Chapter 4 (v). “In Search of Ancient Roots” – Kenneth J. Stewart
Following on from my previous blog on Chapter 4 (iv), I will now focus in on the fourth and fifth points in Kenneth’s list of ‘innovations’ that the Protestant Reformers accused the Roman Catholic Church of:
“4. The invocation of the departed saints (including Mary, mother of the Lord,) resident in the heavenly world, as if they possessed intercessory powers before the throne of God.
5. The veneration of early Christian relics and of religious statuary as a meritorious practice, when this veneration seemed to border on the idolatrous.” pg. 63.
I am keen to wrap up this little diversion and return to Kenneth’s book as soon as possible.
Before us is the claim made by John Calvin “If the contest were to be determined by patristic authority, the tide of victory would turn to our side.” Is he right?
The Invocation of the Saints is perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of historical Christian practise that Protestants as a whole misunderstand. All of the historic Christian Churches believe and practise the Invocation of the Saints, the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Assyrian Church of the East.
The Protestant perception is that that all of these churches worship Mary and the Saints because they pray to them. Anyone who has had any serious interaction with a member of one of these churches knows that is not true. The great men of God who brought Christianity to the English, St. Aidan of Lindisfarne, St. Augustine of Canterbury and St. Theodore of Tarsus all believed and practised the Invocation of the Saints.
I am a Pentecostal and in Pentecostalism we believe not only that God heals people today but that God can give certain men and women a gift of healing and they become known for that gift. When that person prays, cancers vanish, when they pray people experience healing. That does not mean they always heal, but God often uses them in this way.
Suppose I was sick and the Doctor could not help me. I walk into church. God could heal me directly and it would be a good idea for me to pray to God directly that he would heal me. That is a good idea. I could go to the Elders and ask them to lay hands on me and pray for my healing. That would also be a good idea. I could ask any Christian to pray for me. If however there was a person in the room with a gift of healing, with a known track record of healing my kind of sickness, would it not make sense to seek them out and ask them to pray for me. If God has worked through them on many previous occasion in that way might he not also do it for me? This is how the historic Christian Churches view the Invocation of the Saints. You are simply asking a fellow Christian to pray for you. The difference is that those Christians have been glorified and are with Christ in heaven rather than stood next to you on earth. St Joseph is supposedly very good at praying for your marriage for example just as that Christian with the gift of healing is very good at praying for your healing. Should you ask God, yes. Asking another Christian to pray for you does not mean that Christ is any less the sole mediator between God and humanity.
This is what all of the historic Christian Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Assyrian Church of the East mean by the Invocation of the Saints. When they use the word ‘pray’ to the Saints they mean it in the old English KJV usage of the word for example Genesis 13:8 “And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.” A better way would be to use to modern word ask. The historical Christian churches see themselves as asking other Christians to intercede for them.
Having clarified what the historic Churches mean by the Invocation of the Saints I will once again turn to the “History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325” by the Protestant and anti-Catholic Philip Schaff (1819 – 1893). Schaff says:
“In the Roman Catacombs we find inscriptions where the departed are requested to pray for their living relatives and friends.” [i]
Inscription on the Tomb of St. Sabina circa AD 300:
“Atticus, sleep in peace, secure in your safety, and pray anxiously for our sins” [ii]
Inscription on the Tomb of St. Sabina circa AD 300:
“Pray for your parents, Matronata Matrona. She lived one year, fifty-two days” [iii]
Inscription from the catacombs in Rome circa AD 325:
“Anatolius made this for his well-deserving son, who lived seven years, seven months, and twenty days. May thy spirit rest well in God. Pray for thy sister.” [iv]
Hippolytus of Rome circa AD 202-211 says:
“O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord; O ye apostles, prophets, and martyrs of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise Him, and exalt Him above all, for ever.” [v]
Hippolytus here addresses the apostles, prophets, and martyrs to praise God. This sort of invocation matches that evidenced in the Bible in passages such as:
Psalms 103:20 ESV; “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word,”
Psalms 103:21 ESV; “Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!”
