Saint Worship - Part 2

No one can be at all familiar with the Holy Scriptures without being struck with the frequency and the loving manner in which our God calls upon us to worship Him in His works, both in the material universe and in His saints. The Psalms of David especially are full of these touching invitations.

There is a profound philosophy, as well as true and evident piety, in such worship. God is in His creatures as well as they in Him. It is He who creates all things from nothing by the power of His own word, and all creatures exist by Him, and in Him have their being. The pantheist has a truth, a great truth, but unhappily he misinterprets and misapplies it. This truth is, that God is immanent as first cause in all His works; the error is in identifying God’s works with [God] Himself – in denying their real, substantial existence.

God does not create existences as man makes a watch, which, when wound up, may be left to go of itself. He remains always efficaciously present in them, and it is his creative act that calls and continues them in existence, and gives them their life and activity. Hence the apostle tells us: "In him we live, and move, and are," or have our being, which is literally true. No creature has its being in itself: for any existence that has its being in itself is self-existent, and therefore is God. The creature exists from God, and therefore has its being in God, or God in its being. Nothing exists without being, and as God is the universal, eternal, immutable, and only being, every creature does and must in its degree participate of God, and be in a participated sense divine.

This is the truth which the pantheist misapprehends and misapplies. The creature is not God, any more than the act is the actor; but in like manner as the act is only by the actor, and the actor enters into the act, so does God enter into His creature, and it exists only by participating in His Being. I shall, when I come to speak of the worship of the saints in reference to their own personal merits or worth, show that creatures have a substantial existence distinguishable, though inseparable, from God, and are, as philosophers say, second causes capable, through the efficacy of the first cause, of acting from their own central life or activity. Here, however, I wish to fix attention on their intimate relation to God, and their participation in His essence.

The pantheist is right in asserting the immanence of the creative act, and so far, the identity of the creature with the Creator, but wrong in supposing the Creator directly immanent as being, instead of being immanent only through the medium of his creative act, or in the respect of the actor enters into his act, or the act necessarily partakes of the essence of the actor. The pantheist is therefore wrong in supposing that the creature has, in himself, in the secondary and relative sense, no real action or productive force. By virtue of the creative act of God, every creature participates of the divine being or essence; and as God in His essence is triune, all His creatures in some sense reproduce or imitate, each in its order or degree, the holy and ineffable Trinity.

Hence it is that all religions and all philosophers recognize in some form the sacred triad. It enters into all things, into the human mind, into the human heart, and is the real type and basis in reasoning of what logicians call the syllogism. Many a syllogism has been constructed to demonstrate the impossibility of the Trinity, but if there were no Trinity, the syllogism itself would be false; in like manner as, if there were no God, there could be no atheist. The creature partakes of, and in some manner [reveals], the divine essence. The creature, the participant, is not God, but that which is participated by the creature is God, is literally and truly the divine essence. As God in His very essence is the being, as distinguished from the substantive existence, of every creature, He can be worshiped without idolatry in everything He has made. God is everywhere and in everything, and nothing is without Him, and everywhere and in everything He is God, and to be worshiped as such.

Moreover, we know God, and can, till glorified, know, and therefore worship Him, only through the medium of His works – His works of creation and revelation. We do not and cannot know God in this life as He is in Himself; we can know Him only as He enters into His works and manifests Himself through them – His works of nature and of grace.

The God manifest in creation and of whom all creatures participate is the one living and true God, and infinitely more than creatures manifest; but we know Him only as He manifests Himself, and only so much of Him as He manifests, through them. We know they do not exhaust Him, that He is beyond and above them, even beyond and above all that the Gospel reveals of Him; but in the respect that He transcends them, He is to us [above the] intelligible, and we can worship Him only as He manifests Himself in and through them. Through them – nature and grace – we know He is, and is infinitely more than they reveal; but it is only in them that we as it were touch Him, and lay our heads on His Bosom, or prostrate ourselves before Him and kiss His Feet.

All things partake of Him, and hence in all things is something sacred and divine, and this teaches us that nothing is to be condemned or despised. Something of God, if I may so speak, enters into every creature, into the animal, the plant, the mineral, or as men say, brute matter. All is instinct with life and activity, and in all life and activity are present the power and goodness, the very Being, of God, the Creator and Preserver. Hence the sympathy of all great saints with the lower creation, and the sort of brotherhood with man which Saint Francis of Assisi recognized in animals, beasts, birds, fishes, and the humble worm – a brotherhood authorized by the profoundest philosophy as well as by the most ardent and diffusive charity. In a word, God is in the worm, the sparrow, the lamb, the lily, the rose, the ruby, the diamond, as in man and angels; and the true lover of God delights to trace Him in all things, and in all to render Him homage.

