Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XXII (Part 2)

Section II. — Scriptural Proof.

I. 1. Purgatory

On this subject, and indeed on all the subjects of this Article, the burden of proof evidently lies with those who maintain the affirmative side of the question. If there be a purgatory, and if saints and images be objects of adoration, there should be some evidence to convince us that it is so.

The proofs from Scripture alleged in favour of purgatory are of two kinds: —

(1) Passages which speak of prayer for the dead.

(2) Passages which directly bear upon purgatory.

(1) The passages alleged in favour of prayer for the dead are: 2 Macc. xii. 42‒45: where Judas is said to have “made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.”

Tobit iv. 17: “Pour out thy bread,” i. e. give alms to obtain prayers from the poor, “at the burial of the just, but give nothing to the wicked.”

1 Sam. xxxi. 13: “They took their bones and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.” This fasting is supposed to have been for the souls of Saul and his son.

1 Cor. xv. 29: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead?” that is, who fast and weep, being baptized in tears for the dead.

2 Tim. i. 16, 18: “The Lord give mercy to the house of Onesiphorus . . . . The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.” Where it is contended that Onesiphorus must have been dead, for St. Paul, who prays for present and future blessings to other people, here evidently prays for the bereaved family of Onesiphorus, and for Onesiphorus himself, that he may be blessed at the day of judgment.

In answer to all this we may say, that the only clear passage in favour of prayer for the dead is from the apocryphal book of Maccabees, which, not having the authority of Scripture, is merely of the force of Jewish tradition. But how little Jewish traditions are to be regarded in proof of doctrine, our Lord’s condemnation of them is evidence enough. It certainly may be argued from this that the Jews sometimes used prayers for the dead, which no doubt was the case. But it would be very difficult to show that any sect among them believed in a purgatory. Of all the passages from the canonical Scriptures, the last cited (from 2 Tim. i. 18) is the only one that has any appearance of really favouring prayer for the dead. No doubt, some Protestant commentators (e. g. Grotius) have believed that Onesiphorus was dead. But if it be so, St. Paul’s words merely imply a pious hope that, when he shall stand before the judgment-seat “in that day,” he may “obtain mercy of the Lord,” and receive the reward of the righteous, and not the doom of the wicked. There is certainly nothing in such an aspiration which implies the notion that he was, at the time it was uttered, in purgatory, and that St. Paul’s prayers might help to deliver him from it. On the contrary, if the words be used concerning one already dead, they will furnish a proof from Scripture, in addition to the many which have been brought from antiquity,[1] that prayer for the dead does not of necessity presuppose a belief in purgatory. The early Christians undoubtedly did often pray for saints, of whose rest and blessedness they had no manner of doubt. Hence it would be no proof of the doctrine of purgatory, even if fifty clear passages, instead of a single doubtful one, could be brought to show that the Apostles permitted prayer for the dead.

(2) The passages which are brought as directly bearing on purgatory, are Ps. xxxviii. 1: “O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath; neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.” “Wrath” is said to mean eternal damnation; “hot displeasure,” to mean purgatory.

Ps. lxvi. 12: “We went through fire” (i. e. purgatory)” and through water “(i. e. baptism); “but Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.”

Isai. iv. 4: “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.”[2]

Isai. ix. 18. Mic. vii. 8, 9.

Zech. ix. 11: “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” This is interpreted of Christ’s descent into hell, to deliver those who were detained in the limbus patrum.

Mai. iii. 3: “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them,” &c.

Matt. xii. 32: “It shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, neither in the world to come;i. e. evidently in purgatory, for in hell there is no forgiveness.

Matt. v. 22: Our Lord speaks of three kinds of punishments, the judgment, the council, and hell. The latter belongs to the world to come; therefore the two former must. Hence there must be some punishments in the next world besides hell.

Matt. v. 25, 26: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” The last words show that the prison must be purgatory, a temporal, not an eternal punishment. Otherwise, how would anything be said about coming out of it?

1 Cor. iii. 12‒15: “Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

Luke xvi. 9, xxiii. 42, are also quoted; but it is difficult to see how they can be made to bear on the question. Also Acts ii. 24, where our Lord is said to have “loosed the pains of death,” i. e. to have delivered the souls from limbus. And Phil. ii. 10, Rev. v. 3, which speak of beings “in Heaven and earth and under the earth.” Where, “under the earth,” it is contended, must mean purgatory.

These are all that are alleged by Bellarmine as proofs from Scripture that there is a purgatory between death and judgment. He adds, however, arguments from the fathers, whose sentiments have been already considered, and many from visions of the saints, which it will be unnecessary to consider.[3] His principal argument from reason is, that, although sins are forgiven to all true penitents for the merits of Christ, yet it is as regards their eternal, not their temporal punishment; for we know that many devout penitents have to suffer the temporal punishments of their sins, though the eternal be remitted. Thus natural death, which is the result of sin, the temporal wages of sin, befals all men, those who are saved from, as well as those who fall into, death eternal. So David had his sin forgiven him, but still his child died. Eternally he was saved, but temporally punished. Now it often happens that persons have not suffered all the temporal punishment due to their sins in this life; and therefore we must needs suppose, there is some state of punishment awaiting them in the next.[4]

It appears at first sight, to a person unused to believe in purgatory, almost impossible that such a doctrine could be grounded on such arguments. If indeed the doctrine were proved and established on separate grounds, then perhaps some of the passages quoted above might be fairly alleged in illustration of it, or as bearing a second and mystical interpretation, which might have reference to it. But what is fair in illustration may be utterly insufficient for demonstration.

