4. Catholics, however, it is said, do much more than this; not only do they ask the saints and angels to pray for them, but also to give them this or that temporal or spiritual blessing, to help or defend them; in a word, to interfere actively in their behalf, as though they were themselves possessed of power, and could bestow gifts and blessings according to their own will independently of Almighty God. Such is the inference which a Protestant draws from the language of Catholic devotion; and he refuses to believe us, when we tell him that the true meaning of that language is, that we beg the saints to move Almighty God to give us the things we ask for. Yet holy Scripture, if he would but study it with more attention, would supply him with instances of the same use of language. Thus we read in 2 Kings ii. 9, 10, that “Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And He said, Thou hast asked a hard thing; nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.” Elisha here asked what Elijah could not possibly give him, yet the latter promises that he shall have it on the fulfilment of a certain condition. Elisha asked a petition of Elijah which none but God could grant: so we too, in like manner, often call upon the saints to do what belongs only to the power of God. If Elisha’s words do not attribute omnipotence to Elijah, no more do our prayers ascribe omnipotence to the saints. Again, St. Paul tells Timothy, “In doing this, thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. iv. 16); yet this does not mean that Timothy could save himself or his people without the help of God’s grace. Persons often use the same language in the common affairs of life; as, for instance, they do not scruple to say to a physician whom they have called in to advise in some dangerous illness of a friend or relative, You are our only hope; or again, it is often said of some eminent politician, that in these difficult times he is the only hope of his country; yet in neither of these cases do we mean to exclude the idea of divine providence overruling all, without whom the best human aid would be utterly unavailing. Such an expression, therefore, as “thou art our only hope,” used of our Blessed Lady in the devotions of a Catholic, means this, Thou art our only hope of obtaining God’s help; for we have no confidence in ourselves, or our own worthiness and power to obtain that help.
And so in like manner, when the name of a saint is joined with the name of God in the same sentence, as for instance, “we put our trust in God and the saints,” the word common to both is not necessarily applied to both in the same sense; and Catholics may fairly claim to be believed when they assert that they do not use it in the same sense. For here, again, we may refer our accusors to the language of holy Scripture. Among the chief duties we owe to God are to believe in Him, to worship Him, to fear Him, and to put our trust in Him. We cannot render these duties to another in the same way, and with the same intention, as we render them to God, without committing the sin of idolatry. Nevertheless, it is written in the book of Exodus, that “the people believed the Lord and His servant Moses” (xiv. 31); and elsewhere, “All the congregation bowed down their heads, and worshipped the Lord and the king” (1 Chron. xxix. 20). “All the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel” (1 Kings xii. 18). “They cried, The sword of the Lord andd of Gedeon” (Judges vii. 20). In all these instances the same word is used in reference to God and to His servants; yet in a lower sense in the one case than it is in the other. The people plainly did not worship the king in the same way in which they worshipped God; nor could they have cried, “The sword of Gedeon,” with the same degree of confidence with which they exclaimed, “The sword of the Lord.” Indeed, they had confidence in the sword of Gedeon only because it was the sword of the Lord in Gedeon’s hands. They feared Samuel, because he was the Lord’s minister. They worshipped the king, because he was the Lord’s anointed. They believed Moses, because he was the Lord’s representative, and was invested with His authority. Thus the honour, and the fear, and the worship which they paid to the favoured servants of the Lord, terminated really in the Lord Himself. Why may not the language of Catholic devotion, then, be subjected to a similar interpretation?
Will it be said that these are statements of plain matters of fact, in which it is easy to perceive the difference of sense; but that in the language of devotion we have a right to expect greater accuracy and precision? Yet there are instances in Scripture of created beings being joined with God even in prayers and invocations: thus Jacob said in blessing the sons of Joseph, “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long until this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads” (Gen. xlviii. 15, 16). Again, the book of Revelation begins, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is and which was, and which is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness,” &c. (Apoc. i. 4). This is sometimes called a blesseing in the name of the Holy Trinity; and it is said that the seven spirits are the Holy Ghost in His sevenfold gifts. But this cannot be, because as the Holy Ghost is God Himself, He cannot be described as before the throne of God (or in sight of the throne, as in the Vulgate and the Greek); for since he is one with the Father and the Son, He cannot be separated from them, and called either a spirit or seven spirits before the throne, on which He reigns with them in equal majesty and power. We must believe, then, that the first title, “He that is, and was, and is to come,” is the Holy Trinity; that the seven spirits are the seven angels; and that our Lord in His human nature is mentioned last, because the many titles added to His name are such as especially belong to Him as Head of the new creation.
