Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Rhology" on Postures of Prayer and Idol Worship

Recently, someone who goes by the name of "Rhology" made a post over at Beggars All: Reformation about the supposed idolatrous actions of Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox) in kneeling/bowing down before statues and icons. Apparently, the distinction that Catholics make between Λατρεία (Lat. latria, "worship of God") and δουλεία (Lat. dulia, "reverence of the saints") is "ad hoc and imaginary." I would like to address these claims.

First, let's outline his argument. It basically goes like this:
  • Exo 20:4-5 says that we should neither bow down to nor serve any graven image
  • The Hebrew word for "serve" in that verse is 'abad.
  • In translating this Hebrew word, the Septuagint (or LXX), uses both latreuo and douleuo (the two Greek words from which derive our Latin words latria and dulia).
  • In other words, both Greek words mean "to serve" in the LXX.
  • Therefore, the distinction that Catholics make between latria and dulia is not made in the Bible.
  • Since the Bible condemns the "service"/latria/dulia of anything other than God, this means that the Bible condemns the Catholic dulia of the saints
Now, I have two things to say about this. For one, douleuo (or dulia) isn't always idolatrous in the Bible. For example, take a look at the following verses:

Gen 29:15,18 And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve [douleuo] me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be? 18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve [douleuo] thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. (Did Jacob worship Laban?)

Deut 15:12 And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve [douleuo] thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. (Were the Jews entering into idolatrous relationships here?)

2 Sam 22:44 (cf. Psa 18:43) Thou also hast delivered me from the strivings of my people, thou hast kept me to be head of the heathen: a people which I knew not shall serve [douleuo] me. (Did God reward David with people who would worship him?)

1 Ki 12:4,7 (cf. 2 Chron 10:4) Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve [douleuo] thee. 7 And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve [douleuo] them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever. (Surely they're not talking about idol worship here!)

Even in the New Testament, douleuo (or dulia) does not always designate the worship we give to God alone:

Lk 15:29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve [douleuo] thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends (Was the faithful son an idolator?)

Rom 7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve [douleuo] the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Did Paul worship God's laws?)

Rom 9:12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve [douleuo] the younger. (Poor, idolatrous elders....)

Gal 5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve [douleuo] one another. (Is Paul telling them to worship each other?)

Php 2:22 But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served [douleuo] with me in the gospel. (Is Paul commending him for being an idolator?)

1 Tim 6:2 And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service (duoleuo), because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. (What about here?)

You get the idea. Dulia can actually mean something different from latria.

Secondly, since latria is always used in the Bible for the worship we give to God, but dulia is not, it makes sense that dulia would develop in meaning so that, by the time of Augustine, it would be used to designate the reverence we afford to the saints --something altogether different from our worship of God.
  • "Λατρεία, whenever it occurs in Scripture, is rendered by the word service. But that service which is due to men, and in reference to which the apostle writes that servants must be subject to their own masters [Eph. vi. 5.], is usually designated by another word in Greek [namely, δουλεία: comp. Quæst in Exod. 94; Quæst. in Gen. 21; Contra Faustum, 15. 9, etc.], whereas the service which is paid to God alone by worship, is always, or almost always, called λατρεία in the usage of those who wrote from the divine oracles."
    --St. Augustine, City of God,
    Bk. 10
Next, Rhology creates an illustration that he thinks clearly shows the stupidity of the Catholic distinction:
The disturbing part of all this is the attempted separation of what our RC and EO-dox friends are defending and what Scripture teaches is wrong. I'll illustrate by way of comparison:
Exodus 20:15 - you shall not steal.
In Hebrew, the word is "ganab". In the LXX, ganab is translated "foneuseis" and these words have a similar usage to "klepto" in Grk, which is often used by the NT to express the same idea. Several 100s of years after the time of Christ and the time of the writing of the NT, the argument could go like this:
"Yes, the property 'belonged' to a brother in Christ, but you know, we all hold all things in common like the book of Acts says. I didn't steal it from him, you see. He may want it back and accuse me of stealing it from him, and yes, I have it and he never explicitly gave me permission to remove it from his property, but that's OK. We're all free in Christ, and we don't use the word 'steal' the same way anyway."
I'd like to know the difference between the two situations.
I'll tell you what the difference is. In your illustration, the thief may not call his action "stealing" anymore, but that is effectively what it is. However, with the reverence that we give to the saints, we don't call it latria because it is effectively something very different. When we honor the saints, we intend in no way to give them the worship that is reserved to God alone. Since this action is different, it requires a different word which has taken on a different meaning.

