02 March 2010

I had a friend ask

my thoughts this a.m. on the matter of the intercession of the saints as described in Apology XXI:9 as "for the Church universal in general" and how this might or might not preclude their intercessions for specific persons.

I opined that "general" does not of itself preclude the personal. The place to look for this in Scripture is actually 1 Cor. 12:26: "If one member suffers, all suffer together." This does not exclude the glorified in heaven, for even our Lord in His risen glory could say to Saul: "why are you persecuting ME?" To touch His holy Church was to touch Him. Thus, I'd argue, the body as a whole experiences the suffering of the individual member and cries out in intercession. How beautifully did Luther put this in his sermon on John XVII:

"For to everyone who believe, through the word of the Apostles, the promise is given for Christ's sake and by the power of this prayer, that he shall be one body and one loaf with all Christians; that what happens to him as a member for good or ill, shall happen to the whole body for good or ill, and not only one or two saints, but all the prophets, martyrs, apostles, all Christians, both on earth, and with God in heaven, shall suffer and conquer with him, shall fight for him, help, protect, and save him, and shall undertake for him such a gracious exchange that they will all bear his sufferings, want, and afflictions and he partake of all their blessings, comfort, and joy....For who can harm or injure a man who has this confidence, who knows that heaven and earth, and all the angels and the saints will cry to God when the smallest suffering befalls him?"

The emphasis on "in general" I think is due to this: here on earth, we pray especially for those we know and have been bound to by ties of affection; yet the state of the blessed dead is already perfected in love, so that their love for each is as great as their love for any particular human being. This would certainly be reflected in their intercessions so that their prayers would, of that very reality, be general without ceasing to be highly personal.

"Then I will know fully..." and knowing Him fully embraces knowing Him in "the least of these" fully. One body, one loaf.


Carl Vehse said...

Regarding prayer requests to the saints, there are abundance Scriptural descriptions of how, why, where, when, how long, and what we are to communicate with God through an act of worship called "prayer". Through this worship communication He guarantees always to hear us and answer in His perfect way, whether we are alone or with many, standing or prostrate, on a mountain or the deepest hole, in whatever language or tongue, aloud or silent, happy or sad, healthy or dying. Christ even gave us His own prayer to communicate with His (and our) heavenly Father, and to serve as an example for other prayers.

But nowhere does Scripture offer or suggest or hint that the "prayer" communication works with or should be used for the departed saints.

Now, there is a verse about prayer and the departed saints (Isaiah 63:16). In this verse Isaiah is praying to God to deliver the people of Judah from their enemies. According to Isaiah neither Abraham nor Israel (Jacob), patriarchs long dead, are able to see the plight of Judah, hear Isaiah's cries, and rescue them. Isaiah pleads that only God is capable of saving them, as He alone has done in the past. So, simply, if Abraham and Jacob don't notice what is happening to their descendants; the rest of the saints in heaven are not likely watching either.

Moreover Isaiah assures us of the special nature of God's prayer line with us that before we call, God answers, and while we are yet praying, God hears (Is.65:24). While this does not address passing on prayer requests to the departed saints, how could such alleged requests improve one iota upon what God has already provided and guaranteed to us in His Word?

However, there are passages in the Bible that warn against, if not downright prohibit, supernatural communication with the departed souls (Lev.19:31; Deut.18:10-12; Gal.5:19-21; Rev. 22:15). And misuse of prayer communication (e.g., to idols and anyone else other than the true God) is also forbidden. Those warnings we do need to take seriously.

To no surprise, AC.XXI.2-4 is clear: “But the Scripture teaches not the invocation of saints or to ask help of saints, since it sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Propitiation, High Priest, and Intercessor. He is to be prayed to, and has promised that He will hear our prayer; and this worship He approves above all, to wit, that in all afflictions He be called upon, 1 John 2, 1: 'If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, etc.'"

The Smalcald Articles reasserts this when Luther refers to the invocation of the saints as idolatry and an abuse of the Antichrist.

Finally, consider reason. When a person dies, his bodily functions cease; that includes the ability to hear. Unless God's Word reveals a superior truth, I maintain the rational conclusion that those saints who have departed this life do not hear our prayers.

