Ursinus Contra Intercession By Saints

Obj. 1. The saints, on account of their virtues, are to be honored with the worship either of adoration (λατρεια) or of veneration (δουλεια). But it is not in the former sense that they are to be worshipped; because this form of worship is due to God alone, inasmuch as it attributes to him universal power, providence and dominion, which can be ascribed to God alone. Therefore veneration is due to the saints, or such worship as that which we ascribe to them for their holiness.

Ans. We deny the consequence; because the major proposition is incomplete; for besides the worship of adoration and veneration, which is the distinction here made, there is another kind of veneration, such as is proper to the saints, which is the acknowledgment and celebration of the faith, holiness and gifts for which they were distinguished, obedience to the doctrine which they taught, and an imitation of their lives and piety, concerning which Augustin says: p 543 “They are to be honored by imitation, but not by adoration.” This veneration is due to the saints, and we have no desire to take it from them, whether living or dead; but, on the other hand, willingly attribute it to them according to the command of the Apostle: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” (Heb. 13:7.) Wo also deny the minor proposition; because the distinction which they make between the worship of adoration and veneration is of no force, inasmuch as these are not different forms of worship, but one and the same; neither do they belong to the saints, or to any creature, but to God alone, because he knows and hears in all places and at all times the thoughts, the groans and desires of those who call upon him, and relieves their necessities. No one but God can hear those who call upon him. Therefore this honor must be ascribed to him alone, because he hears them that pray. This honor belongs also to Christ, because it is on account of his merits and intercession that God grants unto us the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and all other good things. Hence this honor cannot be transferred to the saints without manifest sacrilege and idolatry, whether it be under the name of adoration, or veneration, or whatever name it may be. This distinction, too, which they make, is of no account, since the words are used indifferently in the original to signify the same thing, both in the Scriptures and in profane writers. Concerning God it is said (Matt. 4:10), “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Here the Greek word λατζευσεις is used. And in Matt. 6:25, it is said, “He cannot serve God and Mammon;” in which place the word δουλευειν is used. Which word is also used in the following places, where it is said, “Ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God.” “They that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thes. 1:9. Rom. 16:18.) Paul also every where calls himself the servant of God (δουθ ον θεου). In the Greek text, “servile or slavish work is every where termed λατζευτον. Suidas writes that λατζευειν means the same thing as to serve for wages. Valla shows that this same word signifies to serve man as well as to serve God, adducing a passage from Xenophon, where a man says that he is ready to risk his life, sooner than his wife should be made to serve. And the wife, on the other hand, says that she would rather lose her life, than that her husband should serve, where the word δουθ υη on is used. Hence these words upon which the Papists base the above distinction do not differ, but express one and the same thing.

Obj. 2. We ought to honor those whom God honors. God honors the saints: “Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28.) Therefore they are to be honored by us.

Ans. We admit the argument, in as far as it has respect to the honor which God attributes to the saints. In this, however, invocation is never included. God himself says, “I am the Lord: that is my name, and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” (Is. 42:8.)

Obj. 3. The hearing of our secret sighs and groans, which belongs to God by nature, is through grace communicated to the saints. Therefore they are to be invoked.

Ans. We deny the antecedent: for God does not communicate those properties by which he desires to be distinguished from creatures; such as immensity, omnipotence, infinite wisdom, seeing and knowing the heart, hearing prayer, etc.—these are properties which God p 544 communicates to no creature, neither by nature nor by grace.” “For thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men.” (2 Chron. 6:30.)

Obj. 4. God has communicated to the saints the power of working miracles, which is, nevertheless, a property belonging to himself alone. Therefore, he communicates to the saints at least some of the properties by which he is distinguished from creatures, so that they may have a knowledge of the thoughts and desires of those who pray unto them.

Ans. 1. The consequence which is here drawn is of no force; for it does not follow, even though it were true (which we do not admit) that God had communicated some of his properties to the saints, and that the hearing of prayer is included amongst them, if the Scriptures do not teach the fact.

