(locutionem latinum ascribe)

Location: Texas, United States

Evangelical Anglo-Catholic Deacon in the Episcopal Church (Dallas). I also received a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary in Historical Theology and Pastoral Ministries and am completing a post-graduate certificate in Anglican Studies from Nashotah House Seminary.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Treatises on Saints and Divine Images – Theory of signs and symbols

What's in a word? As I am typing these sentences how is meaning being transmitted? When I type the word "dog", how do you know to what I am referring?

Language is technically community created. I am able to type "dog". The reason "dog" to English speakers bring the concept it does is because the three symbols 'd', 'o' and 'g' put together in that order are agreed upon to do so. Someone who speaks another language, even if they use the same alphabet, will only know what "dog" means by being taught the connection.

In this way all language is symbolic, each letter represents a sound, and each group of letters represents a word, which in tern represents a concept or object, or something else. One easy way to prove this is that languages change over time. What one symbol means in one generation may take on a new meaning in another like "cool" going from range of temperature to also meaning "interesting".

All communication falls under this paradigm of symbol--->idea, which leads to three ideas:

1)More then one symbol or symbol set my communicate the same idea

2)More then one different ideas may be communicated by the same symbol (even ones that are unrelated)

3)These symbols are defined by those who use them, I am not free to make up my own language, and call it "communication" unless others learn my language.

How does that tie in with veneration and icons?

"Worship", "venerate", "honor" and "prayer" are all English code words intended to communicate different things. So in some contexts (Protestant) "prayer" communicates a specific worship act, but just because another group (Catholic) uses the word doesn't mean they are communicating the same idea. Which is why it is irrelevant to argue over "prayer to the saints" because both sides are using different definitions for the word itself. A better question would be is "communication to the saints valid" because both sides are then speaking the same language.

Another example, which is the one I want to put emphasis on at the moment is worship/veneration/honor. Communication entails more then verbal and written forms. It also includes actions. For instance "sign language" is a language completely done via physical actions. Such things as bowing down and burning candles are in a sense symbols. They may communicate something different in different cultures and contexts. So when it comes to veneration of the saints, the mere act of burning a candle to them, it not in and of itself an act of worship, nor is prostration. Prostration was the main form of worship in the OT, although it was used towards human kings as well and seemed to take on a less then worship concept. But the symbol of candles and prostrations can communicate two different things via the same symbols.

It is then legitimate to say that burning a candle before God and burning one before a person can mean two different things. In the first worship and the second honor.

Therefore the judgment for rightness or wrongness cannot be based on perception via actions, nor inherently by the vocabulary chosen to describe the concepts being done.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Treatises on Saints and Divine Images – Against the Regulative Principle

To begin a defense of using icons or of venerating saints, the first objection that many will have is something along the lines of "its not in the Bible". This of course is a simplistic assertion of a much more nuanced and intellectual theological concept known as the "regulative principle".

The regulative principle can be summed up in the Westminster confession this way:

"The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture." XX1.1

The idea is that anything not commanded by God in scripture is false worship. This became a classic concept in the Reformed (not necessarily Lutheran, and not Anglican) traditions.

Just a few arguments should suffice to show that this is a mistaken concept.

Musical Instruments
Although the OT law is filled with regulations about worship, yet nowhere are the Israelites commanded to worship God with harp, or lyre, or with professional Temple singers. If the regulative principle was true in the OT, then we should expect all these things to be forbidden as un-commanded or at least only allowed after certain divine revelation commanded them. Yet instead we find:

"From the almug wood the king made supports for the house of the LORD, and for the king's house, lyres also and harps for the singers; no such almug wood has come or been seen to this day." 1 Kings 10:12 (NRSV)

Wait…what harps and lyres and singers? Perhaps Solomon is sinning and God should judge him…

"Now these are the singers, the heads of ancestral houses of the Levites, living in the chambers of the temple free from other service, for they were on duty day and night."
1 Chron 9:33 (NRSV)

Bad Levites! How dare they add to God's word by inventing ways of worship. They have appointed special singers and trumpeters for the Temple! But maybe God will send a prophet to correct them!

