11 October 2007

Invocation of the Saints

When the Reformation rejected the practice of invocation (which established itself in the Church by the end of the 4th century and lasted to the Reformation and persists yet in those jurisdictions in communion with Rome or Constantinople), was the Communion of Saints thereby rejected? This is the contention. For all intents and purposes, without a liturgical expression of the communion of saints (meaning, in other words, the invocation) the doctrine itself disappeared, evaporated from the Church's consciousness. Is this true?

Speaking personally, my understanding of the Communion of Saints was shaped quite markedly by the celebrations of All Saints that occurred in my home parish the week following Reformation. It was shaped by singing "For All the Saints" and "Ye Watchers." It was shaped by praying the collect for All Saints. Then it grew over the years. I also learned to sing "By All Your Saints" and "Sing with All the Saints in Glory." The weekly pounding into my head of "the communion of saints" and "therefore WITH angels and archangels and ALL the company of heaven..." was not without effect. Then there was the realization that the Our Father was the prayer of the whole Church with especially the Church Triumphant joining ceaselessly in petitions 1-3 and the Doxology, and the Church Militant praying as part of her pilgrimage to home petitions 4-7. There was standing week after week before the altar at Compline and confessing: "I confess to almighty God before the whole company of heaven..." There was the sanctoral calendar - and the thanking of God for each saint upon the day assigned.

No, I don't buy it. At least MY experience in the Lutheran Church has not been devoid of the Communion of Saints. It rather taught me that this is wherein I live and travel. And it did this *without* teaching me to pray to the saints. The Symbols taught me that the saints pray with me and for me. The Symbols taught me that I don't need to resort to the uncertainty of asking them to speak to God on my behalf, since I could rejoice that they were already speaking to God for the whole of His pilgrim Church and eagerly waiting for the day of our consummation in bliss with them. Above all, my experience in the Church has taught me to love them as the beloved of the Lord and comforted me that I also with them am one beloved the Lord. Part of the family of God.

So, sorry. I don't buy it at all that the experience of the communion of saints is the right and sole possession of Rome or Constantinople:

The patriarchs' and prophets' noble train,
With all Christ's foll'wers true,
Who washed their robes and cleansed sin's guilty stain,
Sing praises ever new!
I see them shine forever,
Resplendent as the sun,
In light diminished never,
Their glorious freedom won.

Unnumbered choirs before the shining throne
Their joyful anthems raise
Till heaven's arches echo with the tone
Of that great hymn of praise.
And all its host rejoices,
And all its blessed throng
Unite their myriad voice
In one eternal song.
LSB 674:3,4


Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Pr. Weedon, you wrote:

"When the Reformation rejected the practice of invocation (*which established itself in the Church by the end of the 4th century and lasted to the Reformation and persists yet in those jurisdictions in communion with Rome or Constantinople*), was the Communion of Saints thereby rejected?"

The portion of your remark which I have set in ** is precisely the point at issue between us. I will not debate the antiquity of intercession, though graffiti on the walls of St. Peter's house and in the catacombs suggest that it goes back to the 2nd century.

If a practice was established in the Church, east and west, and done *universally* and *for a long time*, then either the gates of hell prevailed against the Church, or God himself approves of the practice. A bishop here or there may go astray, but not the whole church. By your own admission above, such was the case with intercession of the saints.

I have every reason to suppose you're in good faith when you say that Lutherans haven't abandoned the communion of saints. (Then again, you don't get around much to the happy-clappy places, do you?) :-)

But Lutherans *have* abandoned asking the saints for intercession--a practice whose antiquity and universality testifies to its truth.

The Church is not a citation here or there from a book; she is the living body of Christ, the pillar and ground of the Truth.

Rev. John Frahm said...

One of my favorite hymns, "Behold, A Host Arrayed in White," and old Scandinavian chorale. Of course Lutherans have not quit singing the Te Deum Laudamus.

Lutherans have rightly kept their prayers Christocentric, which is most catholic.

Imagine heaven with the phone ringing off the hook. ;-) I doubt the individual saints have enough phone lines to handle the divine responsibility. The Gospel is not what is possible but what God has promised.

The Church is the ground and pillar of truth as she receives. She is the bride, but Christ is the head of the Church.

