Either the Saints Are Alive or Jesus is Dead

I have written before on the controversy in early Anglicanism about the interpretation of Article XXII and its ban on the invocation of the saints. To be sure, classical Anglicanism sought to distance itself from the folk practices of saint worship that were being carried out in churches throughout Europe, from the buying and selling of relics to the cottage industry that had developed in assigning specific saints to specific tasks (carried over today into popular practices like burying a figure of Saint Joseph upside down in the backyard when you want to sell your home). Nonetheless, there was legitimate disagreement amongst early Anglicans over whether the problem of saint worship included the much more ancient practice of asking the saints for their prayers, a practice that is taken for granted and even commended by many of the Fathers.

A Classical Anglican Perspective

The Scottish priest William Forbes (1585-1634) was among those who fought adamantly for the licitness of calling upon the saints for intercession. Forbes’ only surviving major work, Considerationes Modestae, was published posthumously in 1658, at the high point of classical High Churchmanship in the Church of England. In it, the extremely learned Divine makes the case that the practice of asking the saints for their prayers should not be a Church dividing matter:

Whatever the more rigid Protestants may formerly have taught, or even teach at the present day, that it is not certain that the Saints departed pray for the living; not even in general–yet all their more just and sound divines are of the same mind as was James 6, the ever-to-be-praised King of Great Britain in his answer written by Isaac Casaubon to the letter of Cardinal du Perron, “His Majesty venerates the blessed Martyrs and other saints now reigning with Christ, Who is the head of the triumphant and of the militant Church, and he does not doubt that they assiduously pray for the necessities of the Church, and firmly believes that their prayers are not useless.”

Nay some Protestants do not deny that it is probable that the Saints departed pray for the living even in particular.

Forbes makes his case through extensive quotation from the Fathers as well as from his contemporaries, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. The thrust of his argument is simply that the practice of asking the saints for their prayers is so ancient and so universally held throughout the Church that to dismiss it would be an incredible act of hubris. He does, however, make a distinction between invocation, which belongs to God alone, and advocation, which can be applied not only to the saints departed but also to the living, as well as to requests made of angels:

The bare addressing of angels and saints, whereby they are admonished and invited, that they should pray to God with us and for us, in the same way that we ask good persons during their life-time that they should intercede with God for us, join their prayers to ours, and make our salvation a continual object of them,–We, with those Protestants who love to speak rather more cautiously and distinctly than do many others, term, a calling upon: for Protestants in general can scarcely bear to hear the word ‘invocation’ applied to the saints… That it should be called ‘advocation’ or a ‘calling unto’ is preferred…

As Forbes notes, this is generally how Roman Catholics describe what they are doing when they pray to the saints, though he is quick to criticize the rampant folk practices of ascribing super powers to saints, calling upon them for remedies on their own merits rather than by the power of Christ, and praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary because she seems somehow easier to talk to than the Lord Himself, towards all of which the Roman Church of his day was largely willing to turn a blind eye. Forbes sees these as abuses worthy of refutation by Anglicans and other Protestants, but he believes that if everyone understood each other better, there would be no discernible reason why the issue of asking the saints for prayer should cause division.

The Saints Are Alive in Christ

Forbes’ case for allowing latitude on this issue is a good one, but I believe it is incomplete in one very important way. He argues that asking the saints for their prayers is a matter of adiaphora since Scripture does not directly reveal one way or the other whether the saints are capable of hearing our prayers and responding. He sees such prayers as being on the same level as the giving or a ring in marriage, something which is neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture and therefore something which the Church may make use of but which cannot be held by the Church to be necessary for every person to believe. To a certain extent Forbes is right, in that no one has ever been required to ask the saints for their prayers and no one ever should be. Yet it would not be fair to say that nothing is at stake here given that the entire idea of a Communion of Saints that includes both the living and the dead is predicated upon the truth of the Gospel, particularly the truth of the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

It is no accident that we speak of the “Communion of Saints” and the “resurrection of the dead” within one breath in the Nicene Creed. The heart of our faith as Christians is the conviction that in Jesus, God truly became a human being, taking on our sin and dying in our place, then rising from the grave to a new and better resurrected life that is, nevertheless, still completely human. Jesus did not cease to be a human being at the moment of His Ascension. He lives on in the fullness of what awaits all of us, a resurrected body and soul.

