Vs. J. Oliveira #2: Is Veneration Worship?

Vs. J. Oliveira #2: Is Veneration Worship? September 28, 2023
Brazilian Protestant Juan Roberto de Oliveira is the author of the book, Nenhum Caminho Leva a Roma: O pecurso até o protestantismo [No Road Leads to Rome: The Path to Protestantism]. It has no date or publisher listed. But it was “recently released.” He’s a “law graduate” and is active on Twitter (now “X”) and, especially, Instagram. When I informed Juan of my replies, he quickly wrote on Twitter: “I’ll be rebutting your rebuttals.” I wish him all the best in that endeavor. If anyone discovers that he has ever answered any of my critiques, please let me know.
His words will be in blue. Translations from the Portugese of his book will be made with Google Translate (with an occasional additional modification). I will use RSV for Bible translations.
Just as I finished my tenth installment (10-5-23), Fraternidade Newman Brasil [Newman Brazil Fraternity] published a devastatingly comprehensive (and shocking) expose entitled “Apologética da Desonestidade: Evidências de Plágio e outras Trapaças no Livro do Protestante Juan Roberto Oliveira” [Apologetics of Dishonesty: Evidence of Plagiarism and other Cheating in the Book of Protestant Juan Roberto Oliveira].
In light of this new information, this will be my last critique. It’s a shame, because I was enjoying myself so much, and I felt that I came up with some fresh arguments, but this book deserves no further response. It was already a very weak, poor volume (desperately in need of an editor), even if these factors weren’t in play. What I have written thus far has, in my opinion, value in and of itself, as a ten-part Catholic apologetics “course.” So it wasn’t a waste of time at all. But no more. I’m only interested in responding to serious, adequately researched, honest apologetics.
[T]he Council of Trent, held between 1545 and 1563, . . . officially defined and reaffirmed the practice of veneration of saints, clarifying that veneration was due only to God, but that the saints they could be honored and invoked as models and intercessors. Roman Catholics say they “venerate” the saints and argue that it is merely honor given, or admiration, but in practice, things are totally different. Firstly, the word “venerate” is synonymous with “worship” . . . (p. 14)
[I]n practice there is no difference. Everything Catholics do for the saints, they also do for God. They pray to the saints and to God, they make images of saints and God, they kneel before the images of the saints and of God, they make a procession for the saints and to God, . . . I ask, then, what is the difference between dulia, hyperdulia and latria in practice? It does not exist! (p. 19)
Juan is, first of all, fundamentally confused as to the terms involved. He invokes the Council of Trent (as he should). Very well, then, let’s look closely at what Trent stated about veneration of saints, including an analysis of the Latin words used. I will be utilizing the 43rd edition (Ignatius Press: 2012) of Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum, the standard reference source for what the Catholic Church believes. Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Professor of Dogmatic Theology and Christology at Sacred Heart Seminary in my native Detroit, was one of the two editors and translators of the work in English, and he is a good friend of mine (has been in my house many times).
Trent’s Decree on the Invocation, Veneration, and Relics of the Saints and On Sacred Images (3 December 1563) uses (in English translation) the words venerated (original Latin, veneranda) or veneration (Lat., venerationem) or venerating (Lat., veneremur) five times: always in relation to saints and not God. One can readily observe this by doing a word-search at the link to the title. It never urges Catholics to “venerate God,” even though Juan erroneously claimed that it supposedly taught thatveneration was due only to God” (Portugese, veneração era devida somente a Deus).
Honour (Lat., honorem) also appears seven times: four of them referring to the saints or their relics, twice to images of both saints and Jesus, and once of Jesus himself. There is nothing improper in this, since we can and should honor both God (Rom 1:21; Phil 1:20; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:16; Heb 2:7, 9; 2 Pet 1:17; Rev 4:9, 11; 5:12-13; 7:12) and men (Rom 12:10; Eph 6:2; Phil 2:29; 1 Tim 5:3, 17; 1 Pet 2:17; 3:7), according to Holy Scripture. Obviously, God receives much more honor, but both are, or can be honored.
When referring to God, however, different and exclusive terms are used. Adore appears twice: Christum adoremus / “adoring Christ and venerating the saints” and adorandum ac diligendum Deum / “adore and love God.” The text also refers to “our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is our Redeemer,” and “one Mediator between God and men.”
Nor is it true (in this document, or generally) thatthe word ‘venerate’ is synonymous with ‘worship’ ,”  as we have just seen. If we look up “venerate” in Dictionary . com, the definition given is “to regard or treat with reverence; revere.” It also cites the British Dictionary rendering: “1. to hold in deep respect; revere; 2. to honour in recognition of qualities of holiness, excellence, wisdom, etc”. Then if we look up “reverence” in Dictionary . com, the definition is “a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe.” The etymology or origin of the word is described as “First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English, from Latin reverentia ‘respect, fear, awe’.” Likewise, Merriam-Webster renders “venerate” as “1 to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference; 2 to honor (an icon, a relic, etc.) with a ritual act of devotion”.
Granted, in both, there is some secondary or etymological reference to “worship” as a possible meaning, because words can have many different meanings, and are used differently in different contexts, but this only reflects biblical usage, as I shall shortly prove. In other words, the charge that Catholics hopelessly confuse words and categories with regard to veneration and worship, will be found to be characteristic of the Bible itself. That being the case, the accusation proves too much, by virtue of reductio ad absurdum, and must be discarded.

