Veneration and Invocation of Saints
THE subject of canonization naturally leads to the question of the cultus or religious honor to be paid to the saints, and in a treatise like the present it is fitting that some explanation should be given of the Catholic teaching on this subject. This is all the more necessary because of the severity and bitterness of the attacks made upon the teaching and practice of the Church regarding the veneration of saints. The custom of honoring the saints and the doctrine underlying it were assailed in the early centuries by the Manicheans and other heretics; and their assaults were ably refuted by writers of such eminence as St. Jerome and St. Augustine. In the sixteenth and later centuries Protestants, and the various sects which sprang from Protestantism, made common cause with infidels, in assailing the doctrine, and rejecting it as superstitious, impious and idolatrous. With indescribable vehemence they returned again and again to the assault, openly charging the Catholic Church with the horrible crime of idolatry. And, without doubt, all this noise and fury deceived large numbers of wellmeaning but incautious people, who, in their misguided efforts to avoid the taint of idolatry, remained outside the pale of the Church. The accusations of these adversaries have, to a large extent, spent their force in our own day, and more specious and plausible forms of attack have been devised. It is, however, the duty of every Catholic to be able to give reasons for the faith that is in him, and, according to the measure of his opportunities, to show to the world the harmony and consistency of the religion he professes.
As in other departments of Catholic controversy much of the discussion is due to error regarding the real question at issue, so here a great deal of the illfeeling and bitterness, so disastrous in their consequences, arose from misconception of the real doctrine of the Church. It is proposed then to state briefly the true Catholic idea of cultus or religious honor, and then to show its reasonableness and harmony with revealed truth, thus providing a reply to the objections of our adversaries, and proving especially that the superstructure of Catholic devotion to Blessed Mary and all saints is built upon a solid and careful foundation of revealed dogma.
The word Cultus is used to designate both the honor paid to God alone and the honor given sometimes to creatures on account of their special connection with God. In the ordinary use of speech various terms are used to give expression to this twofold honor _ such as, worship, adoration, cultus, veneration, reverence, and the like.1 But though these words are generally regarded as synonymous, and are often applied indiscriminately to the religious honor paid to God and to creatures, yet the honor paid to the Supreme Being is essentially and intrinsically different from that which is paid to any created thing. Honor is given on account of the excellence which is in the subject honored, and varies with the nature of this excellence. The word "Latria", which in itself simply means "service," whether rendered to God or man, has, by the usage of the Church, become a technical term for that supreme worship which can lawfully be paid to God alone. "Dulia" is the secondary veneration which Catholics give to saints and angels as the servants and special friends of God. Dulia is subdivided into the simple cultus of dulia and "hyperdulia," which is that higher veneration which we give to the Blessed Virgin, who is the most exalted of all the saints by her merits and dignity, though, of course, infinitely inferior to God.
If, again, there is question of the cultus paid to relics and images, it is right to observe that such honor is altogether relative _ that is to say, "they are not in themselves, and, strictly speaking, adored and honored, but all adoration and veneration is referred to the prototypes or objects which they represent, inasmuch as images or relics have in themselves no dignity or excellence to which such honor properly appertains.2 The prohibition of idolatry, it is needless to say, continues in full force, but the danger of falling into this crime has, to a very great extent, passed away from Christian nations. The Council of Trent advocates the proper use of images, but earnestly exhorts that care should be taken to remove everything which would be an occasion of scandal to the rude and ignorant.
The purpose of images is to set Christ, His Blessed Mother, the saints and angels before our eyes, but, adds the Council, "the honor which is given to them is referred to the objects which they represent, so that through the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover our heads and kneel, we adore Christ and venerate the saints whose likeness they are." This is the Tridentine doctrine, and the use and veneration of images in this sense dates from the very earliest times.
To vindicate the teaching and practice of the Church in regard to the religious honor to be paid to the saints, it will be necessary to prove two propositions which will be treated as briefly as possible.
First, the cultus of the saints, so far from being idolatrous, is based upon Divine revelation and promotes the worship of the true God.
This proposition may be clearly proved from Sacred Scripture, from the custom always existing in the Church, and from the principles admitted by adverse writers.
