Lutherans & Invocation #2

Lutherans & Invocation #2 January 11, 2024

Definitions of Prayer & Intercession; God Sharing His Glory; Views of St. Augustine & Many Other Church Fathers

Seth Kasten (see his blog) is a member of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. This is one of a series of replies to his book, Against the Invocation of Saints: An Apology for the Protestant Doctrine of Prayer over and against the Doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church (Royal Oak, Michigan: Scholastic Lutherans, 2023). I will be using RSV for Bible passages unless otherwise noted. Words from his book will be in blue.


See other installments:


If prayer is worship or is exclusively directed toward God by definition, then prayers to saints should be considered idolatrous and forbidden. (p. 32)

The premise is wrong, and assumes what needs to be demonstrated. Prayer directed to God is unique for the obvious reason: He is God, and He is the One Who ultimately answers all prayers, or delegates the answer to a messenger on His behalf. In that sense it has some of the same characteristics, but is not identical to worship and adoration, which also belong to God alone. But this doesn’t preclude asking someone else to go to God and intercede on our behalf, including departed saints and angels.

It’s simply intercession, which isn’t contrary to worship of God alone. It’s not idolatry. To assert that is simply Protestant boilerplate rhetoric, that was there from the beginning. John Calvin thought Martin Luther was “half-papist” and guilty of idolatry because Luther bowed down and worshiped and adored Jesus in what he believed to be the consecrated host. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession [1531], Article XXIV: The Mass, it is absurdly claimed:

in the papal realm the worship of Baal clings — namely, the abuse of the Mass . . . And it seems that this worship of Baal will endure together with the papal realm until Christ comes to judge and by the glory of his coming destroys the kingdom of Antichrist. (translated and edited by Theodore Tappert, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House / Muhlenberg Press, 1959, p. 268)

prayer is linked to worship in such a way that it cannot be categorized as mere veneration. (p. 32)

It’s not even veneration, in the Catholic view, when we ask a saint or angel to intercede. It’s intercession, which St. Paul taught ought to be “made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1). Paul takes note of Christians praying for each other (2 Cor 9:14), and he says that he is praying for others (2 Cor 13:9; Col 1:3, 9; 2 Thess 1:11), and asks for prayer for himself (Col 4:3; 1 Thess 5:25; 2 Thess 3:1). The departed saints are not excluded from the Body of Christ. That’s the other major false premise that Protestantism arbitrarily adheres to: as if all that saints in heaven do is float on clouds and play harps for all eternity, with no love or concern anymore for those on earth. It’s ludicrous.

it becomes clear that prayer is to God as an act of worship, for if it were not so, it would not be associated with burning incense and bowing. (p. 33)

This is an obvious logical fallacy. Because prayer to God is often accompanied (especially in public services) with worship, it’s wrongly assumed that all prayer must be so accompanied by worship. That’s not even true with God, since all of us pray to God while not simultaneously worshiping Him. It’s like saying, “I ate popcorn while watching the football game yesterday; therefore, everyone always eats popcorn at all times while watching a football game.” But asking saints to intercede is not technically or strictly prayer in the first place. It’s just like our asking each other on earth to pray. Protestants don’t like the fact that it is directed people who are dead.

Perhaps the closest scripture comes to giving an explicit definition of prayer is in the Lord’s Prayer, for Christ says, “In this manner, therefore, pray” (Matthew 6:9). It goes without saying that the saints are unmentioned. (p. 34)

Of course they are, because this is specifically describing prayer to God. It doesn’t exclude our asking someone else to pray for us to God. To not mention something is not the same thing — logically — as excluding it.

the kingdom, the power, and the glory are given to God, . . . To attribute such things to others would be idolatry. (p. 34)

Then Seth has a big problem, because the Bible repeatedly teaches that God shares His glory with His creatures:

Isaiah 60:1-2 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. [2] For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

John 5:44 How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

John 17:22 The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,

Romans 5:2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Romans 9:23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory,

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 2:12 to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

2 Thessalonians 2:14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,

Therefore sharing glory with God (by His express choice) is not idolatry. Game, set, match.

The fathers also give many definitions of prayer which exclude the possibility of praying to saints. Augustine and Cyprian say that in our prayers, we cannot exceed the Lord’s Prayer, which excludes invocation of saints since neither saints nor their invocation are mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer and since we are commanded to pray things that may only be said to God: Augustine:

If we pray rightly, and as becomes our wants, we say nothing but what is already contained in the Lord’s Prayer. And whoever says in prayer anything which cannot find its place in that gospel prayer, is praying in a way which, if it be not unlawful, is at least not spiritual; and I know not how carnal prayers can be lawful, since it becomes those who are born again by the Spirit to pray in no other way than spiritually.…. And if you go over all the words of holy prayers, you will, I believe, find nothing which cannot be comprised and summed up in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Wherefore, in praying, we are free to use different words to any extent, but we must ask the same things; in this we have no choice. [Letters of St. Augustine 130.12.22 (NPNF 1/1:466). (pp. 44-45)

No Protestant apologetic is complete without questionable claims that St. Augustine — widely believed to be the greatest Church father — supports their view more so than ours. He doesn’t. His statement above doesn’t contradict invocation of saints or angels. And St. Augustine himself taught the latter doctrine:

