Intercession of saints

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"As we celebrate with our festive gatherings the birthday of this great man, the Lord’s forerunner, the blessed John, let us ask for the help of his prayers. Because he is the friend of the bridegroom, you see, he can also obtain for us that we can belong to the bridegroom, that we may be thought worthy to obtain his grace." – St. Augustine.[1]

Intercession of the saints is a doctrine held by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. The practice of praying to saints can be found in Christian writings from the 3rd century onwards.[2][3] The 4th-century Apostles' Creed states belief in the communion of saints, which certain Christian churches interpret as supporting the intercession of saints. As in Christianity, this practice is controversial in Judaism and Islam.

Biblical basis[edit]

Advocates of the doctrine say that Jesus' parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31 indicates the ability of the dead to pray for the living.[citation needed] On the basis of Christ's intercession for believers, who is present at the Right hand of God (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25), it is argued by extension that other people who have died but are alive in Christ may be able to intercede on behalf of the petitioner (John 11:25; Romans 8:38–39).[citation needed]

Aquinas quotes Revelation 8:4: "And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel".[4]

Both those for and against the intercession of saints quote Job 5:1.[citation needed]

Catholic and Orthodox views[edit]

Roman Catholic Church doctrine supports intercessory prayer to saints. Intercessory prayer to saints also plays an important role in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches.[citation needed] Also some Anglo-Catholics believe in saintly intercession. This practice is an application of the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints. It is understood that some of the early basis for this was the belief that martyrs passed immediately into the presence of God, and could obtain graces and blessings for others. A further reinforcement, of the same idea, was derived from the cult of the angels, which, while pre-Christian in its origin, was heartily embraced by the faithful of the sub-Apostolic age.[5]

According to St. Jerome, "If the Apostles and Martyrs, while still in the body, can pray for others, at a time when they must still be anxious for themselves, how much more after their crowns, victories, and triumphs are won!"[4]

The Catholic doctrine of intercession and invocation is set forth by the Council of Trent, which teaches that "...the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their own prayers to God for men. It is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, and help for obtaining benefits from God, through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Who alone is our Redeemer and Saviour."[4]

Intercessory prayer to saintly persons who have not yet been canonized is also practiced, and evidence of miracles produced as a result of such prayer is very commonly produced during the formal process of beatification and canonization.

Protestant views[edit]

With the exception of a few early Protestant churches, most modern Protestant churches strongly reject all saintly intercession, which they believe is contrary to biblical teaching.

Anglican views[edit]

The first Anglican articles of faith, the Ten Articles (1536), defended the practice of praying to saints,[6] while the King's Book, the official statement of religion produced in 1543, devotes an entire section to the importance of the Ave Maria ("Hail Mary") prayer.[7] However, the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) condemn the "invocation of saints" as "a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God" (Article XXII).[8]

Theologians within the Anglican Communion make a clear distinction between a "Romish" doctrine concerning the invocation of saints and what they view as the "Patristic" doctrine of intercession of the saints, permitting the latter, but forbidding the former.[9] The bishop William Forbes termed the Anglican practice advocation of the saints, meaning "asking for the saints to pray with them and on their behalf, not praying to them."[10]

Lutheran views[edit]

The Lutheran confessions approve honouring the saints by thanking God for examples of his mercy, by using the saints as examples for strengthening the believers' faith, and by imitating their faith and other virtues.[11][12][13] However, they strongly reject invoking or asking help of saints. The Augsburg Confession emphasizes that Christ is the only mediator between God and man, and that he is the one to address prayers to.[14]

Reformed views[edit]

Like the Lutheran churches, the Calvinist and other Reformed churches understand the "communion of saints" mentioned in the Apostles' Creed to comprise all believers, the living as well as the dead.[15]
Invocation of saints is considered to be a transgression of the First Commandment.[16]

Methodist views[edit]

The Methodist Articles of Religion from 1784, in their XIV. article, reject the invocation of the saints unanimously with the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles as "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God".[17]

Parallels in other religions[edit]


There is some evidence of a Jewish belief in intercession, both in the form of the paternal blessings passed down from Abraham to his children, and 2 Maccabees, where Judas Maccabaeus sees the dead Onias and Jeremiah giving blessing to the Jewish army. In ancient Judaism, it was also popular to pray for intercession from Michael in spite of the rabbinical prohibition against appealing to angels as intermediaries between God and his people. There were two prayers written beseeching him as the prince of mercy to intercede in favor of Israel: one composed by Eliezer ha-Kalir, and the other by Judah ben Samuel he-Hasid.[18] Those who oppose this practice feel that to God alone may prayers be offered.[citation needed]

In modern times one of the greatest divisions in Jewish theology (hashkafa) is over the issue of whether one can beseech the help of a tzadik – an extremely righteous individual. The main conflict is over a practice of beseeching a tzadik who has already died to make intercession before the Almighty.[19] This practice is common mainly among Chasidic Jews, but also found in varying degrees among other usually Chareidi communities. It strongest opposition is found largely among sectors of Modern Orthodox Judaism, Dor Daim and Talmide haRambam, and among aspects of the Litvish Chareidi community. Those who oppose this practice usually do so over the problem of idolatry, as Jewish Law strictly prohibits making use of a mediator (melitz) or agent (sarsur) between oneself and the Almighty.[citation needed]

The perspectives of those Jewish groups opposed to the use of intercessors is usually softer in regard to beseeching the Almighty alone merely in the "merit" (tzechut) of a tzadik.

