Sunday, October 25, 2015

610 CE - Religion in Decline - Praying to saints

This is the continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
During the classical age, when Greek and Roman civilization ruled the world, there remained one group of people who were not corrupted by their culture, that being the Jews. One of the striking differences between the Jews and the Greeks and Romans was the total lack of hero worship among the Jews. While the Greeks and Romans celebrated and worshiped their heroes, none of this can be found among the Jewish people.

With the birth of the church, this lack of hero worship transitioned from the Jewish culture into the Christian culture. It wasn't until Christianity's expansion to the east, to the Greek speaking people, that veneration for Christian heroes began to take hold. The persecutions of the second and third centuries produced ample subjects worthy of hero status. Many people held those who suffered well under the pains of martyrdom in great honor. This veneration included remembering the anniversary of their death, sleeping outside their tombs, and leaving food at their tombs. Augustine, in the fourth century, wrote of his mother's participation in such practices. "When, therefore, my mother had at one time—as was her custom in Africa—brought to the oratories built in the memory of the saints certain cakes, and bread, and wine, and was forbidden by the door-keeper, so soon as she learnt that it was the bishop who had forbidden it, she so piously and obediently acceded to it, that I myself marvelled how readily she could bring herself to accuse her own custom, rather than question his prohibition." (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book VI, Chapter 2)

The debate over what was the acceptable limits of veneration of martyrs and saints continued for many centuries. While official doctrine may have differentiated between the honor due to God and the honor due to martyrs and saints, this difference did not always translate into practice. "But the people did not always mind this distinction, and the priests rather encouraged the excesses of saint-worship. Prayers were freely addressed to the saints, though not as the givers of the blessings desired, but as intercessors and advocates. Hence the form 'Pray for us' (Ora pro nobis)." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 99. The Worship of Saints)

Muhammad condemned this practice of praying to saints, "And they say, 'These are our intercessors [advocates] with God.' Say: 'Will you tell God what He knows not either in the heavens or in the earth?'" (Koran 10:19) Jesus, in teaching us to pray, taught us, "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name." (Matthew 6:9) Jesus never taught us to pray to any person or to pray through the agency of any human. He, and his disciples, always taught us to pray directly to God. This notion of praying to another that they might assist our prayers in heaven, is completely foreign to the apostolic doctrines we have received and to the very message of Jesus as He Himself taught it. Any such doctrine did not come from God but from man. Any assertion that such teaching is apostolic is devoid of any historical evidence from the documents that have survived down to us today.

Regardless of what Muhammad may have thought, not all Muslims today hold to the same prohibition of enlisting the intersession of the departed in the efforts of our prayers. Imam Reza was a decendent if Muhammad, was the eighth Shi'a Imam, and died in 819. Today, many Shi'a devotees regularly pray to Imam Reza that their prayers may have more success with God. They see Imam Reza as being in a higher place and able to raise their prayers to God when they themselves, in their lowly state, are unable to so. However reasonable this may sound, it is in opposition to both the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad.

More to come
David Robison

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