Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hodge's Errors Exposed, Part Two

In a previous post I looked at the first two of Hodge's objections to Catholic prayers to the saints as reported by Turretinfan. In this post I continue. Again, note that all quotations of Hodge are taken from TF's post.

After a disappointing beginning with his first two objections, Hodge follows with his third:
3. It is derogatory to Christ. As He is the only and sufficient mediator between God and man, and as He is ever willing to hear and answer the prayers of his people, it supposes some deficiency in Him, if we need other mediators to approach God in our behalf.
Now this objection, while we may well respect Hodge's concern for the dignity of our Lord, is a simply stunning example of - what? A double standard? Carelessness? I'm not sure how to describe it. In order to explain why I say this, take a look at the following, which is from Hodge's own theological argument (also in TF's post):
There is but one Mediator between God and man, and but one High Priest through whom we draw near to God. And as intercession is a priestly function, it follows that Christ is our only intercessor. But as there is a sense in which all believers are kings and priests unto God, which is consistent with Christ's being our only king and priest; so there is a sense in which one believer may intercede for another, which is not inconsistent with Christ's being our only intercessor. By intercession in the case of believers is only meant that one child of God may pray for another or for all men. To intercede is in this sense merely to pray for.
Astonishing. I can only hope that there is some gigantic lacuna in TF's post, because if there isn't, Hodge has moved from this perfectly reasonable justification of the legitimacy of Christian intercession - something he denies is in any way derogatory to Christ - to complaining that praying to the saints is nevertheless an infringement on Christ's office of Mediator, in the space of 3 brief paragraphs.

Like I said, astonishing.

And it's also just wrong, for the very reasons that he himself gives. The communion of saints is more than just a nice phrase referring to those Christians still wayfaring in this life; it is a fellowship which includes those who have gone before us, and it's silly to assume that they do not pray for us (and that we may not ask them to do so). I don't have much to say here, since Hodge has so ably refuted himself, so I'll move on to his fourth objection.
4. It moreover is contrary to Scripture, inasmuch as the saints are assumed to prevail with God on account of their personal merits. Such merit no human being has before God. No man has any merit to plead for his own salvation, much less for the salvation of others.
This is a species of a tired old argument that I have addressed many times (and - once again - not just me, but many many others). As to the Scriptural warrant, I've already quoted James 5:16 in the previous post, but let's have it again: "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." And this is consistent with the flipside: "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Ps. 66:18). In other words, what a man does affects whether God hears his prayers and answers them. I don't know how you can draw any other conclusion from this. Even here, though, it's worth pointing out again what St. Augustine affirms: "[W]hat else but His gifts does God crown when He crowns our merits?" Our merits are not our own as though we do not owe them to God. It may also be worth pointing out that it's not as though anyone's prayers - whether those of the saints in heaven or of believers here on earth - actually change God's providential plan for his creatures. Rather, God's purposes are such that he brings them to pass often in answer to the prayers of his people. And again, if he answers the prayers of those here on earth, how much more the petitions of those in heaven?

Finally, here is Hodge's last objection.
5. The practice is superstitious and degrading. Superstition is belief without evidence. The practice of the invocation of saints is founded on a belief which has no support from Scripture. It is calling upon imaginary helpers. It degrades men by turning them from the Creator to the creature, by leading them to put their trust
in an arm of flesh, instead of in the power of Christ. It, therefore, turns away the hearts and confidence of the people from Him to those who can neither hear nor save.
Well, I guess the summary reply is "No, and No, and Heck No." It's not superstitious ("belief without evidence") except possibly on his own standard of evidence - a standard which we certainly reject. We don't adhere to sola scriptura, and for good reason: it's wrong. The fact that the practice of praying to the saints is part of the tradition of the Church is entirely sufficient evidence.

But Hodge also omits any consideration of the sort of evidence employed by the Church when canonizing the departed: namely, the evidence of prayers directed to the departed that have been answered. And the evidence here is simply overwhelming. Now perhaps he will dismiss these miracles as demonic, but this is nothing more than to repeat the Pharisees' dodge that Christ casts out demons by the prince of demons: it's just not credible.

It's nothing but silly calumniating to dismiss the righteous in heaven as "imaginary helpers." Really, this is the sort of ranting nonsense that I would have thought to be beneath a scholar of Hodge's stature. But apparently I am mistaken. And to pray to the saints no more turns us away from God than does the prayer chain at Hodge's local congregation.

By way of conclusion: Hodge's objections don't amount to a hill of sand, and really diminish my opinion of him. I had his Systematic Theology on my shelves for years, as one of those works that I ought to read. I'm sure I'm not the only one. But if this is representative of the quality of his work, then I'm glad I didn't take the time to read more of it.

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