Juan (very typically of anti-Catholic polemicists) mocks the Catholic distinctions herein outlined and dogmatically declares,in practice, things are totally different.” Again, it is freely granted (as a truism or self-evident truth) that some individuals go astray. This will always be the case. But they are not following actual Catholic teaching, and it is a fact that distortions and misunderstandings run rampant in any Christian belief-system or community that one can name.

In other words, one can’t determine and analyze Catholic teaching by examining an old Catholic woman in a babushka and purple tennis shoes. One goes to places like Trent and the Enchiridion. Juan — to his credit — did go to Trent, but then he engaged in wholesale distortion as to what it taught, and then descended to the usual mockery (but hopelessly subjective and relative analysis) of “Catholicism-on-the-ground.” This won’t do, to put it mildly. Martin Luther noted — many times — the nominalism and ignorance even among his own Lutherans, a mere dozen years after they broke away from the Catholic Church:
[T]he world grows worse as it grows older, becoming the very Satan himself, as we see that the people are now more dissolute, avaricious, unmerciful, impure and wicked than previously under the papacy. What causes this? Nothing else than that the people disregard this preaching, do not use it aright for their own conversion and amendment, that is, for the comfort of their conscience, and thankfulness for the grace and benefit of God in Christ; but every one is more concerned for money and goods, or other worldly matters, than for this precious treasure which Christ brings us.  . . . 
We see farmers, citizens and all orders, from the highest to the lowest, guilty of shameful avarice, inordinate life, impurity and other vices. . . . this doctrine is of a character to make godly, chaste, obedient, pious people. But those who will not gladly receive it, become seven times worse than they were before they heard it, as we see everywhere. (1533 sermon for the First Sunday of Advent [Matthew 21:1-9], from Dr. Martin Luther’s House-Postil, or Sermons on the Gospels, Vol. 1, 2nd edition, Columbus, Ohio: J. A. Schulze, 1884, pp. 8-10; this sermon was translated by D. M. Martens sometime prior to 1869 and originally transcribed by Veit Dietrich)

I confess, that I am much more negligent, than I was under the Pope, and there is now nowhere such an amount of earnestness under the Gospel, as was formerly seen among Monks and Priests. [Walch. IX. 1311] [from: Henry O’Connor, S. J.: Luther’s Own Statements Concerning His Teaching and Its Results (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1884, second edition]

Another translation comes from Catholic Luther biographer Hartmann Grisar (Luther, Vol. 3p. 206):

“I confess of myself,” he says in a sermon in 1532, “and doubtless others must admit the same [of themselves], that I lack the diligence and earnestness of which really I ought to have much more than formerly; that I am much more careless than I was under the Papacy; and that now, under the Evangel, there is nowhere the same zeal to be found as before.” (Werke, Erl. ed., 18 2 , p. 353).

