April 14, 2017


Christ in the Wilderness (1872), by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi (1837-1887) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




From the Coming Home Network board. I’ll paraphrase the initial questions in blue.

* * * * *

March 25

The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Commonly called Lady Day

from Butler’s Lives of the Saints for March 25, page 674:

. . . the mystery of love and mercy promised to mankind thousands of years earlier, foretold by so many prophets, desired by so many saints, is accomplished upon earth. In that instant the Word of God becomes for ever united to manhood: the soul of Jesus Christ, produced from nothing, begins to enjoy God and to know all things, past, present and to come: at that moment God begins to have a worshipper who is infinite, and the world a mediator who is omnipotent: and to the working of this great mystery Mary alone is chosen to co-operate by her free assent.

Was Jesus in two (or all) places at once during His earthly life? Was He omnipresent?

According to the Church, in His human nature, Jesus was not omnipresent, but in His divine nature (that was always present alongside His human nature) He continued to be omnipresent. This is an aspect of the Hypostatic Union. In the Incarnation, Jesus took on human nature, but He retained His divine nature (which was necessarily the case, since God in His essence cannot change, and Jesus is God).

It gets extremely heavy, but here is how Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott describes this aspect of Christology, the communicatio idiomatum:

The human and the divine activities predicated of Christ in Holy Writ and in the Fathers may not be divided between persons or hypostases, the Man-Christ and the God-Logos, but must be attributed to the one Christ, the Logos become Flesh . . . It is the Divine Logos, who suffered in the flesh, was crucified, and rose again . . . (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 144)

Christ’s Divine and Human characteristics and activities are to be predicated of the one Word Incarnate. (De fide.)

As Christ’s Divine Person subsists in two natures, and may be referred to either of those two natures, so human things can be asserted of the son of God and Divine things of the Son of Man.

[ . . .]

The nature of the Hypostatic Union is such that while on the one hand things pertaining to both the Divine and Human nature can be attributed to the person of Christ, on the other hand things specifically belonging to one nature cannot be predicated of the other nature [Lutherans fall into this error]. Since concrete terms (God, Son of God, Son of Man, Christ the Almighty) designate the Hypostasis and abstract terms (Godhead, humanity, omnipotence) the nature, the following rule may be laid down: communicatio idioamatum fit in concreto, non in abstracto. The communication of idioms is valid for concrete terms not for abstract ones. So, for example: The Son of Man died on the Cross; Jesus created the world. The rule is not valid if . . . the concrete term is limited to one nature. Thus it is false to say “Christ has suffered as God.” “Christ created the world as a human being.” It must also be observed that the essential parts of the human nature, body and soul are referred to the nature, whose parts they are. Thus it is false to say: “Christ’s soul is omniscient,” “Christ’s body is ubiquitous.”

Further, predication of idioms is valid in positive statements not in negative ones, as nothing may be denied to Christ which belongs to Him according to either nature. One, therefore, may not say: “The Son of God has not suffered,” “Jesus is not almighty.” (ibid., , pp. 160-161; italics added)

So Jesus has a soul? If so, where is His soul now?

He’s in heaven at the right hand of God. Jesus continues to be one Divine Person (God the Son) with a human nature and a divine nature. He rose from the dead and possessed (unlike the Father or Holy Spirit) a glorified human body, that continues to exist forever. Along with His human nature and body is also human intellect and a human soul. The soul is a human thing: the immaterial and immortal part of a human being: the portion that continues when the body dies, and where our identity really lies. So when Christ took on human nature He also acquired a soul. God the Father doesn’t have a soul, nor does God the Holy Spirit.

For more on this, see: Catholic Encyclopedia: “Knowledge of Christ”.

How do Catholics distinguish between “soul” and “spirit”?

From Catholic Encyclopedia: “Spirit”:

(Latin spiritus, spirare, “to breathe”; Gk. pneuma; Fr. esprit; Ger. Geist). As these names show, the principle of life was often represented under the figure of a breath of air. The breath is the most obvious symptom of life, its cessation the invariable mark of death; invisible and impalpable, it stands for the unseen mysterious force behind the vital processes. Accordingly we find the word “spirit” used in several different but allied senses: (1) as signifying aliving, intelligent, incorporeal being, such as the soul; (2) as the fiery essence or breath (the Stoic pneuma) which was supposed to be the universal vital force; (3) as signifying some refined form of bodily substance, a fluid believed to act as a medium between mind and the grosser matter of the body.

. . . In Theology, the uses of the word are various. In the New Testament, it signifies sometimes the soul of man (generally its highest part, e.g., “the spirit is willing”), sometimes the supernatural action of God in man, sometimes the Holy Ghost (“the Spirit of Truth Whom the world cannot receive”). The use of this term to signify the supernatural life of grace is the explanation of St. Paul’s language about the spiritual and the carnal man and his enumeration of the three elements, spirit, soul, and body, . . .

(cf. Catholic Encyclopedia: “Soul”)

Was Butler implying that Jesus Christ was created?

We mustn’t ever say “creation of Jesus Christ.” That is the Arian heresy (now held by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians) that reduces Jesus to a mere creature. What was created was Jesus’ human body and soul and human intellect. That was the new thing: “God became man.” The quote in Butler (above) was:

. . . the soul of Jesus Christ, produced from nothing . . .

God gained a worshiper at the Incarnation that He didn’t have before? Huh?

The worship of Jesus towards His Father is a bit different insofar as this is one member of the Godhead paying homage to another, whereas our worship is that of the fundamentally and essentially lesser or inferior creature towards the infinite Creator (adoration). With Jesus and His Father, it is the relationship of subordination that Jesus willingly took on when He became man (Philippians 2:5-11: what is called the kenosis). In that sense he “worships” His Father, while at all times remaining equal to Him in essence.

Accordingly, I submit that this distinction may be the reason why I haven’t been able to find anywhere in the New Testament where Jesus “worships” the Father (Greek: proskuneo), or “the Son worshiped the Father,” etc. If anyone finds such a verse, please let me know. The Greek word (usually “worship” in English translation) is frequently applied to people worshiping Jesus or the Father.

But, of course, as an observant Jew, Jesus attended temple and synagogue services and worshiped the Father insofar as the services involved that. One might say this was similar to His getting baptized, even though He had no sin to get rid of. It was more of a love relationship and the submission of Son to Father within the trinitarian Godhead, without implying inequality. Jesus also “submitted” to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51) and He certainly wasn’t inferior to them.

See also: Catholic Encyclopedia: “Christian Worship”.

Is it true and correct to assert that Jesus was not fully divine from eternity?

The heresy of Nestorianism claimed that Jesus grew in consciousness to figure out that He was God. This is in direct contradiction to the orthodox Christology of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but it is very common in liberal theological circles and even (mostly unwittingly) in more orthodox Protestant realms.

The Butler quote merely stated that the soul of Jesus had a beginning; was created. That’s perfectly orthodox and doesn’t deny His divinity in the least. To say that Jesus was created, on the other hand, is the heresy of Arianism.

The Incarnation was something new, that had a starting-point in time. But the divinity of Jesus never had a beginning anymore than the divinity of God the Father or the Holy Spirit did. All three Persons are eternal, and God. The Hypostatic Union was the development in Christology that sought to explain the relationship of the Divine and Human Natures in Jesus. He acquired the latter but always possessed the former, from eternity.

Lots of folks today either don’t understand these things or outright deny them. This is why we have the Church, to guide us into correct theology, because, as with a journey to another town, a mere foot in the wrong direction initially can lead to being 500 miles off-target later on.

* * *

Does 1 Corinthians 15:28 suggest worship of the Father from the Son?

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.

(RSV, as throughout; Rheims / KJV: “all in all”)

Also, Jesus says:

John 8:28–29 When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.

John 10:30 I and the Father are one.

John 14:28 The Father is greater than I.

* * *

I’d still have to say, though, that those come under the general area of “submission” rather than worship per se. I would note, too, that we have the motif of Jesus submitting to the Father, but there are also indications of something roughly (but probably not quite) the opposite of that. You noted 1 Corinthians 15:28: “that God may be all in all” but there is also Colossians 3:11: “. . . Christ is all, and in all.”

Note that the Jehovah’s Witnesses distort this verse (1 Cor 15:28) and also John 14:28 to “prove” that Jesus was a created being and lesser than God. The following passages round out the “biblical picture” a bit:

John 16:15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:23-24 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.


* * *

Orthodox Christology depends very much on how we phrase things (just like the old conciliar discussions of homoousion). As a human baby, Jesus did not understand all things. His human nature was limited and so He had to learn within that nature, like anyone else. But the Divine Nature was also present at all times, side-by-side with the human, and in the Divine Nature He did understand all things, being omniscient. And what is said of the Divine Nature can be said of Jesus the Person. It’s tough to discuss because the categories (like the Holy Trinity) are foreign to our own experience. But we have no choice. This is how God has revealed Himself.

Explain how Jesus could be present in heaven as God while He was also present here on earth? This is difficult for us to grasp.

Jesus was a Spirit (the Logos / Word) before He became a man. He didn’t cease to become a divine spirit when He became man, because God is a Spirit, and God is omniscient. On the other hand, Jesus’ unique role in the Holy Trinity is to be a flesh-and-blood man, so in a sense He is “completed” at the Incarnation, and so I think we can say that the “whole Jesus” as He would be henceforth for eternity (in a glorified sense) was present on the earth when He was here with us, in the first century.

It’s no more implausible or difficult to accept, I think, that Jesus could be bodily on the earth (as Messiah and God the Incarnate Son) and spiritually in heaven (as Logos) at the same time, as it is to believe that God can be three Persons simultaneously and remain one God, with the Son on earth praying to the Father in heaven (and both being the one God), the Father sending the Son, the Holy Spirit indwelling all believers, etc. It’s another mystery, for sure, but no more so than what we are already familiar with.

Orthodox Christians emphasize that the entire Incarnation, and Jesus’ entire life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension saves us, as opposed to Jesus’ death on the cross alone, and that human nature is raised to partake in a sense in divine nature (theosis or divinization).

I love theosis, and have written about it. It’s true that the East emphasizes this more, but it is contrary to nothing in Western Christianity, and the Catechism mentions it several times (#398, 460, 1129, 1265, 1812, 1988).

In fact, our emphasis on things like the Mediatorship of Mary could be defended by analogy on these grounds (as I have done). God makes us more like Him and so He chooses to distribute grace through Mary. That’s because God has raised human beings (and especially the Blessed Virgin) to such a high state due to the Incarnation.

* * *

The citation from Ott is very abstract and heavy. I always have to read it several times myself to make sure I grasp it (as all truly good philosophy requires one to do). The key is the following portion:

As Christ’s Divine Person subsists in two natures, and may be referred to either of those two natures, so human things can be asserted of the son of God and Divine things of the Son of Man.

To say, for example, “Jesus is omnipresent,” is perfectly fine, because Jesus is the Person Who has the Two Natures. Whatever is true in either Nature can be said of the Divine Person, Jesus. A dim analogy would be our possessing both a body and a soul. What is true of either can be referred to us as a person:

“My (i.e., this person, Dave Armstrong’s) soul cannot be physically harmed or destroyed.”

“I (i.e., my body) can be physically harmed or killed.”

When I say “I will live forever” that is primarily referring to my immaterial soul (though we will receive resurrection bodies too). If I say “I will die, just like every other person,” then I am referring to the limitations of a physical body. Death, in fact, is literally the separation of soul and body. It is not the destruction of the soul (as in the false view of annihilation or denial of immortality of the soul). Therefore, death by definition must refer to only one part of us ceasing to exist (our body) but not the other part, the soul. But we generally simply say, “I will eventually die.”

With Jesus it is a little more complex, because He is both God and Man, and He has a Divine Nature and a human nature side-by-side, and these are not identical. We can assert, “Jesus is omnipresent” because in His Divine Nature He is. We can also say “Jesus learned like a man” or “Jesus was in one place at one time while on the earth” because those statements are referring to His human nature (without saying it: it is the unspoken premise).

We can even say (somewhat surprisingly at first glance) that “God died.” That is orthodox Catholic theology, because Jesus was God. God became Man, and this Divine Person and Man died (i.e., in His human nature). Therefore, God died.

What we can’t do is confuse the natures with each other, and say something like “In His human nature, Jesus was omnipresent.” That is untrue. We can’t say, “Jesus as the Eternal Word / Logos before the Incarnation was spatially limited.” He (as Logos) isn’t in space at all, because He is a spirit. And as an eternal Spirit, He wasn’t in time, either, so to even refer to “was” in this context is inaccurate (which is why Jesus said, “before Abraham was, I am” — John 8:58).

The reasoning is also similar in the theology of Mary as Theotokos, or “Mother of God” or “God-bearer.” We can say that because Jesus is God! Mary didn’t just give birth to the human nature of Jesus, but to the Divine Person, Jesus. Therefore, we can assert that she was the Mother of God. She bore, of course (another unspoken, assumed premise) the incarnate God (as opposed to the eternal Spirit Who cannot be conceived and given birth to, being both Spirit and eternal and ungenerated), but He was still God.

As another way of looking at it, we don’t describe human mothers in the following ways: “she gave birth to a soul” or “Sue gave birth to yet another human body at 4:03 AM today.” We say, “Jane gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Bocephus, at 4:03 AM today.” We say this, knowing that the soul is a direct creation of God. Birth is not creation, but procreation. Parents played a role in the physical bodies of their offspring (by genetics and reproduction) but not the souls. Yet we always refer to the person born, who is composed of both body and soul.

Thus, we could state, “Jane gave birth to Bocephus, who possesses an eternal soul made in the image of God.”

Another (quite imperfect) analogy would be our struggle between “flesh” and “spirit.” They are two parts of us that war against each other. We are fallen creatures and children of Adam, yet when regenerated we become children of God. When we’re led by the Indwelling Spirit we are doing what we are created to do, but when led by the flesh or the devil, through concupiscence and temptation, we are following another spirit.

All these analogies are trying to show instances of one person who has more than one part. In Jesus’ case (Two Natures or Hypostatic Union) they always work together and are harmonious, though distinct. The same applies to the distinction of Persons within the Holy Trinity.

Created human beings have a body and a soul, and a flesh and a spirit (in the spiritual sense). The huge and essential difference in our case is that we have internal conflict, whereas God does not. But the analogies help us to comprehend how Jesus could have both a Divine Nature and a human nature.

I love “analogical argument.” I hope this has been helpful and not further confusing. It helps me, too, to better understand the Incarnation and the Hypostatic Union, even while I am writing.

April 4, 2017


Image by “jalandas0” (3-23-16) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]


Erik is a thoughtful, amiable Calvinist who claims he has never had a constructive theological discussion with a Catholic. Hopefully, this will be his first time. I enjoyed it on my end! He commented under my blog paper, “Reply to Calvin” #3: Synergism, Grace Alone, & the Elect. His words will be in blue.


I believe you are correct that Calvinism and Catholicism (especially Thomism) have a virtual overlap in terms of soteriology. Officially, that is. And I believe that is why the Catholic participants in ECT could so easily use the terminology of Sola Fide. From a Protestant prospective, Sola Fide is there as a hedge around Sola Gratia. From our perspective, it is nonsensical to speak of the two separately. Deny one, you deny the other. Again, from our perspective, Sola Fide has utterly no logical connection with Antinomianism. (From a common Catholic perspective, on the other hand, they are synonymous.)

The educated Catholic or apologist knows that sola fide is not antinomianism. I have several papers along those lines:

Martin Luther: Good Works Prove Authentic Faith

John Calvin: Good Works Manifest True Saving Faith

Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis & Sanctification Linked to Justification

Martin Luther: Faith Alone is Not Lawless Antinomianism


To my mind, our unanimity on justification depends on what any given Catholic means by “Spirit-wrought works of love.” Are these works Spirit-assisted or Spirit-ACCOMPLISHED? Are both our cooperation AND the cooperative grace which assists it graciously accomplished (from start to finish) by the self-same Spirit? After all, as St. Paul observed: “I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

David Anders gives the illustration of a man rolling a wheel barrow up a hill. His young son puts out his hand to help “push” it up the incline. But, of course, he adds not one iota to the task’s accomplishment. This is the proper recipe. Cooperation without justificatory merit. Sola Gratia.

My impression, however, is that very few Catholics believe in Sola Gratia without de-sola-izing it. Why else would they cringe at the phrase “by grace alone THROUGH FAITH ALONE on account of Christ alone for the glory of God alone”? Makes no sense to me. They adamantly affirm that justification is by faith AND works.

Well, the difference is that we think in terms of “both/and” and not “either/or.” So with the faith and works issue, we say that we do a thing, and God also does it. This is biblical and Hebrew paradox, which is very common.

