Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Regarding Prayers to the Saints, Why do it?

This blog aims at fostering a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith and tradition, and of course a tradition of the Church as old as her foundation itself is prayer to the saints, angels, and holy martyrs. The Church has known well and deep in her heart that this form of petition is very different from the sort of petition that we raise to God Himself, but in this post I will try and lay down some arguments and reasoning for why God would deign it good and just that we pray to the saints in order to receive something from Him (either directly from Him or from Him passed to a saint and then to us).

To begin with we must lay down what it is that occurs, perhaps, in praying to God.

Prayer to God, does prayer move God, or does God work in us, lead us to prayer, and grant mercy in a manner that He sees fit?

See this post by Fr. Ryan Erlenbush to understand this better than I’ve written.

Many people in some manner think that when we pray to God, God takes notice of our condition, hears our prayer, and decides to act upon our prayer, either to grant His mercy or deny it. This is however flawed in a way, and we should seek a better understanding of how prayer relates to God. It is said, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will.” (Philippians 2:13), and so it is with prayer, that God prepares us for a good will to incline and petition Him. Similarly God is Divinely Simple and Unmoved in the proper sense by creation because nothing causes or compels His holy action, in fact this is to misunderstand His Providence which guides and is the principle and primary cause of all things occurring. However, God has in raising us to faith given us the dignity to participate in His holy plan by actively petitioning Him. He draws us to pray and petition Him because it teaches us our proper place in humility before God who grants all things in Creation. Similarly it shows our hearts the fragility of our egos, of our selves, and how salvation necessarily entails being wrapped in His love and ineffable existence.

So then prayer is God’s moving us to ascend to Him, He does not stoop, but instead raises us up in His grace so as to ask things of Him. From here God may have placed it in His Providence that the prayer would be answered following the petition (this answer may have been yes or no). When we pray to God we aren’t telling Him something new about ourselves that He didn’t know, or inciting Him to love us more and more, but rather He is drawing us up mysteriously in prayer to show us what we must do, to lead us to where we must go, and to guide us by His holy Providence.

Prayer is necessary for salvation, since it is how one’s faith is actively practiced, and God has decided in His good will to grant mercy through prayer, which He moves us to in our own hearts.

If God moves us to pray to Him, how is it that we relate to Him as apart from other creatures?

In Catholic theology then there are three terms for the types of reverential relation to be had to another. The first term is called latria, loosely translated as adoration, which is the total self-giving love that can only be given to God Who is our total aim in this life. The second and third terms are called hyper dulia and dulia, which translate into high veneration and simply veneration, of which the first relation is considered to the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, and the latter relation is considered to the holy saints and martyrs. St. Augustine confirms this differentiation in reverence whether given to God or to persons in general, "the homage due to man, of which the Apostle spoke when he commanded servants to obey their masters and which in Greek is called dulia, is distinct from latria which denotes the homage that consists in the worship of God." (City of God, X) and so the reverence given to saints is a sort of homage in recognition of God’s work in them, and reverence given to a saint, can then be understood to be a way of further deepening one’s adoration of God by admiring His handy-work in a saint. This admiration is par-excellence in the Virgin Mary who was raised to the dignity of being the mother of God, a dignity that no angel nor any person could ever claim. Understanding this then, when one relates to a saint or martyr this relation and admiration is far below that held for God Who is to be adored above all things, but is not so low as so that we ought not bow in humility to God’s handiwork in these men and women.

Is it proper to ask saints to pray for us?
Now this is the part where many Protestants get into a bind, but it is not that difficult. The early Church fostered prayer to saints because Christ conquered death in His crucifixion and His Body is not divided by death, the saints in Heaven are as much a part of the Body as the saints-in-training here on Earth. So to ask our brother to pray for us on Earth is much the same kind of petition as asking a saint to pray for us in Heaven. The distinction however in this kind of petition is not of kind (Earthly vs Heavenly) but of degree:

James 5:16, “…For the continual prayer of a just man avails much.”

And so we understand that the just man has a greater ‘influence’ with God, not that the Lord must listen to a just man above a sinner (Romans 9: 15, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. And I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.”; God is under no absolute obligation to His creation whom He has already made out of the sheer gratuitousness of His own love, unless He binds Himself under an obligation), but that it is fitting that a just man be heard above a sinner because it shows the order of God’s holiness and desire for us to be holy. The fact that a just man is granted more from God than a sinner does not mean that the just man can boast however.

Understanding this then it should be clear that asking saints to pray for us is not contrary to any divine law, nor is it a divination of any sort because we are One Body, in Heaven and on Earth, and petition is within the organization of Christ’s Body, not a means of seeking the dead apart from God’s will and desire (as divination is).

Is it fitting that God should answer our prayers through the saints?