The saints are those who have been been perfected in their holiness by being covered in Christ’s Blood and made one with Him. They are not yet resurrected, at least from our vantage point within time, but they are one with Christ, still very much alive. If it is impossible for the saints to hear the calls for intercession that we lift up, and even more impossible for them to do anything with them, on the grounds that they are dead and waiting while we are still alive, then it must be equally impossible for Christ Himself to hear our pleas since He is also dead and gone. We cannot have it both ways. Either the saints and all the faithful departed are alive in Christ, in which case they are not so radically far away from us as it seems, or else they are dead because He is dead, cut off from us because He is cut off from us.

New Prayer, Ancient Truth

Modern Anglicanism has been more amenable than the Anglicanism of previous eras to the practice of asking the saints for their prayers, most likely under the influence of Anglo-Catholicism. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer goes so far as to include this prayer in the burial service:

O God, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we beseech thee that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Admittedly, this prayer does not have a long history of Anglican usage, and perhaps some of the Reformers would have balked at it, but it sums up beautifully the teaching of the early Church, reiterated and defended by Forbes and others, that both the example and the prayers of the saints are a testimony to the Gospel. Far from being replacements for Christ, they bear witness to the living hope that is Christ’s death for us and His resurrection which we shall one day share in.

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32 Responses to Either the Saints Are Alive or Jesus is Dead

  1. Interesting. I guess my only question would be the Anglican definition of “saint.” Are we restriciting it to those who have been canonized by the church, or using the more liberal manner of Paul who calls all believers “saints?” With the later, I agree, God is God of the living, and the departed in Christ live in Him, so why not ask Grandma to pray for me, as well as a more “historical” saint that I may have affinity for?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Chris,

      I think that we can apply this understanding generally to the saints known and unknown, as the prayer from the 1979 BCP does. The saints are those who have been made holy, Christians who have run the race, so to speak, and the Communion of Saints includes many more people than just those whom the Church has recognized. In the more narrow sense, the saints that the Church recognizes are those who have lived exemplary lives of faith, whom we can look to as inspiration in our own discipleship. But I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t ask Grandma to pray for us, particularly if we’re going to ask Saint Swythin of the Swamp to do so.

  2. “If it is impossible for the saints to hear the calls for intercession that we lift up, and even more impossible for them to do anything with them, on the grounds that they are dead and waiting while we are still alive, then it must be equally impossible for Christ Himself to hear our pleas since He is also dead and gone. ”

    Important distinctions are here left out:
    1) Christ is physically resurrected and hence is alive in the fullest sense of the word.
    2) The saints are NOT (yet) physically resurrected, and hence their resurrection or alive-ness is not complete. As to their spirits currently being in heaven–this is a mystery, not (even) required in the creeds (as an Anglican seminary professor of mine was fond to say, “Orthodoxy does not require you to believe the immortality of the soul, but it does require you to acknowledge the resurrection of the dead.”)
    3) God alone has omniscience–or an all-knowing nature, enabling him to hear our prayers.
    4) Spiritual union with God does NOT mean creatures will ever be given His attributes–such as omniscience.
    5) While not expressly forbidden in scripture–IF prayers to saints are so helpful and effective…it’s a shame that St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, St. Luke, St. James…along with all other NT authors apparently didn’t know about it…and left it out. (Isn’t it great that Tradition has made us so much smarter and wiser than the Apostles???)

