Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Saints Are Like Pagan Deities

                A frequent objection by our Protestant friends about the Catholic practice of honoring the Saints is that it is overtly reminiscent of polytheism, with the various gods dedicated to different aspects of the world replaced by the various Patron Saints of the Catholic calendar.
                And, in this, they’re quite right. The Saints are indeed fairly closely akin to the gods of ancient Greece, Rome, and so on. Where Protestants are mistaken is in thinking that these gods were at all akin to God. It’s more a confusion of language than of concept really; we use the same word for the pagan deities as for the Blessed Trinity, when it'd be closer to the truth to use the same word to describe the pagan deities and the Blessed Saints and Angels.
                It’s easy for us to forget, because we’ve grown used to the idea of an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent God who transcends nature and time because He created both, that the pagan gods had none of these qualities. Zeus was the king of the gods and the ruler of the air, but he was not omnipotent (he had to fight a ten year war to earn his throne) and he did not create nature. Quite the reverse; Mother Earth is his grandmother and the Sky is his grandfather. Odin likewise was fairly far removed from the birth of creation, his grandfather having been licked out of the primeval ice by an ancient cow (it’s paganism; get used to it). He helped make the world out of the remains of the giant Ymir, but obviously there was some sort of ‘world’ going on with Ymir, the cow, and all that ice. Nor was he omniscient (he needed his two crows to bring him news).
                See, the pagan gods were more like stewards of creation, or at least, like ruling princes who schemed and inherited their way into dominion of a world that they were just as much a part of as humanity. The gods of Greece and Rome and Babylon were, in short, a part of nature, just like the sun or the stars (sometimes they were the sun and the stars). They had their own roles to fulfill, and as such wielded much greater power than human beings, but they were ‘creatures’ just as humans or animals were ‘creatures.’ They were not the Prime Movers, nor were they being itself. They, as much as humanity, answered to a higher authority than themselves.
                Now, as you can see, exalted creatures serving a higher authority and helping to order and steward creation is indeed a fairly decent description of the Saints and Angels in Heaven. So, yes; Catholic Saints are pretty similar to Pagan deities (without all the womanizing and warring and turning things into other things in a fit of temper). It’s the Catholic God that is beyond the pagan gods. Think of it less as “you’re just trying to revive paganism” and more “the True God is so far above the false gods that we who serve Him become like in power to the false gods.”
                Actually, that understates it; the Saints are more powerful, more worthy of praise than pagan gods. Pagan gods, as noted, could be tricked, manipulated, injured, and even killed in some cases. The Saints are subject to none of those limitations. The Saints don’t have the petty, easily-tweaked personalities of the gods. Yet the Saints can do pretty much anything the gods could do; heal diseases and illnesses, control the forces of nature, inspire human creativity and virtue, foretell the future, and so on. They do all this because of their union with the One who can do all things.

"Our dead are more powerful than your gods; what do you suppose that says about our God?"
Vivat Christus Rex!

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