To go or come between two parties to plead before one of them on behalf of the other
Intercession (MEDIATION).—To intercede is to go or come between two parties, to plead before one of them on behalf of the other. In the New Testament it is used as the equivalent of entugchaneln (Vulg. interpellare, in Heb., vii, 25). “Mediation” means a standing in the midst between two (contending) parties, for the purpose of bringing them together (cf. mediator, mesites, I Tim., ii, 5). In ecclesiastical usage both words are taken in the sense of the intervention primarily of Christ, and secondarily of the Blessed Virgin and the angels and saints, on behalf of men. It would be better, however, to restrict the word mediation to the action of Christ, and intercession to the action of the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints. In this article we shall briefly deal with: I. the Mediation of Christ; and at more length with, II. the intercession of the saints.
I. In considering the Mediation of Christ we must distinguish between His position and His office. As God-man He stands in the midst between God and man, partaking of the natures of both, and therefore, by that very fact, fitted to act as Mediator between them. He is, indeed, the Mediator in the absolute sense of the word, in a way that no one else can possibly be. “For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim., ii, 5). He is united to both: “The head of every man is Christ… the head of Christ is God” (I Cor., xi, 3). His office of Mediator belongs to Him as man, His human nature is the principium quo, but the value of His action is derived from the fact that it is a Divine Person Who acts. The main object of His mediation is to restore the friendship between God and man. This is attained first by the meriting of grace and remission of sin, by means of the worship and satisfaction offered to God by and through Christ. But, besides bringing man nigh unto God, Christ brings God nigh unto man, by revealing to man Divine truths and commands—He is the Apostle sent by God to us and the High-Priest leading us on to God (Heb., iii, 1). Even in the physical order the mere fact of Christ’s existence is in itself a mediation between God and man. By uniting our humanity to His Divinity He united us to God and God to us. As St. Athanasius says, “Christ became man that men might become gods” (“De Incarn.”, n. 54; cf. St. Augustine, “Serm. De Nativitate Dom.”, St. Thomas, III, Q. i, a. 2). And for this Christ prayed: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee… I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John, xvii, 21-23). The subject of Christ’s mediation belongs properly to the articles Doctrine of the Atonement; Jesus Christ; Redemption (q.v.). See also St. Thomas, III, Q. xxvi; and the treatises on the Incarnation.
II. We shall here speak not only of intercession, but also of the invocation of the saints. The one indeed implies the other; we should not call upon the saints for aid unless they could help us. The foundation of both lies in the doctrine of the Communion of Saints (q.v.). In the article on this subject it has been shown that the faithful in heaven, on earth, and in purgatory are one mystical body, with Christ for their head. All that is of interest to one part is of interest to the rest, and each helps the rest: we on earth by honoring and invoking the saints and praying for the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven by interceding for us. The Catholic doctrine of intercession and invocation is set forth by the Council of Trent, which teaches that “the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their own prayers to God for men. It is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, and help for obtaining benefits from God, through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Who alone is our Redeemer and Savior. Those persons think impiously who deny that the Saints, who enjoy eternal happiness in heaven, are to be invoked; or who assert either that they do not pray for men, or that the invocation of them to pray for each of us is idolatry, or that it is repugnant to the word of God, and is opposed to the honor of the one Mediator of God and men, Jesus Christ” (Sess. XXV). This had already been explained by St. Thomas: “Prayer is offered to a person in two ways: one as though to be granted by himself, another as to be obtained through him. In the first way we pray to God alone, because all our prayers ought to be directed to obtaining grace and glory which God alone gives, according to those words of the psalm (lxxxiii, 12): `The Lord will give grace and glory.’ But in the second way we pray to the holy angels and to men, not that God may learn our petition through them, but that by their prayers and merits our prayers may be efficacious. Wherefore it is said in the Apocalypse (viii, 4): `And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel'” (Summ. Theol., II-II, Q. lxxxiii, a. 4). The reasonableness of the Catholic teaching and practice cannot be better stated than in St. Jerome’s words: “If the Apostles and Martyrs, while still in the body, can pray for others, at a time when they must still be anxious for themselves, how much more after their crowns, victories, and triumphs are won! One man, Moses obtains from God pardon for six hundred thousand men in arms; and Stephen, the imitator of the Lord, and the first martyr in Christ, begs forgiveness for his persecutors; and shall their power be less after having begun to be with Christ? The Apostle Paul declares that two hundred three score and sixteen souls, sailing with him, were freely given him; and, after he is dissolved and has begun to be with Christ, shall he close his lips, and not be able to utter a word in behalf of those who throughout the whole world believed at his preaching of the Gospel? And shall the living dog Vigilantius be better than that dead lion?” (“Contra Vigilant.”, n. 6, in P.L., XXIII, 344).
