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Repost: Why I Don’t Pray to Saints

Pseudo-Polymath wants to know, “If you do not pray to saints, why not?” He summarizes some of the reasons those who pray to saints do so. Most centrally (if I’m reading him correctly), one prays to saints to ask them to pray to God for us. Those who accept the practice often compare it to asking for a trusted Christian friend or advisor’s prayers.

He also suggests the following additional reasons to pray to saints:

  • To keep alive the memory of one who proved by his or her life to be a holy person.
  • To honor the image of God revealed in that person.
  • To express hope that God’s image would be similarly manifested in oneself.

He concludes: “Is my [praying to saints] adiaphora or not for you!? If so, let’s talk about it.”

In fact, if this is an adequate summary of Ps-P’s practice, I have no objections to it. As I have written previously, I object to the wording of some traditional prayers to the saints that seem to grant them power in their own right to effect benefits that, properly speaking, only God through Christ can confer. As for Mary, Paul, Francis of Assisi—or Thomas Helwys or Lottie Moon!—joining their prayers with mine for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, I don’t see the big deal with that that many Protestants do.

My concerns are not christological but eschatological. Here is how I expressed it some time ago:

If we believe it is right to ask other believers to pray for us, the questions we need to settle with respect to the saints have nothing to do with the centrality of Christ or his role as God’s uniquely appointed mediator between God and humanity. Rather, the pressing questions are eschatological in nature. Do the righteous dead know what is happening on earth? Is their entire attention focused on a heavenly vision of God, so that earthly concerns are completely beyond them? Or do they exist in some sort of “twilight zone” or “time warp” in which there are no conscious thoughts at all between their death and eventual resurrection?

So, in answer to Ps-P’s question, first of all, I don’t pray to saints because I haven’t gotten my eschatology quite worked out. I suppose I probably should, but to be honest, systematic theology was never my strong suit. I’d much rather just read the Bible and believe in Jesus :-)

Having said that, however, I should admit that I see no problem praying a litany of the saints such as this one of my composing. (I might even be persuaded to use the traditional refrain.) I don’t know if such a prayer does anything in terms of enlisting the intercessions of the saints, but it certainly makes me appreciative of how God has worked in the lives of these holy men and women and inspires me to try to be more like them.

Second, and this is at least as important as the first point, I don’t pray to saints because nobody ever taught me how. My family has been rural Appalachian Baptist for eight generations. It was never even on the radar in my spiritual upbringing to ask the departed saints for their intercessions, so it never occurs to me to consider the possibility. From my frame of reference, praying to saints is kind of like eating sashimi: it strikes me as very unusual thing to do. If you love it, more power to you. And if a knowledgeable friend would lead me along—and the place checks out with the health inspector!—I would probably give it a shot.

So, here is a question in reply for Pseudo-Polymath (and anyone else who wants to chime in): What advice would you give an open-minded Protestant about baby steps into the practice of praying with the saints?

Note: I received some really kind and informative comments the first time I ran this post, so much so that I made a “follow up interim report” on the subject here.

technorati tags: communion of saints, devotion to saints, eschatology, intercession


4 Comments

  1. mike says:

    Heb 12:1 and Rev 6:9-10 suggest to me that the righteous dead are very much aware of what’s going on with us. They are witnesses; they cry out to God to right wrongs that they know are still outstanding.

    C.S. Lewis has a good essay on the subject in Letters to Malcolm, but I can’t remember his advice. Prayer to the saints is something I learned at my mother’s breast, so I can only suggest true baby steps. Try the formal prayers you feel most comfortable with. Or, if you prefer a conversational mode, talk with the saints as you’d talk to anyone else who’s alive.

    It’s strange how natural such conversation comes to widows and widowers — even when they’re religiously agnostic. Something in us will not accept the mortality of the soul. God is good.

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  2. […] A Protestant, repost on prayer to the Saints. […]

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  3. Mark Olson says:

    In the aftermath of the first time, the suggestion from myself and several other sources were to pick a Saint or two and try to begin, with regular prayer and study of their life to develop a relationship.

    It occurred to me, the other thing that Catholic and Orthodox do regarding Saints is to rely on a secular device, i.e., calendar. Saints have “a day” (typically shared by a number of Saints). Thereby we can remember and call to mind, well thousands of Saints beside our patron saint through the year. For example, culled from today’s Orthodox (Gregorian) calendar we have:

    SOBOR-SYNAXIS OF ARCHANGEL GABRIEL.
    PRIESTMARTYR IRENEIUS, BISHOP OF SIRMIUM (+ 304).
    TWENTY-SIX MARTYRED GOTHS: PRESBYTERS BATHUSIUS AND VERCUS, MONK APRILA, AND LAYPERSONS: AVIUS (AVIPUS), AGNUS, REAS, HEGATHRAX, HISCOEUS, SILAS, SIGICIUS, SONIRILUS, SUIMULIUS, FERMUS, FILLUS (FIGLUS), CONSTANS, PRINCE AGATHON, AND WOMEN-MARTYRS: ANNA, ALLA, LARISSA (VARISA), MOIKO, MAMIKA, WIRKO (VIRKO), ANIMAISA (ANIMAIDA), HAATHA A GOTHIC PRINCESS, AND DUCLIDA A GOTHIC PRINCESS (+ C. 375).
    MONK MALKHOS OF SYRIA (IV).
    MONK BASIL THE NEW (+ C. 944).

    Each of these has a “traditional” (with all that implies) history, for example:

    The PriestMartyr Ireneius suffered during the time of persecution against Christians under the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian (284-305).
    He was a presbyter, and together with his wife he raised his children in Christian piety and gained great respect for his educated mind and strict manner of life.
    He was later on made bishop in the city of Sirmium in Pannonia (modern-day Hungary). Because of his fervent preaching of faith in Christ he was arrested, and brought before a city-governor named Probus. Refusing to renounce Christ and offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, the saint was handed over for torture. Witnessing his torments were the parents, kinsmen and friends of the saint, who attempted to persuade him to submit, but the martyr remained steadfast. After cruel tortures, the holy confessor was for a long time in prison. Probus tried to sway the will of the martyr, urging him to spare his life for the sake of his sons. But the martyr replied: “My sons believe in God, Who wilt care for them; for me however, nothing will compel me to renounce my Christ”. The governor gave orders to throw the saint into a river. They led the martyr on the bridge crossing the River Sava, where he in kneeling then turned in prayer to the Lord for his flock the Sirmium Church. After his prayers they beheaded the PriestMartyr Ireneius, and threw his body into the river.

    With a little work you might be able to assemble something like that from your own tradition (or borrow the Orthodox or Catholic lists in the meantime). The “menologian 3.0” software found here might help in the former.

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  4. Mark Olson says:

    Sorry about the bold face, the [strong] was supposed to be after the Ireneius.

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