Christian Relics, Fact or Fiction

Loutzenhiser's picture

From the Catholic Encyclopedia
I. DOCTRINE REGARDING RELICS

The teaching of the Catholic Church with regard to the veneration of relics is summed up in a decree of the Council of Trent (Sess. XXV), which enjoins on bishops and other pastors to instruct their flocks that "the holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ—which bodies were the living members of Christ and 'the temple of the Holy Ghost' (1 Corinthians 6:19) and which are by Him to be raised to eternal life and to be glorified are to be venerated by the faithful, for through these [bodies] many benefits are bestowed by God on men, so that they who affirm that veneration and honour are not due to the relics of the saints, or that these and other sacred monuments are uselessly honoured by the faithful, and that the places dedicated to the memories of the saints are in vain visited with the view of obtaining their aid, are wholly to be condemned, as the Church has already long since condemned, and also now condemns them." Further, the council insists that "in the invocation of saints the veneration of relics and the sacred use of images, every superstition shall be removed and all filthy lucre abolished." Again, "the visitation of relics must not be by any perverted into revellings and drunkenness." To secure a proper cheek upon abuses of this kind, "no new miracles are to be acknowledged or new relics recognized unless the bishop of the diocese has taken cognizance and approved thereof." Moreover, the bishop, in all these matters, is directed to obtain accurate information to take council with theologians and pious men, and in cases of doubt or exceptional difficulty to submit the matter to the sentence of the metropolitan and other bishops of the province, "yet so that nothing new, or that previously has not been usual in the Church, shall be resolved on, without having first consulted the Holy See."

The justification of Catholic practice, which is indirectly suggested here by the reference to the bodies of the saints as formerly temples of the Holy Ghost and as destined hereafter to be eternally glorified, is further developed in the authoritative "Roman Catechism" drawn up at the instance of the same council. Recalling the marvels witnessed at the tombs of the martyrs, where "the blind and cripples are restored to health, the dead recalled to life, and *devils?* expelled from the bodies of men" the Catechism points out that these are facts which "St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, most unexceptionable witnesses, declare in their writings that they have not merely heard and read about, as many did but have seen with their own eyes ', (Ambrose Epist. xxii, nn. 2 and 17, Augustine, Serm. cclxxxvi, c.v.; "De Civ. Dei", xxii, S, "Confess.", ix). And from thence, turning to Scriptural analogies, the compilers further argue: "If the clothes, the kerchiefs (Acts 19:12), if the shadow of the saints (Acts 5:15), before they departed from this life, banished diseases and restored strength, who will have the hardihood to deny that God wonderfully works the same by the sacred ashes, the bones, and other relics of the saints ? This is the lesson we have to learn from that dead body which, having been accidentally let down into the sepulchre of Eliseus, "when it had touched the bones of the Prophet, instantly came to life" (2 Kings 13:21, and cf. Sirach 48:14). We may add that this miracle as well as the veneration shown to the bones of Moses (See Exodus 13:19 and Joshua 24:32) only gain additional force from their apparent contradiction to the ceremonial laws against defilement, of which we read in Num., xix, 11-22. The influence of this Jewish shrinking from contact with the dead so far lingered on that it was found necessary in the "Apostolical Constitutions" (vi, 30) to issue a strong warning against it and to argue in favour of the Christian cult of relics.

According to the more common opinion of theologians, relics are to be honoured; St. Thomas, in Summa III:25:6, does not seem to consider even the word adorare inappropriate—cultu duliae relativae, that is to say with a veneration which is not that of latria (divine worship) and which though directed primarily to the material objects of the cult—i.e., the bones, ashes, garments, etc.—does not rest in them, but looks beyond to the saints they commemorate as to its formal term. Hauck, Kattenbusch, and other non-Catholic writers have striven to show that the utterances of the Council of Trent are in contradiction to what they admit to be the "very cautious" language of the medieval scholastics, and notably St. Thomas. The latter urges that those who have an affection to any person hold in honour all that was intimately connected with him. Hence, while we love and venerate the saints who were so dear to God, we also venerate all that belonged to them, and particularly their bodies, which were once the temples of the Holy Spirit, and which are some day to be conformed to the glorious body of Jesus Christ. "whence also", adds St. Thomas, "God fittingly does honour to such relics by performing miracles in their presence [in earum praesentia]." It will be seen that this closely accords with the terms used by the Council of Trent and that the difference consists only in this, that the Council says per quae—"through which many benefits are bestowed on mankind"—while St. Thomas speaks of miracles worked "in their presence". But it is quite unnecessary to attach to the words per quae the idea of physical causality. We have no reason to suppose that the council meant more than that the relics of the saints were the occasion of God's working miracles. When we read in the Acts of the Apostles, xix, 11, 12, "And God wrought by the hand of Paul more than common miracles. So that even there were brought from his body to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out from them" there can be no inexactitude in saying that these also were the things by which (per quae) God wrought the cure.