We Christians have neither Scriptural nor reasonable evidence for communicating such prayer requests to departed saints, including Mary; and the departed saints have neither Scriptural nor reasonable evidence for being able to receive them. And we Lutherans have a solid doctrinal position against praying to the departed saints.

William Weedon said...

The original post in no way could be construed as advocating invoking the saints, Dr. Strickert.

Daniel said...


What do you do with the reference in the Confessions about the "Virgin Mary praying for us"?

Anonymous said...

I cited the following quote on my blog. While it doesn't talk about praying to saints, it does talk about praying for the departed:

“It is enough to pray God once or twice for her, because he has said to us, ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask, if ye believe, ye shall receive.’ If we keep on praying for the same thing, it is a sign that we do not believe, and we only annoy him with our unbelieving prayers. For what does it mean if I repeatedly pray for the same thing except that my earlier prayers were not answered and that I have prayed contrary to his will? It is true that we ought to pray at all times, but we should do so in faith, certain that we are heard, otherwise the prayer is vain. And we are never at a loss for something new to pray for.”[1]

[1] Martin Luther in a letter “To Bartholomew von Staremberg (September 1, 1524)” after the death of his wife. Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, edited by Theodore G Tappert, (Vancouver, British Columbia: 1960), 54.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

"Finally, consider reason. When a person dies, his bodily functions cease; that includes the ability to hear."

Lutherans do not advocate praying *to* the victorious saints even though we affirm that they pray *for* us even as they did on this side of the grave. The Christian view of death is indeed at odds with reason that teaches us that death robs a person of all personal interaction. But God's Word trumps reason: e.g. Matt 22:32 & Luke 19:31.

It isn't the Lutheran, but the Protestant, that tosses out the baby with the non-baptismal water. We can (and do!) confess that the saints intercede for us, while refraining from praying to them and turning them into a pantheon that caused so much trouble in the pre-reformation church. It is not an either/or, but a both/and.

Nor are Lutherans at liberty to cut out or ignore parts of our Book of Concord that would make Reformed or Baptist Christians uncomfortable. Just as I take comfort knowing that people pray for me here on earth, it also comforts me knowing those who have won the victory in Christ pray for me as well. We are *one* church. How the prayers of the saints, literally the "holy ones" (here and there) effect my existence is a mystery - but we do know that the prayer of a "righteous person has great power as it is working" (Jas 5:16).

That biblical confession of the power of Christian prayer also defies reason.

Carl Vehse said...

"The original post in no way could be construed as advocating invoking the saints"

The original post tiptoes into the Tiber when it states: "... this might or might not preclude their intercessions for specific persons," "I opined that 'general' does not of itself preclude the personal," and "Thus, I'd argue, the body as a whole experiences the suffering of the individual member and cries out in intercession."

"What do you do with the reference in the Confessions about the "Virgin Mary praying for us"?"

If you are referring to Ap.XXI.27, it only notes that Mary prays for the Church, not that she is a mediatrix for anyone today in the Church on earth.

"But God's Word trumps reason: e.g. Matt 22:32 & Luke 19:31"

As I stated previously: "Unless God's Word reveals a superior truth, I maintain the rational conclusion that those saints who have departed this life do not hear our prayers." Matt. 22:32 and Luke 19:31, as well as James 5:16 do not address the saints in heaven being able to hearing the prayers of those in the Church on earth. Neither does Rev. 6. Only Romish fairy tales.

William Weedon said...

The tip-toeing is purely in your imagination, Dr. As Pr. Beane points out we distinguish between invoking the saints (forbidden) and their intercessions for us, in which I do and shall rejoice.

Carl Vehse said...

Your original thread goes beyond the saints in heaven praying for the Church and opines that they pray for "specific persons" in need today. The thread also argues that the saints in heaven experience (i.e., are consciously aware of) individual sufferings and needs of Christians on earth today and intercedes to God for them specifically. There is simply no Scriptural or confessional basis for such notions. One might as well opine on the material and weave of heavenly robes the saints may wear.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Dear Doctor:

You are baiting and switching the question and answer.

