Prayers for the dead can be traced back to early Christian times (Apostolic* Constitutions, VIII, 4142; Cyril* of Jerusalem, Catechesis XXIII, Mystagogica V, 910; Tertullian,* De corona militis, 3, and De oratione, 29). Augustine held that prayers for the dead could help only those who had led pious lives (De verbis apostoli, sermo CLXXII XXXII, 2). Prayers for the dead were assoc. with the celebration of the Lord's Supper (Apostolic Constitutions, VI, 30). RC doctrine regarding prayers for the dead is bound up inseparably with the doctrine of purgatory and the more general doctrine of the communion of saints (The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908 ed., p. 653; cf. Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Session XXV, Decree Concerning Purgatory). The RC locus classicus is 2 Mac 12:4045 (cf. 1 Co 15:29).
Luther's position is best summarized: Nothing has been commanded or enjoined upon us concerning the dead. Therefore all this may he safely omitted, even if it were no error and idolatry (SA-II II 12). He inclines to a cautious toleration of the practice, points out that we have no command to pray for the dead, inasmuch as those who are in heaven do not need prayers, and those who are in hell cannot be helped thereby, and suggests that Christians make their prayers conditional (WA 10-III, 194195, 409 to 410; 11, 130; 12, 596; 26, 508; 44, 203). The Ap states: We know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit (XXIV, 94). Luther and the confessions vigorously oppose purgatory and attempts to gain forgiveness of sins for the dead, esp. through such works as masses and almsgiving (see Opus operatum). M. Chemnitz* regarded ancient prayers for the dead as exhortations and consolations for the living (Examen Concilii Tridentini, III, Locus III: De purgatorio, Section II, vii, 12). Most Luth. theologians regarded prayers for the dead as useless or unpermitted; others emphasized the mystical union of believers and regarded prayers for the dead (though not for their salvation) permissible.
L. Dahle, Das Leben nach dem Tode, tr. O. Gliess (Leipzig, 1895); [C. H.] Stirm, Darf man für die Verstorbenen beten? Jahrbücher für Deutsche Theologie, VI (1861), 278308. EL
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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