Why I’m not Catholic, Part 29

December 19, 2015

Mother Teresa is going to be canonized by the Catholic Church. No surprise there—her soul-crashing doubts about God’s existence notwithstanding. Once the ball starts rolling toward sainthood, does it ever stop? Those two required miracles will be found, if the Vatican wants to find them badly enough… even if they have to find post-mortem miracles!

I know, I know… Who am I to judge? I’m Protestant. But I am ecumenically inclined. I’m not especially sectarian. Unfortunately, when I read the following in the New York Times about the two certifiable miracles of Mother Teresa, it only strengthens my Protestant resolve:

Two miracles are generally required for canonization. Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after the Vatican concluded that an Indian woman’s prayers to the nun caused her incurable tumor to disappear. The second miracle involves a Brazilian man who suffered a viral brain infection that caused multiple abscesses, and eventually left him in a coma and dying. His wife had been praying for months to Mother Teresa, and on Dec. 9, 2008, as he was about to be taken to emergency surgery, she and her husband’s priest and relatives intensified their prayers.

Praying to the saints offends me. It’s contrary to the biblical witness. By all means, intercessory prayer is commanded by Christ and the apostles in scripture, but as N.T. Wright once observed, “Why talk to someone standing outside the throne room when you can go directly to the One sitting on the throne?” I’ve never read or heard a satisfactory answer to that question—only appeals to a tradition that is, at best, centuries after the apostolic witness.

Moreover, even granting the biblically unfounded idea that saints in heaven can hear our prayers to them, how are they now endowed with god-like powers—transcending time, space, and human limitations—such that, like God himself, they can simultaneously hear the prayers of potentially billions all at once? One theological answer, perhaps, is that God grants them these powers by his grace—through the Holy Spirit—but doesn’t that beg the question?

If it’s only through God’s grace that these departed saints’ prayers on our behalf are efficacious, then who’s really doing the “miraculous” work here? In which case, since through Christ’s atoning work we Christians are now God’s beloved sons and daughters who are privileged to call God Father on the same basis as his Son Jesus, why not just pray directly to the Father?

Even worse, in the case of someone like Mother Teresa, she’s credited for two miracles that she performed after she died! Literally. If I were Catholic and believed in praying to saints, on what basis would I pray to Mother Teresa, who, at the time, wasn’t even recognized as a saint? Were they guessing that she might be one, so they were praying to her just in case?

It’s hard enough for me to pray to God without doubting that he’ll grant my petitions; what extra measure of faith would be required for me to believe that praying to someone who’s less than God will have any effect—especially doing so without biblical warrant!

If it’s true that Pope Francis is ready to declare, during 2017’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, that the Reformation is over, and Protestants of good faith are fully equal brothers and sisters, he must also declare that this issue is at least adiaphora—one over which we Christians can rightly disagree.

See Anglican theologian Glenn Peoples’ blog post from July for more information on the tradition of praying to saints.


9 Responses to “Why I’m not Catholic, Part 29”

  1. Grant Says:

    Actually, I do pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, and beseeching the advocacy of the Son and the Spirit. Not saying it’s right, it’s just my way.

    I questioned a Catholic friend on a ritual once, and he said, “don’t worry too much about it Grant, it’s a “Catholic thing”. I thought that was a good answer.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I don’t think it’s a good answer. The Catholic Church doesn’t have access to any apostolic tradition to which we Protestants don’t also have access. There’s no repository of tradition that is kept secret from the rest of us. Either it’s written down somewhere for all the world to see and investigate or it doesn’t exist.

      It’s an unbiblical practice that would, I believe, horrify Peter, Paul, James, and the other apostles.

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    How the Catholic worship doesn’t matter to me, unless they want to debate the merits of a practice, vis a vis the way protestants do it. Guess I’m in a live and let live mood today.

  3. RetsamsGhost Says:

    Sad. It is not an issue of sainthood that really matters for us believers. Or a label of protestant, catholic or lutheran, etc, I am a great fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, yet I am Catholic. I am a great fan of Mother Teresa for her acts, not for her affiliation. My church may recognize one and not the other. In the end, as St. Augustine recognized, we are drawing at straws and filling in the blanks with our spirit filled imagination.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I’m sympathetic, but I presume that there are some doctrinal differences between our traditions that amount to something more than “drawing at straws” in your mind?

      • RetsamsGhost Says:

        Yes, I am sure there are differences. And I respect the faithful that stay within the confines of their respective spiritual homes. That being said, there are many miraculous acts of faith and love being modeled external to our respective faiths that can serve us well. And there is also plenty of evil being perpetrated religous groups steeped in doctrinal beliefs and self-righteous confidence that defies the humility and reference that comes with faith. Perhaps “drawing at straws” is an exaggeration, but at certain point we leave the comfort of the known (scripture and tradition) and left with our discernment and prayer – pondering the unknowable “G-dhead.” You are probably pretty well read – more so than me being your profession. I draw inspiration from the historical Bonhieffer. He is not catholic and I guess not a saint. He does not replace Jesus in anyway. Of course my quoting “St. Augustine” was rather silly if the issue was recognition or reverence for Saints in the first place. The Catholic Church writings are not as simple as they seem on the surface and I do believe the lay public and sometimes clergy over-represent Saints. Regardless, thanks for your thought out piece – if she was not designated a Saint, did she lead a life that gives us hope and admiration? We need not argue sainthood here – there are plenty of apologist and naysayers around to keep that argument alive and well. Regards, Joseph

  4. Tom Harkins Says:

    I’m with you, Brent. No warrant to praying “to the saints.” As Paul essentially said, “Did I die for you, that you would say, ‘I belong to Paul?'” Also, what about this “two miracles” bit? Where is there any warrant for that requirement? It simply results in “made up stories” of one type or another–dishonest, as well as unbiblical. Also, “Mary, Mary, Mother of God,” being venerated as much, or sometimes more, than her divine and only sinless Son? I could go on. Certainly the Catholic Church stands up for some good things, like right to life and no homosexual marriages, but ultimately I fear their theology is way off-base. Sure, all denominations make mistakes at some point or another, but I fear the Catholic errors are somewhat “wholesale” and often serious. Sorry, guys, but that is how I see it.

    • brentwhite Says:

      The problem comes down to authority. They place the authority of tradition above scripture itself. Where the two conflict, tradition always wins.

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