It is not too much to assert, that only one of the texts from Scripture cited by Bellarmine can be alleged in direct proof. If he rightly interpret 1 Cor. iii. 12‒15, that may be considered as a direct and cogent argument; and then some of the other passages might be brought to illustrate and confirm it. But if that were put out of the question, we may venture to say even Roman Catholic controversialists would find the Scriptural ground untenable. The passages in St. Matthew (v. 26, xii. 32, “Thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,” and, “It shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come”) may indeed be supposed to speak of temporal punishments in the next world. But if they prove anything, they prove more than the Roman Catholic Church would wish, namely, that the pains of hell are not eternal; for it is evidently hell which is the punishment of unrepented and unpardoned sin. Those who go to purgatory, are, on the showing of its own advocates, those who have received forgiveness of their sins, but need the purgation of suffering, either here or hereafter, to fit them for Heaven. The truth is, that the words of our Lord indicate merely, first, that as a great debtor is imprisoned till he has paid the last farthing, so a man who is not delivered here from the burden of his sins must remain in punishment for ever, as his debt is too heavy ever to be paid off; and next, that he who sins against the Holy Ghost has never forgiveness; and it is added, “neither in this world, neither in the world to come,” to impress more forcibly both the fearfulness and the eternity of his condemnation.

To recur, then, to 1 Cor. iii. 12‒15; Bellarmine himself quotes St. Augustine[5] as saying that it is one of those hard passages of St. Paul, which St. Peter speaks of as wrested by unstable men to their destruction, and which St. Augustine wishes to be interpreted by wiser men than himself. If so, it is hardly prudent or modest to build such a doctrine as purgatory upon it. Bellarmine himself recounts many different interpretations of the different figures in the passage, as given by different fathers and divines. That all the fathers did not interpret it of purgatory is most certain; for St. Chrysostom has already been quoted as interpreting it of eternal damnation. But more than that, those fathers whose interpretation seems most suitable to the Romanist belief, do not understand the passage of purgatory, but of a purgatorial or probatory fire, not between death and judgment, but at the very day of judgment itself, when all works shall be brought up and be had in remembrance before the Lord. This has already been shown in the preceding section. And indeed it is not possible justly to give an interpretation of the passage nearer to the Romish interpretation than this. The expression “the day” is understood by all who interpret it of the next life to mean “the day of judgment.” “The day” cannot certainly be well understood of the hidden and unrevealed state of the dead in the intermediate and disembodied state. If, therefore, the passage refers to the next world at all, it must mean that at the day of judgment all works shall be revealed, and tried, as it were, in the fire. Those who have built on the right foundation shall be saved; though, if their superstructure be of an inferior quality (whatever be meant by the superstructure), it shall be lost. This might indeed be made to suit the doctrine of Origen, but is utterly inapplicable to the doctrine of purgatory.

But even Origen’s doctrine it will not well suit, if the context be fully considered. St. Paul had been speaking of himself and Apollos, as labourers together in the work of evangelizing the world and building the Church (vv. 5‒9). The Church he declares to be God’s building (ver. 9), even a temple for the indwelling of the Spirit (ver. 16). Now he says, the only possible foundation which can be laid is that which has been laid already, even Jesus Christ, (ver. 11). But the builders (i. e. ministers of Christ), in building the Church on this foundation, may make the superstructure of various materials, some building of safe and precious materials, gold, silver, and precious stones; others of less valuable or less durable, wood, hay, and stubble. What then must be the meaning of this? Clearly, either that, in building up the Church, they may upon the foundation, Christ, build sounder or less sound doctrines, — or, (which seems a still more correct interpretation of the figures,) that they may build up soundly instructed and confirmed believers, or, by negligence and ignorance, may train less orthodox and steadfast Christians. There is evidently nothing about the good or bad works of Christian men built on the foundation of a sound faith. It is the good or bad workmanship of Christian pastors in building up the Church of Christ. To proceed then: when the Christian minister and master-builder has thus finished his work, the day will prove whether it be good or bad. If his building be stable, it will endure, and he will be blessed in his labours and “receive a reward” (comp. 1 Cor. ix. 17). But if his superstructure be destroyed; if those, whom he has built up in the faith prove ill instructed and unstable, he will himself suffer loss, he will lose those disciples, who would have been “his crown of rejoicing in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming” (1 Thess. ii. 19); and even he himself will escape, as it were, out of the fire.[6] It may be that the fiery trial means “the day” of judgment: for then all men’s works shall be manifested; and the building of the Christian pastor or Apostle shall be then proved good or evil, by the characters and works of those whom he has converted and taught. But, as whatever doth make manifest is called “the day,” therefore many think, and that with much ground of reason, that “the day” here spoken of was that day of trial and persecution which was awaiting the Church. That day was indeed likely to prove the faithfulness of the converts, and therefore the soundness of the pastor’s building. St. Paul often speaks of unsound teachers; and if they had built up unstably, the day of persecution was likely to reveal it, to show the hollowness of their disciples, and to cause them loss. And such a trial would be “so as by fire.” Elsewhere the term “fiery trial” is applied to persecution and affliction. St. Peter speaks specially of the trial of faith by affliction, as being like that of gold in the furnace, the very same metaphor with that used here by St. Paul (1 Pet. i. 7); and, again with the same meaning, tells the Christians that they should not “think it strange concerning the fiery trial which was to try them,” but to rejoice, as it would the more fit them to partake of Christ’s glory.

But whether we interpret the day and the fiery trial of persecution here or of judgment hereafter, there is no room in either for purgatory. Purgatory is not a time of trial on earth, nor is it at the time of standing before the Judgment-seat of Heaven. Therefore it is not the fiery trial of St. Paul, nor is it the day, which shall try of what nature is the superstructure erected by the master-builders on the one foundation of the Christian Church.

