Saint Worship - Part 3

The worship of God in His works, therefore in His saints is the worship of God Himself, and is distinguishable from the cultus sanctorum, or worship, not of God in His saints, but of the saints themselves practiced by Catholics and authorized by the Church – the worship which Protestants object to as giving to the creature the homage that is due to the Creator. The objection would be valid if we offered to the saints the supreme religious worship which we offer to God in the saints, or if we worshiped them as God. This, however, is not the fact, as has already been asserted, and as will more fully appear in its due place. It suffices here to show that the creature, especially the saint, has worth deserving of honor or worship.

The basis of the worship of saints is the fact that they have real worth; and worth, wherever it is found, deserves to be recognized and honored; and to recognize and to honor worth is to worship. The question as to the propriety of saint-worship resolves itself, therefore, into the question as to the personal worth or merit of the saint. Has the saint so far a hand in his sanctity or worth that it may be called his? The question so stated tells us at once why those sectarians who deny free will, or assert irresistible grace, making man purely passive, not personally active in the work of his sanctification, must, to be consistent with themselves, reject all saint-worship as idolatry, or as giving to the creature what is due to God alone.

To resolve the question fully, we must revert again to the creative act of God. The vital importance of the primal fact that God is the Creator of heaven and earth and all things therein, visible and invisible, is not sufficiently felt even by many who call themselves Christians; and perhaps nothing is better fitted to keep it fresh in the memory, and to impress it deeply on the heart, than this very practice of saint-worship, so often objected to as tending to obscure it; for in losing sight of the ability of the creature to act and merit, we lose sight of creation itself, and fall, consciously or unconsciously, into pantheism.

It is not unworthy of remark here that the principal thing that distinguished the people of Israel from the surrounding nations was precisely the assertion of God as the Creator of everything that exists as in any sense distinguishable from Himself. The gentiles never wholly lost sight of the unity of God, and underlying and hovering over all ancient mythologies is the great truth of the divine unity; but all nations except the Israelites had lost the tradition of creation. Even in Plato and Aristotle, the noblest representatives of gentile wisdom, you find no trace of it. The great gentile apostasy was not primarily in denying the unity of God, as so many suppose, but in denying His creative act. Hence Moses begins the [Book of] Genesis by asserting God as Creator; and he tells his people the literal truth: that there is no nation so great, whose gods are so night to them, as their God is to their petitions. The gods the heathen worshiped were not creators, nor held to be such.

The modern apostasy is, at bottom, the same as the gentile apostasy. Its essential denial is the denial of creation, which is the essence of pantheism, as that of atheism is the denial of God not only as Creator but as Being. There can be no doubt, to the philosophic mind, that the germs of the pantheistic denial were contained from the first in what are called the doctrines of the Reformation, especially the doctrine of the reformers regarding grace, free will, and human merit. For my pat, I am more struck with Luther’s bad philosophy than I am with his bad theology, and it is some relief to find that so wretched a philosopher held the scholastics as well as the councils of the Church in contempt. Protestantism in its original and essential character involved the denial of all second causes, at least in the order of grace; and hence we find the really thinking men among Protestants either tending to return to the Church, or pushing onwards the pantheism to which all heresy in every age or nation inevitably tends.

It is therefore of the greatest importance to the cause of truth, sound theology, and philosophy, that we revive and keep fresh in our minds and hearts the first verse of Genesis, and the first article of the Creed.

I have defended the worship of God in His works by showing that He remains as first cause in them, and that they exist only as they participate, through His creative act, of His being. All worship, all religion, is founded on the relation which subsists by virtue of the creative act between God and His creatures. Religion is that which binds man to God, and there is no bond but the creative act, of which the worship of God is the recognition. Deny that bond and religion would have no real basis, and worship would have no reason in the nature of things, but would be artificial, arbitrary, and false.

But the immanence of God in His works as their first cause is not the only fact taught us by the creative act; nor is the fact that God in His works is the one living, eternal, and immutable God the only thing it imports us to consider. We have learned, indeed, thus far, that God is night unto every one of us, and that it is in Him that we live, and move, and have our being; but if we consider it well, we learn also that, in Him, we do live and move, do really and truly exist. God creates us, but He creates us real, substantial existences, inseparable but distinct from Himself; not indeed independent existences when once created, of sufficiency for ourselves, as Epicureans, deists, and not a few modern savants (who exclude God from the world and disconnect providence from the creative act) absurdly maintain; but still, real, substantial existences which, as upheld by Him, are capable of acting from our own center as second causes, capable of copying or imitating His creative act and producing effects of our own.

All created things, from the highest to the lowest, are active, and really exist so far as they are active. There is no absolute passivity in nature. Whatever is purely passive is null. God, say the theologians, is most pure act, actus purissimus. He is act in His very essence, and nothing exists save insofar as, through the creative act, it participates of His essence. All that exists, even what we call brute matter, is essentially active, instinct with life; and, in the order and degree of its life, resembles or represents the living and eternal God. All that exists, then, is worthy of honor as resembling or representing God, the object of supreme worship; as bearing in some sense and degree the likeness of God – just as we treat with respect the image or picture of a dear, honored friend. All creatures, in that they in their several manners represent or resemble God, have a certain worth and are entitled to some degree of worship. Even the lower creation is not wholly ignoble or worthless; and if it is made to be subservient to man, he is to use it with thankfulness, and not abuse it.

