Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Lack of Prayer to the Holy Spirit in the NT as an Analogy to the Invocation and Intercession of the Saints and Angels ("Adomnan")

By Dave Armstrong (6-7-08)

This is a very clever argument (and I think probably a fairly original one) that had never occurred to me before. Protestants will argue that they see nothing explicit or direct in the New Testament about asking saints to pray for us (I've compiled much indirect argumentation, and some arguably direct, but unreasonably rejected as such by Protestants). "Adomnan": a Catholic commenter on my blog, made the argument in one of my comboxes that this is also true of prayer to the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, by analogy, if direct biblical proof is required for invoking saints and asking them to pray for us, then by analogy, it is required for prayer to the Holy Spirit as well. But it is lacking there, too. Therefore (taking this Protestant reasoning to its logical conclusion), prayer to the Holy Spirit should also be forbidden. Ergo: one can't forbid intercession of the saints without also prohibiting prayer to the Holy Spirit.

As this "proves too much" and is what is called a reductio ad absurdum in classical logic, the Protestant must then abandon his undue demand that express biblical proofs are required for the notion of asking saints to pray for us. In fact, both cases are perfectly permissible, and both are based on an abundance of indirect or deductive biblical data.

"Adomnan's" words will be in blue; mine in black, "Dominicanis"' words in green; "Grubb's" in red. I have condensed and edited his words somewhat for smoother presentation. He also later retracted a related argument he had made about prayer to Jesus, and so I have omitted those portions of his original argument, per his modified position. See my related paper, "Prayer to Jesus in the NT / Prayer to All Three Persons in the Trinity (Perichoresis / Circumincession)."

* * * * *

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that there is no explicit instruction in the Bible to pray to the Holy Spirit, or even to Jesus Christ. I know that Paul and others instruct us to pray "in the Spirit" and say that the Spirit will aid us in our prayers, but they never instruct us to pray TO the Spirit. Or at least I can't think of any instances where they do. In short, if we were to apply [regular Protestant visitors to my blog] Grubb's and Rev. [Ken] Temple's principle that we should only pray as the Bible instructs us to, then we should never pray to the Holy Spirit.

In other words, the same rationale that is used to argue against praying to saints and angels applies as well to prayers to the Holy Spirit: Neither is explicitly taught in the Bible. But maybe I've overlooked something. Can Grubb or Rev. Temple (or anyone else) adduce New Testament prayers to the Holy Spirit?

Conclusion: The Bible appears to have nothing like a prayer to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Bible does not instruct us to pray to [the Holy Spirit]. And so prayers to the Holy Spirit are extra-Biblical, just as are prayers to saints and angels. The Bible frequently teaches that the Holy Spirits assists us when we pray, but that is not the same as praying to the Spirit.

Just to make myself clear: I am Catholic and have no objection to praying to the Holy Spirit. My point is that prayer to [the Holy Spirit] is not explicitly taught in the Scriptures and thus has the same foundation in the tradition of the Church as does prayer to saints and angels. Both forms of prayer can find considerable biblical support, but neither is explicitly taught in the Bible. My aim in presenting this argument is to counter the notion, put forth by Grubb and possibly supported by Ken, that we are only to pray in ways that the Bible explicitly instructs us to. This would preclude prayer to the Holy Spirit, but Protestants like Grubb and Ken do pray to the Holy Spirit. Thus, they are caught in a contradiction.

The fact remains that neither prayer to saints and angels nor prayer to the Holy Spirit is explicitly enjoined by the Bible, and so one must use inferences, which are of course always debatable, to provide a biblical foundation for these practices.
What is undeniable though is that the Bible never instructs anyone to pray to the Spirit. The [main] form of prayer attested in the New Testament is to the Father in the Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ. If you're relying solely on the Bible to know how to pray, you shouldn't be praying to the Spirit.

I would not be surprised if there were in fact some Puritan sola scripturists who refused to pray to the Holy Spirit and who "invoked Jesus's name" but did not otherwise pray to him.

I offered an indirect proof of prayer to the Holy Spirit, but since it is not direct, it does not overcome the argument in and of itself:
Romans 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
If the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and He is God (thus omniscient and able to hear our prayers), we can pray to Him. Compare:

1 Corinthians 2:10-11 God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
The argument from lack of explicit prayer to the Holy Spirit works, because one can only find, I believe, at best, implicit indications of it in the NT, whereas I can and have produced several good indications of intercession of the saints.

Protestant commenter Grubb asked someone else: "So you would agree there's no examples or instances of anyone praying to angels or heavenly saints in the Bible?" I replied:

We have the angels in heaven and what many commentators think are dead human beings ("24 elders") offering the prayers of the saints to God in Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4. We have dead men praying for those on earth in Revelation 6:9-10. The indirect argument is pretty compelling, I think:
1) We ask others to pray for us.

2) Those who die in Christ are still alive and part of the Body of Christ too.

3) Saints in heaven are aware of earthly events.

4) We see them praying for us in at least one instance in the Bible.

5) The prayer of a righteous man avails much.

6) Saints are perfected in holiness and sanctity.

7) Therefore their prayers would have much power.

