Monday, November 10, 2014

Books by Dave Armstrong: Footsteps that Echo Forever: My Holy Land Adventure of Archaeological and Spiritual Discovery

The front cover photograph was taken by Margie Prox Sindelar on 23 October 2014 at Caesarea Philippi: the stunning location where Jesus designated St. Peter as the “rock” upon which He would build His Church, and gave Him the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:13-19).

[completed on 8 November 2014; 165 pages. Published at Lulu on the same day; co-author Ross Earl Hoffman]

* * * * * for purchase information, go to the bottom  * * * * * 

[Note: Roaming Romans will be offering DVDs and/or CDs of the many hundreds of photographs taken on this pilgrimage by Margie Prox Sindelar, that will serve as a fine and necessary supplement to this book. I'll add appropriate posts when they are available]


I've written 47 books so far, and this one is my honest-to-God favorite. It's special and unique, due to the subject matter, and because it was the result of a dream trip of a lifetime. 

Secondly, I like it because it's thoroughly soaked in the Bible, and that is my specialty as an apologist. This is a book for Bible lovers: a feast

Thirdly, I am thrilled to be able to present some sections of my wife Judy (a very spiritual and "deep" person) explaining her intensely spiritual experiences at holy sites in Israel, as well similar expressions from Margie Prox Sindelar. These I consider (far and away) the best portions of the book, because they are extraordinarily descriptive: akin to the great Catholic mystics (whose works I recently compiled into a quotes book). 

This was a central goal for me in this volume: to convey to readers exactly what it felt like at these holy places. The ladies did a far better job at that than I did, which is fine: as long as the goal is met (I love working with a "team")! You can read examples of that in the online content for "Day Three," but their reports / comments for Day Eight and Nine in Bethlehem and Jerusalem are (trust me) astonishing beyond words. They send a chill up and down my spine every time I read them.

This is also the book above all my other ones, where I really want to reach and touch readers' hearts and souls. Thus, I am very interested in feedback and "reviews" so I can see whether I have accomplished that goal.  Please let me know your thoughts (in the combox below or on my Facebook page) and I will collect them on a separate web page.


Introductory Facebook post about the pilgrimage and my conception of this book. [8-11-14]

Highly related paper: "My Wedding Ring: Now an Extraordinary Third-Class Relic (and an Examination of Fine Distinctions of Relic Classes)" [Facebook, 4 November 2014]

Dave Armstrong, Ross Earl Hoffman, and Margie Prox Sindelar discuss the pilgrimage and book on a two-hour episode of Deeper Truth, on Blog Talk Radio (11-7-14), with Donald Hartley. [play show at the very top of the page]


Dedication (p. 3) 

Introduction: Anticipating and Reflecting Upon the Pilgrimage Three Months Ahead of Time (p. 7) [read online] 

Day One: 18 October 2014 [The “lay of the land”] (p. 15) 

Day Two: 19 October [Mt. Carmel (Elijah) / Caesarea] (p. 21) 

Day Three: 20 October [Transfiguration / Cana / Nazareth] (p. 23)  

[excerpt on Facebook, featuring Judy and Margie's profound spiritual experiences at Mt. Tabor and in Nazareth] 

Day Four: 21 October [Sermon on the Mount / Feeding of the 5,000 / Capernaum] (p. 33)
["Striking Topographical and Acoustic Facts About the Sermon on the Mount": book excerpt, Facebook] 

Archaeological Interlude No. 1: Has St. Peter's House in Capernaum Been Discovered? (p. 37) [read online] 

Day Five: 22 October [River Jordan / Mount of Temptation / Ancient Road from Jericho to Jerusalem] (p. 43)

Archaeological Interlude No. 2: “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”: History, Archaeology, and the Location of Jesus' Baptism on the East Side of the Jordan (p. 45) [read online] 

Day Six: 23 October [Caesarea Philippi and the Primacy of Peter] (p. 69) 

Archaeological Interlude No. 3: Sodom and Gomorrah: the Current Archaeological Trend of a Location North of the Dead Sea (p. 71) [read online] 

Day Seven: 24 October [Feeding of the 4,000 / Miracle of the Demoniac and the Swine] (p. 85) 

Archaeological Interlude No. 4: Has Joshua's Altar on Mt. Ebal Been Discovered and Verified by Archaeology? (p. 87) [read online] 

Day Eight: 25 October [Bethlehem and the First Christmas] (p. 101) 

Day Nine: 26 October [Church of the Holy Sepulchre] (p. 107) 

Archaeological Interlude No. 5: The Locations of Jesus' Crucifixion, His Tomb, and the Route of the Via Dolorosa (p. 115) [read online] 

Day Ten: 27 October [Ascension / Gethsemane / Mary's Tomb / St. Stephen / City of David / Melchizedek / Hezekiah's Tunnel / Pool of Siloam / Rachel's Tomb / Mary's Resting Place] (p. 133)

[see the video of the sunburst and remarkably flowing water at the Pool of Siloam; also a photograph of the sunburst below] 

Archaeological Interlude No. 6: City of David and Related Finds: The Exciting Cutting-Edge of Biblical and Jerusalem Archaeology (p. 141) [read the introductory portion and related comments, on Facebook] 

Day Eleven: 28 October [Khirbet Qeiyafa / David and Goliath / Gamaliel and Paul] (p. 155) 

Day Twelve: 29 October [Temple Mount / Pool of Bethesda / Birthplace of Mary / Fortress Antonia / St. Helena's Church / Wailing Wall / Temple Archaeology] (p. 157)  

 ["Why I Walked on the Steps That Jesus Walked On (Holy Places, Relics, and the Sacramental Principle)": excerpt on Facebook] 

[see a video of our guide Meir More talking at the first-century steps leading to the temple, that Jesus would have walked]

Day Thirteen: 30 October [Dormition Abbey / David's Tomb / Upper Room / Caiaphas and Peter's Denials / Prison (Jesus and Peter) / Western Wall Tunnels] (p. 163)


The back cover photograph was taken by Margie Prox Sindelar on 20 October 2014 at the site of the Blessed Virgin Mary's house in Nazareth, where the Annunciation (and first “Hail Mary” spoken by the angel Gabriel) took place (Luke 1:26-38).
Sunburst at the Pool of Siloam: 27 October 2014, just as our guide read the passage of Jesus healing the blind man at this spot, and saying He was the "light of the world." We have the whole thing on video as well: see above, under "Day Ten."

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Last updated on 20 November 2014.

