Dialogue with an Anglican on “Praying to Mary,” Patron Saints, Etc.

Dialogue with an Anglican on “Praying to Mary,” Patron Saints, Etc. September 22, 2015

(vs. Dr. Lydia McGrew)


Christ on the Cross with Mary as Intercessor and a Donor, Unknown Master, Flemish (active 1420-30 in Southern Netherlands) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
Dr. McGrew is a very thoughtful and (in the right way) “provocative” Anglican writer, with a very impressive Curriculum Vitae. I ran across this article today after an anti-Catholic person I have sparred with many times classified her as a “Roman Catholic” (and of course condescendingly praised her as more “honest” since she dissented from Catholic teaching). I got quite a chuckle over that. This is a reply to a portion of her article, “For All Saints and All Souls: Speak of me always to Maleldil” (1 Nov. 2014). Her words will be in blue. They include some from the comboxes on her site and mine also.I am interested particularly in her comments about the subject in my title: not prayers for the dead, which she also discusses (something much less misunderstood — and less opposed — by Protestants than the former topic). She herself described this area I’m interested in defending, as “yet more delicate.”
* * * * *

But first, a pause for Protestantism: I am of the opinion that it is at least somewhat theologically problematic for us to ask the saints to pray for us, and especially for our particular needs and requests. I hope that is not offensive to my Catholic friends, 

I’m not offended at all. I love the friendly challenge. What offends me is when certain Protestants claim that we Catholics aren’t Christians at all if we fully adhere to Catholic dogmas. This is simply good, honest, non-hostile Protestant-Catholic debate, which I love (almost above anything else).

but it seems to me that, to assume that the dead can hear our intercessions, that they know our present state on earth, and that they are speaking of it to God is to attribute to the dead something uncomfortably close to omniscience and to give to them something uncomfortably close to prayer. 

Now we get to the heart of the issue. There are a few plain logical fallacies in the above claim that I shall address. But first things first: there are various biblical indications that the saints in heaven are quite aware of what is happening on the earth.  One of the clearest is Hebrews 12:1 (RSV):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

What is this trying to express and how does it relate to the subject at hand? I wrote about it as far back as 1998. I won’t cite my whole paper (anyone can read it at the link), but the best quotation from it.

Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin R. Vincent, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980; orig. 1887; vol. 4, p. 536), a standard Protestant language source, comments on this verse as follows:

‘Witnesses’ does not mean spectators, but those who have borne witness to the truth, as those enumerated in chapter 11. Yet the idea of spectators is implied, and is really the principal idea. The writer’s picture is that of an arena in which the Christians whom he addresses are contending in a race, while the vast host of the heroes of faith who, after having borne witness to the truth, have entered into their heavenly rest, watches the contest from the encircling tiers of the arena, compassing and overhanging it like a cloud, filled with lively interest and sympathy, and lending heavenly aid. [bolding added presently]

That would appear to be a good biblical argument against Lydia’s denial that these saints “know our present state on earth” or that in order to do so they have to be “close to omniscience.” They know about us because they are in a higher state of knowledge than we are. Being more intelligent or aware does not logically entail something close to omniscience. Lydia has simply unnecessarily ruled out categories other than quasi-omniscience in those alive after departing this earth. There is no need to do so at all.

The Bible says that we will “judge angels” (1 Cor 6:3), and that “when he appears we shall be like him” (1 Jn 3:2). Jesus said, “in the resurrection they . . . are like angels in heaven” (Mt 22:30). It’s reasonable to assume that we will have knowledge in the afterlife at least akin to that of the angels (which is itself extraordinary). The Bible says, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:10). Who has joy? Who is rejoicing? That’s the folks in heaven!

We see an example of “imprecatory prayer” in heaven, asking for justice (Rev 6:9-11). We observe men in heaven (Rev 5:8) and also angels (Rev 8:4) somehow possessing the “prayers of the saints”. Why? What are they doing with them, pray tell? Why are they involved in prayer at all? Those three passages prove, contra Lydia, that they are  “speaking of it to God”. 

Incorporating some of these things, I made an argument (in my book about the communion of saints) for asking saints to pray for us, as follows:

1. We ought to pray for each other (much biblical proof).

2. “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16; cf. 5:17-18).

3. Therefore it makes eminent sense to ask more righteous people to pray for us (implied in same passage), because the possibility of a positive result is greater.