There is nothing, therefore, in Catholic teaching to justify the statement that the Church encourages belief in a magical virtue, or physical curative efficacy residing in the relic itself . It may be admitted that St. Cyril of Jerusalem (A. D. 347), and a few other patristic and medieval writers, apparently speak of some power inherent in the relic. For example, St. Cyril, after referring to the miracle wrought by the body of Eliseus, declares that the restoration to life of the corpse with which it was in contact took place: "to show that even though the soul is not present a virtue resides in the body of the saints, because of the righteous soul which has for so many years tenanted it and used it as its minister". And he adds, "Let us not be foolishly incredulous as though the thing had not happened, for if handkerchiefs and aprons which are from without, touching the body of the diseased, have raised up the sick, how much more should the body itself of the Prophet raise the dead?" (Cat., xviii, 16.) But this seems rather to belong to the personal view or manner of speech of St. Cyril. He regards the chrism after its consecration "as no longer simple ointment but the gift of Christ and by the presence of His Godhead it causes in us the Holy Ghost" (Cat., xxi, 3); and, what is more striking, he also declares that the meats consecrated to idols, "though in their own nature plain and simple become profane by the invocation of the evil spirit" (Cat., xix, 7)—all of which must leave us very doubtful as to his real belief in any physical virtue inherent in relics. Be this as it may, it is certain that the Church, with regard to the veneration of relics has defined nothing, more than what was stated above. Neither has the Church ever pronounced that any particular relic, not even that commonly venerated as the wood of the Cross, as authentic; but she approves of honour being paid to those relics which with reasonable probability are believed to be genuine and which are invested with due ecclesiastical sanctions.

Are Christian Relics real? Do they have miraculous powers? Or is it all just a money making scheme selling indulgences?

Iakobos's picture

a gentle response...

jroberts, I am not completely sure why you seem to have your panties in such a wad. The orginal post asked us, if we believed that relics had miraculous powers? My point was, if a person does believe that, then they (relics) have become an idol of worship.

Concerning your second point...

EL SHADDAI (God Almighty) is the title of the Almighty Father of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Various English spellings are used simply because no one can be absolutely certain how to pronounce the sacred name YHVH. The tetragrammaton YHVH (translated Jehovah or LORD) is also used as Yahweh, or Yahovah.

In the following seven texts the name Jehovah is used.

Genesis 22:14: And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.

Exodus 6:2-3 And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.

Exodus 17:15: And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi...

Judges 6:24: Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites.

Psalm 83:18 That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.

Isaiah 12:2: Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

Isaiah 26:4: Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength:

The name Jehovah (Yahweh, Yahovah) encompasses all the above. But the sacred name is far more than a particular sound or a matter of correct spelling and pronunciation. The name Yahovah stands for the Almighty's character, His Word, His law, His Motives, His Work and His Family.

Currently there is much dispute on the subject of the sacred names; but I have no desire to argue. Remember that the Third Commandment forbids mankind from taking the LORD'S name in vain. Endless argument could well result in the breaking of this commandment.

The Jews, on the other hand, consider it sacrilegious to even utter the sacred name: advising that we use titles such as Lord, Master of the World, Almighty One, the Name etc... But the Third Commandment does not forbid the use of God's name. It simply forbids "taking His name in vain." Note the difference. The word "vain" means with "the emptiness of self-deluding vanity and falsehood."

In other words, believers are allowed to utter or write the sacred name of the Most High; but we must do so with reverence: and certainly not to show off our knowledge. As mentioned above, the sacred name appears in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) over 6500 times! so it cannot be sacrilegious to utter the name when reading the Scriptures aloud or when writing of the Almighty.

Strong's Concordance has the following Note for LORD...

03068 Yahovah {yeh-ho-vaw'}
AV - LORD 6510, GOD 4, JEHOVAH 4, variant 1; 6519
Jehovah = "the existing One"
1) the proper name of the one true God
1a) unpronounced except with the vowel pointings of 0136

I apologize if I offended you, that was not my intent. God bless.

Simplicity is the very soul of beauty.

Mercy outruns malice




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