The Holy Spirit: Venerating Saints vs. Adoring and Glorifying God

The Creed says of the Holy Spirit, “With the Father and the Son he is adored and glorified.”

However much controversy may have surrounded the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, the Creed has always been definite that all three Persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are to be given the adoration and glory due to God alone.

This raises several points of confusion for different people.

First off, ask some, if Christians are only supposed to adore and glorify God the Blessed Trinity, then why do Catholics (and, in fact, all apostolic Churches) have hymns and prayers of praise for Mary and sundry saints?

Three Kinds of Honor

To clear up that issue, it must be understood that honor is a species of love.  As Jesus taught, there are two great commandments concerning our duty to love:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Note that loving your neighbor does not rob God of love.  On the contrary, it is the way you show your love for God. Indeed, John tells us that if we do not love our neighbor whom we have seen, we do not love God whom we have not seen (cf. 1 John 4:20).

For this reason, the Church has never believed honor is a zero sum game in which all honor paid to a saint or a creature is honor stolen from God. Rather, she has always taught that God is pleased to exalt his creatures and that the love of his creatures one for another is one more way in which God himself is loved and gives love. Moreover, with such love there is no limit, only due proportion.  In other words, we must not love any creature more than we love God, but we should love our neighbors as much as we can out of the love we owe, above all, to God. So, following Paul, the Church had always insisted that we are supposed to give “honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). At the same time, we are to remember that creatures are due different kinds of honor and that no creature is due the highest honor and love that is God’s alone.

How does this work on the ground? Fairly simply. You go to the ballgame and you cheer for the hero of the game. You are neither robbing God of honor nor mistaking the hero for God. You buy Mom a Mother’s Day card in obedience to the commandment to honor your father and mother (cf. Exodus 20:12). In so doing, you are actually loving God by obeying him. You go to a play and applaud, thereby honoring the cast and crew. You admire a beautiful song, thereby honoring both the creature called “music” and the musician who composed and plays the music—and the God who made the musician and gifted him with his creativity and skill. You gootchy-goo a cute baby, thereby honoring both the child and his parents while also making his Maker’s heart swell with joy.

More than this, we recognize degrees and kinds of honor as well. When the electrician comes to visit, we pay him a certain kind of honor by shaking his hand, welcoming him, thanking him and so forth.  When the queen walks in, we treat her with the honor due her office, just as we do the electrician. But however respectful we are of the electrician, we do not honor him in the same way as we do the queen. We do not slap the queen on the back and say, “Am I glad to see you!”  Nor do we assemble a full honor guard to salute the arriving electrician.  Likewise, were the Blessed Virgin Mary to appear to us, she alone of all creatures in the universe would be the one whom we could honor with the words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43).  But we would not say to her, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).  Those words are reserved for God alone.

For this reason, the Church has distinguished three basic kinds of honor.

  • Dulia: the Greek word used to describe the honor we give to creatures. Dulia, like the word “honor” in English, is a catch-all term describing the huge variety of forms “honor” can take.
  • Hyperdulia: the honor given the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is not God, but the greatest of God’s creatures.
  • Latria: the highest form of honor and due only to God. You can see the word working its way into English in the word “idolatry”, meaning “to accord to a creature the honor due only to God.”

So asking a saint to pray for us, or praising that saint for helping us in some way is not idolatry any more than asking your Mom to babysit and thanking her for doing so is idolatry.


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