Ans. 2. Nor is the reason which is assigned of any force, that the saints have a knowledge of the desires of those who invoke them, because they have been endowed with the gift of working miracles. For the power of working miracles is not transfused into the saints; nor do they perform these miracles by their own power, but merely as ministers. Hence, the saints are said to do these things in a figurative sense, when God employs them as ministers, and joins the working of a miracle, as the sign of his presence, power and will.

Obj. 5. Some prophets seemed to know the thoughts and counsels of other men: so Ahijah knew the thoughts of the wife of Jeroboam; Elisha knew the thoughts of the king of Syria; Peter knew the thoughts of Ananias and Sapphira, &c. (1 Kings 14:6. 2 Kings 6:12. Acts 5:3.) Therefore, God has communicated to the saints a knowledge of the hearts of men.

Ans. 1. Examples that are few in number and of an extraordinary character do not constitute a general rule.

Ans. 2. These persons knew these things by the gift of prophecy with which they were endowed; and yet they did not know them always, but only at that time, when the good of the church required it: nor was it by any power lodged within them, by which they were enabled to know the heart, but by a divine revelation; nor did they know all things, but only such as God was pleased to reveal to them. Hence, it does not appear that the saints, after death, are also endowed with the gift of prophecy, since there is no need of it in eternal life.

Obj. 6. The angels in heaven rejoice over the repentance of sinners. (Luke 15:10.) Therefore, they know when men exercise true penitence, and must also have a knowledge of the desires of those who call upon them in prayer.

Ans A cause that is inferred from an effect which may result from other causes, is not of much force or consequence. For it is not necessary that the angels should know the repentance of the sinner by looking into the heart, inasmuch as they may know it either from the effects and signs which accompany it, or from a divine revelation.

Obj. 7. The soul of the rich man when in hell saw Abraham in heaven, and addressed prayer to him, whom Abraham also heard. The rich man likewise knew the state and condition of his five brethren who were still on earth. Therefore, the saints in heaven see and know the desires and condition of those who are upon the earth, and are to be invoked.

Ans. No doctrine can be established from allegories and parables. That that, now, is an allegory, by which Christ desired to express the thoughts, torments and condition of the ungodly who are suffering punishment, is evident from this, that it possesses all the parts of a parable. Hence, it establishes nothing in favor of the invocation of the saints. And even though all these things had been done as they are represented, yet they prove nothing as it p 545 respects the doctrine of the invocation of the saints, since Abraham is said to have known these things by speech, and not because he had a knowledge of the secret thoughts of the heart.

Obj. 8. Christ knows all things, according to his human nature. Therefore, the saints also have a knowledge of all things.

Ans. The examples are not the same. Christ’s human understanding perceives and knows, and his bodily eyes and ears hear and see all things which he, according to his human nature, desires to perceive, either with his mind or external senses, on account of its personal union with the divine nature which reveals these things, or on account of his office as mediator. But it cannot be proven from the Scriptures that all things are revealed to the angels and saints, which are made known to the human understanding of Christ, by his Divinity.

Obj. 9. The images of all things are reflected, or appear in the vision and face of the Trinity. The holy angels and blessed men who have departed this life see the face of the Deity, as it is said, “In heaven the angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 18:10.) Therefore they, in this way, see and know all that we do, suffer, think, &c.

Ans. 1. The major proposition is uncertain, and cannot be proven from the Scriptures.

Ans. 2. Nor can the minor be established; for id is said, “No man hath seen God at any time.” (John 1:18.)

Ans. 3. Although the angels and saints in heaven have a clear knowledge of God, yet we are not to suppose that they naturally know all things, which are in God. For if this were the case their knowledge would be infinite, or in other words, it would be equal to the knowledge of God, which is absurd, and contrary to the testimony of Scripture, which declares that the angels are ignorant of the day of judgment. God reveals to every one, both in heaven and on earth, as much as he will according to his own good pleasure.

Obj. 10. The friendship and intercourse of the saints with God and Christ is so great, that it is not possible that a revelation of those things which we ask at their hands should be withheld from them.

Ans. That consequence which is drawn from an insufficient cause, is of no force. For this friendship and intercourse will continue, although God does not reveal to the saints as much as they desire, but merely those things which it is profitable for them to know, for his glory and for their own happiness.

