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ON THE INVOCATION OF SAINTS
RESPONDENT: JAMES A. PORT
I. From the hypothesis of the papists, we denominate those persons "saints," whom the Roman pontiff has by his canonization transferred into the book of saints. (Bellarm. de Beat. Sanct. lib. 1, c. 8.) From the truth of the matter, we also call those persons "saints," who being sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ, (1 Pet. i. 2,) and sealed with the characters of the Holy Spirit, the sacred fountain of all holiness, have been illustrious in this world by the sanctity of their lives, which flows from their spiritual union with Christ; but who, as it regards the body, being now dead, still live in heaven with Christ as it regards the soul. (Rev. xiv. 13.) Of this description were the patriarchs of old, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, and others like them. The invocation of saints is that by which men have recourse to their intercessions, interest, patronage and assistance, for the sake of imploring, intreating, and obtaining their aid.
II. But the papists assert, that the saints are invoked for three reasons: (1.) That they may vouchsafe to intercede by their prayers and their suffrages. (2.) That, through their merits, and on account of them, they may obtain by their petitions the things which are asked of them. (3.) That they may themselves bestow the benefits which are required. For the papists have invested departed saints with these three qualities; that, being nearer to God, they have greater freedom of access to him and to Christ, than the faithful who are yet their survivors in the present life; that, by works of supererogation performed in this life, they have obtained by their merits [the privilege] that God shall hear and grant their prayers; and that they have been constituted by God the administrators of those blessings which are asked of them:
And thus are they appointed mediators, both by merit and efficacy, between God, nay between Christ and living believers.
III. Yet upon all these things the papists have not had the hardihood to erect, as a superstructure, the necessity of invoking the saints: They only say that "It is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them;" and that "those persons hold an impious opinion who deny that the saints ought to be invoked." (Can. and Dec. Coun. of Trent, Sess. 25, c. 2.) But perhaps by these last words, which have an ambiguous meaning, they wished to intimate the existence of this necessity. For not only does he deny that saints ought to be invoked, who says that it is not necessary to invoke them, but likewise he who says that it is not lawful: The words, when strictly taken, bear the former signification, that invocation is not necessary; but the latter meaning of its unlawfulness, when they are understood as opposed to the words which preceded. Even Bellarmine, when he had affixed this title, "The saints ought to be invoked," immediately subjoined the following thesis: "The saints are piously and usefully invoked by the living." (De Beat. Sanct. lib. 1, c. 19.) But that most subtle and evasive council often trifled with ambiguous expressions, being either compelled into such a course on account of the dissensions among its chief members, or else being perversely ingenious on account of its adversaries, whose blows it would not otherwise have been able, with any degree of speciousness, to avoid. We will, therefore, inquire concerning the invocation of saints, Is it necessary? Is it lawful and useful?
IV. With regard to the First of these questions, we say, (whether the papists assent to our affirmation or dissent from it,) that it is not necessary for believers in the present state of existence to invoke the saints who are engaged with Christ in heaven. And since this necessity is—either according to the duty which surviving believers are bound to perform to the saints who have departed out of this life, and who are living with Christ; or according to the end for the sake of obtaining which, invocation is laid down as a necessary means; we affirm that, by neither of these methods is the invocation of saints necessary.
V. (1.) It is not necessary in reference to duty; because the invocation of saints has neither been commanded by God, nor is it sanctioned with any promise or threatening, which it would of necessity have been if it had to be performed as a duty by the faithful during their continuance in the world. (2.) It is not necessary in reference to the means; because neither the merits nor the intervening administration of the saints is necessary to solicit and to obtain the blessings which the faithful in the present life make the subject of their prayers; for otherwise, the mediation and administration of Christ either are not sufficient, or they cannot be obtained except through the intercession of departed saints, both of which are false; and that man who was the first of the saints to enter heaven, neither required nor employed any saint as a previous intercessor.
VI. Since, therefore, it is not necessary, that believers now living upon earth should invoke the saints who reign with Christ, if the papists take any pleasure in the approval of a good conscience, they ought to employ the utmost circumspection in ascertaining, whether it is not the better course to omit this invocation than to perform it, even though it might be made a subject of disputation whether or not it be lawful, about which we shall afterwards inquire. We affirm that it is preferable to omit all such invocation, and we support this assertion by two arguments, (1.) Since "whatever is not of faith," that is, whatsoever does not proceed from a conscience which is fully persuaded that the thing performed is pleasing to God, "is sin;" and since that may, therefore, be omitted without sin, about which even the smallest doubt may be entertained respecting its lawfulness, since it is found that it is not necessary; it follows from these premises, that it is better to omit than to perform invocation. (2.) Since the papists themselves confess, "that the difference between the worship of latria and that of dulia, or between divine and human adoration, is so great, that the man who presents that of latria to any object to which no more than dulia is due, is guilty of idolatry;" and since it is a matter of the greatest difficulty for the common people, who are ignorant and illiterate yet full of devotion to the saints, to observe this difference at all times and without any error; there is much danger lest those who invoke saints should fall into idolatry. This is a reason which also militates against the invocation of saints, even though it were proved that such invocation is lawful.
VII. The next inquiry is, "Is the invocation of saints lawful and useful?" Or, as the Council of Trent has expressed it, "Is it good and useful to invoke the saints?" Or, according to Bellarmine’s phraseology, "Are the saints piously and usefully invoked?" (De Beat. Sanct. lib. 1, cap, 19.) We who hold the negative, say, that it is neither pious nor useful to invoke the saints. We prove this assertion, first, generally; secondly, specially, according to the particular respects in which the papists invoke the saints, and maintain that they may be invoked.
