Wednesday, 6 September 2006

The Intercession of the Saints pt. 2

Luke got back to me about my post with some objections, and something he said he'd have to put more thought into. They are as follows:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling[.] - 1 Tim 2:1-6
If Jesus is our one mediator between God and men, doesn't this rule out prayer to saints?
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
[...]
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed[.] - 1 Cor 15:12-19,51
If our departed brothers are described as being "asleep", doesn't it rather suggest that they are not in a position to pray for us?
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. - 2 Peter 1:1-4
This is, I think, the part that Luke said he needed to think more about.

Well, with regards to the first scripture, I'll say what I said to Luke, which I think is a very strong argument personally - and short. If saintly intercession is an unlawful substitution for the mediation of Christ, how is intercession among the living any more licit?

It's even an odd placing for the verse to which he refers; the doctrine of Jesus' unique mediation is hemmed in with exhortations for us to pray for one another - it hardly seems to follow, but that "for" in "For [...]there is one mediator" implies that it does. I suggest that it's because "we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." In the same way, Jesus wants men to be involved in the forgiveness which only he can give:
Jesus said to [the disciples] again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld." - John 20:21-23
I'd also like to mention again those elders bearing the prayers of the saints in Revelation 5:8, who clearly haven't been told that they're violating Jesus' unique office.

As an interesting aside, have a quotation from the martyrdom of Polycarp, so as to see how one churchman circa 155 viewed the effect of the cultus of saints on the worship due to God:
But the evil one[...] contrived that not even a relic of him should be taken by us, though many desired to do this, and to communicate with his holy flesh.

He suborned, therefore, Nicetes, the father of Herodes, and the brother of Alce, to make interest with the governor so as not to give his body to the tomb, Lest, said he, they abandon the crucified and begin to worship this man. And these things they said at the suggestion and instance of the Jews, who also kept watch when we were about to take the body from the fire, not knowing that we shall never be able to abandon Christ, who suffered for the salvation of the whole world of those who are saved, the blameless on behalf of sinners, nor to worship any one else.
As regards the "fallen asleep" image, I think the context alone shows that it cannot casually be used as an argument for the position that the dead in Christ are not aware of us. Another two instances of the phrase occur in 1 Thessalonians 4, as well as in relation to Lazarus and to the saints who were raised after the passion of our Lord. I don't think Luke would dispute in any of these cases that the primary meaning of "fallen asleep" is as a euphemism for death. Nonetheless, it does rather suggest a restful inactivity of those who have gone before us doesn't it?

However, given how Paul uses it in the above excerpt from 1 Corinthians, I think that suggestion is as far as you could possibly take it. How is it possible that Paul intends more than a euphemism when he uses the same term for dead Christians within a hypothetical situation in which "Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile [...] you are still in your sins", and there is consequently no resurrection for anyone ever?

I also included verse 51 because, though it could of course refer to Christians in the last, last days, we do have two examples of people who didn't 'sleep':
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you." And Elisha said, "Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me." And he said, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so." And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, "My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more. - 2 Kings 2:9-12
Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. - Genesis 5:24

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. - Hebrews 11:5
If they didn't sleep in the euphemistic sense of the word, what reason is there to suppose that they are detached from our concerns now?

I hope no-one objects too much if I re-state a couple of things in brief that were in my first post:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us[.] - Hebrews 12:1
The image is of the long-dead figures of Hebrews 11 as if watching over us at the amphitheatre where we are in the 'race' to which St. Paul alludes. In fact, we're surrounded.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" - Revelation 6:9-10
The martyrs are presented as aware of, and prayerfully engaged in, the events unfolding on the earth.
Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. - 1 Samuel 28:18
Samuel is aware of what is happening to Saul.
And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. - Matthew 17:2-3
Moses and Elijah are able to communicate with our living Lord.



I'd like to mention in passing that in one of Ed's textbooks for his Moore course, a complaint that was recorded as being made about Catholicism was that the saints were portrayed as aloof from the concerns of the everyday Christian, whereas here we have an unease about the over-involved presence of saints - as a Catholic you just can't win. We fast too much; we feast too much; we have an absurd attachment to celibacy; we have an absurd attachment to marriage; we think we know everything; we think everything's a mystery; our exegesis is too literal; our exegesis is too allegorical; we think everyone else is doomed; we don't think everyone else is doomed:
"But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

"'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." - Matthew 11:16-19
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