11 October 2007

Rhegius on the Saints

Whoever does not honor them, therefore, disparages Christ who is in them and belittles the grace of God through which they have turned out so well. I ask you, what does it say about a person's attitude toward the holy church if that person does not honor our fellow members who are already at peace with Christ and have been made certain of eternal salvation? Christ said: "The angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents." Certainly, therefore, our brothers and sisters, the saints, ardently desire the hastening of our repentance and salvation. And since the angels pray for us [Zech. 1:12], it is very likely that the saints also pray for us. Their love for us has not diminished but increased. That does not mean, however, that we should invoke the saints, just as we do not call upon angels but only upon Christ our God.

We should nevertheless honor the saints as the early church honored them by respectfully celebrating their memory. It gave thanks to God for setting them free, for the grace given to them, for their blessedness, and for the excellent gifts which God through the saints poured out on the church. Is it not true that God through Augustine, not to mention others, stirs up the Church to comprehend the epistles of Paul, when that saint seeks so ardently in the Scriptures and then, armed with the teaching of Paul, so powerfully refutes and confounds the Pelagians?

Are not saints the brightest mirrors of divine grace in which we see what the grace of God can do?? ... Their examples make us want to imitate them, so that we pray to God for a similar faith and to imitate the virtues of the saints as befits our own calling. Consequently, our faith in Christ is strenthened, our charity is set aflame, and our hope of eternal life is confirmed. We do not believe the saints are gone, but rather gone ahead to the life of the age to come.

We take with utmost seriousness the article of Creed: "I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints." For it is no small consolation for a devoted heart to remember that those who like us fought sin in this mortal flesh have now been liberated and taken to safety. We will certainly follow them, for we are their brothers and sisters, "citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone." [Eph 2:19-20] O that blessed city of God, into which so many children, virgins, and martyrs have been received, where we will see for eternity apostles, prophets, patriarchs and all the righteous who have believed in Christ, from Adam up to the last Christian on earth! We will see choirs of angels and the most blessed mother herself who is the the noblest member of the mystical body, finally the only true source of eternal joy for angels and humans, Jesus Christ the king of glory, and God who is all in all.

[Urbanus Rhegius, Confessor at Smalcald: Preaching the Reformation, pp. 93-97]


Rev. John Frahm said...

Great quotation...

Honoring the saints shows the Lord's continuing care for the church, her continuity, and that the Lord keeps His promises. It confesses the unity of the church in heaven and on earth.

But to insert reason/philosophy to extrapolate that since the church is one in heaven and on earth to mean that the saints in heaven hear us or that it is a good thing for us to attempt to communicate with them is dangerous.

It presumes we can read the hearts of individuals before the they die to know whether they are in heaven or hell. It presumes a chatter coming from Christians on earth to Christians in heaven. The book of Revelation describes the prayers of the saints arising before God as incense, but nowhere does it describe the prayers of the saints coming before the prayers of other saints.

A view of church tradition which can only endorse the status quo falls into the same trap as the charismatic movement which suggests that whatever happens is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. That enthusiasm gives birth to error as Word and Spirit are separated. The Word creates the Church.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

It is no more inserting reason or philosophy to say that saints can hear our prayers, than it is reason or philosophy to say that God is Trinity, or that Christ has two natures and one person. None is explictly mentioned in those terms in Holy Scripture. All are taught there, however, and all are confessed and hymned by the Church.

What the Lord said to the Sadducees is equally applicable to the protestant mind: "You err greatly, knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God." God is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to him.

It is no surprise that the western world has turned so secular, when it changed the ancient Christian dividing-line between life and death from believing vs. non-believing, to heart beating vs. heart stopped.

Randy Asburry said...

Fr. Gregory said:
"It is no more inserting reason or philosophy to say that saints can hear our prayers, than it is reason or philosophy to say that God is Trinity, or that Christ has two natures and one person. None is explictly mentioned in those terms in Holy Scripture. All are taught there, however, and all are confessed and hymned by the Church."