Books by Dave Armstrong: The "Catholic" Luther: An Ecumenical Collection of His "Traditional" Utterances

[in progress]



Introduction (10-10-14)

On Sacramental Confession [Facebook, 10-14-14]  

Invocation of  the Blessed Virgin Mary [Facebook, 10-16-14]

Casual Reference to Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) as Scripture [Facebook, 11-6-14]

On What is "Biblical" [Facebook, 11-10-14]

On Merit [Facebook, 11-10-14] 

On Eucharistic Adoration [Facebook, 11-11-14] 

On the Veneration of the Saints [Facebook, 11-11-14] 

Acceptance of the Eucharistic Principle of Ex Opere Operato [Facebook, 11-12-14]

On Mary's Virginity "in Partu" (During Childbirth) on Account of Her Sinlessness [Facebook, 11-13-14]

On Purgatory [Facebook, 11-17-14] 

On Nestorius and the Bankruptcy of His Reasoning Against Mary as the "Mother of God" [Facebook, 11-17-14]


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Last Updated on 17 November 2014. 

Veneration of, and Bowing Before Angels and Men: Absolutely Forbidden in the Bible?: Genesis chapters 18-19 and Revelation chapters 19, 22 [Etc.] (vs. Ken Temple)

 This brief exchange came about amidst combox comments for my paper,  Dialogue with an Anglican on "Praying to Mary," Patron Saints, Etc. (vs. Dr. Lydia McGrew). Pastor Ken Temple is a Reformed Protestant anti-Catholic polemicist, whom I have engaged numerous times. His words will be in blue.

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I wrote, in the above dialogue:

Oftentimes, sadly, yes, because human beings have an endless capacity for self-deception, self-justification, and rationalization. What we need to remember regarding idolatry, is that it resides internally in the heart, first and foremost. One has to be consciously aware of what they are doing and what they believe. If a person is to replace God with a saint (as if the latter is equal to or higher than God), then they are consciously, deliberately doing so, or else it isn't idolatry per se. It may be spiritual laxity or even gross negligence, but not idolatry.

Ken then asked:

Do you think the apostle John was consciously and deliberately committing idolatry when he bowed down to the angel and was rebuked for it in Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9?

Revelation 19:10  Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God." For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Revelation 22:8-9 I John am he who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; [9] but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God."

I replied:

Fair question. Here's what I think about that:

It is the spontaneous reaction of human beings (seen throughout Scripture) to be awed by angelic appearances or theophanies or direct manifestations of God.

In the moment you don't think "this is just an angel." You react with awe, which is what John did. He wasn't thinking theologically, as we have the luxury to do in our armchairs, but he was thinking, "this is a far greater Being than I!"

Moreover (and more to the point at hand), often in the Old Testament the Lord and His Angel ("angel of the Lord") are virtually indistinguishable, to the extent that these angels are called angels in one second and God in the next, so it wouldn't necessarily be clear which was the case.

Even in the burning bush, there is a reference to "the Angel of the Lord" (Ex 3:2) and yet two verses later, "God called to him out of the bush." John may have very well thought that this was a direct manifestation of God, in that sense, but was mistaken and corrected by the angel.

That's what I think was primarily going on, in which case it wasn't idolatry at all, because he thought it was God, or such a direct communication from God through the angel that "worship" was the proper response. 

My take apparently isn't an isolated one. The old [Catholic] Haydock Commentary stated at 19:10: 

St. Athanasius and St. Augustine think St. John took the angel to be Jesus Christ, and as such was desirous of paying him the supreme homage, or latria.

Not bad company or support for an exegetical opinion, but Ken is quite capable of blowing them off, if they don't support his (anti-Catholic) line of reasoning. Ken then counter-replied (the blue print below). My original answer was as follows:

We can speculate all day what we think an angel or God or inspired writer coulda woulda shoulda said. I think my answer was quite sufficient. As usual with you, we could go round and round forever, . . . You disagree, huh? Another shocking revelation! The anti-Catholic disagrees with the Catholic take! Stop the presses!

But since Ken is pushing the issue with a new provocative post, I decided to expand upon my reply.

I appreciate the way you answered that.

So, why did the angel rebuke John for it? 

Because (I think) he had mistaken him for Jesus. It was a category / identification mistake.

Since you say he was temporarily overwhelmed and/ or thought it was a Theophany - like in Genesis 16, or Gen. 18 or Joshua 5, etc. in which case it would not have been truly idolatry (In your opinion), why did the angel rebuke him for it?

See my last reply.

Since it does seem like it was sometimes Theophanies in the OT - and John is an apostle ( !!!)

Seems like if that was going on in John's mind, the angel should have said, "that's ok, I realize you think I am "the angel of the Lord" as in Genesis 16 or 18 or the Captain of the Lord's host in Joshua 5 (Theophanies), but I am not; I am just a creature created by God; but since you have subjectively distinguished in your mind and heart; then that is ok, since you are sincere. "

But the angel did not do that - he said "don't do that!" and "Worship God!" 

Yes, and he said, "I am a fellow servant with you" (19:10). I don't see any implausibility in believing as I do, with regard to the angel's response. It makes perfect sense in that scenario. He just didn't say as much as you thought he should. Big wow.

John sincerely thought it was God, in your opinion, or was just emotionally overwhelmed with "this being is mightier than me"

But in Roman Catholic Marian Piety, there is deliberate and planned and structed prayers and with flowering languge of praise and many times descriptions that should only be reserved for God - " I fly to you for refuge", "I cast my anxieties to you, O Mother of God"; "save me in this hour", etc.
So, there is no suddenly being overwhelmed in RC Marian Piety. And in RC Marian Piety, they are supposed to know in their mind that this statue of a woman is not God nor a manifestation of God; and indeed they probably DO realize that. 

That's another topic entirely, and I don't play the rabbit trail" game. But, nice try.

And John realizes that also, once the angel tells him that he is not a theophany as in Genesis 18 or Joshua 5. So why does the angel say, don't do that, and only worship God? 

See my 4th reply up, above.

I think it is obvious that it gives the appearance of idolatry, and no one can tell the difference between real idolatry and RC Marian piety. Only the devotee him or herself can testify as to the subjective experience in their heart and mind. 

Now I will flesh out my argument here a bit. As to the sometimes "textual confusion" of the "angel of the Lord" and God Himself, see, for example:

Genesis 18:1-4, 22 (RSV) And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. [2] He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself [shachah] to the earth, [3] and said, "My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. [4] Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, . . . [22] So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the LORD. (cf. Heb 13:2: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.")

The text in-between goes back and forth, referring to "men" or "they" or "them" (18:9, 16) and "The LORD" or first-person address from God (18:10, 13-14, 17-21) interchangeably, for the same phenomenon and personal / physical / verbal encounter. But there are three men here; they can't all plausibly be God. Two of them were angels (indicated by 18:22 and 19:1). Thus, Abraham venerated them, too. St. Augustine argued that all three men were angels, but this seems ruled out by the presence (twice) in the text, of "the LORD".

