St. Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD) “[the true Christian] also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping, and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him.”
Early Christian artwork by SmartHistory.org
David Bercot says at the 54:49 minute mark in his lecture about images and prayers to the saints, “But what about in the second and third centuries? Well again I’m just gonna tell you flatly, there is no record anywhere in the ante-Nicene writings of any Christian praying to a saint or to an angel, that is in the writings before the time of Constantine. There is not even an instant of any Christian who was part of the Church, I mean other than a heretic maybe, asking a deceased Christian to pray for them. There is not even a record, any instance of that happening.” There isn’t?
But see St. Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD), who in his Stromata writes: “In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping, and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer].”
In fact, the early pre-Nicene Christians didn’t have a problem asking saints to pray for them, or understanding that the saints in heaven pray for them. See Origen (185–254 AD), who wrote in his On Prayer about saints in heaven praying for people who “pray sincerely”: “But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep.”
On earth, we ask all Christians [saints] to pray for us, but what about the Christians who aren’t on earth anymore? Let’s listen to Cyprian (210–253 AD) who wrote in the 56th letter of his: “Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father’s mercy [in Heaven].”
St. Hippolytus, who is often mentioned in Bercot’s book, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?, but conveniently excluded from his lecture, once asked the three boys burned in the furnace in the book of Daniel (who are in Heaven since they are martyrs) to “remember him” and “obtain the same lot” for him.
“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.” (Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel, 30.1, Rome, c. AD 202–211)
And here is two more pieces of evidence:
“Now supplication and plea and thanksgiving may be offered to people without impropriety. Two of them, namely pleading and thanksgiving, might be offered not only to saints but to people alone in general, whereas supplication should be offered to saints alone, should there be found a Paul or a Peter, who may benefit us and make us worthy to attain authority for the forgiveness of sins.” (Origen, On Prayer, 14.6, Alexandria, Circa AD 253)
“As we sing to Father Son and Holy Spirit, may all the powers join with us to say Amen. To the only giver of all good things be power and praise. Amen.” (Probably Egyptian, 3rd Century AD hymn) LiturgicalArts.com tells about inscriptions in the catacombs of the 200s asking Peter and Paul to “pray” for someone: “Indeed, some held that the two saints earthly remains were temporarily housed in the Catacombs of St. Sebastian before ending up in their present locations and perhaps nowhere is the popular Roman devotion to Ss. Peter and Paul better shown (aside from the early portraits of these saints shown at the beginning of this article) than in this inscription from the third century found within the same catacombs which reads: “Pauli ed Petre, petite pro Victore” (Peter and Paul, ask [pray/intercede] for Victor.”
All prayer directed towards the saints is directed toward God, as is all love for the saints love for God who made them.
“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!” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, Ch 17, circa AD 69–155)
The Apostle Peter prays to a saint in Acts 9:36–41,
“Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him entreating him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he had come, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive.”
Should we pray to the saints? Well, I ask you these three questions:
“Do you believe the very best of us, such as martyrs, go straight to God in Heaven upon dying?”
2. “Do you believe it is good to ask others to pray for you, such as your family or other Christians?”
3. “Then why would you take issue with both of these ideas working together?”
The Early Christians on Intercession of the Saints
This quote by Hippolytus (170–236 AD) shows that the early Christians believed in “interceding friends”:
“No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no voice [or prayer] of interceding friends will profit them.”
The following quote comes from the Shepard of Hermas, a book which was considered by many early Christians, before the canonization of Scripture in the 200s, as Scripture. It was that important.
