I. Are the Saints cognizant of our Prayers?
II. Ought we to appeal to the Saints to intercede for us? III. Are the Saints' Prayers to God for us always heard?
Are the Saints cognizant of our Prayers?
On those words of Job, Whether his children come to honour or dishonour, he shall not understand, S. Gregory says: |This is not to be understood of the souls of the Saints, for they see from within the glory of Almighty God, it is in nowise credible that there should be anything without of which they are ignorant.|
And he says also: |To the soul that sees its Creator all created things are but trifling; for, however little of the Creator's light he sees, all that is created becomes of small import to him.| Yet the greatest difficulty in saying that the souls of the Saints know our prayers and other things which concern us, is their distance from us. But since, according to the authority just quoted, this distance does not preclude such knowledge, it appears that the souls of the Saints do know our prayers and other things which concern us.
Further, if they did not know what concerned us, neither would they pray for us, since they would not know our deficiencies. But this was the error of Vigilantius, as S. Jerome says in his Epistle against him. The Saints, then, know what concerns us.
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The Divine Essence, then, is a sufficient medium for knowing all things, as, indeed, is evident from the fact that God in seeing His own essence sees all things. Yet it does not follow that whoever sees the Essence of God therefore sees all things, but those only who comprehend the Essence of God; just in the same way as it does not follow that because we know a principle we therefore know all that that principle contains, for that would only be the case if we comprehended the whole power of the principle. Since, then, the souls of the Saints do not comprehend the Divine Essence, it does not follow that they know everything which could be known through the medium of that Divine Essence. Hence the inferior Angels are taught certain things by the higher Angels, though all see the Divine Essence. But each person in possession of the Beatific Vision only sees in the Divine Essence as much of other things as is necessitated by the degree of perfection of his beatitude; and for the perfection of beatitude it is required that a man |should have whatever he wants, and should desire nothing in an inordinate fashion.| Each one, however, rightly desires to know those things which concern himself. Hence, since no rectitude is lacking to the Saints, they wish to know those things which concern themselves, and consequently they must know them in the Word. But it belongs to their glory that they should be able to help on the salvation of those who need it, for it is thus that they are made co-workers with God -- |than which there is nought more Divine,| as Denis says. It is clear, then, that the Saints have a knowledge of those things which are requisite for this end. And so, too, it is manifest that they know in the Word the desires, the devout acts and the prayers, of men who fly to them for help.
Some, however, maintain that the Saints do not know our prayers, thus:
1. On the words of Isaias, Thou art our Father, and Abraham hath not known us, and Israel hath been ignorant of us, the Interlinear Gloss has: |For the Saints who are dead know not what the living do, even their own children.| This is taken from S. Augustine's treatise On Care for the Dead, xiii., where he quotes these words, and adds: |If these great Patriarchs were ignorant of what concerned those whom they had begotten, how can the dead be concerned with knowing and assisting the affairs and the deeds of the living?| Hence it would seem that the Saints are not cognizant of our prayers.
But these words of S. Augustine are to be understood of the natural knowledge of the souls separated (from this world); and this knowledge is not obscured in holy men as it is in sinners. Moreover, S. Augustine is not talking of that knowledge which is in the Word, a knowledge which it is clear that Abraham had not at the time that Isaias said these things; for anterior to Christ's Passion no one had attained to the Vision of God.
2. In 4 Kings xxii.20, it is said to Josias the king: Therefore -- because, that is, thou didst weep before Me -- I will gather thee to thy fathers ... that thy eyes may not see all the evils which I will bring upon this place. But the death of Josias would have been no relief to him if he was to know after death what was going to happen to his nation. The Saints, then, who are dead, do not know our acts, and consequently cannot understand our prayers.
But although after this life the Saints know the things which are done here below, we are not therefore to suppose that they are filled with grief at the knowledge of the afflictions of those whom they loved in the world. For they are so filled with the joy of their beatitude that sorrow finds no place in them. Hence, if they know after death the evil plight of those dear to them, it is none the less a relief to their sorrow if they are withdrawn from this world before those woes come on.
At the same time it is possible that souls not yet in glory would feel a certain grief if they were made aware of the sorrows of those dear to them. And since the soul of Josias was not immediately glorified on its quitting the body, S. Augustine endeavours to argue that the souls of the dead have no knowledge of the deeds of the living.