If then the texts alleged in favour of purgatory fail to establish it, we may go on to say that there are many which are directly opposed to it. It was promised to the penitent thief, “To-day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” (Luke xxiii. 43). St. Paul felt assured, that it was better “to depart, and to be with Christ” (Phil. i. 23), “to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord” (2 Cor. v. 8); having no apprehension of a purgatorial fire, in the middle state; apparently laying it down as a principle concerning pious men, that whilst “at home in the body they are absent from the Lord;” and that they may be confidently willing to leave the body, that they may be with the Lord (see 2 Cor. v. 6‒9). Not one word about purgatory is ever urged upon Christians, to quicken them to a closer walk with God. All the other “terrors of the Lord” are put forth in their strongest light “to persuade men;” but this, which would be naturally so powerful, and which has been made so much of in after-times, is never brought forward by the Apostles. Nay! St. John declares that he had an express revelation concerning the present happiness of those, that sleep in Jesus, namely, that they were blessed and at rest. “I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours” (Rev. xiv. 13). When we couple such express declarations as these with the exhortations not to grieve for the dead in Christ, the general assurances concerning the blessedness of the death of the righteous, and concerning the cleansing from all sin by the blood of Christ, and then contrast them with the very slender Scriptural ground on which purgatory rests, it will be scarcely possible to doubt, that that doctrine was the growth of after-years, and sprang from the root of worldly philosophy, not of heavenly wisdom. Compare Luke xxi. 28; John v. 24; Eph. iv. 30; 1 Thess. iv. 13, &c.; 2 Thess. i. 7; 2 Tim. iv. 8; 1 John i. 7; iii. 14.

2. Pardons or Indulgences.

The doctrine of pardons, and the custom of granting indulgences, rest on two grounds, namely, 1, purgatory, 2, works of supererogation. Indulgences, as granted by the Church of Rome, signify a remission of the temporal punishment of sins in purgatory; and the power to grant them is supposed to be derived from the superabundant merits of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. It is argued by Romanist divines that (1) A double value exists in men’s good deeds, first of merit, secondly of satisfaction: (2) A good deed, as it is meritorious, cannot be applied to another; but, as it is satisfactory or expiatory, it can: (3) There exists in the Church an infinite store of the merits of Christ, which never can be exhausted: (4.) And, in addition to this, the sufferings of the Virgin Mary (herself immaculate) and of the other saints, having been more than enough for their own sins, avail for the sins of others. Now, in the Church is deposited all this treasure of satisfactions, and it can be applied to deliver the souls of others from the temporal punishment of sins, the pains of purgatory.[7] That such a power exists in the pope is argued from the command to St. Peter, “to feed the sheep of Christ,” and the promise to him of the keys of the kingdom, of authority to bind and to loose. That the good deeds of one man are transferable to another, is thought to be proved by the article of the Creed, “I believe in the communion of saints,” and by the words of St. Paul, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you” (2 Cor. xii. 15); “I endure all things for the elect’s sake” (2 Tim. ii. 10); “I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the Church”[8] (Col. i. 24).

Both the doctrine of purgatory and that concerning works of supererogation have already been considered; and we have seen that they have no foundation in Scripture. Hence the practice of granting indulgences, which rests on them, must necessarily be condemned. The Romanist divines admit that indulgences free not from natural pains, or from civil punishments.[9] They never profess that they can deliver from eternal death. Hence, if there be no purgatory, there can be no room for indulgences.

If there be, as they state, an infinite store of Christ’s merits committed to the Church, one would think it needless to add the sufferings of the Virgin Mary and of the saints. As to the claim, to dispense the benefits of these sufferings, founded on the promise of the keys to St. Peter, I hope to consider more at length the whole question of binding and loosing, of retaining and remitting sins, and of the pope’s succession to St. Peter, under future Articles. Suffice it here that we remember, 1, that there is no foundation for the figment of purgatory in Scripture, and that its gradual rise is clearly traceable; 2, that none of the saints, not even the Blessed Virgin, were free from sin, nor able to atone for their own sins; 3, that works of supererogation are impossible; 4, that therefore indulgences, partly derived from superabundant works of satisfaction performed by the saints, and having for their object the freeing of souls from purgatory, must be unwarranted and useless.

II. 1. The Worshipping and Adoration of Images.

We can readily believe that the champions of image-worship would find a difficulty in discovering Scriptural authority for their practice. But it rather surprises us to learn that their whole stock of argument is derived from the old Testament; in which no sin is so much condemned as the worship, nay, even the making of idols. The distinction between idols and images, it seems hard to understand. That images may lawfully be placed in temples, is argued from the fact that Moses was commanded to make the Cherubim of gold, and place them on each side of the mercy-seat, (Ex. xxv. 18); and that Solomon carved all the walls of the temple “round about with carved figures of Cherubim” (2 Kings vi. 29), and “he made a molten sea — and it stood upon twelve oxen — and on the borders were lions, oxen, and Cherubim” (1 Kings vii. 23, 25, 29).[10] That the second commandment[11] does not forbid making images, but only making them with the object of worshipping them, is also contended; and thus far we have no reason to complain. There may be a superstitious dread, as well as a superstitious use, of outward emblems. No doubt, much as the Jew was bidden to hold idolatry in abhorrence, he was not only permitted, but commanded to place emblematical figures in the house of the Lord. It is further said, that the brazen serpent which Moses set up by God’s ordinance in the wilderness (Num. xxi. 8, 9) was an example of the use of images for religious purposes. This was a figure of the Lord Jesus, the expected Messiah; and the wounded Israelites were taught to look up to it for healing and deliverance. But beyond this it is said, that the Jews actually did adore the Ark of the Covenant, and that in so doing they must have adored the Cherubim which were upon it. And this most strangely is inferred from the words, “Exalt ye the Lord your God, and worship at His footstool; for He is holy” (Ps. xcix. 5); where the Vulgate reads, Adorate scabellum ejus, quoniam sanctus est; or, as some quote it, quoniam sanctum est.[12]

