Monday, September 17, 2007

Saint Potamiaena & The Communion of Saints

This early Christian (now the patron saint of rape victims) was very interesting to read about in Eusebius' church history:

Thereupon she received sentence immediately, and Basilides, one of the officers of the army, led her to death. But as the people attempted to annoy and insult her with abusive words, he drove back her insulters, showing her much pity and kindness. And perceiving the man's sympathy for her, she exhorted him to be of good courage, for she would supplicate her Lord for him after her departure, and he would soon receive a reward for the kindness he had shown her.

Having said this, she nobly sustained the issue, burning pitch being poured little by little, over various parts of her body, from the sole of her feet to the crown of her head. Such was the conflict endured by this famous maiden.
And as has already been demonstrated by the martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch, the very early Christian belief in the life of saints after death (i.e. the communion of saints - i.e. their ability to pray for us) continues on well into the second century. In fact it would be the Reformers who rejected this Christian doctrine (which had existed from the beginning). So again we find ourselves in a tough spot - if the Protestants were right - the early Church and the doctrines they received from the apostles were wrong.

Protestants may not believe in the saints' ability to pray for us after an earthly death - but hey, I bet ole' Basilides does!
Not long after this Basilides, being asked by his fellow-soldiers to swear for a certain reason, declared that it was not lawful for him to swear at all, for he was a Christian, and he confessed this openly. At first they thought that he was jesting, but when he continued to affirm it, he was led to the judge, and, acknowledging his conviction before him, he was imprisoned. But the brethren in God coming to him and inquiring the reason of this sudden and remarkable resolution, he is reported to have said that Potami├Žna, for three days after her martyrdom, stood beside him by night and placed a crown on his head and said that she had besought the Lord for him and had obtained what she asked, and that soon she would take him with her.

Thereupon the brethren gave him the seal of the Lord; and on the next day, after giving glorious testimony for the Lord, he was beheaded. And many others in Alexandria are recorded to have accepted speedily the word of Christ in those times.

For Potami├Žna appeared to them in their dreams and exhorted them. But let this suffice in regard to this matter.
Silly martyrs. What do they know? Apparently they never read the WCF! Oh who knows... maybe I'm just reading Catholicism into these early documents. (Eyes rolling)


Phil Snider said...

I would never argue that saints praying for people isn't in the Fathers. It is. Quite clearly.

Yet, you do have to understand that the Reformers objection to the cult of the saints was the idea that they, in a sense, get between Christ and the individual believer. That is, Christ is the sole advocate and the saints intercession isn't necessary.

Now, do I think that the saints prayer for us? I'm not sure. What I do know is that the buck stops with Jesus (thus, God), that I prefer a direct approach.


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Here's Calvin on praying to the Saints.

His errors are most forthcoming in his concluding line: "Then, in all their[the papists] litanies, hymns, and proses where every kind of honour is paid to dead saints, there is no mention of Christ."

Such abuse where saints are mentioned in liturgy and not Christ is a stench in the nostrils of any Christian but isolated cases of abuse hardly deny the truth of Christ's Church. If it were ever so, it certainly isn't now.

His gravest mistake is his direct contradiction of Christ's words and logic by calling the saints dead. "He is not the God of the dead but of the living"

Now of the issues with Solo Christo, here is my post exposing the fallacies of that doctrine (at least how it is practiced by Calvin and followers).

Calvin also admits that the practice of praying to saints for their intercession is an ancient one and their intercession for us is also an ancient one. He just thinks that the Catholic Church has been wrong for a very long time.

Calvin rejected the account of the martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch as spurious (and has since been disproven) which is the earliest document that I know of affirming saints praying for us after death.

But still he knew that even without that early account, it can't be said to be any later than the second century.

The "cult of the saints" if it truly gets between Christ and the believer would be a false doctrine. But that's not the Church's doctrine at all.. This post is about doctrine not practice.

The doctrine of asking the saints to pray for us cannot possibly be wrong unless it amounts to necromancy which it doesn't.

Phil Snider said...

God Fearin'

Please note that I'm not particularly a fan of Calvin, but he isn't completely wrong here as you yourself concede. If we take him completely on his word in the quote you gave me, both Catholics and Protestants would agree that, if someone only prays to the saints and not Christ, there is a serious problem.

Do I think the Reformers got carried away about the cult of the saints? Yes, I do. I do think we should remember them both as examples of the faith and as people we should emulate (because they sought to imitate Christ). I get squeamish about addressing prayers to them because it is Christ we should be dealing with. Can prayers to saints be efficacious? I don't think more than prayers directly to Christ are? In fact, direct prayers to Christ are more likely to be efficacious, since it takes out the middleman, doesn't it?

Am I willing to go as far as Calvin? Not quite, but Calvin is also being highly polemical, so I question how seriously we should take his point. That doesn't mean, however, there aren't legitimate theological concerns that Calvin and other Reformers bring up.


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I agree. Some of our conversation is getting lost in the translation though. The word phrase "pray to" is where we're having some nuances I think.

Catholics don't pray to saints (except in the old sense of the word pray - 'to ask') we don't supplicate them for their power like one supplicates God or Christ.

If anyone does, they are in error. We merely ask the saints to pray for us. They aren't a middle man, but co-prayers with us. We might ask a certain saint to pray with/for us regarding a certain problem. In no way does this diminish or lessen Christ's unique power.

We can and do pray directly to Christ and or to the Father and or the Holy Spirit just as any other Christian can and should.

And even a Catholic doesn't have to ask saints to pray for them. It certainly isn't required. If you go to a mass all of our prayers are directly to God through Christ (with some exceptions on solemnities where we pray the litany of the saints - which explicitly asks for them to pray for us).

Since none of us would hesitate to ask a friend here on earth to pray for us, how then can we call it evil or detracting from Christ's glory to ask a saint? This is the communion of saints. They live. They are not dead in Christ but alive. So asking them to pray for us is absolutely no different than asking a friend on earth to do so (except they are saints and your friend probably isn't).

You're right, the Reformation was right about a lot of things - I have a post in the oven on this topic.