Thursday, July 31, 2008

Venerating Saints

I have been told that, by definition, worship is not given to saints in the RCC. It was easy, according to the RC apologists, to tell if worship was being given to a saint's relics or not--or even to a saint, or the Mother of God. If there is no sacrifice, no worship is given. That was actually a pretty good argument, because they are not beholden to a prot view of what worship is. No matter how similar the actions looked, or how similar the words sound to worship they could simply point to their doctrine that if one is not sacrificing, one is not worshiping; hence by definition saints are not worshiped.


I recently came across these two verses of Scripture in another discussion forum:

Ephes 5:5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Col 3:5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

While there may be a plausible explanation offered to explain why St. Paul is not really speaking about worship, I don't see it. I think it looks like the fine distinctions used to say that the saints are never worshiped in e.g. venerating bones is beginning to break down. The citations above show what amounts to "non-sacrificial worship", which should be a contradiction in terms, given the typical RC distinction made. The highlighted terms used in the passages cited above are EIDOLOLATRIS and EIDOLOLATREIA respectively, so St. Paul is plainly speaking abut worship, which is latreia. Maybe they could say that proper veneration of the saints is never latreia but proper dulia, but they cannot simply rule idolatry out of court simply because by nature nothing is latreia without a sacrifice. This means a lot more weight is given to what people actually say and do as opposed to a sort of objective yardstick to determine if worship is given.

The distinction seems to a notion one keeps in one's head because St. Paul blatantly called actions without sacrifice worship, and I think he has a lot of authority. And as we all know, it is very easy for us to rationalize what we think we are doing even if we are doing something wrong. That is why the "kinetic" and material parts of worship are important. One could think one has the proper distinction in one's head, but in reality one is actually giving idolatrous worship to something made with hands and is deceived because of what one does. If the definition or worship is more "kinetic" such that it by definition rules out a given set of acts actually being worship, this is not nearly as much of an issue. Absent the "kinetic" bulwark though, traditional prot critiques of e.g. bone venerating have a lot more force. It can be very easy to become an idolater--especially when the actions of adoration of an icon look so similar to worship.


Chris Jones said...

It was easy, according to the RC apologists, to tell if worship was being given ... if there is no sacrifice, no worship is given.

I don't buy this, any more than I did when you posted a similar comment last April. I do not think any well-informed Roman Catholic apologist would make this facile equation of adoration with sacrifice.

In my comment on the April post I used the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as an example of non-sacrificial adoration; an even better example (because it is a form of worship common to both Catholics and non-Catholics) is the recitation of the Divine Office. At Matins, we sing the Te Deum, which is precisely a hymn of adoration to the Holy Trinity; and we sing the Venite from the Psalter, which is surely a psalm of adoration. But neither Matins nor any of the daily offices is a sacrificial service. Are we to believe that because no sacrifice is made at Matins and Vespers that adoration of almighty God is not taking place? Even on purely Roman Catholic terms, the argument is silly.

The distinction between adoration and veneration is a valid and important one, but it can be explained and defended without recourse to silly arguments like this one.

Edward Reiss said...


I am repeating the argument as I was told it. I am not saying the RCs by definition are engaging in idolatry when the venerate a saint or his bones--that is a different question all together. My point is that the charge of idolatry cannot simply be dismissed because of a lack of sacrifice.

Divine worship must include sacrifice, at least according to Fr. Hardon. Isn't divine worship latraeia while devotion or "worship" of saints is "dulia"? That has been my understanding of the distinction made. But I checked again to make sure--though not from a dogmatic source.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Dulia":

"(Greek doulia; Latin servitus), a theological term signifying the honour paid to the saints, while latria means worship given to God alone, and hyperdulia the veneration offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary...."

St. Paul is clearly speaking of "latreia" in the cited passages, yet there is no sacrifice to be found. Hence it is possible to perform "latreia", or divine worship, without a sacrifice. That means that veneration of the saints may indeed be worship (latreia) even without sacrifice--it is not sufficient that there is no sacrifice offered to defend against the charge of idolatry.

Acolyte4236 said...

Any thoughts on 1 Chron 29:20?

Edward Reiss said...


I am not sure what you want me to see. It does not seem to me that David was considered equal to God, but the Israelites bowed before him as king and bowed to God as God. Perhaps I am missing something?

Acolyte4236 said...

Well that passage was one of the most significant passages in the iconoclast controversy.

Was the "worship" given to God and the king outwardly the same or different? Was the difference in intention? Is bowing the same as venerating or something different?

Edward Reiss said...


For the record, I think the difference between dulia and latreia is a matter of intent. I also think our actions can have an effect on our intent over a period of time. I do not think every RC act of veneration is by definition idolatrous. I do think that there is a significant risk of idolatry, however, especially if the distinction usually made regarding what worship is becomes untenable.

Jen said...

As a former RC and current LCMS Lutheran, I never felt I was "worshipping" saints or Mary. In plain english, I'd say, as would others, that I was asking the saints to pray with me or to be there with me. I guess in the Lutheran world it's a dead issue, no pun intended, to say that one would ask someone in heaven to be with me at the altar. 1) they're already gone, 2)we're taught that they are with us at worship in a sense, communing with us in the Eucharist. As a current Lutheran, I see that it is not necessary--go to the source, right? But as a former RC, I don't necessarily hold it against them. As a Lutheran, I think our kids could stand to learn about more "famous" saints; As a former RC, I don't think it's worthwhile to "offer it up" to a saint.

Lucian said...

You love and kiss Your wife, and you love and kiss Your kids: same word, same expression: two wholly different things (at least for a sane person).

You call Your father 'father' and your king 'king', and you even bow down before the later: and you do the same three things to God.. but there's a difference (at least for an orthodox person).


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