A "man" is equated with God also in Genesis 32:24, 30. See the related passages Ex 3:2-6; Num 22:22-27, 31-35; Jud 6:12-16, 20-23. Here is a particularly striking and explicit example of this confusion:

Judges 13:15-22 Mano'ah said to the angel of the LORD, "Pray, let us detain you, and prepare a kid for you." [16] And the angel of the LORD said to Mano'ah, "If you detain me, I will not eat of your food; but if you make ready a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD." (For Mano'ah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) [17] And Mano'ah said to the angel of the LORD, "What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?" [18] And the angel of the LORD said to him, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" [19] So Mano'ah took the kid with the cereal offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders. [20] And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Mano'ah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground. [21] The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Mano'ah and to his wife. Then Mano'ah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. [22] And Mano'ah said to his wife, "We shall surely die, for we have seen God."

This passage is remarkable in that it goes back and forth between God (13:16, 19, 22) and the angel of the Lord (or of God) as His direct representative (13:15-18, 20-21 and in the larger passage, 13:3, 6, 9, 13). The angel is honored (v. 17), they fall on their faces to worship (v. 20) and at length the angel is equated with God as His visible manifestation (v. 22). But the difference between the angel and God is highlighted by the angel being described as a "man of God" (13:6, 8) and "the man" (13:10-11).

The Angel of the Lord is also equated with God (theophany) in Gen 31:11-13; Jud 2:1; but differentiated from God as well, as a representative: (2 Sam 24:16; 1 Ki 19:6-7; 2 Ki 19:35; Dan 3:25, 28; 6:23; Zech 1:8-14).

Lot also clearly venerated two angels, who appear by the text (again, 18:22 cf. 19:1) to be the same angels whom Abraham had talked to and venerated:

Genesis 19:1 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed himself with his face to the earth,

They distinguish themselves from the LORD:

Genesis 19:13 for we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it."

All of this suggests that it was quite possible indeed that John could have mistaken the angel for Jesus. After all, Jesus had appeared to him earlier in the book, and when He saw Him, he "fell at his feet as though dead" (1:17; cf. 1:10-20). We also know that the post-Resurrection Jesus was not recognized for Who He was, several times (cf. Lk 24:16, 31; 36-39; Jn 20:14-18, 21:4).

In any event, since angels were venerated in the Bible in Genesis 18 and 19, by Abraham and Lot, without rebuke, we know that Revelation 19 and 22 cannot be seen as "proof" (as many hopeful Protestant commentaries claim) that such veneration is forbidden, and indeed, idolatry. Ken argues that any such veneration is too confusing, too easily descends into idolatry or is seen as such by observers; therefore, shouldn't take place at all. Funny, then, that God in His inspired word (two times) sees it as perfectly acceptable (from Abraham, yet!) and doesn't rebuke it in the slightest.

Moreover, angels are bowed to in the New Testament, with no rebuke at all:

Luke 24:4-5 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; [5] and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" 

Even men (apostles) are venerated in the New Testament:

Acts 16:25-31 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, [26] and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one's fetters were unfastened. [27] When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. [28] But Paul cried with a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." [29] And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, [30] and brought them out and said, "Men, what must I do to be saved?"  [31] And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

No biggie. King David was venerated in the Old Testament, too:

1 Chronicles 29:20 Then David said to all the assembly, "Bless the LORD your God." And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads, and worshiped [shachah] the LORD, and did obeisance [shachah] to the king.[KJV: "worshipped the LORD, and the king"]

So was Daniel (without rebuke from him):

Daniel 2:46-48  Then King Nebuchadnez'zar fell upon his face, and did homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him.[47] The king said to Daniel, "Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery." [48] Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts,

The king was venerating or honoring God through Daniel, as is evident by his words. This is the sort of principle elaborated even by Martin Luther:

Thus, too, I would solve the question about adoring and invoking God dwelling in the saints. It is a matter of liberty, and it is not necessary either to do it or not to do it. To be sure, it is not so certain that God has His dwelling in many men as that He is present in the sacrament, but we do read in I Corinthians [footnote: 1 Cor 14:24-25] that an unbeliever will fall on his face and worship God in the saints, if he hears them prophesying; and Abraham saw three angels, and worshiped one Lord; and (to use your own illustration) what do we do when we “prefer one another in honor,” except honor and adore God in ourselves? Let it be free, then, to call upon God in man or out of man, in creatures or out of them, for “I fill heaven and earth,” saith the Lord. Here faith goes the safest way, for in all things it sees only God, but we cannot say enough of this to unbelievers, or prove it to them, because they are always worshiping themselves.

(Letter to Paul Speratus, 13 June 1522)

Daniel venerates an angel (seemingly Gabriel) later in the chapter, without rebuke:

Daniel 8:15-17 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. [16] And I heard a man's voice between the banks of the U'lai, and it called, "Gabriel, make this man understand the vision." [17] So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was frightened and fell upon my face. But he said to me, "Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end."

That's now seven instances of permitted veneration of creatures: four towards angels, and three towards men; five from the Old Testament and two (one of each type) in the New Testament. The Greek for "fell down before" in Acts 16:29 is prospipto (Strong's word # 4363). It is also used of worship towards Jesus in the following five passages:

Mark 3:11 And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God."

Mark 5:33 But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.

Mark 7:25 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet
Luke 8:28  When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me."

Luke 8:47 And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.

So why didn't Paul and Silas rebuke the jailer? I submit that it was because they perceived his act as one of veneration (which is permitted) as opposed to adoration or worship, which is not permitted to be directed towards creatures. Note that the word "worship" doesn't appear in the above five passages, nor in Luke 24:5 or Acts 16:29, or most of the other passages above, in the RSV. When "worship" does appear in connection with a man or angel, it isn't permitted:

Acts 10:25-26 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped [proskuneo] him. [26] But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am a man."

Thus, we see the same in Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9, because St. John mistakenly thought the angel was Jesus, and so tried to worship / adore the angel whom he thought was God. The same thing happens, of course, when men thought that Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes and "wanted to offer sacrifice." They were rebuked, as mistaken (Acts 14:11-18).

Therefore, we conclude (as Catholics always have) that worship / adoration is reserved for God alone, while veneration / honor is encouraged to be offered to worthy, saintly men and the holy angels. All this is plainly seen in the Bible, in the examples above.

In the comments for his article, Ken kept up the litany of unbiblical falsehoods:

The problem is the statues and icons in a worship context. . . . I have no problem with pictures/icons for historical purposes or teaching purposes. The problem is when the RC or others bow in front of them and start talking to them and praying to them.

