Archive for the ‘Necromancy’ Category

What did the Early Church think of Prayer for the Dead?

October 5, 2009

Doubtless there were a variety of thoughts, but here is one (courtesy of Pastor David King):

Lactantius (260-330): But if it appears that these religious rites are vain in so many ways as I have shown, it is manifest that those who either make prayers to the dead, or venerate the earth, or make over their souls to unclean spirits, do not act as becomes men, and that they will suffer punishment for their impiety and guilt, who, rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, have undertaken inexpiable rites, and violated every sacred law. (ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book II, Chapter 18.)

I think that in the full context, it is even more powerful:

I have shown that the religious rites of the gods are vain in a threefold manner: In the first place, because those images which are worshipped are representations of men who are dead; and that is a wrong and inconsistent thing, that the image of a man should be worshipped by the image of God, for that which worships is lower and weaker than that which is worshipped: then that it is an inexpiable crime to desert the living in order that you may serve memorials of the dead, who can neither give life nor light to any one, for they are themselves without it: and that there is no other God but one, to whose judgment and power every soul is subject. In the second place, that the sacred images themselves, to which most senseless men do service, are destitute of all perception, since they are earth. But who cannot understand that it is unlawful for an upright animal to bend itself that it may adore the earth? which is placed beneath our feet for this purpose, that it may be trodden upon, and not adored by us, who have been raised from it, and have received an elevated position beyond the other living creatures, that we may not turn ourselves again downward, nor cast this heavenly countenance to the earth, but may direct our eyes to that quarter to which the condition of their nature has directed, and that we may adore and worship nothing except the single deity of our only Creator and Father, who made man of an erect figure, that we may know that we are called forth to high and heavenly things. In the third place, because the spirits which preside over the religious rites themselves, being condemned and cast off by God, wallow [Roll themselves.] over the earth, who not only are unable to afford any advantage to their worshippers, since the power of all things is in the hands of one alone, but even destroy them with deadly attractions and errors; since this is their daily business, to involve men in darkness, that the true God may not be sought by them. Therefore they are not to be worshipped, because they lie under the sentence of God. For it is a very great crime to devote [Addico, “to adjudge,” is the legal term, expressing the sentence by which the prætor gave effect to the right which he had declared to exist.] one’s self to the power of those whom, if you follow righteousness, you are able to excel in power, and to drive out and put to flight by adjuration of the divine name. But if it appears that these religious rites are vain in so many ways as I have shown, it is manifest that those who either make prayers to the dead, [[Let this be noted.]] or venerate the earth, or make over [Mancipo. The word implies the making over or transferring by a formal act of sale. Debtors, who were unable to satisfy the demands of their creditors, were made over to them, and regarded as their slaves. They were termed addicti. Our Lord said (John viii. 34), “Whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin.” Thus also St. Paul, Rom. vi. 16, 17.] their souls to unclean spirits, do not act as becomes men, and that they will suffer punishment for their impiety and guilt, who, rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, have undertaken inexpiable rites, and violated every sacred law.

– Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 2, Chapter 18 (editors’ footnotes placed in brackets)


>To Whom Can Roman Catholics Pray?

March 12, 2009

>That is to say, is it permitted by the sources of authority of Catholicism for the members of Catholicism to pray to anyone beyond God, Mary, and the saints? For some background, James Swan has been discussing this issue at his own blog (Can you pray to whoever you want to?).

Book IV, Part II, Title IV governs “The Veneration of the Saints, Sacred Images, and Relics.” The Title includes the following canons:

Canon 1186 To foster the sanctification of the people of God, the Church commends to the special and filial reverence of the Christian faithful the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, Mother of God, whom Christ established as the mother of all people, and promotes the true and authentic veneration of the other saints whose example instructs the Christian faithful and whose intercession sustains them.

Canon 1187 It is permitted to reverence through public veneration only those servants of God whom the authority of the Church has recorded in the list of the saints or the blessed.

