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§ 5. The Invocation of Saints and Angels.

Saints and angels, and especially the Virgin Mary, are confessedly objects of worship in the Romish Church. The word “worship,” however, means properly to respect or honour. It is used to express both the inward sentiment and its outward manifestation. This old sense of the word is still retained in courts of law in which the judge is addressed as “Your Worship,” or as “worshipful.” The Hebrew word הִשְּׁהַּחֲוָה and the Greek προσκυνέω often translated in the English version by the word “worship,” mean simply to bow down, or prostrate one’s self. They are used whether the person to whom the homage is rendered be an equal, an earthly superior, or God Himself. It is not, therefore, from the use of any of these words that the nature of the homage rendered can be determined. Romanists are accustomed to distinguish between the cultus civilis due to earthly superiors, δουλεία due to saints and angels; ὑπερδουλεία due to the Virgin Mary; and λατρεία due to God alone. These distinctions, however, are of little use. They afford no criterion by which to distinguish between δουλεία and ὑπερδουλεία and between ὑπερδουλεία and λατρεία. The important principle is this: Any homage, internal or external, which involves the ascription of divine attributes to its object, if that object be a creature, is idolatrous. Whether the homage paid by Romanists to saints and angels be idolatrous is a question of fact rather than of theory; that is, it is to be determined by the homage actually rendered, and not by that which is prescribed. It is easy to say that the saints are not to be honoured as God is honoured; that He is to be regarded as the original source and giver of all good, and they as mere intercessors, and as channels of divine communications; but this does not alter the case if the homage rendered them assumes that they possess the attributes of God; and if they are to the people the objects of religious affection and confidence.


What the Church of Rome teaches on this subject may be learned from the following passages, from the decisions of the Council of Trent, from the Roman Catechism, and from the writings of the leading theologians of that Church:259259Concilii Tridentini, sess. XXV.Mandat sancta synodus omnibus episcopis . . . . ut . . . . fideles diligenter instruant, docentes eos, sanctos, una cum Christo regnantes, orationes suas pro hominibus Deo offerre; bonum, atque utile esse suppliciter eos invocare; et ob beneficia impetranda a Deo per filium ejus Jesus Christum, Dominum nostrum, qui solus noster redemptor et salvator est, ad eorum orationes, opem auxiliumque confugere: illos vero, qui negant sanctos, æterna felicitate in cœlo fruentes, invocandos esse; aut qui asserunt, vel illos pro hominibus non orare; vel eorum, ut pro nobis etiam singulis orent, invocationem esse idolatriam; vel pugnare cum verbo Dei; adversarique honori unius mediatoris Dei et hominum Jesu Christi; vel stultum esse in cœlo regnantibus voce, vel mente supplicare; impie sentire.” “Et quamvis in honorem et memoriam sanctorum nonnullas interdum missas ecclesia celebrare consueverit; non tamen illis sacrificium offerri docet, sed Deo soli, qui illos coronavit; unde nec sacerdos dicere solet, offero tibi sacrificium Petre, vel Paule; sed Deo de illorum victoriis gratias agens, eorum patrocinia implorat, ut ipsi pro nobis intercedere dignentur in cœlis, quorum memoriam facimus in terris.260260Ibid. sess. XXII. caput. iii.

The Roman Catechism261261III. ii. qu. 4 [xix. 10]. See Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, pp. 93, 78, 79, 479. teaches the same doctrine.

Invocandi sunt [angeli eorum]; quod et perpetuo Deum intuentur et patrocinium salutis nostræ, sibi delatum, libentissime suscipiunt.” This invocation, it says, does not conflict with the law “de uno Deo colendo.”

Thomas Aquinas says: “Quanquam solus Deus sit orandus, ut vel gratiam vel gloriam nobis donet; sanctos nihilominus viros orare expedit, ut illorum precibus et meritis, nostræ orationes sortiantur effectum.262262Summa, II. ii. quæst. 83, art. 4, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 153, a, of third set.