With every desire to feel candid towards those who are opposed to us, it is difficult to know how to treat such arguments as these. We willingly concede, that the iconoclastic spirit of the Puritans was fuller of zeal than of judgment; for if the figures of Cherubim were commanded in the temple, figures of angels and saints and storied windows in our cathedrals could scarcely be impious and idolatrous. But when we are told that the existence of such symbols near the mercy-seat involved a necessity that the Jew should worship them, we scarcely know whither such reasoning may carry us. If the Cherubim in the temple were worshipped, why were the golden calves of Jeroboam so foully idolatrous? It is mostly considered, that Jeroboam borrowed these very figures from the carvings of the sanctuary. How could that be holy in Jerusalem, which was vile in Dan and Bethel? Nay! the sin of Jeroboam was specially, that he made the calves to be worshipped; whereas in the temple they were not for worship, but for symbolism. As for the brazen serpent, it was no doubt, like the Cherubim, a proof that such symbols are allowable; and was also the instrument (like the rod of Moses) by which God worked wonderful miracles. But when it tempted the people to worship it, Hezekiah broke it in pieces (2 Kings xviii. 4), as thinking it better to destroy so venerable a memorial of God’s mercies, than to leave it as an incentive to sin.

The argument from Ps. xcix. 5, is the only one which Bellarmine (in many learned chapters on the subject) alleges in direct proof from Scripture that images are not only lawful, but adorable. Even if the Vulgate rendering (adorate scabellum) were correct, it would be a forlorn hope, with which to attack such a fortress as the second commandment. But the Hebrew (הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לַהֲדֹם) is far more correctly rendered by the English version, “Bow down before His footstool.” Though to fall down before God may be to worship Him, yet to fall down before his footstool is not necessarily to worship His footstool. Hence the word may at times be properly translated, “to worship;” but here such a translation is altogether out of place.

In short, if the Roman Church had never approached nearer to idolatry than the Jews when they worshipped in the courts of the temple, within which were symbolical figures of oxen and cherubim, than the high priest, when once a year he approached the very ark of the covenant and sprinkled the blood before the mercy-seat, or than the people in the wilderness, when they looked upon the brazen serpent and recovered, there would have been no controversy and no councils on the subject of image-worship. But when we know, that the common people are taught to bow down before stat ues and pictures of our blessed Saviour, of His Virgin Mother, and of His saints and angels; though we are told that they make prayers, not to the images, but to those of which they are images, yet we ask, wherein does such worship differ from idolatry? No heathen people believed the image to be their God. They prayed not to the image, but to the god whom the image was meant to represent.[13] Nay! the golden calves of Jeroboam were doubtless meant merely as symbols of the power of Jehovah; and the people, in bowing down before them, thought they worshipped the gods “which brought them up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings xii. 28). But it is the very essence of idolatry, not to worship God in spirit and in truth, but to worship Him through the medium of an image or representation. It is against this that the second commandment is directed: “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anythimg that is in heaven or earth, or under the earth — Thou shalt not bow down to it, nor worship it.” And it is not uncharitable to assert, that the ignorant people in ignorant ages have as much worshipped the figure of the Virgin and the image of our Lord upon the cross, as ever ignorant heathens worshipped the statues of Baal or Jupiter, or as the Israelites worshipped the golden calf in the wilderness. It must even be added, painful as it is to dwell on such a subject, that divines of eminence in the Church of Rome have taught unchecked, that to the very images of Christ was due the same supreme worship which is due to Christ Himself, — even that latria, with which none but the Holy Trinity and the Incarnate Word must be approached.[14]

Bellarmine himself, who takes a middle course, states the above as one out of three current opinions in the Church, and as held by Thomas Aquinas, Caietan, Bonaventura, and many others of high name;[15] and though he himself considers the worship of latria only improperly and per accidens due to an image, yet he says that “the images of Christ and the saints are to be venerated, not only by accident or improperly, but also by themselves properly, so that them selves terminate the veneration, as in themselves considered, and not only as they take the place of their Exemplar.”[16] If this be not to break one, and that not the least of God’s commandments, and to teach men so, it must indeed be hard to know how God’s commandments can be broken, and how kept. Even enlightened heathenism seldom went so far as to believe the worship to be due properly to the idol itself, and not merely to its original and prototype.

It is unnecessary to recite the Scriptures which speak against idolatry and image-worship; they are so patent and obvious. See for example, Exod. xx. 2‒5; xxxii. 1‒20. Levit. xix. 4; xxvi. 1. Deut. iv. 15‒18, 23, 25; xvi. 21, 22; xxvii. 15; xxix. 17. 2 Kings xviii. 4; xxiii. 4. Ps. cxv. 4. Isai. ii. 8, 9; xl. 18, 19, 25; xlii.; xliv.; xlvi. 5‒7. Acts xvii. 25, 29. Rom. i. 21, 23, 25. 1 Cor. viii. 4; x. 7; xii. 2. 1 John v. 21. Rev. ix. 20.

