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Book II - Chapter XVIII

Of the Worshipping of Saints

The next branch of the idolatry of the Roman Catholic Church is her worship of dead men. These she denominates saints. Of this numerous and miscellaneous class some unquestionably were saints, as the apostles and others of the early Christians. Others may be accounted, in the judgment of charity, to have been saints; but there are others which figure in the calendar of Roman apotheosis, whom no stretch of charity will allow us to believe were saints. They were unmistakeable fanatics; and their fanaticism was far indeed from being of a harmless kind. It drew in its wake, as fanaticism not unfrequently does, gross immorality and savage and unnatural cruelty. In the list of Romish divinities we find the names of persons whose very existence is apocryphal. There are others whose incorrigible stupidity, laziness, and filth, rendered them unfit to herd even with brutes; and there are others who, little to the world's comfort, were neither stupid nor inactive, but who made themselves busy, much as a fiend would, in inventing instruments of torture, and founding institutions for destroying mankind and devastating the earth,--St. Dominic, for instance, the founder of the Inquisition. Prayers offered to such persons, and directed to heaven, run some risk of missing those of whom they are in quest. But the question here is, granting all the individuals of this promiscuous crowd to have been saints, is it right to pray to them?

We do not charge the Church of Rome with teaching that the saints are gods, or are able by their own power to bestow the blessings for which their votaries pray. The Church of Rome distinguishes between the worship which it is warrantable to offer to the saints, and the worship that is due to God. The former are to be worshipped with dulia; the latter with latria. God is to be worshipped with supreme veneration; the saints are to be venerated in an inferior degree. They occupy in heaven,--that Church teaches,--stations of dignity and influence; and on this ground, as well as on account of their eminent virtues while they lived, they are entitled to our esteem and reverence. It may be reasonably supposed, moreover, that they have great influence with God, and that, moved partly by pity for us, and partly by the homage we render to them, they are inclined to use that influence in our behalf. We ought therefore, says that Church, to address prayers to them, that they may pray to God for us. This, then, is the function which the Church of Rome assigns to departed saints. They present the prayers of suppliants to God, and intercede with God in their behalf They are intercessors of mediation, though not of redemption.

But the Church of Rome has been little careful accurately to state her theory on this head,1 --little careful to impress upon the minds of her people, that the only service they are to expect at the hands of the saints is that of intercession. She has used expressions of a vague character, if not purposely designed, yet obviously fitted, to seduce into gross idolatry; nay, she allows and sanctions idolatry, by teaching that saints may be the objects of a certain sort of veneration, namely, dulia, and instituting a distinction which is utterly beyond the comprehension of the common people; so that, in point of fact, there is no difference between the worship which they offer to the saints, and the worship which they offer to God, unless, perhaps, that the former is the more devout and fervent, as it is certainly the more customary of the two. In the Papal Church, millions pray to the saints who never bow a knee to God.

The Council of Trent2 teaches that "the saints who reign together with Christ offer their prayers to God for men;" and that "it is a good and useful thing suppliantly to invoke them, and to flee to their prayers, help, and assistance;" and that they are "impious men" who maintain the contrary. The caution of the council will not escape observation. It teaches the dogma, but does not expressly enjoin the practice. It is usual for Papists to take advantage of this in arguing with Protestants, and to affirm that the Church has not enjoined or commanded prayers to saints."3 This may be true in theory, but not in practice. Prayers to saints form part and parcel of her liturgy; so that no man can join in her worship without joining in these prayers; and thus she practically compels the thing. Moreover, they are obliged, under the penalty of being guilty of mortal sin, to celebrate certain fetes,--those, for instance, of the assumption of the Virgin, and All Saints' Day.4 The Catechism of Trent5 teaches that we may pray to the saints to pity us; and if we join this with the "assistance and help" on which we are encouraged to cast ourselves, and if we add the grounds on which we are taught to look for such help, namely, that the saints occupy stations of dignity and influence in heaven, we will feel perfectly satisfied that the Church of Rome is very willing that her people should believe that the function of the saints goes a very considerable way beyond simple intercession, and that the worship of which they are the objects should be regulated accordingly. This idea is strengthened by the fact, that the Roman Missal teaches that there are blessings bestowed upon us for the merits of the saints. Of such sort is the following prayer:--"O God, who, to recommend to us innocence of life, wast pleased to let the soul of thy blessed Virgin Scholastica ascend to heaven in the shape of a dove, grant by her merits and prayers that we may lead innocent lives here, and ascend to eternal joys hereafter!"6 We add another example from the Missal:--"May the intercession, O Lord, of Bishop Peter thy apostle render the prayers and offerings of thy Church acceptable to Thee, that the mysteries we celebrate in his honour may obtain for us the pardon of our sins!"7

But it matters little what is the exact amount of influence and power attributed to the saints by Roman Catholics, or what the refinements and distinctions by which they attempt to justify the worship they pay to them. Their practice is undeniable. In the same place where God is worshipped, and with the same forms, do Roman Catholics pray to the saints to pray to God in their behalf. M. Perrone distinctly says that the saints, on the ground of their excellence, are the just objects of religious worship; and that if we reserve sacrifices, vows, and temples to God, we may approach the saints with prostration and prayer. Images and relics, he says, receive an improper worship and adoration, which passes through them to their prototypes; not so the veneration paid the saints, which is not relative, but absolute.8 Tried by the implicit principles and the express declarations of the Bible, this is idolatry.