3. Again, the more a person is perfected in charity the more ready he is to succour his neighbour in peril. But the Saints while still in the flesh had a care for their neighbours, and especially for their relatives, when in peril. Since, then, they are after death far more perfected in charity, if they were cognizant of our deeds, they would have now a much greater care for those dear to them or related to them, and would help them much more in their necessities; but this does not seem to be the case. Whence it would seem that they are not cognizant of our actions nor of our prayers.
But the souls of the Saints have their will perfectly conformed to the Will of God, even in what they would will. Consequently, while retaining their feelings of charity towards their neighbour, they afford them no other assistance than that which they see is arranged for them in accordance with Divine Justice. Yet at the same time we must believe that they help their neighbours very much indeed by interceding for them with God.
4. Further, just as the Saints after death see the Word, so also do the Angels, for of them it is said: Their Angels in Heaven always see the face of My Father Who is in Heaven. But the Angels, though seeing the Word, do not therefore know all things, for the inferior Angels are purified of their ignorance by the superior Angels, as is evident from Denis. Consequently, neither do the Saints, although they see the Word, know in It our prayers and other things which concern us.
But although it is not necessary that those who see the Word should see all things in the Word, they none the less see those things which belong to the perfection of their beatitude, as we have said above.
5. Lastly, God alone is the Searcher of hearts. But prayer is essentially an affair of the heart. Consequently God alone knows our prayers.
But God alone knows of Himself the thoughts of the heart; others know them according as they are revealed to them either in their vision of the Word or in any other way.
Ought we to appeal to the Saints to intercede for us?
In the Book of Job, it is said: Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and turn to some of the Saints. And on this S. Gregory says: |It is our business to call, and to beseech God in humble prayer.| When, then, we desire to pray to God, we ought to turn to the Saints that they may pray for us.
Further, the Saints who are in the Fatherland are more acceptable in the sight of God than they were when upon earth. But we ought to ask the Saints even when on earth to be our intercessors with God, as the Apostle shows us by his example when he says: I beseech you, therefore, brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the charity of the Holy Ghost, that you help me in your prayers for me to God. Much more, then, should we ask the Saints who are in our Fatherland to help us by their prayers to God.
Moreover, the common custom of the Church confirms this, since in her Litanies she asks the prayers of the Saints.
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In the words of Denis, |there is this Divinely established harmony in things -- that they which hold the lowest place should be brought to God through them that come between them and God.| Since, then, the Saints who are in our Fatherland are most nigh to God, the harmony of the Divine Government demands that we who, abiding in the body, are |absent from the Lord,| should be led to Him by the Saints who stand midway; and this is secured when through their means the Divine Goodness pours out Its effects upon us. And since our return to God ought to correspond to the orderly way in which His goodnesses flow upon us -- for His benefits flow out upon us through the intervention of the Saints' suffrages for us -- so also ought we to be brought back to God through the intervention of the Saints, and thus once more receive His benefits. Whence it is that we make them our intercessors for us with God -- and, as it were, mediators -- by begging them to pray for us.
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But some say that we should not ask the Saints to pray for us, thus:
1. No one asks a man's friends to intercede for him except in so far as he thinks that he can obtain a favour more easily through them. But God is infinitely more merciful than any Saint, and consequently His Will is more readily inclined to hear us than is the will of any Saint. Whence it would seem superfluous to make the Saints mediators between ourselves and God, and so ask them to intercede for us.
But just as it is not by reason of any deficiency on the part of the Divine Power that It works through the mediumship of secondary causes, whereas it rather tends to the fulfilment of the harmony of the universe that His Goodness should be more copiously diffused upon things, so that things not only receive from Him their own peculiar goodness, but themselves become a source of goodness to other things as well; so in the same way it is not by reason of any lack of mercy on His part that appeal to His mercy by means of the prayers of the Saints is fitting; but this is done in order that the aforesaid harmony may be preserved.
2. If we ought to ask the Saints to pray for us, it can only be because we know that their prayers are acceptable to God. But the more saintly is a Saint, the more acceptable is his prayer to God. Consequently we ought always to make the greater Saints our intercessors with God, and never the lesser ones.
Yet although the greater Saints are more acceptable to God than are the lesser ones, it is still useful to pray sometimes to the lesser Saints. And this for five reasons: Firstly, because a man sometimes has a greater devotion to some lesser Saint than to one who is greater; and the efficacy of our prayers depends very much on our devotion. Secondly, in order to avoid weariness; for unremitting application to one thing begets distaste; but when we pray to various Saints fresh devotional fervour is stirred up in practically each case. Thirdly, because certain Saints are appointed the patrons of certain particular cases, so S. Antony for the avoidance of hell-fire. Fourthly, that so we may show due honour to them all. Fifthly, because sometimes a favour may be gained at the prayer of many which would not be gained at the prayer of one alone.