The chief objections raised against the intercession and invocation of the saints are that these doctrines are opposed to the faith and trust which we should have in God alone; that they are a denial of the all-sufficient merits of Christ; and that they cannot be proved from Scripture and the Fathers. Thus Article xxii of the Anglican Church says: “The Romish doctrine concerning the Invocation of Saints is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of. God.”
In the article Adoration (q.v.) it has been clearly shown that the honor paid to angels and saints is entirely different from the supreme honor due to God alone, and is indeed paid to them only as His servants and friends. “By honoring the Saints who have slept in the Lord, by invoking their intercession and venerating their relics and ashes, so far is the glory of God from being diminished that it is very much increased, in proportion as the hope of men is thus more excited and confirmed, and they are encouraged to the imitation of the Saints” (Cat. of the Council of Trent, pt. III, c. ii, q. 11). We can, of course, address our prayers directly to God, and He can hear us without the intervention of any creature. But this does not prevent us from asking the help of our fellow-creatures who may be more pleasing to Him than we are. It is not because our faith and trust in Him are weak, nor because His goodness and mercy to us are less; rather is it because we are encouraged by His precepts to approach Him at times through His servants, as we shall presently see. As pointed out by St. Thomas, we invoke the angels and saints in quite different language from that addressed to God. We ask Him to have mercy upon us and Himself to grant us whatever we require; whereas we ask the saints to pray for us, i.e. to join their petitions with ours. However, we should here bear in mind Bellarmine’s remarks: “When we say that nothing should be asked of the saints but their prayer for us, the question is not about the words, but the sense of the words. For as far as the words go, it is lawful to say: `St. Peter, pity me, save me, open for me the gate of heaven’; also, `Give me health of body, patience, fortitude’, etc., provided that we mean `save and pity me by praying for me’; `grant me this or that by thy prayers and merits.’ For so speaks Gregory of Nazianzus (Orat. xviii—according to others, xxiv—”De S. Cypriano” in P.G., XXXV, 1193; “Orat. de S. Athan.: In Laud. S. Athanas.”, Orat. xxi, in P.G., XXXV, 1128); in “De Sanct. Beatif.”, I, 17. The supreme act of impetration, sacrifice, is never offered to any creature. “Although the Church has been accustomed at times to celebrate certain Masses in honor and memory of the Saints, it does not follow that she teaches that sacrifice is offered unto them, but unto God alone, who crowned them; whence neither is the priest wont to say I offer sacrifice to thee, Peter, or Paul’, but, giving thanks to God for their victories, he implores their patronage, that they may vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven, whose memory we celebrate upon earth” (Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, c. iii). The Collyridians, or Philomarianites, offered little cakes in sacrifice to the Mother of God; but the practice was condemned by St. Epiphanius (Hr., lxxix, in P.G., XLI, 740); Leontius Byzant., “Contra Nest. et Eutych.”, III, 6, in P.G., LXXXVI, 1364; and St. John of Damascus (Haer., lxxix, in P.G., XCIV, 728).
The doctrine of one Mediator, Christ, in no way excludes the invocation and intercession of saints. All merit indeed comes through Him; but this does not make it unlawful to ask our fellow creatures, whether here on earth or already in heaven, to help us by their prayers. The same Apostle who insists so strongly on the sole mediatorship of Christ, earnestly begs the prayers of his brethren: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the charity of the Holy Ghost, that you help me in your prayers for me to God” (Rom., xv, 30); and he himself prays for them: “I give thanks to my God in every remembrance of you, always in all my prayers making supplication for you all” (Phil., i, 3, 4). If the prayers of the brethren on earth do not derogate from the glory and dignity of the Mediator, Christ, neither do the prayers of the saints in heaven.
