The Communion of Saints: Dead or Alive in Christ?
The Communion of Saints by David Lamb (Super Saved Catholic Dave)
The classic Christian words of the well-known Apostle's Creed states:
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
One of the most controversial doctrines in the eyes of Protestant Fundamentalists and Reformers is the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints. You may hear such arguments as “Catholics practice praying to the dead, that’s Necromancy.” “Saints cannot hear your prayers they’re dead!” Or the most popular one, “Catholics worship Mary and dead saints.” So what about it? Do they really have a case?
The answer is an emphatic NO! The problem with Protestant Reformers and Fundamentalists is the very foundation of their belief system which is Sola Scriptura. I will only briefly touch on Sola Scriptura because it is paramount for you to understand so that you may comprehend the seriously flawed presupposition and foundation that they have. Sola Scriptura is a Latin phrase first coined by the Father of the Reformation Martin Luther. It means “Only by the Scriptures” and how it is understood today is the very pillar on which all of Fundamentalist / Evangelical / Reformers base their entire theological system. Sola Scriptura is the Protestant presupposition that all spiritual truth, Christian doctrine, and Divine Revelation is only revealed to humanity exclusively through the 39 books of the Hebrew canon and the 27 books of the New Testament which makes up the totality of the Protestant Canon.
It is further understood and believed by these sects of Christendom that the Bible is self interpreting and therefore anyone picking up a Bible who sincerely seeks God through careful study of the Scriptures alone will arrive at doctrinal truth. The fact that there are thousands of Protestant denominations and sects is indicative of the fact that the very foundation of this belief system is flawed as well as unscriptural. Therefore, any time a Fundamentalist or a Reformer makes a case against what the Catholic Church teaches they should come under sharp scrutiny and intensive examination to see whether or not they have a case. Thus, if the reader of this article has not recently heard a good case against Sola Scriptura I recommend they read my article on the final authority of the Church (a reply to Jason Engwer) before you read the rest of this article. For those of you who have, please continue to read.
Is praying to the Saints praying to dead people?
Anyone who argues that praying to a Saint is praying to a dead person doesn’t understand what Jesus has taught us; let us go to the Scriptures to see what Jesus has to say about those saints who have experienced a physical death:
MT 22:23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 "Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"
MT 22:29 Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead--have you not read what God said to you, 32 `I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (St. Luke's Gospel 20:38 adds "for to him all are alive" or "for all live unto him")
Now if God is the God of the living and not the God of the dead when Jesus spoke of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob then how can Catholics be praying to dead people? Even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each experienced a physical death Jesus said they are indeed alive ("for to him all [in heaven] are alive") ! Let us further examine the words of Jesus on the matter:
JN 11:17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18
JN 11:21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
JN 11:23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
JN 11:24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
JN 11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Do Fundamentalist and Reformers believe this? Apparently not since they want to make the argument that we Catholics pray to dead people! The very Bible that Fundamentalist/Evangelicals and Reformers claim they follow clearly teaches us there is no such thing as a dead saint! Some Fundamentalist might argue at this point that there is no example in the Bible either explicitly or implicitly that suggest we can pray to departed saints? Well, they can try and make that argument but once again let us examine the Scriptures to see if what Fundamentalists claim the Bible says or in this case doesn’t say is true.
MT 17:1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
MT 17:4 Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."
MT 17:5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
Jesus himself spoke with both Moses and Elijah even though Moses was dead and buried for over a thousand years and Elijah was taken up into heaven (for you "Left Behind" fans: he was "raptured") nearly a thousand years before Jesus was born. Jesus is our very example of Christian living and here we have Jesus talking with a so-called “dead saint” while we read in the Scriptures:
1JN 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
Therefore, if Jesus spoke with departed Saints and the Bible commands us to walk as Jesus did there is no reason why we can’t speak with Saints who have overcome the world and have been perfected and glorified. So how is it that Catholics are violating some divine precept supposedly forbidden by Scripture? How is it that Catholics are disobeying the teachings of Jesus and the Scriptures when Jesus himself set the example? Some might argue and say, “Hey Dave, Jesus was God and can speak to anyone he wants.” Never in the Scriptures do we see Jesus breaking any Commandment. Jesus was not free to violate any of the commandments because if he did his sacrifice at
Praying to and with departed Saints and petitioning for their prayers is not necromancy. When a Christian petitions in prayer for prayer and aid from a glorified heavenly saint he/she is communing with the saints which are still part of the body of Christ; this is no different then had they asked family and friends still here on earth to pray for them. The truly dead are forever separated from God but glorified Saints are not only not separated from God but they are not separated from the body of Christ either! That is why both Jesus and the children of God can receive comfort and aid from glorified and departed saints, because they are not dead but alive just like the Bible says!