3. Christ, even as man, is termed the Saint of Saints; and it belongs to Him, as man, to pray. Yet we never ask Christ to pray for us. Hence it is superfluous to make the Saints our intercessors with God.
But prayer is an act. And acts belong to individual beings. Consequently, if we were to say, Christ, pray for us, we should appear, unless we added something, to be referring this to Christ's Person, and thus we might seem to fall into the error of Nestorius who regarded the Person of the Son of Man as distinct in Christ from the Person of the Son of God; or perhaps, too, into the error of Arius who regarded the Person of the Son as less than the Father. In order, then, to avoid these errors, the Church does not say, Christ, pray for us, but Christ, hear us, or Christ, have mercy on us.
4. Once more, when one is asked to intercede for another, he presents the latter's prayers to him with whom he has to intercede. But it is superfluous to present anything to Him to Whom all things are present. Hence it is superfluous to make the Saints our intercessors with God.
But the Saints are not said to present our prayers to God as though they were manifesting to Him something which He did not know, but in the sense that they ask that these prayers may be heard by God, or that they consult the Divine Truth concerning them, so as to know what, according to His providence, ought to be done.
5. Lastly, that must be held superfluous which is done for the sake of something which, whether the former were done or not, would yet take place -- or not take place -- all the same. But similarly, the Saints would pray for us or not pray for us whether we asked them to do so or not. For if we deserve that they should pray for us, they would pray for us, even though we did not ask them to do so; if, on the other hand, we are not deserving that they should pray for us, then they do not pray for us -- even though we ask them to do so. Hence to ask them to pray for us seems altogether superfluous.
But a man becomes deserving that some Saint should pray for him from the very fact that with pure-hearted devotion he has recourse to him in his needs. Hence it is not superfluous to pray to the Saints.
Are the Saints' Prayers to God for us always heard?
In 2 Maccabees xv.14 it is said: This is he that prayeth much for the people, and for all the Holy City, Jeremias the prophet of God; and that his prayer was heard is evident from what follows, for Jeremias stretched forth his right hand and gave to Judas a sword of gold, saying: Take this holy sword, a gift from God, etc.
Further, S. Jerome says: |You say in your book that while we live we can pray for one another, but that after we are dead no one's prayer for others will be heard|; and S. Jerome condemns this statement thus: |If the Apostles and Martyrs while still in the body could pray for others while as yet solicitous for themselves, how much more when they have won their crown, completed the victory, and gained their triumph?|
Moreover, the Church's custom confirms this, for she frequently asks to be helped by the prayers of the Saints.
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The Saints are said to pray for us in two ways: firstly, by express prayer, when they by their ardent desires appeal to the ears of the Divine Mercy for us; secondly, by interpretative prayer -- namely, by their merits which, standing as the Saints do in the sight of God, not only tend to their own glory but are, as it were, suffrages -- and even prayers -- for us; just as the Blood of Christ, shed for us, is said to ask pardon for us. And in both ways the prayers of the Saints are, as far as in them lies, efficacious in obtaining what they ask for. But that we do not obtain the fruit of their prayers may be due to defects on our part, according, that is, as they are said to pray for us in the sense that their merits avail for us. But according as they actually do pray for us -- that is, ask something for us by their desires -- they are always heard. For the Saints only wish what God wishes, and they only ask for what they wish should be done; what God, however, wishes is always done -- unless, indeed, we are speaking of the antecedent will of God, according to which He wills all men to be saved: this will is not always fulfilled. Hence it is not to be wondered at if what the Saints also will according to this kind of will is not always fulfilled.
But some maintain that the Saints' prayers for us are not always heard, thus:
1. If the Saints' prayers were always heard, they would be especially heard when they pray for those things which affect themselves. Yet they are not always heard as regards these things, for to the Martyrs who prayed for vengeance upon the inhabitants of the earth it was said that they should rest for a little time till the number of their brethren should be filled up. Much less, then, are their prayers heard for things that do not concern them.
But this prayer of the Martyrs is nothing more than their desire to obtain the garment of the body and the society of the Saints who are to be saved; it expresses their agreement with the Divine Justice which punishes the wicked. Hence on those words of the Apocalypse, How long, O Lord, the Ordinary Gloss says: |They yearn for a greater joy, and for the companionship of the Saints, and they agree with the justice of God.|
2. It is said in Jeremias: If Moses and Samuel shall stand before Me, My soul is not towards this people. The Saints, then, are not always heard when they pray for us to God.