"all the levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kindred, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with one hundred twenty priests who were trumpeters. It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever," the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God."
2 Chron 5:12-14 (NRSV)

Yet after all that, does God reprimand them for man made worship? Nope, he fills the Temple with his Glory and so shows his acceptance.

While on this topic two minor points should be noted, the book of Psalms was written over time, therefore, each new Psalm was a man made invention, even if it was inspired, God never commanded them to do it, yet he inspired them anyway.

Although there were very detailed instructions for the Tabernacle, God never commanded anyone to build him a Temple. Yet when David decided to build one anyway, God accepted it! (2 Sam 7:1-17) Yes, God did remind him that he does not "dwell in houses made of human hands", and then proceeded to inform him that he would have his son build one anyway. God never commanded, but he did accept it. Furthermore, God never gave any direction in this, and unlike the Tabernacle gave Solomon the apparent creativity to add embellishments as would have been appropriate.

In the book of Esther, after the Jews are saved by the acts of Queen Esther they decide to make a memorial of the day of victory over their enemies:

"These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants. Queen Esther daughter of Abihail, along with the Jew Mordecai, gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent wishing peace and security to all the Jews, to the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, and giving orders that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as the Jew Mordecai and Queen Esther enjoined on the Jews, just as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants regulations concerning their fasts and their lamentations. The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing."
Esth 9:28-32 (NRSV)

Queen Esther invented a Holiday, and it became a feast alongside the others commanded in Scripture and became part of Scripture without direct Divine authorization for doing so.

Even farther, Hanukkah never became recorded in Scripture, yet it is very likely that is what Jesus is celebrating in John 10:22-23, a man made religious holiday.

Speaking of Jesus:

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Matt 3:13-17 (NRSV)

Baptism was never commanded in the OT at all, this was definitely a latter development. A man made religious ritual to signify something God had never commanded. In fact God had commanded other ways to repent, via sacrifices. Yet Jesus not only endorses this man made religious ritual, but considers that he "needs" it to "fulfill all righteousness" which latter becomes incorporated into his Church.

Some will object "of Course Jesus can add to God's revelation, he is God." But this misses the point that Jesus was not the one to invent Baptism, it had already been invented without God's authorization, yet apparently with his approval.

Another example could even be the Apostles appointing Deacons, showing they felt no qualms of having to follow any regulative principle in Church government. I would even argue this applies today, and we are until little direction from Scripture on how exactly to run the Church, so long as general principles are not violated. Yet of all the general principles in scripture, the regulative principle is obviously not one of them. God has endorsed: man made places of worship, songs, worship leaders, additions (instruments), holidays and rituals by God's people.

Therefore, whatever may be said about veneration (not worship, which will be covered) of saints and of using icons, they cannot be objected to on grounds that they "are not in the Bible"

Monday, October 01, 2007

Treatises on Saints and Divine Images, Introduction

In the Protestant/Catholic debate one issue that always comes up is the veneration of the saints. Sometimes on the lay level this digresses into an unhelpful "you worship Mary!", "no we don’t!" childish match.

In defense of a more Catholic understanding, I want to point out five different issues that tend to get muddled, but are not the same.

1) Veneration of the Saints

2) Veneration of Angels

3) Intersession of Saints

4) Intersession of Angels

5) Veneration through Icons

I will argue that it is appropriate to venerate the saints, but not appropriate to seek their intercession. Not appropriate to venerate angels, and irrelevant about seeking their intercession, and permissible to use Icons in worship. (Hence, "more Catholic" vs. "Catholic")

These issues are not all necessarily connected. It may be that the 7th council was wrong about Icons, but right about veneration. Or it may be it is permissible to ask a saint for intercession, but not ok to venerate them. Both sides need to start making these distinctions, which always get lost in the polemical hash.

In the next blog, I'll go into why I think #1 is permissible. If anyone has any prior objections please post them, so I make sure to interact with them as I continue.

One preliminary point needs to be made. My starting presupposition is against a "regulative principle" of Worship. (basically that where Scripture is silent on type of worship or Christian practice, then it is not allowed) Therefore, I'll be arguing for logical connections that lead to these ideas, and am only concerned about conflict with Scripture, not proof-texting these ideas.