Fr. Gregory,

Perhaps this is the nub of the issue that needs to be brought out more clearly. Lutherans have no problem seeing the Trinity or the two natures in one Christ taught in the Scriptures. Where might we look for Scriptural references (notice I did *not* say "proof texts") and teaching regarding the saints hearing our prayers, for example?

And for everyone,

I am rather intrigued (i.e. in the sense of not knowing what to do with it) by the manner in which the Confessions argue against the invocation of saints. As I recall they basically say, "Nowhere does Scripture command us to invoke the saints," however, they do not seem to drop the other shoe and say, "Scripture forbids it." (Or am I missing something?)

What would happen if we applied the same reasoning and hermeneutic to, say, gathering on Sunday mornings to hear the Gospel and receive the Sacraments? "Scripture does not command us to worship on Sunday mornings." True enough. But then again, neither does it forbid it. And what should we do if, by chance, worshiping on Sunday mornings came to be seen as somehow meritorious for earning God's favor. Would we draft a statement to say, "We'd better not worship on Sundays, because it can be misused"?

BTW, in the interest of honest and full disclosure: no, I do not pray to saints, nor am I necessarily advocating such. I am merely analyzing the methods of argumentation to see how they hold water (or not).

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Fr. Asburry,

At the outset, let me say that Scripture functions in a different way in the Orthodox Church than it does in the Lutheran confession. The Church has always recognized, for example, that Ezekiel 44 speaks of the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos. But when Scripture began to be pitted against the Church as a whole, in the works of John Gerhard, Lutherans after that time could no longer see what was there; and what had been taught, even by early Lutherans, became a "pious opinion."

This pitting of Scripture against the Church came in reaction to Rome, who spoke of Scripture PLUS tradition, as if the two were separated. Once Rome had divided what God had joined, it was only a matter of time till the protestants should pick Scripture over the Church.

With that in mind, the Church has always seen such intercession--not so much taught as assumed--in biblical texts like:

> James 5: Pray for one another; the fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man avails much;
> Luke 20: God is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to him (Remember that the Sadducees had read the text in Exodus again and again, but had never seen what the Lord shows them. If the same Spirit who wrote does not also illumine--if we read the Word without the mind of Christ, then reading alone is worthless.);
> Phil. 1: to be with Christ is "far better"
> Heb. 12: we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses
> Rev.: saints under the altar crying out 'how long,' bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints.

We must remember, again, that like the ever-virginity of the Theotokos, so the intercession of the saints belongs not to the kerygma, but the dogma of the Church--following the distinction made by St. Basil in his "On the Holy Spirit." There he also writes, "Dogma is one thing, kerygma is another; the first is observed in silence, while the latter is proclaimed to the world."

Khomiakov says, about this issue (I apologize for the length of the quote, but I think it's worth it):

