|« Prev||The Worship of Martyrs and Saints||Next »|
§ 84. The Worship of Martyrs and Saints.
I. Sources: The Memorial Discourses of Basil the Great on the martyr Mamas (a shepherd in Cappadocia, † about 276), and on the forty martyrs (soldiers, who are said to have suffered in Armenia under Licinius in 320); of Gregory Naz. on Cyprian († 248), on Athanasius († 372), and on Basil († 379); of Gregory Of Nyssa on Ephraim Syrus († 378), and on the megalomartyr Theodorus; of Chrysostom on Bernice and Prosdoce, on the Holy Martyrs, on the Egyptian Martyrs, on Meletius of Antioch; several homilies of Ambrose, Augustine, Leo the Great, Peter Chrysologus Caesarius, &c.; Jerome against Vigilantius. The most important passages of the fathers on the veneration of saints are conveniently collected in: The Faith of Catholics on certain points of controversy, confirmed by Scripture and attested by the Fathers. By Berington and Kirk, revised by Waterworth.” 3d ed. 1846, vol. iii. pp. 322–416.
II. The later Literature: (1) On the Roman Catholic side: The Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists, thus far 58 vols. fol. (1643–1858, coming down to the 22d of October). Theod. Ruinart: Acta primorum martyrum sincera et selecta. Par. 1689 (confined to the first four centuries). Laderchio: S. patriarcharum et prophetarum, confessorum, cultus perpetuus, etc. Rom. 1730. (2) On the Protestant side: J. Dallaeus: Adversus Latinorum de cultus religiosi objecto traditionem. Genev. 1664. Isaac Taylor: Ancient Christianity. 4th ed. Lond. 1844, vel. ii. p. 173 ff. (“Christianized demonolatry in the fourth century.”)
The system of saint-worship, including both Hagiology and Hagiolatry, developed itself at the same time with the worship of Mary; for the latter is only the culmination of the former.
The New Testament is equally ignorant of both. The expression ἅγιοι, sancti, saints, is used by the apostles not of a particular class, a spiritual aristocracy of the church, but of all baptized and converted Christians without distinction; because they are separated from the world, consecrated to the service of God, washed from the guilt of sin by the blood of Christ, and, notwithstanding all their remaining imperfections and sins, called to perfect holiness. The apostles address their epistles to “the saints” i.e., the Christian believers, “at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus,” &c.814814 Comp. Acts ix. 13, 32, 41; xxvi. 10; Rom. i. 7; xii. 13; xv. 25, 26; 1 Cor. i. 2; vi. 1; Eph. i. 1, 15, 18; iv. 12; Phil. i. 1; iv. 21, 22; Rev. xiii. 7, 10, &c.
After the entrance of the heathen masses into the church the title came to be restricted to bishops and councils and to departed heroes of the Christian faith, especially the martyrs of the first three centuries. When, on the cessation of persecution, the martyr’s crown, at least within the limits of the Roman empire, was no longer attainable, extraordinary ascetic piety, great service to the church, and subsequently also the power of miracles, were required as indispensable conditions of reception into the Catholic calendar of saints. The anchorets especially, who, though not persecuted from without, voluntarily crucified their flesh and overcame evil spirits, seemed to stand equal to the martyrs in holiness and in claims to veneration. A tribunal of canonization did not yet exist. The popular voice commonly decided the matter, and passed for the voice of God. Some saints were venerated only in the regions where they lived and died; others enjoyed a national homage; others, a universal.
The veneration of the saints increased with the decrease of martyrdom, and with the remoteness of the objects of reverence. “Distance lends enchantment to the view;” but “familiarity” is apt “to breed contempt.” The sins and faults of the heroes of faith were lost in the bright haze of the past, while their virtues shone the more, and furnished to a pious and superstitious fancy the richest material for legendary poesy.
