As for those spirits who are good, and who are therefore not only immortal but also blessed, and to whom they suppose we should give the title of gods, and offer worship and sacrifices for the sake of inheriting a future life, we shall, by God’s help, endeavor in the following book to show that these spirits, call them by what name, and ascribe to them what nature you will, desire that religious worship be paid to God alone, by whom they were created, and by whose communications of Himself to them they are blessed.NPNF1-02 St. Augustine's City of God and Christian Doctrines, City of God, Chapter 23
Leo the Great (400-461):
From such a system of teaching proceeds also the ungodly practice of certain foolish folk who worship the sun as it rises at the beginning of daylight from elevated positions: even some Christians think it is so proper to do this that, before entering the blessed Apostle Peter’s basilica, which is dedicated to the One Living and true God, when they have mounted the steps which lead to the raised platform, they turn round and bow themselves towards the rising sun and with bent neck do homage to its brilliant orb. We are full of grief and vexation that this should happen, which is partly due to the fault of ignorance and partly to the spirit of heathenism: because although some of them do perhaps worship the Creator of that fair light rather than the Light itself, which is His creature, yet we must abstain even from the appearance of this observance: for if one who has abandoned the worship of gods, finds it in our own worship, will he not hark back again to this fragment of his old superstition, as if it were allowable, when he sees it to be common both to Christians and to infidels?NPNF2-12 Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Sermon 27 of Leo the Great, Sections 4-5
This objectionable practice must be given up therefore by the faithful, and the honour due to God alone must not be mixed up with those men’s rites who serve their fellow-creatures. For the divine Scripture says: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve [S. Matt. iv. 10.].”
Chrysostom (349-407) commenting on Psalm 7, v. 3:
This must everywhere be our concern, not simply to pray but to pray in such a way as to be heard. It is not sufficient that prayer effects what is intended, unless we so direct it as to appeal to God.Robert Charles Hill, St. John Chrysostom Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1, Psalm 7 (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), p. 117.
This was the advice he gave to those who came to him. And with those who suffered he sympathised and prayed. And oft-times the Lord heard him on behalf of many: yet he boasted not because he was heard, nor did he murmur if he were not. But always he gave the Lord thanks and besought the sufferer to be patient, and to know that healing belonged neither to him nor to man at all, but only to the Lord, who doeth good when and to whom He will. The sufferers therefore used to receive the words of the old man as though they were a cure, learning not to be downhearted but rather to be long-suffering. And those who were healed were taught not to give thanks to Antony but to God alone.NPNF2-04. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, Life of Anthony, Section 56
Cyprian of Carthage (died 258):
Moreover, when we stand praying, beloved brethren, we ought to be watchful and earnest with our whole heart, intent on our prayers. Let all carnal and worldly thoughts pass away, nor let the soul at that time think on anything but the object only of its prayer. For this reason also the priest, by way of preface before his prayer, prepares the minds of the brethren by saying, “Lift up your hearts,” that so upon the people’s response, “We lift them up unto the Lord,” he may be reminded that he himself ought to think of nothing but the Lord. Let the breast be closed against the adversary, and be open to God alone; nor let it suffer God’s enemy to approach to it at the time of prayer. For frequently he steals upon us, and penetrates within, and by crafty deceit calls away our prayers from God, that we may have one thing in our heart and another in our voice, when not the sound of the voice, but the soul and mind, ought to be praying to the Lord with a simple intention. But what carelessness it is, to be distracted and carried away by foolish and profane thoughts when you are praying to the Lord, as if there were anything which you should rather be thinking of than that you are speaking with God! How can you ask to be heard of God, when you yourself do not hear yourself? Do you wish that God should remember you when you ask, if you yourself do not remember yourself? This is absolutely to take no precaution against the enemy; this is, when you pray to God, to offend the majesty of God by the carelessness of your prayer; this is to be watchful with your eyes, and to be asleep with your heart, while the Christian, even though he is asleep with his eyes, ought to be awake with his heart, as it is written in the person of the Church speaking in the Song of Songs, “I sleep, yet my heart waketh.” [Cant. v. 2.] Wherefore the apostle anxiously and carefully warns us, saying, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same;” [Col. i. 2.] teaching, that is, and showing that those are able to obtain from God what they ask, whom God sees to be watchful in their prayer.ANG05. Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, [and] Novation, Treatises of Cyprian, Treatise IV (On the Lord's Prayer)
What did the ancients think of prayers to angels and saints? Undoubtedly there are a variety of ancient views about that subject. Here are a few of them.
Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200):
Nor does she [the church] perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but, directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error. If, therefore, the name of our Lord Jesus Christ even now confers benefits [upon men], and cures thoroughly and effectively all who anywhere believe on Him, but not that of Simon, or Menander, or Carpocrates, or of any other man whatever, it is manifest that, when He was made man, He held fellowship with His own creation, and did all things truly through the power of God, according to the will of the Father of all, as the prophets had foretold. But what these things were, shall be described in dealing with the proofs to be found in the prophetical writings.ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, 2:32:5.
Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220):
For we offer prayer for the safety of our princes to the eternal, the true, the living God, whose favour, beyond all others, they must themselves desire. They know from whom they have obtained their power; they know, as they are men, from whom they have received life itself; they are convinced that He is God alone, on whose power alone they are entirely dependent, to whom they are second, after whom they occupy the highest places, before and above all the gods. Why not, since they are above all living men, and the living, as living, are superior to the dead? They reflect upon the extent of their power, and so they come to understand the highest; they acknowledge that they have all their might from Him against whom their might is nought. Let the emperor make war on heaven; let him lead heaven captive in his triumph; let him put guards on heaven; let him impose taxes on heaven! He cannot. Just because he is less than heaven, he is great. For he himself is His to whom heaven and every creature appertains. He gets his scepter where he first got his humanity; his power where he got the breath of life. Thither we lift our eyes, with hands outstretched, because free from sin; with head uncovered, for we have nothing whereof to be ashamed; finally, without a monitor, because it is from the heart we supplicate. Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or Caesar, an emperor would wish. These things I cannot ask from any but the God from whom I know I shall obtain them, both because He alone bestows them and because I have claims upon Him for their gift, as being a servant of His, rendering homage to Him alone, persecuted for His doctrine, offering to Him, at His own requirement, that costly and noble sacrifice of prayer dispatched from the chaste body, an unstained soul, a sanctified spirit, not the few grains of incense a farthing buys —tears of an Arabian tree,—not a few drops of wine,—not the blood of some worthless ox to which death is a relief, and, in addition to other offensive things, a polluted conscience, so that one wonders, when your victims are examined by these vile priests, why the examination is not rather of the sacrificers than the sacrifices. With our hands thus stretched out and up to God, rend us with your iron claws, hang us up on crosses, wrap us in flames, take our heads from us with the sword, let loose the wild beasts on us,—the very attitude of a Christian praying is one of preparation for all punishment. Let this, good rulers, be your work: wring from us the soul, beseeching God on the emperor’s behalf. Upon the truth of God, and devotion to His name, put the brand of crime.ANF: Vol. III, The Apology, Chapter 30.
Chrysostom (349-407) said the incantation of Angels was introduced by the devil:
Therefore the devil introduced those of the Angels [requests in the name of angels], envying us the honor. Such incantations are for the demons. Even if it be Angel, even if it be Archangel, even if it be Cherubim, allow it not; for neither will these Powers accept such addresses, but will even toss them away from them, when they have beheld their Master dishonored. “I have honored thee,” He saith, “and have said, Call upon Me”; and dost thou dishonor Him?NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, Homily 9.
Διὰ ταῦτα ὁ διάβολος τὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων ἐπεισήγαγε, βασκαίνων ἡμῖν τῆς τιμῆς. Τῶν δαιμόνων τοιαῦται αἱ ἐπῳδαί. Κἂν ἄγγελος ᾖ, κἂν ἀρχάγγελος, κἂν τὰ Χερουβὶμ, μὴ ἀνέχου· ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ αὗται αἱ δυνάμεις καταδέξονται, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀποσείσονται, ὅταν ἴδωσι τὸν Δεσπότην ἀτιμαζόμενον. Ἐγώ σε ἐτίμησα, φησὶ, καὶ εἶπον· Ἐμὲ κάλει· καὶ σὺ ἀτιμάζεις αὐτόν;In epistulam i ad Colossenses, Caput III, Homily IX, §3, PG 62:365.