Once again, Ken has a huge problem with the Bible. As a pastor, he shouldn't be so abominably ignorant of what it teaches. 

The Jews were commanded to fashion the ark of the covenant (Ex 25: 8 ff.). God revealed to them that He was present in a special, profound sense above the mercy seat on top of it (Ex 25:22; 30:6; Lev 16:2; Num 7:89; 1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 1 Chron 13:6). It even contained manna inside (Heb 9:2-4), and bread and wine were priestly offerings (Gen 14:18; Lev 23:3; Num 15:5, 7, 10). The Jews bowed towards the temple when they prayed and worshiped (2 Chron 7:3; Ps 5:7; 138:2), which was a physical object thought to be particularly holy precisely because God was "specially present" inside of it.

Now here is the "clincher" and where the point is established beyond any doubt: the Jews would not only bow down, but prostrate themselves before the ark of the covenant and pray and worship God. That's already an inanimate object fashioned by mens' hands, and people are bowing before it. This is gross idolatry, according to classical Calvinism. Here are the biblical proofs of all my assertions:

Joshua 7:6-7 Then Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust upon their heads. [7] And Joshua said, "Alas, O Lord GOD, why hast thou brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!" (cf. 1 Chron 16:1-4)

Thus, here are the Jews, by God's permission and command, bowing before an "icon" made by human hands, and praying to God at the same time: exactly as Ken claimed shouldn't be allowed, since he thinks it is "idolatry."

But Ken might retort: "What has any of this to do with statues?" Well, the statues were the large cherubim that sat atop the ark of the covenant: representations of winged celestial beings, with feet and hands. God said that He was "enthroned" on the mercy seat on top of the ark, between the two cherubim with outstretched wings (see references above for the mercy seat; also the passage immediately above; Ps 80:1; 99:1; Is 37:16; Ezek 10:4; Heb 9:5). These were described in the detailed instructions for constructing the ark (Ex 25:18-22).

Therefore, whenever the Jews or the high priest alone or other important figures prayed and worshiped before the ark of the covenant, they were doing so also before two statues (of creatures) made by men. The objections above, from unbiblical traditions of men, are thus annihilated from explicit Scripture. God can't command and condone in one place what He supposedly condemned and prohibited in another.

Moreover, it wasn't just the ark of the covenant that had statues on it. The temple itself was filled with images and statues of cherubim (Ex 26:31; 2 Chron 3:7), so that every time worship took place in it, statues and other images were involved.

Herod's temple didn't have the statues, but rather, paintings of cherubim on the walls. The first Christians (and Jesus Himself) were still worshiping in the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 21:26; 22:7; 24:12, 17-18) and abiding by Jewish rituals. The sacrifices were still being made there.

No (desperate) objection can be made concerning the absence of literal statues in the third (Herod's) Temple, however, because the ones in Solomon's Temple (1 Kgs 6:23-35) had been approved by God ("I have consecrated this house which you have built" -- 1 Kgs 9:3). God couldn't say one thing at one time, and change His mind later on and say it was a grave sin (the omniscient God cannot change His mind, and that would overthrow His own morality, anyway, which is equally impossible). Therefore, having mere paintings later rather than statues is no indication of any fundamental change.

The Jews also worshiped God via the images of clouds (Ex 33:8-10) and fire (2 Chron 7:1-4): all expressly sanctioned by God and not condemned at all.

Ken's assertions are, therefore, decisively refuted from Scripture at every turn.

[for further discussion see my cross-posting on Facebook]

Dialogue with an Anglican on "Praying to Mary," Patron Saints, Etc. (vs. Dr. Lydia McGrew)

Dr. McGrew is a very thoughtful and (in the right way) "provocative" Anglican writer, with a very impressive Curriculum Vitae. I ran across this article today after an anti-Catholic person I have sparred with many times classified her as a "Roman Catholic" (and of course condescendingly praised her as more "honest" since she dissented from Catholic teaching). I got quite a chuckle over that. 

This is a reply to a portion of her article, "For All Saints and All Souls: Speak of me always to Maleldil" (1 Nov. 2014). Her words will be in blue. They include some from the comboxes on her site and mine also. 

I am interested particularly in her comments about the subject in my title: not prayers for the dead, which she also discusses (something much less misunderstood -- and less opposed -- by Protestants than the former topic). She herself described this area I'm interested in defending, as "yet more delicate."

* * * * *

But first, a pause for Protestantism: I am of the opinion that it is at least somewhat theologically problematic for us to ask the saints to pray for us, and especially for our particular needs and requests. I hope that is not offensive to my Catholic friends, 

I'm not offended at all. I love the friendly challenge. What offends me is when certain Protestants claim that we Catholics aren't Christians at all if we fully adhere to Catholic dogmas. This is simply good, honest, non-hostile Protestant-Catholic debate, which I love (almost above anything else).

but it seems to me that, to assume that the dead can hear our intercessions, that they know our present state on earth, and that they are speaking of it to God is to attribute to the dead something uncomfortably close to omniscience and to give to them something uncomfortably close to prayer. 

Now we get to the heart of the issue. There are a few plain logical fallacies in the above claim that I shall address. But first things first: there are various biblical indications that the saints in heaven are quite aware of what is happening on the earth.  One of the clearest is Hebrews 12:1 (RSV):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

What is this trying to express and how does it relate to the subject at hand? I wrote about it as far back as 1998. I won't cite my whole paper (anyone can read it at the link), but the best quotation from it.

Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin R. Vincent, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980; orig. 1887; vol. 4, p. 536), a standard Protestant language source, comments on this verse as follows:

    'Witnesses' does not mean spectators, but those who have borne witness to the truth, as those enumerated in chapter 11. Yet the idea of spectators is implied, and is really the principal idea. The writer's picture is that of an arena in which the Christians whom he addresses are contending in a race, while the vast host of the heroes of faith who, after having borne witness to the truth, have entered into their heavenly rest, watches the contest from the encircling tiers of the arena, compassing and overhanging it like a cloud, filled with lively interest and sympathy, and lending heavenly aid. [bolding added presently]

That would appear to be a good biblical argument against Lydia's denial that these saints "know our present state on earth" or that in order to do so they have to be "close to omniscience." They know about us because they are in a higher state of knowledge than we are. Being more intelligent or aware does not logically entail something close to omniscience. Lydia has simply unnecessarily ruled out categories other than quasi-omniscience in those alive after departing this earth. There is no need to do so at all.

The Bible says that we will "judge angels" (1 Cor 6:3), and that "when he appears we shall be like him" (1 Jn 3:2). Jesus said, "in the resurrection they . . . are like angels in heaven" (Mt 22:30). It's reasonable to assume that we will have knowledge in the afterlife at least akin to that of the angels (which is itself extraordinary). The Bible says, "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Lk 15:10). Who has joy? Who is rejoicing? That's the folks in heaven!

