Patristic Testimony on Prayers to Saints, Veneration of Martyrs, Purgatory, and the Sacrifice of the Mass

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In my discussions with Protestant brethren, I continue to hear the idea that crazy things such as praying to Saints for intercession, venerating the dead pieces of human bodies, a process of post mortem pains to satisfy residual purgatorial punishment, and the Altar of the Church upon which Christ is sacrificed as a propitiation on behalf of the living and the dead are late Medieval inventions which have no place in the early Christian church. However, the historical record would strongly refute this erroneous conception. Here below I will provide statements from extremely credible early Church Fathers who lived in far distant regions from each other, showing how universal and traditional these beliefs and activities were already beginning in the middle of the 4th-century. In so doing, we capture the beliefs of Christians in North Africa, Egypt, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch, Syria, Rome, and Milan. Fortunately, there had been some folks during this time which thought to accuse the catholics of idolatry and paganism which, in turn, provides us with some of the early defenses for these practices which come across as very awkward and heinous to many Protestants today. Moreover, I also hope this article will help those who are struggling in the search for true Apostolic Christianity. Often enough, those who are coming from a Protestant background exhibit a truly commendable concern to be thorough with their research, and are extremely hesitant to come to conclusions based off minimal or unclear data. What we see here below is that by at least the 4th century, Christians were holding to the beliefs and practices listed in the title of this article as universal tradition. Any and all push back was swallowed up by the sheer catholicity of praxis. This also bears a special testimony that the Apostolic churches of East and West (and by this, I mean Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Assyrian Churches of the East) are the true inheritors of the Apostolic patrimony. How so? Because we know from Holy Scripture that our Lord promised that the gospel would reach from Jerusalem and spread out unto all nations, unto the ends of the earth, and unto the end of the age. He also made clear that He would divinely assist the Church in her mission of making disciples and preaching the authentic gospel (Mark 16:16-18, Matthew 28:18-20). These promises render it impossible for the whole Church universal to make a bee-line for soul injuring heresies, which have no place in the deposit of revelation handed on by Christ and the Apostle, for over 1,000 years before the Reformers came along. I myself write from a Catholic perspective, and so I reason from those lens. However, without pressuring anyone into wearing these lens, I merely provide you with some of the best data on these matters in the ancient Church, and allow yourself to judge what meaning should be given to what is provided. I think what all sides can admit is that the universal beliefs in the pertinent subjects mentioned held the moral unanimity and consensus of Christians until the Protestant Reformation, where both understandable hermeneutics of suspicion were born and a hesitancy to belief in anything no explicitly taught in Scripture became normative. Even the renowned German liberal historian Adolf Von Harnack (1851-1930) admitted the following:

“Most offensive was the worship of relics. It flourished to its greatest extent as early as the fourth century and no Church doctor of repute restricted it. All of them rather, even the Cappadocians, countenanced it. The numerous miracles which were wrought by bones and relics seemed to confirm their worship. The Church, therefore, would not give up the practice, although a violent attack was made upon it by a few cultured heathens and besides by the Manicheans” (History of Dogma, Vol IV, p. 313)

Alright, I’m done with my preliminary remarks. Now, to the sources.

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Execution of Saint Polycarp

In the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp (156 AD), composed by the Church of Smyrna, we read of the desire to collect his remains for the purpose of veneration. While we are not told exactly what they did with the remains, it is clear that they were brought to focus on the anniversary of the Saints death (commemoration into glory), and documents which survived from later date would show that they took this opportunity to invoke these Saints for intercession.

“For Him indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore; but the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the Lord, we worthily love on account of their extraordinary affection towards their own King and Master, of whom may we also be made companions and fellow disciples! The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed the body in the midst of the fire, and consumed it. Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.” (ch. 17)


 

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Tertullian

Tertullian (160-220), a North African priest and theologian, wrote briefly on this idea of celebrating the departed on the date of their death: “We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries” (The Crown 3:3-4). And also: “A woman, after the death of her husband, is bound not less firmly but even more so, not to marry another husband…Indeed, she prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice [of the Eucharist].” (Monogamy 10:1,4)

The documentary evidence of later years tells us that prayers and sacrifices were made on behalf of the departed who needed it, but the martyrs were invoked in order for them to intercede for us before God. However, it seems that even sacrifices for the martyrs were made in the earlier years. It is very likely this is the idea that the Christians of Smyrna had when collecting the remains of St. Polycarp.


