Strange Gods Before Me: Do Catholics Worship Saints and Statues?

I like to hear and to read about people’s conversion stories to the Catholic Church—about the process they’ve been through in trying to assimilate all that our glorious Faith offers us. More often than not, there tends to be some tension within them about Mary’s role in the Church and in praying to her and the saints.

Many articles have been written by those outside of the Church who make the claim that Catholics are heathen idol-worshipers. They point to the first of the Ten Commandments (and for the sake of this article all bible quotes are from the NAB) which says, “You shall not have other gods beside me.” The commandment continues, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them”(Ex. 20:2-5).  From there, they make the claim that Catholics worship saints, statues and Mary. Let’s take a look at this Scripture passage and unpack it.

We know how the Hebrew people went to Egypt during a time of great famine; how the people were enslaved for hundreds of years, how Moses fought the Pharaoh, Raamses (Ex. 1:11) and bade him to “Let my people go” (Ex. 9:1) as God had instructed Moses. What many do not realize is that God had a reason for wanting the Hebrew slaves to be set free — “that they may serve me”(Ex. 1:12).

However, the Hebrews not only needed to be freed from the slavery of Pharaoh, but they also needed to be freed from the idols that some of them had taken to worshiping (but not all of them did) if they were going to serve God. That’s what the ten plagues were all about — God “demolishing” each of the ten major Egyptian plagues that were being worshiped in order to show forth his power over them.

The first plague, of course, was of the water of the Nile being turned to blood…in the Egyptian pantheon of gods, Hapi was the spirit of the Nile, the guardian of the Nile. In the second plague (frogs) Heqet was the goddess of fertility and water; she had the head of a frog. In the fifth plague, Hathor was the goddess of love and protection; she was oftentimes depicted with the head of a cow; hence the death of cattle and livestock. For more on the other plagues (gods/goddesses) go here.

Thus the Hebrews were freed from slavery in Egypt. God lead them into the great desert and at the top of Mt. Sinai he gave them (through Moses) his Law — the Ten Commandments. Therefore, the command “You shall have no other (strange) gods before me” was confirming the actions he had just completed in Egypt.  The rest of this commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them”, also refers back to those Egyptian gods. It was a reminder to not go back to their worship of idols.  Looking at this latter part of the commandment I will state that in the Catholic Church statues that are depictions of saints and the Virgin Mary are not in any way formed in a “likeness of anything of the heavens above (in the air) or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth”.

When God makes such declarations to his people (or even when prophets prophesy) what comes forth “from the mouth of God” MUST be relevant for the times of the hearers. Saints and the Virgin Mary had absolutely no relevance to the people of Moses’ time…there is no prior context.

The next “problem verse” in Sacred Scripture where Catholics are accused of making and worshiping idols is in Jeremiah 10:3-4 — “For the carvings of the nations are nonentities, wood cut from the forest, fashioned by artisans with the adze (ax), adorned with silver and gold”. From there the leap is made by fundamentalists who exclaim, “See? The Bible does not allow Christmas trees!” But again, this is taken totally out of context. Jeremiah is a prophet who is exhorting God’s people to be faithful to God and his Law. Then he goes into a bit of satire to poke fun of the pagans who were making idols for themselves — idols made “out of wood” (v. 8). The following verse (5) indicates, “they cannot speak; they cannot walk”. Then Jeremiah adds, “Do not fear them, they can do no harm, neither can they do good”. This same exhortation is repeated by Isaiah in 40:19-20 and 44:14-17. It is also in Psalm 115:4-8 and in Psalm 135:15-18. To repeat — prophecies and commands of God MUST have relevancy for the time at hand and not some 2,000 years in the future. Neither Jeremiah, nor Isaiah nor the writer(s) of Psalms 115 and 135 had any concept of Christmas trees. Further, no Christmas tree that I have seen has ever been carved with eyes, ears, a mouth, etc.

