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3 reasons why Christianity + prayer to the saints = pagan polytheism

Unfortunate for Roman Catholic claims about being the One True Church that Christ Founded.

If you know much about Roman Catholics, you know they pray to deceased Christians, and especially to Mary.

It seems to me this practice is demonstrably unchristian—in fact, pagan. It turns an ostensible form of Christianity into an obvious kind of spiritist polytheism or ancestor worship. Here are three broadly independent reasons for thinking so:

1. By definition, prayer to saints is a form of occultism

When we pray, we intend to communicate with the person we are praying to. When Christians pray to God, they are communicating to God. Equally, when Catholics pray to deceased saints, they are communicating to the dead—or they think they are. So for instance, if you want Jesus to look kindly on you, you ask Mary to intercede on your behalf. If you need to find your keys, you ask Saint Anthony to help you.

In other words, prayer to the saints is an effort to contact the dead in order to influence God or the world. By definition, this means that anyone who prays to Mary, or Saint Anthony, or any other deceased person, is a medium.

Medium: A person thought to have the power to communicate with the spirits of the dead or with agents of another world or dimension.* Also called psychic. (www.thefreedictionary.com/medium)

It should go without saying that mediumship, and all other forms of occultism, are taken extremely seriously in the Old Testament. For example:

A man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist must be put to death. They are to be stoned; their blood is on their own hands. Leviticus 20:27, HCSB

This isn’t to say we should stone Roman Catholics, of course—we are not living under the laws of ancient Israel. But it illustrates the point that not only is this kind of practice not approved by God, but it is so disapproved that when he instituted his covenant nation, he insisted they eliminate this kind of evil from among them, and prevent it spreading, by executing the perpetrators.

Why so serious?

I won’t develop this idea here—it needs a post of its own—but I believe the harsh penalties for occult practices are because they violate the first commandment. The gods of other nations were not false in the sense of being imaginary, but false in the sense of being real spiritual beings with supernatural power who craved the worship owed to Yahweh. Occultism did, and still does, connect people with these beings. If the occult were merely impotent nonsense, the laws about it seem dis­proportionately strict and hard to explain. As I say, I won’t develop this idea here, but if you’re in the mood for some careful Bible study, go to something like FaithLife or Lumina, where you can access the translation notes, and check out Ps 82:1-8; Ex 7:10-13, 20-22; 8:6-7, 17-19; 12:12; Num 33:4; Deut 4:33-40 (cf Isa 47:8, 10 on “none besides me”); Deut 32:17.

Suffice to say, if I am right, this makes Roman Catholicism not merely an occultic heresy of Christianity, but a demonic religion in its own right.

2. By definition, prayer to saints is a form of worship

Worship, simply put, is when we treat something or someone as a deity. Needless to say, prayer implicitly treats its object as a deity. While Catholics certainly deny treating the saints as gods, what they say is contradicted by what they do. For example, when Catholics pray to Saint Anthony to help them find their lost keys, this is treating Anthony as someone with power over the domain of lost objects. Protestations notwithstanding, this is functionally indistinguishable from polytheists praying to patron gods who have similar kinds of powers over similar kinds of domains.

Some Catholics I’ve spoken to deny this by saying that they are only asking saints to pray to God for them. This is no different, they say, than asking a friend to pray for them. But when we examine some common Catholic prayers we find this is simply false. This prayer to Saint Anthony explicitly claims his “special power of restoring lost things”, and goes so far as to indicate that this gift extends to ensuring that the person praying “always remain[s] in possession of the true good that is God”! Similarly, consider how this prayer to Mary is worded:

O Mother of Perpetual Help, thou art the dispenser of all the goods which God grants to us miserable sinners, and for this reason, he has made thee so powerful, so rich, and so bountiful, that thou mayest help us in our misery. Thou art the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners who have recourse to thee. Come, then, to my aid, dearest Mother, for I recommend myself to thee. In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul. Count me among thy most devoted servants; take me under thy protection, and it is enough for me. For, if thou protect me, dear Mother, I fear nothing; not from my sins, because thou wilt obtain for me the pardon of them; nor from the devils, because thou art more powerful than all hell together; nor even from Jesus, my Judge himself, because, by one prayer from thee, he will be appeased. But one thing I fear; that, in the hour of temptation, I may neglect to call on thee, and thus perish miserably. Obtain for me, then, the pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace always to have recourse to thee, O Mother of Perpetual Help. Amen. source