 

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Martyrdom of St. Hippolytus of Rome

St. Hippolytus (170-235), Priest of the Roman Church, wrote the oldest surviving Christian commentary on Sacred Scripture. His commentary on the Book of Daniel, composed around 200-211 AD, was written with the aim of comforting his fellow persecuted brethren in the Lord. In this commentary, Hippolytus invokes Shadrach, Mescach, and Abednego and requests the following.

“Tell me, you three boys, remember me, I entreat you, that I also may obtain the same lot of martyrdom with you, who was the fourth person with you who was walking in the midst of the furnace and who was hymning to God with you as from one mouth? Describe to us his form and beauty so that we also, seeing him in the flesh, may recognize him.” (30.1[2])

In 235, St. Hippolytus received what he requested by suffering martyrdom after being exiled to Sardinia.


 

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Cyprian of Carthage

St. Cyprian of Carthage (+256), a well known martyr of the 3rd century, wrote:

“We celebrate the suffering of the martyrs and their days by annual commemorations” (Epistle 33)

“Finally, also, take note of their days on which they depart, that we may celebrate their commemoration among the memorials of the martyrs, although Tertullus, our most faithful and devoted brother, who, in addition to the other solicitude and care which he shows to the brethren in all service of labour, is not wanting besides in that respect in any care of their bodies, has written, and does write and intimate to me the days, in which our blessed brethren in prison pass by the gate of a glorious death to their immortality; and there are celebrated here by us oblations and sacrifices for their commemorations, which things, with the Lord’s protection, we shall soon celebrate with you.” (Epistle 36)


 

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Ambrose of Milan

Here below, St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397), who was born into a Christian family, became highly influential to the newly converted St. Augustine, and who presided as Bishop over Milan explains the basic confession in the real intercessory activity of venerated Saints in heaven on behalf of Christians living in this life. Indeed, he endorses that we should pray to them for aid in our weaknesses. He wrote:

“When Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with violent fever, Peter and Andrew besought the Lord for her: ‘And He stood over her and commanded the fever and it left her, and immediately she arose and ministered unto them’..So Peter and Andrew prayed for the widow. Would that there were some one who could so quickly pray for us, or better still, they who prayed for the mother-in-law — Peter and Andrew his brother. Then they could pray for one related to them, now they are able to pray for us and for all. For you see that one bound by great sin is less fit to pray for herself, certainly less likely to obtain for herself. Let her then make use of others to pray for her to the Physician [Christ]. For the sick, unless the Physician be called to them by the prayers of others, cannot pray for themselves. The flesh is weak, the soul is sick, and hindered by the chains of sins, and cannot direct its feeble steps to the throne of that great Physician. The angels must be entreated for us, who have been to us as guardians; the martyrs must be entreated whose patronage we seem to claim by a sort of pledge, the possession of their body. They can entreat for our sins, who, if they had any sins, washed them in their own blood; for they are the martyrs of God, our leaders, the beholders of our life and of our actions. Let us not be ashamed to take them as intercessors for our weakness, for they themselves knew the weakness of the body, even when they overcame”  – (St. Ambrose, De Viduis, Ch. 9  [MSL, 16:264], taken from A Source Book for Ancient Church History: From the Apostolic Age to the Close of the Conciliar Period by Joseph Cullen Ayer, Jr., Ph.D., page 397)
ambroseofmilanIn one epistle, Ambrose recounts the miraculous discovery of the dead bodies of Christian martyrs Sts. Gervasius and Protasius and therein is described a miraculous intervention through the instrumentality of the relics:

“As I do not wish anything which takes place here in your absence to escape the knowledge of your holiness, you must know that we have found some bodies of holy martyrs. For after I had dedicated the basilica, many, as it were, with one mouth began to address me, and said: ‘Consecrate this as you did the Roman basilica’. And I answered: ‘Certainly I will if I find any relics of martyrs’. And at once a kind of prophetic ardour seemed to enter my heart. Why should I use many words? God granted us grace; notwithstanding the scruples of even the clergy I ordered the earth to be excavated from the spot before the screen surrounding the grave of St. Felix and St. Nabor. I found the fitting signs, and on bringing in some on whom hands were to be laid, the power of the holy martyrs became so manifest, that even whilst I was still silent, one was seized and thrown prostrate at the holy burial place. We found two men of marvelous stature, such as those of ancient days. All the bones were perfect, and there was much blood. During the whole of those two days there was an enormous concourse of people. Need I say much more? We arranged the whole in order and as evening was now coming on transferred them to the basilica of Fausta, where vigil was kept during the night, and some received the laying on of hands . On the following day we translated the relics to the basilica called Ambrosian. During the translation a blind man was healed.” (Ep. XXII 1-2, 7. – taken from Creeds, Councils, and Controversies: Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church A.D. 337-461 ed. J. Stevenson, pg. 134-35)

