Definition: According to Roman Catholic teaching, saints are those who died and are now with Christ in heaven and who have been given recognition by the Church for outstanding holiness and virtue. The Tridentine profession of faith states that the saints are to be invoked as intercessors with God and that both the relics of saints and images of the saints are to be venerated. Other religions, too, invoke the help of saints. Certain religions teach that all of their members are saints and are free from sin. The Bible makes many references to saints, or holy ones. It refers to Christ’s 144,000 spirit-anointed followers as being such.
Does the Bible teach that a person must have attained to heavenly glory before he is recognized as a saint?
The Bible definitely does refer to holy ones, or saints, that are in heaven. Jehovah is spoken of as “the Holy One [Greek, haʹgi·on].” (1 Pet. 1:15, 16; see Leviticus 11:45.) Jesus Christ is described as “the Holy One [haʹgi·os] of God” when on earth and as “holy [haʹgi·os]” in heaven. (Mark 1:24; Rev. 3:7, JB) The angels too are “holy.” (Acts 10:22, JB) The same basic term in the original Greek is applied to a considerable number of persons on earth.
Acts 9:32, 36-41, JB: “Peter visited one place after another and eventually came to the saints [ha·giʹous] living down in Lydda. At Jaffa there was a woman disciple called Tabitha [who died] . . . [Peter] turned to the dead woman and said, ‘Tabitha, stand up’. She opened her eyes, looked at Peter and sat up. Peter helped her to her feet, then he called in the saints and widows and showed them she was alive.” (Clearly, these saints were not yet in heaven, nor was just an outstanding individual such as Peter viewed as a saint.)
2 Cor. 1:1; 13:12, JB: “From Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from Timothy, one of the brothers, to the church of God at Corinth and to all the saints [ha·giʹois] in the whole of Achaia.” “Greet one another with the holy kiss. All the saints send you greetings.” (All these early Christians who were cleansed by the blood of Christ and set apart for God’s service as prospective joint heirs with Christ were referred to as saints, or holy ones. Recognition of their being saints was obviously not deferred until after they had died.)
Is it Scriptural to pray to “saints” for them to act as intercessors with God?
Jesus Christ said: “You should pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, . . . ’” So prayers are to be addressed to the Father. Jesus also said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it.” (Matt. 6:9; John 14:6, 14, JB) Thus Jesus ruled out the idea that anyone else could fill the role of intercessor. The apostle Paul added regarding Christ: “He not only died for us—he rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us.” “He is living for ever to intercede for all who come to God through him.” (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25, JB) If we truly want our prayers to be heard by God, would it not be wise to approach God in the way that his Word directs? (See also pages 258, 259, under the heading “Mary.”)
Eph. 6:18, 19, JB: “Never get tired of staying awake to pray for all the saints; and pray for me to be given an opportunity to open my mouth and speak without fear and give out the mystery of the gospel.” (Italics added.) (Here encouragement is given to pray for the saints but not to them or through them. The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. XI, p. 670, acknowledges: “Usually in the N[ew] T[estament], all prayer, private as well as public liturgical prayer, is addressed to God the Father through Christ.”)
Rom. 15:30, JB: “I beg you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit, to help me through my dangers by praying to God for me.” (The apostle Paul, himself a saint, asked fellow Christians who were also saints to pray for him. But notice that Paul did not address his prayers to those fellow saints, nor did their prayers on his behalf replace the personal intimacy that Paul himself enjoyed with the Father by means of prayer. Compare Ephesians 3:11, 12, 14.)
How should the practice of venerating relics and images of “saints” be viewed?
The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits: “It is thus vain to seek a justification for the cult of relics in the Old Testament; nor is much attention paid to relics in the New Testament. . . . [The Church “father”] Origen seems to have regarded the practice as a pagan sign of respect for a material object.”—(1967), Vol. XII, pp. 234, 235.
It is noteworthy that God buried Moses, and no human ever found out where his grave was. (Deut. 34:5, 6) But Jude 9 informs us that the archangel Michael disputed with the Devil about Moses’ body. Why? God’s purpose to dispose of it in such a manner that humans would not know where to find it was clearly stated. Did the Adversary want to direct humans to that body so that it might be put on display and perhaps become an object of veneration?
Regarding the veneration of images of the “saints,” see the main heading “Images.”
Why are Catholic “saints” depicted with halos?
The New Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges: “The most common attribute, applied to all saints, is the nimbus (cloud), a luminous defined shape surrounding the head of the saint. Its origins are pre-Christian, and examples are found in Hellenistic art of pagan inspiration; the halo was used, as evidenced in mosaics and coins, for demigods and divinities such as Neptune, Jupiter, Bacchus, and in particular Apollo (god of the sun).”—(1967), Vol. XII, p. 963.
The New Encyclopædia Britannica says: “In Hellenistic and Roman art the sun-god Helios and Roman emperors often appear with a crown of rays. Because of its pagan origin, the form was avoided in Early Christian art, but a simple circular nimbus was adopted by Christian emperors for their official portraits. From the middle of the 4th century, Christ was also shown with this imperial attribute . . . it was not until the 6th century that the halo became customary for the Virgin Mary and other saints.”—(1976), Micropædia, Vol. IV, p. 864.
Is it proper to mix Christianity with pagan symbolism?
“Light and darkness have nothing in common. Christ is not the ally of Beliar [Belial; Satan], nor has a believer anything to share with an unbeliever. The temple of God has no common ground with idols, and that is what we are—the temple of the living God. . . . Then come away from them and keep aloof, says the Lord. Touch nothing that is unclean, and I will welcome you and be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Almighty Lord.”—2 Cor. 6:14-18, JB.
Might all the members of a religious group be saints and thus free from sin?
It certainly was true that all who made up the first-century Christian congregation were saints. (1 Cor. 14:33, 34; 2 Cor. 1:1; 13:13, RS, KJ) They are described as ones that received “forgiveness of sins” and were “sanctified” by God. (Acts 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:2, RS, KJ) Nevertheless, they did not claim to be free from all sin. They were born as descendants of the sinner Adam. This inheritance often made it a struggle for them to do what was right, as the apostle Paul humbly acknowledged. (Rom. 7:21-25) And the apostle John pointedly said: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, RS) So, being a saint in the sense that the term is used regarding Christ’s true followers does not mean that in the flesh they are free from all sin.
As to whether all true Christians today are saints with heavenly life before them, see pages 164-168.
If Someone Says—
‘Do you believe in the saints?’
You might reply: ‘Which ones do you have in mind?’ If the person mentions Mary and/or the apostles, you might possibly add: (1) ‘Yes, they are referred to in the Holy Scriptures, and I believe what is written there. But I am especially interested in what they are doing today and how it affects us, aren’t you? . . . I have found something very interesting about them here in the Holy Scriptures, and I would like to share it with you. (Rev. 5:9, 10)’ [Note, for use if a question is raised about the wording in the text: JB says “rule the world.” CC reads “reign over the earth.” Kx states “reign as kings over the earth.” But NAB and Dy read “reign on the earth.” For comments on the Greek grammar, see page 168, under “Heaven.”] (2) ‘What will life under such a government be like? (Rev. 21:2-4)’
Or you could say (if you were once a Catholic): ‘For many years I shared in the festivals for the saints and regularly prayed to them. But then I read something in the Holy Scriptures that caused me to reconsider what I was doing. Please, let me show it to you. (See page 353.)’