4. Dead saints are more alive than we ourselves are (e.g., Matt 22:32).

5. Dead saints are aware of what happens on the earth (Heb 12:1 etc.), and indeed, are portrayed as praying for us in heaven (Rev 6:9-10).

6. Dead saints are exceptionally, if not wholly, righteous and holy, since they have been delivered from sin and are present with God (21:27, 22:14).

7. Therefore, it is perfectly sensible and spiritually wise to ask them to pray on our behalf to God.

All of this strongly implies that they can indeed hear us and offer intercession in our behalf. And these intercessions are very powerful, because they are in a sanctified state (cf. #2 and #7 above).

The two fallacies in Lydia’s statement above are equating extraordinary or supernatural afterlife knowledge with quasi-omniscience. This is false. Having great, great knowledge can still be millions of “miles” away from having all knowledge, which is what omniscience is. It’s a false dilemma or an attempted “false equivalence.”

The last thing she wrote above, “give to them something uncomfortably close to prayer” is also true in one sense but false in another. If “prayer” is defined as simply addressing someone and asking a request of them, then yes, we pray to saints (and should!). We also “pray” to our friends on earth in the same sense. So this “proves too much and becomes ultimately a non sequitur in the discussion (because it is really asking for their intercession to God; not asking them as if they were God). But if prayer is defined as addressing the Being (God) Who ultimately has the power to grant answers to prayer, then it is only properly spoken of being directed to God alone, even if through intermediaries.

The problem with Protestant arguments against the communion of saints is that they collapse the recourse to intermediary intercessors in prayer (i.e., the ones who have died) with requests to them as if they had the ability to answer the prayer, which is God’s prerogative and power alone. Catholic prayers to saints (i.e., rightly understood, in accordance with Catholic dogma) presuppose this, but because it’s not stated every two seconds, Protestants too often falsely supposes that Catholics think saints can grant prayers in and of themselves apart from God. This (a supremely important point) is the fallacy or misunderstanding or both. Lydia unfortunately falls into this misunderstanding, too, as we shall see.

I will not say that prayers to the saints are definitely and intrinsically idolatrous, 

Very good! They are, of course, not at all: not intrinsically.

but I will say that I think they raise the danger of idolatry, 

Idolatry is always possible. The question at hand is what Catholic theology teaches, not whether some old lady in purple tennis shoes and perpetual curlers in her hair in Bolivia, with colorful giant dolls of Mary and other saints (and some weird local folk religious customs mixed in) distorts that teaching and commits idolatry.

for to treat the dead in this way is to treat them “too much” as we treat God–as an invisible Personage, far greater than ourselves, who can help us in our need, to whom we fly for refuge, who is always present to us, who knows our needs and what is best for us, and to whom we should cry out.

Again, here is a fallacious equivalence. None of these things require being God or close enough to Him to become an idol.  Dead saints are invisible, greater than us, able to help us (through powerful and super-knowledgeable intercession), present for us (because they are either outside of time or in a different sort of “time” altogether), etc. None of those things are true of God alone. But He is unique in power and being able to answer the prayers yay or nay.

I also disagree with the idea, which I have often seen expressed by Catholics, that certain dead saints have special influence with God the Father or with Jesus Christ (“Doesn’t it make sense to ask a man’s mother to intercede with him for you?”), so that by going to them we are making our prayers more efficacious than they otherwise would be.

I don’t see why. The Bible clearly teaches that different people have different levels of grace (Acts 4:33; 2 Cor 8:7; Eph 4:7; 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 3:18). From this it follows, it seems to me, that some might specialize in certain areas more so than others, according to different parts of the Body of Christ (much Pauline teaching on that). I don’t see why this should be either controversial or objectionable. It’s usually objected to because of observed excesses, while an ironclad argument against it from Scripture is rarely made. None was made above. Lydia disagrees, but has given us no compelling reason (biblical or otherwise) for why she disagrees. Anyone can see the massive amount of biblical support I have provided.

This conveys a notion that seems to me theologically false and even unsavory–namely, a notion of needing to be “in with the in crowd” theologically rather than being loved fully by Our Lord oneself and being able and encouraged to approach Him directly with one’s petitions.

That’s mere speculation. The fact remains that “the prayer of the righteous man avails much.” In the larger context of that passage, James states:

James 5:17-18 Eli’jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. [18] Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.