But God here speaks of Moses and Samuel according as they were in this life, for they are said to have prayed for the people and thus withstood the wrath of God. Yet none the less, had they lived in Jeremias' time they would not have been able to appease by their prayers God's wrath upon the people, so great was the latter's wickedness. This is the meaning of that passage.
3. The Saints in our Fatherland are said to be the equals of the Angels. But the Angels are not always heard in their prayers to God, as is evident from Daniel: I am come for thy words. But the Prince of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me one and twenty days. But the Angel who spoke had not come to Daniel's assistance without asking his freedom from God; yet none the less the fulfilment of his prayer was hindered. In the same way, then, neither are the prayers of other Saints to God for us always heard.
But this contest of the good Angels is not to be understood in the sense that they put forth contrary prayers before God, but that they set before the Divine scrutiny conflicting merits on either hand, and awaited the Divine decision. Thus S. Gregory, expounding the above words of Daniel, says: |These sublime Spirits who rule over the nations in no sense strive for those who do evil, but they scrutinize their deeds and judge justly; hence, when the faults or the merits of any nation are submitted to the Council of the Supreme Court, he who is set over that particular nation is described as either losing or failing in the contest. But the sole victory for all of them is the supreme will of his Creator above him; and since they ever look towards that Will, they never desire what they cannot obtain,| and hence never ask for it. Whence it is clear that their prayers are always heard.
4. Whoever obtains something by prayer in a certain sense merits it. But the Saints who are in our Fatherland are no longer capable of meriting. Therefore they cannot obtain anything for us from God by their prayers.
But although the Saints when once they are in our Fatherland are not capable of meriting for themselves, they are still capable of meriting for others, or rather of helping others by reason of their own previous merits. For when alive they merited from God that their prayers should be heard after death. Or we might say that in prayer merit and the power to obtain what we ask do not rest on the same basis. For merit consists in a certain correspondence between an act and the end towards which it is directed and which is given to it as its reward; but the impetratory power of prayer rests upon the generosity of him from whom we ask something. Consequently prayer sometimes wins from the generosity of him to whom it is made what perhaps was not merited either by him who asked nor by him for whom he asked. And thus, though the Saints are no longer capable of meriting, it does not follow that they are incapable of winning things from God.
5. Again, the Saints conform their will in all things to the Divine Will. Therefore they can only will what they know God wills. But no one prays save for what he wishes. Consequently they only pray for what they know God wills. But what God wills would take place whether they prayed or not. Consequently their prayers have no power to obtain things.
But, as is evident from the passage of S. Gregory quoted above in reply to the third difficulty, neither the Saints nor the Angels will anything save what they see in the Divine Will. And consequently they ask for nothing else save this. But it does not follow that their prayers are without fruit, for, as S. Augustine says in his treatise, On the Predestination of the Saints, and S. Gregory in his Dialogues, the prayers of the Saints avail for the predestinate, because perhaps it was pre-ordained that they should be saved by the prayers of those who interceded for them. And so, too, God wills that by the prayers of the Saints should be fulfilled what the Saints see that He wills.
6. Lastly, the prayers of the entire Court of Heaven should, if they can gain anything at all, be far more efficacious than all the suffrages of the Church on earth. But if all the suffrages of the Church on earth were to be accumulated upon one soul in Purgatory, it would be entirely freed from punishment. Since, then, the Saints who are in our Fatherland have the same reason for praying for the souls in Purgatory as they have for praying for us, they would by their prayers, if they could obtain anything for us, wholly deliver from suffering those who are in Purgatory. But this is false, for if it were true, then the suffrages of the Church for the dead would be superfluous.
But the suffrages of the Church for the dead are, as it were, satisfactions offered by the living in place of the dead, and thus they free the dead from that debt of punishment which they have not paid. But the Saints who are in our Fatherland are not capable of making satisfaction. And thus there is no parity between their prayers and the Church's suffrages.
Moralia in Job, xii.14.
Contra Vigilant., vi.
S. Augustine: Of the Trinity, xiii.5.
Of the Heavenly Hierarchy, iii.
De Cura Mortuorum, 13, 14, 15.
S. Matt, xviii.10.
Of the Heavenly Hierarchy, vii.; and Of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, vi.
Moralia in Job, v.30.
Of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, v.
Ep. contra Vigilantium, vi.
S. Matt. xxii.30.
Moralia on Job, xvii.12.
De Dono Perseverantiae, xxii.