On this subject Bellarmin lays down the following propositions, (1.) “Non licet a sanctis petere, ut nobis tanquam auctores divinorum beneficiorum, gloriam, vel gratiam aliaque ad beatitudinem media concedunt.” This, however, he virtually nullifies, when he adds, “Est tamen notandum, cum dicimus, non debere peti à sanctis, nisi ut orent pro nobis, nos non agere de verbis, sed de 283sensu verborum; nam quantum ad verba, licet dicere, S. Petre miserere mihi, salva me, aperi mihi aditum cœli: item, da mihi sanitatem corporis, da patientiam, da mihi fortitudinem.” (2.) “Sancti non sunt immediati intercessores nostri apud Deum, sed quidquid a Deo nobis impetrant, per Christum impetrant.” (3.) “Sancti orant pro nobis saltem in genere, secundum Scripturas.” (4) “Sancti qui regnant cum Christo, pro nobis orant, non solum in genere, sed etiam in particulari.quot;263263De Ecclesia Triumphante, lib. I., De Sanctorum Beatitudine, cap. xvii, xviii., Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. ii. pp 718-721. As to the question, How the saints in heaven can know what men on earth desire of them, he says four answers are given. First, some say that the angels, who are constantly ascending to heaven and thence descending to us, communicate to the saints the prayers of the people. Secondly, others say, “Sanctorum animas, sicut etiam angelos, mira quadam celeritate naturæ, quodammodo esse ubique; et per se audire preces supplicantium.” Thirdly, others again say, “Sanctos videre in Deo omnia a principio suæ beatitudinis, quæ ad ipsos aliquo modo pertinent, et proinde etiam orationes nostras ad se directas.” Fourthly, others say that God reveals to them the prayers of the people. As on earth God revealed the future to the prophets and gives to men at times the power to read the thoughts of others, so He can reveal to the saints in heaven the wants and prayers of those who call upon them. This last solution of the difficulty Bellarmin himself prefers.264264Ut supra, cap. XX. p. 735.

The objections which Protestants are accustomed to urge against this invocation of saints are, —

1. That it is, to say the least, superstitious. It requires faith without evidence. It assumes not only that the dead are in a conscious state of existence in another world; and that departed believers belong to the same living mystical body of Christ, or which their brethren still on earth are members, both of which Protestants, on the authority of God’s word, cheerfully admit, but it assumes, without any evidence from Scripture or experience, that the spirits of the dead are accessible to those who are still in the flesh; that they are near us, capable of hearing our prayers, knowing our thoughts, and answering our requests. The Church or the soul is launched on an ocean of fantasies and follies, without a compass, if either suffers itself to believe without evidence then there is nothing in astrology, alchemy, or demonology which may not be received as true, to perplex, to pervert, or to torment.


2. The whole thing is a deceit and illusion. If in fact departed saints are not authorized and not enabled to hear and answer the prayers of suppliants on earth, then the people are in the condition of those who trust in gods who cannot save, who have eyes that see not, and ears that cannot hear. That the saints have no such office as the theory and practice of invocation supposs is plain, because the fact if true cannot be known except by divine revelation. But no such revelation exists. It is a purely superstitious belief, without the support of either Scripture or reason. The conjectural methods suggested by Bellarmin of explaining how the saints may be cognizant of the wants and wishes of men, is a confession that nothing is known or can be known on the subject; and, therefore, that the invocation of the saints has no Scriptural or rational foundation. If this be so, then how dreadfully are the people deluded! How fearful the consequences of turning their eyes and hearts from the one divine mediator between God and man, who ever lives to make intercession for us, and whom the Father heareth always, and causing them to direct their prayers to ears which never hear, and to place their hopes in arms which never save. It is turning from the fountain of living waters, to cisterns which can hold no water.

3. The invocation of saints as practised in the Church of Rome is idolatrous. Even if it be conceded that the theory as expounded by theologians is free from this charge, it remains true that the practice involves all the elements of idolatry. Blessings are sought from the saints which God only can bestow; and attributes are assumed to belong to them which belong to God alone. Every kind of blessing, temporal and spiritual, is sought at their hands, and sought directly from them as the givers. This Bellarmin admits so far as the words employed are concerned. He says it is right to say: “Holy Peter, save me; open to me the gates of heaven; give me repentance, courage,” etc. God alone can grant these blessings; the people are told to seek them at the hands of creatures. This is idolatry. Practically it is taken for granted that the saints are everywhere present, that they can hear prayers addressed to them from all parts of the earth at the same time; that they know our thoughts and unexpressed desires. This is to assume that they possess divine attributes. In fact. therefore, the saints are the gods whom the people worship, whom they trust, and who are the objects of the religious affections.