    Since the only possible way for the spirits of saints to hear us, is through the agency of God Himself, the idea of praying to the spirits of saints–even if God allows them some of His insight to events on earth, is also a lot like, if you were invited for a regular audience with the President, and you ignored him, and decided it was just easier to talk with his aides.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Ralph,

      To respond to your concerns:

      1) & 2) It is true that Christ’s resurrection is immediate and ours is “on the last day.” This does not necessarily mean, however, that those who have died continue to be bound by time. That is, rather, an open question. It is entirely possible that the saints are in some sense simultaneously awaiting the last day and already experiencing it. It is difficult to know. What I think we have to affirm, though, is that the saints are alive and worshiping God, in whatever state they’re in. My contention here has to do with what it means to truly be alive, or more specifically, to be alive in Christ. It seems antithetical to me that we could be alive in Christ and yet somehow not alive in any other sense.

      3) & 4) It does not require omniscience to hear someone say something directly to you. If it did, I would not be able to ask anyone for prayer. Remember, the distinction here is that saints are not hearing prayers. They are responding to a request to say a prayer themselves.

      5) This is an argument from silence. There is also no indication that any of those folks were ever confirmed, or that those who were married wore wedding rings, or that they ever attended a church potluck. There are many things that are not mentioned in Scripture that the earliest Christians did, and many things that they didn’t do that are nonetheless perfectly ok and even salutary for us to do. This was one of the major differences between early Anglicans and Puritans, the acceptance of extra-biblical practices that did not violate biblical teaching. Moreover, the evidence of early Christians engaging in this sort of plea for intercession runs very deep and includes many of the great Fathers who are most cited by our Reformers for their true interpretation of Scripture, men like Augustine, Chrysostom, and much earlier figures like Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, etc. It is, of course, possible that all of these men got it wrong and we have it right, but we had better have rock solid evidence to make such a case. Otherwise, even if we don’t adopt their practice, we do well not to condemn it, especially if we don’t understand it.

      As regards your last concern, Forbes himself wrote how important it was that we not lose sight of the fact that Christ alone deserves the glory and all praise is due to Him. Forbes also cites a number of Roman Catholic authors who chastised their fellow churchmen for giving the saints a kind of reverence due to Christ alone. However, to say that it is possible to make such a mistake is not the same as actually making it, unless you are suggesting that anyone and everyone who has ever asked a saint for intercession did so out of a lack of proper reverence for God. The only way that any of us are able to do anything at all, saints and sinners alike, is because God makes it possible. If asking the saints to pray for me steals my attention from Christ and puts it unduly on mere mortals, than the same has to be said of asking friends and family to pray for me. There is, to my knowledge, no argument against asking the prayers of the saints that doesn’t also anathematize asking other people around me for prayers, unless of course the saints are not really alive, which brings us right back to where we started from.

  3. I like this post. It’s easier to approach saints, because they were fully human, struggled with the same things you did etc, and see what God’s grace did through them. Human people need human friends, not that Jesus cannot be our friend.

    Intercession to the saints is found in scripture.

    In the book of Revelation, John sees that “the twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). Thus the saints in heaven offer to God the prayers of the saints on earth.

    Angels do the same thing: “[An] angel came and stood at the altar [in heaven] with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Rev. 8:3–4).

    Jesus himself warned us not to offend small children, because their guardian angels have guaranteed intercessory access to the Father: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10).

  4. gonzalezcaa says:

    If one wanted to read up on this some more, where would one find the many examples of Church Fathers and ancient theologians advocating the practice of asking saints (church victorious, not militant) for prayers that you referenced?

  5. “It does not require omniscience to hear someone say something directly to you. ” IF YOU AREN’T THERE IT DOES! The spirits of the saints are NOT here, rather they are in Heaven.