“I prayed [to the Angel of Repentance, who is called the Shepherd] much that he would explain to me the similitude of the field…And he answered me again, saying, “Every one who is the servant of God, and has his Lord in his heart, asks of Him understanding, and receives it, and opens up every parable; and the words of the Lord become known to him which are spoken in parables. But those who are weak and slothful in prayer, hesitate to ask anything from the Lord; but the Lord is full of compassion, and gives without fail to all who ask Him. But you, having been strengthened by the holy Angel, and having obtained from Him such intercession [God allowed the intercession], and not being slothful, why do not you ask of the Lord understanding, and receive it from Him?” I said to him, “Sir, having you with me, I am necessitated to ask questions of you, for you show me all things, and converse with me; but if I were to see or hear these things without you, I would then ask the Lord to explain them.” (The Shepherd of Hermas, 3.5.4, Rome, date questionable; perhaps as early as AD 85–90, perhaps as late as AD 140–155)
One must see “saints interceding” not as something they do by their own volition, but what is allowed by God’s will. One could say that God has no need for the saints. The Bible, on the contrary, shows Him using saints to carry out his work on the earth — look at all the prophets of the OT, look at Mary who cooperates and accepts His grace, look at Paul who spreads the gospel, or St. Michael the Archangel who “casts Satan into hell” in the Book of Revelation.
Saints accomplishing great wonders do not detract from God’s glory. It does the opposite. As Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). The saints, since God created them, glorify the Creator. By honoring the saints and martyrs, we honor God.
Biblical Proof of the Saints in Heaven
Here is what Webster Dictionary says about the word “pray”:
(1) To utter petition to God … (2) To make a fervent request: PLEAD (3) To beseech: implore (4) to make a devout or earnest request for.
Heaven is not an empty place, as the following verse from Hebrews proves.
Hebrews 12:22–24 talks about the city of Heaven: “But you have approached Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, and the assembly and church of the firstborn who have been enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and spirits of righteous ones who have been made perfect [saints], and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood [of the martyrs] which speaks better than that of Abel.”
The early Christian account of the martyrdom of Polycarp speaks of him, a martyr, as well as the apostles, and other saints, the righteous, as being in heaven praising God forever.
“For, having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he [Polycarp] now, with the apostles and all the righteous [in heaven], rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world.” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, Ch 19, circa AD 69–155)
The book of Revelation gives two examples of the angels and saints collecting our prayers to present before God — this is an example of their intecession:
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders [saints] fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” (Revelation 5:8) Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He [a saint] was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8:3–4)
Asking family to pray for us is akin to asking our holy family (saints in heaven/the mystical brotherhood of Christians) to pray for us. Every Christian is a saint, as Paul says. But there is a difference between saints in heaven and saints on earth. They are both part of the mystical Body of Christ, the Church, but those in Heaven, since they are in Heaven, are more righteous — and the prayer of a “righteous man” has greater power, as the verse below states:
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” (James 5:16–17)
One should ask everyone they can to pray for them. More prayer is always a good thing, but more prayer from more righteous people is a better thing; so that is why Catholics are not praying for the saints, the saints don’t need it — the saints are already in Heaven — but why Catholics ask the saints always to “pray for us”, as we need it.
“Pray” in this way means to “ask”. You are ultimately asking them to pray to God on your behalf the same as you would your friends and family. If this is dangerous because it exalts mortal man too much, not doing it is dangerous because it reduces humanity too much, as if Christ has not reconciled the relationship between us. The Eastern Christian Theophan said, “because of Christ, human nature is at God’s right hand.”
Should one pray to the saints? Well, I ask these three questions again:
“Do you believe the best of us, such as martyrs, go to God in Heaven upon dying?” The above verse from Hebrews proves that is true. The early Christians also believed this.
“Do you believe it is good to ask others to pray for you, such as your family?” The early Christians believed this.
“Then why would you take issue with both of these ideas working together?”
Is Prayer Always Equal To Worship?
Most Protestants decide that all prayer is worship. But prayer is not always equal to worship. Does a man who prays nonstop with a cruel hurt truly worship God with his prayers? No? Then that means prayer doesn’t always have to be worship.
A form of prayer is talk. One talks to those in Heaven to ask them to pray for us. Prayer is petition. Prayer is not always worship, as in the case of someone with a cruel, cold heart who prays fruitlessly. As I have already shown, to pray means to: “implore to make a devout or earnest request for.” We pray/ask the saints to help us follow them to Heaven.