Out of this profound truth that God is everywhere and in everything have sprung all the beautiful and graceful mythologies of the ancient gentile world. The error of these mythologies was that they mistook the participant for the participated, or confounded the creature with the Creator. Instead of seeing the one creative divinity in every fountain and grove, they peopled the fountain and grove with nymphs and naiads, dryads and hamadryads, and made every existence a divinity, and worshipped the rivers and the ocean, the winds and the storms, the forests and the mountains, "four-footed beasts and creeping things," and gave to the creature the glory due only to the Creator. The gentiles were inexcusable, they blinded themselves, for the true God was known; "for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made – his eternal power also and divinity." Yet in all those mythologies the worship of nature, of its various objects, and its generative and destructive forces, which gave birth to the most obscene and abominable rites, was at bottom only the perversion of the truth that God is in His works and is to be worshiped in them. The worship of God in His works, especially in His saints, was older than any mythology, as truth is always older than its abuse or perversion.

Piety, the true religious spirit, seeks God everywhere and in everything, and prostrates itself in worship wherever it finds Him. For it, nature, as a whole and in all its parts, is a temple of the Most High, filled with His Shekinah, or glory. And in which of His works does He more clearly reveal Himself than in His saints? The saint is a far higher creation than external nature, and a single saint is more than the whole external universe; for in the saint is completed the work of which nature is only the initial part. The saint participates of God as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, and Glorifier. He manifests God in His works both of nature and of grace, in His initial and completed works, and is the highest and most perfect manifestation of His divinity. How, then, without knowing Him in His saints, are we to attain to our highest and fullest knowledge of Him? Or how, without worshiping Him in His saints, can we give Him the worship that is His due, or that fills and satisfies the heart of the worshiper?

The saint is sanctified and made a saint by the incarnate God, and the humanity hypostatically united to the Word in the Incarnation is itself, in union with the Word, from whom it is inseparable, an object of worship: and we are to worship the Son incarnated as we worship the Father. The saint participates of the Son in His humanity as this participates of Him in His divinity; and therefore, to give a full and complete worship to the Son, and to God, we must worship Him in the saint, and more especially in her in whose chaste womb the sacred humanity was taken, the queen or most perfect of all saints.

We do not invoke the intercession of the saints because they are nearer to us than God, but for a reason which will hereafter be given. The saints are not nearer to us than God, nor so near. They are not more compassionate, or more readily touched by our infirmities, or more disposed to aid us, than is God Himself. They do not and cannot interpose between us and God, and however ready they may be to succor us, their readiness like their power comes from God, and from Him alone. Nothing can be nearer to us than God, for in Him we live and move and have our being: vivimus, et movemur, et sumus. No creature can be more compassionate or ready to succor us than God Himself, Who so loved us that while we were yet sinners He gave His only-begotten Son to die on the cross, that we might have eternal life and not perish everlastingly. He loves us with an infinite love, compassionates us with an infinite compassion; no mother can care so tenderly for her sucking child as He cares for us, and not even Mary can so earnestly desire our salvation as He does.

The principle of all saint-worship is primarily in the fact that God is really and truly in His works, in all his works, but more especially in His saints; and He is to be worshipped wherever He is, not alone on Mount Moriah, or on Mount Garizim. The only point to be observed is, that it is God in the work, not the work abstracted from Him, that must be the real object of worship, when worship is taken in its highest religious sense. The worship of God in His works in the sense explained is not idolatry, and so long as [there] is clearly and distinctly preserved the idea of creation, it can never degenerate into idolatry. The heathen became idolaters because they lost the conception of creation, and fell into some form of pantheism, confounding the creature with the Creator.

I shall speak further on of the relative worship of the saints, which, though it grows out of the worship of God in His works, is distinguishable from it. I will only direct attention now to the new aspect it gives to all creation when we learn to connect the works intimately with the Creator, and to recognize the great fact that He is really and truly in them, and that in them all we may see Him, love Him, and worship Him. If I am right in my view, the coolest philosophy comes to defend and justify the most ardent and diffusive piety, and to show that a Saint Francis of Assisi, in his most extravagant sympathy with all created things, only proved that his mind and soul lived in the medium of the highest and divinest truth. All thy works, O God, partake of Thee, and in Thee are sacred, holy, divine, and truly filled with thy loveliness and glory.