We see an example of "imprecatory prayer" in heaven, asking for justice (Rev 6:9-11). We observe men in heaven (Rev 5:8) and also angels (Rev 8:4) somehow possessing the "prayers of the saints". Why? What are they doing with them, pray tell? Why are they involved in prayer at all? Those three passages prove, contra Lydia, that they are  "speaking of it to God". 

Incorporating some of these things, I made an argument (in my book about the communion of saints) for asking saints to pray for us, as follows:

1. We ought to pray for each other (much biblical proof).

2. “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16; cf. 5:17-18).

3. Therefore it makes eminent sense to ask more righteous people to pray for us (implied in same passage), because the possibility of a positive result is greater.

4. Dead saints are more alive than we ourselves are (e.g., Matt 22:32).

5. Dead saints are aware of what happens on the earth (Heb 12:1 etc.), and indeed, are portrayed as praying for us in heaven (Rev 6:9-10).

6. Dead saints are exceptionally, if not wholly, righteous and holy, since they have been delivered from sin and are present with God (21:27, 22:14).

7. Therefore, it is perfectly sensible and spiritually wise to ask them to pray on our behalf to God.

All of this strongly implies that they can indeed hear us and offer intercession in our behalf. And these intercessions are very powerful, because they are in a sanctified state (cf. #2 and #7 above).

The two fallacies in Lydia's statement above are equating extraordinary or supernatural afterlife knowledge with quasi-omniscience. This is false. Having great, great knowledge can still be millions of "miles" away from having all knowledge, which is what omniscience is. It's a false dilemma or an attempted "false equivalence."

The last thing she wrote above, "give to them something uncomfortably close to prayer" is also true in one sense but false in another. If "prayer" is defined as simply addressing someone and asking a request of them, then yes, we pray to saints (and should!). We also "pray" to our friends on earth in the same sense. So this "proves too much and becomes ultimately a non sequitur in the discussion (because it is really asking for their intercession to God; not asking them as if they were God). But if prayer is defined as addressing the Being (God) Who ultimately has the power to grant answers to prayer, then it is only properly spoken of being directed to God alone, even if through intermediaries.

The problem with Protestant arguments against the communion of saints is that they collapse the recourse to intermediary intercessors in prayer (i.e., the ones who have died) with requests to them as if they had the ability to answer the prayer, which is God's prerogative and power alone. Catholic prayers to saints (i.e., rightly understood, in accordance with Catholic dogma) presuppose this, but because it's not stated every two seconds, Protestants too often falsely supposes that Catholics think saints can grant prayers in and of themselves apart from God. This (a supremely important point) is the fallacy or misunderstanding or both. Lydia unfortunately falls into this misunderstanding, too, as we shall see.

I will not say that prayers to the saints are definitely and intrinsically idolatrous, 

Very good! They are, of course, not at all: not intrinsically.

but I will say that I think they raise the danger of idolatry, 

Idolatry is always possible. The question at hand is what Catholic theology teaches, not whether some old lady in purple tennis shoes and perpetual curlers in her hair in Bolivia, with colorful giant dolls of Mary and other saints (and some weird local folk religious customs mixed in) distorts that teaching and commits idolatry.

for to treat the dead in this way is to treat them "too much" as we treat God--as an invisible Personage, far greater than ourselves, who can help us in our need, to whom we fly for refuge, who is always present to us, who knows our needs and what is best for us, and to whom we should cry out.

Again, here is a fallacious equivalence. None of these things require being God or close enough to Him to become an idol.  Dead saints are invisible, greater than us, able to help us (through powerful and super-knowledgeable intercession), present for us (because they are either outside of time or in a different sort of "time" altogether), etc. None of those things are true of God alone. But He is unique in power and being able to answer the prayers yay or nay.

I also disagree with the idea, which I have often seen expressed by Catholics, that certain dead saints have special influence with God the Father or with Jesus Christ ("Doesn't it make sense to ask a man's mother to intercede with him for you?"), so that by going to them we are making our prayers more efficacious than they otherwise would be.

I don't see why. The Bible clearly teaches that different people have different levels of grace (Acts 4:33; 2 Cor 8:7; Eph 4:7; 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 3:18). From this it follows, it seems to me, that some might specialize in certain areas more so than others, according to different parts of the Body of Christ (much Pauline teaching on that). I don't see why this should be either controversial or objectionable. It's usually objected to because of observed excesses, while an ironclad argument against it from Scripture is rarely made. None was made above. Lydia disagrees, but has given us no compelling reason (biblical or otherwise) for why she disagrees. Anyone can see the massive amount of biblical support I have provided.

This conveys a notion that seems to me theologically false and even unsavory--namely, a notion of needing to be "in with the in crowd" theologically rather than being loved fully by Our Lord oneself and being able and encouraged to approach Him directly with one's petitions.

That's mere speculation. The fact remains that "the prayer of the righteous man avails much." In the larger context of that passage, James states:

James 5:17-18 Eli'jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. [18] Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.

Okay. Would it not follow, then, that Elijah seemed to have a particular influence over weather? Therefore, why couldn't someone ask him to pray to God about the weather, rather than someone else, since he had this record of asking for rain to cease, and it did for three and-a-half years? So he became, in effect, the "patron saint of meteorological petitions."

We do roughly the same in this life with friends, on the level of empathy. So, e.g., if a woman has difficulty with miscarriage or difficult pregnancies or deliveries, she might go to a woman who has experienced the same thing and ask her to pray to god for her. I don't see any intrinsic difficulty here. To me, it is just common sense. Catholics don't ever deny anyone the ability to "go straight to God." But we assert with James that certain prayers of certain people have more power; therefore it is sensible to go to them as intermediaries. Thus, again, in the same passage, we see "differential prayer factors":

James 5:14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

The passage doesn't say "go right to God, and if you don't, it is a danger of idolatry." Nope. The sick person is advised to go to the elders, and have them pray, and anoint . . .

I note, too, that this notion of special "influence at court" is at odds with the other claim one sometimes sees--namely, that asking for the prayers of the saints is entirely unobjectionable because it is just like asking one's friends on earth to pray for one.

This is talking about two different things. We say it is "just like asking one's friends on earth to pray" when the objection is made that the saints are dead. That's when we say that asking them is logically not different from asking a friend. In both cases it is an intercessory request, and the dead are more alive in Christ and more aware than we are, so they ought not be excluded. God never intended that. It's an arbitrary line, as if death ends all. It does not.