Obj. 11. Christ is the mediator of redemption; the saints are mediators of intercession. Therefore there is nothing detracted from Christ, if the saints are invoked as intercessors, and as those who plead with God in our behalf.

Ans. We deny the distinction that is here made; because the Scriptures teach that Christ is the only mediator, and that he has not only redeemed us by once offering himself for us upon the cross, but that he also continually appears before the Father, and makes intercesssion for us. (See Heb. 5:7, 9; 7:27. John 19:9. Rom. 8:34. Heb. 9:24. 1 John: 2.)

Obj. 12. Christ alone is mediator by virtue of his own merit and inter cession; the samts are mediators and intercessors by virtue of the merit and intercession of Christ: that is, their intercessions with God in our behalf avail for the sake of the merit and intercession of Christ. There fore that which is peculiar to Christ is not transferred to the saints.

Ans. Those who make intercession in this way, detract from the honor of Christ (p. 546) as much as in the former case, which will appear by making in the antecedent a full enumeration of the ways in which the honor of Christ is transferred to others; for not only those who by their own virtue, but even those who, by the virtue of Christ, are said to merit for us from God those good things promised for the sake of Christ’s merits alone, are substituted in the place of Christ. And again: if the prayers of the saints are pleasing to God, and heard on account of the merit and intercession of Christ, they cannot please God, nor obtain anything for us by their own holiness and merits, as the Papists teach; for he who stands in need of a mediator and intercessor, cannot appear as an intercessor for others, although he may pray for others. Hence our adversaries overthrow, by their own argument, the doctrine which they vainly attempt to establish.

Obj. 13. Those who pray for us in heaven are to be invoked. The saints offer prayers in our behalf in heaven. Therefore they are to be addressed in prayer.

Ans. There is here an error in taking that as a cause which is none; for the mere fact that any one prays for another is not a sufficient reason why we should address prayer to him. We readily grant that the saints in heaven do ardently desire the salvation of the church militant, and that their prayers are heard according to the counsels of God; but that the saints know the misfortunes and business of every one in particular, and that they hear the prayers which may be addressed to them, we deny.

Obj. 14. God said, Jer. 15:1: “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be towards this people.” Therefore the saints stand before God, and make intercession for us.

Ans. 1. But even though we were to grant the whole argument, yet it does not, therefore, follow, as we have already shown, that we ought to pray unto them.

Ans. 2. The language which is here quoted is figurative. It introduces the dead, and represents them praying, as though they were living; so that the sense is, if Moses and Samuel were yet living, and would pray for this wicked people, as they prayed for them and were heard when they lived upon earth, yet they could not obtain grace and pardon for them. There is a similar passage found in Ez. 14:4, which must be explained in like manner.

Obj. 15. The Lord said through Isaiah: “I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.” (2 Kings 19:34.) Therefore God confers benefits upon men upon the earth, for the sake of the merits and intercessions of David, and of other saints after death.

Ans. But it was not in respect to the merits of David, but in respect to the promise of the Messiah, who was to be born from the house of David, that God promised to protect and defend the city referred to. And if any one should object, and say that the deliverance of the city of David from the assault of the Assyrians might have been effected without the benefit and promise of the Messiah, and was therefore promised on account of the merits of David: we reply that they err who imagine that the benefits of Christ extend merely to those things or promises, upon the performance of which the promises made to David with reference to the Messiah could only be preserved, and receive their fulfillment. For all the benefits of God, including those that are temporal as well as those that are spiritual—those that were granted before the coming of the Messiah as well as those which have been granted since—those without which the p 547 promise of the Messiah could, as well as those without which it could not be fulfilled, are all conferred upon the church for the sake of Christ. “For the promises of God in him [Christ] are yea, and in him, Amen.” (2 Cor. 1:20.)

Obj. 16. Jacob said of the sons of Joseph, “Let my name be on them, and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac.” (Gen. 48:16.) Therefore it is lawful to call upon the saints who have departed this life.

Ans. This is to misunderstand the figure of speech which is here employed, which is a Hebrew phrase, meaning not adoration, but an adoption of the children of Joseph; so that the sense is, Let them be called after my name, or let them take their name from me: that is, let them be called my sons, and not my grand-children. The phrase is similar to that found in Isaiah 4:1, where it is said: “And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, Let us be called by thy name:” that is, let us be called thy wives.