Council of Laodicea (363-364 A.D.):
Christians ought not to forsake the Church of God, and depart aside, and invocate (οὐνομάζω) angels, and make meetings, which are things forbidden. If any man therefore be found to give himself to this privy idolatry, let him be accursed, because he hath forsaken our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and betaken himself to idolatry.For translation, see James Ussher, An Answer to a Challenge Made by a Jesuit (Cambridge: J. & J. J. Deighton, 1835), p. 406.
Ὅτι οὐ δεῖ Χριστιανοὺς ἐγκαταλείπειν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ ἀπιέναι, καὶ ἀγγέλους ὀνομάζειν, καὶ συνάξεις ποιεῖν, ἅπερ ἀπηγόρευται. Εἴ τις οὖν εὐρεθῇ ταύτῃ κεκρυμμένῃ εἰδωλολατρείᾳ σχολάζων, ἔστω ἀνάθεμα, ὅτι ἐγκατέλιπε τὸν Κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ εἰδωλολατρείᾳ προσῆλθεν.Synodus Laodiciae (Synod of Laodicea), Canon XXXV.
Chrysostom also speaks on the absence of need for any intermediaries between us and God to present our requests.
There is in fact no need either of doorkeepers to introduce you, or of managers, guardians or friends; rather, when you make your approach in person, then most of all he will hear you, at that time when you ask the help of no one. So we do not prevail upon him in making our requests through others to the degree that we do through ourselves. You see, since he longs for our friendship, he also does everything to have us trust in him; when he sees us doing so on our own account, then he accedes to us most of all. This is what he did too in the case of the Canaanite woman: when Peter and James came forward on her behalf, he did not accede; but when she persisted, he promptly granted her petition. I mean, even if he seemed to put her off for a while, he did it not to put the poor creature aside but to reward her more abundantly and render her entreaty more favorable.Robert Charles Hill, St. John Chrysostom Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1, Psalm 4 (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), pp. 48-49.
Prayer is a great weapon, prayer is a wonderful adornment, security and haven, a treasury of good things, wealth beyond threat. When we make requests of human beings, we need an outlay of money, servile flattery, much to-ing and fro-ing and negotiating. Often, in fact, it is not possible to make a direct approach to their lordships personally to grant a favor: it is necessary first to wait upon their ministers or managers or administrators with money and words and every other means, and only then through them to be in a position to receive the request. With God, on the contrary, it is not like this: it not so much on the recommendation of others as on our own request that he grants the favor. In this case, too, both the one receiving it and the one not receiving it are better off, whereas in the case of human beings we often come off worse in both cases.Robert Charles Hill, trans., St. John Chrysostom, Old Testament Homilies, Volume Three: Homilies on the Psalms (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2003), Homily on Psalm 146.1, p. 125.
Since, then, for those approaching God the gain is greater and the facility greater, do not neglect prayer: it is then in particular that he will be reconciled with you when you on your own account appeal to him, when you present a mind purified, thoughts that are alert, when you do not make idle petitions, as many people do, their tongue saying the words while their soul wanders in every direction — through the house, the marketplace, the city streets. It is all the devil’s doing: since he knows that at that time we are able to attain forgiveness of sins, he wants to block the haven of prayer to us, and at that time he goes on the attack to distract us from the sense of the words so that we may depart the worse rather than the better for it
And even if you do not confess, He [i.e., God] is not ignorant of the deed, who knew it before it was committed. Why then do you not speak of it? Does the transgression become heavier by the confession?—nay, it becomes lighter and less troublesome. And it is for this reason that He would have you confess, not that you should be punished, but that you should be forgiven; not that He may learn thy sin, (how could this be, since He has seen it,) but that you may learn what favour He bestows. He wishes you to learn the greatness of His grace, that you may praise Him perfectly, that you may be slower to sin, that you may be quicker to virtue. And if you do not confess the greatness of the need, you will not understand the exceeding magnitude of His grace. I do not oblige you He [God] saith, to come into the midst of the assembly before a throng of witnesses; declare the sin in secret to Me only, that I may heal the sore and remove the pain.F. Allen, trans., Four Discourses of Chrysostom, Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, 4rd Sermon, §4 (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1869), p. 102. Cf. also Catharine P. Roth, trans., St. John Chrysostom On Wealth and Poverty, 4th Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man, §4 (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), p. 89. Cf. Concionis VII, de Lazaro 4.4 PG 48:1012.
