ATTENTION: While reading this question and especially the two answers provided below by Parjánya and David Wallace, you may naturally think that I am being either too picky here or am trying to do some unnecessary hair-splitting. However, though in general the question has already been answered and I am really very thankful to the above-mentioned supporters, the specific break-up into "the context", "the process" and "the performer" (see the details below) that was requested in my question was not provided. But that break-up is quite important to me — in fact, it was the main reason why I asked this question. Therefore, I decided to start the bounty.

I asked a question about praying to the saints on Christianity.SE and got into a quite a lengthy discussion with one answerer there. There was one point that kind of puzzled me — it's about the word impediment — about how it was used in the answerer's first answer (actually it was his first comment). I have already asked him about that word a few questions and he answered them, but I am still not clear. And I also feel awkward now to ask him any further questions as he may get angry with me (and also lengthy discussion are not welcome on .SE). So I decided to ask it here as it is now a question about the usage of one English word (impediment) and not a question about a doctrine in Christianity (though it will serve as the context now).

What I don't understand there is how being dead works as an impediment. According to my understanding impediment is a kind of obstacle or a hindrance that prevents somebody from doing something. Thus, in a case of impediment there should be a kind of action or a process that is being impeded and also there should be a performer of that process or action.

Here are a few examples:

Political pressure remains the main impediment to free speech in Bulgaria

The context: political situation in Bulgaria
The process/action being impeded: free speech
The performer: mass media in Bulgaria

"I do solemnly declare," said Jenny. "That I know not of any lawful impediment why I Jenny brown may not be joined in matrimony to John Wilkinson"

The context: marriage ceremony
The process/action being impeded: joining in matrimony (to John Wilkinson)
The performer: Jenny

If you can break it up for me in the similar way the usage of impediment in our following discussion, it will be just great.

So, here is the discussion:

Me: Do those who pray to saints ascribe to them the quality of being able to hear many people at once? I mean, there could be thousands of Orthodox Christians at this moment praying to, say, Saint Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg, and there could probably be even more of Catholic Christians praying right now to, say, saint Patrick, let alone Mother Mary. Does that mean that all those saints have the All-knowing God's ability to hear all of those praying to them, distinguish their prayers one from another, and later adequately act on each one of them accordingly?

Answerer: I hate to bring up the obvious, but after small impediments like being dead, and hearing you despite not being physically present, even if you are praying silently (internal voice), probably not in their native language... the issue of distinguishing multiple voices seems almost trivial. I can, however, see that time management to "act on" could be a concern — reminds me of a scene in "Bruce Almighty".

Me: "after small impediments like being dead" — What would you say about Moses? On one hand, God told him that he would die — "will sleep with his fathers" (Deu. 31:16), and later he did die (Deu. 34:5), on the other hand, we see him talking to Jesus along with Elijah on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:3), which is even before Jesus' death and resurrection. Does it not indicate that being dead is not an impediment?

Answerer: you have my point backwards; I'm saying that the rules being considered ("only listening to one thing", "need to be present (or use communication tools of some form)", "need to understand the language" ... "need to be alive") are rules dictated by being a living mortal human. Once that is no longer the case, removing the "only listening to one thing" is no different to all the other rules that people seem happier to discard. Your question about Moses is post-death, so again: I am saying it is meaningless to apply any mortal rules, even if we make the assumption that it happened.

Me: I am sorry for being "dumb" here, but would you please explain to me what do those impediments that you mentioned in your first comment actually impede? Since you said that being dead is an impediment I took it as if you meant that that impediment impeded the dead saints from being able to hear others' prayers(let alone being able to hear all of them at once, understand them, act upon each one of them accordingly, etc.). Did I interpret your words correctly here?

Answerer: I'm saying that "listening to one thing" is a feature of living mortal humans. What I am saying is: given all the other things necessary for the question, the "one thing" is very minor, and I'm not sure there's any justification for suggesting/imposing that restriction, but accepting the others. So in answer, "yes, they do".