Almost all the catholic saints belong to the higher degrees of the clergy or to the monastic life. And the monks were the chief promoters of the worship of saints. At the head of the heavenly chorus stands Mary, crowned as queen by the side of her divine Son; then come the apostles and evangelists, who died a violent death, the protomartyr Stephen, and the martyrs of the first three centuries; the patriarchs and prophets also of the Old Covenant down to John the Baptist; and finally eminent hermits and monks, missionaries, theologians, and bishops, and those, in general, who distinguished themselves above their contemporaries in virtue or in public service. The measure of ascetic self-denial was the measure of Christian virtue. Though many of the greatest saints of the Bible, from the patriarch Abraham to Peter, the prince of the apostles, lived in marriage, the Romish ethics, from the time of Ambrose and Jerome, can allow no genuine holiness within the bonds of matrimony, and receives only virgines and some few vidui and viduae into its spiritual nobility.815815 To reconcile this perverted view with the Bible, the Roman tradition arbitrarily assumes that Peter separated from his wife after his conversion; whereas Paul, so late as the year 57, expressly presupposes the opposite, and claims for himself the right to take with him a sister as a wife on his missionary tours (ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα περιάγειν), like the other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas. 1 Cor. ix. 5. Married saints, like St. Elisabeth of Hungary and St. Louis of France, are rare exceptions. In this again the close connection of saint-worship with monasticism is apparent.
To the saints, about the same period, were added angels as objects of worship. To angels there was ascribed in the church from the beginning a peculiar concern with the fortunes of the militant church, and a certain oversight of all lands and nations. But Ambrose is the first who expressly exhorts to the invocation of our patron angels, and represents it as a duty.816816 De viduis c. 9: “Obsecrandi sunt Angeli pro nobis, qui nobis ad praesidium dati sunt.” Origen had previously commended the invocation of angels. In favor of the guardianship and interest of angels appeal was rightly made to several passages of the Old and New Testaments: Dan. x. 13, 20, 21; xii. 1; Matt. xviii. 10; Luke xv. 7; Heb. i. 14; Acts xii. 15. But in Col. ii. 18, and Rev. xix. 10; xxii. 8, 9, the worship of angels is distinctly rebuked.
Out of the old Biblical notion of guardian angels arose also the idea of patron saints for particular countries, cities, churches, and classes, and against particular evils and dangers. Peter and Paul and Laurentius became the patrons of Rome; James, the patron of Spain; Andrew, of Greece; John, of theologians; Luke, of painters; subsequently Phocas, of seamen; Ivo, of jurists; Anthony, a protector against pestilence; Apollonia, against tooth-aches; &c.
These different orders of saints and angels form a heavenly hierarchy, reflected in the ecclesiastical hierarchy on earth. Dionysius the Areopagite, a fantastical Christian Platonist of the fifth-century, exhibited the whole relation of man to God on the basis of the hierarchy; dividing the hierarchy into two branches, heavenly and earthly, and each of these again into several degrees, of which every higher one was the mediator of salvation to the one below it.
These are the outlines of the saint-worship of our period. Now to the exposition and estimate of it, and then the proofs.
The worship of saints proceeded originally, without doubt, from a pure and truly Christian source, to wit: a very deep and lively sense of the communion of saints, which extends over death and the grave, and embraces even the blessed in heaven. It was closely connected with love to Christ, and with gratitude for everything great and good which he has done through his instruments for the welfare of posterity. The church fulfilled a simple and natural duty of gratitude, when, in the consciousness of unbroken fellowship with the church triumphant, she honored the memory of the martyrs and confessors, who had offered their life for their faith, and had achieved victory for it over all its enemies. She performed a duty of fidelity to her own children, when she held up for admiration and imitation the noble virtues and services of their fathers. She honored and glorified Christ Himself when she surrounded Him with an innumerable company of followers, contemplated the reflection of His glory in them, and sang to His praise in the Ambrosian Te Deum:
“The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee;
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee;
The noble army of Martyrs praise thee;
The holy church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee;
The Father, of an infinite majesty;
Thine adorable, true, and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.
Thou art the King of glory, O Christ;
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb;817817 “Non horruisti Virginis uterum.” The translation in the American Episcopal Liturgy has softened this expression thus: “Thou didst humble thyself to be born of a Virgin.”
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.”
In the first three centuries the veneration of the martyrs in general restricted itself to the thankful remembrance of their virtues and the celebration of the day of their death as the day of their heavenly birth.818818 Natalitia, γενέθλια. This celebration usually took place at their graves. So the church of Smyrna annually commemorated its bishop Polycarp, and valued his bones more than gold and gems, though with the express distinction: “Christ we worship as the Son of God; the martyrs we love and honor as disciples and successors of the Lord, on account of their insurpassable love to their King and Master, as also, we wish to be their companions and fellow disciples.”819819 In the Epistle of the church of Smyrna De Martyr. Polycarpi, cap. 17 (Patres-Apost. ed. Dressel, p. 404): Τοῦτον μὲν γὰρ υἱὸν ὄντα τοῦ Θεοῦ προσκυνοῦμεν· τοὺς δὲ μάρτυρας , ὡς μαθητὰς καὶ μιμητὰς τοῦ κυρίου ἀγαπῶμεν ἀξίως , κ. τ. λ Here we find this veneration as yet in its innocent simplicity.