In that same letter, Ambrose goes on :

“For not without reason do many call this the resurrection of the martyrs. I do not say whether they have risen for themselves, for us certainly the martyrs have risen. You know— nay, you have yourselves seen — that many are cleansed from evil spirits, that very many also, having touched with their hands the robe of the saints, are freed from those ailments which oppressed them; you see that the miracles of old time are renewed, when through the coming of the Lord Jesus grace was more largely shed forth upon the earth, and that many bodies are healed as it were by the shadow of the holy bodies. How many napkins are passed about! How many garments, laid upon the holy relics and endowed with healing power, are claimed! All are glad to touch even the outside thread, and whosoever touches will be made whole….The glorious relics are taken out of an ignoble burying-place, the trophies are displayed under heaven. The tomb is wet with blood. The marks of the bloody triumph are present, the relics are found undisturbed in their order, the head separated from the body. Old men now repeat that they once heard the names of these martyrs and read their titles. The city which had carried off the martyrs of other places had lost her own. Though this be the gift of God, yet I cannot deny the favor which the Lord Jesus has granted to the time of my priesthood, and since I myself am not worthy to be a martyr, I have obtained these martyrs for you….Let these triumphant victims be brought to the place where Christ is the victim. But He upon the altar, Who suffered for all; they beneath the altar, who were redeemed by His Passion. I had destined this place for myself, for it is fitting that the priest should rest there where he has been wont to offer, but I yield the right hand portion to the sacred victims; that place was due to the martyrs. Let us, then, deposit the sacred relics, and lay them up in a worthy resting-place, and let us celebrate the whole day with faithful devotion.”

Ambrose continues on and mentions how the Arians opposed the miraculous power of relics:

“And the Arians say: These are not martyrs, and they cannot torment the devil, nor deliver any one, while the torments of the devils are proved by their own words, and the benefits of the martyrs are declared by the restoring of the healed, and the proof of those that are loosed. They deny that the blind man received sight, but he denies not that he is healed. He says: I who could not see now see. He says: I ceased to be blind, and proves it by the fact. They deny the benefit, who are unable to deny the fact. The man is known: so long as he was well he was employed in the public service; his name is Severus, a butcher by trade. He had given up his occupation when this hindrance befell him. He calls for evidence those persons by whose kindness he was supported; he adduces those as able to affirm the truth of his visitation whom he had as witnesses of his blindness. He declares that when he touched the hem of the robe of the martyrs, wherewith the sacred relics were covered, his sight was restored….But I ask what it is that they do not believe; is it whether any one can be aided by the martyrs? This is the same thing as not to believe Christ, for He Himself said: ‘You shall do greater things than these’.  How? By those martyrs whose merits have been long efficacious, whose bodies were long since found? Here I ask, do they bear a grudge against me, or against the holy martyrs? If against me, are any miracles wrought by me? By my means or in my name? Why, then, grudge me what is not mine? If it be against the martyrs (for if they bear no grudge against me, it can only be against them), they show that the martyrs were of another faith than that which they believe. For otherwise they would not have any feeling against their works, did they not judge that they have not the faith which was in them, that faith established by the tradition of our forefathers, which the devils themselves cannot deny, but the Arians do.”


St. Jerome (347-420), a foremost Patristic and Biblical theologian, well known in both Eastern and Western Christianity, who was proficient in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and who traveled the horizon of the Mediterranean world also made himself a fierce opponent of a Priest of Gaul named Vigiliantius, who had opposed the cultus of martyrs, relics, and the intercessory power of the departed Saints. A whole work from Jerome comes down to us where he refutes charges against common practices in the Church entitled Against Vigiliantius (which can be read in full here)  In describing the position of

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Jerome

his opponent, Jerome writes:

“…He [Vigiliantius] has carried on their brigand practices by his attack upon the Church of God…he makes his raids upon the churches of Gaul….Among other blasphemies, he may be heard to say, What need is there for you not only to pay such honor, not to say adoration, to the thing, whatever it may be, which you carry about in a little vessel and worship?‘ And again, in the same book, ‘Why do you kiss and adore a bit of powder [i.e. relic of a body] wrapped up in a cloth?’ And again, in the same book, ‘Under the cloak of religion we see what is all but a heathen ceremony introduced into the churches: while the sun is still shining, heaps of tapers are lighted, and everywhere a paltry bit of powder, wrapped up in a costly cloth, is kissed and worshiped. Great honor do men of this sort pay to the blessed martyrs, who, they think, are to be made glorious by trumpery tapers, when the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne, with all the brightness of His majesty, gives them light?‘”. (4) 

Vigilantius provides what we would hear from a modern day Reformed Protestant. When he saw the catholic churches honoring the martyrs by carrying the pieces of their remains, i.e. relics, in vessels for veneration in the Church, he immediately thought in his mind that catholics were worshiping and adoring the relics. Secondly, we can see that he also reacted negatively to the lighting of candles in liturgical service, and argues that such a thing is superfluous.

Jerome responds with the following:

“Madman, who in the world ever adored the martyrs?Who ever thought man was God?….. Tell us more clearly (that there may be no restraint on your blasphemy) what you mean by the phrase a bit of powder wrapped up in a costly cloth in a tiny vessel. It is nothing less than the relics of the martyrs which he is vexed to see covered with a costly veil, and not bound up with rags or hair-cloth, or thrown on the midden, so that Vigilantius alone in his drunken slumber may be worshiped. Are we, therefore guilty of sacrilege when we enter the basilicas of the Apostles? Was the Emperor Constantius I. guilty of sacrilege when he transferred the sacred relics of Andrew, Luke, and Timothy to Constantinople? In their presence the demons cry out, and the devils who dwell in Vigilantius confess that they feel the influence of the saints. And at the present day is the Emperor Arcadius guilty of sacrilege, who after so long a time has conveyed the bones of the blessed Samuel from Judea to Thrace? Are all the bishops to be considered not only sacrilegious, but silly into the bargain, because they carried that most worthless thing, dust and ashes, wrapped in silk in golden vessel? Are the people of all the Churches fools, because they went to meet the sacred relics, and welcomed them with as much joy as if they beheld a living prophet in the midst of them, so that there was one great swarm of people from Palestine to Chalcedon with one voice re-echoing the praises of Christ? They were forsooth, adoring Samuel and not Christ, whose Levite and prophet Samuel was. You show mistrust because you think only of the dead body, and therefore blaspheme. Read the Gospel—  ‘The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob: He is not the God of the dead, but of the living’. If then they are alive, they are not, to use your expression, kept in honorable confinement.” (ibid)

Jerome here responds by rejecting that the accusation that honor towards the relics of the martyrs is adoration. Jerome seems to believe there is preternatural effects from the veneration or even just the presence of the relics when he says that they case the demons to “cry out”. Most importantly, Jerome understands “all the bishops” and “all the Churches” as practicing this decorated veneration of the relics of the saints. He would be just the man to know seeing as he traveled quite a bit from West to East.

“For you say that the souls of Apostles and martyrs have their abode either in the bosom of Abraham, or in the place of refreshment, or under the altar of God, and that they cannot leave their own tombs, and be present where they will. They are, it seems, of senatorial rank, and are not subjected to the worst kind of prison and the society of murderers, but are kept apart in liberal and honorable custody in the isles of the blessed and the Elysian fields. Will you lay down the law for God? Will you put the Apostles into chains? So that to the day of judgment they are to be kept in confinement, and are not with their Lord, although it is written concerning them, ‘They follow the Lamb, wherever he goes’. If the Lamb is present everywhere, the same must be believed respecting those who are with the Lamb. And while the devil and the demons wander through the whole world, and with only too great speed present themselves everywhere; are martyrs, after the shedding of their blood, to be kept out of sight shut up in a coffin, from whence they cannot escape? You say, in your pamphlet, that so long as we are alive we can pray for one another; but once we die, the prayer of no person for another can be heard, and all the more because the martyrs, though they cry for the avenging of their blood, have never been able to obtain their request. If Apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, when they ought still to be anxious for themselves, how much more must they do so when once they have won their crowns, overcome, and triumphed? A single man, Moses, oft wins pardon from God for six hundred thousand armed men; and Stephen, the follower of his Lord and the first Christian martyr, entreats pardon for his persecutors; and when once they have entered on their life with Christ, shall they have less power than before? The Apostle Paul  says that two hundred and seventy-six souls were given to him in the ship; and when, after his dissolution, he has begun to be with Christ, must he shut his mouth, and be unable to say a word for those who throughout the whole world have believed in his Gospel? …” (6).

