Saturday, October 20, 2007

Does AnGel Ministries Distort Catholic Teaching? (part 3: Communion of the Saints vs. Jesus 'the One Mediator'?

2. Are the saints mediators independent of Christ, the one true mediator between God and man?

It might help if I also explain some points about the communion of the saints.

In the Nicene Creed dating back to the 4th century we pray “I believe in the communion of the saints”. How would you define the communion of saints? Is it simply those living in this world that believe in Christ? Where are all those holy souls who have died? Are they somehow cut off from the Body of Christ that they once inhabited?

The Catholic understanding of the communion of saints is that the Church is the family of God. The saints are our “older brothers and sisters” who have gone before us. They are living examples of the Gospel and the “New Law” of Christ, they were so animated by the Holy Spirit and supernatural grace, they allowed Christ to live in them to such an extent that they become shining examples of Christian discipleship.

From the earliest times of the Church has honored (venerated—NOT worshipped!) the holy martyrs that lived out the grace of God to the extreme—dying for their faith. We see in graffiti on the ancient catacomb tombs through which Christians ask for these martyrs to pray for their brothers and sisters fighting the good fight here in this world. If you knew that your brother in Christ had died defending the Faith, and you know that Jesus has destroyed death and that your brother is somehow far more immediately in the presence of God then yourself, what would your attitude be? Would you forget about him? Would you think he was sleeping? Or, would you ask him to pray for the communion of saints that are still in this world.

Of course, asking for the saints' intercession does not mean that you are by-passing Jesus (“the one mediator between God and man”—1 Tim 2:5), or using another mediator. This is clear by the very fact that practically all Christians ask fellow Christians to pray for them (Rom 15:30; Col 4:3; 1 Thess 5:25; Eph 6:18-19; 2 Thess 3:1). Why do we do this if we could go “straight to Jesus”?

Why do we have this impulse to ask other Christians to pray for us when, at the same time, we have a very personal relationship with Christ and intercede to him directly all the time.

I think that the reason might be that God made us a communal people. We are meant to live in the Church as a communion of those who have one identity in Jesus Christ and preserve this bond in charity. In other words, being a Christian is not exclusively about “me and Jesus”. Being a Christian means being part of the Body of Christ—a communion, a family. Just as we do here in this life, it is natural to call upon our brothers and sisters. We are meant to be a tight family as Christians, so, of course we call upon the Lord directly,… but we also ask the saints to join us in our prayer (not because Jesus would not heed our prayer, otherwise, but simply because love impels us to call upon our brothers and sister).

It is true, however, that “the fervent prayer of a righteous man is very powerful.” James letter cites the power of Elijah’s prayer, and one could also give the unique power of Moses’ intercession, as well. Certainly, I will ask for the prayers of my brother and sister Christians in this world, but I will not neglect to ask for the prayers of my brothers and sisters who are fully perfected in charity (completely righteous and transformed by the grace of God), free from all sin, fully employed in the constant worship of God, with an immediate vision of the Lord (the beatific vision) and immediately in the presence of His heavenly throne. In other words, they are “expert prayers” at this point because they are oriented completely toward interceding and adoring the Lord (see Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4; etc.). Flooded with God’s love, they care more about us now than they did while on earth (they are concerned with events in this world—see Rev. 6:9-11). St. Paul asked his fellow Christians to pray for his ministry… do you think that he would disapprove of us asking him to now pray for us while we remain in the race? We only ask him to pray FOR US and WITH US to the Holy Trinity.

Some points to keep in mind:

  1. All Christians are members of Christ’s body and one another (Rom 12:5 and many others).
  2. Jesus has only one body (Eph 4:4; Col 3;15)
  3. Death cannot separate Christians from Christ or from one another (Rom 8:35-39). Death cannot cut us off from one another. In fact, the saints are not “dead” but, rather, are more fully alive than we are! God is the God of the living not the dead (see Mk 12:26-27).
  4. Christians are bound in mutual love (Rom 12:10; 1 Thess 5:11; Gal 6:2).
    We are members of Christ’s body, united in His divine life even beyond the grave, and concerned with each other’s salvation and growth in God’s family. There are no 2 bodies of Christ—those “alive” and those who are “dead”.

Does “praying to the saints” mean that we are treating the saints as if they were gods? No, the term “praying to the saints” stems from the old meaning of the English word “to pray”—which used to also mean, “to ask”, i.e. “pray thee bring the letters here”… eventually shortened to “prithy”). We ask the saints to pray for us. We ask the Virgin Mary to pray for us because she is the highest of saints. Of course she is a creature (so it is false when non-Catholics charge Catholics with “worshipping” Mary), and as the most beautiful masterpiece of God’s grace (the one closest to Jesus—his own Mother) she is given the highest honor (veneration) among all the saints. However, we can ask for the prayers of Mary just as we do for any other saint.

Does asking for the prayers of the saints violate 1 Tim 2:5—the fact that there is one mediator between God and man? The answer is no. Jesus is our one mediator with regards to our salvation. However, Jesus employed the apostles and disciples to be his authorized mediators by preaching the Gospel and baptizing (Mt 28), working miracles (see Acts), forgiving sins (Jn 20:23), binding and loosing with the power of the keys (Mt 16:19), celebrating the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-24), being “ambassadors of Christ” exercising the “ministry of reconciliation”, laborers and co-workers in the vineyard, working in the “ministry of the Spirit “and the “ministry of righteousness” (2 Cor 3:8-9).

Jesus shared his many unique roles with the members of his Church: creator—parents are co-creators; Shepherd—Peter is chief shepherd (Jn 10:11-16 +Jn 21:15-16; and Eph 4:11); his one priesthood and mediation (see below).

All of these examples of ministry were commanded and commissioned by Jesus to the authority of his Church. They are all ways that he graciously allows his sinful human disciples to mediate his grace to the world. This does not mean that Jesus or the Holy Spirit does not, at the same time, work directly in the hearts of people. Of course He does. But Jesus also intended that the large body of Christ together mediate His truth and grace both before and especially after His ascension to the right hand of the Father.

Lastly, all of the saints are baptized into the very person of Christ. Jesus Christ is the only high priest (Heb 3:1; 7:24; 9:12; 10:12), the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). However, with baptism, we are baptized into the one priesthood of Christ. We can offer sacrifices, sufferings, prayers of intercession, praises, etc. to God the Father by exercising our common baptismal priesthood of all believers. We exercise our priesthood in and through the one priesthood of Jesus. This is why we are not seeking out other mediators when we ask for the prayers of Mary and the other saints. We are simply exercising the priesthood of Christ together as His unified body bound in charity.

You must read 1 Tim 2:5 in the context of 1 Pet 2:5:

“let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’

To share in Christ’s priesthood is to share in his one unique mediatorship, both in heaven and on earth. This is a wonderful grace of God and speaks the amazing dignity that he gives us through baptism.

In fact, if you read the wider context of 1 Tim 2:1-7, you see that Paul is asking Christians to offer prayers and intercession for all men—in other words, to participate in Christ’s unique mediation.

Jesus said, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’, and it is true that, apart from Jesus, the saints would never be able to exercise any of these roles to any effect. It is only in virtue of Jesus that we can ask the saints for prayers and that they can intercede to the Triune God.

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