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Ye seraphs, who God's throne encircling still,
CHARLESTON, S. C., June 15, 1829. To the Editors :
Gentlemen - I now proceed to show that your correspondent "Protestant Catholic' is not only inconsistent with the tenets of your church, but that he has altogether failed in sustaining his first charge against me.
He stated that Roman Catholics called upon the angels and saints in the same way that they did upon God, to be merciful to them, and this ground has been removed, because of the untruth of the statement. His next averment is that Roman Catholics "pray to angels and saints to save them by their merits.” And here he assumes two grounds for their condemnation : first, that it is idolatry to pray to the blessed spirits, next, that we dishonour Christ when we ask to be saved by the merits of such beings. I shall take each topic separately.
In paragraph 10, he lays down his principle: “And what is prayer offered to a creature, whether visible or invisible, if not idolatry?” If by prayer he meant the homage which is due only to God, by which we ask of him as the sole fountain of grace and mercy, that which he alone can effectually bestow, I answer distinctly, to offer such prayer to any creature would be idolatry. But it is untrue that Roman Catholics do offer any such homage to any creature, and until your correspondent shall have proved that they do, he will not have laid any ground for the application of his principle: my assertion is that he has not shown, and cannot show that such prayer is so offered.
But the word prayer, frequently signifies a "request," "an intreaty made by one creature to another, for such aid as that creature can bestow," and in this sense I submit that prayer might be lawfully made by a human being, not only to his fellow-man, but to any other creature that can aid him.—To make application for such aid to one who could not hear, or who hearing, could not help, might be folly; but it would not be idolatry. If prayer of this latter kind be offered to angels and saints, I assert it is not idolatry.
To say that no distinction can be made by the suppliant who addresses a principal from whom alone the favour must come, and an intercessor who might join in the supplication to that principal, is to contradict not only common sense, but daily experience, and the very paragraph itself affords full evidence that the Roman Catholics do act upon this distinction.
“But Roman Catholics, do not, they say, commit idolatry in praying to saints; for they offer them only an inferior worship, and not that which is due to Godthey only invoke them, and ask their help in obtaining the benefits which God alone can confer."
The admission here made, renders it unnecessary for me to adduce any farther evidence for the fact that the Roman Catholics do make the distinction.—The word prayer is then susceptible of two meanings, which are totally unlike: and Roman Catholics do not pray to angels and saints in the first sense of the word: to state or to insinuate that they do is to misrepresent them. Your correspondent makes this statement by a miserable quibble upon the ambiguity of the word, prayer, and by an unbecoming equivocation attempts to show against their own declaration, that Roman Catholics do pray to the created spirits in the same way that they offer their prayers to God.
“Surely the ora pro nobis, with a view to the benefits which God alone can confer, addressed to an invisible being, and in the same office of devotion in which God is directly supplicated, is, to all intents and purposes, prayer; and what is prayer offered to a creature, whether visible or invisible, if not idolatry.”
When we ask another to “pray for us, we avow by the phrase that the person so called upon by us must address himself to another, who can grant what it is not in the power of this intercessor to bestow. Hence, when in the same office of devotion we say “Lord, have mercy on us.” “Christ, have mercy on us.” “Holy Mary, Pray for us." So far from placing Christ and Mary upon an equal footing, we distinctly profess that mercy is derived only from him, and that she can do no more than obtain from him by her prayer, to bestow the mercy upon
us. Thus if the prayer to the only source of mercy, be worship of adoration; it is evident that by our prayer to the blessed Virgin, we intreat of Mary to adore our Lord Jesus Christ. Your correspondent cannot then assert that we pray to any angel or saint, in the same manner as we do to God, until he shall have discovered us asking God to pray for us to the angels and saints : asking God thus to adore the blessed spirits. Have we then not been misrepresented by him?
But in paragraph 20, he is still less excusable. By a mistranslation and a false suggestion he endeavours to distort the meaning of a prayer in the Mass, to show that we place Jesus Christ and the saints upon the same footing. In paragraph 5, he quotes from the translation of the Missal, printed in New York in 1822. He refers to the same edition in paragraph 7. I am to suppose naturally, that he refers to the same book in his quotation in paragraph 20. In that place he gives the following as the prayer on which he builds his argument.
“Receive, O Holy Trinity, this oblation, which we make to the memory of the Passion,” and so forth.
The original Latin is placed in one column and the translation in another upon the same page 281 of the edition referred to, and is the following:
Suscipe Sancta Trinitas hanc oblationem quam tibi offerimus ob memoriam Passionis, and so forth.
The translation which he quotes as in authorized use, paragraph 5, gives us the following in page 281:
“Receive, O Holy Trinity, this oblation which we make to thee in memory of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in honour of the blessed Mary ever a virgin, of blessed John Baptist, the holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, and all the Saints; that it may be available to their honour, and our salvation: and may they vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven, whose memory we celebrate on earth. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."
His object was to persuade his readers that Jesus Christ and the saints were considered co-equal intercessors, and therefore after the mistranslation, he who complained so much of my having made an addition, paragraph 23, now interpolates in the prayer the phrase (Jesus, and so forth) between the words they which he marks in italics, and the words “vouchsafe to intercede:” when such was by no means the meaning of the prayer. I do not think it very unreasonable to suppose that when this critic undertook to help out his own construction by introducing his own words, he looked at the explanation given in the Missal itself for the purpose of knowing whether he was fairly representing the doctrine which he undertook to explain. If he did not, he was negligent. If he did, he was dishonest, for he found the following.
