Sunday, May 29, 2011

Isn't Christ the 'One Mediator'?

Part 3 of "The Catholic Understanding of the Saints." See Part 1 and Part 2

The next few posts will examine one of the questions asked specifically by Jim. (I’m not answering his questions in the exact order he asked them, but I will get to all of them). Here's the question I want to start considering:
What biblical or theological justification is there for believing that the dead pray for us?
This is a hugely important question. But, actually, in a certain sense, this question really contains a number of other questions rolled up into one:
  1. Isn’t Christ the “one mediator between God and man” (1 Tim 2:5)? If so, isn’t affirming the ability of the dead to pray for us a violation of that biblical teaching? In light of that, it would seem that there can be no biblical justification for the Catholic belief that saints in heaven can pray for those on earth.
  2. Are the dead even conscious? Aren't the dead "asleep" until the resurrection?
  3. If the those who have died are conscious, how do we know they are aware of the needs of Christians on earth?
  4. Assuming one could answer the questions above, isn't it just speculation that the saints pray for those on earth? Is there any clear indication in Scripture that those in heaven actually pray for those on earth?
  5. Isn’t it a violation of the biblical prohibition against necromancy to ask the saints in heaven to pray for us?
These are all important questions. Let me try to take them one by one.

Today, let’s look at the first, namely, isn’t the practice of asking the saints to pray for us a rejection of the biblical teaching of Christ’s role as the “one mediator”?

The One Mediator

Again, while many Protestants are taught otherwise, the Catholic Church teaches very clearly that Christ is, as St. Paul says, “the one mediator between God and man” (1 Tim 2:5).

I won’t belabor this point with many quotations. Suffice it to say, the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this in numerous places. For example, no. 771 reads:
“The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.” (citing another official Catholic document from Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 8 § 1.).
Lest someone insist that this is “new” Catholic teaching, let me assure you that this was also affirmed at the Council of Trent:
“If anyone asserts that this sin of Adam, which in its origin is one, and by propagation, not by imitation, transfused into all, which is in each one as something that is his own, is taken away either by the forces of human nature or by a remedy other than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ . . . let him be anathema.” (Session V, 3).
But isn’t the idea that saints can pray for us on earth a violation of this clear teaching of Scripture? I don’t think so.

The Biblical Basis for Praying for One Another

Scripture tells us that we should pray for one another. In fact, this isn't just a passing suggestion. That the righteous pray for one another is emphasized over and over again.

It may seem silly to make a lot out of this, but we often don't realize how frequently the idea of praying for one another comes up in Scripture.

To illustrate just how frequently the idea comes up I've put together the following catalogue of passages--and this is far from exhaustive:
  • Jesus commands us to “pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28; cf. Matt 5:44).
  • Jesus says that some demons can only be driven out by prayer (Mark 9:23), which most likely involves the idea of praying for the one possessed.
  • The apostles pray for Stephen and the other newly appointed seven deacons (Acts 6:6).
  • With his dying breath, Stephen asks the Lord to forgive his killers: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). The conversion of Saul would seem to be an answer to this prayer, as Augustine long ago observed.
  • The Christian community prays for Peter after he has been arrested (Acts 12:5).
  • The early Christians pray for Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:3).
  • Paul repeatedly says that he prays for other Christians (cf., e.g., Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 13:9; Eph 1:16; Phil 1:4, 9; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2; 5:26; 2 Thess 1:11; 2 Thess 3:1; 2 Tim 1:3; Phil 4). For example, he tells the Corinthians, “we pray God that you may not do wrong” (2 Cor 13:7).
  • Paul prays for the salvation of Israel (Rom 10:1).
  • Paul asks the Christians to pray for him, explaining to them that by doing so they “strive together with me” (Rom 15:30; cf. also Phil 1:19; Col 4:2). Prayer thus brings about a kind of communion. 
  • Paul says that Christians pray for one another (2 Cor 9:14; Col 4:11). In fact, he instructs them to do this: “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:18; here as throughout the New Testament the word "saints" refers to Christians on earth).
  • The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews bluntly asks his readers, “Pray for us” (Heb 13:2).
  • James makes it abundantly clear that we should pray for one another and that we should even confess our sins to one another in that context: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:14–16).
  • John says that, with the exception of one guilty of “mortal sin,” praying for one another can restore a sinner: “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that” (1 John 5:16).
  • John prays for his fellow Christians (3 John 2).
Is it unbiblical to pray for one another? No.

