An Anglican Priest

"Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church." Bishop John Cosin (d. 1672)

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Sunday, October 08, 2006


Invocation of the Saints.

XXII. Of Purgatory.The Romish Doctrine concerning. . .the Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

In previous posts we’ve already dispatched with the issues of Purgatory, Pardon, and Relics and Images. This leaves us with the "Invocation of Saints" and "Worshipping and Adoration." I’ve chosen to address the Invocation of the Saints as the next topic (so the last topic we'll cover will be "Adoration").

How to address this contentious issue, the issue of the Invocation of the Saints? Do Anglicans accept this practice? Many do, but think that the Articles are thereby opposed to “Catholicism” as they see it because it denounces the Romish Doctrine of Invocation. As with some of the other issues we’ve addressed, we must not equate the Roman practices of the Reformation era (or the 19th century, which many Anglicans chose to mimic) with Catholicism proper. We’ve seen that Purgatory is not a Catholic doctrine (rejected as it is in the Eastern Church), but a Roman one. Here too we must distinguish the Roman from the Catholic, for they are not identical. We can still pray for the departed (as we do in the 1549 and 1928 Eucharists) and have no need to embrace the Roman justification for engaging in the practice.

So, do we Anglican believe that the saints pray for us? Yes, for we pray with “all the company of heaven” in the Holy Eucharist (whether one uses the 1549, the 1662, or the 1928 variations). I’ve read pieces by C.S. Lewis and the Rev’d Dr. Toon supporting the notion that as we can ask the saints on earth for their prayers (“oremus”), so too can we ask the Saints in heaven for theirs. However, are there objections to the practice? I must admit that there are, if we engage in this practice after a certain way, namely phrasing the prayers to the saints without reference to God the Father or Christ Jesus. Can the objections be overcome? I believe they can, in a manner commensurate with the thinking of the Caroline divines of Anglicanism and the practice of the ancient Church.

On this issue I will first turn to a favorite English Catholic text of mine—Vernon Staley’s The Catholic Religion, for I believe Canon Staley addresses this issue in a concise, honest, and forthright manner:

“That the saints who have gone before pray for us, has always been the belief of the Church. We believe that they join in prayer for us on earth with a power which was not theirs whilst in the flesh—the mother for her children, the priest for his flock, friend for friend. And it is lawful to ask God to grant us a share in their intercession. In what way, or to what extent, the saints are conscious of our needs, has not been revealed to us.

The Church of England, in Article XXII condemns “the Romish doctrine concerning invocation of the saints,” that is to say, that system of prayer to the saints which led to their being regarded otherwise than as exalted supplicants. Before the Reformation serious abuses had arisen. It was supposed, for instance, that the saints had power with God because of their own merits, and that they were kinder, and had greater sympathy for sinners than Christ our Saviour.

Upon this subject we quote the words of Dr. Pusey—“The exclusive address of unseen beings has an obvious tendency at once to fall into a sort of worship; it is too like the mode in which we address almighty God to be any way safe; the exclusive request of their intercession is likely at once to constitute them intercessors in a way different from God’s servants on earth, and to interfere with the office of the Great Intercessor;” and again , “For members of the English Church, who desire the prayers of the departed, it has to him ever seemed safest to express the desire for those prayers to God ‘of whom and through whom and to whom are all things.’”pp 130-131

Here we are actually left with a solution to any perceived problem with “invoking the saints,” which we will come back to shortly. In summary of the points above, Canon Staley notes that the Roman practice was tied up with the saints having merits of their own, something that is rejected in the Articles when they reject the works of supererogation: “whereas Christ saith plainly When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants.” The only merits we can rightfully plead are the merits of Christ. So this element of the practice must be left by the theological wayside. Lamentably, the Anglican and American Missals copy Roman prayers verbatim and make mention of the “merits of the saints.”

We must also reject the notion that the saints are, in a sense, replacements for Christ as a mediator—that Christ is too far off, too fearfully awful that we must come to Him through another channel. The is a notion of the Middle Ages that Staley rightfully notes as erroneous. This idea must be countered, for Christ is our only Mediator and Advocate who intercedes with the Father on our behalf. That Christ is too remote or unsympathetic is no justification for invoking the Saints.