VIII. First. We prove generally, that it is not pious, thus:
Since no action can, of itself and properly, come under the appellation of piety or godliness, except that which has been prescribed by God, by whose word and institution alone every action is sanctified, otherwise it will be common; and since it is certain, that the invocation of saints has not been commanded by God, it follows that such an action cannot be called "pious." Some action may, however, be called "pious" by a metalepsis, because it has been undertaken for the sake of performing a pious action. But such a case as this does not here occur. By the same argument, we demonstrate that it is not useful; because all religious worship, not prescribed by God, is useless, (Lev. x. 1,) according to the express declaration of God, (Isa. xxix. 13,) and of Christ: "But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matt. xv. 9.) But the papists say, that the invocation of saints is religious worship.
IX. Secondly. We prove the same thing, specially, according to the relations in which the papists invest the saints when they invoke them. (1.) We say, the saints cannot be piously and usefully invoked as the donors of benefits; because God has not constituted the saints dispensers of blessings either celestial or terrestrial; for this is the office bestowed on Christ, to whom the angels are under subjection as his servants in this ministration. Besides, if even, in imitation of angels, the saints did, in this world, perform their subordinate service to Christ at the command of God; yet they ought not on this account to be invoked; for, before this can be done, a full power of dispensing is required, which may distribute blessings as it pleases; but the angels render in this world only a ministerial and instrumental service to Christ, for which reason neither is it lawful to invoke them as the donors of blessings. But the saints cannot, in imitation of the angels, perform a service to Christ ministerially and instrumentally, unless we assert that they all ascend and descend after the manner of angels. Since, therefore, they possess neither the power nor the capability of bestowing blessings, it follows that they cannot be either piously or usefully invoked as the donors of benefits. 10. (2.) The saints cannot be piously and usefully invoked as those who by their own merits have obtained the privilege of being heard and answered by God; because the saints have not been able to merit any thing for themselves or for others. For they have accounted it needful to exclaim, with David, "Our goodness extendeth not to thee." (Psalm xvi. 2.) And "when they had done all those things which were commanded them," they felt the necessity of confessing, not only with humility but with the greatest truth, "We are unprofitable servants;" (Luke xvii. 10;) and truly to intreat God "to forgive the iniquity of their sins," and "not to enter into judgment with his servants." (Psalm xxxii. 5; cxliii, 2.) Therefore, we cannot piously plead, in our own behalf, that which is falsely attributed to the saints; and that cannot be usefully bestowed upon others, of which the saints themselves had not a sufficiency.
XI. (3.) Lastly, they cannot be piously and usefully invoked in the capacity of those who, as our friends, unite their prayers with ours, or who intercede before God by their prayers in our behalf; because the saints in heaven are ignorant of our particular necessities, and of the prayers of the faithful who are dwellers upon earth. (Isa. lxii. 16; 1 Kings viii. 36; 2 Kings xxii. 20.) For the assertions about the mirror or glass of the trinity, is a very vain fable, and receives its refutation from this very circumstance, that those angels who always behold the face of God the Father, (Matt. xviii. 20,) are said to be ignorant of the day of judgment. (Mark xiii. 32.) Those assertions about a divine revelation [to the saints and angels] have a foolish and ridiculous circle; and those about the explanation which may be given by means of angels, or of the spirits of persons recently deceased, are equally vain; because the Scriptures make no mention of those tokens or indications, even in a single word: without such mention, we feel scrupulous, in matters of such vast importance, about receiving any thing as true, or about undertaking to do any thing as pious and useful.
XII. We add, finally, that by the invocation of saints, the papists are injurious towards Christ, and, therefore, cannot engage in such invocation without sacrilege. They are unjust to Christ in two ways: (1.) Because they communicate to the saints the office of our Mediator and Advocate, which has been committed by the Father to Christ alone; and the power conferred [on that office]. (1 Tim. ii. 5; Rom. viii. 34; 1 John ii. 1.) Neither are they excused by what they say about the saints being subordinate to Christ; for by the circumstance of their alleging the merits of saints, and of their invoking them as the dispensers of blessings, they destroy this subordination and establish a collaterally. (2.) Because they detract greatly from that benevolent affection of Christ towards his people, from his most merciful inclination, and from that most prompt and ready desire to commiserate, which he manifests. These properties are proposed to us in the Scriptures in a manner the most lucid and plain, that, not being terrified with the consideration of our own unworthiness, we may approach, with confidence and freedom, to the throne of grace, "that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb. iv. 16.)
XIII. When we say that the saints must not be invoked, we do not take away all veneration from them, as the papists calumniously assert. For we confess that their memory is to be venerated with a grateful celebration. But we circumscribe our veneration within these bounds: First. We commemorate with thanksgiving the eminent gifts which have been conferred on them, and commend them for having faithfully used those gifts in the exercises of faith, hope and charity. Secondly. As much as in us lies, we imitate their examples, and endeavour to demonstrate, by our works, that the holy conversation which they had in this world is grateful to us who aspire to be like them. Lastly. We congratulate them on the felicity which they enjoy with Christ in the presence of God; and with devotion of soul we earnestly pray for the same felicity for ourselves, while we hope and trust that we shall enjoy it through the all-sufficient intercession of Christ, through which, alone, they also themselves have been made partakers of eternal happiness.
In the invocation of saints, do the papists commit idolatry?
We decide in the affirmative.
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