What Paul Really Said

In fact, it is especially strange to me that so many non-Catholic Christians condemn the idea that saints can pray for us by turning to 1 Timothy 2:5. Talk about wrenching a text out of context!

Paul’s whole point in the passage is that we can pray for one another because Christ, who has offered himself for all men, is now the one mediator between God and man. Let’s read the whole passage as it stands instead of proof-texting:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. 3 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. (1 Tim 2:1-6)
Paul clearly did not think that Christ’s role as “the one mediator” excludes the notion that we can pray for one another. Rather, “it is “good” and “acceptable in the sight of God our Savior”! In fact, it is precisely his role as the one mediator that makes it possible for those united in him to pray effectively for others.

In sum, it seems to me that praying for another and asking for prayer from one another is a characteristic of believers. It is hardly a minor theme in the New Testament. Are those who in heaven simply relieved of this obligation? Do they no longer desire to pray for those who need it?

But this raises another question: can the dead pray for the living? Are they even conscious?

Stay tuned!


Peter Kirk said...

How do Roman Catholics reconcile their teaching about "the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ" with the use of the title of Mary "Mediatrix of all graces"? I know that this title has not been formally declared, but according to Wikipedia Mary is referred to as Mediatrix in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium. This seems to me to suggest some difference of opinion among Catholics on this matter.

gerardk said...

Really, the major issue with praying to the dead for help is - Jesus is in Heaven and He is the only way to the Father. He sent us a spiritual Helper - the Holy Spirit. Why would we need to pray to anyone else when God is all powerfull. And how do you know anyone in Heaven except God can hear anything that anyone prays anyway. Of course everyone on earth should pray for everyone else on earth, as you have said.

Considering you portrayed me as a some sort rabid Catholic hating Protestant who knew nothing about the Catholic Church, based on a one sentence comment. Well I will tell you, I was a Catholic for 48 years and believed a lot of the non-Biblical stuff I was told. Not anymore.

Matthew Kennel said...

Peter, I think that you might look at it in two ways

1) It is the very fullness and effectiveness of Christ's mediation that enables Mary's mediation to have its effectiveness. As I see it, one main point of the Gospel is that, in the Messiah, man is restored to his royal and priestly dignity. Man was, of course, supposed to be a royal priest. The task of Adam to guard and keep the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15, c.f. the Hebrew of Num 3:7-8, Num 8:26), marred by his sin, was supposed to be restored in Israel, the royal priestly people (Ex 19:6). Israel failed in its task, but the obedience of the Messiah has constituted the Church as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Just as the one who conquers sits with the Messiah on his own throne (Rev 3:21), so the saint (both the saint on earth and the saint in heaven) comes tho share in Christ's one priesthood. This is true of you and I, and it is true especially of Mary, whose role in the Messiah's mission was singularly important. The real question to ask is, biblically, what justification is there to say that death ends the vocation of the people of God as royal and priestly?

2) Even more convincing to me (and I was a Protestant for 21 years, I NEEDED to be convinced of this), was Paul's notion of the Church as being the Body of Christ. In the Body of Christ our gifts are given to us by God for one another; when we are honored by God, our brothers and sisters are honored by God, when we suffer, they suffer (and who would be so bold to say, even of the saints in heaven, that they do not share in some way, even if only mystically, in the sufferings of their brothers and sisters on earth, if even Jesus Christ can be said to suffer thus, as in Acts 9:4?). Once again, biblically speaking, there is no reason to suspect that a person's membership in the Body of Christ ceases or declines after death, and every reason to suspect that his conformity to Christ increases after death. Therefore, in the case of the saints and Mary, to grasp at their intercession seems to be to affirm the full meaning and importance of Paul's idea of Christians as the Body of Christ. But, as a body is nothing without its head, so the prayers of those in Christ's Body lose their effectiveness without his singular, unique mediation.

Peter Kirk said...