Paul Althaus’ work, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), confirms (p. 450) that the sermon is from 1532.

I treat Luther the same way that I ask that Catholics be treated: with fairness and objectivity, rather than deliberately looking for the worst possible examples of a religious belief-system. Lutheranism is defined as Luther and the Book of Concord define it: not by the rabble in Wittenberg in the 1530s. But now to the Bible.

Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon describes word #7812: shachah as “. . . prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God):–bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship.” [see all of the numerous OT instances of its use]
It’s translated in the following manner in the KJVworship (99x), bow (31x), bow down (18x), obeisance (9x), reverence (5x), fall down (3x), themselves (2x), stoop (1x), crouch (1x), miscellaneous (3x). It mostly means bowing down to God in worship (adoration), but also not infrequently means bowing down before superiors or angels in homage or veneration. There are many biblical examples of this:
1 Chronicles 29:20 Then David said to all the assembly, “Bless the LORD your God.” And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads, and worshiped [shachah] the LORD, and did obeisance [shachah] to the king.

Genesis 27:29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down [shachah]  to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down [shachah] to you. . . .

This is Isaac’s blessing of Jacob.

Genesis 42:6 Now Joseph was governor over the land; he it was who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came, and bowed themselves [shachah] before him with their faces to the ground.

In the Old Testament, the same word, shachah, that is used at least 99 times in reference to worship of God, is used many times when a person is bowing before a person or an angel. Abraham bowed before (venerated) two angels:

Genesis 18:1-2 And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. [2] He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself [shachah] to the earth,

Two of these men were angels, as we know from 18:22: “So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the LORD.” This was a theophany (appearance of God in the Old Testament). So Abraham had venerated two angels and worshiped (?) God at the same time. Was he confused (like us ignorant “papists” supposedly are about veneration of saints and angels)? Is the Bible confused? Is it trying to mislead and confuse people with inexplicable passages like this, that drive Protestants crazy? You decide, dear reader. This sort of material is systematically destroying and pulverizing Juan’s contentions.

Lot venerated two angels:

Genesis 19:1 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed himself [shachah] with his face to the earth,

Abraham “bowed [shachah] to the Hittites” (Gen 23:7). Jacob bowed [shachah] seven times to his brother Esau (Gen 33:3). His wife, maids, and children did the same (33:6-7). Joseph’s brothers bowed [shachah] to him (Gen 43:26). Joseph bowed [shachah] “with his face to the earth” to Jacob / Israel (Gen 48:12). Ruth “fell on her face, bowing to the ground” (Ruth 2:10) to her future husband, Boaz. King David “fell on his face to the ground [shachah], and bowed three times” to his friend Jonathan (1 Sam 20:41). He did the same to King Saul (1 Sam 24:8). Abigail did this [shachah] to King David (1 Sam 25:23). There are many other similar examples (look up “bowed” in a concordance. Young’s Concordance categorizes them by the Hebrew word, including shachah).

But is there a clear example of the veneration of an angel? Yes, using the same word, shachah:

Joshua 5:13-15 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” [14] And he said, “No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped [shachah], and said to him, “What does my lord bid his servant?” [15] And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.

We are not to – must not! — adore and worship anyone but God. This is what the Catholic Church has always taught. But we can and should also honor and venerate saints and angels. This goes beyond even the Catholic distinction between dulia and latreia, that John Calvin roundly mocks as absurd, since the same word is applied to fundamentally different actions: thus potentially leading to far more confusion than Calvin thinks Catholic distinctions of words and actions lead to. Why, then, do Calvin (and Juan) not go after the inspired Bible writers with the same vehemence that they reserve for Catholics in their anti-Catholic zeal?

King Saul venerated [both shachah and qadad] – and talked to and made an intercessory request of — the prophet Samuel after his death:

1 Samuel 28:14 . . . And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed [qadad] with his face to the ground, and did obeisance [shachah].

This is almost the most explicit conceivable biblical evidence (from Hebrew words and what is described in the passage) for veneration of creatures that can be imagined. He is venerating a dead prophet (not even an angel this time), and the two Hebrew words used to describe what he did are both applied many times to adoration of God.

