Devotion to saints and angels is a part of the Catholic religion, from which Protestants shrink with horror, and which they loudly denounce as superstitious and unscriptural. Now if they used this word “unscriptural” only in the sense of “not to be found in holy scripture,” it would scarcely fall within the scope of our present inquiry to say any thing at all about it; because all the world knows that this is not an argument which Catholics need care to dispute; for Catholics do not pretend to say that the whole system of their religious belief and practice is to be found in the written Word, but, on the contrary, that several portions of the divine revelation were never committed to writing at all, but were handed on from generation to generation by word of mouth, or, as it is technically called, by tradition. When Protestants, however, speak against any of our doctrines as being unscriptural, they generally mean something more than this; they mean not only that it is not to e found in holy Scripture, but that something else is to be found there, which goes against the doctrine in question, and contradicts it. And this is altogether a different thing, and far more important; for although we do not believe that every thing that is true is contained in holy Scripture, yet we do believe that every thing that is contained in holy Scripture is true; so that it is often necessary, if we would make any way in controversy with Protestants, that we should be ready to shew that on this or that particular subject which they may have selected for censure, there is no contradiction between the teaching of the Bible and the teaching of the Catholic Church.
In the present instance, the Protestant objections may perhaps be fairly stated thus:
1. There is no proof from holy Scripture that the saints and angels intercede for us; and if they do not, there is no use in our asking them to do so.
2. Even if they do intercede for us, at any rate they cannot hear us calling upon them; for to suppose that they know any thing of what is going on upon earth would be to suppose them gifted with omniscience, which is an attribute of God.
3. To believe that the saints and angels pray for us, and act as it were as mediators between God and man, so that God is inclined to favour us through their merits, or for their sake, implies that He is not all gracious and bountiful in Himself. Moreover, it encroaches on the office of the One Mediator.
4. But Catholics do much more than merely ask the saints and angels to pray for them; they ask them also to interfere actively on their behalf; “to deliver and protect them,” “to give them temporal and spiritual benefits;” thus attributing to them another of God’s attributes, omnipotence. They even make use of expressions which put the saints on an equality with God; as for instance, “we trust in God and the saints;” “Jesus, Mary, Joseph, help us;” and other expressions which go still further, and put God out of view altogether, for instance, when they call the Blessed Virgin “our hope, yea, the sole ground of our hope.”
5. Lastly, it is urged against us that St. Paul himself has expressly warned us against the worshipping of angels (Col. ii. 18); and that when St. John the Evangelist was in the act of doing it, the angel himself forbade him (Rev. xix. 10).
These, I say, are the ordinary objections, professedly derived from holy Scripture, which are urged by Protestants against the Catholic doctrine about the invocation of the saints and angels; and we propose to say a few words about each of them in order, confining ourselves (as by the conditions of our argument we are bound to do,) to the Bible alone for our answers, and using, of course, only that portion of the Bible, and that particular translation of it, which our adversaries acknowledge to be of authority.
1. First, then, it is objected that we have no grounds in any thing that is recorded in holy Scripture for believing that the saints and angels ever pray for us at all, or have any thing to do with prayer of any kind; to them there is no longer any necessity for prayer; they have already entered into their rest; henceforth they have only to bless and praise God for all eternity. Such is the objection; and a more diligent perusal of that sacred volume of which Protestants talk so much, and understand so little, will furnish us with the answer. It is true that the saints and angels have no occasion to pray for themselves; but it does not therefore follow that they may not pray for others; and, in fact, it is distinctly revealed to us concerning the angels, that it is a part of their office of ministry for the Church on earth to offer prayers for it: thus we read in Zec. i. 12, 13, “The angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long wilt Thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which Thou hast had indignation these three score and ten years? And the Lord answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.” What is this but an instance of one of the heavenly host interceding for the Church, and the Lord vouchsafing something gracious and merciful in answer to his intercession? Then again we read in the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation (v.8), that “the four living creatures and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.” These living creatures and elders are themselves also saints, but saints in glory; for they speak of having been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation. And the “prayers of saints” which they offered are the prayers of the faithful upon earth, for “saints” in the New Testament is the word most commonly used as the name or title of Christians. Here, then, we find the saints in heaven in their adoration of the Lamb of God, and as an accompaniment to “the new song” which they sang, bearing and presenting the prayers of the faithful upon earth. This shews not only that the saints in heaven take an interest in the spiritual concerns of their brethren upon earth, but also that there is a real communion of prayers and oblations between the Church militant and the Church triumphant. The saints in heaven offer or present to God the prayers of the saints on earth. If, then, the angels, who have never known sin, pray for the children of men, as we have seen that they do fro the language of the prophet Zechariah; and if the saints, whose sins have been blotted out, and who are already crowned with crowns of gold upon their head, still continue their charity towards those left behind them, as we see that they do from the passage now before us,—is it a very unscriptural conclusion to draw from these facts, that the saints may also pray for us; that they not only offer up our prayers, but add still further other prayers of their own?