The last issue that Staley notes it the idea that the Saints in heaven may not be conscious of our needs. This issue must be addressed. Also, Pusey remarks that “The exclusive address of unseen beings has an obvious tendency at once to fall into a sort of worship; it is too like the mode in which we address almighty God to be any way safe.” Pusey is not rejecting prayers to the Saints—he is commenting that prayers composed in a manner in which they are exclusively addressed to the Saints comes too close to the form of prayer we use to address God alone.
What then is the remedy to this and to the criticism that we have no assurance that the Saints even hear our requests? Pusey provides the suggestion that addresses both of these issues, that “for members of the English Church, who desire the prayers of the departed, it has to him ever seemed safest to express the desire for those prayers to God ‘of whom and through whom and to whom are all things.”

Here we have a conclusion that was arrived at also by the Caroline divines, one that is illustrated by reference to the old Roman Mass itself. For in the Roman Mass, we have a prayer addressed to God Almighty, but within this prayer there is a request for the prayers of the saints. Again, note that this is not initially a prayer addressed to the Virgin, St. Andrew, or St. Agnes—it is addressed to God and concluded “through Christ.” What many Anglo-Catholics rejected (see Pusey, Staley, or Westcott’s Catholic Principles) were long prayers addressed to the saint alone and giving the saint (especially the Blessed Virgin) titles usually reserved for Christ. But the prayer in the old Roman Mass is different. Within it is a petition that the saints may pray for us. Several other prayers of the old Missals resemble this prayer. Consider this prayer on the Vigil of the Feast of St. Andrew:

“Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God: that as we do prevent the festival of Thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, so he may implore Thy mercy for us; that we being delivered from all our iniquities, may likewise be defended against all adversities. . .”

At this point it should be clear that this older manner of requesting the prayers of the Saints addresses the main concerns that usually arise. In that we are addressing the prayer to God through Christ, we have the assurance that the Saints in heaven are being commanded by God. We do not pray to the saints to bypass Christ because He is too stern and the saints more merciful—the mercy of God is implored. Also, we do not use titles and manners of address reserved for God in Trinity. As Pusey rightly states, those who desire the prayers of the saints ought address this desire to God, in whom are all things.

10 Comments:

Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

I am very conflicted on this issue, since I am culturally a Roman Catholic and have a lot of experience with Eastern Orthodoxy. I grew up saying the Ave Maria, and still do to this day. So I understand both sides of the issue.

As an amateur liturgist, it is clear that prayers to the saints are very late inventions in terms of the history of the Church. Even in the construction of the prayers, this is seen: older prayers tend to be shorter and more concise, and always addressed to God the Father "per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum..." Even prayers directly to Christ are fairly "recent" in terms of liturgy, the Phos Hilarion being an example of a major exception.

It would seem then that all prayer must go to God the Father through our Mediator, Jesus Christ, the High Priest. That is the "classic" model. I see, in my own life, prayers to the saints, especially to the Mother of God, as speaking to the family members I don't see with my eyes. I suppose, at least in my case, I know the difference between praying to a saint and praying to God.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Anglican Parish Priest said...

Anglicans have always sought to emulate the doctrine and practice of the undivided Church, particularly of the first five centuries. With that in mind, here is a helpful quotation from St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei (who definitely falls within that time frame, and who is very influential in Anglican theology) about the "invoking" of saints –

“We build temples to our martyrs not like temples for the gods, but as tombs of mortal men, whose spirits live with God. We do not build altars on which to offer sacrifices to martyrs, but we offer sacrifice to God alone, who is both ours and theirs. During this sacrifice they are named in their place and order, in so far as they are men of God who have overcome the world by confessing God, but they are not invoked by the priest who offers sacrifice. He offers sacrifice to God, not to them (although it is celebrated in their memory) because he is God’s priest, not the priest of the martyrs. The sacrifice is the Body of Christ”.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Death Bredon said...

PI,

Don't forget that our prayers go to the Father through the Son by the Spirit. Always trinitarian.