Psalms 148:2 ESV; “Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!”
Revelation 18:20 ESV; “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!”
It is easy to see how Christians hearing such statements in church, perhaps even in the early liturgies being celebrated soon became accustomed to the practise of the Intercession of the Saints. These general intercessions however are far far removed to devotion that has since then grown up around certain Saints and Martyrs and especially the Virgin Mary. It is also obvious to see the development in thought between the Old and New Testaments. Before Christ the heavenly host consisted of angels, after Christ, glorified humans have also taken their place in God’s heavenly host as Revelation 18:20 maintains.
Origen in On Prayer X says:
“It remains, accordingly, to pray to God alone, the Father of All” [vi]
He said earlier however in the same book that:
“But these pray along with those who genuinely pray—not only the high priest but also the angels who “rejoice in heaven over one repenting sinner more than over ninety-nine righteous that need not repentance,” and also the souls of the saints already at rest.” [vii]
Origen makes the point that the angels and saints are praying for the church. I think the difference between Ante-Nicene Christianity and today’s historical churches is that in Ante-Nicene Christianity the church prayed with the Saints, Apostles, Angels, Martyrs etc rather than prayed to them.
In the Psalms that I quoted earlier the Psalmists are praying with the Host of Heaven, they are not asking for their intercessions rather they are proclaiming the glory of God. They are saying in effect, we are praising God in the visible realm, may God be praised in the invisible realm as well.
The Lutheran Book of Concord says:
“we also grant that the angels pray for us. For there is a testimony in Zech. 1:12, where an angel prays: O Lord of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on Jerusalem? Although 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, albeit no testimony concerning the praying of the dead is extant in the Scriptures, except the dream taken from the Second Book of Maccabees, 15:14. Moreover, even supposing that the saints pray for the Church ever so much, yet it does not follow that they are to be invoked; 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.” [viii]
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes in the Order for Morning Prayer Te Deum Laudamus which says:
“To thee all Angels cry aloud : the Heavens, and all the Powers therein. To thee Cherubin and Seraphin : continually do cry, Holy, Holy, Holy : Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty : of thy glory. The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee. The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee. The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.” [ix]
God’s Divine Council, his Heavenly Host is depicted as containing both angels and the glorified human dead. In the next Canticle in the Order for Morning Prayer Benedicite, omnia opera says:
“O ye Angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever. O ye Heavens, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.” [x]
Echoing the language of the Psalms and Revelation the speaker invokes the Heavenly Host to praise God.
The main issue for most Protestants when it comes to the asking the saints to pray for us is the prohibitions of Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:11. Any close investigation of these scriptures reveals that the prohibitions are about divination. God forbids anyone trying to obtain information from the unseen realm. He communicates through his priests and prophets and their legitimate sources of divine knowledge. God is concerned that his people might be led away from him and his ways by lying spirits who would seduce the Israelites into idolatry.
It is interesting to note that the disembodied spirit of the dead prophet Samuel is referred to as an elohim “a god” in 1 Samuel 28:13. Many scholars of the Old Testament consider elohim to be a place of residence term rather than carrying the baggage and attributes we ascribe to the word ‘god’. The word elohim is applied to Yahweh the Christian god, the divine council (Psalm 82), foreign gods like Molech (1 Kings 11:33), spirits of the dead (1 Samuel 28:13), demons (Deuteronomy 32:17), and angels (Genesis 35:7). Elohim refers then to an inhabitant of the unseen realm.
The Ten Commandments begin by saying “You shall have no other gods before me” Exodus 20:3. God commands his people not to place other “gods” elohim before him. I am sure that for the most part the historic Christian Churches are not trying to solicit hidden knowledge from the unseen realm. They are not practising divination. Marian apparitions might fall into this category but asking the glorified Saints to pray with or for believers does not have at its basis divination. The danger however might be that in some of these churches individuals might be led to place in their affections another elohim before Yahweh. The Virgin Mary for example might be for some individuals the focus of their spiritual life. This is not divination (seeking to acquire hidden knowledge) so Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:11 might not apply but Exodus 20:3 might well apply. Christians need to be careful that in all of our affections Yahweh takes centre stage and is not replaced by any other elohim.