These prayers simply do not ask Mary to pray for us as a sister in Jesus; they use language that in any other religion would be explicitly reserved for a deity. Moreover, they ascribe to her roles which in Christianity are explicitly reserved for deity—namely Jesus! Notice, Mary is the one in whom the person praying—a “devoted servant”—trusts for salvation. She is the one who obtains pardon for sins; she protects against demons; she stands between us and the wrath of God. Needless to say, this openly perverts the gospel, where Jesus is not a judge we need saving from through the mediation of a created being, but in fact is the one who does the saving by mediating between us and the Father.

Even if this prayer didn’t accurately reflect Roman Catholic doctrine (although I believe it does), the fact remains that praying to Mary as a deity is commonplace in Roman Catholicism. Not only is she treated as a god by any standard, but she replaces the role of the God. Indeed, in terms of both iconography and worship, the Mary of Roman Catholicism seems to have developed largely from Roman goddess cults. For instance, you probably assumed the statue on the right is Mary. It’s not—it’s a Roman depiction of Isis, originally an Egyptian mother goddess who came to be identified with major Greek and eventually Roman goddesses following the hellenization of Egypt. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome and Isis-worship was outlawed, syncretists just swapped her and baby Horus out for Mary and baby Jesus. Even the title “Queen of Heaven” was retained.

3. Prayer to the saints implies that deceased humans are god-like in power

Catholics defend their practice of prayers to the dead by appealing to the “communion of the saints”. Even those who have passed on, they say, are still part of the same body of Christ—so we can still legitimately speak to them as we would to any other Christian.

But this is bogus for an obvious reason: Catholics do not speak to dead saints as they would to any other Christian! Catholics do not telepathically direct requests to living brethren. Neither do they speak out loud to someone not physically present. It is absurd to imagine doing such things. But if it is absurd to try to communicate with living humans in this way, why is it not also absurd to use these methods to communicate with dead ones?

For the practice of praying to the dead to be sensible, human beings must gain some kind of telepathic powers (whether direct or mediated) upon death. But what evidence, aside from mere question-begging assertion, do Catholics have for this?

Not just telepathy

A further problem: not only can someone like Mary hear prayers in general, but she can presumably hear thousands of them—sometimes perhaps even millions—simultaneously! And not only can she hear them simultaneously, but she can surely act on them simultaneously, since otherwise praying to her would be pointless.

No doubt this explains why, in the prayer I quoted earlier, she is indicated to be more powerful than all the created spiritual beings (elohim) combined. She is vastly more powerful even than an archangel.

How do Catholics explain this while maintaining her essential humanity, and denying that they have elevated her to godhood? In what way is believing that at least some deceased humans have these kinds of supernatural powers any different from deifying them? Functionally speaking, praying to the saints in general becomes indistinguishable from a kind of ancestor-worship; and in particular cases is identical to the most overt forms of polytheism.

* Catholics also pray to angels, which means they fully conform to every part of this definition; but that’s beyond the purview of this article.

10 comments

  1. Ryan Fishel

    Dear Dominic,

    A great article, and many thanks for it! So well thought out. I’m sure I will come back to it for reference time-and-again.

    Gratefully yours,
    Ryan
    Ireland

  2. Philip C

    It makes it more fun when you realize that the saints, particularly those who lived riotously for a time, like Augustine did, had to go get purified in purgatory.
    And since we know that Purgatory is hell, except you get let out eventually, it means people in hell are fully able to hear your prayers and answer them. The only way out is to admit the saints don’t have to go, at which point Purgatory is bunk.
    Which is an amusing dilemma.

    Here in the States a huge number of people are leaving Catholicism for Mormonism, where you get to be a god when you die. Seems like the next logical progression to me.

  3. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    That is interesting. The obvious way out for Catholics is to claim that time passes differently in purgatory (kind of like it does in Narnia). So someone who has died is already in heaven from our point of view, even though from their point of view they spent many years in purgatory.

    That’s plausible as far as it goes, but it seems contradictory to what Catholics say about indulgences. Isn’t the idea there that Great Aunt Martha is currently in purgatory, and you can reduce her time by purchasing an indulgence?