Canon 1188 The practice of displaying sacred images in churches for the reverence of the faithful is to remain in effect. Nevertheless, they are to be exhibited in moderate number and in suitable order so that the Christian people are not confused nor occasion given for inappropriate devotion.

Canon 1189 If they are in need of repair, precious images, that is, those distinguished by age, art, or veneration, which are exhibited in churches or oratories for the reverence of the faithful are never to be restored without the written permission of the ordinary; he is to consult experts before he grants permission.

Canon 1190
§1. It is absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics.

§2. Relics of great significance and other relics honored with great reverence by the people cannot be alienated validly in any manner or transferred permanently without the permission of the Apostolic See.

§3. The prescript of §2 is valid also for images which are honored in some church with great reverence by the people.

As you can see, a lot of the title is taken up with the issue of the idolatry of relics and images. For the issue at hand, the two relevant canons are 1186 (which promotes the veneration of Mary) and 1187 (which prohibits public veneration of non-canonical people).

Now, as a preliminary matter, from what I have read, there is no single global list in reality. Nevertheless, the basic of the idea is that “public veneration” of uncanonized/beatified people is not permitted.

Here’s the question: can someone within Catholicism legitimately pray to (religiously venerate) just anyone?

The answer that is typically given in popular circles today is, “As long as you have a good faith belief that the person is in heaven, you can pray to them,” or occasionally, “As long as you don’t think that the person is in Hell, it’s ok to pray to them.”

The problem I have with that is two-fold:

1) Obviously, the Scriptures don’t tell us that.

2) There does not appear to be any other authoritative source within Catholicism that tells people that they can pray to anyone other the canonized or the blessed.

Now, I can anticipate one argument:

Argument: “Since canon law doesn’t prohibit it, as long as it is not ‘public,’ it’s ok.”

This is a sort of “if it is not prohibited, then it is permitted” mentality. I understand this mentality, but it does not seem consonant with other of Rome’s canon law. For example:

Canon 214 The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescripts of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life so long as it is consonant with the doctrine of the Church.

So then, the question is whether this particular practice is, objectively, “consonant with the doctrine of the Church” or not.

I liken the arguments that because canon law doesn’t specifically address it, people can do what they like, to the argument of the modernists (at Catholic Answers and elsewhere) against the historic practice of prayer veils, a practice clearly mandated in Scripture.

So, for now, I pose this as a question to my readers. What authoritative source out there tells you that you can pray (as Mr. Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers seems to think) to your dead mother, who has not been beatified and really has no real likelihood of being either beatified or canonized, ever?


For those who would prefer the main title discussed above in the authoritative Latin language (I think it still is the authoritative language in canon law) …


Can. 1186 — Ad sanctificationem populi Dei fovendam, Ecclesia peculiari et filiali christifidelium venerationi commendat Beatam Mariam semper Virginem, Dei Matrem, quam Christus hominum omnium Matrem constituit, atque verum et authenticum promovet cultum aliorum Sanctorum, quorum quidem exemplo christifideles aedificantur et intercessione sustentantur.

Can. 1187 — Cultu publico eos tantum Dei servos venerari licet, qui auctoritate Ecclesiae in album Sanctorum vel Beatorum relati sint.

Can. 1188 — Firma maneat praxis in ecclesiis sacras imagines fidelium venerationi proponendi; attamen moderato numero et congruo ordine exponantur, ne populi christiani admiratio excitetur, neve devotioni minus rectae ansa praebeatur.

Can. 1189 — Imagines pretiosae, idest vetustate, arte, aut cultu praestantes, in ecclesiis vel oratoriis fidelium venerationi expositae, si quando reparatione indigeant, numquam restaurentur sine data scripto licentia ab Ordinario; qui, antequam eam concedat, peritos consulat.

Can. 1190 —

§ 1. Sacras reliquias vendere nefas est.

