« PreviousContinue »
WORSHIP OF ANGELS AND SAINTS-RELICS.
LUKE 1. 28.
“ And the angel being come in, said unto her : Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee : blessed art thou among women."
The words which I have quoted to you, my brethren, are taken from the gospel read in the festival of this day [March 25, 1836.]—a festival which, as its very name imports, commemorates the great dignity which was bestowed upon the mother of our blessed Redeemer, through the message which was communicated to her by an angel of God; and a festival which stands recorded in the calendar of every religious denomination as a landmark, a record, a monument of that belief which once pervaded the forefathers of them all of that belief which has since become exclusively the property of one, and for the belief of which that one division of Christians is beyond all other reasons, most seriously and solemnly accused. For I need hardly remind you that, according to the order I have laid down, I am this evening to treat concerning that honour and veneration which is paid by the Catholic church to the saints of God; and, beyond all other saints, to her whom they call “ The Queen of saints,” inasmuch as she was the mother of the God of saints; and that I intend to lay before you the grounds of the Catholic doctrine, and of the Catholic practice in regard to this point, as also to those others which may seem naturally to spring from it.
Nothing, my brethren, seems more congenial to human nature than to look with veneration and respect upon those who have gone before us, and who have held up to us distinguished examples of any thing which we venerate or esteem. Every nation has its heroes, whose conduct and whose actions are held up before the eye of its youth, as examples for their emulation. Every nation seems to have, you know, the giants of its race, those who seemed to have made greater strides than those who followed them in the paths of distinction, whether earthly or of superior order, and whose memory it seems to become a point of duty-a duty discharged with affection-to cherish and to hold as something peculiarly belonging to ourselves, and of which we would not willingly deprive ourselves. And only in religion, my brethren, does this seem to be probibited. It seems, among too many, as if the religion of Christ were to be upheld by diminishing the glory of those who have been its brightest ornaments; by crying down their merits, who have been the brightest examples of its superiority to every other creed; by debasing those even below the standard of ordinary virtue, by placing them even on a lower scale than those common and ordinary examples of excellence which bave immediately preceded them—though they were the men that in reality gave not only the most heroic examples of its worth ; but that actually were those who insured to us its inheritance by their sufferings, by their lives, and by their writings. It is something quite in discord with all our natural affections, to see the way in which those who have been distinguished in the church of God should be not simply deprived of those more extraordinary honours which we are inclined to pay them ; but that they should even be spoken of with contumely and with disrespect. And it seems to be thought that the cause of religion is advanced by representing those distinguished men to whom I have alluded, as frailer, and even more liable to fall than others : by descanting with a certain sort of pleasure on their falls, on their transgressions, and on their weaknesses. It has been even thought that the cause of the Son of God was to be exalted, that his mediatorship and that his dignity were to be raised, by decrying the work and the excellency of her whom he chose to be his mother ; by making it even appear sometimes as if he had been undutiful and unkind to her; and it is endeavoured to prove, that we should not show any affection or reverence to her by trying to demonstrate that in the exercise of filial love our Saviour himself purposely was wanting.
But, my brethren, this is not the worst feature of this case; for unfortunately a graver and more awful charge is laid upon us in regard to our belief. We are even taxed with being idolaters, because we pay a certain rererence, and, if you please, worship to the saints of God, and because we bonour their outward emblems and representations. IDOLATERS! What, my brethren, does this mean? It is the gravest, it is the most frightful charge that can be laid to the account of any Christian. We know that, through the whole word of God, the crime of idolatry is spoken of as the most heinous, the most odious and detestable to God, whether it be applied to one individual, or still more when spoken of the vast body of mankind. But what must it be when it is flung as an accusation upon those who have been baptized in the name of Christ, who have tasted the sacred gift, and of whom therefore St. John himself tells us, “ that there is a sin unto death, for which men are not even to pray,”-ineaning the very crime of idolatry into which any should fall if they had received those extraordinary lights and graces from God. Assuredly, my brethren, they cannot know what they are doing, who wilfully, who deliberately make this most enormous charge ; and assuredly they must have to answer for misrepresentation, for calumny of the very blackest dye, who have no hesitation in repeating again and again with heartlessness, and earnestness, and perseverance, this most odious of charges, without being fully assured in their consciences and before God that it really does apply.