Okay. Would it not follow, then, that Elijah seemed to have a particular influence over weather? Therefore, why couldn’t someone ask him to pray to God about the weather, rather than someone else, since he had this record of asking for rain to cease, and it did for three and-a-half years? So he became, in effect, the “patron saint of meteorological petitions.”

We do roughly the same in this life with friends, on the level of empathy. So, e.g., if a woman has difficulty with miscarriage or difficult pregnancies or deliveries, she might go to a woman who has experienced the same thing and ask her to pray to God for her. I don’t see any intrinsic difficulty here. To me, it is just common sense. Catholics don’t ever deny anyone the ability to “go straight to God.” But we assert with James that certain prayers of certain people have more power; therefore it is sensible to go to them as intermediaries. Thus, again, in the same passage, we see “differential prayer factors”:

James 5:14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

The passage doesn’t say “go right to God, and if you don’t, it is a danger of idolatry.” Nope. The sick person is advised to go to the elders, and have them pray, and anoint . . .

I note, too, that this notion of special “influence at court” is at odds with the other claim one sometimes sees–namely, that asking for the prayers of the saints is entirely unobjectionable because it is just like asking one’s friends on earth to pray for one. 

This is talking about two different things. We say it is just like asking one’s friends on earth to pray” when the objection is made that the saints are dead. That’s when we say that asking them is logically not different from asking a friend. In both cases it is an intercessory request, and the dead are more alive in Christ and more aware than we are, so they ought not be excluded. God never intended that. It’s an arbitrary line, as if death ends all. It does not.

But in fact, we don’t believe that our ordinary friends on earth have this exalted “influence at court” in the heavenly realm, such as we are encouraged to think of the dead saints, especially certain ones like Mary, as having! So the two defenses of prayers to the saints are in conflict.

That’s right. We don’t only insofar as they are particularly holy. Obviously, no one is gonna reach to the sublimity of Mary, who was sinless. So this is a rather silly comparison. A Catholic would have to be profoundly dumb (and plenty of them assuredly are! — but stupidity in Christianity is by no means exclusively a Catholic trait) to not understand these basic distinctions of category.

Having now (sad to say) probably thoroughly succeeded in offending my Catholic readers,

I’m not in the slightest. I’m absolutely delighted for this great opportunity to defend the Catholic conception of the communion of saints. It’s one of my favorite topics in theology. I love to be stimulated by thoughtful people and other serious Christians, seeking to better follow God.

Perhaps, as our knowledge of their state is blocked by the chasm of death, and we can pray for them only in the general terms suggested above, their knowledge of our situation is similarly blocked or greatly limited. They are finite beings, as we are, and we have no reason to believe that God has ordained that they shall have supernatural knowledge of all that is going on here on earth.

I don’t see that this is the case in the Bible. I’ve provided plenty of relevant verses (plenty of “reason”); Lydia has provided no Bible passages at all thus far.

And if such an outpouring is effective as prayer when uttered here on earth, why would it not have effect when uttered by one in heaven? In other words, perhaps the dead really do pray for us effectually, and perhaps we really can pray for them effectually, even though we are absent from each other.

This is much better. I think the cumulative effect of the passages I have offered above, and others, show that they do in fact do so.

I find that in all actual Catholic practice of which I am aware, including that by very educated and knowledgeable Catholics, the idea that God only supernaturally makes known our prayers to the saints is not maintained as a consistent implication. Much Catholic veneration of Mary, for example, calls upon her directly to help us or says that we fly to her in our trouble. This would make little sense if every fact in question–our specific trouble and our individual prayer–had to be made known to her on a case-by-case basis by God.

This is again mixing up two different notions. Whether God makes the prayers known or the saints have additional powers in the fact of the matter of being in heaven; either way it is due to God’s supernatural power. I don’t see, then, that it matters much if it is one scenario or the other. It all goes back to God.

The second part of the above statement is something else, and gets back to “the power of answering prayer.” Catholic veneration of Mary understands on a presuppositional level that she is not God; therefore any “answer” she can give to prayer is due to asking Him in intercession. It would be like, for example, working for one boss who is himself under a higher-up boss. We could ask our immediate boss for a raise, and if we get one, we can say, “he got it for us.” But technically, the raise had to be okayed by the higher boss. Thus, the lower boss did not “answer” the request. He conveyed it as a channel. Yet we still could say “he” got us the raise.