Asking the saints in heaven for intercession has no dominical command, no promise, and certainly isn't the Lord's teaching on prayer when he was asked to teach on prayer. As St. Augustine says, Cling to the certain, depart from the uncertain.

Lutherans give great respect to the saints, famous and not as famous, in the most important and God-pleasing ways.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

One of the things I do here is I end every funeral sermon by writing a stanza to "By All Your Saints in Warfare" in honor of the Christian who has has joined the Church Triumphant. Now, as my congregation knows not this hymn and I can't carry a tune in a bucket - we don't get to sing them.

But one day - one day I would love it if on All Saint's day we had "By All Your Saints in Warfare" as a communion hymn - and put in the stanzas of all our members who had died in the past year. It would be great - and it would be right to the point.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, William, but you make my point, which is that you indeed believe, but without that belief having much (if any) corresponding praxis. To talk *about* the Communion of Saints, to talk in music (sing) *about* the Communion of Saints, to pray *about* the Communion of Saints – all these ways of dealing with an *idea about* the Communion of Saints. Even observing All Saints Day is this. These are not the same as relating concretely *to* any given saint(s). You have and affirm and talk about and celebrate an idea, but you don’t seem to act upon it. (Which raises the question of what belief is, even.)

For example, you walk into a sanctuary and you have the idea, which you affirm, that all the saints in heaven are there with you. Good. What do you DO about it? Do you greet them? Do you say Good Morning to them, and Thank you for being here? Do you reverence the Christ you see so gloriously displayed in them, by bowing before them?

Or am I supposed to just walk right past all those saints without so much as a nod of acknowledgment to them? Do I snub them all in favor of Christ, who said, Whatever you do to the least of my little ones (never mind the greatest of his little ones) you do to Me? There is no such thing as Christ OR His saints, Christ VERSUS His saints.

Do you even know what a saint does if you bow before him? (No, you don’t if you imagine he would chide you.) He *bows back*, that’s what he does. And it’s nothing to do with flattery or misplaced worship.

Another example. You believe, I think, in your guardian angel, in the sense that you affirm the *idea* that God has given you one. You do well. Why not thank your angel now and then for its tireless work on your behalf? Why not apologize to your angel sometimes for making its job harder? If you do not, then it’s hard to suppose you *really* have any concrete *experience* of that angel being with you, because such experiencejust naturally makes us want to thank the angel, as well as God. In short, how is your belief concretely, in action, demonstrated? And if it is not, can it be anything more than an idea? This is what I mean when I say my hunch is you have the belief but without the experience. (Show this hunch wrong and I'll sing alleluias for you for a week!)

There are words – written words, sung words, prayed words,—*about* the Communion of Saints. How do you actually relate, in practice, concretely, to the saints themselves?

Put another way, it seems you deal with the saints strictly in the third person: we-they. You appear sedulously to avoid dealing with them in the second person: we-ye. That’s what I mean about no experience of them.

Of course we need to go even further than that. What we ALL need to do – Lord, have mercy!—is learn to deal with everyone, here and in heaven, in the first person: WE, period. One bread, one body, one Lord of all.


Anonymous said...

At least MY experience in the Lutheran Church has not been devoid of the Communion of Saints.

Respectfully, Pastor Weedon, your experience has not been devoid -- to that I wholeheartedly agree.

But it has been truncated.

Anonymous said...

John quotes the great Augustine. Let's hear from the noble Bishop of Hippo himself:

Part I: The Veneration and Invocation of the Saints and the Efficacy of Prayer

Chapter 2: Efficacy of the Intercession of the Saints
Nothing is more consoling and comforting than the assurance that in the saints of heaven we have powerful protectors and advocates with God. through their intercession they obtain for us from Him the grace to lead a virtuous life and to gain heaven.

In virtue of the communion of saints, all members of the Church are members of one body, whose head is Christ. Hence the saints are united with us in spirit, though separated from us in body. United with Christ, they are imbued with a superior knowledge, and through Him, the All-Knowing, they know everything that concerns us, and for which we have recourse to them in prayer.