There was a fellow-townsman of ours at Hippo, Florentius, an old man, religious and poor, who supported himself as a tailor. Having lost his coat, and not having means to buy another, he prayed to the Twenty Martyrs, who have a very celebrated memorial shrine in our town, begging in a distinct voice that he might be clothed. . . . he, walking on in silence, saw on the shore 200 a great fish, gasping as if just cast up, . . . on cutting up the fish, the cook found a gold ring in its belly; . . . (City of God xxii, 8)

[U]pon recollection of the place in which are deposited the bodies of those whom they love, they should by prayer commend them to those same Saints, who have as patrons taken them into their charge to aid them before the Lord. . . . When therefore the mind recollects where the body of a very dear friend lies buried, and thereupon there occurs to the thoughts a place rendered venerable by the name of a Martyr, to that same Martyr does it commend the soul in affection of heartfelt recollection and prayer. And when this affection is exhibited to the departed by faithful men who were most dear to them, there is no doubt that it profits them who while living in the body merited that such things should profit them after this life. But even if some necessity should through absence of all facility not allow bodies to be interred, or in such places interred, yet should there be no pretermitting of supplications for the spirits of the dead: which supplications, that they should be made for all in Christian and catholic fellowship departed, even without mentioning of their names, under a general commemoration, the Church has charged herself withal; . . . (On the Care of the Dead, 6)

For, even when His angels hear us, it is He Himself who hears us in them . . . (City of God x, 12)

Whence, also, when the same apostle says, Let your requests be made known unto God, [Philippians 4:6] this is not to be understood as if thereby they become known to God, who certainly knew them before they were uttered, but in this sense, that they are to be made known to ourselves in the presence of God by patient waiting upon Him, not in the presence of men by ostentatious worship. Or perhaps that they may be made known also to the angels that are in the presence of God, that these beings may in some way present them to God, and consult Him concerning them, and may bring to us, either manifestly or secretly, that which, hearkening to His commandment, they may have learned to be His will, and which must be fulfilled by them according to that which they have there learned to be their duty; for the angel said to Tobias: “Now, therefore, when you prayed, and Sara your daughter-in-law, I brought the remembrance of your prayers before the Holy One.” [Tobit 12:12] (Ep. 130 [9, 18]: to Proba [412] )

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. (in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, 441)

And though Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem [?], Chrysostom [?], Augustine [?], and Cassian all write entire works or dedicate ample portions of larger works to discussion of prayer, none mention invocation of saints in these works apart from forbidding such a practice, either by implication or by explicit condemnation, yet they speak continually of putting off all distractions and focusing the entire soul on God and of contemplation of God and of supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings being made toward God at all times. God is the recipient of prayers in all these works, without any consideration of other recipients, except when the practice is condemned. (p. 57)

I provided five undeniable proofs above that St. Augustine taught the invocation of saints and angels. Here is another proof from St. John Chrysostom (I provided two in my previous installment):

At the close of his memorial discourse on Sts. Bernice and Prosdoce—two saints who have not even a place in the Roman calendar—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. Christ, says he on Heb. i. 14, redeems us as Lord and Master, the angels redeem us as ministers. (in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, 439-440)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem — contrary to Seth’s claims above — wrote:

Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. (Catechetical Lecture XXIII: 9; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Other Church fathers simply were wrong about this doctrine. The fathers rarely exhibit 100% universal unanimous opinions. Usually they achieve a strong consensus; other times it’s a very mixed bag. And this is because all doctrines develop; therefore are incorrectly or only partially understood by some, often more so when they lived earlier in history. At length the Church decides which strain of opinion is the correct one. The “buck” stops there.

St. Ephraim asks the intercession of departed saints, in words such as: “Remember me, ye heirs of God, ye brethren of Christ, pray to the Saviour for me, that I through Christ may be delivered” and “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.” (Schaff, ibid., 438). St. Basil the Great referred to forty martyrs as “common patrons of the human family, helpers of our prayers and most mighty intercessors with God” (Schaff, ibid., 438; see another citation from him in my previous article in this series).

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.” (Schaff, ibid., 439; my bolding)

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 . . . 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.” (Schaff, ibid., 438-439; my bolding)

Schaff cites the views of St. Ambrose and St. Jerome:

“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; . . .” (Schaff, ibid., 440)

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)

While later fathers, Augustine and Chrysostom included, speak of invocation of saints, it appears not in their works dedicated to the discussion of prayer. (p. 58)

This is irrelevant. What they wrote, they wrote. The discourses on prayer would obviously overwhelmingly focus on direct prayer to God.  This statement is also partially contradictory to the previous section from Seth that I cited above, from page 57.

It remains on the outskirts of their theology, not central to faith and practice, nor part of instructional works for catechumens and parishioners. (p. 58)

This is merely a subjective opinion, which would be difficult to absolutely prove. But would we say, for example, that the doctrine of original sin is on the “outskirts” of St. Paul’s theology because he only mentions it briefly a few times?




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Photo credit: Portrait of St. Augustine (c. 1480) by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Summary: One of my series of replies to Lutheran Seth Kasten on the invocation of saints. I address his objections and biblical and patristic arguments against the practice.

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