In these passages, therefore, we find the patriarch giving blessing in the name of God and of his angel-guardian; and the Apostle giving blesseing in the name of the Holy Trinity, and of our Lord incarnate, and of the seven archangels. Yet these angels, thus invoked to bless, could only bless by their prayers, and not as Almighty God gives His blessing. And thus though joined with God in one and the same invocation, yet it is in a different sense.
5. It only remains, then, that we should notice the fifth and last objection which is alleged against our invocation of the saints and angels, viz. that we sin against the warning of St. Paul, who forbids us to worship them, and against the prohibition of one of the angels themselves, who refuses to receive the worship offered him by St. John.
The words of St. Paul are these, “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels:” and this to a Protestant, who never takes the trouble to inquire seriously, as a matter of fact and history, what the Apostles taught, but handles each text separately, and puts upon all his own private interpretation,—to such a one, I say, these few words are abundantly sufficient to satisfy him that what St. Paul warned his disciples against is precisely what Catholics practise, without ever taking the trouble to inquire with any diligence into the true nature of either one or the other,—either of the apostolic warning or of the Catholic doctrine. Yet if they would but take this trouble, they would find that there were in the very earliest days of the Church certain heretics, disciples of Simon Magus and others, whose religion might have been accurately described by these words, “worshipping of angels;” men who believed that the angels were the creators and masters of this lower world, and who worshipped them therefore with a self-willed and superstitious worship, “not holding the Head,” that is, not believing in the Divinity of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and denying His mediatorship and atonement. Since, then, there was a heresy by which some Christians were being deceived at the time St. Paul wrote this warning, and which some portion at least of the language in which the warning is given very aptly describes,—I do not say that therefore it must needs be that this was what St. Paul was speaking against, but certainly,—Protestants have no right to assume that he was condemning the mere invocation of saints and angels by other Christians who do “hold the Head,” and acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the King both of saints and angels, and worship Him with supreme worship as their Lord and their God.
Then as to the instance of St. John, who fell down before an angel to worship him, and was forbidden by the angel himself, who said, “See thou do it not,; for I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus; worship God;” the Apostle either meant to give divine worship or he did not, but only such inferior worship as had been given by holy men of old to some of the heavenly host, as, for instance, by Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, and others. If he intended to pay divine worship, it can only have been because the angel appeared in such surpassing glory that the Apostle mistook him for our Lord; and this is how St. Augustin understood the passage, a thousand years before Protestantism had arisen to call in question the Catholic practice of invoking the angels: and at any rate, to pay divine honour to a created being is what no Catholic defends or practises; so that if this interpretation of the passage be correct, it in nowise contradicts the Catholic doctrine, or condemns any Catholic practice. If, on the other hand, St. John only intended to pay that inferior degree of worship which Joshua (for instance) paid to “the captain of the host of the Lord” when he appeared to him by Jericho, and which was not then refused, then the act was not in itself unlawful, but must have been refused for some other reason; and St. Gregory considers that this reason was the high dignity of St. John as an apostle and prophet and confessor of Christ, for the angel expressly calls himself his “fellow-servant, and of the number of his brethren that have the testimony of Jesus:” and at any rate it is for Protestants to shew wherefore that which happened to St. John is to be taken as so conclusive an argument against the practice of any devotion in honour of these heavenly spirits, and that which was done by Abraham, Jacob, and Joshua, to be taken as absolutely no argument at all in favour of such devotion. Certainly this is an inconsistency which no candid inquirer into the meaning of God’s Word can fail to recognise; and it is one which demonstrates the Protestant reasoning upon the passage in question to be at least inconclusive, which is all that at present concerns us.