The Calvinist doesn’t seem to be able to comprehend that God and a person can do the same thing, and both take credit (God, of course, far more). This is how we interpret 1 Corinthians 15:10 above (thanks for citing that). Paul is not saying that he did nothing whatsoever. He says, “I laboured more abundantly than they all.”

That’s real labor and work. Yes, God gives the grace. He enables absolutely every good thing we do by His grace (that’s Catholic teaching, right from Trent). It doesn’t follow, however, that we don’t cooperate.

Even your little boy pushing the wheel barrow up the hill is not doing nothing. He is actually helping, just as everyone in a tug-of-war is helping, while the stronger ones do much more work proportionately.

In that sense, we deny sola fide / faith alone.

There is plenty in Scripture about all of these things:

Catholic Bible Verses on Sanctification and Merit

Reflections on Common Ground Between Catholics and Protestants (Particularly, Good Works)

St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages)

Exposition on the Scriptural Relationship Between Grace, Faith, Works, and Judgment

Bible on Participation in Our Own Salvation (Always Enabled by God’s Grace)

Bible on the Nature of Saving Faith (Including Assent, Trust, Hope, Works, Obedience, and Sanctification)

New Testament Epistles on Bringing About Further Sanctification and Even Salvation By Our Own Actions

“Catholic Justification” in James & Romans

Philippians 2:12 & “Work[ing] Out” One’s Salvation

Paul vs. Calvin: “Doers of the Law” Will be Justified

Final Judgment & Works (Not Faith): 50 Passages

Catholics & Justification by Faith Alone: Is There a Sense in Which Catholics Can Accept “Faith Alone” and/or Imputed Justification (with Proper Biblical Qualifications)?

The “Obedience of Faith” in Paul and its Soteriological Implications (Justification and Denial of “Faith Alone”) [from Ferdinand Prat, S. J.]

Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in Chapter 20 of His Book, The God Who Justifies

Final Judgment Always Has to Do with Works and Never with “Faith Alone”

Jesus vs. “Faith Alone” (Rich Young Ruler)

“Work Out Your Own Salvation” & Protestant Soteriology (vs. Ken Temple)


But whose works are we talking about? The Spirit’s works? If so, then we are left again with only faith, itself a gift. For justification IS A TOTAL GIFT: Sola Gratia.

I don’t believe any educated Protestant will call Catholics semi-Pelagian. There is an academic definition, and Catholics don’t fit it. I do believe, however, that the way Catholicism is sometimes practiced is “Pelagianizing” in its effects. Much as Arminianism does in Protestantism, it ascribes to the work of believers what should only be ascribed to God.

Once again, you seem to be thinking in paradigms that are not particularly biblical, at least not in these particular terms. You want to connect the Holy Spirit and “works” as if men’s works are not ours at all, and only those of the Spirit.

I got curious to see how that lined up in Scripture: the relationship of “Spirit” and “works.”

When I searched “Spirit” and “work[s]” in conjunction in the RSV, I got no connection.

When I searched the phrase “Spirit works” I got absolutely nothing.

Likewise, with “works of the Spirit” and “works of the Holy Spirit”. So those two thoughts cannot be said to be particularly “biblical”: at least insofar as the term “works” itself is concerned, as connected with the Spirit. When “works” are discussed, it is the usually works of man.

There are at least a few “hits” for “works of God”.

And for “works of the Lord”.

Also, there is one time that “God works” appears (Rom 8:28) and one time, “The Lord works” (Ps 103:6).

None of this is to deny (at all!) that God the Father or the Holy Spirit work. Of course they do. But we are talking about the relationship of man’s work to God’s work: does the latter wipe out the former, when it is referring to the same exact work?

I say no: the Bible doesn’t teach that.

The second thing to note is that when the Bible does discuss “God’s work” it is usually His alone, and has nothing to do with man. It’s just something He does, as God.

On the other hand, there is the motif of “workers with God”: which precisely supports my contention: we do the works, and God also does, in the enabling sense:

1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers; . . .

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, . . .

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things in him who strengthens me.


As far as assurance is concerned, I am likewise convinced that there is very little difference between our respective paradigms. We simply draw the fulcrum (between despair and presumption) at alternate spots on the balance. You accuse us of presumption. We accuse you of despair.

It’s healthy to wonder if we are where we need to be in terms of our walk of faith. We need to make our calling sure. It is unhealthy to be totally in the dark as to whether we are in God’s good graces. We should not be doubting his work in our lives.

I agree that there is a lot of common ground here, too, and have written about it:

Bible on the Moral Assurance of Salvation (Persevering in Faith, with Hope)

John Calvin holds that we can’t know for sure who is of the elect. That puts a big qualification on [absolute?] “assurance”.

March 23, 2017

+ Documentation That White Accepts the Scholarship of the Protestant Church Historians I Cite (J. N. D. Kelly and Philip Schaff)


Assumption of the Virgin (1637), by Guido Reni (1575-1642) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




James White wrote a book called, Mary — Another Redeemer? His words will be in blue.


Evidence of the Mary Mediatrix doctrine in a primitive, relatively undeveloped sense, is seen in aspects of St. Irenaeus’ teaching. St. Irenaeus (130-202), in his famous Against Heresies (bet. 180-199) wrote:

“. . . so also Mary . . . being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”

(3, 22, 4; from W. A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970, vol. 1, p. 93, #224)

“. . . for in no other way can that which is tied be untied unless the very windings of the knot are gone through in reverse: so that the first joints are loosed through the second, and the second in turn free the first . . . Thus, then, the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied
through the obedience of Mary.”

(Against Heresies, III, 22,4; from William G. Most, Mary in Our Life, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1954, 25)

William Most comments:

“Mary, says St. Irenaeus, undoes the work of Eve. Now it was not just in a remote way that Eve had been involved in original sin: she shared in the very ruinous act itself. Similarly, it would seem, Mary ought to share in the very act by which the knot is untied — that is, in Calvary itself.”

(in Most, ibid., 25)

“Just as the human race was bound over to death through a virgin, so was it saved through a virgin: the scale was balanced — a virgin’s disobedience by a virgin’s obedience.”

(Against Heresies, V, 19, 1; cited in Most, ibid., 274)


Protestants like White often act as if this is extraordinary special pleading to see in remarks such as these a kernel of the notion of mediatrix or the always vastly misunderstood term, “co-redemptrix”. Funny, then, that the well-known Protestant patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly doesn’t think so (he precisely agrees with me):

The real contribution of these early centuries, however, was more positively theological, and consisted in representing Mary as the antithesis of Eve and drawing out the implications of this. Justin was the pioneer, although the way he introduced the theme suggests that he was not innovating . . . Tertullian and Irenaeus were quick to develop these ideas. The latter, in particular, argued [Against Heresies, 3, 22, 4; cf. 5, 19, 1] that Eve, while still a virgin, had proved disobedient and so became the cause of death both for herself and for all mankind, but Mary, also a virgin, obeyed and became the cause of salvation both for herself and for all mankind. “Thus, as the human race was bound fast to death through a virgin, so through a virgin it was saved.” Irenaeus further hinted both at her universal motherhood and at her cooperation in Christ’s saving work, describing [Ibid, 4, 33, 1] her womb as “that pure womb which regenerates men to God.”

(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, revised edition of 1978, 493-494, emphases added)

Even Bishop White is not a Church historian, so if it comes down to a conflict of historical fact between White and Kelly, it is obvious who has the advantage and who can be trusted for the facts. And that is not all one can find by way of Protestant historians. How about Philip Schaff? He writes:

The development of the orthodox Mariology and Mariolatry originated as early as the second century in an allegorical interpretation of the history of the fall, and in the assumption of an antithetic relation of Eve and Mary, according to which the mother of Christ occupies the same position in the history of redemption as the wife of Adam in the history of sin and death [Rom 5:12 ff., 1 Cor 15:22] . . . Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, are the first who present Mary as the counterpart of Eve, as a “mother of all living” in the higher, spiritual sense, and teach that she became through her obedience the mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race, as Eve by her disobedience was the fountain of sin and death.

[Footnote: “Even St. Augustine carries this parallel between the first and second Eve as far as any of the fathers . . . “]

(History of the Christian Church, Vol. III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974; reproduction of fifth edition of 1910, 414-415, emphases added. This work is available in its entirety online, too)

But James White makes the following profoundly ignorant historical summation:

…the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the Bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary. [pp. 75-76 of his book]

An old wise proverb says that “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” but maybe White can somehow pretend that these notions were absent from history, when they clearly were not, according to Protestant historians Kelly and Schaff (two of the very best and most-cited, at that). Best wishes! I don’t envy him. And I think we can already see one reason why Bishop White won’t come out from behind his word-processor and defend his own historical absurdities from his book.

Furthermore, Lutheran historian Jaroslav Pelikan (who converted to Orthodoxy after the following was written), observed the true focus of patristic and Catholic Mariology, during St. Irenaeus’ time:

. . . as Christian piety and reflection sought to probe the deeper meaning of salvation, the parallel between Christ and Adam found its counterpart in the picture of Mary as the Second Eve . . . in is fundamental motifs the development of the Christian picture of Mary and the eventual emergence of a Christian doctrine of Mary must be seen in the context of the development of devotion to Christ and, of course, of the development of the doctrine of Christ.

For it mattered a great deal for christology whether or not one had the right to call Mary Theotokos [Mother of God] . . . an apt formula for their belief that in the incarnation deity and humanity were united so closely . . . It was a way of speaking about Christ at least as much as a way of speaking about Mary.

(The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), University of Chicago Press, 1971, 242-243)

The concept (in early development) of mediatrix was there in the quotes themselves and in the summary of Irenaeus’ teaching by Kelly and Schaff, where they actually relate it to “redemption” and “salvation” and use words like “mediate” and “instrumental” with regard to Mary’s place in the economy of redemption. The word no more has to be present than the word “Trinity” has to be in the Bible, in order to think that the teaching is there.

Co-redemptrix is also implicit in the concept of Second Eve, by its very nature, as shown above. It’s not just development (though that is a crucial component of this discussion), but the fact that the concept of New Eve was already in full force at this early stage (as early as Justin Martyr, who died in 165 — and Kelly says it looks like he was just passing on what he received).

It is not necessary to have a “Roman Catholic notion of development of doctrine” in order to accept this development, but to have whatever kind of development Schaff and Pelikan and Kelly accept (since they are not Catholics). This is the whole point. It’s not a “Catholic thing”; it is an “historical thing.” Schaff detests the very doctrines he is describing, and makes no bones about it, but he is also (invariably) an honest historian who presents the facts — whatever he thinks of them.

White detests the doctrines, too, but then tries to vainly pretend that they were absent from patristic history. This is the difference, and this is one of a multitude of reasons why I have long maintained that White is a sophist and special pleader. He himself accepts development in one area but denies it in another, and his criteria for doing so are completely arbitrary, self-contradictory, and instances of glaring double standards.

Development of Mariology is no different than development of any other doctrine. One may quibble with it because it is supposedly so “unbiblical,” but then one would have to also toss out the canon of Scripture, which is absolutely unbiblical. Etc. I’ve made all the arguments.

As far as I am concerned, so far, not one thing I have contended has been overthrown or refuted. It was claimed (by White and his defenders) that St. Irenaeus taught not a thing about Mary Mediatrix. I responded with Protestant historians Kelly and Schaff (and a bit indirectly), Pelikan, who thought quite otherwise. It was claimed that I was demanding people to accept a presupposed Catholic version of development of doctrine. I showed how that was not the case, and my extensive reasoning for why I think that, in the review itself, needs to be dealt with.

In fighting heresy, one may express points of Mariology, just as he might express various aspects of christology, soteriology, anthropology, theology proper, etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. If you are fighting heretical theology, you have to give orthodox theology to counter it (in fact, fighting error is often the occasion for some of the most elaborate expositions of orthodox theology, as a counterpoint; e.g., St. Augustine’s reactions to the Manichees and Donatists and Pelagians).

And if Mary is mentioned in any “theological” way, that is Mariology, pure and simple. It may be very primitive and undeveloped (of course it is, in the second century (Irenaeus’ era), though it is remarkably and surprisingly well-developed, given Protestant hostile assumptions about how little it should be by this time), but it remains Mariology because it offers some theology and interpretation of Mary.

Catholics have always stated that Mariology is christocentric, and that this was its primary purpose. It was to safeguard the deity and incarnation of Jesus. This is precisely why I cited Jaroslav Pelikan, in agreement with Catholic theology and perspective:

[I]n its fundamental motifs the development of the Christian picture of Mary and the eventual emergence of a Christian doctrine of Mary must be seen in the context of the development of devotion to Christ and, of course, of the development of the doctrine of Christ.

White hasn’t proven that to argue about Christ necessarily excludes discussion of Mary, as if the two are like oil and water or two magnetic poles.  Mariology was (and is) a subset of christology. This is how Irenaeus approaches it, and how the Catholic Church does, as well.

Secondly, when people are presenting a primitive, undeveloped form of a doctrine, they don’t themselves know how far it will be developed in the future, by definition. If they did, there would be no development! But there is development, of every doctrine. The canon of Scripture developed; so did original sin, and the Hypostatic Union, and trinitarianism, and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and Mariology, and sacramentology, and the doctrine of the atonement, and eucharistic theology. Irenaeus would have been incapable of presenting, e.g., the full intricate doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, which was fully-developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

This is not just Catholic “special pleading” and “anachronistically reading our ‘papist’ views back into the 2nd century. I cited J.N.D. Kelly arriving at the same exact same conclusion about this very passage:

Irenaeus further hinted both at her universal motherhood and at her cooperation in Christ’s saving work, describing her womb as ‘that pure womb which regenerates men to God.’

So how is it that I am somehow the unreasonable one even though I can cite one of the leading Protestant patristic experts in exact agreement with my interpretation of Irenaeus?

Schaff (repeat!) also asserts a “universal motherhood” as an early patristic belief:

Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, are the first who present Mary as the counterpart of Eve, as a ‘mother of all living’ in the higher, spiritual sense, and teach that she became through her obedience the mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race, . . .

St. Irenaeus  wrote in Against Heresies, III, 21, 7:

7. On this account also, Daniel, foreseeing His advent, said that a stone, cut out without hands, came into this world. For this is what “without hands” means, that His coming into this world was not by the operation of human hands, that is, of those men who are accustomed to stone-cutting; that is, Joseph taking no part with regard to it, but Mary alone co-operating with the pre-arranged plan. For this stone from the earth derives existence from both the power and the wisdom of God. Wherefore also Isaiah says: “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I deposit in the foundations of Zion a stone, precious, elect, the chief, the corner-one, to be had in honour.” So, then, we understand that His advent in human nature was not by the will of a man, but by the will of God.

Miravalle gives the Latin of the relevant phrase: sola Maria cooperante dispositioni.

James White claims that mediation and co-redemption are “completely absent” from “the early Church.” But Kelly, writing about Irenaeus’ Mariology, uses descriptive words like “cause of salvation,” “through a virgin it was saved,” “universal motherhood,” “cooperation in Christ’s saving work,” and “[her womb] regenerates men.” Schaff uses words like “The development of the orthodox Mariology and Mariolatry originated as early as the second century,” “redemption,” ‘mother of all living’,” and “mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race.” What more does one need?

Furthermore, a few centuries later, these concepts became extremely explicit in some of the Fathers (precisely as we would expect from the nature of development itself). So. e.g., St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) wrote:

Mary was alone when the Holy Spirit came upon her and overshadowed her. She was alone when she saved the world — operata est mundi salutem – and when she conceived the redemption of all — concepit redemptionem universorum.

(in Mark I. Miravelle, ditor, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations, Santa Barbara, Califiornia: Queenship Publishing, 1995, p. 14; from Epist. 49,2; ML 16, 1154)


She engendered redemption for humanity, she was carrying, in her womb, the remission of sins.

(in Miravelle, ibid., p. 14; from De Mysteriis III, 13; ML 16,393; De instit. Virginis 13,81; ML 16,325)

St. Ephraem of Syria (c. 306-373) called Mary the “dispensatrix of all goods.” (in William G. Most, Mary in Our Life, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1963, 48)

Basil of Seleucia (died c. 458) referred to her as the “Mediatrix of God and men.” (in Most, ibid., 48)

St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) wrote:

“Hail, Mary, Mother of God, by whom all faithful souls are saved [sozetai].

(in Miravelle, ibid., p. 13; from MG 77, 992, and 1033; from the Council of Ephesus in 431)

The expression Mediatrix or Mediatress was found in two 5th-century eastern writers, Basil of Seleucia (In SS. Deiparae Annuntiationem, PG 85, 444AB) and Antipater of Bostra (In S. Joannem Bapt., PG 85 1772C. The theory developed in the work of John of Damascus (d.c. 749; see Homilia I in Dormitionem, PG 96 713A) and Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (d.c.733; see Homilia II in Dormitionem, PG 98 321, 352-353).