But what, my brethren, is idolatry? It is the giving to man, or to any created being or thing, that homage, that adoration, that worship, which God hath reserved to bimself; and it must be proved, to substantiate such a charge, that that very honour, that very worship, is given to created things which is reserved to God alone.
What is the Catholic belief upon this subject--that of the veneration, or worship, given to saints or their emblems? A definition exactly contradicting that which I have given you of the crime of idolatry. You will not open a single Catholic work, beginning with the decrees of councils, and going down to the smallest catechism which is placed in the hands of the youngest children, in which you will not find it expressly laid down, that it is sinful to pay the same honour, the same homage to the saints, or the greatest of saints, or to the highest of the angels, which is to be paid to God; that supreme honour and worship is reserved exclusively to him; that from him alone can any blessing possibly come; that he alone is the fountain of salvation, of grace, of spiritual or of earthly gifts ; and that no created being can by any power, or energy, or influence of its own, assist us in the most trifling and insignificant of our desires. No one assuredly will say, that there is no distinction between one species of homage or reverence and another. No one will for a moment suppose, that when we honour the king or his representative, or our parents, or any other whom God has placed in lawful authority over us, that we are thereby derogating from that supreme honour which is due to God. Would not any one smile, if he were not roused to a more severe feeling, were he taxed with defrauding God of his true honour because he paid reverence or showed esteem to others, or even because he sought their intercession or assistance? Therefore, it is manifest that there may be honour, that there may be worship even--for as we observed just now, the words are
ambiguous--there may be any thing you please in the way of reverence or esteem, demonstrating fear, which being so subordinate to God as in no ways to interfere with the worship due to him.
This, therefore, is precisely the Catholic belief with regard to the saints; that they have no power of themselves; that they are not to be honoured or approached as if they possessed it. But at the same time we believe that they are intercessors for us with God; that they pray to him for us, and that there is no harm-on the contrary, it is right for us to address ourselves even to them, and obtain thereby the co-operation of their power, with the supplication of ourselves, on our behalf. The very distinction here made excludes that odious charge, to wbich I have alluded with considerable pain : for the very idea that we call on any being to pray to God, is surely making an abyss, “a great gulf” between that creature and God. It is making it a supplicant, it is making it a subject, it is making it a creature, a dependant of the Almighty; and assuredly these terms and these ideas are in exact contradiction to all that we can possibly conceive of the attributes or qualities of God. Instead of taking any thing from God, it is adding immensely to his glory. Instead of, by calling upon saints to pray for us, or proving they do pray for us—instead of thereby robbing him of a particle of his honour, we believe him to be served in a much nobler way than otherwise : for we raise ourselves in our imagination to heaven, and we believe that we see the saints there prostrating themselves before him in worship, and interceding through the merits of the death and passion of his Son; and assuredly it is impossible to conceive two ideas more opposite than that of a supplicant and that of a giver ; than that of him who asks and entreats a request, and him in whose power it is to refuse it.
Such, therefore, is the Catholic belief regarding the saints. But we believe still farther, that it is and can be in no way displeasing to God, that we should show a respect and an honour regarding their remains on earth, and also to those images and representations which recall them to our remembrance. Nay, we even go farther than this: we believe that God is pleased with the respect that we show them, inasmuch as it is all directed ultimately to honour him in them. We believe that he may be pleased to make use of these outward means as methods for exciting the faith of bis people, and of bringing them to those dispositions and that fervour which may produce salutary effects—such effects as consequently they may naturally attribute to the intermediatory agency or instrumentality of the outward means. Such is the whole of the belief of Catholics, which I intend to explain and to support this evening.
Before leaving this introductory portion of the subject, however, I must make one or two remarks on the ambiguity of terms which are employed in the examination of this point. The word to worship, for instance, is constantly brought forward ; and it is said we worship the