I hear Catholic apologists dismiss the claim that the veneration of saints constitutes a worship of false Gods in a number of ways.
The saints are created beings
They are always subordinate to God
A special level of worship is reserved for God alone
These arguments seem to ignore the ancient religious beliefs of the near-east and Israel. They overwhelmingly believed in a pantheon of Gods, in which a single deity (Yahweh in the case of Israel) was regarded as supreme. However there were other deities that were subordinate to the supreme deity (like the saints), and were often created by the supreme deity (like the saints). These deities were worshiped along side, but to a lesser degree, than the supreme deity (like the saints). Yet such worship was still condemned by God.So what’s the difference between the Saints and the pagan pantheon?
BTW I consider myself Catholic, I’m just a bit confused.
The Saints are not deities at all, and we are not ‘worshiping’ them in the way we worship God. When we honor or venerate the Saints, we are honoring Christ, because we are honoring how these Saints have lived their Christian faith.
Remember the passage in Galatians 2:20 -
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.”
Well, the Saints have lived this passage to perfection. When these Saints died for their faith, or when they lived such holy lives, they were reflecting Christ, and it is this which we honor.
Just a quick thought on the differences between the differences between the gods in the Greek/Roman pantheon and the Saints.
1 The lesser gods in mythology were often the biological children of Zeus and Hera, or Zeus and one of his many human mistresses. So there was an actual familial relationship between most of the gods. Furthermore, Zeus did not create all of the gods in the Pantheon. Hera was his sister as well as his wife, and Poseidon and Hades were their brothers.
2 The powers of the lesser gods seem to stem from themselves, and not from Zeus. I’m not aware of Zeus granting any of the gods their powers, out of His will, but they were born with their powers, hence Heracles strangling snakes in his infancy.
3The subordinative nature of the lesser gods to Zeus is somewhat up to debate. After all, Zeus often finds himself in a bind due to the actions of another god or goddess, and he is powerless to overrule their actions. For example, when Tiresias is blinded by Hera, Zeus cannot restore his sight, because he cannot undue the actions of another God.
1 The saints are not the biological children or relatives of God.
2 Whatever power the Saints have stems from God, and is dependent on Him
3 The Saints, since their wills are conformed to the will of God, will never act against the will of God.
Theologically, on paper, I expect there are differences. In practice, I expect many of those differences evaporate and such becomes indistinguishable to both the practitioner and the observer.
I say this having been part of both the Catholic and pagan communities for many years.
I’m not sure that it matters. If the Church says that venerating the Saints is a proper pious practice, what difference does it make that someone of another faith uses the same practice to honor their deities?
I guess it goes back to the same old, same old, you either trust the Church and what she teaches or you don’t.
There are many pagan faiths and pantheons. Many do have “lesser” beings that are not relatives of the gods but have been given stewardship over certain areas of life or land. And people do form relationship with such, leave offerings, say prayers, etc, to engage their help. Other faiths see the gods as aspects of one force or power, each having certain duties/concerns. Others see their deities as ancestors that have gone on before, done great deeds and are worthy of honor and capable of intercession. And there are many other belief systems besides.
So yes, somewhere there are folks who understand their deities or spirits in the same vein that Catholics understand saints. But if you are confident that you are doing the right thing, it shouldn’t matter that someone whom you don’t agree with on some issues is doing the right thing as well.
You seem to be saying that it’s ok to practice one’s beliefs regardless of whether it’s objectively right!
To my knowledge, there is no pagan religion whose pantheon of “gods” is analogous to our Communion of Saints. The Saints are, as has been pointed out, created by God. They have no divinity at all, and whatever supernatural qualities or abilities they had are directly attributable to God alone. They are Saints precisely because they chose to cooperate with God’s grace. Pagan deities, on the other hand, possess some degree of divinity – whether inherent to their essence or inherited from their sires – and the supernatural traits they possess stem from that divinity.
Furthermore, to say there is a parallel is to say that Catholics worship the Saints, which we do not. The gods of pagan religions are objects of worship, not merely venerable persons whose examples should inspire one to a closer relationship with, say, Zeus or Ba’al or Odin.
Finally, as I said, you seemed (perhaps inadvertently) to be disregarding whether a particular religious practice is objectively true, which is incongruent with Catholicism. That many, may people believe strongly in Hinduism or Wicca or Mormonism does not give truth to their polytheistic beliefs.
There is no parallel between pagan polytheism and veneration of the Saints. Period. But I agree with you about trusting the Church!
I wouldn’t go quite that far. I think, however, at least in terms of Greek practice that you are looking in the wrong place. I see the practice of venerating the Saints as having more similarities to the venerations of the Heroes than to the worship of one of the Olympians, nymphs, etc. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_hero_cult
Now, I think if you are going to do an accurate comparison in practices, you have to look not just to the Greeks or the Jews, but to how the veneration of the Saints plays out in actuality in various parts of the world compared to the practices of the indigenous religion in those areas (Celts, Incans, Mayans, various African religions, Hindus, Maori, Native American, etc). There may be some very great differences, regardless of the official Catholic Church stance on what the veneration of the Saints means.
I have a friend who did anthropological field work in Chiapas (in Mexico) in the 1980s and she talks of the statues of the Catholic saints there. The statues would be beautifully robed, but underneath the robes they might be missing fingers or disfigured in some other way. She said they were told that the statues were punished when the Saints failed in their duties to bring rain or help the people. Fascinating.
You also need to define whether you are looking at modern or at pre-Christian polytheistic practice, as the two may vary greatly depending on the group and the area.
I know many pagans, and many of them say they honor, but do not worship their gods. Also, not all pagans are polytheists. There are pantheists, monotheists, those who honor ancestors or heroes as opposed to deities. There are even pagan faiths which have actual Saints. So, yes, there are those who have beings which are analogous to the Catholic saints, and whose roles are seen as the same, and are honored in parallel ways.
I am not commenting on the validity of the beliefs of any particular faith, just speaking concerning the similarity in understanding and practice.
Having been a part of both communities, and having observed and heard the participants speak about their faith, and practice, there are areas in which the beliefs and practices are nearly identical.
However, if the Catholic church teaches veneration, and the members follow the teachings, then I don’t see why it matters if folks of another religion have similar beliefs or practices. That does not invalidate, or call into question the Catholic belief or practice.
A great number of pagan faiths have practices that have counterparts in Catholicism (and other faiths as well). That doesn’t make Catholicism “pagan”, or wrong, or suspect. I know that some people have a knee jerk reaction when pagan and Catholic are mentioned in the same sentence, but I don’t think there is a need for it.