(see Miravelle, ibid., 134-135)

The Protestant reference Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. F. L. Cross, 2nd ed., Oxford Univ. Press, 1983, p. 561), states concerning Patriarch Germanus:

“Mary’s incomparable purity, foreshadowing the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and her universal mediation in the distribution of supernatural blessings, are his two frequently recurring themes.”

St. Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740) referred to Mary as the “Mediatrix of the law and grace” and also stated that “she is the mediation between the sublimity of God and the abjection of the flesh.”

(Nativ. Mariæ, Serm. 1 and Serm. 4, PG 97, 808, 865; in Miravelle, ibid., 283)

St. John of Damascus (c. 675-c. 749) spoke of Mary fulfilling the “office of Mediatrix.”

(Hom. S. Mariæ in Zonam, PG 98, 377; in Miravelle, ibid., 283)

But remember, James White has informed us on pp. 75-76 and 137 of his book:

In fact, not only is the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the Bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary.

[T]he push to define Mary as Coredemptrix flows out of the piety seen so plainly in Alphonsus Ligouri [sic] and Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. It does not come to us from Scripture, nor does it come from history.

White consistently misspells Liguori as “Ligouri”. That saint lived from 1696-1787. White appears to date this theological development to him, but he is more than 1200 years off the mark, since, as shown, the very terms mediatrix or mediatress were being used in the 5th century by at least two writers, and the concept in kernel can be traced as far back as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Irenaeus. So much for Bishop White’s historiographical abilities . . . they are almost as deficient as his theological methodologies and conclusions.

Of course, he might want to argue that the 5th century (when St. Augustine and St. Jerome and St. Cyril of Alexandria lived) was not the time of the “early Church.” It wouldn’t be the oddest thing he has argued.

We need to avoid amateur historians like James White who is clearly in over his head when trying to discuss early Mariology. I’m no historian, either, but it is very easy for me to find substantiation from the best Protestant historians of Church history and the history of doctrine, for my point of view.

I thought it would be fun to search James White’s site in order to find out what he thinks of the scholarly abilities of Kelly and Schaff. This is what I found:

1) Article: “Exegetica: Roman Catholic Apologists Practice Eisegesis in Scripture and Patristics” (3-4-02)

White cites “Protestant church historian” Kelly once with regard to whether Rome had a single bishop or a group of bishops in the second century (the same era as Irenaeus).

2) Article: “Did The Early Church Believe In the LDS Doctrine of God?” (7-27-00)

White, arguing against Mormonism, cites Kelly at length, introducing him as “One of the greatest patristic scholars”. And he is the only historian White cites, in an article about the “early Church”.

3) Article: The Pre-existence of Christ In Scripture, Patristics and Creed” (7-27-00)

Again, in an article dealing in part with patristics, White cites only Kelly as a scholar in his section “Patristic Interpretation.” And then in the following footnotes, look who he mentions:

“25) For the text of the Nicene Creed, see J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (New York: Longman Inc., 1981), pp. 215-216 and Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985) vol. 1:27-28.

26) Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1:30.”

4) Article: “A Test of Scholarship” (11-13-98)

Again, Kelly is proclaimed as “One of the greatest patristic scholars” and White notes after a very long citation from Kelly: “I am appending a selection of quotations from the early Fathers that substantiates the conclusions of . . . Kelly quoted above.” White writes later:

“. . . J.N.D. Kelly’s fine work, Early Christian Doctrines (1978), a work that occupies a space close to my desk (for frequent reference).”

Jaroslav Pelikan’s comments on the notion of theosis in the early Church are also cited at length.

5) Article: “How Reliable Is Roman Catholic History?: An Example in a Recent Edition of This Rock Magazine” (7-25-00) [no longer online]

Kelly is cited three times as an expert on early Church ecclesiology. It stands to reason, that if Kelly can be used in an effort to show that Catholic Answers’ history on a certain disputed point is inaccurate, he can also be used in such a fashion against James White. After all, Kelly is obviously White’s favorite patristics scholar and historian of the early Church.

6) Article: “A Debate Between Professor James White, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, and Brother John Mary, Representing the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” (7-24-00) [no longer online]

Kelly is cited as an expert about the very Church Father under consideration:

“I note that J.N.D. Kelly asserts that Ireneaus, Tertullian, and Origen all felt Mary had sinned and doubted Christ (Early Christian Doctrines, 493).”

Note: Kelly sees no contradiction between Irenaeus’ belief in a non-sinless Mary and a Mary who is involved in co-redemption. He asserts that Irenaeus believed both things about Mary. So this is no disproof of the question at hand, but rather, a strong proof, since Kelly is obviously not an advocate of specifically “Catholic” dogma.

Philip Schaff is also cited pertaining to the question of whether Pope Sylvester called the Council of Nicaea.

7) Article: “The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology” (7-21-00)

White cites “noted patristic authority J.N.D. Kelly” with regard to the Council of Chalcedon and Christology, and his work is recommended for further reading on the Council.

Philip Schaff is mentioned even more times on White’s site (29 compared to 11 for Kelly):

8) “An In Channel Debate on Purgatory” (2-21-02)

White cites Schaff twice with regard to the views of Pope Gregory the Great.

9) “Catholic Legends And How They Get Started: An Example” (4-11-00)

Schaff is cited interpreting a letter from Pope Zosimus.

10) “Failure to Document: Catholic Answers Glosses Over History” (10-25-00)

Schaff is mentioned twice with regard of the history of the proceedings of Vatican I.

11) “Whitewashing the History of the Church” (8-31-00)

Schaff is cited with regard to Cyril’s views and the Council of Florence. This provides us with more delightful irony (never lacking when one deals with the illustrious Bishop White), since if Schaff can be cited as a “witness” to alleged Catholic “whitewashing” of history, he can be utilized to show White engaging in this practice (with White’s full consent!).

12) “Truths of the Bible or Untruths of Roman Tradition? James White Responds to Tim Staples’ Article, “How to Explain the Eucharist” in the September, 1997 issue of Catholic Digest” (7-25-00) [no longer online]

Schaff is cited twice with regard to historical debates on transubstantiation.


November 15, 2016

Luther at the Diet of Worms [1521] (1877), by Anton von Werner (1843-1915) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
Recently, I made this statement in a post about Luther:

Luther taught the absolute necessity of good works in the Christian life, as an inevitable manifestation of an authentic faith. He didn’t separate justification and sanctification to the degree that Calvin (or even his successor Philip Melanchthon) did.

But Luther also did a very poor job of communicating the subtleties of his “faith alone” (sola fide) soteriology to the masses: most of whom were incapable of analyzing the fine distinctions entailed (a state of affairs which is largely true even to our present time). In his extreme rhetoric of separation of faith and works, the necessary continuing connections that Luther in fact maintained in his theology, rightly understood, were lost in the public mind. In this sense, he showed himself to be rather excessively naive, as to the likely misunderstandings that would result and how many people would act in ways that he neither condoned nor envisioned.

As a result, there was a strong tendency at first towards antinomianism and anarchism (neither sanctioned by Luther) among the populace, as evidenced by an increase of immorality (noted often by Luther himself) and the Peasants’ Revolt.


Now onto Luther’s own words (all the words below, with my blue highlighting and a few added bracketing Scripture references, mostly drawn from other Table-Talk versions). What he states below is scarcely different (if at all) from what St. Paul taught. There are errors elsewhere in his soteriology, assuredly, but I see none here, from an orthodox Catholic perspective.

* * * * *

St Paul says: “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” etc. [Romans 8:3-4] That is, Christ is the sum of all; he is the right, the pure meaning and contents of the law. Whoso has Christ [1 John 5:12], has rightly fulfilled the law. But to take away the law altogether, which sticks in nature, and is written in our hearts and born in us, is a thing impossible and against God. And whereas the law of nature is somewhat darker, and speaks only of works, therefore, Moses and the Holy Ghost more clearly declare and expound it, by naming those works which God will have us to do, and to leave undone. Hence Christ also says: “I am not come to destroy the law.” [Matthew 5:17] Worldly people would willingly give him royal entertainment who could bring this to pass, and make out that Moses, through Christ, is quite taken away. O, then we should quickly see what a fine kind of life there would be in the world! But God forbid, and keep us from such errors, and suffer us not to live to see the same.

We must preach the law for the sake of evil and wicked, but for the most part it lights upon the good and godly, who, although they need it not, except so far as may concern the old Adam, flesh and blood, yet accept it. The preaching of the Gospel we must have for the sake of the good and godly, yet it falls among the wicked and ungodly, who take it to themselves, whereas it profits them not; for they abuse it, and are thereby made confident. It is even as when it rains in the water or on a desert wilderness, and meantime, the good pastures and grounds are parched and dried up. The ungodly out of the gospel suck only a carnal freedom, and become worse thereby; therefore, not the Gospel, but the law belongs to them.

(Table-Talk, translated by Henry Hazlitt, CCLXXXVI, CCLXXXVII)

The cause that I at the first so harshly spake and wrote against the law was this; the Christian Church was grievously burdened with manifold superstitions and false believings, and Christ was altogether darkened and buried. Therefore I was desirous (through the grace of God, and the Word of the Gospel) to deliver good and godly hearts from such tormenting of consciences; but I never rejected the law.

(Table-Talk, “Extracts Selected by Dr. Macaulay,” p. 58, cf. Google Reader Bell / Lauterbach / Aurifaber version, p. 197)

Anno 1541, certain propositions were brought to Luther as he sat at dinner, importing that the Law ought not to be preached in the church, because we are not justified thereby: at the sight whereof he was much moved to anger, and said, “Such seducers do come already among our people, while we yet live: what will he done when we are gone?” “Let us,” said he, “give Philip Melancthon the honour due unto him; for he teacheth exceeding well and plainly of the right difference, use, and profit of the Law and Gospel. I, also, teach the same; and have thoroughly handled that point in the Epistle to the Galatians. . . . he that taketh the doctrine of the Law out of the church, doth rend and tear away both political and household government; and when the Law is cast out of the church, then there is no more acknowledging of sins in the world: for the Gospel reproveth not sin, except it maketh use of the office of the Law, which is done spiritually in describing and revealing sins that are committed against God’s will and command.”

(Table-Talk, translated by Henry Bell in 1650 from the Anthony Lauterbach / Joannes Aurifaber version; “Certain Principle Doctrines of the Christian Religion” section; from the year 1541, pp. 197-198)
Whether we should preach only of God’s Grace and Mercy, or not.

Philip Melancthon demanded of Luther whether the opinion of Calixtus were to be approved of, namely, that the Gospel of God’s Grace ought to be continually preached. For thereby, doubtless, said Melancthon, people would grow worse and worse. Luther answered him and said: We must preach Gratiam, notwithstanding, because Christ hath commanded it. And although we long and often preach of grace, yet when people are at the point of death they know but little thereof. Nevertheless we must also drive on with the Ten Commandments in due time and place.

The ungodly, said Luther, out of the Gospel do suck only a carnal freedom, and become worse thereby; therefore not the Gospel, but the Law belongeth to them. Even as when my little son John offendeth: if then I should not whip him, but call him to the table unto me, and give him sugar and plums, thereby, indeed, I should make him worse, yea, should quite spoil him.

The Gospel is like a fresh, mild, and cool air in the extreme heat of summer, that is, a solace and comfort in the anguish of the conscience. But as this heat proceedeth from the rays of the sun, so likewise the terrifying of the conscience must proceed from the preaching of the Law, to the end we may know that we have offended against the Laws of God.

Now, said Luther, when the mind is refreshed and quickened again by the cool air of the Gospel, then we must not be idle, lie down and sleep; that is, when our consciences are settled in peace, quieted and comforted through God’s spirit, then we must show also and prove our faith by such good works which God hath commanded. But so long as we live in this vale of misery, we shall be plagued and vexed with flies, with beetles, and with vermin, etc., that is, with the devil, with the world, and with our own flesh; yet we must press through, and not suffer ourselves to recoil.


Against the Opposers of the Law.

I do much condemn, said Luther, the Antinomians, who, void of all shame, reject the doctrine of the Law, whereas the same is both necessary and profitable. But they see not the effect, the need, and the fruit thereof. St. Austin did picture the strength, the office and operation of the Law, by a very fit similitude, namely, that it discovereth our sins, and God’s wrath against sin, and placeth them in our sight; for the Law is not in fault, but our evil and wicked nature, even as a heap of lime is still and quiet until water be poured thereon, but then it beginneth to smoke and to burn, not that it is the fault of the water, but it is the nature and kind of the lime, which will not endure water; but if oil be poured upon it, then it lieth still and burneth not. Even so it is with the Law and Gospel. It is an exceedingly fair similitude.

(Table-Talk, translated by Henry Bell in 1650 from the Anthony Lauterbach / Joannes Aurifaber version; “Of the Law and the Gospel” section; from the year 1541)

For thus do the Anabaptists teach, that baptism is nothing except the person do believe. Out of this principle must needs follow, that all the works of God be nothing if the man be nothing. But baptism is the work of God, and yet an evil man maketh it not to be the work of God. . . . Who seeth not here, in the Anabaptists, men not possessed with devils, but even devils themselves possessed with worse devils? . . .

If one heresy die, by and by another springeth up, for the devil doth neither slumber or sleep. I myself, which, although I be nothing, have been now in the ministry of Christ about twenty years, can truly witness that I have been assailed with more than twenty sects, of the which some are already destroyed, . . . But Satan, the god of all dissension, stirreth up daily new sects, and last of all (which, of all other, I should never have foreseen or once suspected), he hath raised up a sect of such as teach that the Ten Commandments ought to be taken out of the church, and that men should not be terrified with the law, but gently exhorted by the preaching of the grace of Christ . . . Such is the blindness and presumption of these frantic heads, which even by their own judgment do condemn themselves. . . . let the minister of Christ know that so long as he teacheth Christ purely, there shall not be wanting perverse spirits, yea, even of our own, and among ourselves, which shall seek, by all means possible, to trouble the church of Christ. . . . Yea, let him rejoice in the troubles which he suffereth by these sects and seditious spirits, continually springing up one after another.

(Commentary on Galatians, Lafayette, Indiana, Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc., 2002, Preface, pp. xxi-xxii)

Related Reading:

Martin Luther: Good Works Prove Authentic Faith [4-16-08]

Luther on Theosis & Sanctification [11-23-09]


Meta Description: Catholics need to be careful to not distort Luther’s true teachings about what “faith alone” means (i.e., it is not antinomianism).

Meta Keywords: Martin Luther, Luther, Mosaic Law, law & grace, Luther’s soteriology, antinomianism, extrinsic justification, Faith Alone, Faith and Works, imputed justification, infused justification, initial justification, Justification, justification by faith alone, Luther & justification, Pelagianism, Protestant soteriology, Salvation, sanctification, semi-Pelagianism, snow-covered dunghill, Sola Fide, soteriology

May 12, 2016

Immaculate Conception (c. 1505), by Piero di Cosimo (1462-1521) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Here are some excerpts from my book, Catholic Church Fathers
St. Athanasius

. . . pure and unstained Virgin . . . (On the Incarnation of the Word, 8; Gambero, 102)

O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides. (Homily of the Papyrus of Turin, 71, 216; Gambero, 106)

St. Ephraem

Mary and Eve, two people without guilt, two simple people, were identical. Later, however, one became the cause of our death, the other the cause of our life (Op. syr. II, 327; Ott, 201)

The Virgin Mary is a symbol of the Church, when she receives the first announcement of the gospel . . . We call the Church by the name of Mary, for she deserves a double name. (Sermo ad noct. Resurr.; Gambero, 115)

Thou and thy mother are the only ones who are totally beautiful in every respect; for in thee, O Lord, there is no spot, and in thy Mother no stain. (Nisibene Hymns, 27, v. 8; Ott, 201)

Citing this source, J.N.D. Kelly asserts:

[W]e find Ephraem delineating her as free from every stain, like her son.

