Prayer to saints in the Book of Homilies

The Anglican Book of Homilies discusses the folly of prayer to saints in the Homily on Prayer. I have slightly cleaned up and modernized the language of a portion of this homily and offer it as follows:

Thus you see, that the authority both of the Scripture, and also of Augustine, does not permit, that we should pray unto them (John 5.44). O that all men would studiously read, and search the Scriptures, then should they not be drowned in ignorance, but should easily perceive the truth, as well of this point of doctrine, as of all the rest. For there does the Holy Ghost plainly teach us, that Christ is our only Mediator and Intercessor with God, and that we must not seek and run to another.

If any man sins, says Saint John, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2.1-2). Saint Paul also says, there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, even the man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2.5). Whereunto agrees the testimony of our Savior himself, witnessing that no man comes to the Father, but only by him, who is the way, the truth, the life (John 14.6), yes and the only door whereby we must enter into the Kingdome of heaven (John 10.9), because God is pleased in no other but in him. For which cause also he cries, and calls unto us that we should come unto him, saying: Come unto me, all ye that labor and be heavy laden, and I shall refresh you (Matthew 11.28).

Would Christ have us so necessarily come unto him? And shall we most unthankfully leave him, and run unto other? This is even that which God so greatly complained of by his Prophet Jeremiah, saying, My people have committed two great offences, they have forsaken me the fountain of the waters of life, and have dug to themselves broken pits that can hold no water. Is not that man unwise that will run for water to a little brook, when he may as well go to the head spring? Even so may his wisdom be justly suspected, that will flee unto Saints in time of necessity, when he may boldly and without fear declare his grief, and direct his prayer unto the Lord himself.

If God were strange, or dangerous to be talked with, then might we justly draw back and seek to some other. But the Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him in faith and truth (Psalms 145.18), and the prayer of the humble and meek hath always pleased him (Apocrypha. Judith 9.11). What if we be sinners, shall we not therefore pray unto God? Or shall we despair to obtain anything at his hands? Why did Christ then teach us to ask forgiveness of our sins, saying, And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us? Shall we think that the Saints are more merciful in hearing sinners, then God? David says, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness (Psalms 103.8). Saint Paul says, that he is rich in mercy toward all them that call upon him (Ephesians 2.4). And he himself by the mouth of his Prophet Isaiah says, For a little while have I forsaken you, but with great compassion will I gather you: For a moment in my anger I have hid my face from you, but with everlasting mercy I have had compassion upon you (Isaiah 54.7-8). Therefore the sins of any man ought not to withhold him from praying unto the Lord his God But if he be truly penitent and steadfast in faith, let him assure himself that the Lord will be merciful unto him, and hear his prayers.

O but I dare not (will some man say) trouble God at all times with my prayers. We see that in King’s houses and Courts of Princes, men cannot be admitted, unless they first use the help and mean of some special Noble man, to come unto the speech of the King, and to obtain the thing that they would have. To this reason doth Saint Ambrose answer very well, writing upon the first Chapter to the Romans (Ambrose, `Super Cap. 1, Romans’). Therefore (says he) we use to go unto the King by officers and noble men, because the King is a mortal man, and knows not to whom he may commit the government of the commonwealth. But to have God our friend, from whom nothing is hid, we need not any helper, that should further us with his good word, but only a devout and Godly mind. And if it be so, that we need one to entreat for us: why may we not content ourselves with that one Mediator, which is at the right hand of God the Father, and there lives forever to make intercession for us? As the blood of Christ did redeem us on the cross, and cleanse us from our sins: even so it is now able to save all them that come unto God by it.

For Christ sitting in heaven, has an everlasting Priesthood, and always prays to his Father for them that be penitent, obtaining by virtue of his wounds, which are evermore in the sight of God, not only perfect remission of our sins, but also all other necessaries that we lack in this world (Matthew 6.33, James 5.15, Colossians 4.12), so that this only Mediator is sufficient in heaven (1 Timothy 2.5), and needs no others to help him (Hebrews 7.25).

Why then do we pray one for another in this life, some man perchance will here demand? In truth we are willed so to do, by the express commandment both of Christ and his disciples, to declare therein as well the faith that we have in Christ towards God, as also the mutual charity that we bear one towards another, in that pity our brother’s case, and make our humble petition to God for him.

But that we should pray unto Saints, neither have we any commandment in all the Scripture, nor yet example which we may safely follow. So that being done without authority of God’s word, it lacks the ground of faith, and therefore cannot be acceptable before God (Hebrews 11.6). For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin (Romans 14.23). And as the Apostle says, that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10.17). Yet you will object further, that the Saints in heaven do pray for us, and that their prayer proceeds of an earnest charity that they have towards their brethren on earth. Whereto it may be well answered. First, that no man knows whether they do pray for us, or no. And if any will go about to prove it by the nature of charity, concluding, that because they did pray for men on earth, therefore they do much more the same now in heaven: Then may it be said by the same reason, that as oft as we do weep on earth, they do also weep in heaven, because while they lived in this world, it is most certain and sure they did so. And for that place which is written in the Apocalypse, namely that the Angel did offer up the prayers of the Saints upon the golden Altar: it is properly meant, and ought properly to be understood of those Saints that are yet living on earth, and not of them that are dead, otherwise what need were it that the Angel should offer up their prayers, being now in heaven before the face of Almighty God? But admit the Saints do pray for us, yet do we not know how, whether especially for them which call upon them, or else generally for all men, wishing well to every man alike. If they pray specially for them which call upon them, then it is like they hear our prayers, and also know our hearts desire. Which thing to be false, it is already proved both by the Scriptures, and also by the authority of Augustine.

Let us not therefore put our trust or confidence in the Saints or Martyrs that be dead. Let us not call upon them, nor desire help at their hands: but let us always lift up our hearts to God, in the name of his dear Son Christ, for whose sake as God hath promised to hear our prayer, so he will truly perform it. Invocation is a thing proper unto God, which if we attribute unto the Saints, it sounds to their reproach, neither can they well bear it at our hands.

When Paul had healed a certain lame man, which was impotent in his feet, at Lystra, the people would have done sacrifice to him and Barnabas: who rending their clothes, refused it, and exhorted them to worship the true God (Acts 14.8-18). Likewise in the Revelation, when Saint John fell before the Angels feet to worship him, the Angel would not permit him to do it, but commanded him that he should worship God (Revelations 19.10, 22.8-9). Which examples declare unto us, that the Saints and Angels in heaven, will not have us to do any honor unto them that is due and proper unto God. He only is our Father, he only is omnipotent, he only knows and understands all things, he only can help us at all times, and in all places, he suffers the sun to shine upon the good and the bad, he feeds the young ravens that cry unto him, he saves both man and beast, he will not that any one hair of our head shall perish: but is always ready to help and preserve all them that put their trust in him, according as he has promised, saying, Before they call, I will answer, and while they speak, I will hear (Isaiah 65.24).

Let us not therefore anything mistrust his goodness, let us not fear to come before the throne of his mercy, let us not seek the aid and help of Saints, but let us come boldly ourselves, nothing doubting but God for Christs sake, in whom he is well pleased, will hear us without a spokesman, and accomplish our desire in all such things as shall be agreeable to his most holy will. So says Chrysostom, an ancient Doctor of the Church (Chrysostom, `6 Hom. de Profectu. Evang.’), and so must we steadfastly believe, not because he says it, but much more because it is the doctrine of our Savior Christ himself, who has promised that if we pray to the Father in his name, we shall certainly be heard, both to the relief of our necessities, and also to the salvation of our souls, which he hath purchased unto us, not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood, shed once for all upon the Cross.






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