closed as too localized by RegDwigнt Mar 5 '12 at 10:14

This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet. For help making this question more broadly applicable, visit the help center. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • @FumbleFingers - (1) FumbleFingers, my question here is not about being dead, but rather about the usage of the word impediment in this particular context. The way the word was used here sounded to me a bit contradictory to the main thought of the author, that's why I got puzzled and, therefore, asked this question here - I thought I was missing on some knowledge of English in this case as I am not an English native speaker. I agree with you it is too localized and, perhaps, it would be right to be closed. However, your accusations of me trying to get all of you involved in my – brilliant Mar 3 '12 at 5:29
  • @FumbleFingers - (2) "philosophical musings" are absolutely wrong. I am not asking here about anyone's opinion on the matter of the doctrine of praying to the saints. And your link here is also at the wrong place - it would be more appropriate at Christianty.SE – brilliant Mar 3 '12 at 5:33
  • You are concerned about the precise allowable meanings of the word impediment, but you do this in a theological context - where even the meaning of such apparently straightforward words as life and death become highly contentious. I see absolutely nothing here relevant to English Language as such. – FumbleFingers Mar 3 '12 at 13:42
  • 1
    @DaG - Oh my God! If I only knew that asking this simple question would cause so many people have all these kinds of suspicions on my regard! DaG, I have already said this in my question, however, perhaps, my English is not so good (I am not a native English speaker), so I don't mind saying it here again: no, I am not trying to win any argument, let alone write an essay. The only thing I was trying to understand here was why the author used the word "impediment". To me it looked as if it were contradicting to his whole main point. I was simply puzzled by the usage of the word "impediment" here – brilliant Mar 4 '12 at 10:00
  • 2
    @brilliant: I don't want to seem unduly dismissive of you personally, or get into an extended debate over this. The question can't be closed because of the bounty, but clearly the downvotes for the question, and upvotes for my first comment, suggest that others agree with me that this isn't really the type of question we want to see on ELU. It seems to me it's impossible to answer it without getting deeply involved in the theological discussion context where the word arose, and at that point it seems a bit irrelevant to fret about the precise words the other guy used. – FumbleFingers Mar 4 '12 at 16:13

The context: Praying to Saints.
The action being impeded: Saints receiving the prayer
The performer: Saints to whom the prayers are directed.

Your question seems to be:

"What I don't understand there is how being dead works as an impediment..."

Let me list this logically:
1.You ask, as people pray to Saints, will the saints be able to hear and respond to each individual prayer respectively.

2.The OP points out that the Saints are already dead, isn't physically present to hear the prayers, and has to hear the prayers in several different languages. He states, that if it is assumed that Saints are able to do all of this, namely, be able to hear even though they aren't there physically, and to be able to understand the prayer even if they come from several different countries, then the Saints should be able to distinguish whose prayer is whose. He is saying, that if they have the powers to do all of this, he doesn't see why they can't tell the difference between all the prayers.

And Now, the main point of your question.

  1. You then state: "...but would you please explain to me what do those impediments that you mentioned in your first comment actually impede?".

These impediments that the Answerer has stated, impede the Saints. He is stating that these are impediments the Saints have to overcome in order to hear the prayers of the people. You have already assumed that the Saints do hear the prayers, and therefore, might have problems telling whose prayer they are hearing.
The Answerer states that if the Saints have already come so far as to be able to hear the prayers, and overcome all the impediments to hear these prayers, then they should be able to differentiate all the prayers.

I hope you understand that better.


What I don't understand there is how being dead works as an impediment...

Of course it acts as an impediment! If you are dead, then how can you hear the speech or prayers of thousands of people? Therefore, if the saints have overcome this impediment , that is, they are able to hear people even when they are no longer physically alive, then they should be able to solve the problem of whose prayer is whose!

  • So, in this case being dead is not really an impediment, right? – brilliant Mar 5 '12 at 0:44
  • 2
    It is an impediment. The Answerer is trying to point that out. – Bidella Mar 5 '12 at 2:53
  • 1
    WOW!!! Bidella, thank you very much! Having read your answer, I realized that in English "impediment" can mean "an obstacle or a hindrance that can't be overcome", as well as "an obstacle or a hindrance that has been overcome". For some reason I thought that the word "impediment" meant an insurmountable hindrance that can never be overcome. Perhaps, I thought so because of the influence of my first language in me. Now everything is clear! Now I see that the answerer was not even using this word sarcastically as I began to think. Thanks for the logical explanations. Enjoy the reward!!! – brilliant Mar 5 '12 at 6:55
  • 1
    @brilliant, so that's what's causing the confusion! Yes, thank you very much – Bidella Mar 5 '12 at 23:59

As I gather, he was using 'impediment' as 'hindrance, obstacle'. You were reasoning that dead saints would have the same limitations as when living, like not being able to hear a thousand people at once. But after they are dead, provided that they still exist somehow, how can we know their limitations? Being dead and still alive contradict our natural experience, so if it's the case that it's possible, all our experience here becomes suspicious too.

He seems to have said "after small impediments like being dead" with irony: "if being dead isn't enough of a problem."

