Saint Worship - Part 17

In this series, which I now conclude, I have had for object, not to eulogize the saints, nor to say what has been said and better said a hundred times before, nor yet to exhibit my own devotion to the saints or belief in the pious legends which circulate among the faithful; but to show, in the clearest and simplest manner I could, the principles on which the cultus sanctorum rests, and their relation alike to the principles of the natural order and to those which underlie all the great mysteries of the Christian revelation.

I have written on the assumption that all principles are catholic, and all truth is one, and therefore what is true in nature is true in grace; and that, though grace is above nature, elevating and completing it, it is in no wise contradictory to nature, or disconnected with it. One and the same dialectic principle runs through all the Creator’s works, for all have their archetype in his own indivisible and triune essence, and all are parts of one indissoluble whole, in the divine mind already completed and brought into perfect union with himself. Hence, while I distinguish creation from the Creator, as the act is distinguished from the actor, I do not separate it from God. I distinguish between nature and grace, but do not separate in the regenerate the one from the other, for both proceed alike from God, and both are alike necessary to the life and perfection of man, or the fulfillment of the divine purpose of his creation.

I have been so intent on showing the connection of grace with nature, and setting forth the rational element of the Christian mysteries in general, and of saint-worship in particular, that some readers may have thought me disposed to rationalize too much; but I have never forgotten that our faith contains mysteries beyond the reach of reason either to discover or to explain, which every believer receives on faith in God revealing and the Church proposing. I have simply aimed at developing the principle contained in the direction of Our Lord when He bids us "consider the lilies of the field" and "behold the birds of the air." Our Lord [often] conveys His instructions by analogies and illustrations borrowed from the natural world, which would not be possible if nature had no analogy with grace or with the revealed mysteries. I have done what I could to seize these natural analogies, to illustrate and defend by them the worship which we Catholics render to the saints.

On the other hand, I have aimed to show the reason and propriety of this worship in the admitted mysteries of our faith itself, and to demonstrate that it flows logically from the great mysteries of creation and Incarnation. We worship God in His works because He enters and remains in them by His creative act. We worship God in His humanity because by His assumption of human nature He has made it henceforth and forever His own nature, and inseparable in our worship from His divine nature. We reverence His saints for their imitation, through grace, of His merits; their union, through regeneration, with Him; and their inseparability from Him in glory. We could not render Him a full and complete worship if we excluded His saints, for they make but one with Him, and are included in the TOTUS CHRISTUS, as Saint Augustine teaches; nor could we give full expression to our love of Him if we did not suffer it to extend to all that He loves, or that is in any way related to Him.

Moreover, as in the Incarnation Our Lord assumed flesh, a real body, and as in the human body are all the elements of the lower creation, He has by His assumption united all material nature to Himself as final cause, as in creation all are united to Him as first cause, so that God is all and in all; and all lower orders of creation, since all proceed from God for man and return to Him in man, are sacred and entitles in their degree to share in the honor we owe to God in His humanity.

I have endeavored also to show that the worship of the saints is the best practical protection of the faithful against the errors of atheism, pantheism, and idolatry, and [the best means] to keep fresh in their minds and hearts faith in all the great mysteries of Christian revelation. All the practices authorized by the Church are dictated by Christian dogmas, and preserve them in our faith by realizing them in our lives. No one who is devout to Mary can forget the Incarnation and what depends on it; no one who prays to a saint can doubt the future life, or regard the joys of heaven as a poetic dream; no one who honors the relics of a great servant of God can hesitate about believing in the resurrection of the body. There is a remarkable proof of this in the fact that all the sects that reject the worship of Mary and of the saints, and sneer at sacred relics, crucifixes, pictures and statues of Our Lord and His saints, invariably lose, step by step, their faith in the Christian mysteries, and fall into naked rationalism, or a vague sentimentalism which depends on no dogma and respects no dogmatic teaching. The Church teaches us our faith and preserves it by training us to live it, and hence the great masters of spiritual life have always considered a tender devotion to Mary and the saints as a sign of election, and the want of it as an unfavorable symptom.

I have endeavored to express myself in clear and intelligible language, and, as far as I could, in exact language; but I have intentionally avoided the phraseology usually adopted, because I think that it has become in some respects routine, and hundreds and thousands read it without once seriously asking themselves what it really means; and also because non-Catholics have read or heard attached to it a false and erroneous sense, which has prejudiced them against us, and I have wished to use language which would not mislead them, but in fact convey their minds our real meaning. It has been thought by some that I have failed in this respect by using the word worship. In the restricted sense of the word commonly adopted, we do not worship Mary or the saints; but that restricted sense is not its only or its leading sense, and I have been unable to find any other English word that fully expresses what is meant by cultus in Latin. I explained at the outset the sense in which I have used it, a proper sense, for worship is of various kinds and degrees, and no intelligent reader can for a moment suppose that I mean that we worship the saint with the same worship we give to God.

If my articles have been profitable to no others, their preparation has been profitable to me, and has given me much peace and serenity of mind, quickened my love to Mary and to the saints of Our Lord, and rendered dearer both the Catholic faith and the Catholic worship. I bless God for "the communion of saints," and beg them to pray for me, that I may not be lost.