(Kelly, 495)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Pure and spotless is this birth. For where the Holy Spirit breathes, all pollution is taken away, so that the human birth of the Only-begotten from the Virgin is undefiled. (Catechetical Lectures, XII, 31-32; Gambero, 140)

St. Gregory Nazianzen

He was conceived by the Virgin, who had first been purified by the Spirit in soul and body; for, as it was fitting that childbearing should receive its share of honor, so it was necessary that virginity should receive even greater honor. (Sermon 38, 13; Gambero, 162-163)

St. Gregory of Nyssa

It was, to divulge by the manner of His Incarnation this great secret; that purity is the only complete indication of the presence of God and of His coming, and that no one can in reality secure this for himself, unless he has altogether estranged himself from the passions of the flesh. What happened in the stainless Mary when the fulness of the Godhead which was in Christ shone out through her, that happens in every soul that leads by rule the virgin life. (On Virginity, 2; NPNF 2, Vol. V, 344)

[T]he power of the Most High, through the Holy Spirit, overshadowed the human nature and was formed therein; that is to say, the portion of flesh was formed in the immaculate Virgin. (Against Apollinaris, 6; Gambero, 153)

St. Ambrose

. . . Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin. (Commentary on Psalm 118, 22, 30; Jurgens, II, 166)

What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? (Virginity, II, 6; NPNF 2, Vol. X, 374)

St. Epiphanius

Mary, the holy Virgin, is truly great before God and men. For how shall we not proclaim her great, who held within her the uncontainable One, whom neither heaven nor earth can contain? (Panarion, 30, 31; Gambero, 127)

St. Jerome

‘There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall grow out of his roots.’ The rod is the mother of the Lord–simple, pure, unsullied; drawing no germ of life from without but fruitful in singleness like God Himself… Set before you the blessed Mary, whose surpassing purity made her meet to be the mother of the Lord. (Letter XXII. To Eustochium, 19, 38; NPNF 2, Vol. VI, 29, 39; cf. Gambero, p. 213: “whose purity was so great that she merited to be the Mother of the Lord”)

Indeed how inferior they are, in terms of holiness, to blessed Mary, Mother of the Lord! (Contra Pelagianos, 1, 16; Gambero, 212)

St. Augustine

We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin. Well, then, if, with this exception of the Virgin, we could only assemble together all the forementioned holy men and women, and ask them whether they lived without sin whilst they were in this life, what can we suppose would be their answer? (A Treatise on Nature and Grace, chapter 42 [XXXVI]; NPNF 1, Vol. V)

Augustine went a step farther. In an incidental remark against Pelagius, he agreed with him in excepting Mary, “propter honorem Domini,” from actual (but not from original) sin. This exception he is willing to make from the sinfulness of the race, but no other. He taught the sinless birth and life of Mary, but not her immaculate conception. . . . The reasoning of Augustine backward from the holiness of Christ to the holiness of His mother was an important turn, which was afterward pursued to further results. The same reasoning leads as easily to the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, though also, just as well, to a sinless mother of Mary herself, and thus upward to the beginning, of the race, to another Eve who never fell.

(Schaff, HCC 3, 418-419)

We do not deliver Mary to the devil by the condition of her birth; but for this reason, because this very condition is resolved by the grace of rebirth. (Opus Imperf. Contra Julianum, 4, 122; Graef, 99)

And so he created a Virgin, whom he had chosen to be his Mother . . . she, with pious faith, merited to receive the holy seed within her. He chose her, to be created from her. (De peccatorum meritis et remissione, 2, 24, 38; Gambero, 219)

St. Cyril of Alexandria

Hail, Mary Theotokos, Virgin-Mother, lightbearer, uncorrupt vessel . . . Hail Mary, you are the most precious creature in the whole world; hail, Mary, uncorrupt dove; hail, Mary, inextinguishable lamp; for from you was born the Sun of justice . . . Through you, every faithful soul achieves salvation. (Homily 11 at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus; Gambero, 243, 245)

I see the assembly of the saints, all zealously gathered together, invited by the holy Mother of God, Mary, ever-virgin . . . We hail you, O Mary Mother of God, venerable treasure of the entire world, inextinguishable lamp, crown of virginity, scepter of orthodoxy, imperishable temple, container of him who cannot be contained . . . Through you, the Holy Trinity is glorified; the precious Cross is celebrated and adored throughout the world; heaven exults, the angels and archangels rejoice, the demons are put to flight, the devil, the tempter, falls from heaven, the fallen creation is brought back to paradise, all creatures trapped in idolatry come to know of the truth. (Homily IV Preached at Ephesus Against Nestorius; Gambero, 247-248)


“Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you, you are blessed” (Lk 1:28), O most beautiful and most noble among women. The Lord is with you, O all-holy one, glorious and good. The Lord is with you, O worthy of praise, O incomparable, O more than glorious, all splendor, worthy of God, worthy of all blessedness . . . spouse of God, divinely nourished treasure. To you I announce neither a conception in wickedness nor a birth in sin; instead, I bring the joy that puts an end to Eve’s sorrow. To you I proclaim neither a trying pregnancy nor a painful delivery . . . Through you, Eve’s odious condition is ended; through you, abjection has been destroyed; through you, error is dissolved; through you, sorrow is abolished; through you, condemnation has been erased. Through you, Eve has been redeemed. (On the Mother of God and the Nativity; Gambero, 271)

A virgin, innocent, spotless, free of all defect, untouched, unsullied, holy in soul and body, like a lily sprouting among thorns. (Homily VI, 11; O’Carroll, 339)

If iron, once joined to fire, immediately expels the impurities extraneous to its nature and swiftly acquires a likeness to the powerful flame that heats it, . . . how much more, in a superior way, did the Virgin burn when the divine fire (the Holy Spirit) rushed in? She was purified from earthly impurities, and from whatever might be against her nature, and was restored to her original beauty, so as to become inaccessible, untouchable, and irreconcilable to carnal things. (Homily 4, 6; Gambero, 264)

Innocent virgin, spotless, without defect, untouched, unstained, holy in body and in soul, like a lily-flower sprung among thorns, unschooled in the wickedness of Eve . . . clothed with divine grace as with a cloak . . . (Homily 6, 11; Gambero, 268)

Pope St. Leo the Great

For the uncorrupt nature of Him that was born had to guard the primal virginity of the Mother, and the infused power of the Divine Spirit had to preserve in spotlessness and holiness that sanctuary which He had chosen for Himself . . . (Sermon XXII: On the Feast of the Nativity, Part II; NPNF 2, Vol. XII)

St. Sophronius

Others before you have flourished with outstanding holiness. But to none as to you has the fullness of grace been given. None has been endowed with happiness as you, none adorned with holiness like yours, none brought to such great magnificence as yours; no one was ever possessed beforehand by purifying grace as were you . . . And this deservedly, for no one came as close to God as you did; no one was enriched with God’s gifts as you were; no one shared God’s grace as you did. (In SS Deip. Annunt. 22; O’Carroll, 329)

St. Andrew of Crete

Today humanity, in all the radiance of her immaculate nobility, receives its ancient beauty. The shame of sin had darkened the splendour and attraction of human nature; but when the Mother of the Fair One par excellence is born, this nature regains in her person its ancient privileges and is fashioned according to a perfect model truly worthy of God. . . . The reform of our nature begins today and the aged world, subjected to a wholly divine transformation, receives the first fruits of the second creation. (Homily 1 on Mary’s Nativity; O’Carroll, 180)

. . . alone wholly without stain . . . (Canon for the Conception of Anne; Graef, 152)

St. John Damascene

O most blessed loins of Joachim from which came forth a spotless seed! O glorious womb of Anne in which a most holy offspring grew. (Homily I on the Nativity of Mary; O’Carroll, 200; cf. Graef, 154; Gambero, 402)

So according to John of Damascus, even the “active” conception of Mary was completely without stain, panamomos – a view which goes far beyond the terms of the later definition of the doctrine and was open to the objections raised against it by the schoolmen.

(Graef, 154)

She is all beautiful, all near to God. For she, surpassing the cherubim, exalted beyond the seraphim, is placed near to God. (Homily on the Nativity, 9; Gambero, 403)



Gambero, Luigi, Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, Thomas Buffer, translator, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, revised edition of 1999.

Graef, Hilda, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, vol. 1 [to the Reformation], New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963.

Jurgens, William A., editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, three volumes, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970 and 1979 (2nd and 3rd volumes).

Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, fifth revised edition, 1978.

O’Carroll, Michael, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Wilmington, Delaware: M. Glazier, 1982.

Ott, Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, translated by Patrick Lynch, edited in English by James Canon Bastible, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1974, from the fourth edition of 1960 (originally 1952 in German).

Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600 (“HCC 3”), Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974, from the revised fifth edition of 1910.

Schaff, Philip, editor, Early Church Fathers: Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers Series 1 (“NPNF 1”), 14 volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1889, available online.

Schaff, Philip & Henry Wace, editors, Early Church Fathers: Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2 (“NPNF 2”), 14 volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1900, available online.

* * * * *
As to the “these were late fathers” Protestant polemical canard, this proves too much, since one has to realize that many doctrines that Protestants accept (even very key ones to them) often took many hundreds of years to fully develop, as well:

1) The canon of Scripture: not finalized till 397, and it included the Deuterocanon, which Protestants (inconsistently) reject.

2) The Two Natures of Christ: dogmatized in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon. Further controversies over whether Christ had one of two wills (Monothelitism; the orthodox doctrine holds that He had two wills) went on for a few centuries more.

3) Original sin: this was finalized in dogma so late that it wasn’t part of the Nicene Creed, and Cardinal Newman noted that the fathers wrote much more about purgatory than about original sin.

4) Sola Scriptura: one of the two pillars of the “Reformation” is virtually absent from the fathers. I have over 100 pages on this issue in my book on the fathers. This doesn’t seem to give Protestants any pause, yet the Marian doctrines with regard to the fathers does. Why?

5) Sola fide (faith alone): also virtually nonexistent in the fathers, as Protestant scholars such as Geisler and McGrath have admitted.

Furthermore, many doctrines that many Protestants reject are almost unanimously or largely held by the fathers, such as baptismal regeneration, episcopal Church government (bishops), the papacy, real presence in the Eucharist, perpetual virginity of Mary, the sacrifice of the Mass, penance, purgatory, prayers for the dead, the communion of saints, veneration of the saints, theosis, etc.

It’s a tough road to be a Protestant who values Church history (as, particularly, traditional Anglicans and Lutherans do), and thinks that the Church fathers were more Protestant than they were Catholic. That’s a miserably losing battle every time. But I give anyone who attempts it a lot of points for chutzpah and admirable zeal. 
Meta Description: Mary’s sinlessness (a doctrine Protestants reject) was almost unanimously held by the Church fathers.
Meta Keywords: Blessed Virgin Mary, Catholic Mariology, full of grace, Immaculate Conception, Luke 1:28, Mariology, Mary’s sinlessness, Church fathers, patristics, patrology, Mariology of Church fathers
February 22, 2016

St. Paul in Prison (1627), by Rembrandt (1606-1669) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


* * * * *

First of all, before I get to my argument, let’s get some preliminaries out of the way. Readers can rest assured that I greatly love and revere Holy Scripture as much as any Protestant does. That’s not at issue. The issue is sola Scriptura: whether Scripture is the only infallible authority. Scripture is a set of divinely inspired books. Sola Scriptura is a principle or rule of faith that has to do with how much authority Scripture has, and its relation to Christian Tradition and the Christian Church. Thus, they are two very distinct things: related, but essentially different.

A fair number of Protestants (especially zealous online apologists) have a very annoying habit of equating sola Scriptura (i.e., the view that Scripture is the only final and infallible authority in the Christian life) and love and reverence for Scripture, as if they were exactly the same thing. For some Protestants, in other words, for a Catholic to deny sola Scriptura automatically means that he is somehow demoting or denigrating or despising Scripture. It’s either Protestantism or the highway. No non-Protestant (according to this mentality of some — not all — Protestants) can love Scripture, by definition or inexorable conclusion, if they also accept the authority of tradition and the Church (both of which are repeatedly asserted in Scripture itself).

One can readily observe both the arrogance and muddleheadedness of such a stance: especially the more one studies what is actually in Scripture. The one who reveres Scripture the most is the one who follows its manifest teachings, and doesn’t pick and choose what he likes and dislikes (“cafeteria Christianity”). Since an authoritative tradition and an authoritative Church are very much part of biblical teaching (as I will demonstrate below), to include them in one’s paradigm of authority is to accept and love Scripture, not to “demote” it. It is taking the Bible at its word.

But because of tunnel vision, wooden, either/or, arrogant, illogical thinking of this sort (sadly, very common), I have to defend my love of Scripture simply because I am a Catholic and deny sola Scriptura. But once in a while it is worth it to set the record straight.

My position, argued many times, is that Scripture is for the most part clear and easy to understand (especially in the major issues), for those willing to follow it where it leads, and led by the Holy Spirit and regenerate. I have long since argued, for example, that the Holy Trinity can easily be defended by Scripture alone. I did this myself 28 years ago, and the argument is just as strong now as it ever was.

The Church is needed not so much because the Bible is unclear, but because the heretical mindset can and will twist and distort the Scripture any number of ways; therefore an authority outside of Scripture is necessary in order to confirm true doctrine and to maintain orthodoxy. The history of Protestantism and all the relativism and doctrinal chaos therein amply illustrates this. Thus, St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622, a Doctor of the Church), writes (thanks to blog regular Ben M. for this):

It is quite true that Holy Scripture contains fully and clearly all doctrines necessary to salvation we do not doubt it; It is also true that it is very useful to interpret Holy Scripture by comparing passages together, and bringing the whole into an analysis of doctrine. But I must always believe and affirm that, notwithstanding the admirable perspicuity of Holy Scripture in all things necessary to our salvation, the human mind does not always find its right meaning but is liable to err, and practically does very often err in interpreting passages which are of great importance to the confirmation of the Faith.

Witness the Lutheran and Calvinistic writers; they, though leaders of the so-called Reformation, are involved in irreconcilable differences as to the meaning of the words of institution of the Holy Eucharist; and while each side maintains that they have diligently and faithfully studied the sense of those words, taking them with the context of Holy Scripture generally, and comparing the whole with the analogy of Faith, nevertheless they come to very different conclusions. The Word of God is clear enough, but our human minds are cloudy, and, like bats, cannot face the light.

(To a Gentleman on the Right Use of Scripture, July 7, 1619; A selection from the spiritual letters of s. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Prince of Geneva, 1880, pp. 162-163)

Now that the nonsense, and flotsam and jetsam is cleared away, we can move ahead and commence our present topic:

Ephesians 4:4-6, 11-16, 21-25 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, [5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. . . . [11] And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [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; [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. . . . [21] assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. [22] Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, [23] and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. [25] Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

[red = Church theme / blue = truth and falsity and doctrinal motifs / purple = theosis or unity with God or indwelling elements]

I made an analogical argument from Ephesians 4:11-15 above in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (pp. 15-16), in response to the alleged sola Scriptura prooftext, 2 Timothy 3:16-17. That book was completed in 1996, and parts of it were written as early as 1991. Here is the heart of that argument:

Note that in Ephesians 4:11-15 the Christian believer is “equipped,” “built up,” brought into “unity and mature manhood,” “knowledge” of Jesus, “the fulness of Christ,” and even preserved from doctrinal confusion by means of the teaching function of the Church. This is a far stronger statement of the “perfecting” of the saints than 2 Timothy 3:16-17, yet it doesn’t even mention Scripture.

Therefore, the Protestant interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proves too much, since if all nonscriptural elements are excluded in 2 Timothy, then, by analogy, Scripture would logically have to be excluded in Ephesians. It is far more reasonable to synthesize the two passages in an inclusive, complementary fashion, by recognizing that the mere absence of one or more elements in one passage does not mean that they are nonexistent. Thus, the Church and Scripture are both equally necessary and important for teaching. This is precisely the Catholic view. Neither passage is intended in an exclusive sense.

The fact remains that sola Scriptura is nowhere taught in Scripture. I’ve seen the innumerable attempted prooftexts, and have written an entire book about the topic [and now a second one, too]. None of them succeed. It’s merely an assumed, axiomatic viewpoint imposed onto Holy Scripture. Scripture itself gives equal authority to the Church and to Sacred, Apostolic Tradition. And we see that in the text under present consideration.

To expand the original argument regarding Ephesians 4 a bit: Protestants are saying that Scripture is the rule of faith. It is the sole and ultimate criterion for theological doctrine and truth, insofar as it is regarded as the only infallible authority. Therefore, it stands to reason that in a passage talking about truth over and over again, and denouncing falsehood, and referring to “one faith” and “the unity of faith”, that Scripture would likely be mentioned (under the erroneous Protestant premise). It’s not absolutely necessary, but it would be probable, I think.

This would be a logical place for Paul to reiterate that the Scripture is the rule of faith. But he never does that. He refers repeatedly to truth and denounces falsehood, and refers to the Church over and over: “one body”; [listing of Church offices]; “body of Christ”; “the whole body”; “bodily growth”; “members of one another”.

Now, under Catholic assumptions of the “three-legged stool” (Church, Scripture, Tradition), this is perfectly plausible and would be predictable. Not all have to be mentioned in the same context. Any one of them can be (or all of them, or any combination thereof), because they are all authoritative.

In this case, it is the Church that is highlighted (which is why I compared it to 1 Tim 3:15: the Church as the “pillar and bulwark of the truth”). In other places, tradition is synonymous with “truth” or “the gospel” or “the faith” and other synonyms (as I have shown elsewhere).