    God in Heaven–whatever the nature of Heaven is–hears us as He has omniscience and omnipresence–and timelessness–we do not–and we have no indication from scripture that creatures will ever be given these divine qualities. Therefore if I desire my deceased sister’s spirit to pray for me, other than God telling her that I “have called” she has no way to hear me, or to communicate back–any more than if you asked me to pray for you now…by merely speaking into the air. Basic reason just shows one has to pray to God first–before any kind of communication can come to a saint in Heaven who lacks an all-knowing nature.

    As to timelessness of saints in heaven? That’s interesting, but entirely speculation–and inconceivable too, as the entire of human experience is in the passing of time–and timelessness, like omniscience and omnipresence, is not an attribute imaginable to be communicable to a creature.

    We actually do have an example in the Bible of a man asking the spirit of a saint to pray for him, in King Saul using the unlawful necromancy of the Witch of Endor–through which he received a final curse of judgement from God through Samuel’s spirit disturbed…(1 Sam 28:3–25)

    We have the example of Old Testament saints too–who, though our Lord confirmed God is “the God of of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of the living, not the dead,” and proved it in the Transfiguration with the living Moses and Elijah……would not of DREAMED of trying to communicate with those saints who have died–as again, we are shown that such is by definition…necromancy, an art forbidden by the death penalty in the OT economy.

    So how does what scripture calls necromancy–communication with those who have died–an exceedingly evil, wicked thing, become completely turned around and a good thing on the word of those outside of the Apostolic witness of holy Scripture? I’m all for reading and obeying the traditions of the Fathers when they are connected to scripture–but in this, there simply is no connection.

    Why are Anglicans (as is true with the AMiA) now, for the first time since the Reformation, affirming the 7th Ecumenical Council (which allows prayers to saints among other things) instead of the historical Anglican affirmation of only the first four?

    And what of Article VI on the sufficiency of scripture? If “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” …how can prayers-to-saints-for-prayers-to-God (and make no mistake, if you are asking a saint who is in Heaven to pray for you…the last time I heard, the only way to do that is to attempt to pray to that saint….unless you pray to God first, to ask the saint…..and then why do you need the saint to ask God on your behalf?) be so terrifically helpful–since they are entirely unnecessary for salvation?

    It doesn’t take a Puritan to reject biblically ungrounded prayers to saints.

    You can say it’s an argument from silence, none-the-less it is a powerful one–how is it we can posit that certain Fathers (most of whom–despite their proximity in time to the Apostles–had a very pagan background and education) knew better for our spiritual health and sanctification–than the Apostles themselves? If such prayers are so helpful (and people who pray to saints ALWAYS say how helpful they are…) why would the Holy Spirit through the Apostles’ written witness forget to tell us about them? Why don’t we rather follow the example of the Apostles on this issue, and their and Jesus’ direct counsel on how to best pray?

    Isn’t Jesus adequate to be our Heavenly Mediator? (I Tim 2:5)

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Ralph,

      Several brief thoughts come to mind, as I’m about to run out the door…

      1) The wall between heaven and us is not so radically strong that it prevents the angels from hearing us. Why would they hear us and not the saints?

      2) If timelessness is impossible to communicate to creatures, we’re all in quite a bit of trouble since we are meant to spend eternity with a God who is timeless. There is nothing about time that suggests that it is an immutable part of the human condition, otherwise Christ Himself would continue to be bound by it, at least as regards His humanity. I appreciate your desire to uphold that God is radically different from us, but I think that this can be pushed too far. The Kingdom of God is breaking in all around us, as Jesus says repeatedly throughout the Gospels. For Christians, the line between heaven and earth, while still present, is very thin and in some places, like in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, it is traversed entirely.

      3) It is patently absurd to compare the faithful asking the saints to pray for them with Saul using black sorcery to conjure up the spirit of Samuel. Catholic Christians who ask the saints for their prayers are not trying to raise them from the dead or capture their spirits, nor are they attempting to force them to show us future events, nor any other kind of occult practice. Do you seriously believe that every person who ever prayed a rosary is guilty of necromancy? Including Augustine, Chrysostom, and the rest?