Taking the clear message of St. Jerome on the preternatural power of relics, one has no doubt as to what he intended to mean when he recounted the following in his commentary on Ezekiel:

“When I was a boy at Rome and was being educated in liberal studies, I was accustomed, with others of like age and mind, to visit on Sundays the sepulchres of the apostles and256px-catacombs_of_rome martyrs. And often did I enter the crypts, deep dug in the earth, with their walls on either side lines with the bodies of the dead, where everything is so dark that it almost seems as if the psalmists’s words were fulfilled, ‘Let them go down alive into hell’. Here and there the light, not entering in through windows, but filtering down from above through shafts, relieves the horror of the darkness. But again, as one cautiously moves forward, the black night closes round, and there comes to the mind the line of Vergil, ‘Surrounding horrors all my soul affright; And more, the dreadful silence of the night’ (Comm. in Ezechielem, 40.5, citation taken from Stevenson, page 161-162)

Stevenson also notes that in Jerome’s commentary on Galatians, “Jerome speaks of the frequency with which the tombs of the martyrs were visited at Rome, cf. also Prudentius, Peristephanon, XI 153ff for throngs of visitors to the tomb of Hippolytus. It was also at this period that [Pope] Damasus was writing his numerous inscriptions in hexameters for the martyrs’ tombs” (ibid)


St. Epiphanius of Salamis (310-+403), acknowledged as a  great defender of orthodoxy by both Eastern and Western Christianity, and who wrote a compendium of heresies in a famous work entitled Panarion (literally, bread basket), speaks directly to the matter of our praying on behalf of souls departed who died in need of remaining purging and explicitly on petitions to the departed righteous men and woman, which implies their intercessory power on our behalf. This is a unique witness, since St. Epiphanius was

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Epiphanius of Salamis

known for being a hammer against heretics, and is even cited as an early witness against Icons. If it were the case that prayers on behalf of the death who suffer in purgatory as well as petitions to departed Saints for their aid of prayers were later innovations and heresies, surely St. Epiphanius would have argued as much in his Panarion. However, he writes on this matter as follows:

“And then, as to naming the dead, what could be more helpful? What could be more opportune or wonderful than that the living believe that the departed are alive and have not ceased to be but exist, and live with the Lord — and that the most sacred doctrine should declare that there is hope for those who pray for their brethren as though they were off on a journey? And even though the prayer we offer for them cannot root out all their faults — [how could it] , since we often slip in this world, inadvertently and deliberately — it is still useful as an indication of something more perfect. For we commemorate both righteous and sinners. Though we pray for sinners, for God’s mercy, and for the righteous, the fathers, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, evangelists, martyrs, and confessors, for bishops and anchorites, and the whole band of saints” – (Panarion, 75.8)


On the Sacred Liturgy, St. John Chrysostom (+407), the famous orator and persecuted Bishop, venerated by East and West, including within sectors of Protestantism, writes the following:

“Not in vain was it decreed by the Apostles that in the awesome mysteries remembrance should be made of the departed. They knew that here there was much gain for them,

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Chrysostom

much benefit. For when the entire people stands with hands uplifted, a priestly assembly, and that awesome sacrificial Victim is laid out, how, when we are calling up God, should we not succeed in their defense? But this is done for those who have departed in the faith, while even the catechumens are not reckoned as worthy of this consolation, but are deprived of every means of assistance except one. And what is that? We may give alms to the poor on their behalf” (Homily #4 Philippians – Patrologia Graeca 66.295 or NewAdvent)

St. Chrysostom also said that many men and woman used to wear particles of the wood of the cross of Christ in golden lockets around their necks (P.G. XLVIII, 826)

Like we saw with the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, Tertullian, and St. Cyprian on the celebration of martyrs on their annual commemorations. St. John Chrysostom says :