But in the Nicene age it advanced to a formal invocation of the saints as our patrons (patroni) and intercessors (intercessores, mediatores) before the throne of grace, and degenerated into a form of refined polytheism and idolatry. The saints came into the place of the demigods, Penates and Lares, the patrons of the domestic hearth and of the country. As once temples and altars to the heroes, so now churches and chapels820820 Memoriae, μαρτύρια. came to be built over the graves of the martyrs, and consecrated to their names (or more precisely to God through them). People laid in them, as they used to do in the temple of Aesculapius, the sick that they might be healed, and hung in them, as in the temples of the gods, sacred gifts of silver and gold. Their graves were, as Chrysostom says, move splendidly adorned and more frequently visited than the palaces of kings. Banquets were held there in their honor, which recall the heathen sacrificial feasts for the welfare of the manes. Their relics were preserved with scrupulous care, and believed to possess miraculous virtue. Earlier, it was the custom to pray for the martyrs (as if they were not yet perfect) and to thank God for their fellowship and their pious example. Now such intercessions for them were considered unbecoming, and their intercession was invoked for the living.821821 Augustine, Serm. 159, 1 (al. 17): “Injuria est pro martyre orare, cujus nos debemus orationibus commendari.” Serm. 284, 5: “Pro martyribus non orat [ecclesia], sed eorum potius orationibus se commendat.” Serm. 285, 5: “Pro aliis fidelibus defunctis oratur [to wit, for the souls in purgatory still needing purification]; pro martyribus non oratur; tam enim perfecti exierunt, ut non sint suscepti nostri, sed advocati.” Yet Augustineadds the qualification: “Neque hoc in se, sed in illo cui capiti perfecta membra cohaeserunt. Ille est enim vere advocatus unus, qui interpellat pro nobis, sedens ad dexteram Patris: sed advocatus unus, sicut et pastor unus.” When the grateful intercessions for the departed saints and martyrs were exchanged for the invocation of their intercession, the old formula: “Annue nobis, Domine, ut animae famuli tui Leonis haec prosit oblatio,” was changed into the later: “Annue nobis, quaesumus, Domine, ut intercessione beati Leonis haec nobis prosit oblatio.” But instead of praying for the saints, the Catholic church now prays for the souls in purgatory.
This invocation of the dead was accompanied with the presumption that they take the deepest interest in all the fortunes of the kingdom of God on earth, and express it in prayers and intercessions.822822 Ambrose, De viduis, c. 9, calls the martyrs “nostri praesules et speculatores (spectatores) vitae actuumque nostrorum.” This was supposed to be warranted by some passages of Scripture, like Luke xv. 10, which speaks of the angels (not the saints) rejoicing over the conversion of a sinner, and Rev. viii. 3, 4, which represents an angel as laying the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne of God. But the New Testament expressly rebukes the worship of the angels (Col. ii. 18; Rev. xix. 10; xxii. 8, 9), and furnishes not a single example of an actual invocation of dead men; and it nowhere directs us to address our prayers to any creature. Mere inferences from certain premises, however plausible, are, in such weighty matters, not enough. The intercession of the saints for us was drawn as a probable inference from the duty of all Christians to pray for others, and the invocation of the saints for their intercession was supported by the unquestioned right to apply to living saints for their prayers, of which even the apostles availed themselves in their epistles.
But here rises the insolvable question: How can departed saints hear at once the prayers of so many Christians on earth, unless they either partake of divine omnipresence or divine omniscience? And is it not idolatrous to clothe creatures with attributes which belong exclusively to Godhead? Or, if the departed saints first learn from the omniscient God our prayers, and then bring them again before God with their powerful intercessions, to what purpose this circuitous way? Why not at once address God immediately, who alone is able, and who is always ready, to hear His children for the sake of Christ?
