Home Forums Everything Else Graven Images Reply To: Graven Images


[color=red:ib1ikcme]Ron said “Not if they are dead, no I don’t.”[/color:ib1ikcme]

Prayer for the dead is well-documented within the early Christian church, both among prominent church fathers and the Christian community in general. The Roman Catholic position is that the early Christians were praying for souls in purgatory. The Eastern Orthodox position is that the early Christians were praying for souls in hades. Prayer for the dead continues in both these traditions, but many Protestant denominations later rejected the practice explicitly or implicitly.

The tomb of Abercius of Hieropolis in Phrygia (latter part of the 2nd century)bears the inscription: Let every friend who observes this pray for me, i.e. Abercius, who throughout speaks in the first person.

The inscriptions in the Roman catacombs bear similar witness to the practice, by the occurrence of such phrases as:

Mayst thou live among the saints (3rd century);
May God refresh the soul of . . . ;
Peace be with them.
Among Church writers Tertullian ( 230) is the first to mention prayers for the dead, and not as a concession to natural sentiment, but as a duty: [color=red:ib1ikcme]The widow who does not pray for her dead husband has as good as divorced[/color:ib1ikcme] [color=red:ib1ikcme]him. [/color:ib1ikcme]This passage occurs in one of his later Montanist writings, dating from the beginning of the 3rd century. Subsequent writers similarly make incidental mention of the practice as prevalent, but not as unlawful or even disputed (until Arius challenged it towards the end of the 4th century). The most famous instance is Saint Augustine’s prayer for his mother, Monica, at the end of the 9th book of his Confessions, written around 398.

An important element in the liturgies of the various Churches consisted of the diptychs, or lists of names of living and dead who were to be commemorated at the Eucharist. To be inserted in these lists was a confirmation of one’s orthodoxy, and out of the practice grew the canonization of saints; on the other hand, to be excluded was a condemnation.

In the middle of the 3rd century we find St. Cyprian enjoining that there should be no oblation or public prayer made for a deceased layman who had broken the Church’s rule by appointing a cleric trustee under his will: “He ought not to be named in the priests prayer who has done his best to detain the clergy from the altar.”

Although it is not possible, as a rule, to name dates for the exact words used in the ancient liturgies, yet the universal occurrence of these diptychs and of definite prayers for the dead in all parts of the Church in the 4th and 5th centuries tends to show how primitive such prayers were. The language used in the prayers for the departed is very reserved, and contains no suggestion of Purgatory or any place or state of pain. We may cite the following from the so-called Liturgy of St James:

Remember, O Lord, the God of Spirits and of all Flesh, those whom we have remembered and those whom we have not remembered, men of the true faith, from righteous Abel unto to-day; do thou thyself give them rest there in the land of the living, in thy kingdom, in the delight of Paradise, in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our holy fathers, from whence pain and sorrow and sighing have fled away, where the light of thy countenance visiteth them and always shineth upon them.

Public prayers were only offered for those who were believed to have died as faithful members of the Church. But Saint Perpetua, who was martyred in 202, believed herself to have been encouraged in a vision to pray for her brother, who had died in his eighth year, almost certainly unbaptized; and a later vision assured her that her prayer was answered and he had been translated from punishment. St. Augustine thought it needful to point out that the narrative was not canonical Scripture, and contended that the child had perhaps been baptized although Augustine’s own speculation was, likewise, “not canonical Scripture”.