The next argument you will most likely get from Fundamentalist is their scriptural citation of 1 Tim 2:5 which says:
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”
Fundamentalists will go on to conclude that because the Bible says there is only One mediator between God and man that excludes all spiritual mediation. But even a simple examination of the Scriptures will show that interpretation doesn’t make sense. The Scriptures tell us repeatedly to pray for one another and to make intercession in prayer. Intercessory prayer is mediation and that is exactly the role of the saints in heaven. If 1 Timothy 2:5 excludes all mediation then the Bible would not tell us to pray for one another, we would be required only to pray directly to God and not petition anyone for prayer. The heavenly Saints themselves being made perfect and glorified by God can go to the very throne of God on our behalf to make intercessory prayer for our specific needs and prayer request.
Consider once again to see what the Scriptures say; let us start with the Old Testament:
JOB 33:21 His flesh wastes away to nothing, and his bones, once hidden, now stick out. JOB 33:22 His soul draws near to the pit, and his life to the messengers of death. JOB 33:23 "Yet if there is an angel on his side as a mediator, one out of a thousand, to tell a man what is right for him, JOB 33:24 to be gracious to him and say, Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for him'-- JOB 33:25 then his flesh is renewed like a child's; it is restored as in the days of his youth . JOB 33:26 He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God's face and shouts for joy, he is restored by God to his righteous state.
Here we have an example of an Angel acting as a mediator for a man who is about to die from sickness and sin and yet by the Angels mediation the man is restored to his health and his righteous state. By virtue of the Angels persuading intercessory prayer to God to have mercy on the man, the man was spared death. Contrast this to Jeremiah:
JER 15:1 Then the LORD said to me: "Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!
Here we have God being very angry at
Looking at the Second Book of Maccabees we find an even more explicit example of intercession by departed and glorified Saints:
2 Maccabees 15:11 When he had armed each of them, not so much with the safety of shield and spear as with the encouragement of noble words, he cheered them all by relating a dream, a kind of vision, worthy of belief. 12 What he saw was this: Onias, the former high priest, a good and virtuous man, modest in appearance, gentle in manners, distinguished in speech, and trained from childhood in every virtuous practice, was praying with outstretched arms for the whole Jewish community. 13 Then in the same way another man appeared, distinguished by his white hair and dignity, and with an air about him of extraordinary, majestic authority. 14 Onias then said of him, "This is God's prophet Jeremiah, who loves his brethren and fervently prays for his people and their holy city." 15 Stretching out his right hand, Jeremiah presented a gold sword to Judas. As he gave it to him he said, 16 "Accept this holy sword as a gift from God; with it you shall crush your adversaries."
This passage of Scripture clearly shows us that departed Saints make intercession for those of us on earth who live their life in faith. If you will recall my previous Scripture citation of Matthew 22 where Jesus said at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven....
Jesus said glorified Saints will be like the Angels in Heaven and Angels are ministering spirits to those of us on earth!
HEB 1:14 “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
Jesus said that those who die in Christ are transformed and will be like the Angels in heaven and that implies glorified and perfected heavenly Saints (the "spirits of just men made perfect" Hebrews 12:22-24) will like Angels be ministering spirits to the people of God on earth struggling in this life. The difference between Angels and glorified Saints is that the Saints in Heaven lived out their earthly lives through all the trials and tribulations, having their faith tested as gold is tested and purified by fire (1 Peter 1:6-9; 1 Cor 3:12-15).
The Saints in Heaven can perfectly relate to our struggles on earth and by virtue of that experience and knowledge they make perfect intercession before the very throne of God on our behalf. That is the very reason why we have Patron Saints such as
“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:15-16 KJV).
This is exactly how God has designed his Kingdom so that not only are we dependent on God but also on each other and especially those glorified saints who have departed the earth to receive their eternal inheritance and rewards.
So then why does
1CO 10:1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
1CO 10:6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did--and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did--and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did--and were killed by the destroying angel.
1CO 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Even though Christ Jesus has bridged the gap for man to be reconciled to God and even though God gives us the grace to be strong, we ourselves are responsible for what we do with grace, we must cooperate with grace and that is a free will choice. God said that when we are greatly tempted he will make a way for us to escape; that way is through the intercession of the heavenly Saints as well as Angels who are ministering spirits for those of us who are destined and striving to finish the race laid out before us so that we may receive the crown of eternal life (2 Tim 4:8; James 1:12).
