Vs. Turretin #4: Communion Of Saints 4 (Invocation)

Vs. Turretin #4: Communion Of Saints 4 (Invocation) December 26, 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.


Gregory Nazianzus calls idolatry “the transference of adoration from the Creator to creatures” (metathesis tēs proskynēseōs apo tou pepoiēkotos epi ta ktismata, Oration 38, “On the Theophany,” 13 [NPNF2, 7:349; PG 36.325]), and Thomas Aquinas defines idolatry as “the giving of divine honor to a creature” (ST, II–II, Q. 94, Art. 3, p. 1598).

Exactly. Catholics agree 100% and this is what we teach, too. After all, both of these saints above were Catholics.

Nor can the idle distinctions and incrustations obtruded by the papists remove so great a crime. . . . The worship which the adherents of Rome pay to creatures does not differ from divine worship, neither as to the internal worship of confidence and hope, which they place in them, nor as to the external worship of adoration and invocation, which they offer them, . . . Hence if they make a distinction in words to deceive the more simple, nevertheless it remains really the same in practice. 

The “more simple” person here is Turretin, who can’t being himself to accurately understand Catholic doctrine. He’s certainly capable of it. Once again, having correctly stated Catholic doctrine (citing two Catholics), he immediately pretends that we believe something differently from what he just described. This is sheer foolishness (and that’s a mild description).

Fifth, the invocation of the saints rests upon a doubly false foundation. The first is that they are our mediators and intercessors with God, who can obtain temporal and spiritual benefits for us not only by their prayers but also by their merits. Since this is most false and most dishonoring to Christ (as we will show in the proper place), whatever is built upon it must necessarily be false and fictitious.

I’ve already disproven this in past installments. We need only note Moses, Elijah, and St. Paul, among many others. Turretin contradicts — or rejects, we should say — plain and repeated biblical teachings.

. . . sacrilegiously to constitute himself the distributor of heavenly blessings, is a pure imitation of impure Gentilism and Jewish superstition, having no foundation either in Scripture, or in pious antiquity . . . 

I have previously shown how this is untrue as well, with dozens of biblical examples. Does Turretin not even read Holy Scripture? If so, how is it that he misses so much of it?

XVII. Sixth, the invocation of saints was unknown to the apostolic church and to the first ages of Christianity. It is evident from the testimonies of the most ancient fathers. . . . And that the saints were . . . [not] invoked by them at that time can be proved by various arguments. . . . they did not (like the Romanists) make equal mention of religious prayers to the departed . . . 

He cites eight fathers or ancient Christian sources (most of whom were not the “most ancient“) asserting things with which Catholics are in perfect agreement: we don’t adore or worship creatures, etc. Not a single one of his eight sources mentions the words “invoke” or “invocation.” All eight statements are non sequiturs. Must anti-Catholic apologetics always battle straw men? I get so incredibly tired of this. But then, it immediately shows that they have no case, if they have to pretend that Catholics believe certain things, and then go on to absurdly oppose those. It’s a joke.

Invocation of saints is one particular thing. It’s not worship. And it was massively taught in the fathers. I have fourteen pages documenting this in my book, Catholic Church Fathers: Patristic and Scholarly Proofs (Nov. 2007 / rev. Aug. 2013), and more proofs in my books, The Quotable Eastern Church Fathers: Distinctively Catholic Elements in Their Theology (July 2013) and The Quotable Augustine: Distinctively Catholic Elements in His Theology (Sep. 2012). I shall now quote several of the abundant proofs, and opinions of renowned Protestant patristic scholars.

