The Catholic Encyclopedia gives what I feel to be a needlessly confusing explanation of the veneration or honor of Saints and Angels and Relics and Statues;
There are several degrees of this worship:
if it is addressed directly to God, it is superior, absolute, supreme worship, or worship of adoration, or, according to the consecrated theological term, a worship of latria. This sovereign worship is due to God alone; addressed to a creature it would become idolatry.
When worship is addressed only indirectly to God, that is, when its object is the veneration of martyrs, of angels, or of saints, it is a subordinate worship dependent on the first, and relative, in so far as it honours the creatures of God for their peculiar relations with Him; it is designated by theologians as the worship of dulia , a term denoting servitude, and implying, when used to signify our worship of distinguished servants of God, that their service to Him is their title to our veneration (cf. Chollet, loc. cit., col. 2407, and Bouquillon, Tractatus de virtute religionis , I, Bruges, 1880, 22 sq.).
As the Blessed Virgin has a separate and absolutely supereminent rank among the saints, the worship paid to her is called hyperdulia (for the meaning and history of these terms see Suicer, Thesaurus ecclesiasticus , 1728).
In accordance with these principles it will readily be understood that a certain worship may be offered even to inanimate objects, such as the relics of a
martyr, the Cross of Christ, the Crown of Thorns, or even the statue or picture
of a saint. There is here no confusion or danger of idolatry, for this worship
is subordinate or dependent. The relic of the saint is venerated because of the
link which unites it with the person who is adored or venerated ; while the statue or picture is regarded as having a conventional relation to a person who has
a right to our homage — as being a symbol which reminds us of that person
This explanation makes me cringe. Not because it isn’t correct (it is), not because it conflicts with what we have been saying (it doesn’t). It makes me cringe because it explains this doctrine in such an utterly (and in my opinion, unnecessarily) confusing manner that we could truly blame no one for misinterpreting it. To me, doctrines should be explained in ways that eliminate confusion rather than add to it.
To that end, tonight’s show will explain why this citation is not saying that we worship Mary, the Angels, the Saints etc. even though it-admittedly- seems to be.
Let’s start by pointing out that the article specifically states that it is rendering the word worship by the Anglo-saxon (that is British) definition, a definition quite different than our own.
It so happens that in British English and American English the meaning of the words honor and worship are reversed. A judge in America would be called your honor while one in Great Britain (a predominantly protestant country btw) is called your worship. So, if you are going to claim that Catholics worship Mary and the Saints, according to the American definition, to attribute divinity to them, then you have to stipulate that people in England consider their judges to be gods.
Further, while our upper legislative chamber is called the Senate, theirs is called the house of lords. Are we to project our understanding on this body too and assume that their legislative branch is filled with a bunch of Jesus-es? Come now. Can we stop being silly?
When reading this article, the distinction is made very clear because both American and British Catholics also refer to what we call worship- the level of honor that denotes Divinity- as Adoration. Adoration is yet another word that has multiple dictionary definitions but the context that we use it in is Worship- something due God alone. We refer to it as Adoration and our Anglo-Saxon brethren have called it Worship of Adoration. It is this adoration that matches exactly what orthodox American Christians mean by Worship and to describe this Adoration or Worship as applying to the honor given Mary, The Saints, the Angels, relics or statues is not only false, it is absurd.
To suggest that Catholics do not understand that Mary was a created being, or that statues are lifeless alabaster casts, is to make the accuser, not the object of his accusation, look foolish.
This is not to say, of course, that God cannot produce miracles through these. Through Mary, God performed the miracle of the Incarnation, just as through Moses, He parted the Red Sea. Through the Apostles, He performed miracles of healings and, through His Divine will, He brought life to Elijah’s bones and voice to Balaam’s Donkey. We as Catholics could add thousands of miracles to these, whereby God worked great signs and wonders through Saints and even through Statues and religious articles.
The point is that no Catholic believes that the Saint performed the Miracle nor did the bones nor the donkey. God performed these signs. Just as Moses had to remove his shoes because God’s presence made the ground before the burning bush holy, and Uzzah was struck dead because God’s presence made the Ark of the covenant holy, so we acknowledge that God’s work, through these people, made them holy. Not Divine, but Holy.
If the magnificence of The Ark of the Covenant or Salomon’s Temple, pointed to the awesomeness of Our God, how much more the magnificent creature that carried His Son in her womb? How could we dare not to give Mary, Christ’s own Mother, the highest honor possible due a creature of God?
By honoring Mary, we are, in fact, worshiping God, Her creator, by any definition of the word. This is what the author clumsily refers to as indirect worship. Even by the British definition of worship, what we call honor, that honor is directed ultimately to God, as we marvel at His work. So, even by the benign British version of worship, we do not worship Mary, The Saints, Angels etc. These creatures are not the object of our honor, God is. These creatures are only a vehicle of honor/worship directed towards God. This is in direct opposition to Idolatry, that which we are falsely accused of.
The first commandment (that which our protestant friends mistakenly call the first two commandments is clear;
2 “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of
the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
3 You shall not have other gods besides me.
4 You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape
of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the
waters beneath the earth;
5 *you shall not bow down before them or worship them.
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting
punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of
those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation;
6 but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth
generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my
- Mary is not a goddess in Catholicism, nor is any saint a god or goddess, nor any angel, nor any Pope nor any statue. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply lying.
- We do not carve idols unto ourselves. An idol is an object of ascribed Divinity, something that takes the place of God. The statues that we have are no more idols than the statues of Angels that God Himself commanded to me made for the ark of the Covenant and the Temple. These statues remind us of some of God’s most magnificent creations, glorifying Him in that creation.
- We do not bow down before them (prostration), nor do we worship them. A bow of the head or a kneel of respect, as Salomon gave his mother in 1 Kings 2, is a far cry from falling at one’s feet and prostrating oneself in worship.
At some point, common sense must enter the equation. Catholics do not worship anyone but The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Anyone who denies this is wrong. It is just that simple.
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