Obj. 17. Eliphaz says to Job, chapter 5, v. 1, Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of the saints wilt thou turn.” Therefore Job is commanded to implore help from some one of the saints.

Ans. This passage is evidently at war with the doctrine of the invocation of the saints: for it affirms that the angels so far excel men in purity, that they will not make answer, or appear when addressed or invoked by men.

Obj. 18. Christ says, Matt. 25:40, “Inasmuch as ye have done it, unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Therefore the invocation of the saints is an honor, which is showed to Christ himself.

Ans. Christ does not speak of the invocation of the saints; but of the duty of love which it becomes us to perform towards the afflicted members of his church in this life. The passage, therefore, furnishes no proof in favor of the invocation of the saints.

Obj. 19. “The Angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem, and on the cities of Judah against which thou hast indignation these three score and ten years?” (Zech. 1:2.) Therefore the angels pray for men in their times of need and distress, and so are to be prayed unto.

Ans. 1. But this passage furnishes no proof that all the angels know the wants and afflictions of all men. The calamities of the Jews were manifest not only to the sight of angels, but also to men.

Ans. 2. We deny the consequence which is here drawn from the angels to the saints who have departed this life: for the care and defence of the church, in this world, has been committed to the angels. They are, therefore, conversant with the things of this world, and see our wants and necessities, which the saints do not, inasmuch as this charge is not committed to their care.

Ans. 3. The consequence which is here drawn, that we must pray unto the angels, because they pray for us, is in like manner, of no force, as we have already shown.

Obj. 20. Judus Maccabeus saw in a vision the High Priest, Onias, and Jeremiah the prophet, praying for the people. (2 Mac. 15:14.) Therefore the saints who have departed this life pray for us, and are to be invoked.

Ans. No doctrine can be established by the authority of an apocryphal book. We also deny the consequence which is here deduced; for not every one that prays for us, is to be prayed to by us.

Obj. 21. Baruch says, “Hear now the prayers of the dead Israelites.” p 548 (Bar 3:4.) Therefore the saints pray for us, and are to be invoked.

Ans. We may return the same answer to this objection that we did to the preceding one, that an apocryphal book proves nothing. There is also a misunderstanding of the figure of speech here used; for those who are called the dead Israelites are not such as had departed this life, but such as were living and calling upon God, but who, on account of their calamities, were similar to those who were dead.

Obj. 22. It is not permitted to come into the presence of a prince without the intercession of some one. Therefore much less can we come into the presence of God, without some one to appear before him as our intercessor.

Ans. We grant the whole argument; for without Christ, the mediator, no one can have access to God, as Christ himself says, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6.) Ambrose very appropriately and forcibly answers the above objection in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, where he thus writes: “Some men are wont to use a miserable excuse, saying that we obtain access to God through his righteous saints in the same way in which any one comes into the presence of a prince, which is through his attendants. Well: is any one so mad and unmindful of his own safety, as to transfer the honor of the King to any of his attendants, since those who have been found to do this, have been condemned as guilty of treason. And yet these persons suppose that those are not guilty of treason against God, who transfer the honor of his name to creatures, and forsaking their Lord, worship their fellow servants, as if this accomplished any thing in the way of assisting them in the service of God. We come into the presence of a king through his nobles and attendants, because he is a man as we are, and does not know to whom he ought to entrust the affairs of his kingdom. But as it respects God, from whom nothing is concealed, and who knows the merits of all, we need no one to secure us an access to him, but a devout mind. For wherever such an one speaks, he will answer nothing,” &c. Chrysostrom writes. “The Canaanitish woman did not ask of James, nor did she beseech John, nor did she go to Peter, nor did she come to the whole corps of the Apostles, nor did she seek any Mediator: but instead of all these, she took re pentance for her companion, which repentance supplied the place of an advocate, and in this way she went to the chief fountain. So much concerning the sixth virtue comprehended in this commandment, which virtue we have defined as invocation, or calling upon God.

Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. W. Williard (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 542–48. Formatting modified for this post.