That’s how it is with Mary and God. The Catholic understands this; therefore doesn’t have to point it out every time a Marian devotion is made. It’s kindergarten stuff to is. But because Protestants don’t partake in such devotions, they woefully misread their very nature. I’ve defended at length very elaborate “flowery” Marian prayers from St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Louis de Montfort (in my book about Mary). These are considered some of the most “idolatrous” by Protestant critics. Yet in every instance I have ever defended such piety, it was always the case that it was grounded in Jesus as the ultimate One Who answers prayer and gives Mary whatever power she has.

When Protestants attack these prayers, habitually they will find the most “terrible” examples they can come up with, for shock value (knowing that Protestant readers will be horrified and scandalized). For some reason, however, almost always they will ignore the context where Jesus is also mentioned. This gives a false impression and is a dishonest analysis. Once I provide such context, the “difficulty” disappears.

The very notion of seeking the help of the saints gives the strong impression that they are, by the nature of their situation, in a position to help us.

Absolutely: but by their more powerful intercession to God; not because they themselves can answer apart from God.

[gave examples of two Marian prayers] Many, many more examples could be found. One would never speak of asking for the prayers of a friend on earth, however godly, in those terms.

Of course not; because no one on earth is like Mary (why is it worth mentioning that at all; isn’t it obvious: either assuming Catholic beliefs or assuming them for the sake of argument?). There was only one Mother of God and one immaculate sinless person, made that way by an act of God’s grace at the moment of her conception.

 [second round of dialogue; from Lydia’s comments in the combox below]

Part of the difficulty here, which is almost certainly going to preclude agreement, is the very fact that I am not definitely saying that prayers to the dead saints are idolatrous. This may seem ironic, but my point is it that it is the very “fuzziness” and hence relative mildness of my critique that makes it both difficult for you to refute it decisively and also difficult for me to convince you of its justice. If I were saying that speaking to dead saints is intrinsically, by its very nature, idolatrous, then I could be refuted, and we’d be done. I could write that refutation myself, in fact. It is because I am using terms like “uncomfortably” or “too much like” and so forth that it is difficult to find common ground for disagreement–because there is an ineliminable element of subjectivism in these evaluations.

And the danger is also “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” You say you’re not asserting intrinsic idolatry (hence you acknowledge possible goodness and rightness in these practices) ; yet the practical result is the same: because you are always worrying about a fuzzy line and possible descent into idolatry, you don’t practice invocation of saints and asking their intercession. In other words, by setting up a scenario of “possible idolatry” you (happily) avoid idolatry but you also avoid the blessings of the communion of saints that God (according, I think, to the Bible and definitely to apostolic and patristic tradition) intended to have for you.

When is a practice, for us human beings as we really are, dangerously psychologically too much like praying to God to be theologically wise?

When folks don’t correctly understand the crucial differences. I think the practices are dangerous insofar as people are uneducated and ignorant as to their nature and purpose and goals. Since the Catholic Church has done an atrocious job of catechesis in the last fifty years (and most people still don’t even know what apologetics is), there is a mountainous amount of such ignorance or apathy, thus making it easy for someone like you to make a case against, based on corruptions in practice (and in fact this was largely the mindset of the so-called “reformers” in the 16th century). But your solution (like that of the “reformers”) is to cease doing the practice because it is abused and misunderstood. My solution is to educate people so that they will practice it in the right way and obtain blessings therefrom.

Look at your own analogy of levels of bosses and asking an intermediate-level boss to get a raise for us. Is that how we should think of God and our relationship to him?

You’re missing the point. The heart of the analogy (in my intention anyway) was not that God is a big boss Who gives us goodies (or about relationship with Him), but rather, to show that we routinely say that an immediate boss “gives us” something, when technically it is the big boss who does so (i.e., primary and secondary causation). That was my analogy to reply to your objection of prayers seeming to be directly to Mary as if she grants our request apart from God (which Catholics of course deny). All analogies are imperfect. I used this one off the top of my head. For it’s purpose, correctly understood, I think it succeeds.

And the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:16) tells us to come boldly to the throne of grace and emphasizes throughout the book that, the old covenant being at an end, we need no human intermediary other than the Lord Jesus himself. These verses and others (the Lord’s prayer itself, for example) encourage believers to strive for a directness and intimacy in their relationship with God . . .

