Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Personal Aside: Theological Wonk Question I: Why Aren’t Old Testament Prophets Saints? The Answer. Now Question 2.


Old Testament Prophets.

I’m very much gratified with the high quality of answers to the Theological Wonk question “why aren’t Old Testament prophets saints?” We really clocked some quality answers. Probably the best was from Daniel Arquilla who gave a four-pronged answer: that, he says, the Eastern Rite which is in communion with Rome honors the prophets…that the Carmelites, he says, have feast days for “St. Elijah” and “St. Elisha”—something I never knew…and the traditional Roman rite honors the “Seven Holy Maccabees.” A correspondent named Hank says the Old Testament saints have been recognized by common acclamation so there is no need for special treatment…and Leon Dixon says that while no one doubts their sanctity, they’re from B. C. anyhow and the calendar is crowded.

Excellent responses. It is true that there are no feast days for Old Testament saints in the Church’s universal calendar. In the early days of the Church only martyrs for Christ were honored on the anniversaries of their deaths. In 1600 a liturgical book, the Roman Martyrology listed all the saints who up to that time were recognized including these Old Testament prophets: Habakuk (Jan. 15), Isaiah (July 6), Daniel and Elias/Elijah (July 20 and 21), the seven Maccabees and their mother (Aug. 17), Abraham (Oct. 9) and King David (Dec. 29). In the litanies of the saints we remember “all holy patriarchs and prophets” who are Old Testament. The first Eucharistic prayer reminds us: “Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as one you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith and the bread and wine offered by your priest Melchisedech.”

In the funeral liturgy we pray: “Hear our prayers and command the soul of our servant [N] to dwell with Abraham, your friend and be rfasied at last on the great day of judgment.”

And ratifying Daniel Arquilla’s erudite comment: While the Church in the West recognizes Old Testament saints in these ways, in the Eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, veneration of these holy people is more prominent, as Daniel has reported. There are a number of eastern churches named “St. Elias.” Finally since due to a lack of witnesses and information it is very unlikely a pope would canonize a person from the Old Testament. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t saints from the OT. (References from Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, Rome and Fr. Raymond Ryland, chaplain, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio).

Question 2: Are Heaven and Hell Physical Places?

We all know souls are spiritual entities and do not need physical spaces to exist. However since it is the nature of man to have a material body, it would seem that when our bodies are united with our souls at the end of the world, there would be a physical space to accommodate those bodies. This question is worthy of The Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas so it is not a dumb question. Remember that in John 14:2-3 Jesus twice refers to heaven as a “place.” Without looking up the “Summa,” can you give me your reflection?


  1. The Gospels have many references to Heaven and hell being "places."

    1)"My Father's house has many mansions, and I am going to prepare one for you."

    2)At both Lord Jesus's Baptism and his Transfiguration, "Heaven was rent open-"

    3)Lord Jesus "desended into Hell-"

    4)The beggar Lazarus (who was in the bosom of Abraham) was petitioned by the rich man for "a drop of water to cool his partched tonque-" Etc. etc.

    Granted, these places may be in a parallel, or other "universe" but one only needs go out and gaze at the night sky, or view the products of the Hubbel telescope to conclude that The Father can do as he pleases.

  2. Old Joke where I am from, but in downstate Illinois, Hell was regarded as Beruit, Detroit and Decatur, which are physical enough places.