Vs. Turretin #2: Communion Of Saints 2 (Veneration)

Vs. Turretin #2: Communion Of Saints 2 (Veneration) December 22, 2023

François Turretin (1623-1687) was a Genevan-Italian Reformed scholastic theologian and renowned defender of the Calvinistic (Reformed) orthodoxy represented by the Synod of Dort, and was one of the authors of the Helvetic Consensus (1675). He is generally considered to be the best Calvinist apologist besides John Calvin himself. His Institutes of Elenctic Theology (three volumes, Geneva, 1679–1685) used the scholastic method. “Elenctic” means “refuting an argument by proving the falsehood of its conclusion.” Turretin contended against the conflicting Christian  perspectives of Catholicism and Arminianism. It was a popular textbook; notably at Princeton Theological Seminary, until it was replaced by Charles Hodge‘s Systematic Theology in the late 19th century. Turretin also greatly influenced the Puritans.

This is a reply to a portion of Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Vol. 2, Eleventh Topic: The Law of GodSeventh Question: The First Commandment), in which he addresses the communion of saints, including the invocation and veneration of saints. I utilize the edition translated by George Musgrave Giger and edited by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: 1992 / 1994 / 1997; 2320 pages). It uses the KJV for Bible verses. I will use RSV unless otherwise indicated.  All installments of this series of replies can be found on my Calvinism & General Protestantism web page, under the category, “Replies to Francois Turretin (1632-1687).” Turretin’s words will be in blue.

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[T]hey order to invoke in the article of death whatever saint anyone has been most devoted to in life, after this manner: “O most glorious Saint or Saintess, N., I have always reposed in the particular hope and confidence while I have lived, succor me now struggling in this time of extreme necessity” (Hortu. ani.+).

Yeah, sure. This is, of course, no different from going to the holy man or woman and asking them to pray, according to the principle laid down by James:

James 5:16-17 . . . The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. [17] 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.

If you met a man like that, who is so powerful that he can make the rain stop for 3 1/2 years, you would tend to go to him repeatedly. 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, for example, 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. Why should it be any different for saints after death? If one has been particularly helpful in prayer, then we would go to them again and again, just as the ancient Hebrews went to Moses to pray for them.

Protestants will object that certain saints have special or particular influence with God, and more efficacious prayers in specific areas (our notion of patron saints). 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 (there is much Pauline teaching on that). Turretin and Calvinists simply haven’t thought through this issue — haven’t been biblical enough –, so they have only a dim understanding of it.
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[T]he papists . . . infer three kinds of adoration or worship according to the kinds of excellence.

Adoration is not synonymous with worship. In Catholicism it is reserved for God alone. We don’t adore anyone else. Turretin his very sloppy in his word selection (or his English translator is lax and irresponsible in his bias).

These they also make three: divine, to which the kind of worship they call “latria” answers; human, which is placed in the various dignities, powers and degrees of men, to which cultus civilis or that of human observance corresponds; intermediate, arising from grace and glory and answering the third kind of worship, which they call “dulia.” The latter is either simple (afforded to saints and angels) or “hyperdulia” (given to the humanity of Christ considered apart, although united to the Word; and to the blessed virgin, which they hold to be religious).

So Turretin does get it, that we make these crucial distinctions. Great!
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IX. Although we do not deny that a diversity of worship is not improperly constituted according to the diversity of excellence in the objects; and we readily grant that by reason of the uncreated and infinite and the created and finite excellence, there can be a twofold worship (the one religious due to God alone, the other civil given to creatures; which again can be considered either with respect to this earthly state, in all the offices of reverence, love and respect due to men [although they may be strangers to the faith]; or with respect to the heavenly state, with which honor we regard the household of faith, whether living by a communication of duties, or dead by love, praise, memory, imitation, etc.), still we do not think that without serious error religious worship is divided into various degrees, but hold it to be one only, peculiar to God alone and incommunicable to all creatures.

He explains that the different levels of Catholic reverence are perfectly plausible (“not improperly constituted”), yet turns around at the end and states that, nonetheless, it is “serious error.” No Scripture is given at all to back up these contentions. Therefore, at least so far, it’s a bald, empty claim to which no one ought to owe any allegiance.

XI. For the worship of God alone (against the invocation of saints and the worship of creatures), the orthodox contend: First, with express command of God by which he forbids having any other gods before himself—“thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3) or as the Septuagint has it “besides me” (plēn emou).