Our confidence in the intercessory power of the saints is founded on their relation to God and to us. As friends of God they have influence with Him now, even more than during their sojourn on earth, because their intercessory power is one of their glorious prerogatives in heaven. Their love of God and their charity for their fellow-men, and the zeal for the salvation of souls resulting therefrom, together with their conformity with Christ, induces them to use their influence readily in our favor. Because God dispenses His gifts according to His own adorable will, it may please Him to grant a certain favor at the particular intercession of a certain saint; hence it is not superstition to invoke His aid in such cases. Moreover, we justly place our confidence in saints whom we have selected to be our special patrons, or who were given us as such by ecclesiastical authority.

By the intercession of the saints the mediatorship of Christ is not set aside or restricted. The power of intercession, the intercession itself, and its invocation are an effect of the grace of Christ; therefore He remains our only mediator. God remains Our Lord and Father, although men share in His lordship and paternity; for all power and authority comes from God, who is pleased to operate in His creatures through other creatures. Hence, only a dependent mediatorship can be ascribed to the saints. Whoever admits that the living can pray for each other can not denounce the intercession of the saints as an usurpation of the mediatorshop of Christ. The saints are not the authors and dispensers of grace and heavenly gifts, but they are able to obtain them for us from God.

To engage in the katholos is to engage in the "whole".

William Weedon said...


Do you really think that I or any Lutheran thinks the Church is a citation from a book? Surely you know better.


What we do with the saints every week is to sing with them, to pray with them, to bow down with them before the Lamb, and to proclaim together His redeeming love.


When you have Christ in His fullness and all His saints around Him and with Him, there is no truncation! :)

Philip Hoffman said...

Rev. William
You wrote, "When the Reformation rejected the practice of invocation (which established itself in the Church by the end of the 4th century and lasted to the Reformation and persists yet in those jurisdictions in communion with Rome or Constantinople..." I too am left a bit confused. I have been confused for sometime about the Lutheran handling of Tradition. And then today I ran across this from Luther, "Thus the heretics confess and brag that they believe in Christ according to what the Gospels say of Him, that He was born, suffered, died, etc. But they do not believe in those things which pertain to Him. And what are these things? The church, of course, and every word which proceeds from the mouth of a leader of the church or from the mouth of a good and holy man is the Word of Christ..." How do we reconcile these two thoughts?

p.s. For the full post on this subject please see my blog, http://prairieponderings07.blogspot.com/


William Weedon said...


The Lutheran handling of tradition is a complex topic! If you can get hold of Chemnitz' *Examination of the Council of Trent* you will discover that he devotes just shy of 100 pages to covering this topic.

I can hardly do justice to his extensive treatment in a blog post, but a summary runs along these lines:

Lutherans affirm
1. That which Christ and the apostles delivered by Word of mouth and which under the inspiration of the Spirit were later written.
2. That the books of Holy Scripture were cared for by the church in an unbroken span of time and by a sure unbroken succession and were faithfully transmitted to posterity and to us.
3. The regula fidei.
4. The Church's exposition of the Sacred Scriptures.
5. The dogmas gathered by use of inference (for example, infant baptism).
6. The consensus of the Orthodox fathers on this or that point as the faith was confessed against error.
7. Unwritten by ancient ceremonies and rites traced back to the apostles by the fathers.

The point of contention comes at #8: Unwritten traditions, related to faith and morals, unproven by any testimony from the Sacred Scriptures but to be received with the same devotion as Scripture. This the Lutheran rejects.

The way Chemnitz sums up the matter: "We have shown that we do not simply reject all traditions which are observed under this name and title by the ancients. For what is either contained in Scripture or in agreement with it we do not disapprove. The question, however, is rather concerning those traditions which (as Andrada says) cannot be proved by any testimony of Scripture. In the case of these the simple assertion that they are apostolic tradition does not suffice. For with respect to this kind of traditions we have shown at great length both the mistakes of some good men and the frauds of evil men.... The best and safest counsel is therefore, as Irenaeus says, that what Polycarp had related from tradition was all in agreement with the Holy Scriptures.... Let that therefore stand which Jerome says, that the sword of the Word of God strikes through all things which are put forth without authority and testimonies of the Scriptures as apostolic tradition."

