Article 22 Revisited: the Saints as Advocates

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 22 states:

XXII. Of Purgatory

The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

By the late Middle Ages, a number of ancient Christian customs and traditions had taken on a life of their own.  Respect for the dead, remembrances of the departed, the celebration of the Saints, reverence for sacred art, and other such things had grown from their simple pious origins into a systemic culture that the Reformers found to be “rather repugnant to the Word of God”.

In my original comments on this Article we looked at Purgatory, Pardons, and the Worshiping and Adoration of Images and Relics, but we did not look at the Invocation of Saints.  That subject I’ve saved for today, as we celebrate All Saints’ Day.

The invocation of Saints is another practice characteristic of Roman and Eastern piety that has little or no counterpart in Protestant Christianity.  To invoke a Saint means, literally, to “call in” a Saint.  It assumes that the Saint has power or merit that he or she can dispense upon request.  Although this does illustrate the idea of our co-inheritance with Christ in eternal life, the unfortunate implication is that the Saints have become demigods, like feudal lords under the King, Jesus.  It takes a rightful respect we are biblically commanded to have for all God’s people and turns it into a hierarchical set of relationships that all too easily distance us from Christ our King and Brother.

The result of the rejection of this “Romish doctrine” has been that the vast majority of Protestants, although cleaving steadfastly to Christ, have forgotten with whom they steadfastly cleave to Christ.  Forgetting the good teachings and examples of the Saints have alienated many from their own past, and weakened their understanding of the Body of Christ, and made us more vulnerable to the intrusion of new strange doctrines or the return of ancient heresies thought long dead.

In resistance to this extreme, some people have argued for the “advocation of Saints” instead of their “invocation.”  Rather than the problematic “calling in” a Saint for help, it has been argued that we may “call alongside” a Saint to join us in prayer.  Although this exact terminology has not universally been used, this basic idea has existed within Protestantism since the Reformation.

Appeals for this view stem from Scripture, tradition, and history.  From Scripture, Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 describe the mingling of earthly and heavenly prayers.  This is realized in our liturgy (part of our normative tradition) in the Communion prayers, in which we pray, “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name…”  And historically, this view explains the presence of devotions to the Saints and their relics in the Early Church before their growth into the late medieval malpractices that the Reformation had to throw off.

This view has not taken a significant hold outside of high church Anglican circles.  Retorts that Christ is our only Mediator and Advocate are used to deny the possibility of inviting the Saints into our prayer lives.  What may be misunderstood here is that the unique Advocacy of Christ and/or the Holy Spirit their roles on the Day of Judgment: then only the Sinless One can stand beside we sinners and advocate for our judgment unto forgiveness.  But advocacy in lesser matters, like our ordinary prayers in this life, while stemming from Christ our perfect Intercessor, do not preclude the possibility of asking for other people to pray for us.  Defendants of the Advocation of Saints argue that asking a departed Christian to pray with/for us is no different than asking a living Christian to pray with/for us.

However seriously or tentatively one takes this, it must be said that the Church, the Body of Christ, is a living unity of love and prayer.  As the Catechism of the Anglican Church in North America, To Be A Christian, says, “All the worship of the Church on earth is a participating in the eternal worship of the Church in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-24).” [Q.101]  Whether we name any departed Saints in our prayers or not, they are with us in prayer and worship, and for that we can always rejoice.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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