Could you please provide me with the earliest examples of intercessory prayers on behalf of the saints from the historical record. Thank you.
I don’t know if it’s the earliest, but here’s one:
2 Macc 15:7-16 - the departed Onias & Jeremiah pray for the Jews
"[The Shepherd said:] ‘But those who are weak and slothful in prayer, hesitate to ask anything from the Lord; but the Lord is full of compassion, and gives without fail to all who ask him. But you, [Hermas,] having been strengthened by the holy angel [you saw], and having obtained from him such intercession, and not being slothful, why do not you ask of the Lord understanding, and receive it from him?’" (*The Shepherd *3:5:4 [A.D. 80]).
Clement of Alexandria
“In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]” (*Miscellanies *7:12 [A.D. 208]).
“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” (*Prayer *11 [A.D. 233]).
Cyprian of Carthage
“Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father’s mercy” (*Letters *56:5 [A.D. 253]).
“Atticus, sleep in peace, secure in your safety, and pray anxiously for our sins” (funerary inscription near St. Sabina’s in Rome [A.D. 300]).
“Pray for your parents, Matronata Matrona. She lived one year, fifty-two days” (ibid.).
“Mother of God,[listen to] my petitions; do not disregard us in adversity, but rescue us from danger” (*Rylands Papyrus *3 [A.D. 350]).
“Hail to you for ever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness” (*Oration on Simeon and Anna *14 [A.D. 305]).
“Therefore, we pray [ask] you, the most excellent among women, who glories in the confidence of your maternal honors, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in august hymns celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away” (ibid.).
“And you also, O honored and venerable Simeon, you earliest host of our holy religion, and teacher of the resurrection of the faithful, do be our patron and advocate with that Savior God, whom you were deemed worthy to receive into your arms. We, together with you, sing our praises to Christ, who has the power of life and death, saying, ‘You are the true Light, proceeding from the true Light; the true God, begotten of the true God’” (ibid.).
Cyril of Jerusalem
"Then [during the Eucharistic prayer] we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition . . . " (*Catechetical Lectures *23:9 [A.D. 350]).
Hilary of Poitiers
“To those who wish to stand [in God’s grace], neither the guardianship of saints nor the defenses of angels are wanting” (*Commentary on the Psalms *124:5:6 [A.D. 365]).
Ephraim the Syrian
“You victorious martyrs who endured torments gladly for the sake of the God and Savior, you who have boldness of speech toward the Lord himself, you 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 so that we may love him” (Commentary on Mark [A.D. 370]).
“Remember me, you heirs of God, you 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” (*The Fear at the End of Life *[A.D. 370]).
The Liturgy of St. Basil
“By the command of your only-begotten Son we communicate with the memory of your saints . . . by whose prayers and supplications have mercy upon us all, and deliver us for the sake of your holy name” (*Liturgy of St. Basil *[A.D. 373]).
“Aschandius, my father, dearly beloved of my heart, with my sweet mother and my brethren, remember your Pectorius in the peace of the Fish [Christ]” (*Epitaph of Pectorius *[A.D. 375]).
Gregory of Nazianz
“May you [Cyprian] look down from above propitiously upon us, and guide our word and life; and shepherd this sacred flock . . . gladden the Holy Trinity, before which you stand” (Orations 17 [A.D. 380]).
"Yes, I am well assured that [my father’s] intercession is of more avail now than was his instruction in former days, since he is closer to God, now that he has shaken off his bodily fetters, and freed his mind from the clay that obscured it, and holds conversation naked with the nakedness of the prime and purest mind . . . " (ibid., 18:4).
Gregory of Nyssa
“[Ephraim], you who are standing at the divine altar [in heaven] . . . bear us all in remembrance, petitioning for us the remission of sins, and the fruition of an everlasting kingdom” (Sermon on Ephraim the Syrian [A.D. 380]).
“He that wears the purple * . . . stands begging of the saints to be his patrons with God, and he that wears a diadem begs the tentmaker [Paul] and the fisherman [Peter] as patrons, even though they be dead” (Homilies on Second Corinthians 26 [A.D. 392]).