Matthew, that was helpful. I can accept Mary as a member of the body of Christ and so of the royal priesthood. I'm not sure how this idea accords with the Roman Catholic one of an all-male priesthood which is only a part of the body of Christ. But the problem I see in both cases is that the body of Christ is supposed to mediate between God and the non-Christian world, but both Mary and the priesthood have become mediators between God and Christians.

Then I still have some issues with the saints in heaven as part of the church and interceding for us, but I think Michael is going to deal with that.

Paul said...

Thank you for your post. I just read "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo a protestant minister in Nebraska. You might have heard of it, it is about his sons near death experience, where he sees heaven. Now I know this is not very scholarly, however, a protestant minister is writing about his sons experience, and on page 102, when the boy is in heaven, he is praying for his father. Did this really happen? Don't know just thought it was an interesting tidbit to add to this discussion.

It seems that if Mary is the one who gave Jesus his body by saying "yes" to God than she would be something of a mediator between humanity and God. It was this "flesh" that would go through the torments of Good Friday in order to obtain graces for our salvation. Mary is a mediator between humanity and her Son, and the Son is mediator between humanity and the Father. An example of her role, see the "Wedding of Cana" (Jn 2). Hope this helps a little.
God bless!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure the passage is even applicable to the act of mediation called intercession, for the subject here of Christ's mediation is the redemption as such.

Concerning the subject of intercessory prayer, Christ is said to be the one mediator in the sense that he transcends all other, not in the sense that he is the only one. What I mean is that all other forms of mediation, such as intercessory prayer, are dependent upon him, including his mother:

"It says that this holy Lady, coming up from the desert flowing with delights (see Song of Songs 8:5), is leaning upon her beloved. This is the last word in all the praises that the Church holily gives to the saints, and above all to the Virgin. For we always refer them to the honor of her Son by whose strength and virtue she ascends to receive the plenitude of delights. Have you not noticed that the Queen of Sheba, in bearing so many precious things to Jerusalem, offered them all to Solomon? Ah, all the saints do the same, and particularly the Virgin. All her perfections, all her virtues, all her happiness are referred, consecrated and dedicated to the glory of her Son, who is their source, their author and finisher (see Heb 12:2). Soli Deo honor et gloria: “To the only God be glory and honor” (1 Tim 1:17). All returns to this point.

"If she is holy who has sanctified her if not her Son? If she is saved, who is her Saviour if not her Son? “Leaning upon her beloved:” All her felicity is founded on the mercy of her Son. You would name our Lady a lily of purity and innocence? Yes, she is that in truth. But this lily has its whiteness from the Blood of the Lamb in which she has been purified, like the robes of those who have washed them white in the Blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:14). If you call her a rose because of her most excellent charity, her color will be only the blood of her Son. If you say that she is a column of smoke, sweet and pleasing (Song of Songs 3:6), Say at once that the fire of this smoke is the charity of her Son; the wood is his cross. In brief, in all and through all she is leaning upon her beloved." ~St Francis De Sales.

colbus said...

No one here portrayed you as anything. You portrayed yourself with a purely gratuitous rhetorical comment that made zero attempt to engage the topic of Michaels post. Maybe if you try reading objectively your understanding of Catholic theology would become clearer.

dmw said...

We need to look at the Christian life simply and realize, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, that we "have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel" (12:22-24).

By the same logic which compels Paul to ask his brethren on earth to pray for him -- "I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf" (Rom 15:30) -- we can lay out the principle of heavenly intercession:

A. All believers are members of Christ’s body (Rom 12:5).
B. Jesus has only one body (Eph 4:4; Col 3:15).
C. Nothing can separate a member from Christ’s body, not even death (Rom 8:35-39).
D. Christians are bound in Christian love (Jn 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom 12:10; 13:8; Gal 6:2; 1 Thess 4:9; 5:11; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 Jn 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 Jn 1:5).

It follows, then, that those "away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8) can intercede, out of Christian love, for their brethren on earth, as we, united with our bodies or not, are members of the one body.

The classic response remains: if I can ask my neighbor to pray for me, why can't I ask the same of one who has gone before me and now beholds Him "face to face" (1 Cor 13:12).

Anonymous said...