But granting a view where Scripture, not the Church, is the ground of truth and the only infallible rule of faith, always and necessarily, it strikes me as quite odd that in this passage, filled with allusions to truth and falsity, the Bible is never mentioned. This is not (lest we be witlessly accused of it yet again) “running down the Bible” (!); it is, rather, evidence against the unbiblical doctrine of sola Scriptura.

The words “Scripture” or “Scriptures” appear 51 times in the New Testament. Yet in eight of his thirteen epistles (2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Titus, Philemon) St. Paul (it may be surprising to learn) never uses either of these words. He uses it only 14 times altogether: in Romans (6), 1 Corinthians (2), Galatians (3), 1 Timothy (2), and 2 Timothy (1).

Likewise, “word of God” appears 43 times in the New Testament, and many of these (as in Old Testament prophetic utterances) are intended in the sense of “oral proclamation” rather than “Scripture” (especially apart from the Gospels). St. Paul uses the phrase only ten times, in nine different epistles. And it is by no means certain that any individual instance refers without question specifically to Holy Scripture, rather than to oral proclamation of apostolic tradition. I suspect that it is much more likely the latter sense in most or all cases.

But, to be fair, I won’t include this phrase in my analysis, and will also do the same with regard to “gospel.” In a way that was preaching Scripture (based on OT messianic passages; in another sense it was an oral tradition with radically new elements. I’ll consider both of these a “wash” as to the relation between Scripture and tradition / Church. But respectable arguments could be made either way, I think.

If we survey “Body (of Christ)” in Paul we find 19 appearances:

Romans “body of Christ” [1] (7:4) / “body” [2] (12:4-5)

1 Corinthians “body” [5] (10:17; 12:12-13, 25, 27; + several more times in making analogies to the human body)

Ephesians “his body” [3] (1:23: 5:23, 30) / “body” [3] (3:6; 4:4, 16) / “body of Christ” [1] (4:12)

Colossians “his body” [1] (1:24) / “body” [3] (1:18; 2:19; 3:15)

And here is Paul’s use of “Church” / ekklesia (in more than merely a local sense of congregation or building) in his epistles (20 total times):

1 Corinthians [6] (5:12; 6:4; 10:32; 11:22; 12:28; 15:9)

Galatians [1] (1:13)

Ephesians [9] (1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23-25, 27, 29, 32)

Philippians [1] (3:6)

Colossians [2] (1:18, 24)

1 Timothy [1] (3:15)

Likewise, here is Paul’s four uses of (apostolic) “tradition(s)” (paradosis):

1 Corinthians [1] (11:2)

Colossians [1] (2:8)

2 Thessalonians [2] (2:15; 3:6)

But the word “tradition” is not the only word Paul uses for this notion, by a long shot. There is also the concept of “receiving” (tradition) and “delivering” or passing it on. Three of the above passages on “tradition” contain this motif. This mention of some sort of tradition passed down (primarily orally; through preaching) can be seen in passages such as 1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:1-2; 15:3; Galatians 1:9, 12; 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Timothy 1:13; 2:2, for eight more instances.

There are at least fifteen other passages that exhibit the notion of apostolic (and oral) tradition, expressed in various different ways (including “word of God,” “preaching,” etc.):

Romans [3] (6:17; 10:8; 16:25)

1 Corinthians [1] (1:18)

2 Corinthians [1] (3:6)

Ephesians [1] (1:13)

Philippians [2] (2:16; 4:9)

Colossians [2] (1:5; 1:6)

1 Thessalonians [1] (1:6)

2 Thessalonians [1] (3:14)

2 Timothy [3] (4:2, 15, 17)

But let us be as fair-minded as we can and anticipate one probable objection. One could plausibly contend that when Paul cited Old Testament Scripture he was, by that action, giving Scripture authority, and this would be the equivalent of mentioning (the word) “Scripture”. I think this is a valid point. St. Paul made 84 such citations (I found a wonderful chart that gives all the OT citations in the NT). Here they are (minus already-recorded instances of “Scripture” being mentioned):

Romans [44] (2:6; 24; 3:4; 10-18; 4:7,8, 17, 18, 22; 8:36; 9:7, 9, 12, 13, 15, 20, 25-26, 27-28, 29, 33; 10:5, 6-8, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21; 11:3, 4, 8, 9, 26-27, 34-35; 12:19, 20; 13:9; 14:11; 15:3, 9, 10, 11, 12, 21)

1 Corinthians [18] (1:19, 31; 2:9, 16; 3:19, 20; 5:13; 6:16; 9:9; 10:7, 26, 28; 14:21; 15:27, 32, 45, 54, 55;

2 Corinthians [8] 4:13, 6:2, 16, 17-18; 8:15; 9:9; 10:17; 13:1

Galatians [7] 3:6, 10, 11, 12, 13; 4:27; 5:14

Ephesians [6] 4:8, 25, 26; 5:14, 31; 6:2-3

Philippians [1] 2:10-11

By the same token, if a citation of the Old Testament is to be regarded as evidence in favor of Paul having Scripture in mind, then I submit that several terms describing the content of the Christian faith without mentioning Scripture are likewise (by this somewhat subjective method) reasonably categorized under “tradition.” Here I would add the following:

Romans “the truth” [1] (2:8) / “the doctrine” [1] (16:17)

1 Corinthians “the truth” [1] (2:13) / “my message” [1] (2:4) / “supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” [an oral tradition not in the OT; 1] (10:4)

2 Corinthians “the truth” [3] (4:2; 11:10; 13:8) / “message of reconciliation” [1] (5:19) / “ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life” [1] (3:6)

Galatians “the faith” [1] (1:23) / “the truth” [1] (5:7)

Ephesians “the faith” [1] (4:13)

Philippians “the faith” [1] (1:27)

Colossians “the faith” [2] (1:23; 2:7) / “the truth” [1] (1:5)

1 Thessalonians “the truth” [3] (2:10, 12, 13)

1 Timothy “the faith” [7] (1:2; 3:9, 13; 4:1; 5:8; 6:10, 21) / “the truth” [2] (2:4; 4:3) / “the commandment” [1] (6:14) / “doctrine” [1] (4:6) / “teaching” [2] (4:16; 6:1)

2 Timothy “the faith” [1] (4:7) / “the truth” [6] (1:14; 2:18, 25; 3:7, 8; 4:4) / “message” [2] (4:15, 17)

Titus “the faith” [2] (1:13; 3:15) / “the truth” [1] (1:1) / “doctrine” [1] (2:10)

This adds up to 46 more times where Paul mentions tradition / received and passed-down doctrine, using a similar term or concept. In surveying Paul’s thought-world, then, as indicated by his choices of words and notions, in his teaching of the gospel and the content of the Christian faith in his epistles, we arrive at the following tally:

“Scripture(s)”: 14 + 84 citations of OT = 98

“Church” (20) and “Body (of Christ)” (19) = 39

“Tradition” and equivalent terms and concepts: 73

We can see that the tradition and Church legs of the “three-legged stool” are indeed prominent and together make up 53% of the 210 total instances, whereas Scripture appears 47% of the time (112-98). Moreover, I have not included obvious aspects of Church authority such as bishops and elders; the Jerusalem Council, etc. That would add even more non-scriptural authority to the mix. Let’s see how Paul’s word usage breaks down for each of his 13 books (Philemon contains no such references):

Romans “Scripture(s)”: 50 / “Church” and “Body”: 3 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 5

1 Corinthians “Scripture(s)”: 20 / “Church” and “Body”: 11 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 8

2 Corinthians “Scripture(s)”: 8 / “Church” and “Body”: 0 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 6

Galatians “Scripture(s)”: 10 / “Church” and “Body”: 1 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 4

Ephesians “Scripture(s)”: 6 / “Church” and “Body”: 16 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 2

Philippians “Scripture(s)”: 1 / “Church” and “Body”: 1 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 3

Colossians “Scripture(s)”: 0 / “Church” and “Body”: 6 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 6

1 Thessalonians “Scripture(s)”: 0 / “Church” and “Body”: 0 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 5

2 Thessalonians “Scripture(s)”: 0 / “Church” and “Body”: 0 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 3

1 Timothy “Scripture(s)”: 2 / “Church” and “Body”: 1 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 13

2 Timothy “Scripture(s)”: 1 / “Church” and “Body”: 0 / “Tradition” and equivalents: 14

Titus “Tradition” and equivalents: 4

Some (I think) interesting facts drawn from the above survey:

1) In eight of the twelve epistles above, the combination Church/Tradition appears more than Scripture. In six of these eight, the “tradition” category alone outnumbers Scripture; two by very wide margins (2 Timothy: 14-1; 1 Timothy: 13-2).

2) In two of the four books with more mention of Scripture, the tally is very close (1 Corinthians: 20-19; 2 Corinthians: 8-6). Only two have lopsided margins (Romans: 50-8; Galatians: 10-5). In both these cases, Church/Tradition still would have prevailed if it weren’t for including OT citations. And in the two books to the Corinthians, without citations, the margins would also have been very wide in favor of non-Scripture.

3) Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Titus, and Philemon neither mention “Scripture” nor cite the OT, and Philippians doesn’t mention the word and makes just one OT citation.

4) In Ephesians, the Church/Tradition ratio to Scripture is 18-6; other books are similar: Philippians (4-1), Colossians (12-0), 1 Thessalonians (5-0), 2 Thessalonians (3-0), Titus (4-0). Would any sola Scriptura advocate have predicted such an outcome before studying these words? Not likely . . .

5) If it were not for Paul’s massive citing of the OT in Romans, the figures would be very lopsided indeed, tilting toward Church and tradition. But even in Romans, Church /tradition notions appear eight times, which is more than “Scripture” / OT citations appear in nine epistles, and tied with 2 Corinthians. But citation of the OT is just as consistent with the Catholic “three-legged stool” rule of faith as it is with sola Scriptura, and doesn’t prove the latter at all. All his frequent citations prove is that he wanted to make an elaborate case drawing from old covenant precedent. In any event, we must try to find some objective, fair way to do these word comparisons, and I have done my best.

I conclude, then, that it is implausible for sola Scriptura to be considered the Pauline rule of faith. The biblical facts just don’t add up.

December 1, 2015


Title Page of Book of Concord (Dresden: 1580) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Rev. Jordan Cooper is a Lutheran pastor and theologian (I’m not sure which branch of Lutheranism he is part of). He has a blog here at Patheos (Just and Sinner) and has written what look like two extremely interesting books, on theosis (I’ve noted Luther’s views on theosis myself) and patristic soteriology and the new perspective on Paul. I will cite his entire blog post, The Invocation of the Saints is Not a Neutral or Harmless Practice (11-28-15), with his words in blue.

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I recently came across a Lutheran pastor (in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) who posted a picture of the Virgin Mary with the entirety of the hail Mary attached to it, including the request for Mary to “pray for us sinner[s] now and at the hour of our death.” What was particularly troubling to me was the fact that a number of other LCMS pastors shared this prayer, and called it salutary. It seems rather odd that one should have to write on this issue in conversation with Confessional Lutherans who have vowed to uphold our Book of Concord, but since the issue seems to be popping up in various places, it would behoove us to review what it is that our Confessions teach concerning this topic.

It’s fascinating to hear about such practices in the LCMS. I’m delighted by your report! Perhaps they are drawing from the “pre-Concord” primal Lutheranism of Martin Luther himself. He wrote in 1520:

[W]hen we . . . pray the rosary and the Psalter, and all this not before an idol, but before the holy cross of God or the pictures of His saints: this we call honoring and worshiping God, . . . Of course, if these things are done with such faith that we believe that they please God, then they are praiseworthy, not because of their virtue, but because of such faith . . . (Treatise on Good Works, March 1520; tr. W. A. Lambert; in Works of Martin Luther, Volume I; Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Co.: 1915)

You inquire, venerable Father, as to my practice in beginning and ending a sermon; my usage is not the common one. Omitting wordy prologues I briefly say: “Invoke the divine grace, and say an inward Ave Maria or Paternoster, that the word of God may be fruitful to us and God accept us.” (To George Kunzelt, 15 June 1520; in Luther’s Correspondence and Other Contemporary Letters, Vol. I: 1507-1521; translated and edited by Preserved Smith; Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society: 1913)

He also wrote in his Magnificat in June 1521:

We ought to call upon her, that for her sake God may grant and do what we request. (tr. A. T. W. Steinhaeuser; in Works of Martin Luther, Volume III; Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Co. and The Castle Press: 1930)

We pray God to give us a right understanding of this Magnificat, an understanding that consists not merely in brilliant words, but I glowing life in body and soul. May Christ grant us this through the intercession and for the sake of His dear Mother Mary. (Ibid.)

Even as late as 1530 (when the Augsburg Confession was written and a year after his Small Catechism and Large Catechism; also in the Book of Concord) Luther could write:

For when I can speak to the virgin from the bottom of my heart and say: O Mary, noble, tender virgin, you have borne a child; this I want more than robes and guldens, yea, more than body and life . . . (Sermons I, ed. and tr. John W. Doberstein; Sermon on the Afternoon of Christmas Day, 25 Dec. 1530; in Luther’s Works, vol. 51)

[for many more of these sorts of “Catholic” Luther utterances, see my book that collects hundreds of them: available for as low as $1.99: instant download]

The most extensive discussion of this issue comes from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XXI. In this article, Melanchthon notes that there are three ways in which Christians are called to honor the saints: thanksgiving, the strengthening of faith, and the imitation of virtue. It is by these means, rather than invocation or veneration of their images, that the saints of God are truly honored. The Apology acknowledges the truth that saints do indeed pray for the church in general while in heaven, and this includes Mary. However, God has not commanded us to invoke the saints. Melanchthon writes: “Since the invocation of the saints does not have a testimony from God’s Word, it cannot be affirmed that the saints understand our invocation or, even if they understand it, that God approves it” (Ap. XXI.12). To argue that the saints can hear silent prayers is to assign them divine powers, which Scripture does not attribute to those in heaven (Ap. XXI.11).

As to the latter point, this is a false dichotomy. Obviously, those in heaven are endowed with extraordinary powers. This doesn’t make them God, or in possession of God’s unique properties, anymore than angels (with all their remarkable powers) possess them. God gives them whatever abilities they have. Specifically, they are outside of time since they are likely in an atemporal state after death. We know that they are aware of earthly events, and I believe the Book of Concord acknowledges that, since they are praying for us. Hebrews 12:1 (closely examined) makes that clear. We also know that the 24 elders in heaven appear to be in possession of “the prayers of the saints” (Rev 5:8): implying their mediatorial intercession. An angel is also described as doing the same thing in heaven (Rev 8:3-4).

So Melanchthon claimed that invocation of the saints has no sanction or example in the Bible? With all due respect (he was a pious, thoughtful soul, but not infallible), he must not have read it closely enough. There are all sorts of indirect, deductive indications of invocation of both angels and saints in the Bible, that I have compiled. But let’s look at one very clear-cut case, right from the teaching of Jesus. It’s His story of Lazarus and the rich man, which is not a parable, according to many good commentators, but an actual account. Proper names do not occur, I believe, in parables. Here it is (RSV):

Luke 16:19-31 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. [20] And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz’arus, full of sores, [21] who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. [22] The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; [23] and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz’arus in his bosom. [24] And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ [25] But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. [26] And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ [27] And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ [29] But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’”

This is the Abraham of the Bible: long dead by that time, being asked to do something (i.e., invoked or “prayed to”) by a “rich man” (16:19, 22), traditionally known as Dives (which is simply a Latin word for “rich man”). His answer was, in effect, “no” (16:25-26). Thus failing in that request, he prays to him again for something else (16:27-28). The KJV even renders 16:27 as, “I pray thee therefore, father”. His request is again declined (16:29). So, like any good self-respecting Jew (Moses even “negotiated” with God), he argues with Abraham (16:30). But Abraham states again that his request is futile (16:31).

If we’re told that we can’t “pray to” or request intercession from a dead man, or anyone but God, and/or that such practices are not in the Bible, we need to show folks this passage. It also shows (in a fascinating way) that not only can dead saints hear our requests, they also have some measure of power to carry them out on their own. Abraham is asked to “send” a dead man to appear to Dives’ brothers, in order for them to avoid damnation (yet another [potential] instance of dead men — like the prophet Samuel to Saul — communicating to those on the earth). Abraham doesn’t deny that he is able to potentially send Lazarus to do such a thing; he only denies that it would work, or that it is necessary (by the logic of “if they don’t respond to greater factor x, nor will they to lesser factor y”).