§ 2. Insignes reliquiae itemque aliae, quae magna populi veneratione honorantur, nequeunt quoquo modo valide alienari neque perpetuo transferri sine Apostolicae Sedis licentia.

§ 3. Praescriptum § 2 valet etiam pro imaginibus, quae in aliqua ecclesia magna populi veneratione honorantur.

P.S. Let me be clear about one other thing. It is wrong to religiously venerate anyone but God. This is a clear teaching in Scripture (“Him only shalt thou serve”). My question in the post, however, is not about that issue – but rather about one apparently unfounded practice that is prevalent in modern Romanism of religiously venerating folks that are not canonized saints, and have no immediate prospects of becoming such.

Biblical Evidence for the Veneration of Relics Ignored?

August 14, 2008

Previously, I discussed (and rebutted) the claim that the Scriptural discussion of the transport of Joseph’s bones from Egypt to Canaan was evidence of the veneration of relics in the Old Testament (link). Now, I turn to a second favorite passage that relic-venerators tend to appeal to, as allegedly supporting their position. That passage is the discussion of the resuscitation of a man who touched Elisha’s bones.

The Scripture in question is as follows:

2 Kings 13:20-21
20And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. 21And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.

The point of this passage would seem to be an indication of the extreme poverty of the prophet, as well as a testimony to the reality of his divine appointment as a prophet.

1) Note that they buried Elisha. They did not place his bones in a synagogue or in the temple to be venerated.

2) Note that they buried Elisha in a place of the dead. This is confirmed by the fact that men who were burying a man (who is so unimportant as not even to be named in Scripture) found Elisha’s sepulcher at hand. Thus, it appears that Elisha’s sepulcher was not in a place of great importance, but in a place of the dead.

3) Note that Elisha’s sepulchre was open. If it had been a closed sepulchre, it would not have been convenient to dump a body into it. An open sepulchre was an unpleasant and foul thing, even though it had an important purpose. In fact, the Psalmist uses it to provide a negative picture of the sinful man’s mouth:

Psalm 5:9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.

Notice the comparison there. An open sepulchre, as you can see, has the advantage of not smelling so bad at the mouth of the sepulchre, but inside is death: a carcase. We can deduce that these open sepulchres were either deep (to accomplish this smell prevention issue), and consequently the prophet Jeremiah likens the quiver of mighty men to an open sepulchre:

Jeremiah 5:16 Their quiver is as an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men.

Or possibly the idea is that open sepulchres were in essence mass graves: which would also make sense both in the context of 2 Kings 13 and Jeremiah 5 (although I am inclined to the former view).

Some have suggested that an open sepulchre is basically a crevasse in the earth, a deep, naturally occurring pit into which a body could basically be dumped, thereby saving cost in terms of the time spent having to dig up the earth for burial. This would make sense as well – the idea being in Jeremiah 5 that the mighty men have a basically limitless supply of arrows.

4) The sepulchre was not a rock-face sepulchre, like that in which Jesus was buried. Recall that the man was not simply tossed or placed into the sepulchre, but lowered into the open sepulchre. This “lowered” suggests that the sepulchre opened upward rather than laterally. Again, this confirms that Elijah was not buried in some elaborate tomb designed to honor him, but rather in a low-cost alternative.

Analysis of Verse with Respect to Veneration Hypothesis

With the analysis above in mind, we should examine the verse in view of the hypothesis that it has something to do with venerating relics. Frankly, of course, there is no hint of veneration. Indeed, the idea of placing (even carefully) an apparently dead body on top of Elisha’s would seem to show the opposite of veneration for him (dead bodies were unclean).

One might argue that the knowledge that it was the place where Elisha was buried shows some amount of honor, but it is the sort of bare honor that demonstrates that Elisha was at least not buried in an unmarked grave (as contrasted, for example, with the Muslims’ practices).

Rather than being used specifically for the purposes of showing veneration, some might argue this as showing the supernatural effects associated with the corpses of holy men.