2. Worshipping and Adoration of Relics.

The arguments brought from Scripture to defend relic worship are — that miracles were wrought by the bones of Elisha (2 Kings xiii. 21), by the hem of Christ’s garment (Matt. ix. 20‒22), by “the shadow of Peter passing by” (Acts v. 15), by handkerchiefs and aprons brought from the body of St. Paul (Acts xix. 12), — that the rod of Aaron and the pot of manna were preserved in the temple, — that it is said (in Isai. xi. 10), “In Him (Christ) shall the Gentiles trust, and His sepulchre shall be glorious;” In Eum gentes sperabunt, et erit sepulchrum Ejus gloriosum.[17]

The last argument is derived solely from the Latin translation. The Hebrew, the Greek, the Chaldee, and other versions, have “His rest,” or “His place of habitation shall be glorious.” (מְנֻחָתוֹ ἀνάπαυσις). Even if it meant the sepulchre, which it does not, it would not follow that because it was glorious or honourable, therefore it should be adored. There can be no question, that God has been pleased to give such honour to His saints, that in one instance the dead body of a prophet was the means of restoring life to the departed, that in another, handkerchiefs brought from an Apostle were made instruments of miraculous cure. But we have no instance in Scripture of the garments or the bones of the saints being preserved for such purposes. All evidence from Holy Writ goes in the opposite direction. The Almighty buried the body of Moses, so that no man should know where it lay, Deut. xxxiv. 6; which seems purposely to have been done, that no superstitious reverence should be paid to it. The bones of Elisha, by which so wonderful a miracle was wrought, were not preserved for any purpose of worship or superstition. The body of the holy martyr St. Stephen was by devout men “carried to his burial, and great lamentation was made over him;” but no relics of him are spoken of, nor of St. James, who followed him in martyrdom. Their bones were evidently, like those of their predecessors the prophets, left alone, and no man moved them (2 Kings xxiii. 18). The pot of manna and the rod of Aaron were preserved as memorials of God’s mercy; but no one can imagine any worship paid to them. And the only relic to which we learn that worship was paid, namely, the brazen serpent, was on that very account broken in pieces by Hezekiah; and he is commended for breaking it (2 Kings xviii. 4), though of all relics it must have been the noblest and most glorious, reminding the people of their deliverance from Egypt, and giving them assurance of a still more glorious deliverance, to which all their hopes should point. But the very first principle of Scripture truth is, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. iv. 10). And though by degrees a superstitious esteem for the relics of martyrs crept into the Church, yet we have clear evidence that for some time no undue honour was paid to them, and that when it was, the pious and learned, instead of fostering, strove to check the course of the error. The contemporaries of St. Polycarp indignantly denied that they wished for his body for any superstitious purposes, or that they could worship any but Christ.[18] And St. Augustine reproved the superstitious sale of relics, which, by his day, had grown into an abuse.[19] Yet the Roman Church has authoritatively condemned such as deny that the bodies of martyrs or the relics of the saints are to be venerated.[20] And some of her divines have even sanctioned the paying of the supreme worship of latria to the relics of the cross, the nails, the lance, and the garments of the crucified Redeemer.[21]

3. Invocation of Saints.

The divines of the Church of Rome defend this practice as follows: —

(1) Saints, not going to purgatory, go straight to Heaven, where they enjoy the presence of God.

(2) Being then in the presence of God, they behold, in the face of God, the concerns of the Church on earth.

(3) It is good to ask our friends on earth to pray for us; how much rather those who, being nearer God, have more avail with Him.

(4) The Scripture contains examples of saint-worship.

(1) The first position is sought to be established from Scripture, thus, —

The thief on the cross went straight to Paradise, i. e. to Heaven! (Luke xxiii. 43). “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. v. 1, comp. ver. 4). “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive” (Eph. iv. 8). “Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ” (Phil. i. 23). “The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing” (Heb. ix. 8). “Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to the general assembly of the first-born who are written in heaven … and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. xii. 22, 23). “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts vii. 59). White robes are given to the martyrs who cry from un der the altar, i. e. the glory of the body after the resurrection (Rev. vi. 11). “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple” (Rev. vii. 14, 15).

It is admitted that in the old Testament the saints, heing as yet in the limbus patrum, and therefore not in Heaven, could not be prayed to;[22] but since Christ’s descent into Hell and resurrection from the dead, all who die in Him, if not needing to go to purgatory, go straight to glory, and therefore, reigning with Christ, may be invocated.

It must be remembered, that these arguments for the immediate glorification of the saints run side by side with arguments for a purgatory. The latter is an absolutely necessary supplement to the former: without it, the Roman Catholic divines could not get rid of the force of the arguments in favour of an intermediate state. The two must therefore succeed or fail together. Now, it is unnecessary to repeat the arguments already brought forward against purgatory, or those (under Article III.) in proof that souls go, not straight to Heaven after death, but to an intermediate state of bliss or woe, awaiting the resurrection of the dead. All we need consider now is this. Do the above texts of Scripture con travene that position? The first proves, that the thief went with our Saviour where He went from the Cross; that is, not to Heaven, but to Hades, to the place of souls departed, which, in the case of the redeemed, is called Paradise. Our Lord went not to Heaven till he He rose from the grave.[23] The second proves that, when this body is dissolved, we may yet hope, at the general Resurrection, for a glorified body. But the context proves clearly, that, between death and judgment, the souls of the saints remain without the body, in bliss, but yet longing for the resurrection. (See 2 Cor. v. 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10). The passage from Ephes. iv. only proves that Christ conquered death. That from Phil. i. shows that the disembodied spirit in Paradise is admitted to some presence with its Saviour; as does that from Acts vii. Heb. ix. 8, merely teaches that Christ is the way to Heaven, a way not manifested under the old Law. Heb. xii. speaks of the Church as composed of the first-born, whose names are in God’s book, and as having fellowship with the angels, and with departed saints, who have finished their course. The first passage from the Apocalypse (vi. 11), if taken in its context (see Rev. vi. 9), is a strong proof that even martyrs are in a state of expectant, not of perfect bliss; and if the white robes really mean the glorified body at the resurrection, then must we believe yet more clearly than ever, that the very martyrs remain “under the altar” until the time of the resurrection of the just. The second passage (from Rev. vii. 14, 15) is probably a prophetic vision of the bliss of the saints, after the general judgment, and therefore plainly nihil ad rem.