As I've said before, when you ask a dead person to pray for you, you light candles, kneel and prostrate yourself before an icon, kiss the icon, burn incense, and pray at the icon. These are worshipful actions. These are actions that God has reserved for Himself in the Old Testament. Is man left up to the task of determining what is right worship before God, or does God determine that for us?
It is simple ad hoc equivocation to say that one can "proskuneo" before an image of a dead person, light candles, burn incense, and pray to them. Prayer is a worshipful action. Bowing down is a worshipful action, as in Exodus 20:5.
I have no doubt that bowing down is a worshipful action. BUT, it is not necessarily indicative of the worship we give to God. There are many examples in the Bible that illustrate this. For example:
  • Lot "bowed himself with his face to the earth" before the angels that visited him in Sodom (Gen 19:1).
  • Joseph's brothers "bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground" when they came to him for food (Gen 42:6).
  • Saul "bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance" before Samuel (1 Sam 28:14).
  • Bathsheba "bowed and did obeisance" to King David (1 Kings 1:16),
  • did Nathan (vs. 23), Ornan (1 Chron 21:21), and even the entire assembly (1 Chron 29:20).
  • David himself bowed down before the temple of the Lord (Psa 138:2).
  • The sons of the prophets at Jericho "bowed to the ground" before Elisha (2 Kings 2:15).
  • King Nebuchadnezzar "fell upon his face, and did homage" to Daniel, and even commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him! (Dan 2:46).
  • Even Jesus Christ himself will make those of the synagogue of Satan to bow down before the church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:9).
As we've been saying all along, and as these verses clearly indicate, you can't simply assume that since someone is bowing down before something or someone else, that some type of idolatrous action is taking place. The meaning is in the intent.

Finally, I would like to respond to a comment that "saint and sinner" made to Rhology's post:

No, idolatry is giving glory to anyone but God. By lighting candles and giving prayers, you are giving glory to someone other than God.
But doesn't Scripture (particularly Paul) call us to give honor to other members of the Body?

Acts 5:12-13 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high honor.

Rom 12:10 love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

Rom 13:7 Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

1 Cor 12:23-24 and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part

Eph 6:2 "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise)

Phil 2:25,29 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphrodi'tus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy; and honor such men

1 Tim 5:3,17 Honor widows who are real widows 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching;

1 Tim 6:1 Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed.

1 Pet 2:17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

All we're doing is exactly what Scripture tells us to do.

Pax Christi,


Rhology said...

Hey PC,

Dulia is distinct from latria, yes. Nobody is arguing otherwise.
What I am pointing out is that there are certain contexts in which the distinction advanced by RCC and EOC does not hold by what God has said, and religious actions is one of those categories. That's why I keep pointing out the religious worship/non-religious non-worship contexts in your counter-examples.

All your examples lack that which is in question - is it permissible to render acts of religious piety in the context of worship to that which is not God Himself?
Advance all the examples you want that don't deal with that - it's empty. Might as well be arguing that Peter was the first Pope for all the relevance it has.

As for:
But doesn't Scripture (particularly Paul) call us to give honor to other members of the Body?

Sure, so what?
Until you tell me that you do ***ALL*** of the following to a living person, this is a non-point:
1) Kiss their image. While they're not there.
2) Burn incense and light candles to their image. While they're not there.
3) Set up that image in church. While they're not there.
4) Pray inaudibly to them and expect them to read your thoughts and carry the prayer to God. While they're not there. And you can't say it audibly to their ears since the dead don't hear with their physical ears.

And my response to the languishing combox is found here.


Tiber Jumper said...

Excellent Post. Keep up the Good works! :)

Anonymous said...


Just bumped into this topic during the early hours of the morning and thought I’d post a reply. Please accept my apologies if my post is simplistic and misses the point – I’m no apologist and, to be perfectly honest, l didn’t have the patience to wade through the majority of the preceding discussion.

OK. Suppose you have a picture of your family in your wallet or on your desk at work. When you look at the picture with love, it is not with affection for the paper on which that photograph is printed. It is because in looking at that picture, it reminds you of people who are dear to you. A spouse does not worship the ring on his or her finger any more than a motorist venerates a road sign. These things are simply reminders, but they each convey a powerful message nevertheless.

When l kneel before a statue of Christ, l do not worship that particular object as Christ. It is merely an aid to help focus my prayers. Likewise, when l pray the Rosary, l do not worship the beads with which l pray. Nether of these things are substitutes for what they represent, and they are certainly not necessary to fulfil the purpose for which they were intended. But, much like family pictures, wedding rings and speed signs, they can be a big help sometimes.

I think idolatry, in so far as it can be an image or a likeness, encompasses persons, gestures, objects, places and ideas. It begins in the mind and may or may not take physical forms. Take lust, for example. Although l could probably go and dig out a swathe of Bible references to try and justify what l have just said, l also need to be wary of encouraging people to idolise the word of God as a god. A subtle point, but an important one nonetheless.

Finally, l would add that by the very same logic that a person uses to arrive at the conclusion that Catholics worship statues, that person must necessarily hold the view that Christ was committing and encouraging idolatry at The Last Supper. Now, since the Bible is the word of God, and Christ is the Son of God, where does that leave us? Even if you don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the impossible consequences of that argument still remain.

On that note, it’s time for bed as l have to go to work in 4.5hrs :-D

Apologies for not responding to the second half of rhology's post.

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