The third text of concern is Deuteronomy 4:12, 15 where Moses clearly states that God has “no form” and thus many non-Catholics exclaim that it is not known what God looks like. Muslims do not allow for images of God — they assert, “Rendering images of God in Islam is an impossibility, and amounts to disbelief” (http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/331/can-we-see-god).  Neither does Judaism for it “firmly maintains that G-d has no body” and adds that, “Any reference to G-d’s body is simply a figure of speech, a means of making G-d’s actions more comprehensible to beings living in a material world” (http://www.jewfaq.org/g-d.htm).

However, since the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus, He has become “fair game” to render into images. Indeed the ancient Christian hymn quoted by St. Paul in Colossians calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God” (1:15). God is also referred to as a father and thus it is ok to depict him as a fatherly figure.

God’s prohibition against idols is because he has called himself “a jealous God” (Deut. 5:9) and a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24).

Jealous?  Can God be jealous of wooden idols? He isn’t. He is jealous because as a father he wants the best for us his children and he knows that the idols can do no good (see Jer. 5:6). No wooden idol has the capacity to give his Law, to establish a covenant with his people or to love his people. Idols do not have a will but with God we can know and choose to follow his will.

There remains just two more verses to look at as I “turn the tables” on those who use these illustrations to claim that Catholics worship idols…I would like to ask how they handle God’s command to “make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the cover” of the tabernacle (Ex. 25:18)? Doesn’t this go against God’s previous command? Not really because God was against the carving of idols where one could bow down and worship them. The operative words are “bow down and worship” as God says in Ex. 20:5. Lastly, I would also ask them how they would explain God’s command to cast a bronze serpent (Numbers 21:4-9) for people to look at if they have been bitten by one of the serpents as they journeyed through the desert. Notice that after the people repented of their complaints against “this wretched food” (the daily manna in the desert), God did not cause the serpents to just slither away but commanded an image of them to be cast in bronze and then hung upon a pole for those who had been bitten to look upon and thus be healed.

Catholics do not worship the Virgin Mary; rather, they greatly revere her. Honor and veneration of the saints is called “dulia” while the veneration of the Virgin Mary is called “hyper-dulia”. Adoration which belongs to God alone is called “latria”. Saints are our friends…that “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of in the Letter to the Hebrews (12:1). The Virgin Mary is our mother because we call her son Jesus our brother. Many people who complain about Catholics worshiping idols have photos of loved ones in their homes, in their wallets, on their cell-phones. We know that those who have gone before us are indeed dead in the body but not in spirit…they are quite capable of praying and interceding for us.

Cynthia Trainque

By

Cynthia Trainque is an author who is enrolled in the Master of Arts in Ministry (MAM) for the Laity at St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, MA. She has served the church for several years as a worker, writer, and volunteer and is presently an active member of St. Mary's Parish in Ayer, MA. Cynthia is available to come to speak as a guest speaker/teacher on the beauty of the Catholic faith.  She gives talks and also creates/uses PowerPoint presentations. She may be contacted at Catherineofsienamedia@yahoo.com.

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  • Micha_Elyi

    Our God is the God of the living, not the dead. He said so. Why do you deny this? Why do you deny that God can allow others in Heaven to hear our prayers? Why do you presume that a Saint’s experience in Heaven is as limited as our own here on Earth? Do you not know the Scriptures? “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard…” Also, I notice that you quoted a Scripture passage in which “the Sprirt”, not “the man Christ Jesus” intercedes for the Saints. Hmm. Maybe you misunderstand 1 Timothy. Furthermore, have you ever asked anyone to pray for you, to be a prayer partner for you? If so, then you have accused yourself for you have asked another to be an intercessor between you (a man), and God.

    Really, kid, if you knew the Bible then you’d be a Catholic Christian. But you don’t so you aren’t. Instead you fight against the goad and struggle against the yoke. Blessings and thank you in advance for the day you accept the fullness of the Christian faith and become Catholic.