It is said by the Romanists that a few heretics have denied the immediate beatification of the saints, Tertullian, Vigilantius, the Greeks at Florence, Luther, Calvin;[24] and it is inferred that all the orthodox fathers have maintained it.[25] Tertullian is here a heretic, though, when he seems to favour purgatory, he is a Catholic divine. But the truth is, even their own divines have allowed, that a very large number of the greatest names of antiquity believed that the saints did not enjoy the vision of God till after the general judgment. Franciscus Pegna mentions, as of that persuasion, Irenæus, Justin M., Tertullian, Clemens Romanus, Origen, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, Lactantius, Victorinus, Prudentius, Theodoret, Aretas, Œcumenius, Theophylact, and Euthymius.[26] And our own great Bishop Bull pronounces it to have been the doctrine of the whole Catholic Church for many ages, “that the souls of the faith ful, in the state of separation, though they are in a happy condition in Paradise, yet are not in the third Heaven, nor do enjoy the beatific vision till the Resurrection . . . . Nay, this was a doctrine so generally received in the time of Justin Martyr, that is, in the first succession of the Apostles, that we learn from the same Justin that there were none but some profligate heretics that believed the souls of the faithful, before the Resurrection, to be received into Heaven. (Dialog. cum Tryphone, pp. 306, 307. Paris, 1636).”[27]

Yet this immediate beatification of the saints is the very foundation of saint-worship. That can be but a slender foundation for so vast a superstructure, which the first fathers and the greatest writers of antiquity (even our enemies being the judges) could not find in the word of God, and did not believe to be true. Conceding the utmost that we can, we must yet maintain that the evidence from Scripture is far more against, than in favour of, this foundation, and that the first and greatest of the fathers utterly rejected it.

(2) If the first position cannot be established, of course the second must fall; though even if the first were granted, it does by no means seem to follow that the second would stand. For even if saints departed always behold the face of God, it does not certainly follow that thereby they have the omniscience of God. That they continue to take an interest in their fellow-worshippers, children of the same Father, members of the same body with themselves, we may reasonably believe; but that they know all the prayers which each one on earth utters, even the secret silent prayer of the heart, we cannot at least be certain — or rather we should think most improbable.

(3) It is said that saints on earth pray for each other, and exhort one another to pray for them, (Heb. xiii. 18, James v. 16); why not then ask the saints in light to pray for us, who, nearer the throne of God, have more interest with Him?

Yet, who does not see the difference between joining our prayers with our brethren on earth, so through the one Mediator drawing nigh to God in common supplication for mercies and mutual intercession for each other, and the invocating saints above, with all the circumstances of religious worship, to go to God for us, and so to save us from going to Him for ourselves? If, indeed, we could be quite certain, that our departed friends could hear us, when we spoke to them, there might possibly be no more evil in asking them to continue their prayers for us, than there could be in asking those prayers from them whilst on earth, — no evil, that is, except the danger that this custom might go further and so grow worse. This, no doubt, was all that the interpellation of the martyrs was in the early ages; and if it had stopped here, it would have never been censured. But who will say that Romish saint-worship is no more?

In the Church of Rome, when it is determined who are to be saints, they are publicly canonized, i. e. they are enrolled in the Catalogue of Saints; it is decreed, that they shall be formally held to be saints, and called so; they are invoked in the public prayers of the Church: churches and altars to their memory are dedicated to God; the sacrifices of the Eucharist and of public prayers are publicly offered before God to their honour; their festivals are celebrated: their images are painted with a glory round their heads: their relics are preserved and venerated.[28] They are completely invocated as mediators between God and man; so that those who fear to go to God direct, are encouraged to approach Him through the saints, as being not so high and holy as to inspire fear and dread.[29] Herein the very office of Christ is invaded, “the ONE Mediator between God and man” (1 Tim. ii. 5); a High Priest, who can “be touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” and through whom we may “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. iv. 15, 16). Nay, more than this, direct prayer is made to the saints for protection and deliverance; and even in prayer to God Himself, He is reminded of the protection and patronage of the saints.[30] And we know, that, not only among the vulgar, but with the authority of the most learned, and those canonized saints, prayers have been put up to the Blessed Virgin, to use a mother’s authority, and command her Son to have mercy upon sinners.[31] What support can all this derive from the injunctions to us in Scripture to pray for one another, and the assurances that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”?

(4) Next it is alleged, that Scripture contains positive examples of the worship of saints and angels.

Bellarmine cites the following: —

Ps. xcix. 5: “Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool; for He is holy,” (Adorate scabellum pedis ejus, quoniam sanctum est): a passage which has been already considered. Gen. xviii. 2, xix. 1, Abraham and Lot bow down to the angels. Numb, xxii. 31, Balaam, when he saw the angel, “fell flat on his face.” 1 Sam. xxviii. 14, “And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.” 1 Kings xviii. 7, “And as Obadiah was in the way, behold Elijah met him, and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my Lord Elijah?” 2 Kings ii. 15, “When the sons of the prophets saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha: and they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.” Josh. v. 14, 15; when Joshua knew that he was in the presence of the Captain of the Lord’s host, “he fell on his face to the earth, and did worship.” The angel did not forbid him to worship him, but said, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy.” Dan. ii. 46, “The king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel; and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odour to him.”[32]

Now, in the first place, it is certainly not a little strange, that, whereas the divines of the Church of Rome tell us that no prayers were offered to the old Testament saints, because they were in the limbus patrum, and not in Heaven;[33] yet, in their Scriptural proof of saint-worship, they bring all their arguments from the old Testament only. There must be something rotten here. And we need not go far to see what the ground of their preference for snch a line of argument is. The Eastern form of salutation to princes, honoured guests, and elders, was, and still is, a profound prostration of the body, which is easily construed into an act of religious worship. Now Abraham and Lot evidently (from the context and from Heb. xiii. 2) did not know that the angels who appeared to them were angels. They thought them strangers on a journey, and exercised Eastern hospitality to them. They perceived that they were strangers of distinction, and exhibited Eastern tokens of respect. Thus, “being not forgetful to entertain strangers, they entertained angels unawares.”