“It would not be difficult to show in the doctrine of the Reformers the indelible mark of Rome and the same spirit of utilitarian rationalism which characterizes papism. Their conclusions are not the same; but the premises and the definitions assumed and contained in these conclusions are always identical. . . .The Papacy says: "The Church appeals to the intercession of the saints, therefore this is useful, therefore this completes the merits of prayer and works of satisfaction." The Reform answers: The satisfaction for sins made by the blood of Christ and appropriated by faith in baptism and in prayer is sufficient for the redemption not only of man but also of all creation, therefore the saints' intercession for us is useless, and there is no reason to appeal to them in prayer." Clearly the sacred Communion of Saints is equally incomprehensible to both sides. . .
In this way the warring parties have gone back and forth at each other with syllogisms through the centuries, and are still going back and forth at each other, but always over the same ground, the ground of rationalism; and neither side can choose any other. Even Rome's division of the Church into the teaching and the learning Church has been transmitted to the Reform; the only difference is that in the Roman confession it exists by right, by virtue of acknowledged law, while in Protestantism it exists only as a fact; and a scholar has taken the place of the priest. . .
The Church in her fullness, as a spiritual organism, is neither a collective nor an abstract entity; she is the Divine Spirit, who knows Himself and is unable not to know. The whole Church wrote the Holy Scriptures and then gave life to them in Tradition. To put it more accurately, Scripture and Tradition, as two manifestations of one and the same Spirit, are a single manifestation. Scripture is nothing but written Tradition, and Tradition is nothing but living Scripture. Such is the mystery of this harmonious unity; it is formed by the fusion of the purest holiness with the highest reason, and only by way of this fusion does reason acquire the ability to comprehend things in that realm where reason alone, separated from holiness, is as blind as matter itself. . .
So many of the questions which have been argued for so many centuries in the religious polemic of Europe find a simple resolution within the Church; or, to speak more accurately, for her they do not even exist as questions. Thus, taking it as a first principle that the life of the spiritual world is nothing but love and communion in prayer, she prays for the dead, even though she rejects the fable of purgatory invented by rationalism; she asks for the intercession of the saints, not ascribing to them, however, the merits contrived by the utilitarian school, and not acknowledging the necessity for any intercession other than that of our Divine Mediator.”

I would prefer that this be my last word on the topic, as speaking where we should observe reverent silence is dangerous both to speaker and to hearer. Wishing you every blessing and salvation, and asking your prayers, I am

the unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Pr. Weedon, what is the fully bibliographic reference for the book from which you pulled that quote?

Great quote!

William Weedon said...

I thought you guys were going to publish it yourselves. It is:

*Preaching the Reformation: The Homiletical Handbook of Urbanus Rhegius* translated, edited and introduced by Scott Hendrix, published by Marquette University Press, 2003.

William Weedon said...


The argument seems to advance in the Symbols.

AC: "The Scriptures do not teach that we are to call on the saints or to ask the saints for help."

Ap: "Our confession affirms only this: Scripture does not teach teh invocation of the saints, or that we are to ask the saints for aid. Since neither a command nor a promise nor an example can be produced from the Scriptures about the invocation of the saints, it makes sense that conscience remains uncertain about this invocation.... Without the testimony of Scripture, how do we know that the saints know about the prayers of each one?"

SA: "The invocation of the saints is also one of the Antichrist's abuses that conflicts with the chief article and destroys the knowledge of Christ. It is neither commanded nor counseled, nor has it any warrant in Scripture. Even if it were a precious thing - which it is not - we have everything a thousand times better in Christ."

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Bill, Marquette University still publishes it and sells it and did not give us permission to print it and sell it ourselves.


Chris Jones said...

The argument seems to advance in the Symbols.

That is not what I would call an "advance". Quite the contrary.

My reaction to the "argument" in the Smalcald Articles:

1. What basis do we have other than Dr Luther's option as to which is the "chief" article? I dare say that Athanasius would have identified the divinity of Christ as the chief article, and Cyril would have identified the incarnation as the chief article. Which article seems to be "chief" depends on which one is most at risk because of the errors of the day.

2. Invocation in no way conflicts with the article on justification. The doctrine of the merits of the saints does conflict with it; but to invoke the saints does not imply relying on their merits.

3. The notion that it "destroys the knowledge of Christ" is laughable. Did the Fathers of the Church -- all of whom practiced invocation -- have no knowledge of Christ? Indeed, since the practice of invocation was universal in the Church from the fourth century (at the very latest) onwards, surely the knowledge of Christ must have utterly perished, if it is "destroyed" by the practice of invocation.

4. Granted that the practice is not commanded in Scripture; but to claim that it has "no warrant" is reading the Scriptures with a wooden literalism that has no regard for the Church's Tradition.

This statement from SA is utterly baseless and I dissent from it in the strongest terms.

Chris Jones said...

