Refuting the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Prayer to the Saints
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).
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)