Protestant historians J. N. D. Kelly and Philip Schaff provide an overview of what the early Church believed about the saints:

A phenomenon of great significance in the patristic period was the rise and gradual development of veneration for the saints, more particularly for the Blessed Virgin Mary. . . . Earliest in the field was the cult of martyrs . . . At first it took the form of the reverent preservation of their relics and the annual celebration of their ‘birthday’. From this it was a short step, since they were now with Christ in glory, to seeking their help and prayers, and in the third century evidence for the belief in their intercessory power accumulates. . . . By the middle of the same [4th] century, according to Cyril of Jerusalem, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and martyrs were commemorated in the liturgy ‘so that by their prayers and intercessions God may receive our supplications’. (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, fifth revised edition, 1978, 490)

In the numerous memorial discourses of the fathers, the martyrs are loaded with eulogies, addressed as present, and besought for their protection. The universal tone of those productions is offensive to the Protestant taste, and can hardly be reconciled with evangelical ideas of the exclusive and all-sufficient mediation of Christ and of justification by pure grace without the merit of works. . . . The best church fathers, too, never separated the merits of the saints from the merits of Christ, but considered the former as flowing out of the latter. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, fifth revised edition, 1910, chapter VII, section 84, 438)

[Appealing to the three companions of Daniel] Think of me, I beseech you, so that I may achieve with you the same fate of martyrdom. (Hippolytus, On Daniel, 11:30)

“Remember me, ye heirs of God, ye brethren of Christ, pray to the Saviour for me, that I through Christ may be delivered from him who assaults me from day to day;” and the mother of a martyr: “O holy, true, and blessed mother, plead for me with the saints, and pray: ‘Ye triumphant martyrs of Christ, pray for Ephraim, the least, the miserable,’ that I may find grace, and through the grace of Christ may be saved.” (Ephraim, in Schaff, ibid., 438)

Basil the Great calls the forty soldiers who are said to have suffered martyrdom under Licinius in Sebaste about 320, not only a “holy choir,” an “invincible phalanx,” but also “common patrons of the human family, helpers of our prayers and most mighty intercessors with God. (M. Hom. 19, in XL Martyres; Schaff, ibid., 438)

Gregory Nazianzen is convinced that the departed Cyprian guides and protects his church in Carthage more powerfully by his intercessions than he formerly did by his teachings, because he now stands so much nearer the Deity; he addresses him as present, and implores his favor and protection. [Orat. In laud. Cypr.] In his eulogy on Athanasius, who was but a little while dead, he prays: “Look graciously down upon us, and dispose this people to be perfect worshippers of the perfect Trinity; and when the times are quiet, preserve us—when they are troubled, remove us, and take us to thee in thy fellowship.” (in Schaff, ibid., 439)

Gregory of Nyssa asks of St. Theodore, whom he thinks invisibly present at his memorial feast, intercessions for his country, for peace, for the preservation of orthodoxy, and begs him to arouse the apostles Peter and Paul and John to prayer for the church planted by them (as if they needed such an admonition!). . . . In his Life of St. Ephraim, he tells of a pilgrim who lost himself among the barbarian posterity of Ishmael, but by the prayer, “St. Ephraim, help me!” and the protection of the saint, happily found his way home. He himself thus addresses him at the close: “Thou who standest at the holy altar, and with angels servest the life-giving and most holy Trinity, remember us all, and implore for us the forgiveness of sins and the enjoyment of the eternal kingdom.” (in Schaff, ibid., 438-439)

May Peter, who so successfully weeps for himself, weep also for us, and turn upon us the friendly look of Christ. The angels, who are appointed to guard us, must be invoked for us; the martyrs, to whose intercession we have claim by the pledge of their bodies, must be invoked. They who have washed away their sins by their own blood, may pray for our sins. For they are martyrs of God, our high priests, spectators of our life and our acts. We need not blush to use them as intercessors for our weakness; for they also knew the infirmity of the body when they gained the victory over it. (Ambrose, in Schaff, ibid., 440)

At the close of his memorial discourse on Sts. Bernice and Prosdoce . . . he exhorts his hearers not only on their memorial days but also on other days to implore these saints to be our protectors: “For they have great boldness not merely during their life but also after death, yea, much greater after death. For they now bear the stigmata of Christ [the marks of martyrdom], and when they show these, they can persuade the King to anything.” He relates that once, when the harvest was endangered by excessive rain, the whole population of Constantinople flocked to the church of the Apostles, and there elected the apostles Peter and Andrew, Paul and Timothy, patrons and intercessors before the throne of grace. (John Chrysostom, in Schaff, ibid., 439-440)