Sorry, I meant "Dr Luther's opinion," not "option".

William Weedon said...

Dear Christopher,

By "advance" I only meant that the argument grew more explicit.

On #1, the chief article is always Jesus Christ - His person and His work on our behalf -and Luther wouldn't dispute that, nor would Athanasius or Cyril, I'd bet.

On #2, the only experience Luther had of invocation was intricately bound up with pleading the merits of the saints, and that's why he speak of it as against the chief article.

On #3, on what basis do you argue that all the fathers of the church practiced the invocation of the saints? I'd be curious to see that substantiated from their own writings. I don't doubt that the later fathers did so; but the early fathers seem to know nothing of it, at least as far as I have found in my reading - which is, admittedly, limited.

On #4, remember that Luther's "no warrant" is tightly tied to pleading with the saints to interpose their merits.

Thus, contextualized, and read as commentary and elaboration of the AC, the SA are not baseless at all, nor was or is the Lutheran Church wrong to regard them as a Symbol. So, I dissent from your dissent in the strongest terms - but I'll confess freely that the SA are my absolutely least favorite of the Symbols in our Concordia.

William Weedon said...

By the way, they're McCain's favorite. ;)

Anonymous said...


You wrote: "The Word creates the Church." Your argument only holds water if Word is solely (a favorite Lutheran word) understood in terms of a what and instead of a who. To us Orthodox the Word is our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune God. He did establish the Church upon which the the truth is taught and procliamed to the world.

William Weedon said...


Word as Christ should not be set in opposition to Word as Sacred Scripture or Word as proclamation of the Gospel.

The Lord, who is the Word Eternal, creates, sustains, and extends the Church through the Word proclaimed and sacramentally enacted on the basis of the Word written.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Weedon,

the chief article is always Jesus Christ - His person and His work on our behalf

I've always understood the phrase "chief article" in the Confessions to refer specifically to justification by faith. If it is to be understood to mean both Christology and soteriology generally, it's news to me. Welcome news, if true, whereof I doubt.

on what basis do you argue that all the fathers of the church practiced the invocation of the saints?

That is what I have been taught. I have no independent scholarship to offer. I take it as a given that the veneration of the saints (including invocation) was the common practice of the Church from the fourth century at the latest. I presume that the Fathers followed the common practice of the Church. There is certainly no evidence that they dissented from it.

Thus, contextualized ...

I don't know that such contextualization takes away the force of the SA as written. If it is invocation predicated on the merits of the saints that is condemned, then invocation apart from the notion of merit is not condemned -- and the Anglo-Catholic and Orthodox practice that I was taught is permissible.

I doubt that you could sell that to very many of your brother LCMS pastors. Let me know how that goes.

William Weedon said...


I was actually just paraphrasing the SA about the chief article:

"The first and chief article is this:

Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised for our justification. He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and God has laid on Him the iniquities of us all. All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood. This is necessary to believe."

About the fathers practicing it, I'd respectfully suggest that your teachers may have assumed it was so, while in fact it was not.

About contextualization, I didn't say it was predicated upon the merits of the saints, but that it was tightly tied to the notion of pleading the saints' merits. The Apology treats first of the invocation per se, then goes on to speak of applying the saints' merits. It rejects both aspects; but my point stands that the words of Luther, while they may well have application to the invocation of the saints apart from pleading merit, were directed against the practice that he himself knew and was taught.

A similar point obtains about monasticism. Luther's critique is squarely aimed at the notion of monasticism as a work that is done towards meriting one's salvation. A monasticism that is a current living out of the future life is something that's not on his radar screen, as it were.

Dixie said...

Wow...I used to think you two (Chris Jones and Pastor Weedon) were kinda like the Patty Duke twins of Evangelical Catholicism. You know...they laugh alike, they walk alike, sometimes they even talk alike.... Well, not walk alike or a laugh alike--who could know from the Internet! ...but certainly were most agreeable on many things...until recently. It seems the myth has been busted...they are not twins separated at birth.