"Why would we need to pray to anyone else when God is all powerful?"

God is all powerful indeed, however if you hold this to be the case....then why ask anyone ELSE to pray for you, would your own prayer to God directly not be sufficient?

As indicated in the post, Christ instructed his disciples on many occasions to pray for one another...and this means the efficacy of their collective prayer is worth more than their individual prayer alone. The question then becomes not whether we SHOULD ask for others to pray for us, but whether those who have passed on to everlasting life are truly a part of the "one" body. The Catholic Church says they are, and thus corporate prayer with the entire body is to be embraced.

dmw said...

Another thought, a corollary:

According to Mt 18:10, we have guardian angels: "in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." That we have a "personal angel" is verified by reference to Peter's angel ("his angel") in Acts 12:15.

Some rhetorical questions:

Are we to understand that everyone has an angel who protects us, but that we cannot communicate in any way with this angel? Why not ask this angel to protect us or intercede for us? Why does God even need to use angels; can't he protect us himself?

citizen DAK said...

I've also heard that question, "why ask anyone ELSE to pray for you, would your own prayer to God directly not be sufficient?"

I think there is a better question to ask ourselves: WHY does our Lord tell us to pray (for one another)?

I'm certain that He intends it for our benefit! For example, by praying for my brethren, aren't I brought into closer relationship with them? Also, doesn't asking someone to pray for my intentions strengthen the loving relationship with the person I ask? The ONE BODY is strengthened and dignified, as HE allows us to participate in HIS priesthood.

There was never any question of insufficiency. Instead this is another example of Him sharing His boundless Love for us.

citizen DAK said...

p.s. I'm REALLY appreciating these postings and comments, thank you all!

citizen DAK said...

I google'd "Mediatrix", and this article quotes Lumen Gentium (2nd-Vatican Council):

"This however it to be so understood that it takes nothing away, or adds nothing to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator. For no creature can ever be put on the same level with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer...."

citizen DAK said...

OK, I'm sorry for so many rapid-fire posts. Exorcism is a complicated topic and I'm no expert. This at least appears to be credible to me:

I've read somewhere that the name "blessed Virgin Mary" is the single most effective invocation, because it isn't humiliating to (the evil one) to be banished by The Almighty, as it is by a human virgin.

I'm thinking of the "Memorare" prayer.

Jude said...

First off, a mediatrix is NOT a mediator, they are two different things. Second, Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant, according to Hebrews 12:24, and that has absolutely NOTHING to do with intercessory prayer. The flow chart would look something like this - I ask Mary to pray for you. Mary does this, which leads you to Jesus.Jesus in turn, leads you to the Father. And anyone who says that Mary or any saint is "dead" sounds more like an atheist than a Christian. Jesus plainly says in Luke 20:38 that God is the God of the LIVING (HELLO!!!),not of the dead. Dead in the body doesn't equal dead in the soul if you are a Christian. If it did, then Moses and Elijah could not have appeared to Jesus at the Transfiguration, and Jesus could not have talked to them to discuss His exodus from earth if it's a sin to talk to the dead. It IS a sin to conjure them up to obtain aracane information, like Saul did with Samuel and the Witch of Endor, but it is not a sin to ask them to pray for us. We know from 2 Maccabees 15:14 that the long dead Jeremiah appeared on earth AND prayed for Israel, so this concept of saints in heaven praying for us IS biblical. And besides, if 1 Corinthians 6:17 is correct (and it is), then saints in heaven are ONE SPIRIT WITH CHRIST! So when you knock a saint as being "dead", you are really saying that Christ is dead! And we have this from Peter, in 2 Peter 1:4, that those who have overcome the world are PARTAKERS IN THE DIVINE NATURE, which would always include hearing and answering prayers. If the devil, a created creature himself, has so much power on earth, why is it such a stretch to believe that a holy person in heaven also has power on earth? Luke 20:36 says that the saints in heaven are EQUAL to the angels, and Luke 15:7 says that there will be joy in heaven over one repentant we really believe that God and the angels will be whooping it up over this guy or gal and keep it a secret from the saints?

...Just sayin'.....

Amy said...

Dr. Barber,

Why hasn't this continued?

James said...

I Would love to see this series continued :)