The Old Testament represents Patriarchs, Prophets and judges as paying religious honor to saints and angels. To Omit what is recorded of Abraham, Lot, and Jacob, we read of Josue that when he had heard that the man whom he saw standing with a drawn sword was a prince of the army of the Lord he "fell on his face to the ground, and worshipping said," &c., Josue v. 15. Nor can it be doubted that the honor rendered here was religious and not of a civil or political kind, for the person honored was not engaged in business of state, but was the special messenger of God, and received religious homage because of this exalted office. Neither does the Sacred Word disapprove of such acts of veneration. On the contrary, these men are set up before the world as bright examples of religion and piety, and God even commands that His messengers should be honored.
The clearest and most authentic records show that the custom of paying religious cultus to the saints existed in every age of the Church. Feasts in honor of the martyrs were in existence from the earliest times. Sacrifices were offered in their honor throughout the universal Church at every period of her history. The existence of altars, temples, and oratories erected to perpetuate the sacred memory of the martyrs gives additional proof of this religious cultus and veneration. It is unnecessary to multiply instances; devotion to the saints grew, not by magic and at once and in every quarter, but gradually with the growth and development of the Catholic Church.
It is true that religiously minded and intelligent Protestants no longer bring the charge of direct idolatry against Catholics for venerating the Blessed Virgin and the other saints. Still, there is no other devotional practice which generates such bitter prejudice and excites such strong feelings of anger and exasperation against the Church as the custom of paying honor to our Blessed Lady. And many Protestants allege, with untiring reiteration, that the natural effect of Catholic devotion to Mary is to beget a quasi-idolatry and obscure the thought of God. It is worth while to devote some consideration to this vitally important question.
There is no Catholic but will readily admit that if the worship of the Blessed Virgin and the other saints interfered with the worship of Almighty God such devotion could not have the sanction of God or His Church. But Catholics not only deny that any such effect follows from this religious practice, but maintain confidently that these devotions actually promote in a very special degree the genuine love of God and of Jesus Christ. It may be said that the keynote of Catholic devotion to our Blessed Lady is that Mary is the way to Jesus as Jesus is the way to the Father. God is supreme, and the idea of God's supremacy is deeply and firmly planted in the mind of the most ignorant member of the Church. Catholics are devout to our Lady because this devotion leads them invariably to a stronger and warmer worship of her adorable Son.
Man was created for one end _ to know, love and serve God here, and be happy with Him for ever hereafter, or, more
briefly, for the knowledge and love of God. And, as is constantly proclaimed within the Church, men are more excellent and
more perfect precisely in proportion as they grow in this knowledge and love of God, as they are more prompt to recognize
and obey the Divine will. But Catholics maintain, and experience also proves, that this knowledge and love may be at times
more effectively promoted by devotion to Mary than by trying to fix one's thoughts exclusively on God and Christ. Take an
ordinary pious Catholic, the class of men who are free from mortal sin, and firmly resolved by God's grace never to fall to
grievous sin, it must be admitted that with such men "it often requires far less effort and exertion to fix their thoughts on a
created person, such as Mary, than on God Incarnate; and on such occasions, therefore, their prayer to her will be far more
earnest far less distracted, far more heartfelt than it could have been if addressed to God and Christ. Now there are two
different effects to be considered in the case of prayer. On the one hand, the various graces given by God of His own good
pleasure in response to it; and, on the other hand, the result it produces, in the way (as it were) of natural cause and effect on the
will and on the emotions, for supernatural phenomena, no less than natural, have fixed mutual relations of their own. As to
the former of these effects, there is no pretense for saying that prayer to Mary is less efficacious than direct prayer to Jesus;
for it is ultimately addressed to Him, and that through the most acceptable of all mediators. As to the latter effect _
its quasinatural effect on the intellect, the will, the emotions _ let this be borne in mind; it is a vitally important
psychological fact, and one on which theologians lay the most earnest stress, that no man can desire evil for its own sake; that all
men's thoughts and affections would be directed to God in one unintermittent stream, were it not for the innumerable