But in fact, we don't believe that our ordinary friends on earth have this exalted "influence at court" in the heavenly realm, such as we are encouraged to think of the dead saints, especially certain ones like Mary, as having! So the two defenses of prayers to the saints are in conflict.

That's right. We don't only insofar as they are particularly holy. Obviously, no one is gonna reach to the sublimity of Mary, who was sinless. So this is a rather silly comparison. A Catholic would have to be profoundly dumb (and plenty of them assuredly are! -- but stupidity in Christianity is by no means exclusively a Catholic trait) to not understand these basic distinctions of category.

Having now (sad to say) probably thoroughly succeeded in offending my Catholic readers,

I'm not in the slightest. I'm absolutely delighted for this great opportunity to defend the Catholic conception of the communion of saints. It's one of my favorite topics in theology. I love to be stimulated by thoughtful people and other serious Christians, seeking to better follow God.

Perhaps, as our knowledge of their state is blocked by the chasm of death, and we can pray for them only in the general terms suggested above, their knowledge of our situation is similarly blocked or greatly limited. They are finite beings, as we are, and we have no reason to believe that God has ordained that they shall have supernatural knowledge of all that is going on here on earth.

I don't see that this is the case in the Bible. I've provided plenty of relevant verses (plenty of "reason"); Lydia has provided no Bible passages at all thus far.

And if such an outpouring is effective as prayer when uttered here on earth, why would it not have effect when uttered by one in heaven? In other words, perhaps the dead really do pray for us effectually, and perhaps we really can pray for them effectually, even though we are absent from each other.

This is much better. I think the cumulative effect of the passages I have offered above, and others, show that they do in fact do so.

I find that in all actual Catholic practice of which I am aware, including that by very educated and knowledgeable Catholics, the idea that God only supernaturally makes known our prayers to the saints is not maintained as a consistent implication. Much Catholic veneration of Mary, for example, calls upon her directly to help us or says that we fly to her in our trouble. This would make little sense if every fact in question--our specific trouble and our individual prayer--had to be made known to her on a case-by-case basis by God.

This is again mixing up two different notions. Whether God makes the prayers known or the saints have additional powers in the fact of the matter of being in heaven; either way it is due to God's supernatural power. I don't see, then, that it matters much if it is one scenario or the other. It all goes back to God.

The second part of the above statement is something else, and gets back to "the power of answering prayer." Catholic veneration of Mary understands on a presuppositional level that she is not God; therefore any "answer" she can give to prayer is due to asking Him in intercession. It would be like, for example, working for one boss who is himself under a higher-up boss. We could ask our immediate boss for a raise, and if we get one, we can say, "he got it for us." But technically, the raise had to be okayed by the higher boss. Thus, the lower boss did not "answer" the request. He conveyed it as a channel. Yet we still could say "he" got us the raise.

That's how it is with Mary and God. The Catholic understands this; therefore doesn't have to point it out every time a Marian devotion is made. It's kindergarten stuff to is. But because Protestants don't partake in such devotions, they woefully misread their very nature. I've defended at length very elaborate "flowery" Marian prayers from St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Louis de Montfort (in my book about Mary). These are considered some of the most "idolatrous" by Protestant critics. Yet in every instance I have ever defended such piety, it was always the case that it was grounded in Jesus as the ultimate One Who answers prayer and gives Mary whatever power she has.

When Protestants attack these prayers, habitually they will find the most "terrible" examples they can come up with, for shock value (knowing that Protestant readers will be horrified and scandalized). For some reason, however, almost always they will ignore the context where Jesus is also mentioned. This gives a false impression and is a dishonest analysis. Once I provide such context, the "difficulty" disappears.

The very notion of seeking the help of the saints gives the strong impression that they are, by the nature of their situation, in a position to help us.

Absolutely: but by their more powerful intercession to God; not because they themselves can answer apart from God.

[gave examples of two Marian prayers] Many, many more examples could be found. One would never speak of asking for the prayers of a friend on earth, however godly, in those terms.

Of course not; because no one on earth is like Mary (why is it worth mentioning that at all; isn't it obvious: either assuming Catholic beliefs or assuming them for the sake of argument?). There was only one Mother of God and one immaculate sinless person, made that way by an act of God's grace at the moment of her conception.

 [second round of dialogue; from Lydia's comments in the combox below]

Part of the difficulty here, which is almost certainly going to preclude agreement, is the very fact that I am not definitely saying that prayers to the dead saints are idolatrous. This may seem ironic, but my point is it that it is the very "fuzziness" and hence relative mildness of my critique that makes it both difficult for you to refute it decisively and also difficult for me to convince you of its justice. If I were saying that speaking to dead saints is intrinsically, by its very nature, idolatrous, then I could be refuted, and we'd be done. I could write that refutation myself, in fact. It is because I am using terms like "uncomfortably" or "too much like" and so forth that it is difficult to find common ground for disagreement–because there is an ineliminable element of subjectivism in these evaluations.

And the danger is also "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." You say you're not asserting intrinsic idolatry (hence you acknowledge possible goodness and rightness in these practices) ; yet the practical result is the same: because you are always worrying about a fuzzy line and possible descent into idolatry, you don't practice invocation of saints and asking their intercession. In other words, by setting up a scenario of "possible idolatry" you (happily) avoid idolatry but you also avoid the blessings of the communion of saints that God (according, I think, to the Bible and definitely to apostolic and patristic tradition) intended to have for you.

When is a practice, for us human beings as we really are, dangerously psychologically too much like praying to God to be theologically wise?

When folks don't correctly understand the crucial differences. I think the practices are dangerous insofar as people are uneducated and ignorant as to their nature and purpose and goals. Since the Catholic Church has done an atrocious job of catechesis in the last fifty years (and most people still don't even know what apologetics is), there is a mountainous amount of such ignorance or apathy, thus making it easy for someone like you to make a case against, based on corruptions in practice (and in fact this was largely the mindset of the so-called "reformers" in the 16th century). But your solution (like that of the "reformers") is to cease doing the practice because it is abused and misunderstood. My solution is to educate people so that they will practice it in the right way and obtain blessings therefrom.

Look at your own analogy of levels of bosses and asking an intermediate-level boss to get a raise for us. Is that how we should think of God and our relationship to him?

You're missing the point. The heart of the analogy (in my intention anyway) was not that God is a big boss Who gives us goodies (or about relationship with Him), but rather, to show that we routinely say that an immediate boss "gives us" something, when technically it is the big boss who does so (i.e., primary and secondary causation). That was my analogy to reply to your objection of prayers seeming to be directly to Mary as if she grants our request apart from God (which Catholics of course deny). All analogies are imperfect. I used this one off the top of my head. For it's purpose, correctly understood, I think it succeeds.