      4) I have never understood the objection to the Seventh Ecumenical Council on anything other than semantic grounds. It is customary amongst Anglicans only to affirm the first four councils, but there is no hard and fast rule, and there have always been Anglicans who have advocated accepting all seven (Richard Field and William Laud being the prime examples amongst the early Divines).

      5) Who said anything about salvation? Is the only reason to do anything because it will win me or won’t win me salvation? I have no idea what the effect is of the Virgin Mary’s prayers for me. I also have no idea what the effect of my friends’ prayers for me are, nor mine for them, but I believe God answers all prayers as He sees fit. Jesus is absolutely all sufficient, but if my brothers and sisters in Christ are really united with me through the Body of Christ, I find it unnecessary to assume that having them participate in prayer with me is somehow usurping the throne of the Lord.

  6. There is a difference between necessary and possible. Is it necessary to ask the saints for prayer? Obviously not, for we cannot require of any man that which the scripture does not require. Is it possible to ask others to pray for you? Obviously. But, we can be “saved” without anyone’s help. (Well, not really I would argue, but without getting too picky.) You can find the Gideon Bible on your own, read it, be convicted by the Spirit and respond in faith, and then die in a hotel fire that night. It’s possible. It’s not the normal route. It’s not the preferred route.

    We don’t have to ask others (living or dead) to pray for us. I do think it is shame that so many contemporary Christians are functionally annihilationist. Once someone dies we act like they are totally gone. The Biblical record does not support that. Saul having Samuel’s spirit recalled from the dead is a pretty problematic example.

    To what degree do we have interaction with the faithful departed? I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to ONLY ask Grandma to pray for me. I can certainly approach the throne on my own behalf, but in certain cases it can be a comfort to know we can (at least possibly) call on others to intercede with us, even when we are physically alone.

  7. MichaelA says:

    “To be sure, classical Anglicanism sought to distance itself from the folk practices of saint worship that were being carried out in churches throughout Europe…”

    I think that’s probably the biggest issue to watch out for. The official doctrinal positions of most churches are mostly unobjectionable, but even today the actual practice of many christians can be quite different. This is particularly so in some parts of the world where Christian belief doesn’t seem to have penetrated very deeply, and praying to saints often seems to operate as a thinly-veiled substitute for their predecessors’ polytheism or ancestor-worship. That was also a widespread problem in medieval times, hence the concern of the reformers expressed in Article XII.

  8. Tiller says:

    I would like to add that Hebrews 11-12:2 has really informed my perspective on this issue. The writer of Hebrews walks through many of the Old Testament saints, their lives, and the ways they were mightily used of God in chapter eleven, colloquially called the “Hall of Faith.” He then immediately concludes from this overview with the opening of chapter twelve:

    “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 endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV-UK

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=hebrews%2011-12:2&version=ESVUK

    They are witnesses of our actions, and knowledge of the fact that they are observing our lives is to motivate us toward righteous living, and away from sin.

    I don’t know about you, but I root for my team. This is precisely the image of this passage: The saints in heaven are rooting for us! Why would we be surprised that they also pray for us?

  9. Interesting post. Some commenters have raised some good distinctions, and I think you have responded well. As to Scripture, I do think there is one incident that reflects a tad on the issue — and it does so whether a parable or an incident: Lazarus and Dives. It’s true, of course, that both of them are “dead” in their respective niches, but the rich man clearly “prays” to Abraham, asking for intervention in the life of the ongoing world. (And is there some hint of a second thought in the raising of the other Lazarus?)

    I think it safe to say that the “vain invocation” railed against can be understood as that kind of demigod or superhero sort of prayer to the saints; as opposed to the comprecation that evokes rather than invokes, joining our prayers with theirs.