The polytheism of the Church of Rome is in many respects analogous to that of heathen Rome. In both cases we find gods 285many and lords many. In both cases either imaginary beings are the objects of worship, or imaginary powers and attributes are ascribed to them. In both cases, also, the homage rendered, the blessings sought, the prerogatives attributed to the objects of worship and the affections exercised toward them, involve the assumption that they are truly divine. In both cases the hearts of the people, their confidence and hopes, are turned from the Creator to the creature. There is indeed, however, this great difference between the two cases. The objects of heathen worship were unholy; the objects of worship in the Church of Rome are regarded as ideals of holiness. This, in one view, makes an immense difference. But the idolatry is in either case the same. For idolatry consists in paying creatures the homage due to God.


The mother of our Lord is regarded by all Christians as “blessed,” as “the most highly favoured of women.” No member of the fallen family of man has had such an honour as she received in being the mother of the Saviour of the world. The reverence due to her as one thus highly favoured of God, and as one whose heart was pierced through with many sorrows, led the way to her being regarded as the ideal of all female grace and excellence, and gradually to her being made the object of divine honours, as the Church lost more and more of its spirituality.

The deification of the Virgin Mary in the Church of Rome was a slow process. The first step was the assertion of her perpetual virginity. This was early taken and generally conceded. The second step was the assertion that the birth, as well as the conception of our Lord, was supernatural. The third was the solemn, authoritative decision by the ecumenical council of Ephesus, A.D. 431, that the Virgin Mary was the “Mother of God. On this decision it may be remarked, (a.) That it was rendered rather as a vindication of the divinity of Christ, than as an exaltation of the glory of the Blessed Virgin. It had its origin in the Nestorian controversy. Nestorius was accused of teaching that the Logos only inhabited the man Jesus, whence it was inferred that he held that the person born of the Virgin was simply human. It was to emphasize the assertion that the “person” thus born was truly divine that the orthodox insisted that the Virgin should be called the Mother of God. (b.) There is a sense in which the designation is proper and according to the analogy of Scripture. The Virgin was the Mother of Christ. 286Christ is God manifest in the flesh: therefore she was the Mother of God. The infant Saviour was a divine person. Christians do not hesitate to say that God purchased his Church with his own blood. According to the usage of Scripture, the person of Christ may be designated from one nature, when the predicate belongs to the other. He may be called the Son of man when we speak of his filling immensity; and He may be called God when we speak of his being born. (c.) Nevertheless, although the designation be in itself justifiable, in the state of feeling which then pervaded the Church, the decision of the Council tended to increase the superstitious reverence for the Virgin. It was considered by the common people as tantamount to a declaration of divinity. The members of the Council were escorted from their place of meeting by a multitude bearing torches, preceded by women bearing censers filled with burning incense. In combating the assumed Nestorian doctrine of two persons in Christ, there was a strong tendency to the opposite, to the doctrine of Eutyches, who held that there was in our Lord but one nature. According to this view the Virgin might be regarded as the Mother of God in the same sense that any ordinary mother is the parent of her child. However it may be accounted for, the fact is that the decision of the Council of Ephesus marks a distinct epoch in the progress of the deification of the Virgin.