You neglect to see that, while anyone can go directly to God at any time if they so choose, intermediaries are systematically used throughout Scripture. The best treatment of this matter that I can recall is Patrick Madrid’s “Any friend of God is a friend of mine.”Among many excellent examples, he mentions Hebrews, as you do:

Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant, eternally present before the Father, mediating his once-for-all sacrifice for our redemption (Heb 3:1, 4:14-15, 5:5-10, 7:15-26, 8:1, 9:11). But the Bible also says Christians are called to share in Christ’s priesthood (1 Pt 2:5-9; Rv 1:6, 5:10, 20:6).

See also my related paper, “There is One Mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5): Does This Rule Out “Mini-Mediators”? I have written often about how God uses people to distribute His grace. See, e.g.,  Human, Pauline, and Marian Distribution of Divine Graces: Not an “Unbiblical” Notion After All?

I think that the father would be rightly hurt if a son said that he asked his brother to make a request on his behalf because he thought the brother a favorite and wanted the brother to help him by “getting it for him.”

Then you have not understood differential grace and merit in Scripture and tradition. This is not surprising, since most Protestants are taught to deny both (quite biblical) things. You also have to deny the bald fact of passages such as the one I already gave you:

James 5:14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

So now God would be offended because He spoke an inspired word in His revelation through James, that it is better to ask a Church elder to pray for a sickness than to go “direct to Him”? You continue to neglect the key verse of James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” That means something. What does it mean in your scenario, where everyone should go right to God and avoid asking an exceptionally holy person to pray for them? You neglect entire vast areas of biblical practice and piety. But that was what Protestantism was about: stripping Christianity to its bare bones, for a minimalist, bare minimum, skeletal type of Christianity, stripped of far too much of its miraculous and supernatural character. I don’t want that. I want all of what God intended for His followers to have.

But again, you are likely simply to say that you do not agree that the analogies used or the practice as you engage in it or as your friends engage in it encourages a wrong kind of distance from God or a replacement of intimacy and closeness with God with intimacy with the saints who seem nearer to ourselves.

That’s correct, because we don’t see it in “either/or” dichotomous terms, as Protestants typically do. We don’t pit God against His saints. We believe that He wants to involve those saints in His purposes, and that no intrinsic conflict is set up in that state of affairs. The Protestant presupposes that any invocation of or devotion to a saint somehow takes something away from God (this is precisely why it is thought to be either intrinsically idolatrous or in danger of crossing that “fuzzy” line). But it’s not the case. The error lies in the false Protestant “either/or” premise.

Catholics are all for intimacy / relationship with God. This is not something (sorry to disappoint or shock anyone) that Protestants discovered in the 16th century. Have you never read The Imitation of Christ? Or you could check out the incredible, sublime intimacy of various Catholic mystics and contemplatives with God, that I recently compiled into a long book.

I can say this much, because this lies within my own personal experience: During the times when I have been most sympathetic to prayers to the saints, I have found that sympathy and inclination actually to be a distraction from what I now regard as my proper personal relationship with God.

Precisely! This is what I am saying. Because (in your theological premises before you even get to the practice) you create a false dichotomy between the saints and God, as if two different things are involved instead of one, you felt like that. But the Catholic who regards all of it as one thing: approaches to God: directly or indirectly: all glory to Him; all things in His providence, we feel no such “competition” between a saint and God. We think in “both/and” terms, and all always goes back to God.

The whole point of the request to the intermediary in those analogies is that that person is asking for you, instead of your asking yourself.

In one sense he is, in another (I say, the more essential aspect) he isn’t. If I ask something of someone through an intermediary, it doesn’t cease to be (ultimately or essentially) a request from me. It’s still my request and only secondarily the intermediary’s request, as a go-between, or messenger between myself and the ultimate goal (in the analogy, God).

In fact, it works the same in reverse. God sent prophets to earth to speak for Him. They spoke in the name of the Lord, and often said, “The Lord says,” as if they were simply sorts of “telephone lines” between God and men: directly conveying God’s message.

God could have communicated directly, had He chosen that. He did so in many theophanies and at the burning bush, and when Jesus was baptized and transfigured, when He spoke directly out of heaven. But He routinely  chose to speak through intermediaries: the prophets (and for that matter, in all of His Bible, which came through men; rather than falling from heaven with no human involvement).