“The celebrant then comes to the middle part of the altar, and bowing down, says the next prayer, Receive, O Holy Trinity, and so forth. This prayer, in its present form, is probably a cause of difficulty to some persons who do not examine with sufficient care, nor reflect upon what they too hastily condemn. They object that by this prayer, the church professes to offer the sacrifice equally to the blessed Trinity and to the saints. This is not the fact, nor is such the meaning of the prayer. It consists of three distinct parts. The first requesting the oblation to be received in memory of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is distinct, and the plain meaning of the request is evidently conformable to the institution. 62 “Do this for a commemoration of me. The second part, requesting the oblation to be received in honour of the blessed Virgin, and other saints—that it may be available to their honour and to our salvation. This latter clause, “our salvation,' creates no difficulty. The question is now what is meant by offering the sacrifice in honour of the Saints? First, then, the word honour in the first part of the prayer, is clearly not an exact, though it be a literal translation of the original prayer—for it should be rather translated on the festival of the blessed Virgin, and so forth. Le Brun remarks 63 that the words found in the oldest copies are in honore, and not in honorem, and states also, that the words ad honorem found immediately after, strengthens the proof of this reading being correct, for the persons who framed the prayer would otherwise have fallen into a glaring and inexplicable tautology. In honore evidently ought to be translated “on the festival or at the time we honour." Thus it would appear as well from the critical examination, as from various facts which that author adduces, that this is the true meaning of this first phrase. But ad honorem, “that it may be available to their honour'' i. e., the saints, is distinct, we must then see its meaning.
“St. Augustine writes, 'So that although we raise altars to the memory of the martyrs, we do not build any to them. For which of our prelates at any time celebrating at the altar in any of the places of the saints, has said, “We offer unto thee, Peter, or Paul, or Cyprian?” But that which is offered, is offered to God, who has crowned the martyrs, at those places where is celebrated their memory whom he has crowned.' And again, in another place, ‘Nor do we give to those martyrs temples, priests and sacrifices: because, not they, but their God is our God.' Thus no sacrifice was offered to the saints, though places were consecrated to their memory, where their virtues were honoured, and altars raised at which this honour was paid. Not by sacrifice to them, but by sacrifice to God; to their God and ours, to him who enabled them by his grace to triumph over sin, and to obtain glory—the honour we pay to them redounds to him, who in them has crowned his own graces; and when we pray that this sacrifice may be received by the Godhead, it is to the Holy Trinity it is offered, not the saints; it is offered in commemoration of Christ, on the festival of the saints, perhaps in places consecrated to God in their memory, and we pray it may be available to their honour; we do not offer it to them that they may receive it—this would be idolatry. But it is offered to God to their honour; and so far from this being derogatory to the honour of Christ,' or against his institution, it is calculated to promote his honour, and in conformity with his institutions; for when we honour the saints, we only pay to God the homage of our praise for their perfections, we praise his work in them, and their glory redounds to Him who created them and sanctified them: and surely it was to procure them honour, and glory, and salvation, that he sacrificed himself on Calvary, and we only repeat the offering for the purpose of commemorating and fulfilling his institutions. Nay, he distinctly declares, “ “For them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth, and its consequence, honoured in glory.”
62 Luke xxii. v. 19.
Explic. lit. hist. and dog. part iii. art. ix.
“ Thus the sacrifice is offered to the Trinity, but not to the saints: and, though they are honoured, that respect redounds to the greater blory of the Lord.
“The third part of the prayer is a request, that those saints whose memory we celebrate on earth, may intercede for us in heaven. Here, then, we distinctly point out how far they can assist us, 'by intercession,' to be again subordinate to that of the Redeemer, and only available through his merits; for the prayer concludes by the words, which clearly prove those merits to be the foundation on which we rest all our hope, by those words: “Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.'
“But why, it is said, need we ask to have our sacrifice received, if that sacrifice be Christ, who must necessarily be acceptable? Because we are not necessarily acceptable, and the object is to apply to us the benefit of this offering, by granting to us those dispositions which will qualify us to profit by that which in itself is excellent.
“This prayer was originally said only on the festivals of saints, and special mention then was made of that saint, whose festival was celebrated: but, during the latter seven hundred or eight hundred years, the special name has been omitted, and the general form used as now. Many of the ancient Missals style it the prayer of St. Ambrose: we, wever, have no better evidence to attribute its formation to him."-(Missal, Explic. lvii.)
Thus no part of our office, no tenet, no practice of ours, will for a moment countenance the notion that we pray to the created spirits, in the same manner that we do to God: and every attempt to impute this to us, is a misrepresentation; and your correspondent has garbled, changed, added, I may properly say, interpolated and equivocated, in his vain efforts to attain this object. Roman Catholics have at least so much common sense as to know, that God is the Creator of angels and saints, and that these blessed spirits are not their own creators: Catholics know that Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer, and to the Creator, and Redeemer, and Sanctifier only, do they look for mercy at its source.
Having stated the doctrine of Roman Catholics to be, (paragraph 10,) as regards prayer to the angels and saints, “only to invoke them, and ask their help, in obtaining benefits which God alone can confer," the writer with the contradictory name, represented truly the second kind of prayer above described, and which Catholics hold it lawful to use towards any of our fellow-creatures, who can hear and help us. Yet this same correspondent of yours, unqualifiedly calls such invocation and demand of help, idolatry. We now agree in the facts; and our difference is upon principle. Let us see a specimen of his theology, and
64 John xvii. 19.