Leaving aside the issue of whether Elisha was particularly holy, it is interesting to note that the passage does not explicitly say that the man about to be buried was dead. It says he revived, which is ambiguous (both in the original Hebrew and in our English translation) as to whether the man came to life or simply recovered from a state of apparent death (presumably folks wouldn’t bury an apparently alive person).

Either way, it is reasonable to infer that one of the reasons for the mention of the revival was to highlight this as a sort of posthumous miracle of Elisha. It is a reasonable inference, but not a necessary one. Regardless of whether it is a correct inference, all that it demonstrates is that God chose to testify to Elisha’s gifts in this particular way at this particular time.

In other words, we would have no logical or proper ground to infer a general principle from this isolated and Scripturally unexplained occurrence. It certainly does not teach the veneration of relics, nor does it provide a rational basis for endorsing the superstitious legends that have sprung up around various relics, within churches that engage in relic veneration.

In short, we can reject the theory that 2 Kings 13:20-21 in any way supports relic veneration or the churches that practice such activity. You might think, based on the explanation above, that no one would attempt to use such a clearly unhelpful passage as 2 Kings 13:20-21, but – in fact – we see such happening in papist apologetics (Dave Armstrong, for example, falsely claims that “In the Old Law we read of the veneration of the Jews for the bones of Joseph (Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32), and of the prophet Eliseus [Elisha] ….” (quoting with approval from Bertrand Conway) link; See also Steve Ray relying on Joseph and Elisha, Ron aka “Saint under Construction” similarly relying on Joseph and Elisha, and this anonymous article that has received Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur which relies on Elisha while wisely omitting reference to Joseph)

May the God of the Living keep us from this,


Relic Worship in Old Testament?

July 19, 2008

I recently came across a comment by a person named Teresita who stated that she was “raised Catholic” and who seems to think that “veneration of some people’s bones has a biblical basis, so the Catholic practice can’t truly be called idolatry.” (source)

Teresita went on to quote Exodus 13:18-19, which I’ll reproduce below:

Exodus 13:18-19
18But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt. 19And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.

I don’t really see how the fact that Moses took the bones of Joseph with him is supposed to be analogous at all to the superstitious and (in some cases) idolatrous practices associated with relics. After all, in essence the pilgrimage from Egypt to Israel included a hearse, in which the box of bones of Joseph were carried. It’s tough even to guess what the similarity is supposed to be. Is the idea that there was some sort of reverential treatment of Joseph’s corpse? If so, ok … but that’s not all that the objectionable papist practices entail.

Perhaps they imagine that Joseph’s bones were paraded about and put on display or that prayers were offered to Joseph (though there is not the least shred of Biblical evidence for such a thing). Let me provide the evidence for both why they did what they did and the full picture of what they did.

Why they did what they did.

Genesis 50:24-26
24And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 25And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. 26So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

You see, Joseph (who was a prophet) made the people of Israel swear (to the still-living Joseph) that they would bury him in the promise land. So, when he died, they embalmed him, placed his body in a coffin, and stored it.

Many years past. Eventually, as Joseph prophesied, the people went up out of Egypt. Although the Pharaoh had forgotten about Joseph, Moses and the people of Israel had not forgotten. They fulfilled their promise (as shown in Exodus above) and carried his bones out of Egypt and into the wilderness.

Finally, the arrived in the promised land:

Joshua 24:32 And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.

What did they do? They did what they promised, they buried his body. They did not put it on display for various acts of necromancy. In fact, there’s no indication that they ever took it out of its coffin. Recall that to touch a dead body was ceremonially unclean under the law of Moses, and consequently there would have been good reason to simply leave the bones in their coffin and bury the bones coffin and all in Shechem at the end of their long, prophesied, and promised journey.

The papists also sometimes bury the bones of those they think are particularly holy. Then, later, they exhume those bodies and put them on display. That’s really not at all analogous to what happened here. In fact, the only particularly surprising here is that the bones were not more or less immediately buried. There was, however, a particular reason for that non-burial: a promise made to the living (not communication with the dead).

