Canonization, Saints, and Christ Our Only Mediator

The AP ran a story yesterday on the naming of seven new Roman “saints.” According to the story,

“Two of the new saints were Americans: Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint from the U.S., and Mother Marianne Cope, a 19th century Franciscan nun who cared for leprosy patients in Hawaii.”

In Romanist usage, a “saint” is not simply a believer in Jesus Christ or a member of visible congregation. That would be the biblical usage (e.g., Rom 1:7). In Romanist usage, a “saint” is a “holy one” who has lived his life “in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, s.v., “Saint”). When saints are “named” by the Bishop of Rome it is the culmination of a usually lengthy process of “canonization,” or the

solemn declaration by the Pope that a deceased member of the faithful may be proposed as a model and intercessor to the Christian faithful and venerated as a saint on the basis of the fact that the person lived a life of heroic virtue or remained faithful to God through martyrdom (ibid, s.v., “Canonization.”) [emphasis added]

“Intercession” means “a form of prayer or petition on behalf of others” (ibid, s.v., “Intercession”). According to Romanist dogma Christ is our “unique” intercessor but he is not our only intercessor. According to Rome, deceased Christians have the ability to hear and answer prayers. Alleged evidence of such intercession is a necessary part of the process of canonization of a saint. According to Rome, the Blessed Virgin is “sometimes called a Mediatrix in virtue of a her cooperation in the saving mission of Christ…” (ibid, s.v., “Mediator”).

By “veneration” Rome means,

Showing devotion and respect to Mary, the Apostles, and the martyrs, who were viewed as faithful witnesses to faith in Jesus Christ. Later, veneration was given to those who led a life of prayer and self-denial in giving witness to Christ, whose virtues were recognized and publicly proclaimed in their canonization as saints (ibid, s.v., “Veneration.”)

Devotion is not restricted to the persons and acts of the canonized saints. No, it extends to

the relics and or remains of those recognized as saints; indeed to many sacred objects and images. [emphasis original]

Rome distinguishes veneration from “adoration” and “worship” which is reserved for God.

As noted above, Scripture speaks of “saints” but there is not a scintilla of evidence that Scripture knows anything about intercession by saints or veneration of them. In the NT, “saints” (αγιος) are raised from the dead (Matt 27:52) at the moment of Christ’s death. In Acts 9:13, 32, 41, 26:10, Romans 15:25, 31, 16:2,15; Eph 2:19 it refers to living believers or members of the visible church. In Romans 8:27 it is the Holy Spirit who is said to intercede for believers. In Ephesians 6:18 we are to pray for “the saints,” i.e., living, fellow believers. There is nothing in this text about praying to believers and nothing that suggests that the believers are even deceased. Even in Rev 5:8, where we are given a symbolic picture of heaven, where the prayers of the saints are said to be present, there is no indication that these are anything other than the prayers of believers living on earth, crying out to God for help in a time of distress. In the Revelation the “saints” are those who are suffering on this earth for the sake of their visible identification with Christ.

They are not the recipients of prayer and certainly not of veneration. The saints, in the Revelation, are venerating Christ! In the world described for us in the Revelation, for one to venerate any other beside the Holy Trinity, would be unthinkable.

Perhaps the finest Reformed response to the Romanist practice of canonization by the church, of veneration of saints by Christians, and alleged intercession by deceased Christians for us living Christians, is the rebuke to Rome in Belgic Confession article 26:

We believe that we have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor: Jesus Christ the Righteous.

He therefore was made man, uniting together the divine and human natures, so that we human beings might have access to the divine Majesty. Otherwise we would have no access.
But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between himself and us, ought not terrify us by his greatness, so that we have to look for another one, according to our fancy. For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does.

Although he was “in the form of God,” he nevertheless “emptied himself,” taking the form of “a man” and “a servant” for us; and he made himself “completely like his brothers.” Suppose we had to find another intercessor. Who would love us more than he who gave his life for us, even though “we were his enemies”? And suppose we had to find one who has prestige and power. Who has as much of these as he who is seated “at the right hand of the Father,” and who has all power “in heaven and on earth”? And who will be heard more readily than God’s own dearly beloved Son?

So then, sheer unbelief has led to the practice of dishonoring the saints, instead of honoring them. That was something the saints never did nor asked for, but which in keeping with their duty, as appears from their writings, they consistently refused.

We should not plead here that we are unworthy—for it is not a question of offering our prayers on the basis of our own dignity but only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith.

Since the apostle for good reason wants us to get rid of this foolish fear—or rather, this unbelief—he says to us that Jesus Christ was “made like his brothers in all things,” that he might be a high priest who is merciful and faithful to purify the sins of the people.

For since he suffered, being tempted, he is also able to help those who are tempted. And further, to encourage us more to approach him he says, “Since we have a high priest, Jesus the Son of God, who has entered into heaven, we maintain our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to have compassion for our weaknesses, but one who was tempted in all things, just as we are, except for sin. Let us go then with confidence to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace, in order to be helped.”

The same apostle says that we “have liberty to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus. Let us go, then, in the assurance of faith….” Likewise, “Christ’s priesthood is forever. By this he is able to save completely those who draw near to God through him who always lives to intercede for them.” What more do we need? For Christ himself declares: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to my Father but by me.” Why should we seek another intercessor?

Since it has pleased God to give us his Son as our Intercessor, let us not leave him for another—or rather seek, without ever finding. For when God gave him to us he knew well that we were sinners.

Therefore, in following the command of Christ we call on the heavenly Father through Christ, our only Mediator, as we are taught by the Lord’s Prayer, being assured that we shall obtain all we ask of the Father in his name.

Jesus has made believers into saints by the imputation of his righteousness and is bringing us progressively into conformity to himself by his Word and Spirit. That is why we speak of “sanctification” or “being made holy” or “being made saints.” God only is to be worshiped, adored, and venerated. God alone has power to hear our prayers and he alone has power to answer them.

It is not enough to say that Jesus is the “unique” Mediator. No one has loved us like Jesus has loved us. He is our sole intercessor. Death does not confer ubiquity or omniscience. At death Christians are glorified but they are not deified. Were deceased believers able to hear our our prayers they would be shocked and horrified by such manifest impiety.

Read the book of Hebrews. Jesus is the only High Priest. His is the once-for-all sacrifice. He is the only Mediator and intercessor.

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One comment

  1. Well said Dr. Clark. I recently read through the Roman Catechism, and I see it the same way. The Bible clearly that Christ is the sole mediator and high priest in the covenant of grace.

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