I critiqued this line of reasoning last time. Invocation of saints is imply not idolatrously placing them in the place of God. The question is whether it’s a right or wrong practice. I also showed last time, right from Jesus, that it was: (the rich man making petitionary requests of Abraham and the latter not rebuking them as impossible and impermissible: Luke 16). If Jesus thought it was permissible, it’s certainly not idolatrous or sinful in any way.

Here the Lord decrees that nothing should be religiously worshipped except himself, the alone and supreme God. 

That’s right; and asking saints to intercede is not worship; it’s prayer.

. . . namely because we transfer to it the honor which belongs to God alone. 
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How is asking a saint to pray for us or someone else denigrating the honor of God? It’s not. It’s just good ol’ “either/or” false dichotomies again. But his entire premise is wrong. He would have it that no honor or veneration or respect or anything of the kind is to be offered to anyone but God. It’s classic “either/or” unbiblical man-made Calvinist tradition. The Bible teaches otherwise, and it’s easy to show this, as I will now do.
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 with his face to the earth,
The Greek word for “bowed” here, in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) is proskuneo (Strong’s word #4352). It appears 60 times in the NT and means, broadly, “worship,” but has different shades of meaning (just as Catholics teach). But the KJV, in any event, translates it as “worship” all 60 times. Words have different meanings in the Bible. But that fact is that the same word is used in the NT for worship of God and veneration of men. We can’t believe that the meaning is exactly the same, because that would entail idolatry whenever it is used in relation to creatures.
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Therefore, we have to conclude, logically, that there is adoration towards God and veneration and honor towards creatures and holy things, with the same word (proskuneo) used for both. Hence, the Bible clearly teaches — in agreement with Catholicism and disagreement with Calvinism and Protestantism generally — that there are reverential attitudes and gestures that can be applied to creatures as well as to God, but that they are different in degree and essence.

Proskuneo occurs 179 times in 172 verses in the LXX, including for worship and adoration of God (e.g., Gen 24:26, 48. 52;  Ex 33:10; 34:14; 1 Sam 15:25; Neh 8:6), veneration of men (e.g., Ex 18:7; 1 Sam 24:8; 2 Sam 9:6; 14:33), and veneration of angels (Gen 19:1). But Turretin, seemingly unaware of all this (which is remarkable ignorance for such an eminent scholar) wrote: proskynēsin as well as latreian is due to God alone.” It’s not true, folks.

We see angels bowed to (venerated) elsewhere in the New Testament, with no rebuke at all:

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 their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

The prophet Daniel venerates an angel (seemingly Gabriel: see v. 16) without “controversy”:

Daniel 8:15, 17 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. . . . 17] So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was frightened and fell upon my face. But he said to me, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.”

In several other instances, men are also bowed down to and venerated, with no disapproval in the text; for example, Paul and Silas (Acts 16:29) and Daniel (Dan 2:46-48; by the king!). The Greek word for “fell down before” in Acts 16:29 is prospipto (Strong’s #4363). It is also used of worship of Jesus in five passages (Mk 3:11; 5:33; 7:25; Lk 8:28, 47). But where men are involved, the meaning is honor, or veneration. This word occurs seven times in LXX, including for Esau’s greeting of Jacob (Gen 33:4), Esther before a king (Est 8:3), but also for worship of God (Ps 95:6).

Note that the word “worship” doesn’t appear in any of the passages I have brought forth in favor of veneration. When “worship” does appear in connection with a man or angel, it isn’t permitted:

Acts 10:25-26 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. [26] But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”

We see the same “category mistake” in Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9, and also 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).

The same can be found with regard to “honor”. Turretin says it “belongs to God alone.” Well yes: the highest honor is, of course, for Him alone. But it doesn’t follow that no one else is honored. God even shares His glory with men. “Honor” in RSV occurs 69 times in the NT, and is used with reference to God (Jn 5:23; 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 also to men (Mt 15:4; 19:19; Lk 18:20; Jn 12:26 [here God honors men]; Rom 2:10; 12:10; 13:7; Phil 2:29; 1 Tim 5:3, 17; 6:1; 1 Pet 2:17; 3:7). Once again, Turretin indulges in unbiblical false dichotomies.

Based on this abundant biblical indication, we conclude (as Catholics always have) that worship / adoration is reserved for God alone, while veneration / honor is to be offered to the holy angels and worthy, saintly men (i.e., creatures).

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Photo credit: Ooman (8-31-10). Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

Summary: As part of my series of replies to Calvinist expositor Francois Turretin, I address the topic of the communion of saints, particularly the issue of veneration.

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