  • So, please, break it up for me into the context, the action(=process) and the performer. In fact, I also thought that he spoke with this kind of irony in the beginning, but toward the end of our discussion I began to think otherwise. – brilliant Feb 11 '12 at 9:38
  • It seems that your answer states the opposite to the answer provided by David Wallace here. Would you, please, take a look at his answer and see if you think that he could be right? – brilliant Feb 11 '12 at 10:05

You asked him a yes/no question. His answer was "yes". But he likes adding lots of words for no purpose. He's saying "of course saints can hear multiple people, because deadness, physical absence, different languages aren't problems for them, so why would multiple voices be a problem?"

  • Thank you David for this explanation. However, I still don't understand what his impediment (being dead) that he brought up in his very first answer really impedes. What process or what action does it prevent from happening? Whom does it prevent from doing what (or being able to do what)? In other words, what is the action that is being impeded? Who is the performer of that action? – brilliant Feb 11 '12 at 9:07
  • 4
    He means that being dead could impede saints from hearing, but it doesn't. And therefore hearing multiple voices couldn't possibly impede saints from hearing. – user16269 Feb 11 '12 at 9:11
  • 2
    No, whereas Parjanya's answer is a little different from mine, I don't believe it's the opposite. I think that Parjanya's point is that we can't know what abilities dead saints may have. – user16269 Feb 11 '12 at 10:00
  • 2
    He's not being sarcastic, just verbose. – user16269 Feb 11 '12 at 10:09
  • 4
    @brilliant He is being sarcastic, in that he says "small impediment", whereas being dead is a big impediment to doing anything. What he means is that since being dead doesn't impede a saint's hearing (like it would for any normal person) why would a saint have trouble hearing lots of people? – Matt E. Эллен Mar 2 '12 at 12:31

Your insistence on correct usage of the word impediment may be what is getting in the way of your understanding the respondent's answer. He is saying that if you accept X and Y, there is no reason to not also accept Z. He gives four examples of things that dead saints can do that live people cannot. By extension, he is saying, the fifth example – being able to deal with multiple prayers at once – should also be accepted as possible. (By the way, I don't necessarily agree with the respondent; but I think each example should be examined separately.)

  • "...your insistence on correct usage of the word 'impediment' may be what is getting in the way of your understanding the anserer's answer" - Olaf4, I had no problem understanding his answer. His position on the matter was clear to me from the very first time. What I didn't understand, though, was why he used the word impediment there. The way he used it seemed contradicting to his whole answer. Well, now, having read the break-up provided here by Joel Brown, and also the explanations by Matt Эллен and Gnawme saying that he used the word sardonically, I am completely clear now. – brilliant Mar 3 '12 at 5:46

Your interlocutor is using impediment sardonically in the sense of handicap -- noting that the saints are overcoming minor "handicaps" like

  • being dead
  • hearing you despite not being physically present
  • hearing you even if you are praying silently
  • understanding you despite your not speaking in their native language
The context: Intercessional prayer
The process/action being impeded: Hearing the simultaneous prayers of multiple
                                  people praying in a variety of languages, some 
                                  of which may be unknown to the saint in question.
The performer: The saint to whom many people are praying simultaneously
The context: prayer
The process/action being impeded: reception of the prayer by saints
The performer: anyone praying
  • 5
    not quite. The performer is the saint, who might be expected not to hear the prayer. – Kate Gregory Mar 2 '12 at 12:25

What I think the answerer wants to tell you is the following:

In this physical world, there are many obstacles that prevent messages from being clear.

The context: This material life
The process/action being impeded: Observation or communication
The performer: Unhealthy organs (death, for example)

However, this impediments might be insignificant in other worlds. In a spiritual context, for instant, what we consider now as the most impediment has no effect at all.

logically, if A thin B in Xthen if A then B in Yis an invalid argument.

To make a long story short, impediments' effects are affected by circumstances.

  • You seem to have provided an absolutely new perspective on this whole matter. I am reading your answer at the moment trying to understand your point – brilliant Mar 5 '12 at 7:08

The context: A prayer to a saint

The action being impeded: The saint hearing the prayer

The performer: Someone praying (or the saint listening - depends on how you look at it)

The impediments are many:

(1) the saint is dead

(2) the saint is not within hearing distance of the speaker

(3) the speaker is not talking out loud

(4) the speaker may not share the same native language as the saint

The Answerer is thus saying that when you consider all of the above impediments, the additional impediment of

(5) a whole ton of people may be talking to the saint at the same time

is so trivial as to be irrelevant.

Note: This is similar to some of the above answers. I'm not trying to deliberately duplicate them, but I think I'm saying it in a little bit of a different way that might be more clear.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.