corrupt interests and associations which enchain them by the cords of pleasure. In proportion then, as at any moment I
am disentangled from these meshes, in that very proportion I am more disposed to obey God's Will and follow His
preference. Now remember that every Catholic regards Mary as absolutely free from the slightest approach to moral imperfection of
any imaginable kind; and that her contemplation, therefore, is among the most powerful correctives of every inordinate
and irregular passion. But in proportion as every inordinate and irregular passion is corrected in that very proportion the
love of God is fostered and promoted; and the love of God, therefore, instead of being impeded, is promoted with singular
by prayer to the most Holy Virgin."3
Nor can it be contended that amongst Catholics collectively devotion to Mary makes the worship of God and of Jesus perfunctory and uninteresting. The very contrary holds beyond all possibility of contradiction. An ounce of fact and experience is worth a ton of reasoning, and is a matter of palpable experience that wherever devotion to Mary is very prevalent, there the worship of the Sacred Humanity has a warmth and an earnestness not to be found elsewhere. The Catholic Church is the natural home of devotion to the Mother of God, and so, too, the Catholic Church is the home of those countless devotions to our Divine Lord, to the Passion in its various aspects, such as the Sacred Face and the Five Wounds, to the Blessed Sacrament, to the Divine Infancy, and to the Sacred Heart, that beautiful devotion which has been productive of so much good in our own day. The constant habitual thought and remembrance of Mary is a powerful means of grace, and is a most invaluable help towards acquiring a true love of her Son.
Spiritual writers make a distinction between what are called respectively sensible and solid piety; by the former they mean the emotions of gratitude, tender love, hope, joy, and the like produced by the contemplation of heavenly things, and by the latter they understand the ready promptitude of the will towards the love and service of God. Now, though emotions have no merit in themselves, their value is simply incalculable as means towards promoting that which is valuable and meritorious. During periods of sensible devotion, says Fr. Faber, "all trains of thought which concern heavenly things display a copiousness and exuberance which they never had before. Meditations are fluent and abundant. The virtues no longer bring forth their actions in pain and travail, but with facility and abundance, and their offspring are rich, beautiful and heroic."4 And, as showing from a still higher authority the value of sensible piety, we need only bear in mind that the Sacred Congregation of Rites, in examining the virtues of a servant of God, requires that virtuous acts should be elicited promptly, easily, and with delight and pleasure. This sensible devotion, so conducive to solid piety, is fostered in a singular degree by tender devotion to Mary. "To her," says Fr. Newman, "belong, as being a creature, a natural claim on our sympathy and familiarity, in that she is nothing else than our fellow. She is our pride _ in the poet's words, `our tainted nature's solitary boast.' We look to her without any fear, any remorse. Our heart yearns towards that pure Virgin, that gentle Mother, and our congratulations follow her as she rises from Nazareth and Ephesus, through the choirs of angels to her throne on high."5
A kindred advantage of constant pervasive devotion to our Blessed Lady and the saints is depicted in beautiful language by Dr. Ward. "The mind," he says, "has a most real capacity for apprehension and love of the Infinite; but however intensely that capacity be exercised, there still remains a very large residue of affection for finite objects. Now, it is the Church's end that the hearts of her children be anchored in the invisible world. This great end, then, is most inadequately promoted, unless their love for the finite, as well as for the Infinite, find great scope in their religious exercises. And, more particularly, it is of inestimable value that that unspeakably tender and power feeling _ a child's love towards its mother allowed a hearty vent on such a being as Mary. Lastly, their love of finite persons reacts most powerfully on, and indefinitely intensifies, their love of God, and gives to that love an otherwise untasted quality of tenderness and passionate devotion."
So far then from obscuring the thought of God devotion to Mary, and the habit of approaching our Lord through a mediatrix, affords an inestimable help in placing Him before us in the posit of Supreme Being, and engraves upon the imagination His Own Divine Personality. And it is no wonder that the Church, by her infallible magisterium, or office of teaching, should strongly recommend to all her children the worship of Blessed Mary and all the angels and saints.
Second. _ Invocation of the saints is lawful and useful.