We who are struggling against the principalities and powers of dark forces in the heavenly realm must put on the full armor of God but that armor only covers the front, therefore it is the vital prayers of the Saints that cover our backs (Ephesians 6:11-18). Without the help of Angels and Saints God has given us we may not even have the strength to put on the armor of God! The Devil’s battleground is the mind and it is there that he will try and destroy us. Without the prayers of the Saints we can so easily become weak and emotionally defeated but God knew this and designed his kingdom so that we would have a great deal of help available to us from Heaven.
Fundamentalists may argue that Jesus is all we need and yet the Fundamentalist has to admit that God has created and given us Angels. Therefore this argument falls flat, as such it could be implied that God doesn’t need the help of Angels either. Since we know God has created Angelic beings to be ministering spirits to those of us who shall inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14), conversely we also know he has rewarded those who have received the crown of life with authority and power (Wisdom 3:1-9; Rev 12:1) and now are sharing in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) to help those not yet perfected saints on earth who continue to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
This is one of the very reasons why Moses and Elijah appeared before Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus received aid from heaven from both Angels and Saints sent by his Father, and we have that same help available to us from God our Father. The Father loves his Son and Jesus said that the love he received from the Father to take care of Him is also in us (John 17:26) ! If you are a Fundamentalist, an Evangelical, or a Reformed believer you may still be resisting my clear Scriptural case but the Bible teaches us exactly what I am saying. Let us look at the book of Hebrews which perfectly reflects and confirms everything I have presented in my case:
HEB 12:22 But you have come to
This passage in Hebrews clearly sums up my case by confirming and telling us that we can come to not only Jesus in prayer but to Angels and the Spirit of Righteous Men made perfect which is the glorified Saints in heaven. This passage of Scripture flies in the face of the arguments Fundamentalists may make as a last ditch effort to say that praying to anyone else other than God is worshipping another being. However, one has to just look back at Matthew 17:3 and we see Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah. If praying to the Blessed Mother Mary or to any other Saint constitutes worship then Jesus himself would have been worshipping Moses and Elijah. But the truth is that all Angels and Saints direct worship toward God and they themselves are servants of God. They have been rewarded with eternal treasures which includes ruling over nations and tongues by virtue of the power and grace which God has rewarded them. Consider this Scripture from the book of Wisdom:
Wisdom 3:1 But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. 2 They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction 3 and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. 4 For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; 5 Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. 6 As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.7 In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; 8 They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their King forever. 9 Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.
So now we see that as part of their eternal reward in heaven Saints are perfected and glorified and are given nations to judge and rule over just like the Prophet Jeremiah was given power to rule over and intercede for Israel in Second Maccabees.
Jesus spoke of the Vine and the Branches representing the one body of Christ:
JN 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Explicitly this verse is speaking of our earthly journey but implicitly this verse tells us that we are never separated from the vine once we experience a physical death, we forever remain part of the vine. If glorified Saints are the branches of that vine and we who remain in Christ on earth are part of that vine then we are all intimately connected together from heaven to earth. By virtue of that intimate connection we have the sacred and divine rite and privilege to receive help from our brothers and sisters who have finished the race and received the crown of eternal life. They are still part of the vine which we ourselves are attached.
Finally my brothers and sisters in Christ, as the writer of Hebrews says,
“...since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
God has given us a great heavenly host to help us on our earthly journey. To call on them for help and prayer is not only showing our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ but their love for us! And that reflects an even greater glory, love, and worship to God who rewards those ahead of us to enable us to be rewarded ourselves as we draw from the heavenly host the help needed to finish the race laid out before us and endure to the end (Matthew 24:9-14).
In closing, let us examine the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians:
1CO 13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Clearly we can see this verse refers to our perfection in heaven, there is perfect love which is shown in the mercy of prayer and aid from the glorified and perfected Saints. God has not left us as orphans and when our family members die in Christ they are still with us praying for us and eager to receive our prayer request to take to the very throne of God. Love never stops, even on the other side of eternity we cannot be separated from God or our departed loved ones, for those who have gone on in glory shall forever remain connected to the Vine which is Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
The earliest Christian believers and ecclesiastical writers certainly believed in the Catholic doctrine of the communion and intercession of the Saints and Angels in heaven:
"But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels...as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep." ORIGEN On Prayer 11 AD 233
"Aschandius, my father, dearly beloved of my heart, with my sweet mother and my brethren, remember your Pectorius in the peace of the Fish [Christ]." PECTORIUS Epitaph AD 250
"Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence the first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father's mercy." ST. CYPRIAN Letters 56(60):5 AD 252
"Mother of God, listen to my petitions; do not disregard us in adversity, but rescue us from danger." Rylands Papyrus 3 AD 350
"You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard...But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?"
To Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Comments are welcome.
David Lamb (Super Saved Catholic Dave)