Therefore, it is assumed in the story that Abraham could have possibly done so on his own. And this is all told, remember, by our Lord Jesus. It is disputed by some whether it is a parable (several textual factors suggest that it is not), but even if it is, it nevertheless cannot contain doctrinal principles or practices that are untrue or sinful, lest Jesus be guilty of leading people into heresy by means of false illustrations or analogies within His common teaching tool: the parable.

Whether Dives was dead or not is also irrelevant to the argument at hand, since standard Protestant theology holds that no one can make such a request to anyone but God. He’s asking Abraham to send Lazarus to him, and then to his brothers, to prevent them from going to hell. That is very much, prayer: asking for supernatural aid from those who have left the earthly life and attained sainthood and perfection, with God.

Quibbling about whether it was a parable (an argument that fails, anyway, as shown) or whether the requester was dead does not allow Protestants to escape their internal difficulties in this instance. Protestant theology (I believe, including Lutheran) teaches that we can’t even talk to anyone who is dead, let alone make intercessory requests to them. Yet Saul talked to the dead Samuel, Moses and Elijah appeared at the Mount of Transfiguration (I visited the spot a year ago), the “Two Witnesses” of Revelation come back to life again (and talk to folks), etc.

Protestant theology, generally speaking, forbids asking a dead man to intercede (thus, a dead man asking this is part of the larger category that remains forbidden in that theology), and makes prayer altogether a matter only between man and God.  Abraham is functioning as a mini-mediator. He is being asked to accomplish certain things. An intercessory request was made of him, not God. 

In fact, God is never mentioned in the entire story (!!!); whereas according to Lutheranism / Protestantism, He certainly ought to have been, because it is claimed that there is no mediatorial function for dead saints helping us get to God or to fulfill any (moral / good) request of ours. So why on earth (granting those assumptions for a moment) did Jesus teach in this fashion? Why did He teach that Lazarus was asking Abraham to do things that Protestant theology would hold that only God can do? And why is the whole story about him asking Abraham for requests, rather than going directly to God and asking Him: which would seem to be required by Protestant theology? 

But instead, God is not mentioned at all in the story.

It’s also untrue that such invocation is the equivalent of necromancy. Even if it were, we would have the impossible scenario of Jesus teaching rank sin to His followers.

Melanchthon further argues that one cannot make a distinction between a mediator of intercession (the saints), and a mediator or redemption (Christ). This is traditionally the means by which the Roman church has argued that a certain kind of prayer can be offered to the saints, while another is offered to God. In the Apology, it is argued that any such distinction clouds the unique mediatorial role of Christ.

Well, it’s essentially the case that we are asking saints to intercede. Even when a Catholic (who knows his Church’s theology) uses the terminology of “praying to saints” it is understood in an intercessory fashion: of asking the righteous one (“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects”: James 5:16) to intercede to God on his or her behalf. It’s presupposed always that God is the ultimate answerer of any prayer request; that the power comes from Him, whether “through” a saint or not. We don’t think in terms of “either/or” and false dichotomies, as many Protestants habitually do. If we ask someone on earth to pray for us, they are mediating. Likewise, we can ask a saint in heaven to do so, since he or she is more alive, saintly, and powerful, than anyone on earth.

This quite biblical notion of “mini-mediation” is apparently not grasped by Melanchthon, or many Protestants. But the Bible has much to say about it:

1 Corinthians 7:16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (cf. Rom 11:13-14)

Ephesians 3:2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you.

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

James 5:20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 3:1 Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives

While Melanchthon deals gently with this issue, as is his usual manner, Luther is much more blatant about his rejection of the invocation of the saints. In the Smalcald Articles, Luther writes: “The invocation of saints is also one off the Antichrist’s abuses that conflicts with the chief article and destroys the knowledge of Christ” (SA II, II:25). This is not a statement made in passing, but Luther finds this issue important enough to devote an entire article to it. Thus, Confessionally, we are bound as Lutherans, not only to reject this idea as unnecessary, but as harmful to the integrity of the gospel.

I like early Luther better. He regressed as time went on, on this issue. I know that Lutherans are only bound to the Book of Concord; no need to inform me of that. I’m merely noting what early Luther believed. He wrote:

Thus, too, I would solve the question about adoring and invoking God dwelling in the saints. It is a matter of liberty, and it is not necessary either to do it or not to do it. (To Paul Speratus, 13 June 1522; in Luther’s Correspondence and Other Contemporary Letters, Vol. II: 1521-1530; translated and edited by Preserved Smith and Charles M. Jacobs; Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society: 1918

Some argue that, because of this article, the final part of the hail Mary, requesting Mary’s intercession, is wrong, but that the beginning is an acceptable prayer. How is this any better? If the hail Mary is a “prayer,” who are you praying to? Is the text not spoken to Mary?

The first part is not technically a prayer (certainly not a request), but an honoring of Mary:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

It’s essentially simply citing Scripture, so those who argue that it is in perfect harmony with Lutheran teaching are, it seems to me, correct. The very first part repeats what the angel Gabriel said to Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:28). Many translations now have “highly favored one” instead of “full of grace”; but the latter is a perfectly acceptable (and I would argue, more literal) rendering of kecharitomene as well.  I noted in my book, The Catholic Verses (2004; full source info. added presently):

The great Baptist Greek scholar A.T. Robertson exhibits a Protestant perspective, but is objective and fair-minded, in commenting on this verse as follows:

“Highly favoured” (kecharitomene). Perfect passive participle of charitoo and means endowed with grace (charis), enriched with grace as in Ephesians. 1:6, . . . The Vulgate gratiae plena “is right, if it means ‘full of grace which thou hast received‘; wrong, if it means ‘full of grace which thou hast to bestow‘” (Plummer).

(Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. II, 13)

Kecharitomene has to do with God’s grace, as it is derived from the Greek root, charis (literally, “grace”). Thus, in the KJV, charis is translated “grace” 129 out of the 150 times that it appears. Greek scholar Marvin Vincent noted that even Wycliffe and Tyndale (no enthusiastic supporters of the Catholic Church) both rendered kecharitomene in Luke 1:28 as “full of grace” and that the literal meaning was “endued with grace” (Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. I, 259).

Likewise, well-known Protestant linguist W.E. Vine, defines it as “to endue with Divine favour or grace” (Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament WordsVol. II, 171). All these men (except Wycliffe, who probably would have been, had he lived in the 16th century or after it) are Protestants, and so cannot be accused of Catholic translation bias.

The second clause of the first part of the Hail Mary (“blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”) is from Elizabeth. mother of John the Baptist (“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”: Lk 1:42, RSV). Thus, the entire first part of the hail Mary is straight from Holy Scripture, and amounts to honoring or venerating Mary, but not asking her intercession.   Since we were informed by Rev. Cooper’s article that Melanchthon and the Book of Concord sanction the notion thatChristians are called to honor the saints,” I don’t see what difficulty the first part would cause any Lutheran. I think it probably comes down to an emotional argument (rather than a biblical, confessional Lutheran, or logical one): that the hail Mary from beginning to end is too associated with “Catholic stuff”.

The second part, however, is indeed inconsistent with Concordian Lutheran theology:

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death. Amen.

I would argue that it is not at all inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture, as I think I have shown in various ways, in many papers, collected on my Saints & Purgatory index page, and in my book on the same topics. But even ol’ John Calvin (who thought Luther was a eucharistic idolater and “half-papist”) slipped in a moment of weakness and prayed to his good friend Melancthon after the latter had died. He momentarily lapsed into fuller biblical, Catholic truth.

Surely, we can’t simply take any words of blessing that God gives to a saint and then just convert them into a personal prayer toward a particular saint.

Not to nitpick, but the words of veneration came from the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth, not God. But they are part of inspired Scripture now, so in that sense they are “God-breathed.” As just shown, the first part isn’t a prayer (at least not an intercession or petition); it’s veneration / honor, and Lutherans are allowed (encouraged!) to do that, minus invocation.

If any of the hail Mary is used as a “prayer,” then it is a prayer to Mary, and not to God. When that happens, you are no longer a Confessional Lutheran. And, consequently, you are no longer Biblical.

I’d say that is half-correct. One may not be a confessional Lutheran, but they are certainly being “biblical” in doing so, since nothing in the Bible precludes it, and there is much that indicates it deductively or indirectly; some (like Luke 16) even directly and explicitly. When the Bible and the Book of Concord conflict, I go with the former.

Thanks for the opportunity to defend Catholic views on these matters. It’s been a pleasure.

November 10, 2015


St. Augustine in His Study (bet. 1490 and 1494), by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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These are excerpted from my book, The Quotable Augustine: Distinctively Catholic Elements in His Theology (2012). Many more quotations on most of these topics are in the book. This is only barely scratching the surface.

[the context and background of all quotations can be consulted by following the links made in each instance to the primary sources — themselves all in the public domain]
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1. Absolution . . .the peace of the Church looses sins, and estrangement from the Church retains them, not according to the will of men, but according to the will of God . . . (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, iii, 18, 23)

2. Angels, Intercession of . . . they [prayers] 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, . . . 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] (Letters, 130 [9, 18]: to Proba [412] )

3. Anointing, Sacrament of For unless that sign be applied, whether it be to the foreheads of believers, . . . or to the oil with which they receive the anointing chrism, . . . none of them is properly administered. . . . every good thing is sealed to us in the celebration of His sacraments . . . (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 118, 5)

4. Apostasy (Falling Away from the Faith or Salvation) Wherefore let us now consider that, which ought to be cast forth from the hearts of religious persons, that they lose not their own salvation through evil security, if they shall think faith sufficient in order to attain to it, and shall neglect to live well, and in good works to hold the way of God. (On Faith and Works, 21)

5. Apostolic Succession In this respect the testimony of the Catholic Church is conspicuous, as supported by a succession of bishops from the original seats of the apostles up to the present time, and by the consent of so many nations. (Against Faustus the Manichee xi, 2)

6. Baptism and Being “Born Again” . . . born again by baptism; the generation by which we shall rise again from the dead, and shall live with the Angels for ever. (Expositions on the Psalms, 135:13 [135, 11] )

7. Baptism and Justification . . . the question of baptism, . . . justified by the grace of God, . . . (Against the Letters of Petilian the Donatist, iii, 50, 62)

8. Baptism and Salvation . . . that sacrament, namely, of baptism, which brings salvation . . . (Letters, 98 [1]: to Boniface [408] )

9. Baptismal Regeneration  . . . the sacrament of baptism is undoubtedly the sacrament of regeneration . . . (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism ii, 43 [XXVII] )

10. Bishops . . . if in the office of bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, the orders of the Captain of our salvation be observed, there is no work in this life more difficult, toilsome, and hazardous, especially in our day, but none at the same time more blessed in the sight of God. (Letters, 21: to Bishop Valerius [391] )

11. Celibacy; Consecrated Virginity  So, again, if your exhortations to virginity resembled the teaching of the apostle, “He who gives in marriage does well, and he who gives not in marriage does better;” [1 Corinthians 7:38] if you taught that marriage is good, and virginity better, as the Church teaches which is truly Christ’s Church, you would not have been described in the Spirit’s prediction as forbidding to marry. (Against Faustus the Manichee xxx, 6)

12. Church and Salvation . . . the Church our Mother, by whom we are born unto life eternal. (Sermons on the New Testament, 7, 2 [LVII] )

13. Church: Authority of . . . they admit the necessity of baptizing infants—finding themselves unable to contravene that authority of the universal Church, which has been unquestionably handed down by the Lord and His apostles . . . (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism i, 39 [XXVI] )

14. Church: Blaspheming of  What does it serve you, if you acknowledge the Lord, honour God, preach His name, acknowledge His Son, confess that He sits by His right hand; while you blaspheme His Church? (Expositions on the Psalms, 89:52 [89, 41] )

15. Church, Catholic  . . . the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. (Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 4, 5)

16. Church: Fullness of the Faith  For when men come to the peace of the Catholic Church, then what was in them before they joined it, but did not profit them, begins at once to profit them. (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, vi, 9, 14)

17. Church, Holy Mother  For have ye now merely heard that God is Almighty? But ye begin to have him for your father, when you have been born by the church as your Mother. (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed, 1)

18. Church, Indefectibility of  No one can erase from heaven the divine decree, no one can efface from earth the Church of God. (Letters, 43 [9, 27]: to Glorius, Eleusius, the Two Felixes, and Grammaticus [397] )

19. Church, Infallibility of  For in the belly of the Church truth abides. Whosoever has been separated from this belly of the Church must needs speak false things: . . . (Expositions on the Psalms, 58:3 [58, 5] ) [syntax modified]

20. Church, One “True” . . . let them come to the true Church of Christ, that is, to the Catholic Church our mother . . . (Letters, 185 [9, 36 / 10, 46]: to Boniface [416])

21. Church, Sinners in  My advice to you now is this: that you should at least desist from slandering the Catholic Church, by declaiming against the conduct of men whom the Church herself condemns, seeking daily to correct them as wicked children. . . . Those, again, who with wicked will persist in their old vices, . . . are indeed allowed to remain in the field of the Lord, and to grow along with the good seed; but the time for separating the tares will come. (On the Morals of the Catholic Church, 34, 76)

22. Church, Visible . . . you are not in the city upon a hill, which has this as its sure sign, that it cannot be hid. It is known therefore unto all nations. But the party of Donatus is unknown to the majority of nations, therefore is it not the true city. (Against the Letters of Petilian the Donatist, ii, 105, 239)

23. Confession Who is the proud? He who does not by confession of his sins do penance, that he may be healed through his humility. (Expositions on the Psalms, 94:12 [94, 11] )

24. Confirmation, Sacrament of . . . the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost . . . Then if you would know that you have received the Spirit, question your heart: lest haply you have the sacrament, and have not the virtue of the sacrament. (Homilies on the First Epistle of John, 6, 10)

25. Contraception; Contralife Will The doctrine that the production of children is an evil, directly opposes the next precept, “You shall not commit adultery;” for those who believe this doctrine, in order that their wives may not conceive, are led to commit adultery even in marriage. They take wives, as the law declares, for the procreation of children; but . . . their intercourse with their wives is not of a lawful character; and the production of children, which is the proper end of marriage, they seek to avoid. . . . you seek to destroy the purpose of marriage. Your doctrine turns marriage into an adulterous connection, and the bed-chamber into a brothel. (Against Faustus the Manichee, 15, 7)

26. Councils, Ecumenical They attempt, accordingly, to prevail against the firmly-settled authority of the immoveable Church . . . But He who is the most merciful Lord of faith has both secured the Church in the citadel of authority by most famous ecumenical Councils and the Apostolic sees themselves, and furnished her with the abundant armour of equally invincible reason . . . (Letters, 118 [5, 32]: to Deoscorus [410] )

27. Creation Days (Old Earth) . . . no one who reads the Scriptures, however negligently, need be told that in them “day” is customarily used for “time.” (City of God  xx, 1)

28. Cross, Sign of the Let them all sign themselves with the sign of the cross of Christ . . . (Homilies on the First Epistle of John, 5, 7)

29. Dead, Almsgiving for Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead are benefited by the piety of their living friends, who . . . give alms in the church on their behalf. (Enchiridion: Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, 110)

30. Dead, Masses for These things she [his mother Monica] entrusted not to us, but only desired to have her name remembered at Your altar, which she had served without the omission of a single day; whence she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed, . . . (The Confessions ix, 13, 36)

31. Dead, Offerings for . . . we take care, in regard to the offerings for the spirits of those who sleep, which indeed we are bound to believe to be of some use, . . . that which is a pious and honourable act of religious service shall be celebrated as it should be in the Church. (Letters, 22 [1, 6]: to Bishop Aurelius [392] )

32. Dead, Prayer for For if we cared not for the dead, we should not, as we do, supplicate God on their behalf. (On the Care of the Dead, 17)

33. Denominationalism; Sectarianism . . . there were to be schisms in various quarters of the world, which would be jealous of the Church Catholic spread abroad in the whole round world, and again those same schisms dividing themselves into the names of men, and by loving the men under whose authority they had been rent, opposing themselves to the glory of Christ which is throughout all lands . . . (Expositions on the Psalms, 72:9 [72, 12] )

34. Deuterocanon (So-Called “Apocrypha”) There are other books which seem to follow no regular order, and are connected neither with the order of the preceding books nor with one another, such as Job, and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Ezra, which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles. Next are the Prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David; and three books of Solomon, viz., Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon from a certain resemblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books, since they have attained recognition as being authoritative. . . . The authority of the Old Testament is contained within the limits of these forty-four books. (On Christian Doctrine, ii, 13; deuterocanonical books included are presently italicized; Augustine would have included Baruch as part of the book of Jeremiah)

