Friday, July 5, 2013

Catholic idolatry

Is the Catholic church guilty of idolatry? That is the question that I will seek to answer in this post with not just my own commentary but with biblical reference as well. Just for kicks I am going to be citing from the Catholics New Jerusalem version of scriptures and even defining some of the terminology from their own online encyclopedia. Let's start this post by first defining what exactly is idolatry. And while we are at it we are going to knock out two birds with one stone by also defining the word veneration.

Idolatry etymologically denotes Divine worship given to an image, but its signification has been extended to all Divine worship given to anyone or anything but the true God.

Veneration : respect or awe inspired by the dignity, wisdom, dedication, or talent of a person 

Interestingly enough the word veneration doesn't even appear in the Catholic online encyclopedia so I have taken my definition for that word from the online Merriam Webster dictionary. So now that we have those two terms defined the next question is why is the Catholic church guilty of idolatry?

Images of the virgin Mary figure prominently in the Catholic church

The Catholic church pretty much has created an image or icon for just about anyone they deemed worthy of recognition amongst their members. They have also cast images of men who were influential in the bible such as Jesus and his apostles. In the case of veneration it is one thing to admire the dedication of a fellow believer and entirely another thing to pray to or inadvertently worship that persons image.The very first thing that the Catholic church does wrong is that it made images and icons of prominent figures in church history. Why is this wrong?

8 ' "You must not make yourselves any image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; 9 you must not bow down to these gods or serve them. ... Deuteronomy 5:8-9

Notice in this text that it say's "these gods" in verse nine. Many will use this as a contention to defend the veneration of saints by stating that they don't worship them nor consider them gods. Let's look at the etymology of that word god.

god (n.) Look up god at Dictionary.comOld English god "supreme being, deity; the Christian God; image of a god; godlike person," from Proto-Germanic *guthan (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch god, Old High German got, German Gott, Old Norse guð, Gothic guþ), from PIE *ghut- "that which is invoked" (cf. Old Church Slavonic zovo "to call," Sanskrit huta- "invoked," an epithet of Indra), from root *gheu(e)- "to call, invoke." 
Notice in this definition that we have the terms "supreme being" and "godlike person" this is where I think most Catholics go wrong. They view certain people as being godlike or godly and choose to venerate them after death. The bible is full of stories about the exploits of its most prominent figures and they honor their memories through those tales. What you don't see in the scriptures are images of men of note or people praying to men of note in the bible. The closest you come to this is when Moses led the people and whenever things went bad for them they often pleaded with Moses to intercede on their behalf with God. But although Moses was considered one of the greatest figures in the scriptures you never hear of the Hebrews making statues of him or praying for his intercession after death. 

The Bible demonstrates repeatedly how the ancient Hebrews were so easily prone to worship other gods that they came in contact with. In fact, there was one incident where God sent a plague of fiery serpents (whatever that means) at the Israelites and killed many of them. Moses was then asked to make a bronze serpent to counteract the bites and heal the afflicted. 

6 At this, God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. 8 and Yahweh replied, 'Make a fiery serpent and raise it as a standard. Anyone who is bitten and looks at it will survive.' Numbers 21:6;8

Whatever happened to that snake that Moses made? Well, the biblical narrative later tells us that it was destroyed by king Hezekiah. Just for the record the term fiery is more of a reference to the color of the bronze statue. It's not literally on fire! Why God did not just take the plague away with his word is beyond me. Not only that he forced Moses to break the commandment cited earlier about making images  of things on earth or below the earth.

He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) 2 Kings 18:4

As you can see the very act of burning incense to this image was considered idolatry. Yet Catholics burn incense to their saints all the time. Just walk into any one of their churches and you might find a place to light candles or burn incense to your favorite saint.

A typical altar for burning candles and incense in a Catholic church

There are specifically two verses in the scriptures where "saint" worship is strictly forbidden. The first is when Peter is called to the house of Cornelius a gentile and the second is when John in the book of Revelations finds himself in the presence of an angel.
25 and as Peter reached the house Cornelius went out to meet him, fell at his feet and did him reverence.26 But Peter helped him up. 'Stand up,' he said, ' after all, I am only a man!' Acts 10:25-26
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. When I had heard and seen them all, I knelt at the feet of the angel who had shown them to me, to worship him;9 but he said, 'Do no such thing: I am your fellow-servant and the fellow-servant of your brothers the prophets and those who keep the message of this book. God alone you must worship.'Revelation 22:8-9

One was an apostle and the other was an angel and on both occasions the believer was chastised for bowing down to them which is the equivalent of worship. Today's Catholics despite their claims of only venerating or seeking holy intervention in  prayer through the saints bow down to them and show them a reverence that the bible states is only due to God. 

When it comes to the so called use of saints for intercessory prayer then we have to expose the fallacy of this belief as well. There are several verses of scripture that can do this in one fell swoop but for the sake of brevity I will limit myself to two examples.

5 For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and humanity, himself a human being, Christ Jesus,1 Timothy 2:5

24 It is not as though Christ had entered a man-made sanctuary which was merely a model of the real one; he entered heaven itself, so that he now appears in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24

As you can see one of the functions of Christ was to reconcile man with God. It is through him that you as a believer have access to the Father. Praying to saints in hopes that they will agree with you in prayer or intercede on your behalf to the Father is just not biblical. 

13 Whatever you ask in my name I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
John 14:13-14

In conclusion, making images for church veneration or worship is strictly forbidden. Venerating images of saints or utilizing them for intercessory prayer is strictly forbidden. Lighting candles and incense to so called saints is strictly forbidden in the scriptures. Putting men of faith on a pedestal is no different than worshiping them and amounts to nothing more than idolatry.

Note: All biblical citations are taken from the New Jerusalem Bible and word meanings come from Merriam Webster online dictionary, the Catholic Encyclopedia online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.


  1. Even when I was a theist I used to think this exact thing. The whole praying to Mary never made biblical sense.

  2. I've heard lots of fundies say similar things - a few I talked to were certain the Antichrist would be a pope.