Now, according to your logic that you set forth above, when He does that, He is not sending the message; the prophet is. You create a wedge between the messenger and God, or the messenger and the original person praying. What I’m saying is that that is nonsensical. Clearly God is speaking through the messenger, who conveys His words and thoughts. Likewise, the Catholic who makes requests of God through someone else, continues to be the main person attempting to communicate with God in some fashion. The presence of a second party doesn’t eliminate that fact.

You continue (in your comments following the above) to operate on a seemingly caricatured perspective of what Catholic piety and invocation of saints is all about. In the end, beyond all the arguments I am giving, I can only observe that you don’t fully grasp it yet. It involves faith. It’s not simply a rational exercise. You can’t accurately observe it from the outside looking in: not totally. Yet I don’t appeal to mere subjectivism, as you are mostly doing. I have backed it up massively with Scripture at every turn. And I could also back it up with massive patristic support.

There’s not much more I can say to a lot of your analysis in this second round. The difficulties and differences here lie at the level of premise, and I tried to undermine yours by showing Scripture that I think is contrary to them. If you reject that, then there’s little more that I can do. We’ll have to agree to disagree, and those on the fence or seeking can read this exchange and come away from it with whatever they may. They can decide who made a more plausible case. I’m more than happy to let them do that. 

Considering the strongness of the degree of knowledge being attributed to the saints, I think that the scriptural supports you allege are far too weak to uphold it.

We profoundly disagree on how much the saints in heaven know and are aware of. I suppose several passages might be set forth along those lines. Off the top of my head I can think of these:

1 Corinthians 2:4-16 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. [6] Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. [7] But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. [8] None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. [9] But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,” [10] God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. [11] For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. [12] Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. [13] And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. [14] The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. [15] The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. [16] “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Ephesians 3:17-19 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  [18] may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  [19] and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

Ephesians 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;

Colossians 2:2-3 that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ, [3] in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Regarding the previous four passages, I ask: how much more so will we have the riches and knowledge of Christ in heaven? Then the following two passages directly suggest extraordinary knowledge in the afterlife:

1 Corinthians 13:9-12 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; [10] but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.  [11] When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.

1 John 3:2  Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Once again, you speculate endlessly in the subjectivist cocoon of your own brain and its reasoning powers (which are considerable,but have to attain correct premises in the beginning). I appeal (along with some arguments from reason alone) mostly to Holy Scripture: God’s inspired revelation. Which method do you think will be more compelling to undecided readers?

One point that occurs to me is that if idolatry creeps into a Christian group or into the life of a Christian (or Jew, for that matter), it will do so in some way that can be explained away.

Oftentimes, sadly, yes, because human beings have an endless capacity for self-deception, self-justification, and rationalization. What we need to remember regarding idolatry, is that it resides internally in the heart, first and foremost. One has to be consciously aware of what they are doing and what they believe. If a person is to replace God with a saint (as if the latter is equal to or higher than God), then they are consciously, deliberately doing so, or else it isn’t idolatry per se. It may be spiritual laxity or even gross negligence, but not idolatry.

I’ve often used a variant of this argument in defending transubstantiation. The claim is that Catholics are worshiping bread. For the critic observing from the outside, given their beliefs that no such miracle occurs, indeed this is the case, since for them the consecrated host remains bread and is no part of Christ at all; therefore it is bread-worship from their perspective.

But the claim made is idolatry on the Catholic’s part, and this fails, because the Catholic doesn’t believe for a second that He is worshiping (or desires to worship) mere bread and wine. We believe that it has miraculously transformed into the true Body and Blood of Christ. Whether we are right or wrong about that, it is not idolatry, because the fundamental premise is missing (deliberately worshiping bread as God).

In fact, in the very nature of the case, idolatry is the kind of thing that comes in degrees. We do admire people, so it’s a question of when admiration “turns into” idolatry, and this will have fuzzy lines.

There is no “degree” in transubstantiation. The consecrated host is either bread or it is Jesus Christ. Such confusion might, however be directed towards Lutheran belief, in which both are present together.

Likewise, with communion of saints. As long as a Catholic understands the basic creature / Creator distinction and understands that God ultimately answers the prayer, however it is offered (and doesn’t fall into the fallacious Protestant “either/or” mentality), then there is no idolatry. It’s not complicated. Sadly, however, there are many Catholics who are ignorant about even these elementary things. This is their fault and that of their teachers, not Catholic theology itself, which is crystal-clear about all these matters.

Also, if one is theologically clever, one can explain away almost anything.

