Veneration of Saints in a Non-Idolatrous Way
The accomplishment of Abraham and his successors is to have discovered the possibility of direct contact to the creative force, to have discovered that it needs no mediation, even that any mediation interferes with the immediate communication between man an his creator.
Not daring to contact god directly but instead thinking a saint to be closer implies a certain concept of god – a god that is far away instead of being the core of one’s own being as Gen 1,26 implies. This is the background of the first commandment prohibiting to set up anyone besides god.
The basis of the biblical religion is the realization of the immediate relationship between the creative force and the creature on any level of being. Using saints as mediators or as advocates before god in Judaism therefore rightly is considered to be idol-worship. Idol-worship of course is not a problem for god but a person who circumvents the direct line will limit its own possibilities.
But even though saints should not be used as advocates they still will be what they are: shining examples. Everybody has in his/her life people one likes very much, even admires. In the beginning of the life of a human being it most certainly will be the parents. They and later on other people most likely will become examples or models for ones own life – be it as successful examples in one’s profession or as outstanding human beings in other ways. Such outstanding examples rightly are admired and even emulated.
This process of learning by imitation, by trying to tune into certain attitudes is a very natural process.
This process goes hand in hand with something that in psychology is called “inner dialogue”. Every human being without exception practices an inner dialogue talking at first mainly with his parents, with his friends, but then with everyone he/she is meeting in his life.
If someone is attracted to a person, before this someone is talking to that person, he/she will rehearse what he/she wants to say. An inner dialogue starts naturally.
So it is also natural that an inner dialogue starts with admired examples. The admirer wants to get access to similar attitudes towards life and that process of finding these attitudes is taking place in the inner dialogue of that person.
That inner dialogue might turn into “a prayer”, into the expression of a wish. Here is the point where the roads part, where on the one side the wish stays a wish, expressed in one’s inner dialogue, but where on the other hand some kind of idolatry might start, assuming the saint could out of his metaphysical reality change our physical reality in an immediate material way. People often are not conscious enough to be able to make such differentiations. But Christian theology should be conscious of the difference and point its finger to the dangers of superstition – and at the same time make clear that the original intention of a close relationship to a saint in the process of shaping ones own life is no problem but desirable – just as we also rightly should get in contact with spiritual teachers and learn from them.
There still remains the aspect of the prayers saints are said to be able to do for us.
Can they hear us?
Considering the overall interconnectedness of being in the oneness of the all of the creative force, which even in the dimension of space and time can be felt and observed, it is thinkable, that the saints may, back then in their own time, be able to “hear” us in some way. Our “prayer”, i.e. our communication within our inner dialogue, might be felt by them in some kind of way. If this could be the case they would by our intention be confirmed in their course, and that way they even more would be able to function for us as an example. That way too they might be able to help us now in our time to more easily adopt a style of life that coincides with their intention – and with our own. In any case the communication in our prayer is a communication in our inner dialogue. That’s what makes their qualities present for us. And one of their qualities is their prayer for all human kind, therefore also for us within our special situation.
The prayers the saints are said to be doing for us therefore have already taken place in their time, which in some way is still present as their examples have been forwarded to us and as in eternity all time is present at once.
To assume that they still exist as self-conscious persons in our time would necessitate the assumption of a four-dimensional parallel universe of matter-less spirit, which is characteristic of the dichotomic world view of metaphysics – a view that is not accepted any more by the main stream of nowadays philosophy.
Many difficulties to understand formulas of former times arise because the formulas are connected with the world views of these times which possibly will no longer be the views of our time – as the Hellenistic views or as even the dichotomic metaphysical views which today are not shared any more commonly, because the realities of physics have outdated them.
Speaking about physics: What about the miracles the saints are said to be doing?
After someone was healed Jesus did not say “I healed you”, he always said: “Your trust has made you whole.” So it is not the saints who “do” miracles – but it is the saints who have given examples of trust. Miracles happen because people got inspired to trust. The impossible can become possible when someone has trust. So it always will be important to have examples of trust. And therefore it always will be important to praise and to cherish the saints.
Seeing all this, Christian theology now has the chance to take a new step toward a better understanding of the realities of being human – and maybe even the halachic concept of idolatry could be improved.