It should be distinctly stated, at the outset, that there is no question here of the necessity of invoking the saints, for all Catholics admit that the invocation of saints is not absolutely necessary for salvation. Nevertheless, the truth enunciated in this proposition is an essential part of Catholic doctrine. Bishops are enjoined by the Council of Trent to teach the faithful that "the Saints reigning with Christ offer their prayers for men to God; that it is good and useful to call upon them with supplication, and to have recourse to their prayers, their help and assistance for obtaining benefits from God through His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who alone is our Redeemer and Savior."
From these words it follows _ 1st, "that the Invocation of the Saints is good and useful; 2nd, that help and advantage is to be hoped for, not from the saints, but from God at their intercession; 3rd, that the prayers and intercession of the saints are based on the merits of Christ Jesus who is our sole Savior and Redeemer, and, therefore, our sole Mediator, properly speaking, who is such by nature and by His office and by His own merits. The saints are mediators only in a secondary sense, and , broadly speaking, who can obtain nothing for us except through the merits of Christ. 4th We learn, in fine, that the invocation of saints is to be regarded as a certain aid by which we more readily get, through their intercession, the advantages we beg from God through the merits of Christ."6
Understood in this the true Catholic sense, it is easy to show from the teaching of Sacred Scripture that the invocation of saints is lawful and good and useful. The Apostle St. Paul, in almost all his Epistles, commends himself to the prayers of the faithful. In his Epistle to the Romans he says, Chap. XV., v. 30, "I beseech, you, brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ and by the charity of the Holy Ghost, that you help me in your prayers for me to God." And in the Epistle to the Ephesians he has the words, Chap, VI., v. 18, "In the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints." And so on through most of the other Epistles. It is true that the Apostle in the passages commends himself to the prayers of the living. But no reason can be assigned why souls that have gone to God should cease make intercession for their brethren; and if as is clear from St. Paul's teaching, the prayers of the living do not detract from the Divine Benignity and the mediatorship of our Savior, how can it be maintained that the prayers of those souls reigning with God are derogatory to the Divine Goodness and to our Blessed Lord?
The only objection that can be raised in this connection is that departed saints cannot be aware of the prayers and wants of the faithful. But throughout the whole of the New Testament there is no truth more strongly insisted on than that we are members of Christ and bound to each other as members of the same body. God makes the union between the Church militant and the Church triumphant complete on both sides, and enables us to speak to them in order that they may intercede for us. In the Gospel of St. Luke, Chap. XV., v. 10, our Savior tells us expressly that the "angels rejoice over one sinner who does penance"; and we are told in the Apocalypse that the elders in Heaven offer our prayers to God. "And another angel came, and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer up the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God" (Chap. VIII v. 3). The saints then hear our prayers, and this proposition was held as certain by the Fathers of the Church, though, of course, no Catholic holds that departed saints are omnipresent or omniscient. The way in which the saints who are reigning with Christ hear our prayers is a matter of speculation which does not concern us here. Some of the Fathers suggest that sometimes the saints are near those who are calling on them. The more general opinion at the present day is that the blessed, beholding God, see in Him as in a mirror the needs and prayers of their clients, as well as whatever else it pleases God to reveal to them of earthly things. The blessed see God face to face, and in this facial or beatific vision they see to some extent the things of this world The manner in which the revelation is made is uncertain, but the fact of revelation is beyond all doubt.
In addition to the testimony of Scripture, the practice and tradition of the Church, reaching back to Apostolic times, bear witness to the intercession and invocation of saints and angels. To omit the Ecumenical Councils of Chalcedon, Constantinople, and Nice, there are most ancient witnesses of this pious Catholic practice. The "Acts of the Martyrs" tell us that the contemporaries of St. Ignatius, St. John's disciple, saw the martyr in vision praying for us after his death. The testimonies are continued down to the early Fathers, from whom we receive fresh evidence. Cyprian thus exhorts those who may be martyred first: _ "Let our love before God endure; let not our prayer to the Father's mercy cease for our brethren and sisters." The same devotion to the saints is abundantly proved from Origen and from numerous passages from the Fathers of a later date. Long quotations from these Fathers may be seen in Petavius, Perrone, and in the works of most dogmatic theologians; and so abundant are they that it is unnecessary to refer to individual passages.