When it comes to the prohibitions of Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:11 I think in our own day we should be most worried about the widespread and growing use of psychedelic drugs. In Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 18:23 the word often translated ‘sorcery’ is pharmakeia the root of our own word pharmacy. This is of course based upon ancient beliefs that shamans could inflict curses and cause damage to individuals as a result of their journeys in the unseen world facilitated by the use of psychedelic drugs. The initiate in the Eleusinian Mysteries would have to drink a potion called a kykeon (thought to contain ergot, a fungus that grows on corn and which contains a form of LSD). [xi]
We live in a word where young intellectuals in search of spiritual experiences are travelling to places like Peru to drink Ayahuasca. Jules Evans the man behind the Well-Being Project at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London and the co-organiser of the London Philosophy Club, the largest philosophy club in the UK is one such man. On his blog Jules notes:
“Jeremy Narby notes: Westerners often approach drinking ayahuasca in the Amazon knowing little about its cultural context. If we take seriously what indigenous Amazonians say, it has a dark side, which they call sorcery or witchcraft. Much of the work that shamans do in their communities involves countering bewitchment. It is striking that when ayahuasca is imported into Western countries, there is no mention of witchcraft and everything seems to be about light and healing.” [xii]
“In a discussion before our first ceremony, I asked the western facilitators about the possibility of attack by bad spirits – after all, 50% of ayahuasca-takers in the global ayahuasca survey said that at some point they felt under spiritual attack. I was told, don’t worry, that’s all taken care of by the shamans, they will protect you.” [xiii]
People who take Ayahuasca from all over the world report encountering Mother Ayahuasca a feminine spirit who sometimes appears as a jungle cat or a huge serpent.[xiv] Some people who have communicated with Mother Ayahuasca radically change the direction of their lives, such as founding armies to prepare for Armageddon and building pyramids. [xv]
Jules Evans notes that “We’re in the middle of not just a ‘mindfulness revolution’ or a ‘psychedelic renaissance’, but rather a transpersonal revolution.” [xvi] He adds:
“It began with William James and Frederic Myers in the 1890s, developed with Carl Jung and Aldous Huxley in the 1930s-1950s, and flourished in the 1960s through figures like Abraham Maslow, Stanislaf Grof, Timothy Leary and Ram Dass. It’s become much more mainstream in academic psychology today partly because neuroscience has given a new credibility to the study of consciousness and to fields like contemplative science and psychedelic science, and partly because baby-boomer hippies and 90s ex-ravers are now in positions of power in academia, and they’re much more open to a transpersonal perspective through their own spiritual practice.” [xvii]
I think he is right. In the post-Christian age we are entering we are witnessing the rise of paganism. There is a reason why Dr. Peter Jones of TruthXchange compares Carl Jung with Julian the Apostate. Both wished to see a return to the old order and Jung succeeded when Julian failed. Paganism is now reinvented as psychology. There is such a thing as “Jungian polytheism”. This should come as no surprise since Jung himself was reliant upon a spirit-guide named Philemon. [xviii]
There is evidence that early Christians did believe that the departed saints possessed intercessory powers before the throne of God. This was not some invention of Medieval Catholicism but rather an outworking of early Christian beliefs about what happened to Christian after death, namely that having been glorified they joined God’s Divine Council around his throne.
I think that it is worth noting that asking glorified believers to pray to God in a manner seen in the Psalms and in Revelation is very different from trying to obtain secret knowledge from the spiritual realm. The law against contacting the dead is against soliciting hidden knowledge, as opposed to trusting in the Word of God and the prophets. I do think that the real danger is that Christians might be tempted to trust in other Elohim, other spiritual brings, rather than in Yahweh.
For me the real danger in the present age comes not from the historic Christian churches but from academia pushing a holistic oneness agenda. Will as Jules Evans suggests psychedelics one day be used to treat anxiety and depression that are so common in our society. Is that pharmakeia?