You say, in your pamphlet, that so long as we are alive we can pray for one another; but once we die, the prayer of no person for another can be heard, and all the more because the martyrs, though they cry for the avenging of their blood, have never been able to obtain their request. If Apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, when they ought still to be anxious for themselves, how much more must they do so when once they have won their crowns, overcome, and triumphed? A single man, Moses, oft wins pardon from God for six hundred thousand armed men; and Stephen, the follower of his Lord and the first Christian martyr, entreats pardon for his persecutors; and when once they have entered on their life with Christ, shall they have less power than before? The Apostle Paul says that two hundred and seventy-six souls were given to him in the ship; and when, after his dissolution, he has begun to be with Christ, must he shut his mouth, and be unable to say a word for those who throughout the whole world have believed in his Gospel? (Jerome, Against Vigilantius, 6; NPNF 2, Vol. VI, 419-420)

Jerome disputes the opinion of Vigilantius, that we should pray for one another in this life only, and that the dead do not hear our prayers, . . . He thinks that their prayers are much more effectual in heaven than they were upon earth. If Moses implored the forgiveness of God for six hundred thousand men, and Stephen, the first martyr, prayed for his murderers after the example of Christ, should they cease to pray, and to be heard, when they are with Christ? (Schaff, ibid., 440-441)

Augustine infers from the interest which the rich man in hell still had in the fate of his five surviving brothers (Luke xvi. 27), that the pious dead in heaven must have even far more interest in the kindred and friends whom they have left behind. He also calls the saints our intercessors, yet under Christ, the proper and highest Intercessor, as Peter and the other apostles are shepherds under the great chief Shepherd. In a memorial discourse on Stephen, he imagines that martyr, and St. Paul who stoned him, to be present, and begs them for their intercessions with the Lord with whom they reign. He attributes miraculous effects, even the raising of the dead, to the intercessions of Stephen. (Schaff, ibid., 441)

Nor if deceased saints now possess greater love, do they on that account wish to be invoked by us . . . since they now know more perfectly that such honor is due to God alone.

I have already shown earlier in this series that Abraham (Luke 16) and Samuel (1 Sam 28:15-16) did not rebuke their petitioners (the “rich man” and King Saul) for requesting things of them; they simply refused the particular petitions (as God sometimes does with our prayers). A refusal (just as in cases of petitioning God, where he denies a request) is not the same as saying that the petition should and could have never been made to them. An angel was also petitioned by Lot, with no rebuke seen; and in that case, Lot’s two petitions were granted (Gen 19:15-21).

If these things were in fact impermissible and immoral, as Turretin asserts, then in all three cases, the ones invoked would certainly have rebuked that practice. But they don’t. There is no hint in any of the three passages that the practice was impermissible, let alone “idolatry” and “sacrilege” et al. Catholics are following the biblical models in this; Turretin and Protestants reject the biblical teachings, which is no small thing. Turretin’s false accusations towards us are also mortally sinful: a violation of one of the Ten Commandments.

We also have a biblical example of an angel talking “from heaven” to Hagar (Gen 21:17-18). If an angel can communicate with a human being from heaven, the implication — or plausible analogy — is that we can do the reverse and communicate to an angel in heaven. We just saw how Lot petitioned (in effect prayed to) an angel on earth and received his wishes. Seeing that the angel in Genesis 21 talked to a human being from heaven, then we can logically talk back to the same angel, or angels in general, by extension, and we can ask for angelic intercession, per the example of Lot in Genesis 19. Systematic theology flows from cross-examination and harmonization of relevant passages.

And if they could be addressed by us either by the voice or by letter (because they were with us sojourners in an earthly country), they
ought not to be invoked in their heavenly country, which is far distant from us.

Why? There is no reason for this reluctance, and as just seen, the Bible teaches otherwise. Turretin gives us unsubstantiated, arbitrary traditions of men only.

If there is the same reason for the invocation of the saints and the salutations of the living, why did Paul (who so often orders some to pray for
others) never command us to invoke the saints?

