No, it’s not idolatry

Catholics are sometimes accused of idolatry because we show respect to the saints (and especially the Blessed Virgin) by kneeling before images or statues of them. Generally, though, the people who make this false accusation are either inconsistent, or ignoring Scripture, or maybe a little bit of both.

Why? Because they don’t charge Joseph (for example) with idolatry for prostrating himself before his father: “And when Joseph had taken them from his father’s lap, he bowed down with his face to the ground” (Gen. 48:12). Well, they’re right to hold him innocent of idolatry, of course. But his actions are in the exact same category as those of Catholics when we kneel before the saints. Now, if our actions are sufficient for the critic to conclude that we are idolaters, then the same must be said of Joseph, and if they insist upon making a distinction, then they must justify it. They might claim that Joseph didn’t intend to worship his father (and I would agree with them), and this fact means that his prostration before Jacob wasn’t idolatrous. Clearly this is correct, because worship is a matter of the heart. But the same is no less true of Catholics: we have no intention whatsoever of worshiping the saints when we venerate them, as we always tell the critics.

If worship is a matter of the heart—and it is—then it is impossible for them to justly call us idolaters unless they know our intentions. Likewise, it is impossible for them to know our intentions unless we declare them somehow. Consequently the accusation of idolatry is unjust, because we absolutely insist that we are not worshiping the saints. If they claim that our mere actions are a sufficient justification for the charge, then they have no choice but to level the same accusation at Joseph. Perhaps the critics might try to claim that the context of Joseph’s actions—meeting with his father—is not a context of worship, and consequently it would be unreasonable to accuse him of idolatry in prostrating himself before his father. Catholics, though, kneel before images of the saints in churches. That context is what makes their actions idolatrous apart from any consideration of their intentions.

Setting aside the fairly insurmountable difficulty associated with making that charge stick, our critics must also then find some way of explaining the case of Namaan the Syrian in 2 Kings 5.

And Naaman said: As you will: but I beseech you, grant to me, your servant, to take from hence two mules’ burden of earth: for your servant will not henceforth offer holocaust, or victim, to other gods, but to the Lord. But there is only this, for which you shall entreat the Lord for your servant; when my master goes into the temple of Remmon, to worship there, and he leans on my hand: if I bow down in the temple of Remmon, when he bows down in the same place, that the Lord pardon me, your servant, for this thing. And [Elisha] said to him: Go in peace. So he departed from him, in the spring time of the earth [2 Kings 5:17-19]

Here we have a man who quite obviously abandoned paganism for the worship of the true God, and whose clear, unambiguous intention when bowing in the pagan temple at the behest of his king is not to worship at all. And Elisha blesses him. Consequently it cannot be said that merely a religious context for an external act transforms it into sin.

We don’t worship Mary. We don’t worship the saints. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Posted in Apologetics, Saints, Scripture
4 comments on “No, it’s not idolatry
  1. David Meyer says:

    Very well said. Made me think about it in a different way.

  2. aquinasetc says:

    Thanks David! I’m glad that it was helpful to you :-)

    I apologize for the ridiculous delay in getting your comment approved. I have been unable to monitor the blog for a while.

    • Lisseth says:

      Great post! Help me! but this guy that claims to be a catholic keeps posting this in Facebook: <>

  3. aquinasetc says:

    Hi Lisseth,

    Thanks very much. I’m glad the post was helpful to you. Did you mean to post a link? If so, it seems that WordPress ate it.


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