As regards the proof from Holy Scripture and the Fathers, we can show that the principle and the practice of invoking the aid of our fellow creatures are clearly laid down in both. That the angels have an interest in the welfare of men is clear from Christ’s words: “There shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance” (Luke, xv, 10). In verse 7 He says simply: “There shall be joy in heaven”. Cf. Matt., xviii, 10; Heb., i, 14. That the angels pray for men is plain from the vision of the Prophet Zacharias: “And the angel of the Lord answered, and said: O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem… and the Lord answered the angel… good words, comfortable words” (Zach., i, 12, 13). And the angel Raphael says: “When thou didst pray with tears. I offered thy prayer to the Lord” (Tob., xii, 12) The combination of the prayers both of angels and saints is seen in the vision of St. John: “And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel” (Apoc., viii, 3, 4). God Himself commanded Abimelech to have recourse to Abraham‘s intercession: “He shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live. And when Abraham prayed, God healed Abimelech” (Gen., xx, 7, 17). So, too, in the case of Job‘s friends He said: “Go to my servant Job, and offer for yourselves a holocaust; and my servant Job shall pray for you: his face I will accept” (Job, xlii, 8). Intercession is indeed prominent in several passages in this same Book of Job: “Call now if there be any that will answer thee, and turn to some of the saints” (v, 1); “If there shall be an angel speaking for him… He shall have mercy on him, and shall say: Deliver him, that he may not go down to corruption” (x, xxiii, 23). “They [the angels] appear as intercessors for men with God, bringing men’s needs before Him, mediating in their behalf. This work is easily connected with their general office of laboring for the good of men” (Dillman on Job, p. 44). Moses is constantly spoken of as “mediator”: “I was the mediator and stood between the Lord and you” (Deut., v, 5; cf. Gal., iii, 19, 20). It is true that in none of the passages of the Old Testament mention is made of prayer to the saints, i.e. holy men already departed from this life; but this is in keeping with the imperfect knowledge of the state of the dead, who were still in Limbo. The general principle of intercession and invocation of fellow-creatures is, however, stated in terms which admit of no denial; and this principle would in due course be applied to the saints as soon as their position was defined. In the New Testament the number of the saints already departed would be comparatively small in the early days.
The greatest of the Fathers in the succeeding centuries speak plainly both of the doctrine and practice of intercession and invocation. “But not the High-Priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels… as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep (ai te ton prokekoimemenon agion psuchai, Origen, “De Oratione”, n. xi, in P.G., XI, 448). In many other places Origen uses similar expressions; indeed it may be said that there is hardly any treatise or homily in which he does not refer to the intercession of the angels and saints. St. Cyprian, writing to Pope Cornelius, says: “Let us be mutually mindful of each other, let us ever pray for each other, and if one of us shall, by the speediness of the Divine vouchsafement, depart hence first, let our love continue in the presence of the Lord, let not prayer for our brethren and sisters cease in the presence of the mercy of the Father” (Ep. lvii, in P.L., IV, 358). “To those who would fain stand, neither the guardianship of saints nor the defenses of angels are wanting” (St. Hilary, “In Ps. cxxiv”, n. 5, 6, in P.L., X, 682). “We then commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, that God, by their prayers and intercessions, may receive our petitions” (St. Cyril of Jerus., “Cat. Myst.”, v, n. 9) in P.G., XXXIII, 1166). “Remember me, ye heirs of God, ye brethren of Christ, supplicate the Savior earnestly for me, that I may be freed through Christ from him that fights against me day by day” (St. Ephraem Syrus, “De Timore Anim.”, in fin.). “Ye victorious martyrs who endured torments gladly for the sake of the God and Savior; ye who have boldness of speech towards the Lord Himself; ye saints, intercede for us who are timid and sinful men, full of sloth, that the grace of Christ may come upon us, and enlighten the hearts of all of us that so we may love him” (St. Ephraem, “Encom. in Mart.”). “Do thou, [Ephraem] that art standing at the Divine