    Thanks for the thought provocation…

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Good point about the story of Lazarus and the rich man. I usually shy away from referencing it in this context because, as you said, the conversation is going on between two people who are dead, one in heaven and the other in hell (or hades if we want to be literal). But Abraham makes clear that the line between heaven and hell is very sharp, so much so that he cannot traverse it, and yet he is able to interact with the rich man there. It would seem strange indeed if the line between heaven and earth were somehow even greater.

      • Joshua says:

        I have always understood this to be a parable. The difference being that real biblical names are used. I never thought this actually happened, but that it was an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        It is a parable, but parables contain real truth. If this parable represents Jesus using false and impossible, even blasphemous, images to tell a story, it is the only one. Jesus often employed fiction to make a point, but never science fiction.

  10. Cadog says:

    This is a teaching often associated with Roman Catholicism that I don’t have a problem with. I think I am somewhat agnostic as to whether the saints HEAR our prayers, for some of the reasons Ralph states. The metaphysical aspects of the biblical record make it hard to wrap my mind around. But it certainly seems possible, and consistent with the passage Tiller cites (the “cloud of witnesses” is an especially compelling word picture … really spine tingling when you think about it). I had also thought of the rich man and Lazarus, glad Tobias raised it. But between that and the Endor story — not much to go on, though I wonder if other appearances such as angelic or even the Transfiguration might also shed light. Careful consideration seems in order … but proper understanding and practice of honoring saints and advoking (cool new word!) their intercession — would not seem to amount to necromancy.

  11. Joshua says:

    I have heard arguments go both ways on this. I have no problem asking a saint or the blessed Virgin Mary to pray for me, but I do not think that it makes me more Anglican than someone who does. I think we can all agree that the saints pray for us in heaven. It is asking them to pray for us that some people have an issue with. I am kind of agnostic on this practice also. The good part about praying to the saints is that it reminds us that they are alive in Christ and that we all pray together to the same God. At the same time this practice has definitely been misused and I think we need to be careful with it. I find that it is extracurricular and has nothing to do with salvation.

  12. Cadog says:

    Couple further comments after a glance thru CS Lewis:

    1. He wrote favorably re. prayer WITH the saints, and cautiously endorsed prayer to them (but I think he meant advocation (he uses the word “devotion” though)). From Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, in Letter 3: “There is clearly a theological defense for it; if you can ask for prayers of the living, why should you not ask for prayers of the dead? There is clearly also a great danger …” He adds that he hopes “there’ll be no scheme for canonisations in the Church of England”, on the grounds it would further divide the C of E.

    2. To Joshua’s comment re the use and understanding of parables: Lewis offers some insights very similar to Fr. Jonathan’s, in his essay “Myth Became Fact”, in God in the Dock. He is talking about myths, not parables, but their application is very similar. In describing the “Dying God” coming down from heaven — a story common to many cultures and religions, not just Christianity, he says, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact … By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle … Those [unbelievers] who do not know that this great myth became Fact when the Virgin conceived are, indeed, to be pitied.” You need to read the whole essay to understand his argument, and his comments on this are not without controversy among some Christians (for example, one counter argument is that Jesus did not say “I am the Way, the Myth, and the Life”, which is cute but not, to me, terribly compelling).

    Lewis’ thoughts on #2 really helped me achieve a better understanding of what we need to — and need not — take literally out of the Bible, along the lines of Fr. Jonathan’s excellent “Creationism and Talking Cats” (I love his titles!).

    Peace.

  13. Robert F says:

    The prayer from the 1979 BCP does not include a request to the saints to pray for us but only recognition before God that the saints already do pray for us without our needing to ask.

    How do we know who is a saint?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Simple. We buy a copy of “Holy Women, Holy Men.” (Just kidding.)