Augustine felt this difficulty, and concedes his inability to solve it. He leaves it undecided, whether the saints (as Jerome and others actually supposed) are present in so many places at once, or their knowledge comes through the omniscience of God, or finally it comes through the ministry of angels.823823 De cura pro mortuis (a.d. 421), c. 16. In another place he decidedly rejects the first hypothesis, because otherwise he himself would be always surrounded by his pious mother, and because in Isa. lxiii. 16 it is said: “Abraham is ignorant of us.” He already makes the distinction between λατρεία, or adoration due to God alone, and the invocatio (δουλεία) of the saints, and firmly repels the charge of idolatry, which the Manichaean Faustus brought against the catholic Christians when he said: “Ye have changed the idols into martyrs, whom ye worship with the like prayers, and ye appease the shades of the dead with wine and flesh.” Augustine asserts that the church indeed celebrates the memory of the martyrs with religious solemnity, to be stirred up to imitate them, united with their merits, and supported by their prayers,824824 “Et ad excitandam imitationem, et ut mentis eorum consocietur, atque orationibus adjuvetur.” Contra Faustum l. 20, n. 21. but it offers sacrifice and dedicates altars to God alone. Our martyrs, says he, are not gods; we build no temples to our martyrs, as to gods; but we consecrate to them only memorial places, as to departed men, whose spirits live with God; we build altars not to sacrifice to the martyrs, but to sacrifice with them to the one God, who is both ours and theirs.825825 De Civit. Dei, xxii. 10: “Nobis Martyres non sunt dii: quia unum eundemque Deum et nostrum scimus et Martyrum. Nec tamen miraculis, quae per Memorias nostrorum Martyrum fiunt, ullo modo comparanda sunt miracula, quae facta per templa perhibentur illorum. Verum si qua similia videntur, sicut a Moyse magi Pharaonis, sic eorum dii victi sunt a Martyribus nostris .... Martyribus nostris non templa sicut diis, sed Memorias sicut hominibus mortuis, quorum apud Deum vivunt spiritus, fabricamus; nec ibi erigimus altaria, in quibus sacrificemus Martyribus, sed uni Deo et Martyrum et nostro sacrificium [corpus Christi] immolamus.”
But in spite of all these distinctions and cautions, which must be expected from a man like Augustine, and acknowledged to be a wholesome restraint against excesses, we cannot but see in the martyr-worship, as it was actually practised, a new form of the hero-worship of the pagans. Nor can we wonder in the least. For the great mass of the Christian people came, in fact, fresh from polytheism, without thorough conversion, and could not divest themselves of their old notions and customs at a stroke. The despotic form of government, the servile subjection of the people, the idolatrous homage which was paid to the Byzantine emperors and their statues, the predicates divina, sacra, coelestia, which were applied to the utterances of their will, favored the worship of saints. The heathen emperor Julian sarcastically reproached the Christians with reintroducing polytheism into monotheism, but, on account of the difference of the objects, revolted from the Christian worship of martyrs and relics, as from the “stench of graves and dead men’s bones.” The Manichaean taunt we have already mentioned. The Spanish presbyter Vigilantius, in the fifth century, called the worshippers of martyrs and relics, ashes-worshippers and idolaters,826826 Cinerarios and idololatrae. and taught that, according to the Scriptures, the living only should pray with and for each other. Even some orthodox church teachers admitted the affinity of the saint-worship with heathenism, though with the view of showing that all that is good in the heathen worship reappears far better in the Christian. Eusebius cites a passage from Plato on the worship of heroes, demi-gods, and their graves, and then applies it to the veneration of friends of God and champions of true religion; so that the Christians did well to visit their graves, to honor their memory there, and to offer their prayers.827827 In his Praeparat. Evangelica, xiii. cap. 11, p, 663. Comp. Demostr. Evang. iii. § 3, p. 107. The Greeks, Theodoret thinks, have the least reason to be offended at what takes place at the graves of the martyrs; for the libations and expiations, the demi-gods and deified men, originated with themselves. Hercules, Aesculapius, Bacchus, the Dioscuri, and the like, are deified men; consequently it cannot be a reproach to the Christians that they—not deify, but—honor their martyrs as witnesses and servants of God. The ancients saw nothing censurable in such worship of the dead. The saints, our helpers and patrons, are far more worthy of such honor. The temples of the gods are destroyed, the philosophers, orators, and emperors are forgotten, but the martyrs are universally known. The feasts of the gods are now replaced by the festivals of Peter, Paul, Marcellus, Leontius, Antonins, Mauricius, and other martyrs, not with pagan pomp and sensual pleasures, but with Christian soberness and decency.828828 Theodoret, Graec. affect. curatio. Disp. viii. (Ed. Schulz, iv. p. 902 sq.)
