02 August 2005

Musings on LC I and the Saints

Getting ready to do our men's Bible study (Thursday morning at 6:15 at the InnKeeper restauarant in Hamel - join us!) and we're starting to study the Large Catechism. As I was reading through the section on the first commandment I was struck by a thought I'd not had before.

Luther, of course, abominates replacing calling upon God with calling upon the saints: "For all such people place their heart and trust elsewhere than in the true God." Yet I wonder if there is a way to understand this differently than he does, based on his later comments:

"So we receive these blessings not from them, but through them, from God. For creatures are only the hands, channels, and means by which God gives all things." This he says of parents, etc. God uses human beings to give us His goodies.

I wondered if this could be applied to the intercession of the saints for us as well? I don't mean our calling upon them per se, but their intercession in heaven for us. They remain very much creatures, but may indeed serve as "hands, channels, and means" for God to give us.

I know part of this touches on the whole mystery of prayer and how it "works" and I've decided I'm never going to understand that and so I've stopped trying. It suffices to know that God commands us to prayer, promises to hear us, and has given us the pattern and words. But I do not doubt that God makes use also of our earthly prayers to grant us both temporal and eternal blessings. Why on earth would we not assume he makes use of heavenly prayers to accomplish the same?

Does the problem with invocation of the saints occur when one crosses over from seeking help through them to seeking help from them? When they are in fact the ones we turn to as though we didn't have a Father who loves us, a Savior who never ceases to plead for us, and the Holy Spirit who prays within us with groans too deep for words? And yet knowing all of that, I do not cease to ask those on earth to pray for me also, and I know that is not problematic at all. I'm not worshipping them by asking for their intercessions. So the saints? Is it possible for this practice to exist WITHOUT it becoming the idolatry that Luther rightly abominates?

Okay, boys, fire away. I'm ducking.

(Oh, and a p.s. - I notice that in the traditional Western mass, the so-called invocation of the saints appears to be non-existent. It seems rather that God is petitioned to have mercy on us through their prayers. I'm thinking of the Canon and the Embolism of the Our Father. Odd, but I'd not seen that before.)


Chris said...


I'm surprised no one's shot at you! I have to agree that I don't view the invocation of the saints so much as a problem in and of itself if understood rightly. The problem comes, as you say, when you seek help from them apart from God's grace through Christ. The symbols, I think, when understood in the catholic context (not the reformed one we usually use) simply reject this practice because it was being forced upon the reformers with regard to asking for the merrits of the saints.

It is much different to say the Hail Mary (Post-Trent) and realize that she prays for her children in the church vs. seeking her merits because you can't go to Christ. In a sense, the difference between invocation for prayer and invocation for redemptive merit.

The question tends to fall into such lines as, "you must ascribe omnipotence and omniscience" to the saints to make this teaching work. I disagree as they are above all those petty problems of time and space that we always think of the church militant as having to deal with. My asking for your prayers would be no different from asking St. Patrick for example for his prayers, although because of the communion of saints, those who are not limited on earth in flesh are no longer under such limitations as they are in communion with God...who is omnipotent and omniscient.

I recall asking the CTCR in email about this practice as it became clear to me that to deny that I might ask the departed to pray for me while I struggle here on earth was not a limitation of Christ's power or glory, but when properly understood a bolster to it and a confession of it. It took about three emails before they admitted it could be done as a pious practice...why did it take that long for a response like that? Would it not be simpler to admit that this could be done in a proper way?

Why does this practice fall by the wayside and making the sign of the cross does not? It is also adiaphora, yet we are instructed to do it as if it were an integral part to faith....what is the difference, since invoking the saints leads us to follow their example, to revere them, to remember them, and even to exalt Christ by His power and victory over sin and separation?

I remember talking to Phil Magness about this and the best way I think I was able to put it was that you would ask the saints for their prayers much the same way you say, "hallowed be Thy Name" in the "Our Father," so that it is remembered among you that they do pray for you and that the church in perfection is one.

In Christ,

Chris - and apparently the only one who loaded a cannon to shoot :-)

P.S. This is way too old for you to probably notice, but you've been tagged by me on my "thinking blogger awards" post....you're next.

William Weedon said...


Did you check out some of the Luther quotes I offered recently about the saints? He's got some good stuff there.

As to the thinker's blog - thank you kindly of thinking of me, but I've been nailed before for that so I *think* you need to name those blogs that haven't been so named before.


Chris said...


I guess the link I was sent to did not mention you....but one of the aforementioned tagged did....what shall I do! The horrors :-).

I hear you've been talking to Susie from my congregation :-). She studies more than you do (if that's possible). She always shares your insights.