altar, and art ministering with angels to the life-giving and most Holy Trinity, bear us all in remembrance, petitioning for us the remission of sins, and the fruition of an everlasting kingdom” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, “De vita Ephraemi”, in fin., P.G., XLVI, 850). “Mayest thou [Cyprian] look down from above propitiously upon us, and guide our word and life; and shepherd [or shepherd with me] this sacred flock… gladdening us with a more perfect and clear illumination of the Holy Trinity, before Which thou standest” (St. Gregory of Naz., Orat. xvii—according to others, xxiv—”De S. Cypr.”, P.G., XXXV, 1193). In like manner does Gregory pray to St. Athanasius (Orat. xxi, “In laud. S. Athan.”, P.G., XXXV, 1128). “O holy choir! O sacred band! O unbroken host of warriors! O common guardians of the human race! Ye gracious sharers of our cares! Ye cooperators in our prayer! Most powerful intercessors!” (St. Basil, “Horn. in XL Mart.”, P.G., XXXI, 524). “May Peter, who wept so efficaciously for himself, weep for us and turn towards us Christ’s benignant countenance” (St. Ambrose, “Hexaem.”, V, xxv, n. 90, in P.L., XIV, 242). St. Jerome has been quoted above. St. John Chrysostom frequently speaks of invocation and intercession in his homilies on the saints, e.g. “When thou perceivest that God is chastening thee, fly not to His enemies… but to His friends, the martyrs, the saints, and those who were pleasing to Him, and who have great power” (parresian, “boldness of speech”—Orat. VIII, “Adv. Jud.”, n. 6, in P.G., XLVIII, 937). “He that wears the purple, laying aside his pomp, stands begging of the saints to be his patrons with God; and he that wears the diadem begs the Tent-maker and the Fisherman as patrons, even though they be dead” (“Horn. xxvi, in II Ep. ad Cor.”, n. 5, in P.G., LXI, 581). “At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps” (St. Augustine, “In Joann.”, tr. lxxxiv, in P.L., XXXIV, 1847).
Prayers to the saints occur in almost all the ancient liturgies. Thus in the Liturgy of St. Basil: “By the command of Thine only-begotten Son we communicate with the memory of Thy saints… by whose prayers and supplications have mercy upon us all, and deliver us for the sake of Thy holy name which is invoked upon us”. Cf. the Liturgy of Jerusalem, the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom, the Liturgy of Nestorius, the Coptic Liturgy of St. Cyril, etc. That these commemorations are not later additions is manifest from the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem: “We then commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, that God by their prayers and intercessions may receive our petitions” (“Cat. Myst.”, v, in P.G., XXXIII, 1113). (See Renaudot, “Liturgiarum Orientalium Collectio”, Paris, 1716.)
We readily admit that the doctrine of the intercession of the saints is a development from the teaching of Scripture and that the practice is open to abuse. But if the carefully worded and wholesome decrees of the Council of Trent be adhered to, there is nothing in the doctrine or practice which deserves the condemnation expressed in Article xxii of the Anglican religion. Indeed the High Church Anglicans contend that it is not the invocation of saints that is here rejected, but only the “Romish doctrine”, i.e. the excesses prevailing at the time and afterwards condemned by the Council of Trent. “In principle there is no question herein between us and any other portion of the Catholic Church. Let not that most ancient custom, common to the Universal Church, as well Greek as Latin, of addressing Angels and Saints in the way we have said, be condemned as impious, or as vain and foolish” [Forbes, Bishop of Brechin (Anglican), “Of the Thirty-nine Articles”, p. 422]. The reformed Churches, as a body, reject the invocation of the saints. Article xxi of the Augsburg Confession says: “Scripture does not teach us to invoke the Saints, or to ask for help from the Saints; for it puts before us Christ as the one mediator, propitiatory, high-priest, and intercessor.” In the “Apology of the Augsburg Confession” (ad art. xxi, sects. 3, 4), it is admitted that the angels pray for us, and the saints, too, “for the Church in general”; but this does not imply that they ‘are to be invoked. The Calvinists, however, reject both intercession and invocation as an imposture and delusion of Satan, since thereby the right manner of praying is prevented, and the saints know nothing of us, and have no concern as to what passes on earth (“Gall. Confess.”, art. xxiv; “Remonst. Conf.” c. xvi, sect. 3).
T. B. SCANNELL