(Just having a little fun...hope it was!)

Anonymous said...

Fr. Weedon,

You wrote: "Word as Christ should not be set in opposition to Word as Sacred Scripture or Word as proclamation of the Gospel." But that is precisely what Lutheranism is doing--separating the Logos from Scripture and showing preference to the holy words. Your single one track mind makes the Logos only written words and not the Incarnate Son of God.

William Weedon said...


Um, no, Christopher and I are NOT twins. Over our friendship (sadly, mostly on line, though one all too brief and wonderful meeting in person) we've had a number of items where we disagreed over the years, but I dare say many more places where we tended to agree, even to think the same way about things.

But I find the times we disagree to be the better times - in this sense, Christopher makes one think and really think through matters of the faith, and he does so with a grace of humility (and Christopher Orr is just the same) that I have found a blessing.

Shoot, I still remember once when I just lost my temper on line and shot off something I had no business saying, period. It wasn't very long afterward that a kind and gentle and shocked remonstrance moved me toward repentance, a tad reluctantly at first, but finally got me there.

I just wish he'd get off the keester and blog some more on Pleroma, because I always appreciated and learned from what he wrote.

William Weedon said...

Christopher (Palo),

I don't think that's the case. It's rather that we come to KNOW this Christ, this Eternal Word, primarily through the medium of His proclaimed and inscripted Word. I say "primarily" because we also come to know Him through His words "encacted" (I really don't like that term, but I'm not sure what to replace it with), that is, the Holy Sacraments. Through these He comes to us and dwells within us.

Rev. Charles Lehmann said...

That was the first and best book you made me read on vicarage!

Anonymous said...

Pr. Weedon,

Would you agree with the below...

What the Confessors were
objecting to was precisely forcing consciences to participate in
invocation of the saints when this is practiced "in the Church" -
that is, in her liturgy - vs. the private piety of individuals who
may believe that the saints, who indeed no longer "know in part" and
who surround us as a "great cloud of witnesses" and whom we confess
to be interceding for us anyway, may also be able to hear our
requests for their intercessions. But to place invocation in the
Divine Service makes those who do not share this pious opinion and
who are unsure it is pleasing to God (or believe it is displeasing)
actually sin by joining in what they do not believe. (This seems to be the sense of Ap XXI:10-13)

Further, we might also helpfully distinguish between the invocation
of the saints that pleads their merits and asks them to do this or
that (as though they were God!) with the invocation that consists
merely in asking their intercessions on our behalf. (Cf. "Here we will show that the adversaries truly make the saints not just intercessors, but atonement makers, that is, mediators of redemption", Ap. XXI:16)

From the standpoint of justification, the first is an abomination, not to mention a violation of the first commandment; the second, however, is no more of a danger to faith than asking you to pray for me.

William Weedon said...

Now, Harry, you got me! ;)

I still largely agree with what I wrote before, but with the caveat that I was pinning a LOT on the ambiguity of the expression in Ap XXI:13 "This new invocation in the Church is not like the invocation of individuals." Piepkorn notes this passage particularly that our Confession's objection is not addressed to "the invocation of individuals."

The one sentence I would now change is the very last. I am not longer sure that it poses no danger to faith, and that is because it seems to not stay put as either a pious individual practice or as just asking the saints to pray. It has a strong track record of becoming rather more - and thus I would counsel not that it is indifferent as a private thing, but that even as a private thing, it often is the first step toward taking refuge in the persons of the saints instead of in the Lord Jesus.

That is not to deny the communion of saints in the one body, but it is to point out that when Cornelius fell at Peter's feet and worshipped him (the proskenew word - obeissance), Peter did not tell him that he did right to recognize and worship the presence of the Exalted Christ within him, but raised him to his feet and told him: "Stand up. I too am a man."