And the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:16) tells us to come boldly to the throne of grace and emphasizes throughout the book that, the old covenant being at an end, we need no human intermediary other than the Lord Jesus himself. These verses and others (the Lord's prayer itself, for example) encourage believers to strive for a directness and intimacy in their relationship with God . . .

You neglect to see that, while anyone can go directly to God at any time if they so choose, intermediaries are systematically used throughout Scripture. The best treatment of this matter that I can recall is Patrick Madrid's "Any friend of God is a friend of mine."Among many excellent examples, he mentions Hebrews, as you do:

Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant, eternally present before the Father, mediating his once-for-all sacrifice for our redemption (Heb 3:1, 4:14-15, 5:5-10, 7:15-26, 8:1, 9:11). But the Bible also says Christians are called to share in Christ’s priesthood (1 Pt 2:5-9; Rv 1:6, 5:10, 20:6).

See also my related paper, "There is One Mediator" (1 Timothy 2:5): Does This Rule Out "Mini-Mediators"? I have written often about how God uses people to distribute His grace. See, e.g.,  Human, Pauline, and Marian Distribution of Divine Graces: Not an "Unbiblical" Notion After All?

I think that the father would be rightly hurt if a son said that he asked his brother to make a request on his behalf because he thought the brother a favorite and wanted the brother to help him by "getting it for him."

Then you have not understood differential grace and merit in Scripture and tradition. This is not surprising, since most Protestants are taught to deny both (quite biblical) things. You also have to deny the bald fact of passages such as the one I already gave you:
James 5:14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 

So now God would be offended because He spoke an inspired word in His revelation through James, that it is better to ask a Church elder to pray for a sickness than to go "direct to Him"? You continue to neglect the key verse of James 5:16: "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." That means something. What does it mean in your scenario, where everyone should go right to God and avoid asking an exceptionally holy person to pray for them? You neglect entire vast areas of biblical practice and piety. But that was what Protestantism was about: stripping Christianity to its bare bones, for a minimalist, bare minimum, skeletal type of Christianity, stripped of far too much of its miraculous and supernatural character. I don't want that. I want all of what God intended for His followers to have.

But again, you are likely simply to say that you do not agree that the analogies used or the practice as you engage in it or as your friends engage in it encourages a wrong kind of distance from God or a replacement of intimacy and closeness with God with intimacy with the saints who seem nearer to ourselves.

That's correct, because we don't see it in "either/or" dichotomous terms, as Protestants typically do. We don't pit God against His saints. We believe that He wants to involve those saints in His purposes, and that no intrinsic conflict is set up in that state of affairs. The Protestant presupposes that any invocation of or devotion to a saint somehow takes something away from God (this is precisely why it is thought to be either intrinsically idolatrous or in danger of crossing that "fuzzy" line). But it's not the case. The error lies in the false Protestant "either/or" premise.

Catholics are all for intimacy / relationship with God. This is not something (sorry to disappoint or shock anyone) that Protestants discovered in the 16th century. Have you never read The Imitation of Christ? Or you could check out the incredible, sublime intimacy of various Catholic mystics and contemplatives with God, that I recently compiled into a long book.

I can say this much, because this lies within my own personal experience: During the times when I have been most sympathetic to prayers to the saints, I have found that sympathy and inclination actually to be a distraction from what I now regard as my proper personal relationship with God.

Precisely! This is what I am saying. Because (in your theological premises before you even get to the practice) you create a false dichotomy between the saints and God, as if two different things are involved instead of one, you felt like that. But the Catholic who regards all of it as one thing: approaches to God: directly or indirectly: all glory to Him; all things in His providence, we feel no such "competition" between a saint and God. We think in "both/and" terms, and all always goes back to God.

The whole point of the request to the intermediary in those analogies is that that person is asking for you, instead of your asking yourself.

In one sense he is, in another (I say, the more essential aspect) he isn't. If I ask something of someone through an intermediary, it doesn't cease to be (ultimately or essentially) a request from me. It's still my request and only secondarily the intermediary's request, as a go-between, or messenger between myself and the ultimate goal (in the analogy, God).

In fact, it works the same in reverse. God sent prophets to earth to speak for Him. They spoke in the name of the Lord, and often said, "The Lord says," as if they were simply sorts of "telephone lines" between God and men: directly conveying God's message.

God could have communicated directly, had He chosen that. He did so in many theophanies and at the burning bush, and when Jesus was baptized and transfigured, when He spoke directly out of heaven. But He routinely  chose to speak through intermediaries: the prophets (and for that matter, in all of His Bible, which came through men; rather than falling from heaven with no human involvement).

Now, according to your logic that you set forth above, when He does that, He is not sending the message; the prophet is. You create a wedge between the messenger and God, or the messenger and the original person praying. What I'm saying is that that is nonsensical. Clearly God is speaking through the messenger, who conveys His words and thoughts. Likewise, the Catholic who makes requests of God through someone else, continues to be the main person attempting to communicate with God in some fashion. The presence of a second party doesn't eliminate that fact.

You continue (in your comments following the above) to operate on a seemingly caricatured perspective of what Catholic piety and invocation of saints is all about. In the end, beyond all the arguments I am giving, I can only observe that you don't fully grasp it yet. It involves faith. It's not simply a rational exercise. You can't accurately observe it from the outside looking in: not totally. Yet I don't appeal to mere subjectivism, as you are mostly doing. I have backed it up massively with Scripture at every turn. And I could also back it up with massive patristic support.

There's not much more I can say to a lot of your analysis in this second round. The difficulties and differences here lie at the level of premise, and I tried to undermine yours by showing Scripture that I think is contrary to them. If you reject that, then there's little more that I can do. We'll have to agree to disagree, and those on the fence or seeking can read this exchange and come away from it with whatever they may. They can decide who made a more plausible case. I'm more than happy to let them do that. 

Considering the strongness of the degree of knowledge being attributed to the saints, I think that the scriptural supports you allege are far too weak to uphold it.

We profoundly disagree on how much the saints in heaven know and are aware of. I suppose several passages might be set forth along those lines. Off the top of my head I can think of these:

1 Corinthians 2:4-16 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. [6] Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. [7] But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. [8] None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. [9] But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him," [10] God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. [11] For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. [12] Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. [13] And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. [14] The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. [15] The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. [16] "For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

Ephesians 3:17-19 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  [18] may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  [19] and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

Ephesians 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;

Colossians 2:2-3 that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ, [3] in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Regarding the previous four passages, I ask: how much more so will we have the riches and knowledge of Christ in heaven? Then the following two passages directly suggest extraordinary knowledge in the afterlife:

1 Corinthians 13:9-12 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; [10] but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.  [11] When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 
1 John 3:2  Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Once again, you speculate endlessly in the subjectivist cocoon of your own brain and its reasoning powers (which are considerable,but have to attain correct premises in the beginning). I appeal (along with some arguments from reason alone) mostly to Holy Scripture: God's inspired revelation. Which method do you think will be more compelling to undecided readers?

