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Sunday, March 4, 2012

What of the Saints: When Protestantism and Catholicism Collide

In spite of my Missouri Synod Lutheran parochial school upbringing, I used to cross myself in private when I was a little girl.  Lutherans didn’t do that.  Not Missouri Synod Lutherans anyway.  It was too superstitious, too…Catholic. 

Orgel Tainan South Gate Presbyterian Church
By Ulrich Sekat (Waldkircher Orgelbau Jäger & Brommer)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
But even as a young child I knew, somehow instinctively, that I needed to use my senses in meeting God. 

Protestants, generally speaking, are fond of words.  They are objective, literal; they have an intellectual faith.  This is not to say that their faith does not flourish in a relationship with Jesus.  It is only to say that their faith is based in words, the Word, verbal-linguistic understandings written on their hearts in relationship.

This is mete and right, considering the historical roots of the Reformation.  It is the legitimate product of an authentic response to the movement's perception of Catholicism, warts and all,  in the Sixteenth Century.  It is an outgrowth of the movement's subsequent coming of age and its shaping by eighteenth and nineteenth century Protestant experience.

Catholicism, while it watched and acknowledged Protestant fist shaking, breaking away, and coming of age, offered some legitimate response with the Catholic Counter-Reformation, yet held fast to its sensory experience of God.  Catholics, and the Orthodox for that matter, feel God in their core, smell him in incense, hear him in bells, chant, and murmurs…taste him on their tongue.  And contrary to general Protestant understanding, this sensory perception of God manifests in relationship with him and his Son.

Cologne Cathedral interior
By Pascal Reusch  [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (
or GFDL (],

 via Wikimedia Commons
I suppose that, as one who has been molded by both understandings, and has shaped a response to him in both forums, I have landed in the natural place, somewhere in the middle…the Via Media, as it has been called…weaned of both parents to Anglicanism.

Having walked this path to my current place, my experience of the Saints has been a colliding of traditions.  I have, at once, been sucked into them and leery of them.  Fascinated, drawn, and cautioned.  A fundamentalist childhood training does not fall easily away.  I know superstition when I see it…both in those who approach the Saints with it, and in those who caution against approaching the Saints at all.  But the Saints never stop haunting my walk.

I am steeped enough in an Earthly family with a rich heritage and lore, to know that my Heavenly family is part of me, written on my spiritual DNA.  Not to be ignored.

It is from this place that I prepare to approach the reading of The Lure of Saints: A Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition again…these many years later.  It fed me then, at a different time in my Christian life, and I trust that it will feed me again, where now I stand.

Perhaps we shall meet again on this topic, you and I, and I will fill you in on the unfolding of the experience.



  1. What a beautifully worded and understanding post! The heading captured my attention because as a Catholic, the Saints are an issue of conflict (unfortunately) that seems to arise again and again with my Protestant friends.

    I suppose I have only my own personal experience to draw on but I don't believe the Saints are only meant for Catholics either. I think that the example of their lives can be inspiring to anybody seeking God and seeking comfort of knowing that in our human condition, we are not alone. There are all manners of saints who have found their way to God...something for everyone and every experience. :)

    I truly love reading about the lives of the saints and I feel them present in my life. Their have been times when I have had knowledge of particular saints with me at certain moments that was beyond my doubt...and I guess I think, why shouldn't they be with us, praying for us? We are after all, the body of Christ and there is no limit of time in God's eyes.

    This may sound like rambling, I only have a few moments right now though.:) I hope you understand what I mean.

    Wishing you a blessed Lent.

  2. You and I seem opposite in preference. Though I see why people value sensory experience in worship, I find it distracting. It is a brain processing thing - If I focus on the ritual I lose the connection to spirit and if I focus on the connection to spirit I lose my place in the ritual. So I prefer quietly meditative spiritual practice. If there were not a Unity Church in my city I'd probably attend Quaker meetings.

    The Saints make sense to me too, always have, because I see archetypes everywhere.

  3. It sounds like an interesting book...although I'm often leery of people to "dabble" in other traditions cafeteria style. But this does sound like an informative book.

    But, your first paragraph made me chuckle. My LCMS pastor brother-in-law and my sister cross themselves quite often in did many members of my LCMS parish before I left. Some left-to-right and other right-to-left. We were quite the mixed-up little group ;) I was told that Luther taught his congregation to cross themselves in the Orthodox manner since that was the more ancient practice. I'm not sure how true it is though.

  4. Hi there, I just ordered a couple of headcoverings and found your blog. What a gem! Thank you for including us lesser known Eastern Orthodox folks in your ramblings;) I always try and remind people that we were the same Apostolic and Catholic church for 1000 years. We have much in common!

    To address a PP, I find a lot of solace in the beautiful and holy rituals of the church. It isn't for God. He doesn't need those things but as a fallen human being, sometimes I feel the presence of the holy spirit, which I have never ever felt in any other church than the Orthodox faith. I believe God speaks to us in many different ways. I appreciate much about the Quakers (and plainspeople in general) and I bet you God speaks to them in ways that they couldn't appreciate in the church I go to. That is what matters most!

  5. I also like to engage the senses in relationship with God. I keep thinking about how you crossed yourself as a child. Most mornings, I make the sign of the cross on my forehead when I shower ... a reminder of my baptism.

  6. Thank you for this. Caught, too, between Catholicism and Protestantism, I love them both and didn't understand why each alone did not bring God to life in His fullest. This makes a lot of sense. The Word and the Experience. We need both.


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