Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Reader Asks

I RECEIVED A COMMENT on my post of Old Saint Ferdinand Shrine:
Anonymous said...

Hi there!

Don't you think this building is full of superstition and idolatry? Also, doesn't the New Testament refer to all Christians as 'saints', not just certain dead ones?!
Dear Anonymous: I'm no theologian, but I'll give it a try. If anyone else wants to come up with an apologia, have at it in the comments!

The Catholic Church teaches that baptism makes one a part of the Communion of Saints; according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "The living, even if they do not belong to the body of the true Church, share in it according to the measure of their union with Christ and with the soul of the Church. " It is true that American Catholics don't normally use the word 'saint' to describe living Christians, but this does not mean that we deny the concept. However, you will hear the word 'saint', describing the living brethren, used by charismatic Catholics, who have an Evangelical or Pentecostal style of worship similar to many American Protestant groups.

The word 'saint' comes from the Latin word 'sanctus', meaning 'holy', so in other languages the word 'saint' is used more broadly than just the Saints in Heaven. I remember the time when I found out that California cities are named after Catholic saints: San Francisco = Saint Francis, Santa Ana = Saint Anne, etc. So, I thought, Santa Cruz is named after Saint Cruise? Who was that? Actually, Santa Cruz means Holy Cross! Yes, I was (am) stupid.

It is possible that superstition or idolatry can be practiced by an ignorant or malicious individual worshiper in a Catholic Church, but certainly that is not the intent of the Church itself. Whether or not you believe that what goes on in a Catholic church is superstitious depends, of course, on your theology. Thomas Aquinas defines superstition as thus:
"Accordingly superstition is a vice contrary to religion by excess, not that it offers more to the divine worship than true religion, but because it offers divine worship either to whom it ought not, or in a manner it ought not."
A Jew or Muslim may think that prayers to Jesus Christ are superstitious, while a Deist (who believes that God only created the world and has nothing to do with it anymore) may think that any kind of prayer other than praise is superstition. An atheist will consider all religion to be superstition.

Perhaps you are thinking that prayer to the Saints in Heaven is superstitious. The Catholic view is this: here on earth, we ask our living friends to pray for us, and we too ask God's friends in Heaven to pray for us. According to Catholic thinking, God exalts His subordinates and is pleased when we praise them. Also, we view the Saints as being aware and active, by the power of God, of course.

But consider this: if we shouldn't have anyone between God and us, they why even pray to anyone but God the Father, not even Jesus? However, Catholics do pray to God the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost, the Blessed Trinity One God, and a multitude of Saints and Angels.

In Catholic Churches of the Latin Rite, much of the iconography present is either mainly decorative or catechetical in function, although certainly some images, statues, and relics are venerated. Explicit veneration of images mainly is found in Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches. We traditional Christians do not consider this idolatry, since we are not worshiping wood, stone, or paint, but rather we give honor to the Saints in Heaven and to God: the veneration of the image intellectually 'flows through' the image to Heaven. But veneration is not the same thing as worship, which is due to God alone.

Perhaps far more problematical for a non-Catholic and non-Orthodox is the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. If we are wrong, then this would certainly be the most despicable of idolatry! However, you perhaps ought to read carefully John 6:
48 I am the bread of life.
49 Your fathers did eat manna in the desert: and are dead.
50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven: that if any man eat of it, he may not die.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven.
52 If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.
53 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
54 Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.
55 He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.
56 For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.
57 He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him.
58 As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.
59 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever.
These are hard sayings, but it is consistent with the Catholic view of the Eucharist.

Please feel free to comment if you have any further questions.

1 comment:

  1. Hi again. I think you wrote an excellent reply.

    Here's a cut to the chase scene length reply ha ha. Superstition is the belief that there are operant forces other than natural or God. In other words people who are superstitious believe that there are forces that operate outside of the control of God, and that are not part of natural forces such as physics, chemistry and biology. Humans tend to be superstitious as a mental reflex to feeling out of control of their day to day circumstances. Christianity and Christians as a faith are not superstitious since they believe that all works are through God or of the natural science, which is created by God. God's "force" or "power field" is known as grace. Saints are those who have an abundance of grace given by God. Hence Gabriel called Mary "Full of Grace" rather than "Future Saint." Sharing in the communion of saints means that one shares in the grace from God that is received from God through the conduits of faith and charity. It is fine and even advisable to venerate saints who demonstrate how to achieve a fullness of grace. As you point out the images of the saints are ways to focus thought and prayer and not being reverenced themselves. Also reverence is different from worship, which is reserved for God alone. Superstition plays no role because there is not a belief that a force other than God's grace is operant. A superstitious person would think that St. Joseph would have had to throw salt over his shoulder if he had spilled some to avoid "bad luck" even though Jesus Christ himself was living in the house with Joseph and Mary.