Yet even this last distinction which Theodoret asserts, sometimes disappeared. Augustine laments that in the African church banqueting and revelling were daily practised in honor of the martyrs,829829 “Commessationes et ebrietates in honorem etiam beatissimorum Martyrum.” Ep. 22 and 29. but thinks that this weakness must be for the time indulged from regard to the ancient customs of the pagans.
In connection with the new hero-worship a new mythology also arose, which filled up the gaps of the history of the saints, and sometimes even transformed the pagan myths of gods and heroes into Christian legends.830830 Thus, e.g., the fate of the Attic king’s son Hippolytus, who was dragged to death by horses on the sea shore, was transferred to the Christian martyr Hippolytus, of the beginning of the third century. The martyr Phocas, a gardener at Sinope in Pontus, became the patron of all mariners, and took the place of Castor and Pollux. At the daily meals on shipboard, Phocas had his portion set out among the rest, as an invisible guest, and the proceeds of the sale of these portions was finally distributed among the poor as a thank-offering for the prosperous voyage. The superstitious imagination, visions, and dreams, and pious fraud famished abundant contributions to the Christian legendary poesy.
The worship of the saints found eloquent vindication and encouragement not only, in poets like Prudentius (about 405) and Paulinus of Nola (died 431), to whom greater freedom is allowed, but even in all the prominent theologians and preachers of the Nicene and post-Nicene age. It was as popular as monkery, and was as enthusiastically commended by the leaders of the church in the East and West.
The two institutions, moreover, are closely connected and favor each other. The monks were most zealous friends of saint-worship in their own cause. The church of the fifth century already went almost as far in it as the Middle Age, at all events quite as far as the council of Trent; for this council does not prescribe the invocation of the saints, but confines itself to approving it as “good and useful” (not as necessary) on the ground of their reigning with Christ in heaven and their intercession for us, and expressly remarks that Christ is our only, Redeemer and Saviour.831831 Conc. Trid. Sess. xxv.: “Sanctos una cum Christo regnantes orationes suas pro hominibus Deo offere;bonum atque utile esse suppliciter eos invocare et ob beneficia impetranda a Deo per Filium eius Jesum Christum, qui solus noster redemptor et salvator est, ad eorum orationes, opem auxiliumque confugere.” This moderate and prudent statement of the doctrine, however, has not yet removed the excesses which the Roman Catholic people still practise in the worship of the saints, their images, and their relics. The Greek church goes even further in theory than the Roman; for the confession of Peter Mogilas (which was subscribed by the four Greek patriarchs in 1643, and again sanctioned by the council of Jerusalem in 1672), declares it duty and propriety (χρέος) to implore the intercession (μεσιτεία) of Mary and the saints with God for us.
We now cite, for proof and further illustration, the most important passages from the church fathers of our period on this point. In the numerous memorial discourses of the fathers, the martyrs are loaded with eulogies, addressed as present, and besought for their protection. The universal tone of those productions is offensive to the Protestant taste, and can hardly be reconciled with evangelical ideas of the exclusive and all-sufficient mediation of Christ and of justification by pure grace without the merit of works. But it must not be forgotten that in these discourses very much is to be put to the account of the degenerate, extravagant, and fulsome rhetoric of that time. The best church fathers, too, never separated the merits of the saints from the merits of Christ, but considered the former as flowing out of the latter.
We begin with the Greek fathers. Basil the Great calls the forty soldiers who are said to have suffered martyrdom under Licinius in Sebaste about 320, not only a “holy choir,” an “invincible phalanx,” but also “common patrons of the human family, helpers of our prayers and most mighty intercessors with God.”832832 Basil. M. Hom. 19, in XL. Martyres, § 8: Ὢ χορὸς ἅγιος, ὢ σύνταγμα ἱερόν, ὢ συναπισμὸς ἀῥῥαγής, ὢ κοινοὶ φύλακες τοῦ γένους τῶν ἀνθρώπων (Ocommunes generis humani custodes), ἀγαθοὶ κοινωνοὶ φροντίδων, δεήσεως συνεργοὶ, πρεσβευταὶδυνατώτατοι (legati apud Deum potentissimi), ἀστέρες τῆς οἰκουμένης, ἄνθη τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν, ὑμᾶς ούχ ἡ γῆ κατέκρυψεν, ἀλλ̓ οὐρανὸς ὑπεδέξατο.