  4. Dawn Korotko

    I enjoyed the article. I remember this being the start of the confusion that led to my leaving the RCC. I remember thinking “Mary’s greatest act was submitting to God’s will. How can you pray to her to circumvent it?”
    So, please understand, I am not disputing the point that it has gotten out of hand but I think a couple of items may be of interest in how it started:
    1. Throughout the Roman Republic and Empire (indeed, through much if not all of the ancient world) society had a system of Patron/Client relationships. In fact, Christianity also has the same relationship between God and His followers. A person high in the social strata would be the Patron. He would give you money if you needed or found your nephew a job, etc. In return, you owed him your loyalty. In Rome, this meant you voted for the laws and offices that he wanted. Now, with the coming of the Roman Empire, the top Patron was, of course, the emperor. But not everyone got in to see him so you had someone in a lower office (but higher than you) and up the chain the favor went. It’s only my opinion but I believe saint worship started (whether through actually humility or through the hierarchy that developed in Rome) with the attitude of not wanting to bother the “Big Boss” but rather going to someone who may be able to relate more to your situation. And besides, asking God to look for your car keys would seem quite presumptuous! So, rather than praying to God, lesser items were handed off to saints.
    2. As for the statues of Mary and the Christ child being copied off Isis and Horus. You are most certainly correct. And it was done deliberately. It was a case of “one-up-manship” against the Pagans. Much like the ceiling of the Mausoleum of the Julii from the necropolis under St. Peter’s that was done in the Mid-3rd century. Sol Invictus was the unconquerable sun. To copy the painting but having Christ’s picture in place of Sol was a way of rather thumbing your nose at unbelievers and saying “My God is better than your god!” December 25th was not Christ’s birthday but it was a pagan holiday. How better to remind people of the true God than to take over the date and consecrate it? The same for Easter instead of May-Day.

    Finally, let me say again, I am not excusing the condition of the rites today. It started as a good idea (like most ideas humans have). But unless God is kept firmly as the head and His commandments as the guide, human ideas (and humans) get corrupted far too quickly and easily.

  5. Donna

    I’m sorry, but I don’t know you can call yourself a Christian when you’re calling you’re fellow Christians “demonic”. May God forgive you.

  6. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Donna, I don’t know how you can call yourself a Christian when you’re calling non-Christians who follow a demonic religion Christians. May God forgive you.

    See how this works?

    Now, do you have any arguments which you think show my conclusion here is false? Can we reason together and discover the truth? I don’t think God wants us to just assume we’re right despite evidence like the arguments I’ve offered; nor do I suspect he approves of the kind of false piety suggested by patronizing comments about other people’s salvific status.

  7. explorer

    Hi Donna,

    you said: “I’m sorry, but I don’t know you can call yourself a Christian when you’re calling you’re fellow Christians “demonic”. May God forgive you.”

    Lets look at Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, “Cantate Domino,” 1441 [Ex Cathedra]:
    “The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that ALL those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or *heretics* (the Protestants and heretical Catholics) and *schismatics* (Eastern Orthodox Christians), cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Church before the end of their lives ….. EVEN IF HE HAS SHED BLOOD IN THE NAME OF CHRIST”

    In this infallible, ex-cathedra declaration by Pope Eugene IV, which in Catholic theology, is a part of the word of God, on par with the Bible, thus irreformable, he implicitly proclaims not only all Protestants, but also some Catholics and all Eastern Orthodox Christians as “demonic”, since they belong to the pit filled with the devil and his angels (demons).

    So, may God forgive Pope Eugene IV. Shall we call him a Christian for essentially calling other Christians as “demonic” or “hell-bound”?

  8. Midas

    This is an interesting blog post, and I agree with your ultimate conclusion. I’ve been looking into the Roman Catholic (RC) doctrine of the invocation of the saints, and they have a few responses to these types of objections for which I’d like to hear your thoughts.

    Regarding your first point, the standard RC response is to say that the mediumship condemned in the Old Testament involved both demonic power and necromancy (that is, conjuring the dead such that they appear before the medium). The broader definition of mediumship, RCs say, was not in mind. So, RCs say that since both of these elements are absent in the OT condemnation, the invocation of the saints does not fall under mediumship under their theology.

    Regarding your third point, I imagine the RC would reject that Mary (and the saints) are “more powerful than all the created spiritual beings (elohim) combined” since we do not have any information about what created spiritual beings are capable of doing.