  • Chacko Panjikattil

    The Catholics don’t worship Mother Mary oar or any saints . Catholic worship only the Holy Trinity God . Mother Mary and saints are such people that they are surely with God in heaven. Catholic respect them and ask pray for intersession. When there was no wine in the wedding of Kana because of Mother Mary Jesus converted water into wine . Idols are kept in churches and other places not worshiping . No one is supposed to worship any idols . Please read first chapter of the gospel according to St. Luke . This will clear the doubts. Catholic worship only God and non else . If anybody is worshiping Mother Mary or any saints or any idols it is because of ignorance

  • I appreciate your passion for the ‘Catholic’ Church. The good news is that everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is a member of the universal Church. The fact is, we all become ‘royal priests’. And we have one High Priest – Jesus Christ. Further, we are all called to ‘search the scriptures’ to see if the doctrine we are being taught is Biblical and true. If you can provide just one verse that exhorts us to invoke anyone who is dead to pray for us, you might have something to stand on. Alas, there is not one scripture. And yes, their spirit lives on, but the concept of evoking the spirit of someone who has physically died is address in the Bible – and it is a sin to do so. God hears your prayers just as He hears the prayers of the Pope. Jesus tells us how to pray. Not one prayer recorded in scripture is ever addressed to someone who has died – only to God. I do pray, directly to God through the one mediator, my only Priest, Jesus Christ, that truth would permeate His children, all members of the universal church. Much blessings to you on the journey.

  • The First Crusade

    The universal Church is the Catholic Church. In fact that’s exactly what the word “Catholic” means in Greek.

    “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, A.D. 107

  • The universal church is all who embrace the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for atonement for sin. Ignatius, when he speaks of the ‘catholic’ or universal church is not talking about what the catholic church has become. Mat 15:6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

    Mat 15:7 “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:

    Mat 15:8 ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.

    Mat 15:9 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'”

  • Jer 7:18 “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to spite Me.

    Jer 7:19 “Do they spite Me?” declares the LORD. “Is it not themselves they spite, to their own shame?”

  • The First Crusade

    The universal Church that Ignatius mentions is a visible, hierarchical Church (with Bishops, Priests and Deacons) which celebrates the sacraments instituted by Christ (Eucharist, laying on off hands..)

    There is no mention of a supposed invisible church of believers among the early Christians. That is a modern notion invented after the “reformation”.

  • Mortal

    Here is an answer to your request for “just one verse”:

    http://shamelesspopery.com/the-deuterocanon-and-the-communion-of-saints/

    Unfortunately, the Protestants ripped the book of 2 Maccabees out of their Bibles, which had been considered canonical since Apostolic times. (They similarly tore 6 other books in the Old Testament out of the scriptures, along with 4 or 5 New Testament books. Happily, they repented of their error as far as the NT was concerned, and eventually restored the Letters of James and Jude, the Letter to the Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation to the (truncated) Protestant Bible. Both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches (i.e., the overwhelming majority of Christians worldwide) still accept all 73 books of Sacred Scripture as inspired.

  • Even if we say that Maccabees belongs in the sacred compilation of scripture, that passage is about a vision of what was occurring in heaven, it was not an example of someone asking a departed saint to pray for them. The vision could be true – they are all possibly praying for the church and God’s will on earth, but it is not an example of someone still constrained with this mortal coil talking to our brethren in real time – it was simply a vision. Even with simple hermeneutic, this fails to establish legitimacy to talking to departed saints. Blessings!

  • If you look carefully at some prayers to Mary, they are not just asking for intercession but for direct help that can only come from God. This creates a problem that some say is only of perception. There is more to it than that.

  • InfidelNumberOne

    Brett, an honest question if I may. What is your goal here?

  • As Christians, our Biblical world view is under attack. It is Satan’s goal to divide and conquer. My prayer (directly to God through our one mediator, Jesus Christ) is that we can all unify and truly become the ‘catholic’ Church. I have great respect for the Church and even the tradition. However, this topic is one that I just can’t find any Biblical support for and I wanted to hear the reasons ‘Catholics’ invoke our departed brethren (and even think they can hear them when they are not omnipresent nor omniscient). There is no Biblical reason I have found. So, under the direction of the Holy Spirit I asked on this page. I have no goal, but God does. He wants His children to speak to Him directly through Jesus Christ. He grieves over the countless prayers er… dialogues catholics repeat and say to departed saints. He is begging His children to talk directly to Him. Jesus said; Mat 6:7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.

