Mediator(s) and Saints

Posted on Posted in Theology

The Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue in the U.S. has been particularly productive and impressive in its output. One of its best works is the collection The One Mediator, the Saints, and Mary, which examines this obvious point of dispute between the two churches with a common statement as well as a number of supporting papers by prominent theologians from both sides.

After carefully sorting through the history and the disputes, the common statements asks where the divergences between us need to be church-dividing:

“The goal of ecumenical dialogue is not to eliminate all differences, but to make certain that the remaining differences are consonant with a fundamental consensus in the apostolic faith and therefore legitimate or at least tolerable. Reconciliation is a process admitting of many degrees, leading up to full fellowship in faith, in sacramental worship, and in a structured ecclesial life” (§90).

It then goes on to discuss remaining differences on the term “saint,” the intercession of the saints, the invocation of the saints, and marian doctrine.

Finally there are some “church-uniting convergences” (§103):

“1. We reiterate the basic affirmation that ‘our entire hope of justification and salvation rests on Christ Jesus and the gospel whereby the good news of God’s merciful action in Christ is made known; we do not place our trust in anything other than God’s promise and saving work in Christ.’

“2. We now further assert together that Jesus Christ is the sole Mediator in God’s plan of salvation (I Tim. 2:5). Christ’s saving work and role in God’s design thus determine not only the content of the gospel and its communication but also all Christian life, including our own and that of Mary and the saints who are now in heaven…

“8. The term ‘saint’ is used in both our traditions for all those justified by the grace of Christ, and, to one degree or another, for certain individuals among them, marked by holiness, who live the life of faith in devotion toward God and love toward the neighbor in exemplary ways, calling forth praise to God…

“10. The fellowship of those sanctified, the ‘holy ones’ or saints, includes believers both living and dead. There is thus a solidarity of the church throughout the world with the church triumphant…

“13. In the fellowship of the living and departed saints, believers are inspired by others, as examples of God’s grace, to greater faith, to good works, and to thanksgiving for one another.

“14. Christians honor saints in at least three ways: by thanking God for them; by having faith strengthened as a result of the saints’ response to God’s grace; and by imitating in various situations their faith and other virtues.

“15. Among the saints who have played a role in God’s plan of salvation for humanity, Mary, who bore Christ, is in particular to be honored, as ‘God-bearer’ (theotokos) and as the pure, holy, and ‘most blessed Virgin’ (laudatissima virgo)…

“17. Saints on earth ask one another to pray to God for each other through Christ. They are neither commanded nor forbidden to ask departed saints to pray for them.

“18. Devotion to the saints and Mary should not be practiced in ways that detract from the ultimate trust that is to be placed in Christ alone as Mediator.”

2 thoughts on “Mediator(s) and Saints

  1. Thirty-seven days on the road… While my own travels during this time have been neither continuous nor on foot, they’ve been frequent enough to make me long for home, not to mention looking forward to catching up with your daily posts. They’ve all been wonderful, and I join all your “fellow travelers” in thanking you for them. Your photos and posts about life on the road welcome your readers to join you along the way – virtually speaking, of course. What’s more, your thoughtful reflections on the Scriptures and ecumenical dialogue have ensured that those traveling with you do so mindfully – mindful of why you’re on the road from Erfurt to Rome and what that can mean for us all. That’s quite a gift!

    Among the topics you’ve covered (so far), one that’s captured my attention and has held my thoughts is an early post on Luther having been a friar, not a monk. It’s a distinction all too often lost to students of the Reformation, or simply ignored by a great many scholars as irrelevant to the reforming movement that Luther would launch within the Church. Nevertheless, it’s a distinction worth remembering, not to mention exploring. For while the monk’s life is one purposefully withdrawn from “the world,” the friar’s is one purposefully lived in the marketplace where the care and concerns of “ordinary” men and women cannot but imprint themselves upon his mind and heart, and cause him to consider what may be needed for the Gospel to become a living Word of hope for their lives. Could the fact that Luther was a friar and not a monk have played a determinative role in kind of reform he would eventually pursue: a reform concerned not principally with ecclesial structures, but with the very faith those structures were supposed to support – and all too often were failing.

    At the risk of reading my own experience into that of Luther, I have to admit that this has been my own experience of life as a friar. (For the record, I’m a Franciscan Friar.) The ways in which I hear the Scriptures, lecture on theology (I’m also a seminary professor), and engage the world I’m frequently traveling through are very much effected by the cares and concerns, the hopes and dreams of the men and women with whom I’m constantly rubbing shoulders – especially in the marketplace. (Yes, I do the food shopping for my local fraternity.) How different could Luther’s experience have been, at least with respect to the effect it may have had upon him in his later devotion to the reform of the Church – the necessity of which he would have seen written on the faces if his fellow pilgrims on the road to Rome? It’s a question worth asking, I believe. Thank you for the post that engendered it.

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