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of its necessary consequences. He lays down the principle, that “prayer offered to a creature, whether visible or invisible, is idolatry." To invoke, means no more than to call upon, and generally for a favour; to invoke and ask help, means that the persoon is called upon to grant that help, as a matter of countesy or favour, not as claimed of right: and this is prayer; by his own statement, such prayer can be offered to visible, equally as to invisible creatures; and your correspondent informs us that it is equally idolatry, in one case, as in the other.
I agree perfectly with him in the principle, though I widely differ from him in my results. He would assert that, in each case, it would be idolatry: I say
it is not so in either. He admits as a fact, that "Protestants ask the prayers of the faithful, or those they consider so on earth, in the body, that God will comfort them in sorrow, sustain them in trial, and save them from danger. Thus they entreat the faithful in the body, they invoke them: they ask their help, by the ora pro nobis, “pray for us," with a view to benefits which God alone can confer; and thus Protestants, according to this theologian, are guilty of idolatry. No, no, for the persons whom they invoke, are in the body :upon earth. I answer, “they are visible.” If they were disembodied spirits, and not upon earth, they would, it is true, be invisible to us, but not the less really in existence: and, whether visible or invisible, the contradictory writer took good care to make his principle embrace both.
It is very true, that another question will fairly offer itself, respecting the wisdom of addressing ourselves to intercessors invisible to us, who have departed from the body: but the question of idolatry and utility are very different. To invoke and pray, in our second meaning of prayer, to an angel or a saint, is then no more idolatry, than to invoke and ask the aid of a creature upon earth; and if Catholics are guilty of this crime, by invoking those spirits, Protestants are equally guilty, by invoking each other. So far, the two cases resemble each other in principle. But here the similarity ceases. He, with apparent triumph, asks whether the cases resemble each other! I say that, in principle, to this extent, they do. Before I take up the point of difference, it might not be amiss for me to remind you of one who certainly besought earnestly the prayers of persons, who, though visible, and on earth, and in the body, yet were to him as perfectly invisible at the time, any of those blessed spirits, whom I presume you will admit he occassionally saw.
“30. Now, I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
“31. That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea ; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem, may be accepted of the saints;
“32. That I may come among you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.” (St. Paul, Ep. to Rom., chap. xv.)
The allegation upon which the charge of idolatry was founded, being, that Roman Catholics prayed to angels and saints, in such a manner as to commit this crime, I apprehend that I should have sufficiently vindicated my denial of the charge, by what I have written; but your correspondent has chosen to go much farther, and it perhaps will be as well to follow him.
We have seen that it would not be idolatry to invoke, or call upon one of the faithful in the body, to unite with us in prayer to God. It remains to examine, whether the mere circumstance of making a similar request of an invisible or spiritual creature, would thereby become idolatry. I will at once say, it would not: because, to constitute that crime, we must give to some creature, visible or invisible, corporeal or spiritual, the homage due to God alone: the mere circumstance of invisibility, or spirituality, will not change the principle. The jet of the crime consists, in giving to a creature, what belongs only to the Creator. Now, we never worship God by asking him to join us in prayer, by asking him "to pray for us," by asking him to make intercession for us." Hence, to address a fellow-creature in this manner, is not to treat it as we treat God, but in a way which no rational or religious being would act towards the Creator. To address to God such prayers as those which we address to angels and saints, would be to derogate from his honour, and to blaspheme. When, therefore, we thus address the blessed spirits, we do not pay to them the homage which we pay to God.
The other differences alluded to in the tenth paragraph, are: first, a doubt as to whether the being whom we ask to pray for us, is in heaven. Suppose he is not: then the worst will be, that our labour will be just as much lost, as would be that of a good Protestant who would write to a friend in a distant place to pray for him, and the friend dies before the letter arrives. We believe, however, upon grounds which satisfy ourselves, that we can know, in some instances, that God has admitted particular individuals to his presence, and we address ourselves only to them: but, if even here we should, being deluded, ask the prayers of one who is a reprobate, we are in no worse plight, than probably are many of our Protestant friends themselves, who have often been imposed upon by hypocrites, whose prayers they have besought, under the impression of their being virtuous; but surely this mistake is not idolatry.
Your correspondent next states a new difference to be, that we know not that those blessed spirits are accessible, and we can surely have access to the faithful in the body on earth. This I call begging the question: for we assert that there is equally certain access to those blessed spirits. Yet, still were there no access to them, it would only be folly, not idolatry, to ask their prayers.
In the same tenth paragraph, which indeed contains the chief part of his argument, he asserts another difference between the blessed in heaven and the faithful in the body to be, that we know not that the former can pray for us, or help us; whilst we do know that the latter
This also is assuming what we deny; and such ignorance, if it even existed on our part, would not constitute idolatry.
Upon these grounds, I then state: that idolatry being the giving to any creature the worship due only to God, in order to prove us guilty thereof, in praying to angels and saints, it must be shown that we pray to them in such a way as is due only to God. But we do not pray to them in that manner, but only in that manner in which Protestants pray to just men on earth, in the body; and as this is not on their part idolatry, so neither is our conduct idolatrous. In another place, I shall show that it is neither foolish nor irreligious.