What you're doing is this:

Q: Do the saints pray for us?
A: No, we don't pray to the saints.

You even introduced the term "mediatrix" into the discussion - which no Lutheran confesses - a total red herring. Your "Tiber" remarks are simply ridiculous and sinful. They are an attack on reputations based on things those being insulted are not saying.

Ap 21 includes both of these statements: "We also grant that the saints in heaven pray for the church in general, as they prayed for the church universal while they were on earth" [Ap 21:9]


"Even if the saints do pray fervently for the church, it does not follow that they should be invoked..." [Ap 21:10].

You cannot accept 10 without 9, nor can you accept the conclusion in 10 while jettisoning the premise. It's a both/and situation.

It's bad enough when Protestants slap confessing Lutherans with the Romanist epithet - it's especially sad (and baffling) when professing Lutherans do the same.

Carl Vehse said...

"You are baiting and switching the question and answer."

No. I am pointing out that when one “opined” and then proceeded to “argue” that the intercession of the saints “might or might not preclude their intercessions for specific persons” and that, as part of the Church, a departed saint such as Mary “experiences the suffering of the individual member and cries out in intercession,” such tiptoeing into the Tiber encourages wading completely into the watery notion that the saints in heaven also experience (hear) the suffering prayers of the saints here on earth today and then intercede for them.

This whole notion of a conscious experience of subsequent events on earth by departed saints and its part in their communion with God is considered an “open question.”

“Of the souls of the believers we are told not merely in general that they are in God’s hand (Acts 7:59; Luke 23:46), but also in particular that they dwell with Christ and in Paradise… These texts surely make it evident that the departed souls of the believers are in a state of blessed enjoyment of God, even though we know nothing further as to the manner of their blessed communion with God.” [Franz Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p.511ff]

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Dear Doctor:

You continue to answer questions that are not being asked.

I often feel sorry for the straw man. What did he ever do to deserve all the abuse he gets?

William Weedon said...

Dr. Strickert, may the Lord give you a greater joy in the communion of His body - which is one. Dr. Luther's words seem to be what you are most arguing against. I'd suggest that Luther actually expressed exactly what "that they may be one" truly means.

Carl Vehse said...

"I often feel sorry for the straw man. What did he ever do to deserve all the abuse he gets?"

Perhaps he should ask one of the red herrings you've tossed in.

My responses have addressed the initial question on the intercession of the saints for "specific persons," the question of the "Virgin Mary praying for us?", and the implied question of whether departed saints are consciously aware of the needs and suffering today on earth, whether or not the saints on earth address their prayers to the saints in heaven by name or not.

Admittedly, one question I had not addressed is the claim that the departed saints in heaven suffer along with the Church on earth today, although Pieper's statement suggests the answer is "No", unless the claim is that they suffer in blessed enjoyment of God.

As for Luther's words from his sermon, insofar as they are in agreement with Scripture and the confessions, I agree with them.

Daniel said...

Actually the good Doctor has a point. If one is to go so far as to say that Saints and Angels can see us, feel us, hear us and pray for us in specific instances, then of course that knowledge by us will cause us to want to ask them for such prayer.

In other words, picture a group of friends in a sound proof room. We have not spoken to them for some time. Then we are told that they can now hear us. Of course, in such a situation we will begin to speak to them, even if they cannot speak to us.

The fruit of the five hundred year debate over whether we should ask intercession of Saints can be seen in the Naming of new parishes today. The result of the Reformation church's lack of belief that the patron Saint has a special role of interceding for his/her parish has been the discontinuance of naming new missions after Saint and Angels. This has led to an abandoning of Patrons such as Saint Peter or Saint Anne toward names such as "the Journey", "the Bridge" and "Crosspointe". But the key things is that all of this is the result of a lack of real communion, which necessitate real dialogue with the entire Communion of Saints. Where there is no dialogue; there is no community. It then eventually ends up in just "me and Jesus". And after that come "the Shack".

William Weedon said...

