THE Council of Trent (sess. xxv. De Invoc. Sanct) teaches that "the saints reigning with Christ offer their prayers for the men to God; that it is good and useful to call upon them with supplication, and in order to obtain benefits from God through Jesus Christ, who alone is our Redeemer and Savior, to have recourse to their prayers, help, and aid." The prayer which we may address to the saints is of course wholly different from that which we offer to God or Christ. "We pray God," says the Roman Catechism (p. iv. ch. 6), "Himself to give good or free us from evil things; we ask the saints because they enjoy God's favor, to undertake our patronage and obtain from God the things we need. Hence we employ two forms of prayer, differing in the mode [of address]; for to God we say properly, Have mercy on us, Hear us; to the saints, Pray for us." Or, if we ask the Blessed Virgin or the saints to have pity on us, we only beseech them to think of our misery, and to help us "by their favor with God and their intercession;" and "the greatest care must be taken by all not to attribute what belongs to God to any other" ("Cat. Rom." ib.). Two points, then, are involved in the Catholic doctrine the intercession of the saints and the utility of invoking them.
(I) Intercession of the Saints. The whole of the New Testament enforces the principle that we are members of Christ, and so bound to each other as members of the same body (see, e.g., I Cor. xii. 12 seq.). God might, had it pleased Him, have made us solely and directly dependent on Himself, but He has chosen to display his own power by giving great efficacy to the intercession of the just (James v. 16). He taught us to go to Him with the wants of others as well as with our own, and He has deepened charity and humility by making us dependent to some extent on the prayers of others. Everybody knows the store St. Paul set on the prayers of his fellowChristians (Eph. vi. 18, 19; I Tim. ii. I). Prayer even for enemies was a duty enjoined by Christ Himself (Matt. v. 44). Now, it is hard to imagine a reason why souls which have gone to God should cease to exercise this kind of charity and to intercede for their brethren. The Old Testament plainly asserts the intercession of angels, as has been approved already, and it seems at least to imply the intercession of departed saints in Jeremias xv. I ; and undoubtedly the later Judeans believed in the merits and intercession of the saints of Israel (Weber, " Altsynagog. Theol." P. 314). We find an explicit statement of the doctrine just where we should reasonably expect it. The Apocalypse was written later at least than the death of Nero (June 9, A.D. 68) and the writer is filled with the thought of his martyred brethren who had gone before him to God. He believes that they still sympathize with and intercede for those whom they had left behind. "I saw beneath the altar the souls of them that were slain because of the word of God and the witness which they had, and they cried with a loud voice, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not avenge our blood from them that dwell on the earth. And there was given to each of them a white robe, and they were told to rest a little, until their fellowservants and their brethren be completed [in number," or else, according to the reading sumplerososin, "complete the number"] "who are to be killed even as they" (vi. 9 seq.). So again, in v. 8 (cf viii. 3), the elders before the heavenly altar are represented as falling "before the Lamb, having each a harp and golden vials full of perfumes, which are the prayers of the saints." It matters nothing for our present purpose whether the "saints" mentioned were or were not still on earth. In either case their prayers are to God by the elders in heaven, so that the imagery implies that the saints before God offer up our prayers and so help us by their intercession.
But if Scripture were silent, tradition witnesses to the doctrine so universally and so constantly as to remove all doubt of its Apostolic origin. The genuine "Acts" of the early Martyrs abound in testimonies. Thus, the contemporaries of St. Ignatius, St. John's disciple, tell us that some saw the martyr in vision after death "praying for us" ("Act. Mart." 7). The "Acts" of the Martyrs of Scilla (anno 202) speak of them as interceding after death before our Lord (Ruinart, "Act. Mart." ed. Ratisb. p. 132). Theodotus, before his death, says: "In heaven I will confidently pray for you to God" (ib. P. 384). "Pious men" built the Martyrium of Trypho and Respicius, "commending their souls to the holy patronage of the blessed martyrs" (ib. P. 210). Fresh evidence comes from the early Fathers. Cyprian, writing to Cornelius (Ep. lx. 5), 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" (see also " De Habit. Virg." 24). Origen ("In Cantic." lib. iii. P. 75, ed. Bened.) thinks it no "unfitting" interpretation of a passage in the Canticles if we take it to mean that "all the saints who have departed this life care for the salvation of those who are in the world, and help them by their prayers and mediation [interventu] with God." It is useless to add passages from later Fathers. A long list of them will be found in Petavius.