King Nebuchadnezzar “fell upon his face, and did homage to Daniel” (Dan 2:46; cf. 8:17). The Philippian jailer “fell down before Paul and Silas” (Acts 16:29). Men (apostles) are venerated in the New Testament. The Greek for “fell down before” in Acts 16:29 is prospipto (Strong’s word #4363)It is also used of worship towards Jesus in five passages (Mk 3:11; 5:33; 7:25; Lk 8:28, 47). So why didn’t Paul and Silas rebuke the jailer? I submit that it was because they perceived his act as one of veneration (which is permitted) as opposed to adoration or worship, which is not permitted to be directed towards creatures. Note that the word “worship” doesn’t appear in the above five passages, nor in Luke 24:5 or Acts 16:29. When “worship” [proskuneodoes appear in connection with a man or angel, it isn’t permitted, as in Acts 10:25-26 (St. Peter and Cornelius).

Thus, we see the same in Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9, because St. John mistakenly thought the angel was Jesus, and so tried to worship / adore the angel. The same thing happened when men thought that Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes and “wanted to offer sacrifice.” They were rebuked, as mistaken (Acts 14:11-18).

Another passage with a different word used, implies possible veneration of an angel:

Luke 24:4-5 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; [5] and as they were frightened and bowed [klino] their faces to the ground . . .

Both fear and a bowing or prostrating gesture are, in the Bible, presented as characteristic in encounters with angels. Once again, proskuneo is not present in the passage, and here, as in Acts 16:29, the women were not told to get up, as if they had done anything improper. This is (arguably, plausibly) because they were venerating the angel and not adoring or worshiping, which would be impermissible.

Is all that idolatry, according to the prohibitions of “bowing down” (Ex 20:5; Lev 26:1; Dt 5:8-9; and Mic 5:13). No. All of those passages are strictly about conscious “graven image” idols, meant to replace God. One mustn’t bow to them. But this is obviously not a prohibition of all bowing and veneration, or else the passages above would be presented in the Bible with disapproval (there is not the slightest hint of of that).

We thus can rightly conclude, in light of all these fascinating passages, that God (unlike Calvin) doesn’t seem to think that human beings are so breathtakingly stupid and ignorant that they can’t (or very often cannot) tell the difference between creatures and God, or between veneration and adoration / worship.

Therefore, He didn’t see fit (in inspiring those who wrote his revelation to man) to even bother to use a different word for the two in Hebrew; and even in the New Testament, the gesture (falling down) was no different for veneration than it was for adoration. According to Calvin, this causes confusion and idolatry, but according to Catholicism and the Bible, people generally have enough discernment to know the difference between the two.

The dichotomy that God is concerned about is between the true God (Himself) and false gods (as represented by material idols); not between veneration (where it is properly due) and worship reserved for Him alone: as if the former is completely forbidden and wicked.

Calvin (agreeing with the Catholic Church) rightly condemns the detestable idolatry of worshiping false gods, but his mistake is to equate altogether permissible biblical veneration with this rank idolatry of serving other “gods” beside the one true One. This is one of the fundamental errors of the so-called Protestant “Reformation,” and we see how completely false and unbiblical it is.
God knew what He was doing. I submit that the founders of Protestantism often did not, and the sad thing is that their erroneous teachings (which aren’t all of them — many are true and praiseworthy — , but a distressingly large number) have led millions of souls into various dangerous theological and spiritual errors and deprived them of spiritual aids and beliefs (such as veneration of saints and angels) that could have helped them to become closer to God and to better withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil.
When that happens, it’s the devil’s victory, not God’s, and is an instance of our fellow Christians and separated brethren being unwittingly “captured by” the devil “to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26). Please pray for Juan and those who think like him; that they may be freed from such spiritual bondage and spiritual error, and to eventually be given the grace to see and accept the magnificent fullness of spiritual and theological truth that5 can only be found in the Catholic Church.
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Summary: Brazilian Protestant Juan Roberto de Oliveira says that Catholics confuse veneration of saints and worship of God. I refute this through massive use of Scripture.

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