The fourth step soon followed in the dedication to her honour of numerous churches, shrines, and festivals; and in the introduction of solemn offices designed for public and private worship in which she was solemnly invoked. No limit was placed to the titles of honour by which she was addressed or to the prerogatives and powers which were attributed to her. She was declared to be deificata. She was called the Queen of heaven, Queen of queens. said to be exalted above all principalities and powers; to be seated at the right hand of Christ, to share with Him in the universal and absolute power committed to his hands. All the blessings of salvation were sought at her hands, as well as protection from all enemies, and deliverance from all evils. Prayers, hymns, and doxologies were allowed and prescribed to be addressed to her. The whole Psalter has been transformed into a book of praise and confession to the Mother of Christ. What in the Bible is said to God and of God, is in this book addressed to the Virgin. In the First Psalm, for example, it is said, “Blessed is the man who 287walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,” etc. In the Psalter of the Virgin it reads, “Blessed is the man who loveth thy name, O Virgin Mary; thy grace shall comfort his soul. As a tree irrigated by fountains of water, he shall bring forth the richest fruits of righteousness.” In the second Psalm the prayer is directed to the Virgin: “Protect us with thy right hand, O Mother of God,” etc. Ps. ix., “I will confess to Thee, O Lady (Domina); I will declare among the people thy praise and glory. To thee belong glory, thanksgiving, and the voice of praise.” Ps. xv., “Preserve me, O Lady, for I have hoped in thee.” Ps. xvii., “I will love thee O Queen of heaven and earth, and will glorify thy name among the Gentiles.” Ps. xviii., “The heavens declare thy glory, O Virgin Mary; the fragrance of thy ointments is dispersed among all nations.” Ps. xli., “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul for thy love, O Holy Virgin.” And so on to the end. The Virgin is throughout addressed as the Psalmist addressed God; and the blessings which he sought from God, the Romanist is taught to seek from her.265265This Psalter is published under the title Psalterium Virginis Mariæ, a Devoto Doctore Sancto Bonaventura compilatum. It is given at length by Chemnitz in his Examen Concilii Tridentini, edit. Frankfort, 1574, part iii. pp. 166-179. Chemnitz does not refer its authorship to Bonaventura; but gives it as a document sanctioned and used in the Church of Rome.

In like manner the most holy offices of the Church are parodied. The Te Deum, For example, is turned into an address to the Virgin. “We praise thee, Mother of God; we acknowledge thee to be a virgin. All the earth doth worship thee, the spouse of the eternal Father. All the angels and archangels, all thrones and powers, do faithfully serve thee. To thee all angels cry aloud, with a never-ceasing voice, Holy, Holy, Holy, Mary, Mother of God. . . . . The whole court of heaven doth honour thee as queen. The holy Church throughout all the world doth invoke and praise thee, the mother of divine majesty. . . . . Thou sittest with thy Son on the right hand of the Father. . . . . In thee, sweet Mary, is our hope; defend us for evermore. Praise be cometh thee; empire becometh thee; virtue and glory be unto thee for ever and ever.”266266See A Church Dictionary. B. Walter Farquhar Hook, D. D., Vicar of Leeds. Sixth edition. Philadelphia, 1854, article Mariolatry. Dr. Hook quotes the so-called “Psalter of Bonaventura;” and refers to Sancti Bonaventuræ Opera, tom. vi. part. ii. from p. 466 to 473. Fol. Moguntiæ, 1609.

It is hardly necessary to refer to the Litanies of the Virgin Mary in further proof of the idolatrous worship of which she is the object. Those litanies are prepared in the form usually adopted in the worship of the Holy Trinity; containing invocations, deprecations, intercessions, and supplications. They contain such 288prayers as the following: “Peccatores, te rogamus audi nos; Ut sanctam Ecclesiam piissima conservare digneris, Ut justis gloriam, peccatoribus gratiam impetrare digneris, Ut navigantibus portum, infirmantibus sanitatem, tribulatis consolationem, captivis liberationem, impetrare digneris, Ut famulos et famulas tuas tibi devote servientes, consolare digneris, Ut cunctum populum Christianum filii tui pretioso sanguine redemptum, conservare digneris, Ut cunctis fidelibus defunctis, eternam requiem impetrare digneris, Ut nos exaudire digneris, Mater Dei, Filia Dei, Sponsa Dei, Mater carissima, Domina nostra, miserere, et dona nobis perpetuam pacem.” More than this cannot be sought at the hands of God or Christ. The Virgin Mary is to her worshippers what Christ is to us. She is the object of all religious affections; the ground of confidence; and the source whence all the blessings of salvation are expected and sought.