Ephraim Syrus addresses the departed saints, in general, in such words as these: “Remember me, ye heirs of God, ye brethren of Christ, pray to the Saviour for me, that I through Christ may be delivered from him who assaults me from day to day;” and the mother of a martyr: “O holy, true, and blessed mother, plead for me with the saints, and pray: ’Ye triumphant martyrs of Christ, pray for Ephraim, the least, the miserable,’ that I may find grace, and through the grace of Christ may be saved.”
Gregory of Nyssa asks of St. Theodore, whom he thinks invisibly present at his memorial feast, intercessions for his country, for peace, for the preservation of orthodoxy, and begs him to arouse the apostles Peter and Paul and John to prayer for the church planted by them (as if they needed such an admonition!). He relates with satisfaction that the people streamed to the burial place of this saint in such multitudes that the place looked like an ant hill. In his Life of St. Ephraim, he tells of a pilgrim who lost himself among the barbarian posterity of Ishmael, but by the prayer, “St. Ephraim, help me!”833833 Αγιε Εφραὶμ, βαήθειμοί. and the protection of the saint, happily found his way home. He himself thus addresses him at the close: “Thou who standest at the holy altar, and with angels servest the life-giving and most holy Trinity, remember us all, and implore for us the forgiveness of sins and the enjoyment of the eternal kingdom.”834834 Ἀιτούμενος ἡμῖν ἁμαρτημάτων ἄφεσιν, αίωνίου τὲ βασιλείας ἀπόλαυσιν. De vita Ephraem. p. 616 (tom. iii.).
Gregory Nazianzen is convinced that the departed Cyprian guides and protects his church in Carthage more powerfully by his intercessions than he formerly did by his teachings, because he now stands so much nearer the Deity; he addresses him as present, and implores his favor and protection.835835 Σὺ δὲ ἡμᾶς ἐποπτεύσις ἄνωθεν ἵλεως, καὶ τὸν ἡμέτερον διεξάγοις λόγον καὶ βίον, κ. τ.λ. Orat. 18 in laud. Cypr. p. 286. In his eulogy on Athanasius, who was but a little while dead, he prays: “Look graciously down upon us, and dispose this people to be perfect worshippers of the perfect Trinity; and when the times are quiet, preserve us—when they are troubled, remove us, and take us to thee in thy fellowship.”
Even Chrysostom did not rise above the spirit of the time. He too is an eloquent and enthusiastic advocate of the worship of the saints and their relics. At the close of his memorial discourse on Sts. Bernice and Prosdoce—two saints who have not even a place in the Roman calendar—he exhorts his hearers not only on their memorial days but also on other days to implore these saints to be our protectors: “For they have great boldness not merely during their life but also after death, yea, much greater after death.836836 Παρακαλῶμεν αὐτὰς, ἀξιῶμεν γενέσθαι προστάτιδας ἡμῶν; πολλὴν γὰρ ἔχουσιν παῤῥησίαν οὐχὶ ζῶσαι μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τελευτήσασαι· καὶ πολλῶ μᾶλλον τελευτήσασαι. Opp. tom. ii. 770. For they now bear the stigmata of Christ [the marks of martyrdom], and when they show these, they can persuade the King to anything.” He relates that once, when the harvest was endangered by excessive rain, the whole population of Constantinople flocked to the church of the Apostles, and there elected the apostles Peter and Andrew, Paul and Timothy, patrons and intercessors before the throne of grace.837837 Contra ludos et theatra, n. 1, tom. vi. 318. Christ, says he on Heb. i. 14, redeems us as Lord and Master, the angels redeem us as ministers.
Asterius of Amasia calls the martyr Phocas, the patron of mariners, “a pillar and foundation of the churches of God in the world, the most renowned of the martyrs, who draws men of all countries in hosts to his church in Sinope, and who now, since his death, distributes more abundant nourishment than Joseph in Egypt.”
