Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Should we pray to saints?

Mother Teresa’s canonisation seems as good an opportunity as any to explore ‘sainthood’ – a privilege imbued by the Catholic Church on men and women of outstanding virtue.

According to the Tridentine profession of Faith, these paragons are to be invoked as intercessors with God, and have their relics and images venerated.  

Statue of St Peter, Basilica in Rome
One case in point is the big toe of St Peter’s statue in Rome’s Basilica. Next to the papal ring, it is arguably Christendom’s most ‘kissable’ item, with millions bowing down to press their lips against it as they make their petitions! This toe-curling practice has not only added a shine to Peter’s foot but has doubtless spread many nasty germs to hapless worshipers! Did the real Peter ask to be venerated in this way? No. None of the apostles accepted worship (Acts 14:15), nor did the angels. (Rev 22:8,9) All glory was for God alone. (Matt 4:10)

Statue of St Genesius
Saints proliferate. There’s a saint for every occasion and activity you can think of. One of my favourites used to be St Genesius, patron saint of actors, lawyers, clowns, comedians, converts, dancers, musicians, printers, stenographers and victims of torture! A former thespian, he used the stage in ancient Rome to mock Christianity - until experiencing a sudden conversion mid-performance! I dare say many luvvies (who, with the possible exception of Ricky Gervais, are notoriously superstitious) have ‘invoked’ Genesius’ help before that nerve-racking first night. Victims of torture indeed!

Emperor Constantine
But why do we have saints? The answer lies with the Emperor Constantine, who supposedly converted to Christianity in the 4th century. With previous Roman Emperors having tried and failed to contain this vibrant new religion, Constantine used a subtler approach; he simply fused Jesus’ teachings with Rome’s polluting pagan beliefs and practices.

However, viewing Christ as the only mediator between God and humans (1 Tim 2:5), genuine Christians have never prayed through other intercessors, nor should prayer be addressed to anyone except Almighty God himself. Even Jesus directed his own prayers to the Father and told his followers to do the same, using his name by way of introduction! (Matt 6:9; John 14:6,14) 

Which left Constantine with a dilemma. If Christians worshiped and prayed to only one God - who nobody could see - what would happen to the thousands of pagan gods? Were they to be made redundant? Would silversmiths and image makers lose their livelihoods? Would statues, amulets and icons of these gods be left to languish on the shelf? 

Triune God
The solution was to re-invent Rome’s existing deities and re-market them as Christian ‘Saints’. Foremost to undergo this make-over was Apollo who, with his handsome features, shimmering halo and sun-god attributes, made a very acceptable Christ to unsuspecting converts!  Jesus’ earthly mother Mary replaced the ultimate ‘Mother Goddess’ and ‘Divine Virgin’ (Juno, Minerva and Venus all rolled into one), while a pantheon of lesser deities were given new ‘saintly’ identities. Yet their pagan essence remained intact, serving to divert Christians from true worship. Even the Almighty Himself was downgraded - from the ‘One true God’ to a God-dishonouring Trinity, which had no basis in scripture, corresponding instead with pagan triunes, i.e. three gods in one.

Another unscriptural view is the veneration of saintly relics. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “It is thus vain to seek a justification for the cult of relics in the Old Testament; nor is much attention paid to relics in the New Testament. . . . [The Church “father”] Origen seems to have regarded the practice as a pagan sign of respect for a material object.”—(1967), Vol. XII, pp. 234, 235.

Godly abhorrence of relic-worship no doubt lay behind the disappearance of Moses’ body after his death. According to Jude vs 9, Satan obviously planned to exploit the death of this faithful prophet - perhaps by inciting Israelites to venerate his mortal remains. To this day, no one has ever discovered where Moses was buried.

And one of the greatest arguments for NOT venerating saints can be found in Exodus 20:4,5 which states: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be enticed to serve them.”

This in no way is meant to detract from the good works of Mother Teresa and other well-meaning men and women. But only Jesus, whose death opened up the way to everlasting life for his followers, can mediate for mankind. 


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