There was, however, always an undercurrent of opposition to this deification of the mother of our Lord. This became more apparent in the controversy on the question of her immaculate conception. This idea was never broached in the early Church. The first form in which the doctrine appeared was, that from the fact that God says of Jeremiah, “Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jer. i. 5), it was maintained that the same might be said of the Virgin Mary. Jeremiah indeed was sanctified before birth, in the sense that he was consecrated or set apart in the purpose of God to the prophetic office; whereas Mary, it was held, was thus sanctified in the sense of being made holy. All the great lights of the Latin Church, Augustine, Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Thomas Aquinas, held that if the Virgin Mary were not a partaker of the sin and apostasy of man, she could not be a partaker of redemption. As Thomas Aquinas, and after him the Dominicans, took the one side in this controversy, Duns Scotus and the Franciscans took the other. The public feeling was in favour of the Franciscan doctrine of the immaculate conception. Even John Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, distinguished not only for his learning but also for his zeal in reforming abuses, in 1401 came out publicly in support of that view. He was, however, candid enough to admit that it had not hitherto been the doctrine of the Church. But he held that God communicated the truth gradually to the Church, hence Moses knew more than Abraham, the prophets more than Moses, the Apostles more than the prophets; in like manner, the Church has received from the Spirit of God many truths not 289known to the Apostles. This of course implies the rejection of the doctrine of tradition. That doctrine is, that a plenary revelation of all Christian doctrine was made by Christ to the Apostles and by them communicated to the Church, partly in their writings and partly by oral instructions. To prove that any doctrine is of divine authority, it must be proved that it was taught by the Apostles, and to prove that they taught it, it must be proved that it has been always and everywhere held by the Church. But according to Gerson the Church of today may hold what the Apostles never held, and even the very reverse of what was held by them and by the Church for ages to be true. He teaches that the Church before his time taught that the Virgin Mary, in common with all other members of the human race, was born with die infection of original sin; but that the Church of his day, under the inspiration of the Spirit, believed in her immaculate conception. This resolves tradition into, or rather substitutes for it, the sensus communis ecclesiæ of any given time. It has already been shown267267Vol. i. p. 114. that Moehler in his “Symbolik” teaches substantially the same doctrine.

This question was undecided at the time of the meeting of the Council of Trent, and gave the fathers there assembled a great deal of trouble. The Dominicans and Franciscans, of nearly equal influence in the Council, each urged that their peculiar views should be sanctioned. The legates in their perplexity referred to Rome for instructions, and were directed for fear of schism to prevent any further controversy on the subject, and so to frame the decision as to satisfy both parties. This could only be done by leaving the question undecided. This was substantially the course which the Council adopted. After affirming that all man kind sinned in Adam and derive from him a corrupt nature, it adds: “Declarat tamen hæc ipsa Sancta Synodus, non esse suæ intentionis comprehendere in hoc decreto, ubi de peccato originali agitur, beatam, et immaculatam Viriginem Mariam, Dei genetricem; sed observandas esse constitutiones felicis recordationis Xysti papæ IV., sub pœnis in eis constitutionibus contentis, quas innovat.268268This is from Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, p. 20. A foot-note says, “Totum hanc periodum. ‘Declarat-innovat,’ omnes fere editiones ante Romanas omittunt.” This last clause refers to the Bull of Sixtus IV., issued in 1483, threatening both parties in this controversy with the pains of excommunication if either pronounced the other guilty of heresy or mortal sin.


The controversy went on, therefore, after the Council of Trent very much as it had done before, until the present Pope, himself a devoted worshipper of the Virgin, announced his purpose to have the immaculate conception of the Mother of our Lord declared. This purpose he carried into effect, and on the eighth of December, 1854, he went in great pomp to St. Peter’s in Rome, and pronounced the decree that the “Virgin Mary, from the first moment of conception by the special grace of almighty God in view of the merits of Christ, was preserved from all stain of original sin.” She was thus placed, as to complete sinlessness, on an equality with her adorable Son, Jesus Christ, whose place she occupies in the confidence and love of so large a part of the Roman Catholic world.

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