35. Development of Doctrine For many things lay hid in the Scriptures: and when heretics had been cut off, with questions they troubled the Church of God: then those things were opened which lay hid, and the will of God was understood. . . . Therefore many men that could understand and expound the Scriptures very excellently, were hidden among the people of God: but they did not declare the solution of difficult questions, when no reviler again urged them. For was the Trinity perfectly treated of before the Arians snarled thereat? Was repentance perfectly treated of before the Novatians opposed? . . . (Expositions on the Psalms, [55, 21] )

36. Dissent (from Catholicism) / Anti-Catholicism “Let them be confounded and turned backward, as many as have evil will at Sion” [Psalm 129:5]. They who hate Sion, hate the Church: Sion is the Church. And they who hypocritically enter into the Church, hate the Church. They who refuse to keep the Word of God, hate the Church . . . (Expositions on the Psalms, 129:5 [129, 8] )

37. Divorce and Remarriage . . . the sanctity of the Sacrament, by reason of which it is unlawful for one who leaves her husband, even when she has been put away, to be married to another, so long as her husband lives, . . . (On the Good of Marriage, 32)

38. Ecumenism But there may be something Catholic outside the Catholic Church, just as the name of Christ could exist outside the congregation of Christ, in which name he who did not follow with the disciples was casting out devils. [Mark 9:38] . . . (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, vii, 39, 77)

39. Eucharist and Salvation If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God’s most righteous wrath— in a word, from punishment— except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ. (On Nature and Grace, 2 [II] )

40. Eucharist: Transubstantiation . . . Catholics . . . have eaten the body of Christ, not only sacramentally but really, being incorporated in His body, as the apostle says, “We, being many, are one bread, one body;” [1 Corinthians 10:17] (City of God xxi, 20)

41. Eucharistic Adoration . . . He walked here in very flesh, and gave that very flesh to us to eat for our salvation; and no one eats that flesh, unless he has first worshipped: we have found out in what sense such a footstool of our Lord’s may be worshipped, and not only that we sin not in worshipping it, but that we sin in not worshipping. (Expositions on the Psalms, 99:5 [99, 8] )

42. Evangelical Counsels When the judges, however, accepted Pelagius’ answer, they did not take it to convey the idea that those persons keep all the commandments of the law and the gospel who over and above maintain the state of virginity, which is not commanded—but only this, that virginity, which is not commanded, is something more than conjugal chastity, which is commanded; . . . the state of virginity, persevered in to the last, which is not commanded, is more than the chastity of married life, which is commanded. (On the Proceedings of Pelagius, 29 [XIII] )

43. Excommunication . . . what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven,— for when the Church excommunicates, the excommunicated person is bound in heaven . . . (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 50, 12)

44. Faith Alone (Falsity of) Who is he that believes not that Jesus is the Christ? He that does not so live as Christ commanded. For many say, “I believe”: but faith without works saves not. Now the work of faith is Love, . . . (Homilies on the First Epistle of John, 10, 1)

45. Faith and Works Therefore, the apostle having said, “You are saved through faith,” [Ephesians 2:8] added, “And that not of yourselves, but it is the gift of God.” And again, lest they should say they deserved so great a gift by their works, he immediately added, “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” [Ephesians 2:9] Not that he denied good works, or emptied them of their value, when he says that “God renders to every man according to his works” [Romans 2:6]; but because works proceed from faith, and not faith from works. Therefore it is from Him that we have works of righteousness, from whom comes also faith itself . . . (On Grace and Free Will, 17)

46. Fast, Eucharistic Must we therefore censure the universal Church because the sacrament is everywhere partaken of by persons fasting? . . . for the honour of so great a sacrament, that the body of the Lord should take the precedence of all other food entering the mouth of a Christian . . . (Letters, 54 [6, 8]: to Januarius [400] )

47. Fasting and Abstinence And this is man’s righteousness in this life, fasting, alms, and prayer. Would you have your prayer fly upward to God? Make for it those two wings of alms and fasting. (Expositions on the Psalms, 43:5 [43, 7] )

48. Free Will . . . we may not so defend grace as to seem to take away free will, or, on the other hand, so assert free will as to be judged ungrateful to the grace of God, in our arrogant impiety. (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism ii, 28 [XVIII] )

49. Free Will and God’s Foreknowledge . . . we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God, to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious. But we embrace both. We faithfully and sincerely confess both. The former, that we may believe well; the latter, that we may live well. (City of God v, 10)

50. Friday Abstinence . . . the Lord suffered on the sixth day of the week, as is admitted by all: wherefore the sixth day also is rightly reckoned a day for fasting, as fasting is symbolic of humiliation; whence it is said, “I humbled my soul with fasting.” (Letters, 36 [13, 30]: to Casulanus [396] )

51. God: Circumincession / Coinherence / Perichoresis . . . we have already shown, by many modes of speech in the divine Scriptures, that, in this Trinity, what is said of each is also said of all, on account of the indivisible working of the one and same substance. (On the Trinity i, 12, 25)

52. God: Foreknowledge of . . . God most high, who is most rightly and most truly believed to know all things before they come to pass . . . (City of God v, 8)

53. God: Immutability (Unchangeable) And should any one suppose that anything in God’s substance or nature can suffer change or conversion, he will be held guilty of wild profanity. (On the Morals of the Catholic Church, 10)

54. God: Impeccability of (Impossibility of Sinning) Then again, inasmuch as, in an infinitely greater degree, it is God’s not to sin, shall we therefore venture to say that He is able both to sin and to avoid sin? God forbid that we should ever say that He is able to sin! (On Nature and Grace, 57 [XLIX] )

55. God: Middle Knowledge of For God knows His own future action, and therefore He knows also the effect of that action in preventing the happening of what would otherwise have happened . . . (Against Faustus the Manichee xxvi, 4)

56. God: Omniscience of The infinity of number, though there be no numbering of infinite numbers, is yet not incomprehensible by Him whose understanding is infinite. (City of God xii, 18)

57. God: Outside of Time But the place and time of these miracles are dependent on His unchangeable will, in which things future are ordered as if already they were accomplished. For He moves things temporal without Himself moving in time, He does not in one way know things that are to be, and, in another, things that have been; neither does He listen to those who pray otherwise than as He sees those that will pray. (City of God x, 12)

58. God, Providence of . . . all things in the universe, from the highest to the lowest, are governed by God’s providence. (Against Faustus the Manichee xxii, 19)

59. God: Self-Sufficiency of For He is perfect and independent, underived, not divided or scattered in space, but unchangeably self-existent, self-sufficient, and blessed in Himself. (Against Faustus the Manichee xiv, 11)

60. God: Simplicity of But the Catholic Church has taught me many other things also, . . . that God is not corporeal, that no part of Him can be perceived by corporeal eyes, that nothing of His Substance or Nature can any way suffer violence or change, or is compounded or formed . . . (On the Usefulness of Believing, 36)

61. God: Sustainer of Creation . . . sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. (The Confessions i, 4, 4)

62. God the Father: Monarchia / Principatus of The Holy Spirit thus receives of the Father, of whom the Son receives; for in this Trinity the Son is born of the Father, and from the Father the Holy Spirit proceeds. He, however, who is born of none, and proceeds from none, is the Father alone. (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 100, 4)

63. Gospels: Harmony of . . . any contradiction between the evangelists will fail to be detected, as nothing of that nature really exists. (Harmony of the Gospels iii, 2, 8)

64. Grace: Degrees or Greater Measure of . . . only let us love, only let us grow in grace . . . (Expositions on the Psalms [128, 8] )

65. Grace, Irresistible (Falsity of) If, however, being already regenerate and justified, he relapses of his own will into an evil life, assuredly he cannot say, “I have not received,” because of his own free choice to evil he has lost the grace of God, that he had received. (On Rebuke and Grace, 9 [VI] )

66. HadesSheol; Paradise; Intermediate State During the time, moreover, which intervenes between a man’s death and the final resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life which it led on earth. (Enchiridion: Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, 109)

67. Hardening of the Heart Nor should you take away from Pharaoh free will, because in several passages God says, “I have hardened Pharaoh;” or, “I have hardened” or “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart;” for it does not by any means follow that Pharaoh did not, on this account, harden his own heart. For this, too, is said of him, after the removal of the fly-plague from the Egyptians, in these words of the Scripture: “And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.” [Exodus 8:32] Thus it was that both God hardened him by His just judgment, and Pharaoh by his own free will. (On Grace and Free Will, 45 [XXIII] )

68. Hell (Eternal Punishment) It is in vain, then, that some, indeed very many, make moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, unintermitted torments of the lost, and say they do not believe it shall be so; . . . (Enchiridion: Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, 112)

69. Heresies . . . all the heresies have proceeded which deceive by the use of Christian terms. (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, v, 15, 20)

70. Holy Days Celebrate with temperance the birthdays of the Saints, that we may imitate those who have gone before us, . . . (Expositions on the Psalms, 89:52 [89, 41] )

71. Holy Items But, it will be said, we also have very many instruments and vessels made of materials or metal of this description for the purpose of celebrating the Sacraments, which being consecrated by these ministrations are called holy, in honour of Him who is thus worshipped for our salvation: . . . Do we pray unto them, because through them we pray to God? (Expositions on the Psalms, 115:7 [115, 7] )

72. Holy Places; Shrines But in regard to the answers to prayer which are visible to men, who can search out His reasons for appointing some places rather than others to be the scene of miraculous interpositions? To many the holiness of the place in which the body of the blessed Felix is buried is well known, and to this place I desired them to repair; because from it we may receive more easily and more reliably a written account of whatever may be discovered in either of them by divine interposition. (Letters, 78 [3]: to the Church at Hippo [404] )

73. Holy Spirit: Procession of (Filioque Dispute) And yet it is not to no purpose that in this Trinity the Son and none other is called the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit and none other the Gift of God, and God the Father alone is He from whom the Word is born, and from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds. And therefore I have added the word principally, because we find that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him. Therefore He so begot Him as that the common Gift should proceed from Him also, and the Holy Spirit should be the Spirit of both. (On the Trinity xv, 17, 29)

74. Homosexual Acts But as regards any part of the body which is not meant for generative purposes, should a man use even his own wife in it, it is against nature and flagitious. Indeed, the same apostle had previously [Romans 9:26] said concerning women: “Even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature;” and then concerning men he added, that they worked that which is unseemly by leaving the natural use of the woman. Therefore, by the phrase in question, “the natural use,” it is not meant to praise conjugal connection; but thereby are denoted those flagitious deeds which are more unclean and criminal than even men’s use of women, which, even if unlawful, is nevertheless natural. (On Marriage and Concupiscence ii, 35 [XX] )

75. Images, Icons, and Statues: Use and Veneration of But in regard to pictures and statues, and other works of this kind, which are intended as representations of things, nobody makes a mistake, especially if they are executed by skilled artists, but every one, as soon as he sees the likenesses, recognizes the things they are likenesses of. (On Christian Doctrine, ii, 39)

76. Indulgences . . . when one is reconciled by the Church, the person so reconciled is loosed in heaven . . . (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 50, 12)

77. Jesus Christ: Supposed “Ignorance” of Certain Matters . . . they ought to have said to Him, whom they knew to be omniscient, “Thou needest not to ask any man,” . . . He, who knew all things, had no need even of that, and as little need had He of discovering by their questions what it was that any one desired to know of Him, for before a question was put, He knew the intention of him who was to put it. (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 103, 2)

78. Jonah and the Whale . . . either all the miracles wrought by divine power may be treated as incredible, or there is no reason why the story of this miracle should not be believed. The resurrection of Christ Himself upon the third day would not be believed by us, if the Christian faith was afraid to encounter Pagan ridicule. . . . I am much surprised that he reckoned what was done with Jonah to be incredible; unless, perchance, he thinks it easier for a dead man to be raised in life from his sepulchre, than for a living man to be kept in life in the spacious belly of a sea monster. . . . with how much greater force might they pronounce it incredible that the three young men cast into the furnace by the impious king walked unharmed in the midst of the flames! (Letters, 102 [30-32]: to Deogratias [409] )

79. Judgment and Works Next, in what manner is that true which He will say unto them whom He will set on his left hand, Go ye into everlnsting fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels? Whom He rebukes, not because they have not believed in Him, but because they have not done good works. (On Faith and Works, 25)

80. Judgment of Nations Accordingly this seems to me to be one principal reason why the good are chastised along with the wicked, when God is pleased to visit with temporal punishments the profligate manners of a community. They are punished together, not because they have spent an equally corrupt life, but because the good as well as the wicked, though not equally with them, love this present life; . . . (City of God i, 9)

81. Justification, Infused As therefore, for example’s sake, a man who is lamed by a wound is cured in order that his step for the future may be direct and strong, its past infirmity being healed, so does the Heavenly Physician cure our maladies, not only that they may cease any longer to exist, but in order that we may ever afterwards be able to walk aright—to which we should be unequal, even after our healing, except by His continued help. . . . For, just as the eye of the body, even when completely sound, is unable to see unless aided by the brightness of light, so also man, even when most fully justified, is unable to lead a holy life, if he be not divinely assisted by the eternal light of righteousness. God, therefore, heals us not only that He may blot out the sin which we have committed, but, furthermore, that He may enable us even to avoid sinning. (On Nature and Grace, 29 [XXVI] )

82. Lent . . . Christians, not heretics, but Catholics, in order to subdue the body, that the soul may be more humbled in prayer, abstain not only from animal food, but also from some vegetable productions, without, however, believing them to be unclean. A few do this always; and at certain seasons or days, as in Lent, almost all, more or less, according to the choice or ability of individuals. (Against Faustus the Manichee xxx, 5)

83. Marriage: Sacrament . . . in the City of our God, in His Holy Hill, that is, in the Church, wherein of marriage, not the bond alone, but the Sacrament is so set forth, as that it is not lawful for a man to deliver his wife unto another . . . (On Faith and Works, 10)

84. Mary: Mother of God (Theotokos) Moreover, those parties also are to be abhorred who deny that our Lord Jesus Christ had in Mary a mother upon earth; . . . Neither is there anything to compel us to a denial of the mother of the Lord, in the circumstance that this word was spoken by Him: “Woman, what have I to do with you? Mine hour is not yet come.” But He rather admonishes us to understand that, in respect of His being God, there was no mother for Him, the part of whose personal majesty (cujus majestatis personam) He was preparing to show forth in the turning of water into wine. . . . if, on the ground of His having said, “Who is my mother?” every one should conclude that He had no mother on earth, then each should as matter of course be also compelled to deny that the apostles had fathers on earth; since He gave them an injunction in these terms: “Call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” (Of Faith and the Creed, 4, 9)

85. Mary: New Eve; Second Eve . . . since through a female death had happened unto us, life unto us through a female should be born: that so of either nature, that is, the female and male, the devil being overcome might be put to torment, seeing that he was rejoicing in the overthrow of both; . . . (On the Christian Conflict, 24)

86. Mary: Perpetual Virginity of . . . being born of a mother who, although she conceived without being touched by man and always remained thus untouched . . . (On Catechizing the Uninstructed, 22, 40)

87. Mary: Sinlessness We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin. [1 John 3:5] (On Nature and Grace, 42 [XXXVI] )

88. Mary: Virginity In Partu (During Childbirth) The body of the infant Jesus was brought forth from the womb of His mother, still a virgin, by the same power which afterwards introduced His body when He was a man through the closed door into the upper chamber. [John 20:26] (Letters, 137 [2, 8]: to Volusianus [412] )

89. Mass, Daily . . . some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; . . . (Letters, 54 [2, 2]: to Januarius [400] )

90. Mass, Sacrifice of And hence that true Mediator, in so far as, by assuming the form of a servant, He became the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, though in the form of God He received sacrifice together with the Father, with whom He is one God, yet in the form of a servant He chose rather to be than to receive a sacrifice, . . . Thus He is both the Priest who offers and the Sacrifice offered. And He designed that there should be a daily sign of this in the sacrifice of the Church, which, being His body, learns to offer herself through Him. Of this true Sacrifice the ancient sacrifices of the saints were the various and numerous signs; . . . To this supreme and true sacrifice all false sacrifices have given place. (City of God x, 20)

91. Mass, Sacrifice of (and the Crucifixion) You know that in ordinary parlance we often say, when Easter is approaching, “Tomorrow or the day after is the Lord’s Passion,” although He suffered so many years ago, and His passion was endured once for all time. In like manner, on Easter Sunday, we say, “This day the Lord rose from the dead,” although so many years have passed since His resurrection. But no one is so foolish as to accuse us of falsehood when we use these phrases, for this reason, that we give such names to these days on the ground of a likeness between them and the days on which the events referred to actually transpired, the day being called the day of that event, although it is not the very day on which the event took place, but one corresponding to it by the revolution of the same time of the year, and the event itself being said to take place on that day, because, although it really took place long before, it is on that day sacramentally celebrated.Was not Christ once for all offered up in His own person as a sacrifice? And yet, is He not likewise offered up in the sacrament as a sacrifice, not only in the special solemnities of Easter, but also daily among our congregations . . .? (Letters, 98 [9]: to Boniface [408] )