One might ask finally, why would one pray to a saint if the saint cannot grant grace himself since grace comes from God’s mercy alone? And to this we must respond that the reason God has saw fit that He listens to the prayers of a just man more than others is that it is fitting and good since it makes manifest God’s glory and justice in that He has shown a sort of ascendency, a ladder if you will, by co-operating with Creation to effect His will. This ladder of government so to speak, in the economy of salvation is the way in which we can best understand God’s nature. That is why when we look to the beauty of nature and Creation we can begin to form a ladder in our minds to ascend to the infinite beauty and good of God the Creator. In this manner then, it is proper and fitting that God desire the prayers of just men and women above our own because it shows His justice and shows the hierarchy of goodness which leads to Him.

Arguments from Scripture and Tradition:

Leading aside all of these considerations then we consider Scripture and Tradition. [More will be provided soon]

Revelations 8:3-4,
 3 And another angel came and stood before the altar, having a golden censer: and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which is before the throne of God. 4 And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel.

This text demonstrates that the prayers of the saints ascend to God by way of a sort of chain of excellency, first the saints pray and then the angel delivers it up in another prayer [this is a sort of prayer of saints to higher saints even within the Heavenly hierarchy]. The saints are not ignorant of the occurrence on Earth (how could they when they behold God and see all things in Him) and pray for us continuously.

Just in the same vein we have from St. Paul in Hebrews 12:1-2
“1 And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: 2 Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who, having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sits on the right hand of the throne of God.”

In like manner abstain from sin says St. Paul because there is an entire cloud of witnesses in Heaven, the saints and angels who look upon us. It is they who are most closely tied to the Author of Life, and of the Faith, Christ, and in Christ they know Him and participate in His Body through the holy life of Heaven. That they would be ignorant of Christ and His Body whom they compose is to not see that in Heaven we shall embrace God in His totality, and see Him as He is. To see Christ then is also to see all the little ones who struggle in Him on this very Earth. That they do not pray for us then is a misunderstanding of how the saints condescend in Christ’s mercy to pray for us.

Finally in the manner of Scripture we know that Christ made manifest Moses and Elijah at His Transfiguration where He revealed His divinity in a splendor of light to His apostles. Here too we see that the faithfully departed are present and accessible by the True Light’s work and mercy. He desires to make us one Body in Him, to reign within Him in peace and love, and for this reason it is only those who are truly in Christ’s Body who get glimpses of His handiwork. And His handiwork is the working of holiness in the saints. So then is it that those who have recourse to saints in a pious way are only capable of doing this through Christ’s work. The hierarchy of the saints and our capacity to be at one with them in prayer and petition to God is then as I have argued a way by which Christ shows Himself as the True Light, for He sits infinitely above all creatures as God eternal. Yet in the same manner it is in His humanity united to His divinity that we experience Him. So then to be truly united to His divinity we must be taken into His body to receive not only supernatural grace but the communion of His flesh, the brothers and sisters in Christ whom we embrace in our prayers and relations to them. But it is all through Christ and His Light, and all for the purpose of loving and knowing God more fully. To know those who also partake in God’s divine nature and ask for them to edify us in their virtues and example is then joy and hope for us.

St. Thomas of Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 83: Prayer, Article 11, states that the effect of prayer in Heaven is as efficacious as the person’s charity is in relation to God, and so we understand from Hebrews 7:25, “Whereby he is able also to save for ever them that come to God by him; always living to make intercession for us.”, that Christ in His graced humanity which is so preciously and totally consecrated to God, has the most efficacious prayer (He does not pray in His divinity, I do not suspect, since God wills and does not pray). That is why Christ being a Divine Person with a human nature has the most efficacious offering of all of humanity, in fact His offering is infinite, and His charity and love infinite above infinite. So then because the saints participate in a smaller way in Christ’s graced human nature, they may be called mini-Christs and so are more and more efficacious the more Christ-like they are.

St. Jerome writes also that “If the apostles and martyrs while yet in the body and having to be solicitous for themselves, can pray for others, how much more now that they have the crown of victory and triumph." (Contra Vigilantius, 6)

Similarly those astute in St. Augustine’s Confessions will recognize that St. Monica, as was the North African custom, left small tributes and offerings of respect to the saints and martyrs on their feast days.

I won’t post too much on the Fathers since I think it can be easily seen from some study, but I will post a post on the pre-Nicene Fathers who wrote on prayers tothe saints as well.

If we then understand our faith, we understand that Christ in His Wisdom as Wisdom has shown us the Light that springs forth from His very Body. He intends us to be one in Him, and only as one in our hearts in His own Heart can we truly be saints, that is His disciples. Prayers to the saints is much the same movement to prayer to God, that is springing from God’s grace to move us to a good act, but is in a different manner to move us to a horizontal communion and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ with the hope to be granted by God a movement in the most supreme and excellent vertical communion and union. God in doing so shows not only His holiness and consideration for justice, but His mercy and wisdom whereby He fosters a home for His children that has many rooms, but one in which the home is one and never isolated. His whole people are one and act in one beautiful stroke and symphony to propagate each upwards to the embrace of our Loving Father.

May the embrace of God shine in our hearts as we ask from His Sacred Heart, make me pure in Your Love and Your Light. Amen.

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