    I’ve also seen RCs posit a number of mechanisms explaining how Mary and the saints might come to know about the supplications of believers on Earth without the use of telepathy. These include:

    (1) The Speculum Trinitatis, in which the saints are able to see God as a kind of mirror in which they can know things about humans. Aquinas gives an account of this as follows (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5072.htm#article1):

    “I answer that, The Divine essence is a sufficient medium for knowing all things, and this is evident from the fact that God, by seeing His essence, sees all things. But it does not follow that whoever sees God’s essence knows all things, but only those who comprehend the essence of God [Cf. I, 12, 7,8]: even as the knowledge of a principle does not involve the knowledge of all that follows from that principle unless the whole virtue of the principle be comprehended. Wherefore, since the souls of the saints do not comprehend the Divine essence, it does not follow that they know all that can be known by the Divine essence–for which reason the lower angels are taught concerning certain matters by the higher angels, though they all see the essence of God; but each of the blessed must needs see in the Divine essence as many other things as the perfection of his happiness requires. For the perfection of a man’s happiness requires him to have whatever he will, and to will nothing amiss: and each one wills with a right will, to know what concerns himself. Hence since no rectitude is lacking to the saints, they wish to know what concerns themselves, and consequently it follows that they know it in the Word. Now it pertains to their glory that they assist the needy for their salvation: for thus they become God’s co-operators, “than which nothing is more Godlike,” as Dionysius declares (Coel. Hier. iii). Wherefore it is evident that the saints are cognizant of such things as are required for this purpose; and so it is manifest that they know in the Word the vows, devotions, and prayers of those who have recourse to their assistance.”

    (2) Angels reveal to Mary and the saints that prayers are being offered to them.

    (3) The recently deceased reveal to Mary and the saints that prayers are being offered to them.

    (2) and especially (3) suffer from obvious problems, but (1) does not seem as easy to attack (as far as its logical coherence goes).

    What do you think about these RC objections, Bnonn?

  9. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Midas,

    So, RCs say that since both of these elements are absent in the OT condemnation, the invocation of the saints does not fall under mediumship under their theology.

    This is a fair distinction, if true. The problem is that the Bible itself doesn’t draw this distinction. It doesn’t say that communicating with or to the dead is only disallowed when demonic power is at work and/or the decedent is made to appear before the medium. It makes a blanket condemnation without respect to whether any particular medium actually has the power to do what he intends to do. Indeed, while I believe that the reason these condemnation are made is because occult practices do work, I think it goes without saying that they don’t work all the time. It is not as if God is only condemning occult practices when they work. No, he is condemning them period.

    So this distinction is unsustainable exegetically (at least on the face of it). Moreover, it looks suspiciously like special pleading. Even if Catholics could make an exegetical case for some “wiggle room” about the issue of mediumship, in the absence of explicit biblical exemption for prayer to the saints, there is no reason to think we should treat that wiggle room as normative. We should err on the side of caution. If I’m out hunting in the woods and I see something moving, and it’s probably a deer but it might be a person, I would be in the wrong to take a shot. So even if Catholics can show the possibility (or probability) of prayer to the saints being exempted (which I doubt they can), that doesn’t give us good reason to think that prayer to the saints is exempted.

    Regarding your third point, I imagine the RC would reject that Mary (and the saints) are “more powerful than all the created spiritual beings (elohim) combined” since we do not have any information about what created spiritual beings are capable of doing.

    Well, I was just going by the prayer that I quoted in the article, where it says, “Mother, I fear nothing … from the devils, because thou art more powerful than all hell together”.

    (1) The Speculum Trinitatis, in which the saints are able to see God as a kind of mirror in which they can know things about humans.

    As you say, (2) and (3) have obvious problems, so let’s assess (1).

    There seem to be a couple of problems with this view, aside from its raw speculativeness.

    First, it doesn’t do anything to defuse the problem of how Mary (for example) could know and respond to thousands of prayers at once.

    Second, it basically just looks like mediated telepathy. God is like a conduit that directs prayers to their intended recipients. Aquinas does imply that God is more passive than this; but aside from the difficulty of God being passive in anything given Aquinas’ own robust understanding of God as pure actuality (with which I agree!) this fails to explain how the saints come to know about these prayers if God does not convey them directly.

    Hope this helps :)

  10. Warren

    My step mother’s family are catholic. I would love to bring this up if it didn’t result in me being disowned.

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