The veneration and invocation of saints was practiced throughout the Church in the fourth century, and such a devotion could not spring up as if by magic in every quarter. If it were a novelty or innovation the Bishops of the Church, whose special office it is to guard the sacred deposit of faith, would at once raise their voices in vigorous remonstrance, and there is no trace of protest to be found in all history. The very contrary holds emphatically and undeniably; for Vigilantius and Faustus, who were opposed to the devotion, were denounced as heretics and innovators by the unanimous voice of the Episcopacy. It follows that the doctrine of the invocation of saints existed at all times in the Church, and no doubt can be entertained of its Apostolic origin.
Nor should we forget that this consoling Catholic teaching is in accordance with right reason and in absolute harmony
with the dictates of our nature. No one can with any show of reason bring a charge of treason or
lèse majesté against a
trusted official who uses his mediatorial influence with the king for the purpose of obtaining some special grace or favor. And
how, then, it may be asked, can the faithful supplicant be regarded as doing injury to the Divine Majesty when he calls upon
the saint the special friends of God, seated in the Heavenly Court, to use their intercessory power for obtaining through the
merits of Christ the assistance of which he stands in need? The thought arising from this teaching is full of sweetness
and consolation. We are here in a state of exile, and what is there more calculated to give us comfort, to help and cheer us
on in the narrow way, than the thought that death with all its terrors cannot altogether separate us from those who are dear
to us, and that we are still in such close touch and union with those who have gone before us, and who are enjoying that
celestial bliss for which we too are destined? It is a most elevating and inspiring thought, a thought which draws still closer the
bonds of mutual charity and love, that those who are enjoying ineffable felicity in the Bosom of the Eternal Father do not lose
of us, that we can address them from afar, and that, in response to our prayers they are able, through the merciful dispensation of God, to help us along the thorny path which they have so bravely trodden. "What the saints have done we can do," says St. Augustine, and the doctrine of the Communion of Saints teaches us who are exiles in via to imitate the examples and follow in the footprints of those who are crowned in patria.
A word may be said in conclusion on the value of reading the "Lives of the Saints," and the advantages to be derived from this excellent practice. Next to the reading of the Word of God it may be said that there is no other form of spiritual reading which confers such signal favors on the soul as the perusal of the biographies of saints. Divine revelation gives us the perfect model, and the nearer we approach the revealed standard of holiness the more perfect will be our lives. And all the saints are conspicuous for the fidelity with which they copied in their lives the maxims and teachings of the inspired Word of God. Hence the lives of the saints are called by spiritual writers "the Gospel in practice"; and here, in the words of St. Francis of Sales, "you may behold as in a looking-glass the portraiture of the Christian life"
Some of the more recent writers give a word of useful advice to readers of hagiological literature. They point out two extremes which have to be guarded against, coldness, suspicion, and a doubting temper on the one hand, and on the other a blind credulity and readiness to accept without due caution whatever is set down in these lives. It is most important to pursue the middle course between coldness and credulity, for in the one case there is danger of tampering with the great prerogative of infallibility, and in the other, if what is possible, or probable, is confounded with what is true, the admixture may readily lead us into superstition and allure us from the analogy of the faith. "Indiscreet corporal penances," says Fr. Faber, "peculiar observances of interior mortification breeding scruples because unsuited to us, a morbid hankering after raptures, ecstasies, and other supernatural gifts, a conceited fancy (perhaps one of the most perilous delusions) that we are being raised to the higher degrees of mental prayer, affected singularities in good works, disregard and disesteem of our director as though he misunderstood what God is doing in our souls these are some of the errors into which an undiscerning study of the `Lives of the Saint'' has led and may lead; and the simple enumeration of them is a sufficient condemnation But in our day there is much more likelihood of the other extreme _ that is to say, to reject everything that is not positively de fide. This cold, dry; doubting temper, even when falling short of heresy, is most injurious to the soul, as may be perceived from the fact that it is utterly at variance with the disposition of the child, the model which our Lord sets before us in the Gospel. The sure way to avoid error in either direction is first to adopt the authoritative teaching of the Church for one's rule and guide, rejecting as beyond all controversy false whatever is opposed to that teaching; and secondly, as a loving child of the Church to put one's understanding and feelings in harmony with the genius and temper of his spiritual Mother, and accept not merely the dogmas faith, but the other important doctrines according to their varying degrees of certitude.
