Tradition on the Invocation of Saints.
The Tradition of the Church, from the earliest ages, proves to demonstration the Catholic doctrine of the Invocation and Intercession of the Saints. We have before us such abundance of material, what the French so happily call, embarras de richesses, that we regret that the object our little book, "Devotion to St. Joseph," compels us to confine ourselves to a few passages.
THE CATACOMBS OF ROME.
Every student of history knows that, in the first ages of Christianity, the bodies of the Saints and Martyrs were deposited in the Catacombs. The emblems and inscriptions on the walls of those venerable cemeteries, fresh to this day, attest the belief of those who cheerfully shed their blood for Jesus Christ. 0n the tomb of the martyr Sabbatius was found, in the year 1694, the following inscription:—
"Sabbatius, sweet soul, pray and entreat for thy brethren and comrades." *
We read on another tomb:—
"Atticus, thy spirit is in bliss, pray for thy parents."
0n the tomb of Priscilla was found the following invocation:—
"Anatolinus made this monument to his well-deserving son, who lived seven years. May thy spirit rest well in God, and thou pray for thy sister."
"Pray for us, because thee know thou art in Christ."
We shall give only one more inscription lately found in the Catacomb of St. Agnes:
"Young and innocent Dionysius, sleeps here with the Saints, remember us all in your holy prayers, especially the sculptor and the writer."
Now, no Protestants can deny or doubt that the faith was pure and undefiled in those early ages. Those early Christians received the faith from the Apostles themselves, or from their immediate successors. And what do we find? The Christians of that time, as we Catholics to-day, invoked the aid of the Saints of God in Paradise. They then carried their lives in their hands, and were prepared to meet, and did meet, death in its fiercest shape with courage and fortitude; yet they, who sealed their faith with their blood, loved Jesus not less because they loved His Saints; and did no injury to the merits of Christ, as sole Mediator, by invoking, as we Catholics do to-day, the Intercession of the Saints who reign in eternal bliss.
The blood of the martyrs was the seed of Christianity; persecution, the wicked powers of earth and hell leagued together, could not destroy the Church built upon the rock. God was pleased with the fidelity of His people; liberty dawned upon the Church; the Christians issued from their hiding-places, and by voice and pen propagated and defended the Gospel of Redemption. Hence, in the writings of the earliest Fathers, we find passages that clearly prove the doctrine of the Catholic Church on the Invocation of Saints.
We shall quote only a few Fathers from the Greek and Latin Churches.
Early Greek Fathers on the Invocation of Saints.
0rigen, who was born in the year 185, and died in the year 253, writes thus: "And of all the holy men who have quitted this life, retaining their charity towards those they have left behind, we may be allowed to say that they are anxious for their salvation, and that they assist them by their prayers and their mediation with God." 0n the Lamentations he writes: "I will fall down on my knees, and not presuming, on account of my crimes, to present my prayers to God, / will invoke all the Saints to my assistance. 0 ye Saints of heaven, I beseech you, with sorrow, full of sighs and tears, to fall at the feet of the Lord of mercies for me, a miserable sinner." St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who wrote in the fourth century, says: "We must commemorate those who are gone before us—the Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs— begging that, through their prayers, God would receive our supplication. We then pray for the holy fathers and bishops that are dead; and for all the faithful departed, believing that their souls receive very great relief by the prayers that are offered for them while this holy and tremendous victim lies upon the altar." This passage clearly proves the Catholic doctrine on Purgatory as well as on the Invocation of Saints.
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, who flourished in the fourth century, and died in the year 338, writes: "May we be found worthy by the prayers and Intercession of the Saints."
St. Ephrem, the glory of the Syrian Church, in the fourth century, prays to the Saints thus: "I entreat you, holy Martyrs, who have suffered so much for the Lord, that you would intercede for us with Him, that He bestow His grace on us." In another place the Saint prays: "We fly to thy patronage, Holy Mother of God; protect and guard us under the wings of thy mercy and kindness. Most merciful God, through the intercession of the most Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the Angels and Saints, show pity to thy creature."* These words, written more than 1,500 years ago, clearly prove that Christians then believed and prayed as we Catholics do to-day.
We might quote passages from St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, and other Fathers, &c, but we shall content ourselves with one more Greek Father, St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, who was the glory of the Church in the fourth century, and died in the year 379. St. Basil, in his panegyric on the forty martyrs, says: "These are they who, having taken possession of our country, stand as towers against the incursions of the enemy. Here is a ready aid to Christians. 0ften you have endeavoured, often you have toiled, to gain one intercessor. Thou have now forty, all emitting one common prayer. Whoever is oppressed by care has recourse to their aid, as he has that prospers: the first, to seek deliverance; the second, that his good fortune may continue. The pious mother is found praying for her children, and the wife for the return and health of her husband. 0 ye common guardians of the human race, co-operators in our prayers, most powerful messengers, stars of the world and flowers of churches, let us join our prayers with yours."
From the above passages it is as clear as the light of day, that in the second, third, fourth, and fifth centuries, the Greek Fathers of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Syria, Caesarea, and Constantinople, believed and prayed, as we Catholics do to-day in the nineteenth century. The faith of the Catholic Church is as immutable as God Himself, "yesterday, and to-day, and the same forever" (Heb. xiii. 8).
The early Latin Fathers on the Invocation of Saints
St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who flourished in the third century, and sealed his faith with his blood in the year 258, writes
"Let us be mindful of one another in our prayers; with one mind and with one heart, in this world and in the next, let us always pray, with mutual charity, relieving our sufferings and afflictions. And may the charity of him, who, by the Divine favour, shall first depart hence, still persevere before the Lord; may his prayer for our brethren and sisters not cease." Therefore, according to St. Cyprian, after death, as in life, we are to pray for one another.
St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, who wrote in the fourth century, and died in the year 397, writes: "' Peter and Andrew interceded for the widow' (Luke, iv. 38). It were well if we could obtain so speedy an intercessor; but, surely, they who implored the Lord for their relative can do the same for us. You see that she who was a sinner was little fitting to pray for herself, or at least to obtain what she asked. 0ther intercessors to the Physician were, therefore, necessary. The Angels, who are appointed to be our guardians, must be invoked; and the Martyrs likewise, whose bodies seemed to be a pledge for their patronage. They who, in their blood, washed away every stain of sin, can implore forgiveness for us: they are our guides, and see our lives and actions; to them, therefore, we should not blush to have recourse."
We shall quote but one more Latin Father, the great St. Augustin, who was born at Tagastum, in Africa, in the year 354, one of the greatest lights and Doctors of the Church of God. "The Christian people," writes the Saint, "celebrate the memories of the martyrs with a religious solemnity, in order that they may learn to imitate them, and may be associated to their merits, and be aided by their prayers." In another place be writes: "It is a proof of kind regard towards the dead when their bodies are deposited near the monuments of Saints. But in what are they thus aided, unless in this, that recollecting the place where they lie, we be induced to recommend them to the patronage of those Saints for their prayers to God. Calling, therefore, to mind the grave of a departed friend, and the near monument of the venerable martyr, we naturally commend the soul to his prayers. And that the souls of those will be thereby benefited who so lived as to deserve it, there can be no doubt."*
We might site passages from other Latin Fathers, but the above quotations clearly prove that St. Augustin preached the Invocation of Saints at Hippo, St. Cyprian at Carthage, and St. Ambrose at Milan, and that in the third and fourth centuries.