“Not only on this their feast, but on other days too, let us cling to them, pray to them, beg them to be our patrons. For not only living, but also dead they have great favor with God, indeed even greater favor now that they are dead. For now they bear the marks (stigmata) of Christ; and by showing these marks there is nothing that they cannot obtain of the King” (Hom De SS. Berenice et Prosdoce, n. 7, taken from The Eastern Orthodox Church by Fr. Adrian Fortescue, pg. 103)


St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-+386), the famous Catechist Priest of Jerusalem, in his 23rd Catechetical lecture describes the various prayers offered during the sacred liturgy. He comments on the holy sacrifice of the Mass which is offered on behalf of the dead dead:

Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world ; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succor we all pray and offer this sacrifice.Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls , for whom the supplication is put up,

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Cyril of Jerusalem

while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth. And I wish to persuade you by an illustration. For I know that many say, what is a soul profited, which departs from this world either with sins, or without sins, if it be commemorated in the prayer? For if a king were to banish certain who had given him offense, and then those who belong to them should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under punishment, would he not grant a remission of their penalties? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer up Christ sacrificed for our sins , propitiating our merciful God for them as well as for ourselves.” (Catechetical Lecture #23)

St. Cyril speaks on the holy power of the relic of the cross of our Lord:

“This holy wood of the cross is still to be seen among us; and through the agency of those who piously took home particles thereof, it has filled the whole earth” (Catechetical Lecture 10)


St. Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, Egypt (+370), a prominent support of holy Athanasios of

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Serapion

Alexandria in the plight against Arianism, a close friend of the famous monastic St. Anthony the Great, spoke on the matter of offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass on behalf of the departed. First, some background:  In an 11th century manuscript found in the Mouth Athos Laura by an A. Dimitrijewsky which was determined to be a Euchologion (Missal) and whose authorship is attributed to Serapion of Thmuis. It consists of 30 unique prayers, and dates back to 350 A.D. The Liturgy of Divine Service resembles the so-called Liturgy of St. Mark. F.E. Brightman put the prayers in proper sequence in a published text for the Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 1 (1900), pp. 880113 and 247-277. The standard text, however, is F.X. Funk’s Didascalia Et Constitutiones Apostolorum, Vol. 2, and can be accessed here in both Greek and Latin. I will quote an English translation found in William Jurgens Vol. II, page 132 (from which I also derived the data of origins): “Full also is this Sacrifice, with your strength and your communion; for to You we offer this living sacrifice, this unbloody oblationwe beeseech You also on behalf of all the departed, of whom also this is the commenoration — after the mentioning of their names — Sanctify these souls, for you know them all; sanctify all who have fallen asleep in the Lord and count them all among the ranks of Your saints and give them a place and abode in Your Kingdom.” (Anaphora of the Eucharistic Sacrifice)


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St. Gregory of Nyssa’s famous Paneygric to the Great Martyr Theodore the Tiro has a wonderfully detailed testimony to the power of relics and the intercessory power of the Saints:

“These spectacles strike the senses and delight the eye by drawing us near to [the martyr’s tomb] which we believe to be both a sanctification and blessing. If anyone takes dust from the martyr’s resting place, it is a gift and a deserving treasure. Should a person have both the good fortune and permission to touch the relics, this experience is a highly valued  prize and seems like a dream both to those who were cured and whose wish was fulfilled. The body appears as if it were alive and healthy: the eyes, mouth, ears, as well as the other senses are cause for pouring out tears of reverence and emotion. In this way one implores the martyr who intercedes on our behalf and is an attendant of God for imparting those favors and blessings which people seek.” (Panegyric to the Great Martyr Theodore the Tiro, taken from Mystagogy Resource Center)

In his sermons on the 40 martyrs of Sebaste, St. Gregory speaks about what was done with the ashes from the burned bodies:

“….their ashes and all that the fire had spared have been so distributed throughout the world that almost every province has had its share of the blessing. I also myself have a portion of this holy gift and I have laid the bodies of my parents beside the ashes of these warriors, that in the hour of the resurrection they may be awakened together with these highly privileged comrades” (P.G., XLVI, 764 , taken from Catholic Encyclopedia)


st_augustine_teaching_in_rome

Augustine teaching in Rome

Lastly, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-+430), who needs no introduction, says the following on prayers on behalf of the Saints and the Altar of Christian sacrifice:

“There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of martyrs are read aloud in that place at the Altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended” (Sermo 159.1)

“But by the prayers of the Holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. For the whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the body and blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death”  (Sermo 172.2)