And a little further, since this touches on the invocation:

"Rites which are in harmony with the Scripture are rightly retained, but those which conflict with the Scripture must by a just judgment and without rashness be rejected and abolished... We reply out of their own law, Distinction 8, 'Custom without truth is ancient error.'"

Philip Hoffman said...

Rev. William,
Then what is Luther getting at when he talks about the heretics not believing in the things of Christ and instead trying to believe in Christ. He says that we cannot make this distinction. It seems as though Chemnitz and the Lutheran tradition is attempting to make a distinction that Luther was unwilling to make.


William Weedon said...


See my comment on your blog post - the Romans Commentary is pre-Reformation Luther! He's got inklings, but he hasn't pushed it all the way through - the Gospel's brilliant illumination really starts cooking in the writings from 1520 onward. To see his mature thoughts on the topic, I'd recommend *On the Councils and the Church* in AE 41.

Philip Hoffman said...

Rev. William,
As I have asked you over on my blog, are we to assume that as a result of Luther's Reformation breakthrough he disagrees with his diagnosis of dividing Christ from his Church and his priests as witnessed to in the Roman's Commentary?


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

"What we do with the saints every week is to sing with them, to pray with them, to bow down with them before the Lamb, and to proclaim together His redeeming love."

Yes, I know. That's what I said.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...


Also, every Scripture that speaks of "I in them and they me" and "as I am in You and You in Me..." and Jesus' followers being glorified together with Him, IN Him, is pertinent to this topic. Everything about one body, one blood, members of one another, bearing one another's burdens, loving one another as we love ourselves.

People who *substitute* the saints for Christ, relating to them instead of to Him, have not yet well understood this. But then, neither have those who do the opposite.


William Weedon said...


The thing he came to disagree with was that everything that the "Church" proclaimed was actually the truth; rather, he came to recognize as Church precisely that which spoke God's Word AE 41:217:

"Therefore nothing must be preached in Church except the sure, pure, and one Word of God. Where that is missing, we no longer have the church, but the synagogue of the devil [Rev. 2:9], just as a godly wife should not use any other word in her house or in her bed than that of her husband, and if she does listen to the word of someone who does not belong in her husband's bed, she is certainly a whore."

"Now the purpose of all this is to show that the Church must teach God's word alone, and must be sure of it. The Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, build on the rock, and called holy and irreproachable. Thus one rightly and truly says, 'The Church cannot err, for God's Word which it teaches cannot err.' But whatever is taught or whatever is not with certainty God's Word, cannot be the doctrine of the Church, but must be the doctrine, falsehood, and idolatry of the devil. The devil cannot say (since he is a liar and the father of lies), 'God says this.' But, as Christ says in John 8, he must speak ex propris, 'from and of himself,' that is, he must lie; and so without God's Word, all his children speak from and of themselves, that is, they must lie."

Philip Hoffman said...

Rev. William,
Help me in my ignorance: is what you have quoted compared to what I have quoted a dividing of Christ from what is of Christ?


Randy Asburry said...


What is the source of that lengthy quote from Augustine?

William Weedon said...


He finally came to the point of saying that what could not be harmonized with Scripture was not "of Christ" no matter who taught it and on what authority. Does that make sense? I'd encourage a read of the entirety of his *On the Councils and the Church*. Very good stuff.

Philip Hoffman said...

He finally came to the point of saying that what could not be harmonized with Scripture was not "of Christ" no matter who taught it and on what authority.

Does this theo-logic sever, in some way, at some point, Christ (the Word) and the word of Scripture from the Church?


Anonymous said...

What is the source of that lengthy quote from Augustine?

Egads Pastor Asburry, I can't remember now.

But if you google St. Augustine's works it's sure to come up.

I have always looked upon the invocation of the saints as asking a heavenly brother or sister to pray with me to our common Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I don't look upon the saints as independent agents, so to speak.

Their lives also flesh out salvation history in showing forth how God works in each generation to raise up faithful sons and daughters whose lives shine with his glory.

Of course, that there are countless saints who cross our paths every day in the most ordinary of circumstances is most evident. I've known so many people over my life whose lives were so animated by the love of Christ it simply spilled over. And, as St. Paul points out, all baptized Christians are saints, set apart to the Lord.