“When you perceive that God is chastening you, 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 [in God]” (*Orations *8:6 [A.D. 396]).
Ambrose of Milan
“May Peter, who wept so efficaciously for himself, weep for us and turn towards us Christ’s benign countenance” (The Six Days Work 5:25:90 [A.D. 393]).
“You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard. . . . But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?” (Against Vigilantius 6 [A.D. 406]).
“A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers” (Against Faustus the Manichean [A.D. 400]).
“There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for the dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended” (*Sermons *159:1 [A.D. 411]).
“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” (*Homilies on John *84 [A.D. 416]).
“Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ” (*The City of God 20:9:2 [A.D. 419]).
From the early 200’s A.D.:
**Sub Tuum Praesidium
We Fly to Thy Patronage
**WE fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.
This is the oldest known form of prayer to the Blessed Virgin, seeking her intercession. While not a “prayer”, specifically, a fresco in a catacomb dating back to the end of the first century shows Mary between St. Peter and St. Paul. This symbolizes Mary’s central role in the early Church. Other images show Mary as a sign of protection, defense and intercession.
A couple of interesting events related to relics which are related to intercession of the saints. Polycarp’s bones were gathered in the mid 100’s.
CHAPTER XVIII – THE BODY OF POLYCARP IS BURNED. The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed the body in the midst of the fire, and consumed it. Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.
A more interesting one is found in Augustine’s city of God. The bones of St. Stephen of Acts 8 fame and relics are held in a shrine to the great saint. Augustine details some of the cures through intercession of St. Stephen.
There was there an old nobleman named Martial, who had a great aversion to the Christian religion, but whose daughter was a Christian, while her husband had been baptized that same year. When he was ill, they besought him with tears and prayers to become a Christian, but he positively refused, and dismissed them from his presence in a storm of indignation. It occurred to the son-in-law to go to the oratory of St. Stephen, and there pray for him with all earnestness that God might give him a right mind, so that he should not delay believing in Christ. This he did with great groaning and tears, and the burning fervor of sincere piety; then, as he left the place, he took some of the flowers that were lying there, and, as it was already night, laid them by his father’s head, who so slept. And lo! before dawn, he cries out for some one to run for the bishop; but he happened at that time to be with me at Hippo. So when he had heard that he was from home, he asked the presbyters to come. They came. To the joy and amazement of all, he declared that he believed, and he was baptized. As long as he remained in life, these words were ever on his lips: “Christ, receive my spirit,” though he was not aware that these were the last words of the most blessed Stephen when he was stoned by the Jews. They were his last words also, for not long after he himself also gave up the ghost.
There, too, by the same martyr, two men, one a citizen, the other a stranger, were cured of gout; but while the citizen was absolutely cured, the stranger was only informed what he should apply when the pain returned; and when he followed this advice, the pain was at once relieved.
Audurus is the name of an estate, where there is a church that contains a memorial shrine of the martyr Stephen. It happened that, as a little boy was playing in the court, the oxen drawing a wagon went out of the track and crushed him with the wheel, so that immediately he seemed at his last gasp. His mother snatched him up, and laid him at the shrine, and not only did he revive, but also appeared uninjured.
There is more as well at newadvent.org/fathers/120122.htm book 8.
[quote=Stylteralmaldo]Could you please provide me with the earliest examples of intercessory prayers on behalf of the saints from the historical record. Thank you.
How about three from the book of Revelation:
Rev 5:8 "…and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls of incense which are the prayers of the saints."
Here we have elders - humans, offering the prayers of the saints to God in the form of incense. The saints here are on earth (see Eph 1:1, Rom 1:7).
Rev 6:9-10 "…I saw under the altar the souls of thos who had been slain because of the word of God…they called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"
Are not these martyred saints praying for their persecuted brothers on earth?
Rev 8:3 "Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of the saints, on the golden altar before the throne."
And here we see an angel offering the prayers of the saints to God with incense.
What do you think? At the very least, this verifies the belief of the intercessory power of the saints in the historical record.