For things which often we have not strength to perform successfully from our own exertions, these we shall have power to accomplish easily through prayers. I mean prayers which are persevering. For always and without intermission it is a duty to pray, both for him who is in affliction, and him who is in relief from it, and him who is in dangers, and him who is in prosperity — for him who is in relief and much prosperity, that these may remain unmoved and without vicissitude, and may never change; and for him who is in affliction and his many dangers, that he may see some favorable change brought about to him, and be transported into a calm of consolation. Art thou in a calm? Then beseech God that this calm may continue settled to thee. Hast thou seen a storm risen up against thee? Beseech God earnestly to cause the billow to pass, and to make a calm out of the storm. “Hast thou been heard? Be heartily thankful for this; because thou hast been heard. Hast thou not been heard? Persevere in order that thou mayest be heard. For even if God at any time delay the giving, it is not in hatred and aversion; but from the desire by the deferring of the giving perpetually to retain thee with himself; just in the way also that affectionate fathers do; for they also adroitly manage the perpetual and assiduous attendance of children who are rather indolent by the delay of the giving. There is to thee no need of mediators in audience with God; nor of that much canvassing; nor of the fawning upon others; but even if thou be destitute, even if bereft of advocacy, alone, by thyself, having called on God for help, thou wilt in any case succeed. He is not so wont to assent when entreated by others on our behalf, as by ourselves who are in need; even if we be laden with ten thousand evil deeds. For if in the case of men, even if we have come into countless collisions with them, when both at dawn and at mid-day and in the evening we show ourselves to those who are aggrieved against us, by the unbroken continuance and the persistent meeting and interview we easily demolish their enmity — far more in the case of God would this be effected.NPNF1: Vol. IX, Concerning Lowliness of Mind and Commentary on Philippians 1:18, §11.
Chrysostom (349-407) commenting on John 16:22, 23:
“And ye now therefore have sorrow — [but I will see you again, and your sorrow shall be turned into joy].” Then, to show that He shall die no more, He saith, “And no man taketh it from you. And in that day ye shall ask Me nothing.”NPNF1: Vol. XIV, Gospel of St John, Homily 79, §1.
Again He proveth nothing else by these words, but that He is from God. “For then ye shall for the time to come know all things.” But what is, “Ye shall not ask Me”? “Ye shall need no intercessor, but it is sufficient that ye call on My Name, and so gain all things.”
Notice also in the following passage from Chrysostom how he emphasizes that if one gives himself to prayer frequently and fervently, then one (generally speaking) needs no instruction from an intermediary, because God enlightens one’s mind. In other words, he knows nothing of some human infallible interpreter to act as one’s mediator in to understand Holy Scripture.
Besides, what benefit would there be in a homily when prayer has not been joined to it? Prayer stands in the first place; then comes the word of instruction. And that is what the apostles said: “Let us devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Paul does this when he prays at the beginning of his epistles so that, like the light of a lamp, the light of prayer may prepare the way for the word. If you accustom yourselves to pray fervently, you will not need instruction from your fellow servants because God himself, with no intermediary, enlightens you mind.FC, Vol. 72, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily 3.35 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984), pp. 111.
I offer also this testimony of Ambrose who says that the Lord alone is to be invoked in prayer…
Ambrose (c. 339-97):
My heart is worn out, because a man has been snatched away, whose like we can hardly find again; but yet Thou alone O Lord, art to be invoked, Thou art to be entreated, that Thou mayst supply his place with sons.Herbert Mortimer Luckock, After Death: An Examination of the Testimony of Primitive Times respecting the State of the Faithful Dead, and Their Relationship to the Living, 2nd Ed. (London: Rivingtons, 1880) pp. 192-193.
Conteror corde; quia ereptus est vir, quem vix possumus invenire: sed tamen tu solus, Domine, invocandus es, tu rogandus, ut eum in filiis repraesentes.De obitu Theodosii oratio (Funeral Oration for Theodosius, §36, PL 16:1397A-1397B.
- TurretinFan (with assistance from Pastor David King)