8) Ergo, we can ask them to intercede to God for us.
The same would apply to an angel: a creature that had never fallen. The Bible certainly shows that angels are aware of earthly events and care about us, too.

Blog participant "Dominicanis" (presumably Catholic) also offered an excellent short exposition of the invocation and intercession of the saints:

What does it mean to "pray"?
Pray–verb (used with object)

1. to offer devout petition, praise, thanks, etc., to (God or an object of worship).

2. to offer (a prayer).

3. to bring, put, etc., by praying: to pray a soul into heaven.

4. to make earnest petition to (a person).

5. to make petition or entreaty for; crave: She prayed his forgiveness.

6. to enter into spiritual communion with God or an object of worship through prayer.

–verb (used without object)

7. to make entreaty or supplication, as to a person or for a thing.
Given the wide range of definitions, what does it mean for a Catholic to "pray to the angels and saints"? Well, it doesn't mean definition 1 or 6. It means definition 4, 5 or 7. We are called to pray with one another (where two or three are gathered in My Name, etc.) and for one another, and even for those who aren't Christian.

But is there any place in the Bible where angels (or saints, for that matter) are addressed in an entreaty, an exhortation to join with someone in prayer? Please go to Psalms 103:20-22 and 148. In both, King David addressed the angels and all the Heavenly hosts to join in his prayer of praise to God. He specifically used the term "angels" in both places.The Psalms aren't just pretty songs; they contain prophesy, example, and instruction, and they are one long succession of prayers. David prayed for help, deliverance, forgiveness, and more, and he also prayed in thanksgiving. It is in his thankful prayers that he calls on the angels and the hosts to join with him, as if they are all one family in their love for God.

That is what the saints and angels are: those who are in Heaven and can intercede to Christ on our behalf. A sinful man who repents but still struggles with sin here on earth will be heard, but as James wrote in his letter, chapter 5, it is the fervent prayer of a righteous man that is very powerful. He cited the example of Elijah, whom he called nothing more than a man, who was able to bring on and alleviate a severe drought by the efficacy of his prayers.

When we pray to the angels and saints, we do not offer the same type of prayer we give to Christ; we in essence ask them the same thing we'd ask of a fellow Christian here on earth. To a Catholic, the saints aren't dead. They are perfectly alive in the Presence of God, able to see Him face to face, and their prayers, like Elijah's, are very powerful because God wills it to be that way. . . .

David [in Psalm 148] exhorts all of creation to join with him in praising God. Nowhere does he directly address God in that one. Both provide examples of prayer as making a fervent entreaty, not as an act of worship. This entreaty is what praying to saints and angels is, so it is not unseemly or unbiblical to pray that way. . . .

As for how we can know whether or not those who have left this earthly vale know what goes on here, one may consider the rich man and Lazarus, and how the former begs Abraham to send the latter to warn his erring brothers. If a soul in torment can know things of this earth, how is it not feasible for someone in the Beatific Vision of God, Who knows all, to know something of what goes on here? Is charity for fellow Christians to be absent from those who have been glorified with God in Heaven, Who is Charity Himself? In Revelation 5:8, saints in Heaven offer the "prayers of the saints". Saints are those who do God's Will, whether on Heaven or on earth, so it is not untenable to believe that the prayers being offered to God are from both Heaven and earth. Note, however, that the saints and the angels are involved in presenting them before God.

Contacting spirits through necromancy is absolutely forbidden by the Scriptures, but asking Christians to pray for others is not. (Cf. Tim. 2:1–4, where Paul instructs us all to pray for one another. When one addresses an angel or a saint, he is asking him to join in his prayer, to bring his prayer to Christ, and/or to pray for him.) If the prayers of the righteous Elijah were as efficacious as James described, how much more powerful are the prayers of the righteous who have been perfected in Heaven?

This sort of argument can be applied to many things. I say Scripture says nothing about sola Scriptura, either, and it definitely says nothing about the canon of Scripture (all agree on that). One has to work very hard to squeeze sola Scriptura out of the Bible.

If it is that hard to do, then inevitably, some (usually many) people will distort the true teaching on Christian authority, found in the Bible, and will need the Church. To some extent this is even true of the teaching regarding the Holy Trinity. I think there is plenty in Scripture, but it's not all in one place, and people will distort it and get it wrong many times if they are going by Bible Alone (as the early Arians and other heretics did, while the Church appealed to Bible and tradition and apostolic succession).

The Bible gives authority to the Church, and the Church is needed to clarify, with documents like the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, and the clarifications of the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Chalcedon (451).

Bible Alone just doesn't cut it. That is Adomnan's point, and I agree with it.

Undaunted, Protestant blog regular Grubb continues right on, as if he had never seen (let alone grasped) the above arguments: "Praying to heavenly saints is never sanctioned in the Bible, nor is it encouraged. It's a practice that (even if it had its origins in the 2nd century) didn't become wide spread and common until after the 4th century." Adomnan drives the point home again, by analogy:
Praying to the Holy Spirit is never sanctioned in the Bible, nor is it encouraged. It's a practice that (even if it had its origins in the 2nd century) didn't become widespread and common until after the 4th century.

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