Though, on ocassion, we prayer directly to the Son or to the Spirit. But generally, our prayers are Trinitarian even when Saints are invoked in one or another manner -- for instance, most Eastern "Saints prayers" invoke "conprection," that is adding is adding their prayers to ours, incorporating them by refence (" by (or throught) the prayers of the Holy Fathers, Lord have mercy upon us and save us . . . .")

4:38 PM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

Parish Priest--

Your quote from S. Augustine is appropriate. Good points, well taken.

I do not promote adding the invocation of the Saints to the Common Prayer of Anglicanism. For this reason I do not fully support the use of the Missals when they simply adopt Roman prayers.

However, given that so many Anglo-Catholics do embrace this practice (asking the saints for their prayers) as part of their private devotions I think it is important to point out the only manner in which it was deemed acceptable to the Caroline divines and the early Anglo-Catholics. These theologians saw the problems and critically addressed them. Many simply ignore the criticisms and see them as attacks on Catholicism, which they are not. Pusey was not attacking, but providing useful criticism.

Death--

Good point about the Trinitarian form: To the Father, through the Son, by and in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Bud said...

Anglican Cleric,
Thanks for the thoughtful and enlightening post. I think the Caroline Divines were right, although until recently I took a hard Calvin/Luther line on invocation. That being said, I've always liked to ask Calvin and Luther to pray for me, just to tick them off :o)

9:03 PM  
Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Death Bredon,

My bad:

Per Dominum nostrum Jesus Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritu Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saculorum.

Veni Sancte Spritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium.....

11:18 PM  
Blogger J. Gordon Anderson said...

Like Arturo, I am somewhat conflicted on this issue myself. I do not have a problem with praying directly to a saint and asking for his or her intercession like I would from someone else. But as an Anglican I recognize that it's not really part of our Reformation tradition - which makes doing it sort of strange (though not entirely objectionable to me). That said, I like how the most of the prayers in the missal go to God father through the Son and Holy Ghost - asking God for so-and-so's prayers. That seems to be more in line with our tradition.

I suppose I view praying directly to a saint, for example saying a Hail Mary (which I say), as sort of like speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is supposedly some sort of private prayer language between God and a person. I have known some very holy and devout men - many, quite anglo-catholic - who had this "gift". And they were always trying to foist it on me, saying I needed it. My response to one such person once was, "I don't pray to God enough in my own language, thank you. When I do, then maybe I will add additional languages." So my point is, I don't think we should OD in invoking the prayers of the saints, especially when few of pray to God as much as we should. In moderation I do not have a problem with it, and I prefer it in the more ancient style.

9:17 AM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

My general feeling as well, Father Anderson.

DH+

10:36 AM  
Blogger Fr. Brad+ said...

Should we point out that Article XXII is against the Romish doctrine of purgatory and those vain inventions which arose in direct support of that particualr doctrine? This Article, then, does not ban all prayer to Saints, but specifically that associated with seeking the "excess merit" of particular Saints, earned by supposed works of supererogation, in order to gain some advantage in purgatory.

Next question: does not Revelation, chapters 6-8, demonstrate that the saints and martyrs are aware of what is happening on earth and that they pray, symbolized by the bowls of insence carried by angels? And, since these bowls are offered to Christ, filled with coals from his altar, and then cast to earth with miracles and an answering voice, do these passages not also teach us that the prayers of the martyrs are indeed effective on behalf of us on earth? I certainly do not intend to draw too specific detail from these passages, but these basic principles seem sound to me.

Just a few thoughts.

3:19 PM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

A bit of an addendum/clarification. I do not endorse/promote the use of prayers to the saints in the Common Prayer life of the Church, noting that here in the comments both an APA priest and an APCK priest both have some problems with the practice. If we cannot come to a consensus among the clergy, it is unwise to divide the Church by introducing it into the Eucharist.

However, I do realise that many Anglicans use this manner of private devotion. For those that do, I think they should be aware of the valid criticisms against this practice and how the Anglicans of the 17th century addressed this issue.

On another note, this does not negate our keeping the feasts of the saints, esp those of the Scriptures. These are the red letter days of the Book of Common Prayer.

I'd like to thank everyone for the informed comments on this issue. I knew this would be one of the more contentious, but I think we've addressed it in a charitable manner.

7:04 PM  

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