Monday, 4 September 2006

The Intercession of the Saints

Luke and I had a theological conversation one evening. This is not the kind of thing that goes on all the time. We have a swear jar, and Luke was opining that it was acting along the same lines as traditions of men. Because it was Assumption at the time, and I'd just answered his query as to what that actually meant, I thought that perhaps he was attempting to broach the touchy subject of Catholic doctrine which appears rather additional and ad hoc.

Turns out he was talking about the swear jar.

Anyway, we had a theological discussion, and Luke proposed an objection to the intercession of saints, as follows - it doesn't seem appropriate that our brothers who have gone before us should pray for us; we in the church militant naturally pray for one another, and this intercessory prayer benefits both the person praying and the prayee. However, there would appear to be no benefit for the church triumphant, so it would make more sense for the living to pray for the living.

I thought I would like to respond on da web, which is something I haven't done for a while, so here it is. I thought I'd start with the abstract, because, in this case, the abstract is rather more concrete. And after that, some verses which might point to it.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. - 1 John 4:7-12
I hope it's not controversial to say that Christian love involves praying for those who need prayer. And as the life that we have is a participation in the nature of God, who is love, I'd suggest that it's rather hard to stop the saints praying for us...
[...f]or I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:38-39
Also that...
[...l]ove never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. - 1 Cor 13:8-12
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses," (dead) it mightn't hurt to ask them to pray for us sometimes, especially as "[t]he prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

I might add that the idea of somebody who's perfectly placed not to bother helping anyone out and yet does so anyway, is at the heart of our gospel:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant[.] - Philippians 2:1-7
So that's the abstract. There follow some supporting verses, none of which will not admit of a different interpretation, but just to highlight that it's not quite based on nothing.
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. - Revelation 5:8
It's a disputed matter whether these elders are supposed to be angels or glorified Christians, but they are "clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads." cf. 2 Tim 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Pet 5:4, Rev 2:10, Rev 3:4-5, Rev 3:11, Rev 6:9-11, Rev 7:9, Rev 7:13-15. Anyway, Revelation is, to say the least, tricky to get anyone to agree on. Nonetheless, whether angels or saints, the elders are shown to be involved with the "prayers of the saints" in heaven. And that's not insignificant.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" - Revelation 6:9-10
Well, these are clearly martyrs. Though one might consider that this is merely a request for information, I would consider such thinking rather contrary. Surely it's a just request for justice, and justice on the earth at that i.e. among the living.
Then the LORD said to me, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! - Jeremiah 15:1
Yup, I know, this is pretty weak on the face of it. But there are a few things to consider with this one. Firstly, Jeremiah is speaking centuries after their earthly ministries. Also, as a prophet of God, you would expect his principal concern to be for the present and the future. To refer to Moses and Samuel in relation to the present judgment is slightly odd - but only slightly. Like I say, this is far from being a knockdown argument. But consider also that these men, who were known as powerful intercessors in Judaism (c.f. Ex 32:7-14) are also, as it happens, involved in otherworldly after-death appearances. Moses talks to Jesus at the transfiguration, and I don't expect that he was talking about the weather in heaven, but what Jesus was about to do for the whole creation. As for Samuel:
Then Saul said to his servants, "Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her." And his servants said to him, "Behold, there is a medium at En-dor."

So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, "Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you." The woman said to him, "Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?" But Saul swore to her by the LORD, "As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing." Then the woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" He said, "Bring up Samuel for me." When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul." The king said to her, "Do not be afraid. What do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a god coming up out of the earth." He said to her, "What is his appearance?" And she said, "An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe." And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

Then Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" Saul answered, "I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do." And Samuel said, "Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines."
Sorry it's a bit of a long quote, especially as it's providing back-up for what is arguably the weakest point I've made. It's only so I can highlight a couple of things. As we know, necromancy is not cool, so I thought I'd just highlight the fact that this appears to be an exception, and as such isn't too dodgy to be considered as something to draw doctrine from. Firstly, it's obvious from the woman's reaction that this isn't what she was expecting - that it happened is an evidence that it is permitted by God, though it is of those exceptions-that-prove-the-rule. I mean, instead of the friendly advice he was hoping for, he gets a prophecy of his death, along with his sons, from a rather put-out sounding old man. And please bear in mind that true prophecy is from God.

Well, I think that's about it. By the way, this is largley cribbed from Dave Armstrong's A Biblical Defense of Catholicism which I have. Dave has quite a few books out; he comes on too strong to my mind, but he puts in a lot of exegetical effort, so kudos to him. He also has blog, which isn't on my blogroll, but is on the sidebar: Cor ad cor loquitur - Heart speak to heart.

Unfortunately, I've forgotten anything interesting that I might have said about the occasion when all my brothers visited me. It was good though.
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