First, God bless. I love you all and what I ask is out of curiosity (and perhaps ignorance) with no malicious intent at all. And I want to get a couple things out of the way:
I am not claiming that Catholics pray to the statues
I am not claiming that Catholics worship the statues or the person
So my question is, where does justification of kneeling before a statue or even a small idol or picture to help ones prayers in some way come from?
Can we find evidence in the Bible that has some kneeling before statues, small replicas of other humans, or pictures while praying to God? Now, I’m certain there is nothing in the NT that hints that this should be practiced.
My second question is, who was the first Catholic (whether Pope, Saint or anyone) to state that kneeling before pictures or statues while praying is beneficial in some way?
The prohibition against using imagery in worship is partly based on God’s incorporeality (“for ye saw no manner of form on the day that the LORD spoke unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire”). In contrast, Jesus, revealed as the “word made flesh” in the New Testament can be represented in art, therefore the prohibition would not make sense on that basis.
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze[a] serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Also, please take note that a lot of catholic practices have Jewish roots.
In the Introduction to the book, titled “How I Discovered the Jewish Origins of Catholicism”, essentially giving an overview of his conversion to Catholicism after being a priest in another faith, Dr. Marshall recounts an experience he had talking with a Rabbi in a hospital waiting room (Dr. Marshall was visiting someone as a priest), who told him that Jews believe that “if someone is suffering and you invoke the name of his or her mother in prayer, God will be more merciful in granting your prayer for that person“. Dr. Marshall then goes on to make a connection with the Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary, and goes on from there:
If Jews believed that invoking the mother of someone caused God to be more gracious in answering an intercession, then wouldn’t the name of Mary be worth invoking? Even more, Mary wasn’t just an ordinary mother. She was the only person ever created who could speak to God about our Son. That’s when it hit me. Catholic devotion to Mary is not merely based on sound Christological arguments. Veneration for the Blessed Mother is not just only in the writings of the early Church. Reaching back even further, the Church reveres and invokes the Blessed Mother because it inherited the Jewish custom of showing profound reverence for the spiritual role of the mother in a family. The rabbi’s answer was a surprising confirmation that Catholic customs are rooted in a Jewish understanding of reality.
*This experience opened up an entirely new way of appreciating Christianity, that is to say Catholic Christianity. I soon learned that Orthodox Jews pray for the dead-as do Catholics. Jews have a special ark in their synagogues to house the Word of God. Catholics have a special tabernacle in their churches to house the Word of God made flesh in the Eucharist. All of the fascinating elements of the Old Testament-the liturgies, the holy days, the vestments, the lamps, the vows, the rituals-all of these were preserved or transformed in the sacramental economy of the Catholic Church. *
First of all there is nothing in the bible that says doctrine or practice MUST be found ONLY in the bible, but that’s a whole other Sola Scriptura thread regarding that error. Further, there is NO prohibition about praying to God at a statue. You’ve started out your question realizing Catholics do NOT worship the statues, which is clearly prohibited in the bible.
Also, think about something like a funeral. There is nothing wrong about saying prayers at the funeral site during or after a funeral, yet many Christians do this. No one is worshiping the deceased, let alone his headstone. A statue is the same thing. It is simply a physical reminder or marker of someone. Isnt it just human to touch something like aa great statue or historical item, or want to be at a memorial site? Why would be build and visit the Lincoln Memorial or the Vietnam Memorial and touch the name etched in stone? Are we worshipping the stone or memorial? Of course not! Same with a statue. It is just the a local memorial of a particular saint, angel or Christ. Of course we can pray to God anywhere! But we look at photos of our loved ones and touch them and kiss them sometimes. We aren’t worshipping them and we certainly don’t confuse them with the real thing. It is simply a very human desire to connect. And a statue is simply a 3D manifestation of a photo. If we should not pray near statues then we don’t really need photos either. They both simply remind us that they ARE real (dead or alive) people and we want to connect and give honor to them even if it is only in the form of a memorial.
Why do we deny a particular human nature in our religious expression that we find perfectly acceptable in our civic or social life, such as the Lincoln or Vietnam Memorials. I think Its simply a Protestant rejection of the incarnate nature of Catholicism. Catholicism accepts human nature and the goodness of the material world he created. It acknowledges Gods revelation to us in the form of material items - Christ himself as God incarnate, water baptism, oil anointing, the sign of the cross and magnificent art, and architecture in our older church’s and , of course statues to this day. We should have no fear or the material unless we are worshiping it. But as you know, Catholics do NOT worship the statues. But plenty of us worship ,money , fame, power…all very materialistic. That’s the real idolatry we should be concerned about!
Does this make sense? What still gives you any problem with one wanting to pray at the statue of any saint or Christ?
Actions by the faithful do not require biblical support. We also do things based on Tradition and teaching of the magestarium . church teaching on intercessory prayer and the communion of the saints is well documented in the CCC. Sola scriptura maybe a requirement for Protestants, but not for us.