One point that occurs to me is that if idolatry creeps into a Christian group or into the life of a Christian (or Jew, for that matter), it will do so in some way that can be explained away.

Oftentimes, sadly, yes, because human beings have an endless capacity for self-deception, self-justification, and rationalization. What we need to remember regarding idolatry, is that it resides internally in the heart, first and foremost. One has to be consciously aware of what they are doing and what they believe. If a person is to replace God with a saint (as if the latter is equal to or higher than God), then they are consciously, deliberately doing so, or else it isn't idolatry per se. It may be spiritual laxity or even gross negligence, but not idolatry.

I've often used a variant of this argument in defending transubstantiation. The claim is that Catholics are worshiping bread. For the critic observing from the outside, given their beliefs that no such miracle occurs, indeed this is the case, since for them the consecrated host remains bread and is no part of Christ at all; therefore it is bread-worship from their perspective.

But the claim made is idolatry on the Catholic's part, and this fails, because the Catholic doesn't believe for a second that He is worshiping (or desires to worship) mere bread and wine. We believe that it has miraculously transformed into the true Body and Blood of Christ. Whether we are right or wrong about that, it is not idolatry, because the fundamental premise is missing (deliberately worshiping bread as God).

In fact, in the very nature of the case, idolatry is the kind of thing that comes in degrees. We do admire people, so it's a question of when admiration "turns into" idolatry, and this will have fuzzy lines.

There is no "degree" in transubstantiation. The consecrated host is either bread or it is Jesus Christ. Such confusion might, however be directed towards Lutheran belief, in which both are present together.

Likewise, with communion of saints. As long as a Catholic understands the basic creature / Creator distinction and understands that God ultimately answers the prayer, however it is offered (and doesn't fall into the fallacious Protestant "either/or" mentality), then there is no idolatry. It's not complicated. Sadly, however, there are many Catholics who are ignorant about even these elementary things. This is their fault and that of their teachers, not Catholic theology itself, which is crystal-clear about all these matters.

Also, if one is theologically clever, one can explain away almost anything.

Yes they can. I think you have attempted to do that by dismissing communion of saints in its fullness because you think it is "dangerous." That may be clever, but those who follow this reasoning lose out in the end because they lose blessings that God intended for them. I think you have failed in your attempt to explain it away (though an "e for effort" and you gave it the ol' college try) and I trust that readers can and will see that by considering my critiques.

Hmmm, I'm surprised that you think you have documented your position "massively" in Scripture. Isn't that a rather strong statement, considering the strength of the position? Massively? 

Once again we encounter the different mindsets and definitions of the Protestant and Catholic camps. What I said was, "
I have backed it up massively with Scripture at every turn"; meaning that I have offered plenty of biblical texts that I think have relevance, not necessarily that any or all of them are compelling or explicit (you have offered very few and mostly your own admittedly subjective analysis). 

Protestants, of course, demand (for the most part) explicit biblical evidences or else they will reject a position (part and parcel of sola Scriptura). Yet ironically there is no proof whatsoever in Scripture of sola Scriptura, (I wrote two books -- one / two -- about that), so this demand is arbitrary and non-biblical).

Protestants also, of course, reject a binding, infallible sacred tradition, in line with the magisterial teaching of the Church. We believe things not only because they are explicit in Scripture, but because they have been accepted by the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, and have been practiced by Christians from the beginning (albeit usually highly developed as time goes on). That's how the Church fathers always argued, and we agree with them and do the same.

 For example, consider the verses in James. I'm rather intrigued by the fact that you seem to think that those verses do teach that we should go to those intermediaries (e.g., the elders of the church) rather than praying on our own behalf. I would call this a type of biting the bullet.

I'm intrigued that you deny that this is (in my opinion) the obvious import of the passage. I was responding to your arguments that it is somehow improper or unsavory or unnecessary to "go through" someone else; and lo and behold, here is Scripture plainly advocating it. I don't think it's "either/or." I think that here was a clear example of an intermediary in prayer: the thing that you want to deny or minimize. You're playing the "either/or" game, not me. I (and Catholics) firmly believe in both things.

I would say that this demonstrates that our disagreement comes at the level of what degree of intimacy should obtain between Christians and God. 

I completely disagree. There is no disagreement on that between the two camps. But Protestants often caricature Catholicism as a viewpoint that supposedly stresses non-intimacy or non-relationship with God. That is nonsense, and I countered it by citing Thomas a Kempis and Catholic mystics. But to no avail . . . Our disagreement comes at the level of premises: just not this premise, where the two sides, rightly understood, completely agree. Christians ought to be in personal relationship and intimacy with God. In fact, I would argue that Catholic mystics teach an intimacy with God (up to and including theosis or divinization) that is significantly deeper and beyond anything that can be found in Protestantism. 

they absolutely do not mean that we should ask the righteous man to pray for us instead of praying for ourselves.

I completely agree. I never said that they did: only that they give an example of this sort of prayer: "going through" others of a higher state or holiness. We can pray on our own or we can go the other route, which is completely biblical.

 Why in the world would anyone take the knowledge in those verses to mean or even to include knowledge of events going on on earth, knowledge of people's trying to talk to you by ESP, and so forth? I cannot imagine.

I cited them generally, "off the top of my head," as I stated. You don't like those possibilities so you don't see them as included. We do, because we have no such prior hostility to the notion going in. "filled with all the fulness of God" and " the fulness of Christ" are profound statements, as are "we shall be like him" and " then I shall understand fully." You don't see the sorts of things we are debating (knowledge of saints of prayers, etc.) as plausibly or possibly being included in those sorts of broad statements. We Catholics absolutely do. It all goes back to premise and the worldview one adopts, which then becomes a lens or "filter" through which everything is viewed. And I didn't even get into the many Bible passage about theosis, such as (notably) our becoming "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4).

Your most recent comment is based on the premise that merit and differential holiness and grace either don't exist or are insignificant factors. That's a completely different discussion, and I have already spent more than enough time with this, and we aren't achieving any sort of meeting of the minds as it is.  We drift further and further apart as this continues. 

Constructive, fruitful discussion must proceed from common, shared premises and then go from there. Unfortunately, what we are doing now is discovering more and more unshared premises, and so our efforts to communicate to each other become increasingly futile. We're (for whatever reason) digressing rather than progressing, and that is usually when I become much less interested in a discussion.

But I do appreciate your strong effort and refusal to condescend into personal insults or anti-Catholicism.

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