There is not, either in the Old or in the New Testament, a solitary instance of such a worship; nay, on those occasions on which we find worship attempted to be offered to the saints, it was promptly and indignantly rejected. No doubt we are commanded to pray with and for one another, as is often pleaded by Papists; but there a is a wide difference between this and praying to the dead. The vision in the Apocalypse9 of the elders with the "vials full of odours," which are said to be "the prayers of saints," though often paraded by Roman Catholics as an unanswerable proof, has no bearing upon the point. Commentators on the Revelations have shown by very conclusive reasonings, that the vision has no relation to heaven, but to the church on earth; and Papists must overthrow this interpretation before the passage can be of any service to their cause. Right reason and the express declarations of Scripture combine in testifying that God alone is the object of worship, and that we cannot offer prayer or perform an act of adoration to any other being, however exalted, without incurring the highest criminality. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."10 The reply of our Lord to the tempter seems purposely framed so as to include both latria and dulia. "Thou shalt WORSHIP the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou SERVE."11 On the principles of the Roman Catholic Church, it is quite possible for a man to be saved without having performed a single act of devotion to God in his whole life. He has simply to entrust the saints with his case, who will pray for him, and with better success than he himself could obtain. And the tendency, not to say the design, of the Romish system is to withdraw our hearts and our homage altogether from God, and, under an affectation of humility, to banish us for ever from the throne of God's grace, and sink us in the worship of stocks and of dead men.

Manifestly the popish divinities are but the resuscitation of the gods of the pagan mythology. Venus still reigns under the title of Mary, and Jupiter under that of Peter; and so as regards the other gods and goddesses of the heathen world;--their names have been changed, but their dominion is prolonged. The same festivals are kept in commemoration of them; the same rites are celebrated in their honour--slightly altered to suit the modern state of things; and the same powers are ascribed to them. Like their pagan predecessors, they have their shrines; and, like them too, they have their assigned limits within which they exercise jurisdiction, and their favourites and votaries over whom they keep special guard.12

Papists have been often asked to explain how it is that the saints in heaven are able to hear the prayers of mortals on earth. They do not affirm that the saints are either omnipotent or omniscient; and yet, unless they are both, it is difficult to understand how they can know what we feel, or hear what we say, at so great a distance. Thousands are continually praying to them in all parts of the earth;--they have suppliants at Rome, at New York, at Pekin: and yet, though but men and women, they are supposed to hear every one of these petitions. The difficulty does indeed seem a formidable one; and, though often pressed to explain it, Roman Catholics have given as yet no solution but what is utterly subversive of the idea on which the system is founded. They usually tell us that the saints acquire the knowledge of these supplications through God. According to this theory, the prayer ascends first to God, God tells it to the saints, and the saints pray it back again to God. But what becomes of the boasted advantage of praying to the saints? and why not address our prayers directly to God? Why not go to God at once, seeing it turns out that He alone can hear us in the first instance, and that, but for his subsequent revelation of our prayers, they would be dissipated in empty space, and those powerful intercessors the saints would know nothing at all of the matter? "You," said Mr. Seymour, to a priest at Rome, who had favoured him with this notable solution of the difficulty, "make the Virgin Mary and the saints mediators of prayer. According to this system, God is our mediator to the saints, and not the saints our mediators to God."13 The path is strangely circuitous,--far too circuitous to be the right one. Nothing could be happier than the illustration of Coleridge, with special reference to the Virgin. It is that of an individual of whom we wish to obtain a favour, and whose mother we employ to intercede for us. The man hears well enough himself, but his mother is deaf; so we tell him to tell her that we wish her to pray to him to bestow on us the favour we desire.

1 In Layard's "Nineveh and its Remains" we have the following pregnant passage. Mr. Layard was at the time on a visit to the Nestorians of the Kurdish hills. "The people of Bebozi are amongst those Chaldeans who have very recently become Catholics, and are but a too common instance of the mode in which such proselytes are made. In the church I saw a few miserable prints, dressed up in all the horrors of red, yellow and blue images of saints and of the blessed Virgin,--and a hideous infant in swaddling clothes, under which was written, 'l'Iddio, bambino.' They had recently been stuck up against the bare walls. 'Can you understand these pictures?' I asked. 'No,' was the reply; 'we did not place them here. When our priest (a Nestorian) died a short time ago, Mutran Yusup, the Catholic bishop came to us. He put up these pictures, and told us that we were to adore them.'" (Vol. i. pp. 154, 155.) These simple Christians received no initiation into the mystery of dulia, hyperdulia, and latria.

2 Concil. Trid. sess. xxv.

3 Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome, p. 107.

4 Reasons for Leaving the Church of Rome, by C. L. Trivier, p. 191; Lond. 1851.

5 Cat. Rom. pars iv. cap. vi. s. iii.

6 Roman Missal for the Laity p. 557; Lond. 1815.

7 Ibid. p. 539.

8 Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. i. p. 1156.

9 Rev. v. 8.

10 Exod. xx. 3.

11 Matt. iv. 10.

12 St. Francis is the God of travellers. St. Roque defends from the plague,--St. Barbara, from thunder and lightning. St. Anthony the Abbot delivers from fire,--St. Anthony of Padua, from water. St. Blas cures disorders of the throat. St. Lucia heals all diseases of the eye. Young women who wish to enter wedlock choose St. Nicholas as their patron; while St. Ramon protects them in pregnancy, and St. Lazaro assists them in labour. St. Paloniae preserves the teeth. St. Domingo cures fever. (See Middleton's Letter from Rome: Townsend's Travels in Spain.)

13 Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome, pp. 116, 117.

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