Among the Latin fathers, Ambrose of Milan is one of the first and most decided promoters of the worship of saints. We cite a passage or two. “May Peter, who so successfully weeps for himself, weep also for us, and turn upon us the friendly look of Christ.838838 Hexaem. l. v. cap. 25, § 90: “Fleat pro nobis Petrus, qui pro se bene flevit, et in nos pia Christi ora convertat. Approperet Jesu Domini passio, quae quotidie delicta nostra condonat et munus remissionis operatur.” The angels, who are appointed to guard us, must be invoked for us; the martyrs, to whose intercession we have claim by the pledge of their bodies, must be invoked. They who have washed away their sins by their own blood, may pray for our sins. For they are martyrs of God, our high priests, spectators of our life and our acts. We need not blush to use them as intercessors for our weakness; for they also knew the infirmity of the body when they gained the victory over it.”839839 De viduis, c. 9: “Obsecrandi sunt Angeli pro nobis, qui nobis ad praesidium dati sunt; martyres obsecrandi, quorum videmur nobis quoddam corporis pignore patrocinium vindicare. Possunt pro peccatis rogare nostris, qui proprio sanguine etiam si qua habuerunt peccata laverunt. Isti enim sunt Dei martyres, nostri prae sules, speculatores vitae actuumque nostrorum,” etc. Ambrosegoes farther than the council of Trent, which does not command the invocation of the saints, but only commends it, and represents it not as duty, but only as privilege. See the passage already cited, p. 437.
Jerome disputes the opinion of Vigilantius, that we should pray for one another in this life only, and that the dead do not hear our prayers, and ascribes to departed saints a sort of omnipresence, because, according to Rev. xiv. 4, they follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.840840 Adv. Vigilant. n. 6: “Si agnus ubique, ergo et hi, qui cum agno sunt, ubique esse credendi sunt.” So the heathen also attributed ubiquity to their demons. Hesiodus, Opera et dies, v. 121 sqq. He thinks that their prayers are much more effectual in heaven than they were upon earth. If Moses implored the forgiveness of God for six hundred thousand men, and Stephen, the first martyr, prayed for his murderers after the example of Christ, should they cease to pray, and to be heard, when they are with Christ?
Augustine infers from the interest which the rich man in hell still had in the fate of his five surviving brothers (Luke xvi. 27), that the pious dead in heaven must have even far more interest in the kindred and friends whom they have left behind.841841 Epist. 259, n. 5. He also calls the saints our intercessors, yet under Christ, the proper and highest Intercessor, as Peter and the other apostles are shepherds under the great chief Shepherd.842842 Sermo 285, n. 5. In a memorial discourse on Stephen, he imagines that martyr, and St. Paul who stoned him, to be present, and begs them for their intercessions with the Lord with whom they reign.843843 Sermo 317, n. 5: “Ambo modo sermonem nostrum auditis; ambo pro nobis orate ... orationibus suis commendent nos.” He attributes miraculous effects, even the raising of the dead, to the intercessions of Stephen.844844 Serm. 324. But, on the other hand, he declares, as we have already observed, his inability to solve the difficult question of the way in which the dead can be made acquainted with our wishes and prayers. At all events, in Augustine’s practical religion the worship of the saints occupies a subordinate place. In his “Confessions” and “Soliloquies” he always addresses himself directly to God, not to Mary nor to martyrs.
The Spanish poet Prudentius flees with prayers and
confessions of sin to St. Laurentius, and considers himself unworthy to
be heard by Christ Himself.845845 Hymn. ii. in hon. S. Laurent. vss.
“Indignus agnosco et scio,
Quem Christus ipse exaudiat;
—- Sed per patronos martyres
Potest medelam consequi.”
The poems of Paulinus of Nola are full of direct prayers for the intercessions of the saints, especially of St. Felix, in whose honor he erected a basilica, and annually composed an ode, and whom he calls his patron, his father, his lord. He relates that the people came in great crowds around the wonder-working relics of this saint on his memorial day, and could not look on them enough.
Leo the Great, in his sermons, lays great stress on the powerful intercession of the apostles Peter and Paul, and of the Roman martyr Laurentius.846846 “Cuius oratione,” says he of the latter, “et patrocinio adjuvari nos sine cessatione confidimus.” Serm. 85 in Natal. S. Laurent c. 4.
Pope Gregory the Great, at the close of our period, went much farther.
According to this we cannot wonder that the Virgin Mary and the saints are interwoven also in the prayers of the liturgies,847847 E.g., the Liturgies of St. James, St. Mark, St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, the Coptic Liturgy of St. Cyril, and the Roman Liturgy. and that their merits and intercession stand by the side of the merits of Christ as a ground of the acceptance of our prayers.
|« Prev||The Worship of Martyrs and Saints||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version