In short, on the basis of exegetical analysis of the text, we can reasonably reject the idea that it provides even the least shred of support for the practices of the Romanist church with respect to dead bodies and parts of dead bodies.


Do Romanists Pray to Saints?

July 15, 2008

Sometimes we hear claims that Romanists pray to saints. Then we read blog articles like this one (link) and we realize that, no, we were right. They do pray to saints. They even then give glory for answering prayer to the saints to whom they pray. Here’s a link to the prayer used, reportedly with such great success (link). Note that, primarily, the prayer to Jude is in fact a prayer that Jude would pray to God.

It’s so sad to see folks imagining that a “Novena” is anything more than an innovation of man. It’s shocking to see folks giving glory to Jude as though Jude had provided the rescue, even on the hypothesis of the Novena itself. The worship (“devotion” in the words of the Novena) of Jude is something that the historical Jude, who is now in heaven, would not approve of. The supplication of the dead is a practice Jude himself never engaged in, and would never have encouraged others to engage in.

May God alone be given glory for all his deeds in heaven and on earth,


Armstrong vs. Aquinas – Classifying Reformed Christians

April 9, 2008

As recently noted by the “Shrine for the Holy Whapping,” a Catholic blog, Aquinas quoted with approval, the following (link to source):

“We believe that the bodies of the saints, above all the relics of the blessed martyrs, as being the members of Christ, should be venerated in all sincerity” and “If anyone holds a contrary opinion, he is not accounted a Christian, but a follower of Eunomius and Vigilantius.” (citing De Eccles. Dogm. xl)

Lay Catholic Dave Armstrong has asserted: “I would note that the official Catholic position is to acknowledge Protestants as Christian brothers, whereas many Protestant groups either are officially anti-Catholic or contain within themselves a strong legacy of anti-Catholicism which is then passed down almost unconsciously. ” (source)

Let me be clear: the body (in whole or in part) of no Christian whatsoever should receive religous veneration of any kind, whether alive or dead. Furthermore, religious veneration of corpses is open necromancy (in the broad definition of that word). Nevertheless, that does not mean that we cannot treat corpses with respect, or that we cannot hold funerals, etc. Thus, religious worship (such as Catholic veneration of relics) is to be distinguished from non-religious consideration. In view of these statements, it should be apparent that I hold a contrary position to that of Aquinas expressed above. According to Aquinas’ standard, I should not be accounted a Christian.

On the other hand, Armstrong broadly defines Christianity this way: “[A]nyone who is a trinitarian and who adheres to the Nicene Creed is (doctrinally) a Christian (that is basically the official Catholic position on other Christians)” (source – including all bracketed material).

So, now the question is this:

1. Is Aquinas out of touch with the Official Catholic Position?


2. Is Armstrong out of touch with the Official Catholic Position?


3. Has the Official Catholic Position changed? (If so, when and by whose authority?)


4. Are Aquinas and Armstrong somehow reconciliable? (If so, how?)


5. It doesn’t matter / no one can understand Catholic theology, except people who agree with me / some similar cop-out


6. Your views are not contrary to those of Aquinas.

That last option seems utterly implausible.

Option 5 is self defeating.

Option 4 doesn’t seem possible, but I’m open to attempted explanations.

Option 3 is my thought as to the best guess – with the Vatican II era being the place where the tide shifted in favor of people who think it is a species of necromancy to venerate the “relics of saints.”

Option 2 is presumably the answer that traditional Catholics, especially sedavacantists, would give.

Option 1 would take a great deal of gumption, but perhaps someone will try to make that claim.

NOTE: Although I enunciate very quickly the objection to veneration of alleged relics, this is not the post for that debate. This post is questioning whether modern Roman Catholicism (and/or Dave Armstrong) defines Christianity the way that Aquinas did.


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