This is a bit tangential, but the NT has several references to the healing power of relics, or items that come in contact with Jesus or the Saints. One could even call Peter’s shadow a “statue” of sorts since it wasn’t his physical being, but the outline of it, that had healing power.
New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)**
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27* She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” *29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)**
12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by.
New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE**
*God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. *
Well the USE of images I don’t know, sure someone does though, but let me throw this out:“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything
that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water
under the earth."
If we are to take that 100% literally NO IFs ANDs OR BUTs, then we run into a BIG
problem when God instructs on the making of the Ark of the Covenant in saying:“You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of
hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat.”
Last I checked, cherubim are things in heaven above, yes? So I don’t know about
using statues in prayer being biblical, but Exodus does demonstrate that images
are not ultimately forbidden.
Before the Coming of Jesus when the center of God’s presence was the Jewish people they built a box of the finest cedar of Lebanon, it was covered with Gold inside and out. It had 2 Cherubims Statues (Angels) with their wings brought forward.
And the Priest took offerings and prayed before it.
Was he adoring the box? Of course not
The box represented God’s presence amongst them
Same principle applies to the statues that represent our heroes in Heaven.
When you kneel in front of the queen of England, do you worship her?
Hope not! You honor her.
Same principle apply, you are giving honor to the Saint in Heaven by kneeling.
You are not worshipping him/her.
These are the principles we Catholics need to have absolutely clear.
We give Worship or Adoration ONLY to GOD.
the gold cherubim above the Ark of Covenant (Exodus 25)
the cherubim woven into the Tabernacle tapestry/walls and the Veil of the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26)
the bronze serpent in the desert (Numbers 21)
The bronze oxen, lions and cherubs in the temple (1 Kings 7)
In the wilderness, of course, the people were commanded to look upon the bronze serpent as an act of faith. The statues and tapestries in the Tabernacle and Temple are more analogous, in that they were there to give glory to God and to assist the people in their devotion - but certainly when the priests prostrated themselves before the altar or the ark, they would have been “bowing in front of an image.”
It is clear from the adornment that God ordered for the Temple that the Israelites were made to understand that the “do not make any graven image” was a part of the “do not worship other gods” commandment, not a separate and specifically anti-image commandment. (In contrast Islam prohibited the making of images of living beings, hence the development of the geometric art typical of Islamic culture.)
As to any official decree defending or encouraging the use of images, I think you would have to look to the writing of Pope Gregory II in the early 700s, in his responses to the iconoclast controversy that rocked the Eastern church and triggered a demand by the emperor that images, including the statue of Peter in Rome, be destroyed, a demand Pope Gregory rejected in a letter defending the ancient tradition of Christians.
It’s important to realize that in debates and decrees about doctrine, the official statement is generally issued in response to a challenge and after some length of time of debate - just like with the “do Gentile Christians have to keep the Jewish Law” discussion that culminated in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) and the later debates about the nature of the Incarnation that resulted in the decrees of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon; or the debates about the canon of Scripture that resulted in the decrees from Carthage, Rome and eventually Trent. So a Pope doesn’t get up one day and invent a new doctrine and impose it on the Church. Council and papal decrees, which are quite rare, are almost always issued to settle a dispute and defend a long-standing belief or practice that has come under attack.
(and yes, this question is predicated on the notion of sola scriptura, which is an indefensible position. But the OP is a Protestant. If St. Paul could “become all things for all people” in order to reach different groups, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same?)
Two more examples from the OT. First, the tribe of Dan during their migration took a Levite (acting as Priest, son of Gershom, son of Moses) who had “an idol” (a statue) and they used this idol and the sons of Gershom/Moses as their priests until the time of exile.
Second, when David was with his wife Michal, daughter of Saul, he was warned to flee from King Saul who wanted to kill him. After he left, Michal took a Teraphim (statue) and put it under the sheets with goats hair to make it look like David was still in bed.
So, even though the Law of Moses prohibited images, it seems that the people used them anyway, not necessarily as foreign gods/idols but as means to worship/reverence The Lord.
Thank you for the examples. Because there is nothing in the NT that suggests any figure be made into a statue or a picture to be prayed before, would someone be able to give me the history of where it began?
Who was the first in Catholicism to defend praying before statues and pictures. I know that many have over the years, but who did so first?
I would suggest some of the earliest examples are the catacombs. The earliest Christians held Masses in them because they were being persecuted. And the catacombs are covered with artwork depicting saints, angels, Mary, etc.
Thanks for that. But any early statements from leaders of the Church? As it is common practice now, I would like to know the earliest that Priests or Popes or whatever were saying that it’s members may kneel before statues and pray. Also, how it somehow enhances or is beneficial to the person.
Again, thank you for the research and answers, I am however looking for **official statements **that praying before statues somehow enhances or improves prayer.
I believe the reason that Catholics pray before statues while kneeling is they feel that it helps their prayer in some way. Of course I’m putting this very simply, I’m sure there are many reasons for the practice. So I’m not looking for the oldest statue, painting, etc. I’m looking for the first declaration that one should pray before a statue and the reason why it’s beneficial.