|Posted by lee on October 30, 2009 at 11:05 AM|
CATHOLIC: November is a wonderful month. On the first day of the month the Catholic Church celebrates All Saints Day, which remembers all who have died and are in heaven. It is great comfort to us on earth to have those in heaven who pray for us.
OBJECTOR: I don’t see why that would be a great comfort. In fact, it seems to me to be just a pagan holiday that Christians co-opted. The early Puritans of this country, for example, rejected it.
CATHOLIC: Yes, many of them even rejected Christmas as a Christian holy day. It’s too bad, because such austerity deprives the Christian people of what is rightfully theirs. All Saints Day does have a counterpart in the pagan religions of Europe before Christianity arrived, but it is not a pagan holiday. In fact, the Church instituted the day to substitute for the pagan holiday so that Christians wouldn’t be tempted to return to pagan practices. When you take something away from people, it’s wise to replace it with something positive.
OBJECTOR: Well, the whole concept is inconsistent. It’s called All Saints Day, but the Church considers only some of the people in heaven saints. I mean, all I ever hear about is Saint So-and-So.
CATHOLIC: Anyone who is in heaven is a saint. It’s just that we don’t know the vast majority of those who died in the grace of God. When the Church canonizes a person, it is saying that we know for sure that this particular person is in heaven, but the Church recognizes that there must be countless others in heaven whose names we do not know. That in fact is the purpose of All Saints Day: to recognize all who have died and gone to heaven.
OBJECTOR: But it doesn’t fit with the Bible. The Bible uses the word saints for people living in on earth, not in the next world. Paul speaks of those in Corinth as being "with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia" (2 Cor. 1:1). If the saints are in Achaia, then they can’t be in heaven. In 2 Corinthians 9:1, Paul speaks about "the offering for the saints," by which he means fellow Christians who are poor.
CATHOLIC: The word saint in the New Testament translates the Greek word hagios, which simply means "holy." When it is used substantively (as a noun), it means "holy one" (ho hagios). Thus, it could refer to God, the angels, or human beings. In the verses you cited, Paul is referring to Christians as "holy ones" because they have been made holy by God. A related word is used in 1 Corinthians 6:11 when Paul says, "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." The word sanctified here is hagiazo, meaning "to make something or someone holy." So saints are those who have been made holy by God.
OBJECTOR: That just confirms my point that saint or holy one is used of people today, not those in heaven. Paul is speaking to the Christians in Corinth, not about those who have died.
CATHOLIC: But think about it: If Christians on earth can be called holy because they have been sanctified through the washing of baptism, then are Christians who have died any less holy or saintly than those on earth? Those in heaven are closer to God and more in love with him than those of us on earth. The Bible calls those who have died in Christ "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:23). To be perfectly righteous is to love perfectly. So why would we not call Christians in heaven saints if we can use the word of those on earth?
OBJECTOR: I thought Catholics used the word saint only for those in heaven. Now, you seem to be using it for people on earth and in heaven.
CATHOLIC: If we keep the root meaning of hagios in mind—that is, a holy one—then we can use the word both of those living on earth and those in heaven. But keep in mind that we Catholics distinguish between saints on earth and the saints in heaven. It’s simply a matter of reasoning from the lesser to the greater. As we on earth are saints in the making, so those in heaven are saints who have been perfected in faith, hope, and love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13).
OBJECTOR: Your distinction may be convenient for you, but I still don’t see the Bible saying that Christians who have died are "saints."
CATHOLIC: Actually, the Bible does use the term for believers who have died. Matthew 27:52 says, "The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised." These saints are obviously holy people in the Old Testament, or at least those who died before Christ was crucified, but it still applies the term saints or holy ones to the dead. Even more relevant is 1 Thessalonians 3:13: "So that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." Here Paul almost certainly is referring to those in heaven who will return with Christ at his second advent. And Jude quotes an apocryphal book with approval: "Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads’" (Jude 14). These "holy myriads" are clearly those who are with Christ in heaven.
OBJECTOR: But those are just a few of the verses where the word saint occurs. The great majority of texts use the term to refer to those on earth who are living.
CATHOLIC: True. But good interpretation of the Bible requires us to relate these two uses of the term hagios to one another. The Catholic dogma of the communion of the saints does this. It says that a saint is anyone who has been made holy by God. Now, it should be obvious that holiness is not achieved all at once; it takes a lifetime. It begins at baptism when the Holy Spirit comes into the soul of the recipient of baptism. This act of infusion is what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 6:11 quoted above. Being "washed and sanctified" refers to the washing away of sin and the internal renewal of the Holy Spirit, as Paul says in Titus 3:5. This is the beginning of holiness, but the pursuit of holiness lasts a lifetime.
OBJECTOR: If Paul is referring to baptism in 1 Corinthians 6:11 as you say, then perhaps the sanctification referred to is also a one-time act by God to make the person holy. This would fit, since baptism too is a one-time event. Maybe this is referring to an act of God declaring the baptized person holy rather than to an infusion of grace.
CATHOLIC: The question of the relationship between justification and sanctification is too big a topic for us now. My only point here is that Catholic dogma explains the full range of the Bible’s uses of the term hagios by saying that those baptized into Christ have started on the path of holiness that is completed only in heaven. The reason the Bible can use the term holy one or saint of both those on earth and those in heaven is because it is really just a single process.
OBJECTOR: But doesn’t the crux of the issue have to do with communication between heaven and earth? Even though both groups may be called saints, that doesn’t mean that Christians on earth should pray to the "saints" in heaven.
CATHOLIC: But think about the implications of what I have said. If pilgrim Christians on earth and perfected Christians in heaven are all part of one body, the body of Christ, then they are just Christians residing in two different locations. Now, if a Christian in America can ask a Christian in Europe to pray for him because they both are part of the one body of Christ—the Church—then why can’t he ask a Christian in heaven to pray for him as well? I trust you understand that the Catholic practice of asking the saints in heaven to pray is not attempting to go around or ignore Jesus but is asking the saints to go to Jesus and the Father in prayer.
OBJECTOR: Yes, I understand the explanation that Catholics give of this, but I still don’t see anywhere in the Bible where it says that those in heaven do or should pray for those on earth. Dead people can’t pray.
CATHOLIC: That’s my point. The saints in heaven are not dead. They are more alive than we are because they are closer to the source of life: God. Consider this: Jesus tells us in Mark 12:26–27, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong." He said this to the Sadducees who denied the possibility that the dead could live (i.e., the resurrection). But notice his statement. It means that all people are alive to God, even if they are dead to us.
OBJECTOR: Yes, that is my point. They are dead to us. We cannot communicate with them nor they with us.
CATHOLIC: But if Christians who have died in Jesus are alive to God and are in his presence, then they must share in the union that Christ has with his body (the Church) on earth. Remember that Paul says that "we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8). Christians in heaven are absent from us but present to the Lord. If they are present to Christ, then they must be united to Christ and to all who are in Christ. Now, if we are united with all other baptized Christians in the church on earth—that is, in the body of Christ—then how could we be separated from the heavenly members of that same body? Now you see the theological basis for asking the saints in heaven to pray for us. If we can ask other Christians on earth to pray for us, then there is simply no reason we can’t ask Christians in heaven to pray for us too. If we deny this possibility, aren’t we depriving the Christian people of powerful intercessors that they are entitled to? And don’t we end up with an emaciated and sub-Christian view of the Church as the body of Christ if we deny that some of its members can’t enter into prayer for the whole body?
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