I don’t know. I would ask that he never taught faith alone or sola Scriptura, either; nor did he or anyone else in the Bible list the biblical books (the canon). Protestant scholars Alister McGrath and Norman Geisler wrote about the lac of an historical basis of sola fide (faith alone and extrinsic, imputed justification), one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation:

Whereas Augustine taught that the sinner is made righteous in justification, Melanchthon taught that he is counted as righteous or pronounced to be righteous. For Augustine, ‘justifying righteousness’ is imparted; for Melanchthon, it is imputed in the sense of being declared or pronounced to be righteous. Melanchthon drew a sharp distinction between the event of being declared righteous and the process of being made righteous, designating the former ‘justification’ and the latter ‘sanctification’ or ‘regeneration.’ For Augustine, these were simply different aspects of the same thing . . .

The importance of this development lies in the fact that it marks a complete break with the teaching of the church up to that point. From the time of Augustine onwards, justification had always been understood to refer to both the event of being declared righteous and the process of being made righteous. . . . (McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd edition, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1993, 108-109, 115; emphasis in original)

For Augustine, justification included both the beginnings of one’s righteousness before God and its subsequent perfection — the event and the process. What later became the Reformation concept of ‘sanctification’ then is effectively subsumed under the aegis of justification. Although he believed that God initiated the salvation process, it is incorrect to say that Augustine held to the concept of ‘forensic’ justification. This understanding of justification is a later development of the Reformation . . .

Before Luther, the standard Augustinian position on justification stressed intrinsic justification. Intrinsic justification argues that the believer is made righteous by God’s grace, as compared to extrinsic justification, by which a sinner is forensically declared righteous (at best, a subterranean strain in pre-Reformation Christendom). With Luther the situation changed dramatically . . .

. . . one can be saved without believing that imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) is an essential part of the true gospel. Otherwise, few people were saved between the time of the apostle Paul and the Reformation, since scarcely anyone taught imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) during that period! . . . . . (Geisler, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, with Ralph E. MacKenzie, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1995, 502, 85, 222; emphasis in original)

Yet Protestants believe all those things, anyway. It may be that Paul knew that this was already taught by Jesus in Luke 16, and so didn’t need to necessarily be reaffirmed in his writings. But he prayed for a dead person, Onesiphorus. If he can pray for a person who is dead and have an effect, then I think it follows by analogy and plausibility that he likely also believed that we could ask the departed to pray for us.

Moses does not address Abraham, nor fly to his protection (Ex. 32:13), . . . 

He may have, and it was simply not recorded, or he may not have known of this theology at that earlier stage of the history of salvation. But the rich man did “fly” to Abraham, according to the words of Jesus. So we know that it is both possible and permissible.

It is evident that no father can be found in the first three centuries as a patron of this invocation.

This is untrue. Anglican patrologist J. N. D. Kelly states (see above) that “in the third century evidence for the belief in their intercessory power accumulates . . .” That is referring to the years 200-300, whereas Turretin claim that it can’t be documented till after 300. I also noted Hippolytus above, invoking saints. He died around 236 AD. I suspect that inscriptions in the catacombs offer more very early proofs, too. The Bible wasn’t formally and finally canonized until the late 4th century. Do Protestants not believe in a canon, as a result: because it was such a late development? No. But when it comes to Catholic beliefs that they object to, they inconsistently play this game. And as I just showed, even Turretin’s factual claims as to the dates of the first documentation of invoking saints, is false.

I agree that the doctrine developed (i.e., human understanding of it continually grew), like every other doctrine believed by Protestants or Catholics or Orthodox. What is unacceptable is to argue that it ought to be rejected because it had a relatively late development (greatly expanding in the 4th century), even though many things that Protestants have no difficulty whatsoever accepting have very little historical pedigree at all (sola fide and sola Scriptura, or are dated in the late 4th century (the biblical canon).




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Photo credit: sciencefreak (12-27-14) [Pixabay / Pixabay Content License]

Summary: As part of my series of replies to Calvinist expositor Francois Turretin, I address the communion of saints, particularly the invocation of both saints & angels.




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