Friday, September 25, 2015

The Invocation of the Saints

The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

I just received my Weekly Anglican Update from the American Anglican Council which included a video commentary on Article XXII by the Rev. Canon Phil Ashey. Apparently Canon Ashey thinks that St. John Vianney was  a really great pastor but he would never dream of asking the prayers of the Cure d’Ars.  I cannot say for sure whether Canon Ashey actually thinks he is speaking on behalf of all Anglicans for the benefit of those outside Anglican circles or if he intends to correct a dangerous tendency among some Anglicans. He certainly does not speak for me, or for my parish, in which the saints are regularly invoked, or for many other Anglicans. .  It was especially ironic that in the same email was reported the news of ACNA meeting with the Russian Orthodox to open ecumenical dialogue.  The practice of invoking the saints is rampant in Eastern Orthodoxy and there is not a Romanist among them. To cite one of many examples in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and other official Orthodox prayer books:

May Christ our true God who rose from the dead, as a good, loving, and merciful God, have mercy upon us and save us, through the intercessions of His most pure and holy Mother; the power of the precious and life giving Cross; the protection of the honorable, bodiless powers of heaven, the supplications of the honorable, glorious prophet and forerunner John the Baptist; the holy, glorious and praiseworthy apostles; the holy, glorious and triumphant martyrs; our holy and God-bearing Fathers (name of the church); the holy and righteous ancestors Joachim and Anna; Saint (of the day) whose memory we commemorate today, and all the saints.

To thee, the Champion Leader, we thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos; but as thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do thou deliver us, that we may cry to thee: Rejoice, thou Bride Unwedded!
Most glorious, Ever-Virgin, Mother of Christ God, present our prayer to thy Son and our God, that through thee He may save our souls.

All my hope I place in thee, O Mother of God: keep me under thy protection. O Virgin Theotokos, disdain not me a sinner, needing thy help and thy protection, and have mercy on me, for my soul hath hoped in thee.

O good Mother of the Good King, most pure and blessed Theotokos Mary, do thou pour out the mercy of thy Son and our God upon my passionate soul, and by thine intercessions guide me unto good works, that I may pass the remaining time of my life without blemish, and attain paradise through thee, O Virgin Theotokos, who alone art pure and blessed.

These invocations would make the most ardent Ultramontanist blush.

I think the best thing you can do with the 39 Articles is ignore them or forget about them. I do not even think we have to rely on Blessed John Henry Newman’s spin on the Articles. The fact is to take the 39 Articles seriously is ultimately to say that no century counts except the 16th century.  It is to set Anglicanism on an obstacle course with the all that came before it , the Great Tradition of the undivided Church.  Indeed it is to oppose Holy Scripture. The statement that the Invocation of the Saints is ‘repugnant to the Word of God’ is simply untrue. There is no passage of Scripture which forbids or insists upon the invocation of the saints. It might well be an inference, either for or against, based on the interpretation of Scripture. But, as with so many other Reformation novelties and like modern innovations, opposition rests on the claim that the Church had it wrong until some more enlightened folks came along and set the rest of Christendom straight. The question that needs to be answered ‘why the Church before the Reformation never condemned the practice but in fact encouraged it’ is never answered.  If the answer is the Church was corrupt, then when did it become corrupt? In the 13th Century or the 1st Century when the Church complied the Canon of Holy Scripture?

The truth is that the Church never required the invocation of the saints (at least in the West- it was otherwise in the East as the examples above show). It was permitted and you could not speak against it. The Church was reluctant to mess around with the prayers of ordinary Christians unlike the Reformers of the 16th Century or the Modernists of the 20th Century. Even in the Western Liturgy the invocation of the saints was a rarity. The prayers of the liturgy did not say for the most part Saint N pray for us but rather asked God to answer the prayers of the saints as in the Roman Canon (the Litany of the Saints at the Easter Vigil would be an example of direct invocation of the saints):

In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude: Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian) and all your Saints; we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by your protecting help. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is not the invocation or ‘ calling upon’ the saints; it is an invocation of the Father through the Son.

Canon Ashey says that he is willing to follow the example of St. John Vianney but not willing to ask for his prayers. I do think it wholly commendable to follow the example of the saints, even though in many cases this is not possible. Is Canon Ashey willing to spend hours upon hours in the confessional? I somehow doubt it. But if a line is crossed, when we move from example to intercession, then the distinction between the two falls apart. I am not arguing that asking the prayers of the saints is exactly the same as asking the prayers of living Christians. It is not exactly the same. For one thing the saints may well have more information than we do in this vale of tears. But surely as an analogy we could ask ‘which request most clearly reflects the sovereignty, power and uniqueness of God Almighty: when we say to our fellow Christians ‘I want to be like you” or when we say ‘would you pray for me’? Surely it the latter case which puts all the cards in the hands of God. 

I cannot understand why we even have to think about the 39 Articles at all unless it is because some Anglicans are nostalgic for the days when the Articles were used to bash Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics over the head. But some of us are also nostalgic for the teaching of the undivided Church in all places and at all times and by all men.

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