Sunday, May 29, 2011

"A Non-Catholic's Answer to Questions on the Saints": Nick Norelli's Great Post

Before I continue my response (see Part 1, Part 2) to my Baptist friend, Jim West, who asked for an explanation of the biblical and theological rationale for the Catholic view of the saints (tomorrow post #3 goes up), I wanted to offer some thanks to all those who have responded, either on their own blogs or in the comment box (and those who have done both!).

In particular, I want to thank non-Catholic bloggers who have written about my series, including, of course, Jim himself (herehere and here). It's great to dialogue with people who will actually listen--even if we don't ultimately agree, it's refreshing to know that we can truly have that dialogue.

I'd also like to extend particular thanks to other non-Catholics who have picked up this series: Stuart James, Louis at Baker Book House Connection and Brian Leport's mention of my previous post at Near Emmaus. If I've missed anyone, I apologize. (Let me know in the comment box.)

However, special thanks goes to Nick Norelli over at Rightly Dividing the Word of God. Not only did Nick alert his readers to my answers, but he offered sound biblical reasons why even a non-Catholic like himself can affirm beliefs such as the understanding that the saints can pray for those on earth, why it is a good idea to pray for the dead, etc. He writes:
1. What biblical or theological justification is there to pray for the dead?

This depends on the Bible. In a canon that has 2 Maccabees 12:40-45 the case is easy to make Observe:
Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc. 12:40-45 NRSV)
But what if 2 Maccabees isn’t in your Bible? Can you justify praying for the dead theologically or scripturally in such an instance? I think you can. We tend to equate prayers for the dead with the doctrine of purgatory. Why would we pray for someone who has died unless they were stuck in purgatory? What if we reject purgatory? What would be the point of praying for someone in heaven? Well, if we, along with Jesus, accept that God is the God of the living and not of the dead (Matt. 22:32), then we can assume that those who have died (physically that is) are still alive in/with Christ, and we can think of ways that praying for them could make sense. For example, have you ever prayed for God to continue to bless someone after learning that he has already blessed them? I have! Why not pray for God to continue to bless those saints in heaven who are enjoying life with him? That seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It’s theologically defensible on the basis that even dead saints are really still living.

2. What biblical or theological justification is there for believing that the dead pray for us?

Kevin Edgecomb mentioned in a comment on my post from yesterday that the command to love our neighbors as ourselves offers biblical and theological justification for the belief that the dead pray for us. I hadn’t considered that before his saying it, but it makes sense. I personally would have suggested that Revelation 5:8 and 6:9-11 offers the biblical and theological justification for believing that the dead can pray for us. In Revelation 5:8 the twenty-four elders fall before the Lamb holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. If they’re capable to presenting the prayers of the saints to the Lamb then it stands to reason that they’re aware of them. In Revelation 6:9-11 the saints cry out for vengeance for their being martyred and are told to wait until the full number of their brothers and sisters are martyred before their prayers are answered. The point is that they can pray in heaven.

3. How is ‘praying to a saint’ different from idolatry?

It would depend on the nature of the prayer I suppose. I understand prayer to saints as asking the saints to pray for or with us. This is no different than asking living saints to pray for or with us. Prayers of intercession and agreement are common amongst the saints on earth; why exclude the saints in heaven from participating in this practice? Now if one prays to saints in place of God then I think a strong case for idolatry could be made.

4. Isn’t it idolatrous to place your faith in any for salvation other than Christ?

It sure is. I’m not convinced that asking the saints (dead or alive) to intercede or agree with us constitutes placing faith in someone other than Christ for salvation.

5. Isn’t the entire notion of the invocation of the saints idolatrous and blasphemous?

I don’t think so. See answers to 3 & 4 above.

Nick, thanks for your post. I'll be making some of the same points. But I think it helps people to see a non-Catholic make the same arguments.


Nick Norelli said...

Michael: My pleasure. I'm looking forward to your treatment, which I'm sure will be much fuller.

maximus said...

"Kevin Edgecomb mentioned in a comment on my post from yesterday that the command to love our neighbors as ourselves offers biblical and theological justification for the belief that the dead pray for us."

If the reprobate Rich Man was concerned about his brothers while being tormented in flames then how must the saints, whose life is hidden in Love Himself, yearn and pray for the salvation of the whole world?

Joshua said...

Well done Mr. Norelli! I don't know you, but found your response well reasoned and concise. Thanks for your contribution! God bless!

citizen DAK said...

Regarding "In Revelation 6:9-11 the saints cry out for vengeance for their being martyred..."

(I had to look it up in the ICSB. ***emphasis*** mine:)

"6:10 how long: The martyrs long for God to redress their murders. • They pray, not out of hatred for their enemies, but out of love for justice. Being near the Judge, they agree with him and ***pray for the coming judgment, in which the reign of sin shall be destroyed and their lifeless bodies raised*** (St. Bede, Explanation of the Apocalypse 6, 10) (CCC 2817)."

Hahn, Scott (2010). The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament (p. 58). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.