Oh, bull twinkie, Dan. Orthodox propaganda. We LIVE in the communion of all the saints, and we can rejoice in the saints praying for us, without our having to ask them to such a thing. Surrounded by angels and archangel and all the saints in heaven, we run the race that is set before us, and they cheer us on all the way and hearten us by their constant intercession. I don't have to ask the Blessed Mother to pray for me; I know she does already! Same with all the saints. Luther got it just right.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

There is nothing in the Lutheran Confessions to suggest that, say, my sainted mother prays to the Lord only in this fashion:

"Dear heavenly Father, I pray only for the church in general, not any individuals, mind you, like my two sons, but rather just in an abstract fashion and nothing more. Dear Lord, I *would* ask your blessing upon my sons, and my sisters - but you know, since I don't know anything about their specific situations on earth, I'll just not pray for them as individuals at all. In fact, just forget I said anything about them. Oh, what was that Franz? You forbade me in volume III? Sorry, I never read that. I guess we have it on Kindle here in Heaven. Sorry Lord. My bad..."

This is just silly.

When my grandpa was a POW in Germany, and nobody had a clue of his whereabouts - I'm quite sure the family prayed for him even without being in a position to know his specific situation. Is there anything in Scripture that bans departed saints from praying for people even without being able to hear them? I pray for people I can't hear all the time.

No-one here seems to hold the opinion that the departed saints have supernatural powers or can eavesdrop on us. The question involved the prayers of the saints and whether or not they pray for individuals (again, this is not the issue of whether or not we are to invoke them - that is clearly not even on the table).

Now, angelic beings are a different story. They apparently can interact with us, and we can communicate with them - otherwise what is an exorcism? Otherwise how is it that Luther encourages us to shake our fist at Satan and command him to leave? There is such an invocation of an evil spirit (fallen angel) in the pastoral care companion, page 16.

Jim Huffman said...

Where does Phil. 4.6 enter into this discussion? Is there a limit to where we should pray when there is a concern?

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Rick Strickert, sadly, engages in his constant hobby of "bash the pastor" which he loves to play. I have no idea where/why he developed this deep anti-clerical streak. His father was a pastor and so is, if I'm not mistaken, one of his brothers. But Dr. Strickert feels the need everywhere, always, to attack pastors, to pounce on every real and imagined error, to put forward a facile reading of LCMS history to make the layman Vehse the great "hero" the same Vehse who turned tail and ran away when the going got rough.

Pastor Weedon is NOT advocating prayer to the saints by we who are on this side of heaven.

The solution to the error of Rome is not embracing a bizarre total and complete and utter separation of the saints on earth from the saints in heaven.

I find great comfort in knowing my dear father is in heaven right now praying for the Church and I see no harm in, or any reason not, to be thinking that he prays for his dear wife here and his sons and grandchildren.

Do I pray to my father? Nope. He would slap me silly if I did, if/when he gets the chance.

: )

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. McCain, what is your problem?

My comments on this thread do not "bash the pastor" or express a "deep anti-clerical streak." They are no different than the views in Christian Dogmatics, where J.T. Mueller describes the condition of the soul between death and the resurrection (p. 616):

"Scripture assures us that the souls of the godly are in God's hands, Acts 7, 59.60; Luke 23,46, that they are with Christ in paradise, Phil 1,23; Luke 23,43, and that they are supremely happy, Rev. 14,13, in their new heavenly life, Ps 16,11; John 17,24; Rom. 8,18. In fact, they are so completely removed from all earthly trouble and sorrow that they are altogether ignorant of those who live upon the earth, Is. 63,16, and their needs no longer concern them, Is. 57, 1.2.

"Hence we conclude that the souls of the believers are in a condition of perfect blessedness and of perpetual enjoyment of God, though we cannot picture to ourselves in what manner this wonderful fruition of celestial bliss takes place."

And my objections to arguing for more than Scripture proclaims are no different than similar objections made in other blog articles such as "As the Rubrics Turn," "The Dangers of Hyper-Ritualizing Lutheran Worship Or: Why 'Say the black, do the red' is the wisest course," "Is Referring to the Lutheran Divine Service as a 'Mass' a Wise Thing to Do?," "Reservation of Consecrated Communion Elements as If They Remain the Body and Blood of Christ is Not a Lutheran Practice," or "Historic Lutheran Worship v. Medieval Roman Masses."