The forms and degrees of life and activity are different in the different orders of creation. Some creature act blindly, as minerals and plants that grow, the water that flows, the winds that blow, the lightning that rends the oak, the storms that sweep over the land, rouse up the ocean, and lash its waves to fury. These act to an end which they see not, and will not, and move by what are called physical laws. Others act from instinct (As men say to hide their ignorance), but as we may say, from simple intelligence, to an end, ad finem, as at least the higher classes of animals. Others still, including man and all existences above him, act not only from intelligence but also from reason, for the sake of the end: propter finem, not merely ad finem.

The characteristic of man, or that which distinguishes him from the mere animal, I take it, is reason, not simply intelligence; for I am unable to deny every degree and form of intelligence to such animals, for instance, as the dog, the horse, or the elephant, to say nothing of the beaver, the rat, the bee, and the ant. The scholastics and theologians generally define man to be a "rational animal": animal plus reason. Reason is the moral faculty and includes both intellect and will; it sees and wills the end, and acts freely for it. The characteristic of man is not, I should say, activity, life, sensation, intelligence, which he has in common with animals, but reason, the moral faculty by virtue of which he is a moral existence, capable of moral action.

Moral existence, or existences endowed with reason, are created in the image and likeness of God in a much higher sense than others are. God is intelligent, intelligence itself, and acts not only intelligently, but rationally, for the sake of an end, and an end supremely good. Both as first cause and as final cause, he acts not only rationally but freely. He freely wills the end, and freely creates for it. He is not forced to create by an external or internal necessity, because He is independent, eternally complete in Himself, and sufficient for Himself. He is not forced to create as an internal necessity of His own nature, as Cousin maintains, nor to fill up, complete, or actualize His Being, as Hegel, confounding the procession of the three Persons in the Godhead with creation ad extra, contends. He cannot, indeed, annihilate or contradict His own Being, and if He acts externally at all must act as He is, as the apostle assures us when He asserts that "it is impossible for God to lie." But He is free to act, or not to act, and to act as He will, restrained by no internal necessity, and hedged in by no real or imaginary laws of nature.

This freedom of God, which gentile philosophy never understood, and which so-called modern science so rashly impugns, is the archetype and ground of all human freedom; and of this freedom all moral existences participate through the creative act. The denial of the divine freedom in creating is the denial of creation itself, and the denial of all moral existence. The assertion of that freedom asserts that God may, if He chooses, create moral existences, or creatures capable of acting freely under a moral law, and therefore of having a moral merit or demerit of their own.

That He has created man such an existence, we know from the general assent of mankind, from divine revelation, and from our own consciousness – especially our own consciences accusing or else excusing us, and which we can no more doubt than we can our own existence. Man, then, has a moral nature, and is personally responsible for [his] actions.

This moral likeness to God, in which man is created, and which renders him not only active as all creatures are, not only intelligently active as many creatures are, but morally active, and capable of imitating the divine model in the moral order, is itself, on the principle already established, deserving of honor and respect; [deserving, i.e.] of some sort or degree of worship, for the sole reason that it is a likeness, however faint, of the Creator Himself.

But this is not all, nor the special ground of saint-worship. God is actively present in all His works, as creating them, enabling them in the order of second causes to act, and sustaining them as the subject of their own acts but not present as their direct subject, as Calvin assumes when he makes God the author of sin. God works in us, giving us the power to will and to do; but the actual willing and doing are our own, both in the order of nature and of grace. Our Lord says, indeed, "Without me you can do nothing"; and Saint Paul says, "I have labored.. Yet not I, but the grace of God with me." Yet, though we can do nothing without Christ, it does not follow that what we do by Him and for Him is not our doing. And though it is grace that does it, grace dwelling in us, elevating us above our natural selves, and giving us more than our natural power to do, it therefore does not follow that grace does it without the participation of our own activity or the concurrence of our will. Grace in relation to the supernatural end of man sustains the subject as an actor in the order of second causes, enables a man to do what, without it, would infinitely exceed his powers; but the doing is his own, and his the merit and the reward, or the demerit and the penalty.

The contrary doctrine, taught by the reformers, involves precisely the same error in the Christian order, or the regeneration, that the denial of creation does in the natural of initial order. It denies that the soul is an actor in the work of her own sanctification, [denies, i.e.] in sanctification the existence of second causes. It is simply pantheism, and denies the creative act by denying that anything is created. In the natural order we are nothing but what God makes us; yet we are something, because He makes us something – an actor in the order of second causes, because He makes us such. In the order of grace – the regeneration, or the new creation, as Saint Paul calls it – and we are nothing but what grace, or Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, makes us; yet we are, as in the natural order, something – an actor – because He makes us so. The new creation is not merited, nor was the first; each is the free act, the gratuitous gift, of God; and in neither is our freedom as secondary cause impaired, but really sustained and confirmed by the very fact that on the part of God the act is free and the gift gratuitous. We are what we are by the grace of God, but we are, none the less, for that; we are able to merit only by virtue of His gratuitous gifts, but that does not deprive us of the ability to merit, because those gifts are precisely what give us that ability.

Now it is on the ability to act and to merit that the propriety of the worship of the saints rests. That worship implies that God has created men substantial existences, has created creatures as second causes, and men as moral actors; and therefore it prevents us from losing sight of the fact of creation and falling into pantheism, from confounding the creature with the Creator. It is one of our best practical safeguards against the ancient gentile as well as the modern Protestant apostasy, for the reason and ground of the worship force the worshiper to keep in mind the distinction between the saint as creature and God as Creator; and whenever we find anyone offended at the worship of the saints, we have reason to fear that his conception of God as Creator is growing obscure, and that there is danger that he may go falling away, and make shipwreck alike of his faith and of his soul.