The same may be said of all the above instances, except perhaps the last two. Falling down at the feet was the common mode of respectful salutation, and that especially when favours were to be asked. Thus Abigail fell at the feet of David (1 Sam. xxv. 24); Esther fell at the feet of Ahasuerus (Esth. viii. 3); the servant is represented as falling at the feet of his master (Matt, xviii. 29). This was no sign of religious worship. Even Balaam, though he fell down before the angel, by no means appears to have worshipped him. He fell down from fear, and in token of respect. The case of Joshua, when he met the Captain of the Lord’s host, may be different. It is well known to have been the belief of many of the fathers, and of many eminent divines after them, that the Captain of the Lord’s host was the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the eternal Son of God.[34] And it is certainly as fair to infer from the worship paid to him, that he was God, as to infer from it, that worship ought to be paid to any beside God.

We are reduced then to one single instance, and that the instance of an idolatrous king, who soon afterwards bade every one worship a golden image. He indeed appears, in a rapture of astonishment, to have fallen down to worship the prophet Daniel — not a glorified saint reigning with Christ — but one of those old fathers, who had to abide after death in the limbus, until our Lord’s descent to Hades should rescue them.

But is there no instance in the new Testament? The new Testament is ever the best interpreter of the old. Are there no examples of the worship of saints or angels there? The Roman Catholic divines have not adduced any; but their opponents cannot deny that there are some cases of such worship recorded, and those too of a worship which cannot be explained to mean merely bowing down in token of respect to a superior.

One example is that of Cornelius: “as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet and worshipped him” (προσεκύνησεν). This is very like the case of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel; but with this advantage over it, that Cornelius was no idolater, and St. Peter was not a prophet of the old Testament, for whom the schoolmen tell us a limbus was in store, but the chief of the Apostles, to whom the keys of the kingdom were committed, from whom the Roman Pontiff inherits his right to forgive and retain sins, and who (on their showing) at death was sure of passing straight to the highest kingdom of glory, thenceforth to reign with Christ, and to receive the prayers of the faithful. How then does St. Peter, whose authority none will question, treat the worship of Cornelius? “Peter took him up, saying, Stand up: I myself also am a man” (Acts x. 25, 26).

We may remember another case somewhat similar, though not quite identical, when “the Apostles Barnabas and Paul rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? we also are men of like passions with you” (Acts xiv. 14, 15). But perhaps we shall be told that it was latria not dulia, that the men of Lycaonia meant to pay to them.

However, we are not confined to saint-worship in the new Tes tament; we can discover manifest traces of angel-worship too. Twice, one whose example we may rarely refuse to follow, the blessed Apostle St. John, fell down to worship the angel, who showed him the mysteries of the Apocalypse. The same word (προσκυνῆσαι) is used here as was used of Cornelius and St. Peter, and as is used (in the LXX.) of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel (προσεκύνησε, Dan. ii. 46). And what does the angel of God say to the Apostle? “See thou do it not; I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren, that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God” (Rev. xix. 10). And again, “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow-servant . . . . worship God” (Rev. xxii. 9).

These are cases as plain as any in the old Testament can be. It is not very likely that St. John would have offered the supreme worship of latria to the angel. Therefore, no doubt, all kind of worship was forbidden him. And if only latria be forbidden, but dulia be a pious or necessary custom, it is certainly remarkable that neither the angel explained to St. John, nor St. Peter to Cornelius, nor St. Paul to the people of Lycaonia, the very important distinction between latria and dulia, the great sin of offering the former, and the great piety of offering the latter, to created but glorified intelligences; especially as the ambiguous word worship (προσκυνῆσαι) includes them both. Moreover, as God’s revelations became successively clearer, and there is a gradual development of Divine truth, it is truly unaccountable that so large a germ of saint and angel-worship as the Roman Catholics discover in the old Testament, should have developed into nothing more manifest than what we thus find in the new. St. Paul, we know, earnestly warns his converts against “the worshipping of angels,” — and the word he uses (θρήσκεια) appears to comprehend all kinds of worship (Col. ii. 18). St. Paul was not a writer who neglected accurate distinctions, and we may fairly say, he was as profound a reasoner and as deep a theologian as any human being, even under Divine revelation, was ever privileged to become. But there is no question raised by him about dulia or hyperdulia. It is simply “Let no man beguile you of your reward, in a voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels” (Col. ii. 18). It is a fearful thing to think, that this voluntary humility, and unauthorized worship of inferior beings, may beguile of their reward those who should worship God only.

One more instance is too pregnant to be omitted. Once, and but once, in the history of the Bible, do we hear that an angel claimed worship for himself. And he claimed it of Him whose example in worship, as in everything else, we are bound to follow. An angel of exceeding power once said to Jesus, “All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then said Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. iv. 9, 10).