Those Jews who support the use of intercessors claim that their beseeching of the tzadik is not prayer or worship. The conflict between the groups is essentially over what constitutes prayer, worship, a mediator (melitz), and an agent (sarsur).


Main article: Tawassul

Tawassul is the practice of using someone as a means or an intermediary in a supplication directed towards God. An example of this would be such: "O my Lord, help me with [such and such need] due to the love I have for Your Prophet."

Some Shi'a practice seeking intercession from saints, in particular from Muhammad's son-in-law, `Ali and `Ali's son, Husayn. A well-known Persian Shi'a hymn reads 'Z bandegi-ye 'Ali na-ajab bashar be-khoda rasad' ('It's not strange that man, through servitude to 'Ali, will reach God').[citation needed]

Sunnis consider this to be polytheism, but the practice of seeking intercession through Sufi saints is widespread, from North Africa to Pakistan.[citation needed] By the early twentieth century, the vast majority of Muslims were members of Sufi brotherhoods,[citation needed] taking part in local pilgrimages (ziyarat) and rituals to come into contact with intercessory ideas and persons, including dead saints.

Serer religion[edit]

Main article: Serer religion

In the religion of the Serer people of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania, some of their ancient dead are canonized as Holy Saints, called Pangool in the Serer language. These ancient ancestors act as interceders between the living world and their supreme deity Roog.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ On the Birthday of Saint John the Baptist, Sermon 293B:5:1. “Against superstitious midsummer rituals.” Augustine’s Works, Sermons on the Saints, (1994), Sermons 273–305, John E. Rotelle, ed., Edmund Hill, Trans., ISBN 1-56548-060-0 ISBN 978-1-56548-060-5 p. 165. [1] Editor's comment (ibid., note 16, p. 167): “So does ‘his grace’ mean John’s grace? Clearly not in the ordinary understanding of such a phrase, as though John were the source of the grace. But in the sense that John’s grace is the grace of being the friend of the bridegroom, and that that is the grace we are asking him to obtain for us too, yes, it does mean John’s grace.”[2]
  2. ^ "On the Intercession and Invocation of the Saints". 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Intercession". 
  5. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary". 
  6. ^ Schofield, John (2006). Philip Melanchthon and the English Reformation, Ashgate Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-7546-5567-1
  7. ^ A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for Any Christian Man Set forth by the King’s Majesty of England, &c.. (1543)
  8. ^ Thirty-Nine Articles, Art. XXII. "Of Purgatory"
  9. ^ Sokol, David F. (2001). The Anglican Prayer Life: Ceum Na Corach', the True Way. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-595-19171-0. In 1556 Article XXII in part read... "The Romish doctrine concerning...invocation of saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the word of God." The term "doctrina Romanensium" or Romish doctrine was substituted for the "doctrina scholasticorum" of the doctrine of the school authors in 1563 to bring the condemnation up to date subsequent to the Council of Trent. As E.J. Bicknell writes, invocation may mean either of two things: the simple request to a saint for his prayers (intercession), 'ora pro nobis,' or a request for some particular benefit. In medieval times the saints had come to be regarded as themselves the authors of blessings. Such a view was condemned but the former was affirmed. 
  10. ^ Mitchican, Jonathan A. (26 August 2016). "The Non-Competitive Mary – Working the Beads". Working the Beads. Retrieved 27 August 2016. The Scottish priest William Forbes (1558–1634) argued that Anglicans could call upon the saints without running afoul of the Articles by simply making it clear, in their minds if nowhere else, that they are asking for the saints to pray with them and on their behalf, not praying to them. Forbes styled this advocation as opposed to invocation. 
  11. ^ Augsburg Confession XXI 1
  12. ^ Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXI 4–7
  13. ^ "Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – Christian Cyclopedia". 
  14. ^ Augsburg Confession, Art. XXI.
  15. ^ Heidelberg Catechism, Question 55
  16. ^ Heidelberg Catechism, Question 94
  17. ^ Articles of Religion, Article XIV. "Of Purgatory"
  18. ^ Baruch Apoc. Ethiopic, ix. 5
  19. ^ "Is it okay to ask a deceased tzaddik to pray on my behalf?" at
  20. ^ Gravrand, Henry, "La civilisation sereer", vol. II : Pangool, Nouvelles éditions africaines, Dakar, 1990, pp 305-402

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