(2) Invocation of the Saints. If it is the will of God that the saints should help us on the road to heaven by their prayers, we may be sure that He makes the communion between the Church militant and the Church triumphant perfect on both sides; that He enables us to speak to them in order that they may speak for us. Our Savior tells us that the angels rejoice over repentant sinners (Luc. xv. 7), and a passage already cited from the Apocalypse shows that the martyrs in heaven are aware of what happens on earth. The inscriptions in the Catacombs recently brought to light witness to the confidence with which the Church invoked the prayers of departed saints. We select a few instances from those given by De Rossi (in the "Triplice Omaggio" and "Collection of Epitaphs," as quoted in Kraus, "RealEncycl." art. Gebet): "Ask for us in thy prayers because we know thou art in Christ" (n. 15); "Beseech for thy sister" (n. 19); "We commend to thee, O holy [Domina] Basilla Crescentius and Micena, our daughter" (n. 17). The great Fathers of the fourth century directly invoke and bid others invoke the saints. St. Gregory Nazianzen begs a martyr, St. Cyprian, to "look down from heaven upon him with kindly eye, and to direct his discourse and his life" (Orat. xxiv. ad fin.). So he invokes his friend St. Basil (Orat. xliv. ad fin.). St. Gregory Nyssen, fearing the Scythian invasion, attributes past preservation to the martyr, and not only invokes him, but begs him in turn to invoke greater saints, Peter, Paul, and John (Orat. in S. Theodor.). St. Ambrose ("De Vid." cap. 9, n. 55) exhorts Christians to supplicate (obsecrandi) their guardian angels and the martyrs, especially those whose relics they possess. Let us not only on this feast day but on other days also keep near them; let us beg them to be our patrons," are the words of St. Chrysostom on the martyrs Berenice and Prodoce. In his verses the early Christian poet Prudentius habitually invokes the saints; and St. Augustine (Serm, 324) tells a story to his people of a woman who prayed to St. Stephen for her dead son, "Holy martyr . . . give me back my son," and was rewarded by the miracle she asked. It must be remembered that these passages are but samples out of many which might be adduced. They come to us from every part of the Christian world, and the devotion which they attest cannot have sprung up as if by magic at once and in every quarter. We may add that then, as now, Catholics were charged with idolatry because they venerated the saints. Such accusations were made by the heathen generally, and in particular by Julian the Apostate, by the Manicheans, Eunomians (extreme Arians), by Vigilantius, etc. (See Petavius, "De Incarnat." xiv. 14.) St. Augustine's reply is well known viz. that the sacrifice of the Mass and supreme worship of every kind was offered, not to the martyrs, but to God who "crowned the martyrs " (so, e.g. "Contr. Faust." lib. xx. cap. 21).
The fact that the saints hear our prayers was held by the Fathers as certain; the way in which they do so is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation, about which neither they nor we have any certainty. In some way unknown to us, God reveals to them the needs and prayers of their clients, and Petavius warns us against curious speculation on the matter. The very uncertainty of the Fathers on this point throws into relief their unshaken confidence in the intercession of the saints and the advantage of invoking them. Augustine, Jerome, and others, suggest that sometimes departed saints may actually be near those who are calling on them. Modern theologians have generally thought that the blessed beholding God see in Him, as in a mirror, all which it concerns them to know of earthly things. Whatever theory we adopt, the knowledge of the saints depends entirely on the gift of God. We should be idolaters indeed were we to think of them as omnipresent or omniscient.
An account has been given of the institution of the Feasts of the Saints in a previous article. The devotion of the Church has turned chiefly to the saints who died after Christ. The ancient liturgies do indeed commemorate the Patriarchs and prophets. Abel, Melchisedec, and Abraham, are mentioned in the Roman Mass, and more than a score of Old Testament saints in the Roman Martyrology. Abel and Abraham are invoked by name in the Litany for the Dying prescribed in the Roman Ritual. The list of feasts given by Manuel Comnenus mentions one feast of an O.T. saint, that of Elias, but the Church of Jerusalem had many such feasts, and at Constantinople churches were dedicated to Elias, Isaias, Job, Samuel, Moses, Zacharias, and Abraham. But the Maccabees are the only O.T. saints to whom the Latin Church has assigned a feast. The reason, as Thomassin thinks, for the exception is, that the mode of their martyrdom so closely resembled that of the Christian martyrs, and that their date was so near to the Christian period. (The chief authority followed has been Petavius, "De Incarnat." lib. xiv., which treats the subject exhaustively, and for the last paragraph Thomassin's "Traité des Festes," lib. i. ch. 9.)
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