All the saints and spiritual writers are unanimous in recommending most earnestly the study of saints' lives as an effective means of sanctification. In his last instruction to his penitents, St. Philip Neri, speaking with unusual tenderness, was particularly urgent about three things _ frequentation of the Sacraments, attending sermons, and reading the "Lives of the Saints." The saint knew that reading, whether good or bad, exercises a very strong influence in the formation of character, and that when one reads the life of a saint with the proper dispositions, grace comes to the aid of nature, and helps still further to mold the reader after the model of him whose life is read.
Further, it is a matter of history that some of those men who rose to the greatest heights of sanctity owe their conversion to the perusal of saints' biographies. During the period of his conversion the "Lives of the Saints " were the constant study of Alphonsus Liguori. And everyone has heard that the "Lives of the Saints," read by Ignatius on his bed of sickness were, through the mercy of God, the instrument of his conversion.
It is unnecessary to multiply instances. Probably most Catholics have at some time experienced for themselves the
benefits to be derived from a study of the "Lives of the Saints." But we cannot help giving one other example. It is narrated by
no less an authority than Fr. Faber,7 and will form a fitting conclusion to this work. John Columbino led a worldly,
covetous and irreligious life, but one day, as his quaint old chronicler describes it he went home more hungry than usual; and
because his dinner was a little delayed, he got out of temper and abused both his wife and servant, saying he was in a hurry to
go back to his countinghouse. "You have too much money, and spend too little, John," said hi wife; "why are you
putting yourself out in this way? while I am getting things ready take this book and read a little "; so saying she gave him a
volume containing some lives of the saints. Giovanni, somewhat nettled, took the book and threw it into the middle of the
room saying, "you think of nothing but legends I have the warehouse to go to." Presently however, his conscience began to
sting him with remorse; he took the book from the ground, and opening it lighted upon the Life of St. Mary of Egypt.
Shortly afterwards his wife called him to dinner: "Wait awhile," replied Giovanni forgetting his hunger; and on he went. The
legend was long, but as his old biographer observes, there was a celestial melody in it; time sped; his wife looked at him;
Giovanni was still reading, and what was more, grace was working. There was conversion in the legend of the penitent of Egypt;
story softened his heart; it was his thought by day, and his dream by night; the churlish Giovanni began to give alms and always just double of what was asked of him; and to that reading was owing the outburst of the love of God which the blessed Giovanni spread with his "poor sheep of Jesus," the Gesuati, from one end of Italy to the other from the Pope at Viterbo down to the swineherd of Sienna.
1 "A great part of the objection to the language of Catholic devotion arises from the practice of confining certain words to their conventional sense, instead of interpreting them according to the intention of the writer or speaker. . . . Thus there is really no difference in fact between the terms `worship' and `veneration'; yet, while mere human qualities are considered to warrant veneration, Catholics are charged with idolatry who speak of the Blessed Virgin as an object of worship; a charge the more impertinent when we remember that in the words of the marriage rite, common to Catholics with Protestants, this term is actually employed in the sense of `service' or `devotion.' The word `adoration' again, according to its etymology, need mean no more than `invocation.' All such words mean only what they are meant to imply."Canon Oakley, "The Leading Topics &c. " p. 74.
2 Petavius de Incarnatione, xv. 17.
3 Dr. William John WardDublin Review, 1866. In his admirable essay the writer says: "Protestants assure us that Italian brigands, who never think for a moment of God and their eternal destiny, often retain the habit of invoking the Mother of God; nay, of praying her to assist them in their nefarious schemes. But these men have broken off all connection with the Church. All we have to say is that, scoundrel for scoundrel _ if brigands there must be _ we would rather that a scoundrel retained habits of prayer to our Lady, than that there should be no link whatever between him and Christianity."
4 Growth in Holiness, p. 428.
5 Letter to Dr. Pusey, p. 433.
6 Perrone, Vol. II., p. 413.
7 On Beatification and Canonisation, p. 10.
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