Thanks for everyone contributing to the excellent discussions over the last few days. I am astounded that one combox string went for over 170 comments. I am still working my way through all of those.
Things are very busy here as I am preparing for a Joint Muslim Catholic Pilgrimage to Istanbul and Rome after Easter, and for a week in Rome before that (Holy Week!). Hopefully I will have my new laptop with me on the trip and will be able to give regular updates on our journey (you will recall the red-wine incident… )
In the mean time, I just want to throw a few pebbles in the pond – I don’t have the time to work these into full separate theses, so they are just ideas:
1) On the invocation of the Saints:
There have been two objections from our Lutheran commentators. The first has been that there is no command or promise attached to the invocation of saints in the Scriptures. The second is how can the dead hear us?
Answer to the first objection could be that we don’t have any promise or command in scripture (as far as I know) about asking our fellow Christians to pray for us either. We have the command to pray for others – a command which I presume even the departed saints alive in Christ continue to fulfill. There are examples in the Old Testament of people asking prophets to intercede for them (eg. 1 Sam 12:19, Job 42:8, Jer 37:3). There is a striking parallel in the New Testament of Simon Magus asking Peter and John to pray for him to the Lord (Acts 8:24) – a very interesting case that could be used as the basis for the invocation of saints. Then there are several places in the letters of Paul and in Hebrews where the request is made that the readers “pray for us”.
All these examples seem to assume that the one being asked to pray – prophet, apostle, churches – have some influence with God. They are “near to God” in a way that would make their prayers beneficial. This seems to fit with James 5:16-18, where the “righteousness” of the intercessor adds power to the prayer. Again, this would seem to support invocation of saints. We invoke them to intercede for us because they are more righteous, more holy and closer to God than we are.
I can’t find anything in the Scriptures that would seem to say that we can’t invoke the saints to pray for us – unless of course it is the second objection: that they are dead and this would be communication with the dead, something explicitly rejected in the Old Testament.
But here we come to the fact that the doctrine of the Communion of Saints is based on the doctrine of the Resurrection and new life in Christ. They are not dead, but living, and therefore invoking them does not come under the OT ban.
However, can they hear us? No, not directly. They are not divine or omniscient or omnipresent. (I like the idea that theosis comes into play, but theosis is only complete with resurrection, so I can grant this in reference to Our Lady, but am not sure how it applies to all the rest of the saints beholding the beatific vision.) The Communication of Saints (if I may coin that term) depends on the same thing that the Communion of Saints does: they and we are all one in Christ and in the Spirit. Indeed that is the reason we can ask our brothers and sisters in Christ here on earth to pray for us: not because they can hear us, but because they are in Christ and the Holy Spirit with us. St Paul tells us that nothing, not even death, can separate us from Christ (Rom 8), and so this connection does not cease at death. It is an indirect communication, granted, just as our communion with one another is indirect, whether in this life or in the next. But Christ shares his glory with his people by allowing them to share with him the role of sole intercessor before the right hand of God.
2) On purgatory:
Pastor Weedon said in a combox:
“Purgatory I have no truck with; purgation is another matter. Our God IS a consuming fire. And the way St. Paul speaks in 1 Cor. 3 suggests that purgation is order for all of us. The Lutheran Symbols note – without censure – that St. Augustine apparently so understood it. So not a place, but the final purification that burns out of us all that is not love – and that we rejoice in. An ouch before the “ah” as a friend used to put it. But an ouch to which we cry: Burn, baby! Burn! Destroy in me all that is not the love of God!
Such purgation, I might note, begins long before our death. It is to start at the moment of our Baptism and will be complete when our Baptism is completed in passing through death.”
I wonder, what does he actually think it is that we Catholics believe? For in this, he says nothing other than that which the Catholic Church teaches. See a presentation I did on this matter here (powerpoint file)
3) Regarding the Word of God:
Pastor Weedon also said in another combox: “I do deny that the Scriptures are anything less than the active and living Word of God which itself decides truth.” I would like to put this alongside something Ratzinger wrote way back in 1965 (you can find it in the Ignatius Press collection of Ratzinger essays “God’s Word”):
Can the Word be handed over to the Church, without having to fear that it will lose its own life and power under the shears of the Magisterium or amid the uncontrolled growth of the sensus fidelium? That is the Protestant’s question to the Catholic.
Can the Word be set up as independant, without handing it over to the arbitrariness of the exegete, to be emptied in the disputes of historians, and thus to the complete loss of normative authority? That is the question with which the Catholic will directly respond…
I think there are two things going on here. There is the Word of God as it directly and existentially and spiritually addresses me as a creature of God, convicting me of sin, calling me to repentance, forgiving me my sin and strengthening me in faith, hope and love towards God and my neighbour. That is definitely the work of God’s living and active Word alone, which no human being can ever control nor for which any human being can ever take credit.
But then there is the other way in which the Word of God works, as teaching and as commandment, creating and ordering the Church and binds me together in community with my fellow believers. In this sense the Word requires an “administrator” as much as the sacraments do; in order for the Word to teach doctrine, there must be a teaching office (Magisterium). But the Lutheran claim is (as Ratzinger puts it in the same essay mentioned previously) that they have
“set the Word of God free from its chains in the ecclesiastical office…
This notion, that in the Catholic Church the Word of God had been fettered by being linked to the authority of office, that it had been robbed of its active, living power, is expressed time and again in the writings of the Reformers… [In the Catholic Church] office appears…as the criterion for the Word. It guarentees the Word. In Melanchthon’s thinking, it is the other way round: the Word appears as the criterion for office… The Word has become independant. It stands over and above the office, as an entity in itself. Perhaps it is even in this reversal of the relations between Word and Office that the real opposition lies between Catholic and Protestant conceptions of the Church…”
Does it help if we distinguish between the way in which the Word of God speaks to us as teaching and commandment (requiring “Office”) and the way in which it speaks to us for the sake of convinction, repentance, forgiveness and nourishment (independantly of “Office”, living and active and powerful)?