“We read in the book of Maccabees that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the universal Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at His altar the commendation of the dead has its place” (The Care to be had for the Dead)

“Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgement.” (City of God, Book 21-Ch. 13)

harsdorfer_altarpiece_predella_wing_panel,_saints_ambrose_of_milan_and_augustine_of_hippo,_michael_wolgemut_and_workshop,_nuremberg,_c._1495-1498_-_germanisches_nationalmuseum_-_

Augustine and Ambrose

“For some of the dead, indeed, the prayer of the Church or of pious individuals is heard; but it is for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not spend their life so wickedly that they can be judged unworthy of such compassion, nor so well that they can be considered to have no need of it. As also, after the resurrection, there will be some of the dead to whom, after they have endured the pains proper to the spirits of the dead, mercy shall be accorded, and acquittal from the punishment of the eternal fire. For were there not some whose sins, though not remitted in this life, shall be remitted in that which is to come, it could not be truly said, They shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in that which is to come” (City of God, Book 21- Ch. 24/2)

“During the time, moreover, which intervenes between a man’s death and the final resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life which it led on earth. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead are benefited by the piety of their living friends, who offer the sacrifice of the Mediator, or give alms in the church on their behalf. But these services are of advantage only to those who during their lives have earned such merit, that services of this kind can help them. For there is a manner of life which is neither so good as not to require these services after death, nor so bad that such services are of no avail after death; there is, on the other hand, a kind of life so good as not to require them; and again, one so bad that when life is over they render no help. Therefore, it is in this life that all the merit or demerit is acquired, which can either relieve or aggravate a man’s sufferings after this life. No one, then, need hope that after he is dead he shall obtain merit with God which he has neglected to secure here. And accordingly it is plain that the services which the church celebrates for the dead are in no way opposed to the apostle’s words: “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad” ; for the merit which renders such services as I speak of profitable to a man, is earned while he lives in the body. It is not to every one that these services are profitable. And why are they not profitable to all, except because of the different kinds of lives that men lead in the body? When, then, sacrifices either of the altar or of alms are offered on behalf of all the baptized dead, they are thank-offerings for the very good, they are propitiatory offerings for the not very bad, and in the case of the very bad, even though they do not assist the dead, they are a species of consolation to the living. And where they are profitable, their benefit consists either in obtaining a full remission of sins, or at least in making the condemnation more tolerable.” (The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love – #109-110)

Recall that episode by St Ambrose of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius. St. Augustine speaks of it here in further depth:

“Then Thou by a vision made known to Your renowned bishop the spot where lay the bodies of Gervasius and Protasius, the martyrs (whom You had in Your secret storehouse preserved uncorrupted for so many years), whence You might at the fitting time produce them to repress the feminine but royal fury. For when they were revealed and dug up and with due honour transferred to the Ambrosian Basilica, not only they who were troubled with unclean spirits (the devils confessing themselves) were healed, but a certain man also, who had been blind many years, a well-known citizen of that city, having asked and been told the reason of the people’s tumultuous joy, rushed forth, asking his guide to lead him there. Arrived there, he begged to be permitted to touch with his handkerchief the bier of Your saints, whose death is precious in Your sight. When he had done this, and put it to his eyes, they were immediately opened. Thence did the fame spread; thence did Your praises burn — shine; thence was the mind of that enemy, though not yet enlarged to the wholeness of believing, restrained from the fury of persecuting. Thanks be to You, O my God. Whence and whither have You thus led my remembrance, that I should confess these things also unto You — great, though I, forgetful, had passed them over? And yet then, when the savour of Your ointments was so fragrant, did we not run after You.  And so I did the more abundantly weep at the singing of Your hymns, formerly panting for You, and at last breathing in You, as far as the air can play in this house of grass.” (Confessions IX, 16)

“The miracle which was wrought at Milan when I was there, and by which a blind man was restored to sight, could come to the knowledge of many; for not only is the city a large one, but also the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people that had gathered to the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, which had long lain concealed and unknown, but were now made known to the bishop Ambrose in a dream, and discovered by him. By virtue of these remains [i.e. relic] the darkness of that blind man was scattered, and he saw the light of day.” (City of God, 22.8)

 

1 thought on “Patristic Testimony on Prayers to Saints, Veneration of Martyrs, Purgatory, and the Sacrifice of the Mass

  1. Thanks for compiling these. It takes patience dealing with idiots who don’t make the slightest effort analyzing the historical record.

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