  1. See Section I. i. 1.
  2. Bellarmine cites Augustine (De Civit. Dei, Lib. XX. c. 25) as interpreting this of purgatory. Augustine, however, does not interpret it of purgatory, but of that trial by fire which Origen, and others after him, supposed was to take place at the judgment-day.
  3. Bellarmine, De Purgatorio, Lib. I. c. 3‒8, &c.
  4. Bellarmine, De Purgatorio, Lib. I. cap. 11.
  5. De Fide et Operibus, c. 15.
  6. ὡς διὰ πυρὸς. The expression is “so as by fire;” a proverbial expression for an escape from great danger. See Grotius and Rosenmüller, in loc.
  7. Bellarmine, De Indulgentiis, Lib. I. cap. II. 2, 3, 7.
  8. Ibid. Lib. I. c. 3. The last-cited passage, Col. i. 24, was considered under Art. XIV. p. 351, note.
  9. Bellarmin. Ibid. Lib. I. c. 7.
  10. See Bellarmine, De Ecclesia Triumphante, Lib. II. cap. IX.; Controvers. Tom. II. p. 771.
  11. The second commandment is joined with the first, according to the reckoning of the Church of Rome. This is not to be esteemed a Romish novelty. It will be found so united in the Masoretic Bibles; the Masoretic Jews dividing the tenth commandment (according to our reckoning) into two. What the Roman Church deals unfairly in is, that she teaches the commandments popularly only in epitome; and that so, having joined the first and second together, she virtually omits the second, recounting them in her catechisms, &c. thus, 1 Thou shalt have none other gods but me. 2 Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain. 3 Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day, &c. By this method her children, and other less instructed members, are often ignorant of the existence in the Decalogue of a prohibition against idolatry.
  12. See Bellarmine, De Ecclesia Triumph. Lib. I. c. XIII. Lib. II. c. XII. Tom. II. pp. 708, 781.
  13. See this exactly stated, Arnob. adv. Gentes, Lib. VI.
  14. See this proved by numerous passages from distinguished Romanists by Archbishop Usher, Answer to a Jesuit, chap. X. Dublin, 1624, p. 449. “Constans est theologorum sententia” (says Azorius the Jesuit) “imaginem eodem honore et cultu honorari et coli, quo colitur id cujus est imago.” — Jo. Azor. Institut. Meral. Tom. I. Lib. IX. cap. 9.
  15. De Eccles. Triumph. Lib. II. c. XX.; Controvers. Tom. II. p. 801. Thomas Aquinas says: “Sic sequitur quod eadem reverentia exhibeatur imagini Christi et ipsi Christo. Cum ergo Christus adoretur adoratione latriæ consequens est quod ejus imago sit adoratione latriæ adoranda.” — Summa, pt. III. quæst. 25, Artic. 3. See Usher, as above.
  16. “Imagines Christi et sanctorum venerandæ sunt, non solum per accidens, vel improprie, sed etiam per se proprie, ita ut ipsæ terminent venerationem ut in se considerantur, et non solum ut vicem gerunt exemplaris.” — Ibid. c. 21, p. 802. He goes on to show, that it should neither be said nor denied (especially in public discourses), that images should be worshipped with latria (c. XXII.). The images of Christ improperly and by accident receive latria (c. XXXIII.). He concludes by saying: “Cultus, qui per se, proprie debetur imaginibus, est cultus quidem imperfectus, qui analogico et reductive pertinet ad speciem ejus cultus, qui debetur exemplari.” — c. XXV. p. 809.
  17. Bellarmin. De Eccl. Triumph. Lib. II. cap. III.; Cont. Gen. Tom. II. p. 746.
  18. See especially Martyr. Polycarp. c. 17, referred to above.
  19. Augustin. Tom. VI. p. 498.
  20. Concil. Trident. Sess. XXV. De Invocatione, Veneratione, et Reliquiis Sanctorum.
  21. “Reliquiæ crucis, clavorum, lanceæ, vestium Christi, et imago crucifixi sunt latria veneranda.” — Joh. de Turrec. In Festo Invent. Crucis, q. 3; Beveridge, on Artic. XXII.
  22. “Notandum est ante Christi adventum qui moriebantur non intrabant in cœlum, nec Deum videbant, nec cognoscere poterant ordinarie preces supplicantium. Ideo non fuit consuetum in V. Testamento ut diceretur, Sancte Abraham, ora pro me: sed solum orabant homines ejus temporis Deum.” — Bellarmine, De Eccles. Triumph. I. 19.
  23. See above, pp. 88, 95, &c.
  24. See Bellarmine, De Ecclesia Triumphante, I. 1; Controv. Gener. Tom. II. p. 674.
  25. The testimonies in favour of it from the fathers are cited, Bellarmine, ubi suura, Lib. I. c. 4, 5.
  26. Fr. Pegna, in part. II. Directorii Inquisitor. comment. 21, apud Usher, Answer to a Jesuit, chap. IX.; who quotes also Thomas Stapleton to the same purport.
  27. Bull, Vindication of the Church of England, § XII.
  28. Bellarmine, De Ecclesia Triumph. I. 7.
  29. One reason alleged in favour of saint-worship is “Propter Dei reverentiam: ut peccator, qui Deum offendit, quia non audet in propria persona adire, occurrat ad sanctos, eorum patrocinia implorando.” — Alexand. de Hales, Summa, pt. IV. quæst. 26, memb. 3, artic. 5. Vide Usher, ubi supra.
  30. “Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that Thy faithful, who rejoice under the name and protection of the most blessed Virgin Mary, may, by her pious intercession, be delivered from all evils here on earth, and be brough to the eternal joys of Heaven. Through.” — “Coll. for the Feast of the name of B. V. Mary;” “Missal for the Laity,” published by authority of Thomas Bishop of Cambysopolis, and Nicholas Bishop of Melipotamus, Sept. 25, 1845.
  31. “Imperatrix et Domina nostra benignissima, jure matris impera tuo dilectissimo Filio Domino nostro Jesu Christo, ut mentes nostras ab amore terrestrium ad cœlestia desideria erigere dignetur.” — Bonaventura, Corona B. Mariæ Virginis. Oper. Tom. VI. “Inclina vultum Dei super nos: coge Illum peccatoribus misereri.” — Id. in Psalterio B. Mariæ Virginis, Ibid. See Archbishop Usher, as above, who gives many passages at length from Bernardin de Bustis, Jacob de Valentia, Gabriel Biel, &c., to the like effect.
  32. Bellarmin. De Eccles. Triumph. I. 13; Cont. Gen. Tom. II. p. 708.
  33. See Bellarmin. Ibid. I. 19, as quoted above.
  34. See Justin M. Dialogus, p. 234; Euseb. H. E. I. 2.


E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

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