Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Saints: Part I-Do Catholics Worship the Saints?

The Saints: Part I-Do Catholics "Worship" the Saints?

Matthew J. Bellisario 2010

Do Catholics worship the Saints? Yes we do! I know that is shocking right? Please read on before you assume too much from what I just wrote. Many Protestants often accuse Catholics of “worshiping” the Saints as if they are on par with God Himself. They see candles burning before an icon of the Theotokos and they automatically assume that Catholics are giving a form of worship to her that is due to God alone. This is certainly not true and yet many persist in slandering Catholics by accusing them of idolatry. The first thing that we need to look at is the term “worship.” 


Although the Church has used different terms in the past which have their origins in Greek and Latin to explain different types of worship such as dulia (worship given to the Saints-veneration), hyperdulia (Worship given to the Blessed Virgin Mary-higher form of veneration) and latria (Worship that is due to God alone) I want to focus on the English word, "worship." Because if we look at the word "worship" and what it means, it also explains these types of distinctions in the English language.

Throughout time the term “worship” has taken on many meanings. In the English language today, especially when it comes to theological terms, it is often thought of in relation to the "worship" that is due to God alone. But one problem with the English language is that it often does not have words that directly translate over to accurately represent the meaning of words in other languages. For example, the word worship in English covers a myriad of meanings, although some will insist it only means the type of "worship" that is due to God alone. However, even if we look at the Webster’s Dictionary definition, it does not define the word “worship” in this exclusive way.

n.
The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.
The ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed. 
Ardent devotion; adoration. 
often Worship Chiefly British. Used as a form of address for magistrates, mayors, and certain other dignitaries: Your Worship.
v., -shiped, or -shipped, -ship·ing, or -ship·ping, -ships, or -ships.

v.tr.
To honor and love as a deity. 
To regard with ardent or adoring esteem or devotion. See synonyms at Revere.

.intr.
To participate in religious rites of worship.
To perform an act of worship.

So even in Webster we can see that the word “worship” does not always mean the "worship" that is due to God alone. It can simply mean to regard with an ardent, adoring esteem or devotion. Why is it that Protestants often forget this meaning for the word and insist upon the other when attacking Catholics? But what is more telling are the synonyms that Webster’s gives for the word “worship.” You will see some of these words used by the Catholic Church to explain what it is that Catholics do when they light a candle in front if the icon of the Theotokos, for example. The Church frequently uses the word “venerate” as a substitute for the word “worship”, to more accurately define the action of “worshiping” Saints. In other words, we must be specific in the English language for the sake of those who would misinterpret the meaning of “worship” when it comes to the Catholic religion, because it means two entirely different things when it applies to the “worship” of God, and when it applies to the “worship” of the Saints.

Lets take a look at the synonyms and their meanings in reference to the word “worship.”

SYNONYMS revere, worship, venerate, adore, idolize.
These verbs mean to regard with the deepest respect, deference, and esteem. Revere suggests awe coupled with profound honor: "At least one third of the population ... reveres every sort of holy man" (Rudyard Kipling). Worship implies reverent love and homage rendered to God or a god: The ancient Egyptians worshiped a number of gods. In a more general sense worship connotes an often uncritical devotion: "She had worshiped intellect" (Charles Kingsley). Venerate connotes reverence accorded by virtue, especially of dignity or age: "I venerate the memory of my grandfather" (Horace Walpole). To adore is to worship with deep, often rapturous love: The students adored their caring teacher. Idolize implies worship like that accorded an object of religious devotion: He idolizes his wife.

All of these words and meanings are synonyms and meanings for the word "worship" in the English language. Now lets take a look at what the word “revere” means. Revere means to have a deepest respect and a profound honor for someone. We as Catholics have a deep respect and honor for the Saints. Adore is another synonym which means to have a deep love for someone. Finally, the most common word used to describe the form of "worship" for the Saints is the word "venerate" which means,  connoting a reverence accorded by virtue to someone. It is in the context of revering and venerating that the word “worship” is understood in reference to the Saints. It is a deep respect, honor, reverence and deep love held for our brothers and sisters in Christ who now reside in the heavenly realm with Christ. They are part of the Church Triumphant. At the same time, while we give this form of "worship" to the Saints we are also giving a type of glory to God by the mere fact that we recognize that these Saints were nothing without God’s grace. We know that the virtue that we are adoring or revering in the Saint as a person is ultimately from God, and not from the Saint themselves. So even this lessor form of "worship" or veneration in the end ultimately gives glory and honor to God Himself. It is much the same when we honor our parents as God asks us to do. We in some way also honor God by doing so, yet we are not "worshiping" our parents as we do God. So it is with this attitude that the Church teaches us to approach the Saints with. The Church does not teach that we should approach the Saints as we approach God. The word “worship” has many meanings, and Protestants outside the Church need to learn to be honest and respect the use of the word as it is intended to be used by the Catholic Church. It is  intellectually dishonest to say that Catholics are "worshiping" the Saints in the manner that is due to God alone, this is simply not true.

The next article in this series I will be focusing on whether or not the Saints can hear and can continue to pray for us in heaven. I will also address the lighting of candles and its symbolism in the veneration of the Saints as well. Stay tuned. 

4 comments:

GADEL said...

Good start my dear brother Matthew. I have just shared the link on Facebook. Pax Christi. GADEL

John Lollard said...

I'm confused. All the definitions of worship that you cited explicitly refer to God, a god, or an idol. Look at them again.

n.
The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.
The ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed. Ardent devotion; adoration.
often Worship Chiefly British. Used as a form of address for magistrates, mayors, and certain other dignitaries: Your Worship.
v., -shiped, or -shipped, -ship·ing, or -ship·ping, -ships, or -ships.

v.tr.
To honor and love as a deity. To regard with ardent or adoring esteem or devotion. See synonyms at Revere.

.intr.
To participate in religious rites of worship.
To perform an act of worship.

Are you then admitting that Catholic's honor and love as a deity Mary and the saints, or that they offer to them the love and devotion accorded to a god, idol, or sacred object?

I doubt that you are admitting that, however I don't see what other possible conclusion to come to from your insistence that Catholics "worship" the saints and the definition that you cite of what "worship" means.

Your argument in the post more or less seems to amount to saying that in fact Catholics don't worship the saints and instead provide them reverence and veneration and that Webster's thesaurus lists "worship" as a synonym to reverence and veneration. At the same time, in that thesaurus entry, it defines worship as "reverent love and homage rendered to God or a god", such as that done by the pagan Egyptians.

Basically, your argument seems to be one thing, but the material that you provide seems to be saying another thing altogether. You may want to look into that.

Love in Christ,
JL

Matthew Bellisario said...

No, read the definitions again. They are listed. One of them, "To regard with ardent or adoring esteem or devotion. See synonyms Revere" That is not giving worship to a deity, it is simply to an ardent adoration or esteem. I'm not sure what the confusion for you is.

Poetry said...

I really think to keep this clear for those who can't understand it, maybe we should just reserve the word "worship" for God and use the word "venerate" for Our Blessed Lady and the saints. Then those like the previous poster would not still be confused.

www.irish-poems.com