92. Merit Merit is accumulating now to the believer, and then the reward is paid into the hand of the beholder. . . . As far as each one has been a partaker of You, some less, some more, such will be the diversity of rewards in proportion to the diversity of merits . . . (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 68, 3)

93. Monks and Nuns . . . servants of God, who wished to hold a more lofty degree of sanctity in the Church, in cutting off all ties of secular hope, and dedicating a mind at liberty to their godly service of warfare . . . (On the Work of Monks, 19)

94. Mortification and Self-Denial Emulate each other in prayer with a holy rivalry, with one heart, for you wrestle not against each other, but against the devil, who is the common enemy of all the saints. “By fasting, by vigils, and all mortification of the body, prayer is greatly helped.” [Tobit 12:8] (Letters, 130 [16, 31]: to Proba [412] )

95. Original Sin; Fall of Man It was not I who devised the original sin, which the catholic faith holds from ancient times; but you, who deny it, are undoubtedly an innovating heretic. In the judgment of God, all are in the devil’s power, born in sin, unless they are regenerated in Christ. (On Marriage and Concupiscence ii, 25 [XII] )

96. Orthodoxy (Correct Beliefs) But the right faith of the Catholic Church rejects such a fiction, and perceives it to be a devilish doctrine: . . . Let us therefore reject this kind of error, which the Holy Church has anathematized from the beginning. (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 34, 2)

97. Paganism and Christianity Moreover, if those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said anything that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it. . . . take and turn to a Christian use. (On Christian Doctrine, ii, 60)

98. Papacy; Popes For who does not see in what degree Cœlestius was bound by the interrogations of your holy predecessor and by the answers of Cœlestius, whereby he professed that he consented to the letters of Pope Innocent, and fastened by a most wholesome chain, so as not to dare any further to maintain that the original sin of infants is not put away in baptism? . . . What could be more clear or more manifest than that judgment of the Apostolical See? (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians ii, 6 [IV] )

99. Paul the Apostle: Commissioned by the Church Let us beware of such dangerous temptations of pride, and let us rather consider the fact that the Apostle Paul himself, although stricken down and admonished by the voice of God from heaven, was yet sent to a man to receive the sacraments and be admitted into the Church; [Acts 9:3] . . . (On Christian Doctrine, Preface, 6)

100. Penance On this account it is also, either for the demonstration of our debt of misery, or for the amendment of our passing life, or for the exercise of the necessary patience, that man is kept through time in the penalty, even when he is no longer held by his sin as liable to everlasting damnation. (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 124, 5)

101. Peter: Primacy of . . . the Apostle Peter, in whom the primacy of the apostles shines with such exceeding grace, . . . I suppose that there is no slight to Cyprian in comparing him with Peter in respect to his crown of martyrdom; rather I ought to be afraid lest I am showing disrespect towards Peter. For who can be ignorant that the primacy of his apostleship is to be preferred to any episcopate whatever? (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, ii, 1, 2)

102. Prayer (of the Righteous) For one single prayer of one who obeys is sooner heard than ten thousand of a despiser. (On the Work of Monks, 20)

103. Priests; Sacrament of Holy Orders In like manner as if there take place an ordination of clergy in order to form a congregation of people, although the congregation of people follow not, yet there remains in the ordained persons the Sacrament of Ordination; and if, for any fault, any be removed from his office, he will not be without the Sacrament of the Lord once for all set upon him, albeit continuing unto condemnation. (On the Good of Marriage, 32)

104. Priests and “Call No Man ‘Father’” . . . Paul the elder says, “Not to confound you I am writing these things, but as my dearly beloved sons I am admonishing you:” [1 Corinthians 4:14] though he knew of a truth that it had been said by the Lord, “Call ye no man your father on earth, for One is your Father, even God.” [Matthew 23:9] And this was not said in order that this term of human honour should be erased from our usual way of speaking: but lest the grace of God whereby we are regenerated unto eternal life, should be ascribed either to the power or even sanctity of any man. (Expositions on the Psalms, 78:12 [78, 10] )

105. Procreation . . . cohabitation for the purpose of procreating children, which must be admitted to be the proper end of marriage, . . . child-bearing, which is the end and aim of marriage. (On Marriage and Concupiscence i, 16 [XIV] )

106. Purgatory . . . will any man say this time of faith can be placed on an equal footing with that consummation when they who offer sacrifices in righteousness shall be purified by the fire of the last judgment? . . . after the judgment those who are worthy of such purification shall be purified even by fire, and shall be rendered thoroughly sinless, and shall offer themselves to God in righteousness, and be indeed victims immaculate and free from all blemish whatever . . . (City of God xx, 26)

107. Relics For even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by His sacraments or by the prayers or relics of His saints . . . The miracle which was wrought at Milan when I was there, and by which a blind man was restored to sight, could come to the knowledge of many; . . . the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people that had gathered to the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, . . . By virtue of these remains the darkness of that blind man was scattered, and he saw the light of day. (City of God xxii, 8)

108. Reprobation; Causes of Damnation God no doubt wishes all men to be saved [1 Timothy 2:4] and to come into the knowledge of the truth; but yet not so as to take away from them free will, for the good or the evil use of which they may be most righteously judged. This being the case, unbelievers indeed do contrary to the will of God when they do not believe His gospel; nevertheless they do not therefore overcome His will, but rob their own selves of the great, nay, the very greatest, good, and implicate themselves in penalties of punishment, destined to experience the power of Him in punishments whose mercy in His gifts they despised. (On the Spirit and the Letter, 58)

109. Roman Primacy For already have two councils on this question been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The question has been brought to an issue; would that their error may sometime be brought to an issue too! (Sermons on the New Testament, 81, 10 [CXXXI] )

110. Rule of Faith / “Three-Legged Stool” (Bible-Church-Tradition) But those reasons which I have here given, I have either gathered from the authority of the church, according to the tradition of our forefathers, or from the testimony of the divine Scriptures, . . . No sober person will decide against reason, no Christian against the Scriptures, no peaceable person against the church. (On the Trinity iv, 6, 10)

111. Sacramentals and Sacramentalism Sanctification is not of merely one measure; for even catechumens, I take it, are sanctified in their own measure by the sign of Christ, and the prayer of imposition of hands; and what they receive is holy, although it is not the body of Christ—holier than any food which constitutes our ordinary nourishment, because it is a sacrament. (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism ii, 42)

112. Sacraments . . . that they may be healed of the plague of their sin by the medicine of His sacraments . . . (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism iii, 8)

113. Sacraments and Grace . . . grace, which is the virtue of the Sacraments, . . . (Expositions on the Psalms, 78:1 [78, 2] )

114. Sacraments and Salvation . . . the sacraments of the Church, without which there is no entrance to the life which is the true life. (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 120, 2)

115. Sacraments: Ex Opere Operato Remember, therefore, that the characters of bad men in no wise interfere with the virtue of the sacraments, so that their holiness should either be destroyed, or even diminished; but that they injure the unrighteous men themselves, that they should have them as witnesses of their damnation, not as aids to health. (Against the Letters of Petilian the Donatist, ii, 47, 110)

116. Saints: Awareness of and Contact with This World Hence too is solved that question, how is it that the Martyrs, by the very benefits which are given to them that pray, indicate that they take an interest in the affairs of men, if the dead know not what the quick are doing. . . . We are not to think then, that to be interested in the affairs of the living is in the power of any departed who please, only because to some men’s healing or help the Martyrs be present: but rather we are to understand that it must needs be by a Divine power that the Martyrs are interested in affairs of the living, from the very fact that for the departed to be by their proper nature interested in affairs of the living is impossible. (On the Care of the Dead, 19)

117. Saints, Communion of For the souls of the pious dead are not separated from the Church, which even now is the kingdom of Christ; otherwise there would be no remembrance made of them at the altar of God in the partaking of the body of Christ, . . . For why are these things practised, if not because the faithful, even though dead, are His members? (City of God xx, 9)

118. Saints, Incorruptible Bodies of . . . the bodies of Gervasius and Protasius, the martyrs (whom You had in Your secret storehouse preserved uncorrupted for so many years), . . . (The Confessions ix, 7, 16)

119. Saints, Intercession of It is true that Christians pay religious honor to the memory of the martyrs, both to excite us to imitate them and to obtain a share in their merits, and the assistance of their prayers. (Against Faustus the Manichee xx, 21)

120. Saints, Invocation of 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 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)

121. Saints, Veneration of But we build altars not to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs, although it is to the memory of the martyrs. No one officiating at the altar in the saints’ burying-place ever says, We bring an offering to you, O Peter! Or O Paul! Or O Cyprian! The offering is made to God, who gave the crown of martyrdom, while it is in memory of those thus crowned. The emotion is increased by the associations of the place, and love is excited both towards those who are our examples, and towards Him by whose help we may follow such examples. We regard the martyrs with the same affectionate intimacy that we feel towards holy men of God in this life, when we know that their hearts are prepared to endure the same suffering for the truth of the gospel. There is more devotion in our feeling towards the martyrs, because we know that their conflict is over; and we can speak with greater confidence in praise of those already victors in heaven, than of those still combating here. (Against Faustus the Manichee xx, 21)

122. Sanctification But it may be inquired how they were no more of the world, if they were not yet sanctified in the truth; or, if they already were, why He requests that they should be so. Is it not because even those who are sanctified still continue to make progress in the same sanctification, and grow in holiness; and do not so without the aid of God’s grace, but by His sanctifying of their progress, even as He sanctified their outset? And hence the apostle likewise says: “He who has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:6] (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 108, 2)

123. Scripture: Canon of . . . to maintain this opposition he must bring evidence in support of his statement from writings acknowledged by the Church as canonical and catholic, not from any writings he pleases. In the matters of which we are now treating, only the canonical writings have any weight with us; for they only are received and acknowledged by the Church spread over all the world, which is itself a fulfillment of the prophecies regarding it contained in these writings. (Against Faustus the Manichee xxiii, 9)

124. Scripture: Perspicuity (Clearness of) For many meanings of the holy Scriptures are concealed, and are known only to a few of singular intelligence . . . (Expositions on the Psalms, 68:30 [68, 36] )

125. Scripture: Septuagint (Ancient Greek Translation) . . . the Septuagint translators, who, being themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their translation . . . (On Christian Doctrine, iv, 15) [the Septuagint included the deuterocanonical books]

126. Sin: Mortal and Venial He, however, is not unreasonably said to walk blamelessly, not who has already reached the end of his journey, but who is pressing on towards the end in a blameless manner, free from damnable sins, and at the same time not neglecting to cleanse by almsgiving such sins as are venial. (On Man’s Perfection in Righteousness, 9, 20)

127. Sola Scriptura (Falsity of) For if none have baptism who entertain false views about God, it has been proved sufficiently, in my opinion, that this may happen even within the Church. “The apostles,” indeed, “gave no injunctions on the point;” but the custom, which is opposed to Cyprian, may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings. (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, v, 23, 31)

128. Suffering, Redemptive (Participation in Christ’s Suffering) . . . whatsoever thing you suffer from those that are not in the members of Christ, was wanting to the sufferings of Christ. Therefore it is added because it was wanting; you fill up the measure, you cause it not to run over: you suffer so much as was to be contributed out of your sufferings to the whole suffering of Christ, that has suffered in our Head, and does suffer in His members, that is, in our own selves. (Expositions on the Psalms, [62, 2])

129. Synergy: Cooperation with God’s Grace as “Co-Laborers” . . . the grace of God, which does work not only remission of sins, but also does make the spirit of man to work together therewith in the work of good deeds, . . . To believe in God therefore is this, in believing to cleave unto God who works good works, in order to work with Him well. (Expositions on the Psalms, 78:8 [78, 7] )

130. Theosis; Divinization For this thing God does, out of sons of men He makes sons of God: because out of Son of God He has made Son of Man. See what this participation is: there has been promised to us a participation of Divinity: . . . For the Son of God has been made partaker of mortality, in order that mortal man may be made partaker of divinity. . . . He that to you has promised divinity, shows in you love. (Expositions on the Psalms, 53:3 [53, 5] )

131. Total Depravity (Falsity of); Human Nature . . . no one is evil by nature, but whoever is evil is evil by vice . . . (City of God xiv, 6)

132. Tradition, Apostolic But such a Council had not yet been held [in the third century], because the whole world was bound together by the powerful bond of custom; and this was deemed sufficient to oppose to those who wished to introduce what was new, because they could not comprehend the truth. (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, ii, 9, 14)

133. Tradition, Oral And this custom, coming, I suppose, from tradition (like many other things which are held to have been handed down under their actual sanction, because they are preserved throughout the whole Church, though they are not found either in their letters, or in the Councils of their successors), . . . (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, ii, 7, 12)

134. Works, Good (in Grace) If the love of the Father abide not in you, you are not born of God. How do you boast to be a Christian? You have the name, and hast not the deeds. But if the work shall follow the name, let any call you pagan, show by deeds that you are a Christian. For if by deeds you do not show yourself a Christian, all men may call you a Christian yet; what does the name profit you where the thing is not forthcoming? (Homilies on the First Epistle of John, 5, 12)

135. Worship (Latria) What is properly divine worship, which the Greeks call latria, and for which there is no word in Latin, both in doctrine and in practice, we give only to God. . . . holy beings themselves, whether saints or angels, refuse to accept what they know to be due to God alone. (Against Faustus the Manichee xx, 21)

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.

* * * * *


August 8, 2015

Vision of Cornelius the Centurion (1664) by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout  (1621-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

The Bible looks negatively on what it describes as “blasphemy” — not just against God, but against holy persons or those set apart for His purposes (Moses: Acts 6:11; St. Paul: Acts 13:45; 18:6; saints in heaven: Rev 13:6; Christians in general: 1 Pet 4:4), and against angels (2 Pet 2:10; Jude 8; Rev 13:6). The same words for blasphemy are used for men, angels, and God.

This is because these men and angels serve as His messengers (2 Cor 8:23), direct representatives (Matt 10:40; Lk 10:16; Jn 13:20), ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20; Eph 6:20; Phlm 1:9), or witnesses (Jn 15:27; 19:35; 21:24; Acts 1:8; 2:32; 3:15; 10:39-41; 23:11; 1 Pet 5:1; Rev 1:2; 6:9). Indeed, Christians are even described as “fellow workers” with Him (1 Cor 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1; Phil 2:12-13). The Church is equated with Jesus Himself (both being persecuted in the same actions: Acts 26:11, 14-15), and there is also an identification of the Church “Body of Christ” with Christ Himself (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22-23; 5:30; Col 1:24).

The aspect of divinization, or theosis, is a biblical motif of very close identification and union with God:

Acts 17:28 (RSV) for ‘In him we live and move and have our being‘: . . .

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. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Ephesians 3:19 . . . to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

Ephesians 4:13 . . . mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-4 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, [4] by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.

In other words, the key is affinity with, or closeness; proximity to God. Just as God can be blasphemed, in a lesser but still very real sense, so can His ambassadors and witnesses. There is the primary Being: God, and the secondary ones: His vessels. They reflect and represent God; therefore, as such, people can scorn and reject and blaspheme them just as they do God.

It seems to straightforwardly follow, then, by analogy, that if a rejection or blasphemy of God can be expressed via an essentially lesser but connected rejection or blasphemy of His ambassadors (the lesser vessel being in close affinity with the greater source), by the same token and principle and logic, conversely, the worship of God can be expressed via an essentially lesser but connected  veneration of His ambassadors.

In this manner, the wider application of blasphemy in Scripture to creatures suggests by symmetrical analogy, a wider application of honoring: expressed in veneration of creatures, which is distinct (but not altogether disconnected) from the adoration that God alone is entitled to, as Creator. The creatures reflect the Creator like the painting reflects the painter, or moonlight, the sunlight that is the source of it.

Moreover, we see that the Bible refers blasphemy of men almost solely to the most eminent of God’s followers (Paul, Moses, and perfected saints in heaven): and angels even higher in the scale of things. Thus, by analogy, the relatively greater veneration would be towards those who had attained a higher holiness and sanctity; hence in the Bible we see a differential “system” of blasphemy / veneration not unlike how the Catholic Church ranks lesser and greater saints, with the greater receiving more veneration.

Lastly, the biblical data about blasphemy of immaterial holy things (the gospel, Christian doctrine, the law, the Temple) leads to the opposite analogy of reverence of those same holy things and places (“The Holy Bible”: as even Protestants call it; the Holy Land, icons, Church sanctuaries, statues representing saints, etc.). The essential and fundamental, presuppositional  principles of all these things are clearly laid down in the Bible, if not explicitly in every jot and tittle.


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