    Mat 6:8 “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

    Mat 6:9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.”

    Jesus didn’t say to ask anyone to pray for you but for you to go directly to the Father. This is a command, not a suggestion. Fact is, no where in scripture are we told to ask others to pray on our behalf, but we, as children, go directly to the Father!!! My heart breaks for those who feel they can’t do this when this is the only instruction we have in scripture, and I think it is a travesty that the Catholic church encourages people to do this.

    I have no goal but true Biblical Christianity. I have no goal but to honor God, not man. I have no goal but to do what scripture commands…

    2Ti 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

    2Ti 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

    2Ti 4:4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

    And Jesus said; Mat 15:8 ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.

    Mat 15:9 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'”

  • I never denied that God is the God of the living. I just question why you think the living can be omnipresent and hear the petitions of Catholics all over the world, when only God is able to do that. And just FYI I have studied the Bible on a scholarly level since 1981. And thank you for calling me a kid – I do have child like faith 🙂 Blessings!

  • Dominic

    Mary actually can give direct help by giving graces to those who ask. According to the teaching of the Church, God chose Mary to be the channel of grace to us, her children, so whatever have we receive comes through her hands.

  • In the earliest teachings of the Church found in the New Testament, all the benefits from the Father flow into us through Christ’s Spirit within us. This is how we get access to the Father. In Jesus, there is all of the fullness of the Godhead bodily. This is why the man Christ Jesus is the one mediator between the Father and us. Christ’s Spirit is the only one that can inhabit us for this function.

  • James Lancaster

    The fundamental assumption that you made was that Christ does not share in His salvific work with anyone. I assume that you do not believe this because Christ told us to “go out and make disciples of all the nations”, and in such shares in this salvific task with us. If He does with us, why do we assume that he doesn’t share that with the Saints in Heaven?

  • James Lancaster

    I know this is something of resurrecting an old dead thread, but I couldn’t help posting since no one else did.

    Fundamental assertion that you made “Jesus didn’t say to ask anyone to pray for you but for you to go
    directly to the Father. This is a command, not a suggestion. Fact is,
    no where in scripture are we told to ask others to pray on our behalf,
    but we, as children, go directly to the Father!!!”

    I assume then that you never pray for your fellow man, since you wouldn’t know if they needed it or not (because they can’t ask you)? You never ask anyone to pray for you? Rather, that is quite scriptural. Paul prayed for others in Ephesians 1:16-23. James commands us to in James 5:16 (I think James would interest you greatly, read it all). Above all, Jesus prayed for us, and indeed commanded us to pray for others in Matthew 5:44. This is indeed biblical, and if you are going to say you follow “biblical Christianity” (something I never saw in the bible), I suggest you read all of it carefully before you use the words “never” and “only” and the like.

  • James Lancaster

    I forgot to answer this part in my last post. If those who have died are with Christ (unless they are in purgatory, then you can have an argument), they are outside of time and space. I suggest you do a little less unguided study of scripture and a little more study of classical philosophy. It would clear up your misunderstandings of the Catholic faith.

  • God sends the Spirit of His Son into the hearts of anyone He
    chooses. This was true in New Testament times, and it is true today. This is how we become ambassadors for Christ on this earth. God uses His saints in heaven in any way He chooses or doesn’t choose.

  • In the book of 2Maccabees 12:43-46, when it speaks of praying for the dead, it is for the godly people of Old Testament who died prior to Christ. They would have been in Sheol or Hades.

  • True indeed. Blessings!

  • Outside of this temporal universe, yes. Outside of time? Where does the Bible say that? Time was not created, just the ability to measure time. And, there is time in heaven according to the Bible. So, simply using scripture, where do you find that departed saints are outside of time? And it still does not make them omnipresent.

  • I never stated we shouldn’t ask others to pray for us, I just asserted that Jesus told us how to pray, and He said we should pray directly to the Father. So, if we have ‘confident access’ to the throne of God – a direct line to Him through prayer, why would we need any other mediator but Christ Himself? Blessings! Biblically, we don’t.

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