Yes they can. I think you have attempted to do that by dismissing communion of saints in its fullness because you think it is “dangerous.” That may be clever, but those who follow this reasoning lose out in the end because they lose blessings that God intended for them. I think you have failed in your attempt to explain it away (though an “e for effort” and you gave it the ol’ college try) and I trust that readers can and will see that by considering my critiques.

Hmmm, I’m surprised that you think you have documented your position “massively” in Scripture. Isn’t that a rather strong statement, considering the strength of the position? Massively? 

Once again we encounter the different mindsets and definitions of the Protestant and Catholic camps. What I said was, “I have backed it up massively with Scripture at every turn”; meaning that I have offered plenty of biblical texts that I think have relevance, not necessarily that any or all of them are compelling or explicit (you have offered very few and mostly your own admittedly subjective analysis).

Protestants, of course, demand (for the most part) explicit biblical evidences or else they will reject a position (part and parcel of sola Scriptura). Yet ironically there is no proof whatsoever in Scripture of sola Scriptura, (I wrote two books about that), so this demand is arbitrary and non-biblical).

Protestants also, of course, reject a binding, infallible sacred tradition, in line with the magisterial teaching of the Church. We believe things not only because they are explicit in Scripture, but because they have been accepted by the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, and have been practiced by Christians from the beginning (albeit usually highly developed as time goes on). That’s how the Church fathers always argued, and we agree with them and do the same.

For example, consider the verses in James. I’m rather intrigued by the fact that you seem to think that those verses do teach that we should go to those intermediaries (e.g., the elders of the church) rather than praying on our own behalf. I would call this a type of biting the bullet.

I’m intrigued that you deny that this is (in my opinion) the obvious import of the passage. I was responding to your arguments that it is somehow improper or unsavory or unnecessary to “go through” someone else; and lo and behold, here is Scripture plainly advocating it. I don’t think it’s “either/or.” I think that here was a clear example of an intermediary in prayer: the thing that you want to deny or minimize. You’re playing the “either/or” game, not me. I (and Catholics) firmly believe in both things.

I would say that this demonstrates that our disagreement comes at the level of what degree of intimacy should obtain between Christians and God.

I completely disagree. There is no disagreement on that between the two camps. But Protestants often caricature Catholicism as a viewpoint that supposedly stresses non-intimacy or non-relationship with God. That is nonsense, and I countered it by citing Thomas a Kempis and Catholic mystics. But to no avail . . . Our disagreement comes at the level of premises: just not this premise, where the two sides, rightly understood, completely agree. Christians ought to be in personal relationship and intimacy with God. In fact, I would argue that Catholic mystics teach an intimacy with God (up to and including theosis or divinization) that is significantly deeper and beyond anything that can be found in Protestantism. 

they absolutely do not mean that we should ask the righteous man to pray for us instead of praying for ourselves.

I completely agree. I never said that they did: only that they give an example of this sort of prayer: “going through” others of a higher state or holiness. We can pray on our own or we can go the other route, which is completely biblical.

Why in the world would anyone take the knowledge in those verses to mean or even to include knowledge of events going on on earth, knowledge of people’s trying to talk to you by ESP, and so forth? I cannot imagine.

I cited them generally, “off the top of my head,” as I stated. You don’t like those possibilities so you don’t see them as included. We do, because we have no such prior hostility to the notion going in. “filled with all the fulness of God” and ” the fulness of Christ” are profound statements, as are “we shall be like him” and ” then I shall understand fully.” You don’t see the sorts of things we are debating (knowledge of saints of prayers, etc.) as plausibly or possibly being included in those sorts of broad statements. We Catholics absolutely do. It all goes back to premise and the worldview one adopts, which then becomes a lens or “filter” through which everything is viewed. And I didn’t even get into the many Bible passage about theosis, such as (notably) our becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4).

Your most recent comment is based on the premise that merit and differential holiness and grace either don’t exist or are insignificant factors. That’s a completely different discussion, and I have already spent more than enough time with this, and we aren’t achieving any sort of meeting of the minds as it is.  We drift further and further apart as this continues.

Constructive, fruitful discussion must proceed from common, shared premises and then go from there. Unfortunately, what we are doing now is discovering more and more unshared premises, and so our efforts to communicate to each other become increasingly futile. We’re (for whatever reason) digressing rather than progressing, and that is usually when I become much less interested in a discussion.

But I do appreciate your strong effort and refusal to condescend into personal insults or anti-Catholicism.

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