      In general, if we have some degree of assurance that someone died a Christian, we can be relatively sure that they are among the saints. In terms of those whom the Church honors with the designation “saint,” there are a number of different ways that this has been done through the centuries, but the most consistent involves local communities developing devotion to a particular local figure which eventually grows and spreads until the wider Church either accepts or rejects it. Very messy, with plenty of room for error, but also fairly organic. When the Church calls someone a saint, it is a statement to the world that this is a person who has shown, through an extraordinary Christian life, that he or she should be an example to the faithful.

      Nonetheless, I think that we can ask any of the saints, those known or unknown, to pray with us, and as you point out, they already do pray for us, even without our asking (but it never hurts to be polite).

      • Cadog says:

        Today’s NT Daily Office for the off year (Phil. 1:1-11) has 2 uses of “saint” in verses 5&7, which in the context seem to refer to living people as well. This would support not only a broader reading of who is a “saint”, but also the appropriateness of asking prayer of saints (Christians), living or dead.

  14. billhumble says:

    Fr. Jonathan,

    I greatly enjoy reading your blog. You and I are a kindred spirit… Anglicans who seek to address these things which cause so great an uproar in our community.

    I have often tried to explain to my Evangelical friends and family the idea that those saints who have passed through the veil are still alive and still a part of the Church, and still active in the spiritual life and discipline of the Church; which means praying for us continually.

    I am an Eastern (Orthodox) leaning Anglican clergyman down here in the deep south. You can call me Anglo-Orthodox. As such, it would be awesome to hear your thoughts on veneration of saints, their icons and the 7th Ecumenical Council, from a conciliar Anglican point of view

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Bill, and welcome. I’ve written here before about the veneration of saints and about the ecumenical councils. You can find various posts by using the “trending topics” tags or by using the search. I don’t think I’ve written about icons particularly though. I’ll keep that in mind for the future.

  15. Thomas says:

    The simple fact that the clause “the Communion of the Saints” is not present in the expositions on the Creed by Rufinus, Augustine, and Cyril of Jerusalem, should give saint-whisperers pause. Augustine did not even correct his own exposition of the Creed by adding the clause to it in his “Retractions” of A.D. 426, which he might’ve done, had it been a truly ancient belief. There, we have is a certain, simple proof that this erroneous phrase crept into the Apostles’ Creed to justify an already-existing practice of prayers to the saints, NOT that the already-existing clause served as a reason for developing prayers to the saints.

    This addition must stem from the un-catechised pagan masses entering the Church at breakneck speed in the 4th century. They came in too quickly to be properly taught that ancestor worship was wrong. They just carried it over to the saints, and once it had become established it was made part of the Apostles’ Creed, post-A.D. 430.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      This strikes me as a rather odd case to be making given that we see numerous references in the Fathers, including Augustine, which include veneration of the saints and asking for their prayers. We have quite early versions of the Apostles’ Creed that include the phrase “Communion of the Saints,” but even if we didn’t, the Reformers accepted the creed with that phrase without contention, though they differed some over its meaning. It is certainly an article of faith amongst Anglicans to believe in the Communion of the Saints, regardless of how we understand their ability to respond to our requests for prayer.

  16. I simply cannot get by that something as helpful as prayers to saints missed the attention of Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint John, Saint James, Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke, Saint Jude, etc, and the rest of the writers of the Word of God. Glad we know better than them now.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      They also did not bless and give rings in marriage. Clearly, we ought to ban blessing rings in marriage. (In fact, that was one of the chief Puritan objections to the Book of Common Prayer).

    • Pete says:

      Woah. Simmer down there. None of the Apostles or writers of the NT endorsed Christmas, Birthdays, the explicit abolition of slavery, the office of “preacher” or “minister,” having service in a building specifically designed for it, or seminary. This doesn’t mean we throw in the towel, ask the Jehovah’s Witnesses how they figured it out and start writing things off. I appreciate your zeal for wanting this straight from Scripture, but charity my friend. We worship Love, remember?

      • MichaelA says:

        Or pipe organs… ;)
        (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the sound of a pipe organ in church, but I don’t think it gets mentioned in the Psalms!)

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