We now come to another point. “Catholics ask salvation through the merits of the angels and saints." No attempt having been made to produce any evidence whatever to sustain the charge of our asking salvation (“to save them”) through the merits of the angels, and the proposition being conjunctive, I might, upon this single ground, claim to have the whole assertion rejected as not proved. I shall, however, not use this advantage. I shall merely say that we deny, and our impugner has not attempted to show that denial to be unfounded, that we do pray to the angels to save us by their merits. The only proof adduced is a prayer to the guardian angel, paragraph 4, in which not one syllable of or regarding merits is to be found. I do not, of course, admit the unfounded assertions and repetitions of your correspondent to be proofs.
In paragraph 7, he adduces the documents regarding the merits of the saints; after four prayers, in which mention is made of their merits and one of intercession only, the writer concludes, in paragraph 8: “It is then a fact, that Roman Catholics do pray to angels and saints to save them by their merits." So far as the angels are concerned, it is obviously not a fact. Now, to understand the question properly, we must be clear as to the meaning of the terms used; we should have no quarrel merely about words. Doctrines, and not expressions, form the subject of our inquiry.
I shall first state what I conceive is meant by the expression “save them.” I am under the impression that, amongst Protestants, it means, to bring a person from a state of sin, whereby he is exposed to eternal punishment, to a state of justification wherein he becomes entitled to heaven, that is, “save them from hell,” which is the place of punishment for sin. The word merits, I believe, is at present, by the great bulk of Protestants in this Union, considered as implying a claim of pure and strict justice on the part of the meritorious, which gives them a complete right to demand an equivalent from the person against whom they have this claim. Thus, the impression conveyed to the Protestant mind by the expression, “A Catholic believes that he can be saved by the merits of the saints,” is, that we believe the saints have some demand of strict justice upon God, by reason of some service they have done him, independently of any claim of his upon them; and by virtue of which demand, they can, in strict right, save sinners from hell and bring them to heaven. Now, Roman Catholics consider it a heresy to make any such assertion. They condemn the Pelagians as erring from the faith, for asserting that a man can, by the proper use of his own faculties, merit heaven for himself, which is much less than is implied in the above assertion. Hence it is a misrepresentation of Catholic doctrine to assert, that it teaches that we can be so saved either by our own merits, or by the merits of angels and saints. It is also, of course, a misrepresentation to assert, that we pray to saints in this sense, or in any other like this, to save us by their merits.
Thus, the Catholic doctrine, as laid down in the sixth session of the Council of Trent, on the 13th of January, 1547, is
“That man cannot, by his own works, which are done either according to the teaching of human nature or of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, be justified before God.-Canon I.
“That divine grace is not given through Jesus Christ, merely that a man might with more ease live justly, and merit eternal life; as if he might be able to do so in any manner by free will, without grace; but yet hardly, and with difficulty.—Canon II.
“That a man cannot, without the preventing inspiration of the Holy Ghost and his help, believe, hope, love or repent as he ought, so that the grace of justification should be conferred upon him.-Canon III.
“That men are not justified without the justice of Christ, by which he merited for us.'-Canon X.
In the decree concerning original sin, passed on the 17th of June, 1546, in the third paragraph, it is distinctly stated as Catholic doctrine, that this sin cannot be removed by the strength of human nature, nor by any other remedy “but by the merit of the only mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who reconciled us to God, in his blood.”
Thus, the only mode by which we can be saved from sin, be justified before God, live justly, believe, hope, love, and repent as we ought, so that the grace of justification should be conferred upon us, and, of course, eternal life procured, is through the divine grace of Jesus Christ, our only reconciling mediator, by and through whose merits only this can be obtained. I could multiply evidences of this being the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and cite the various texts of Scripture, passages from the fathers, and decisions of previous Councils to which the Council of Trent refers, for the purpose of showing that this was always the doctrine of the Church: but it is unnecessary, for I presume it will be conceded that the Canons of this Council itself will be admitted as sufficient evidence of the fact that such is our doctrine.
How, then, are we to reconcile the collects of the Missal, in which we pray to the saints to save us by their merits, with this doctrine ? Does not the Missal contradict the Council? By no means. The reconciliation is easy between the prayers and the decrees. The meaning of the passage, “save us by his merits,” if applied to Jesus Christ in the sense in which those words are understood by Protestants, as above explained, will give the exact meaning of the Council. Now, when Roman Catholics apply the word merit to a creature as regards God, it could not, without a contradiction to their doctrine, have this same meaning: and they declare that such is not the meaning which they attach to the expression; but they explain it in altogether a different sense. Now, every good writer upon logic, as well as every honest man, will tell us that, when we inquire as to a man's belief, we must take his own meaning of his own words, in order to understand what, in fact, he does believe; but if we force upon his words a sense which he disclaims, we do not correctly exhibit his belief, but our own imputation. I shall, in my next letter, explain what we understand by the merits of the saints : it is enough for my present purpose to state, that we do not, in our prayers or other formularies or documents, by any means give to it the meaning which is forced upon us by our opponents.
Now, no one of the prayers “asks salvation" through the merits of the saints. Let us examine them.
"Graciously receive, O Lord, we beseech thee, our offerings, and grant, by the merits of blessed Anastasia the martyr, that they may avail to our salvation. Thro'."
The prayer is addressed to God, and the grace is asked from him, the only fountain of mercy: that grace is, that the offerings (instituted by Jesus Christ) may avail us to salvation, by the merits of a holy mar