church to help us pray. But there is no example nor command from Scripture to pray to those who are asleep in the Lord and no longer with us here on earth.
    Your example of Elijah and Moses is a deduction and inference and Lutherans would rather stick to those specifics found in Scripture. It is safer that way.
    We may admit Jesus is necessary but seems he is not “sufficient” when attention is diverted from him.
    Even if we use logic, praying to dead Christians has no rationale, for in order for them to hear us they would have to be omnipresent which is an attribute of God. Now by logic, once you share one attribute of God, you have become God too. This of course is absurd and the practice leads to such absurdities.
    [McCain: Perhaps an even more simple way of looking at this is simply to observe that if our Lord Christ has tenderly invited us to pray to Him and to His Father, through Him, why would we wish to waste any of our precious prayers praying to somebody that He has not invited us to pray to when we can be praying to Him? It is sad to observe Romanists working so hard to defend such a thoroughly non-Scriptural teaching as prays to the saints in heaven].

  7. Christine
    June 26th, 2007 at 08:28 | #7

    Lito, please remember that the blessed in heaven exist outside of the limitations of time.
    Pastor McCain, please also note that it is not only “Romanists” who ask for the intercession of the saints in heaven. Orthodox Christians also embrace this practice. It is a common witness of two of the most ancient Christian communions in existence.
    Speaking for myself, the Communion of Saints as understood in the Catholic/Orthodox traditions has fleshed out in a most wonderful way the connection between the Church of all ages. My devotion to the saints in no way detracts from my love for Christ, the center and meaning of it all. I find great comfort and relevance in the lives they led while on earth and inspiration in their faithfulness. They point beyond themselves to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
    Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts.

  8. Nick
    July 8th, 2007 at 19:32 | #8

    I have to say that you push your case somewhat further in this post than Melanchthon does in the Apologia of the Augsburg Confession. He certainly denies that there is scriptural warrant for the invocation of the saints, but does not push that to an outright prohibition:
    “although our Confession affirms only this, that Scripture does not teach the invocation of the saints, or that we are to ask the saints for aid. But since neither a command, nor a promise, nor an example can be produced from the Scriptures concerning the invocation of saints, it follows that conscience can have nothing concerning this invocation that is certain.”
    These nuances are important, and last time I looked, Lutherans didn’t deploy the regulative principle of worship.
    Rather, Melanchthon’s attack is on the claim that (a) invocation of the saints is compulsory and (b) the saints are mediators of a particular kind. Here the attack is not on the possibility that the saints pray for us, but on the claim that their merits can be appropriated by us. This is quite an important distinction to bear in mind.
    He also comments:”…concerning the saints we concede that, just as, when alive, they pray for the Church universal in general, so in heaven they pray for the Church in general.”
    As far as I am aware, the argument about a prohibition on contacting the dead was not raised by early Lutheran reformers, but first by Zwingli and then by later Reformed Protestants. Perhaps you can set me right on this.
    McCain: Read the Smalcald Articles.

  9. July 18th, 2007 at 12:43 | #9

    This is a month old, so I don’t know that I’ll be heard, but it seems you are missing something.
    First, you say we aren’t supposed to seek the dead. Granted. But, though they had seemed to die, yet they were in peace. (Aber sie sind in frieden–I know it from Schutz). You introduce a distinction between alive here and alive in Christ. But this seems to fundamentally miss the point. “I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic church.” Not two. The dead in Christ are alive with God. And members of this Church. They are present in the Eucharist. So to establish a fundamental difference between us and them, how we may approach each other, and how we may approach them, seems to be to divide the church in two. “I believe in the communion of saints.” Not just of saints here on earth, and saints in heaven, but the saints in the One catholic Church.
    Second, the scriptural prohibitions against necromancy. Given that there is a difference in kind between the pagan dead and the dead in Christ, it would seem likewise that there is a difference in kind between talking to saints and necromancy. First, the necromancer seeks to raise up and act upon the dead. Re-vivify their bodies. The necromancer is the master, the dead the slave. But the saints, who by the way are alive, are the masters. We look up to them. There is a difference in kind between our approach to saints and necromancy.
    Second, there is a difference in kind relating to the saint himself. Necromancy seeks through magic to re-vivify bodies, and raise the actually dead up. But we claim that the dead in Christ are alive with Jesus Christ. We do not seek to raise them. We do not seek to substitute our power over them for Christ. Rather we look to them only through Christ.
    Next, the very fact that there is one mediator between man and God, the man Jesus Christ argues for the invocation of saints. If we were not the body of Christ, all invocations of dying humans would be incorrect. It would be wrong for your wife to look to you for spiritual help. She must look to Christ alone. But, because Christ has made you Christ, she can go to you for help, without being idolatrous.
    Finally, you mock the Rosary. Now, most of your mockeries could be equally well directed toward prayers to Christ, but you still have a substantial argument there. But remember, Christ is not only our help in sin, but likewise our help in suffering. When you wife is hurt and comes to you in tears hoping for help, she is praying to a saint. She is seeking her comfort from a saint. Her crying to you is comparable to praying a Rosary. Perhaps you don’t have anything that compares, but that is because you aren’t so humble as she.
    Moreover, you are able to give her the Comforter because of your sufferings. “Whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” (I Corinthians 1.6) She is looking to you for what only Christ can give. But, laus Deo! He has so blessed you that you are Christ, and as Him may be Him. Moreover, you are commanded to love fully. First, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” Thus comparing your love for your wife to baptism. And similarly “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Again, wives are to love their husbands as they love Christ–even as the savior of the body. Here we have an example of a command to love a saint which is comprable to Marian devotion in the Rosary.
    And this love is not restricted to marriage. “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps…Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed…Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands…Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge.”

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