Skip to comments.[CATHOLIC/ORTHODOX CAUCUS] Relics
Posted on 01/13/2011 7:58:15 AM PST by markomalley
The Catholic Church is very incarnational in the sense that we believe that God still works through physical things. Sacraments, sacramentals and relics are examples of how God still works in the world through material things. Relics are what we will focus on today and we will see a Biblical basis for them. First, lets discuss what is a relic.
The word relic comes from a Latin word that means remains.
When a Catholic is talking about a relic, they are talking about the remains of a saint, either part of their body, something they owned, or something that touched their body.
We believe that these things are special because God worked through the person that they belonged to, and not only that, but sometimes God continues to work through the remains of a saint.
For example, in the case of Elishas bones:
2 Kings 13:20-21 And Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites would invade the land in the spring of the year. And as they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet.
Now what is happening here? Elisha, the successor to the prophet Elijah, has obviously died. Some men are burying their friend near Elishas remains when some bandits come so they place their dead friends body in Elishas grave. Suddenly, the dead friend comes back to life.
Why did this happen? To show that not only did God work through the prophet during his life, but that God would continue to work through the things that belonged to the prophet, namely his bones in this case.
There is another example with Elijah and Elisha.
2 Kings 2:11-14 Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. And Elisha saw it and cried out, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and struck the waters and said, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.
So why does God work through the mantle of Elijah? Because it is Elijahs. It isnt magic, its holiness.
This is my science fiction analogy. While some day, an evil master mind might go on some grand quest to find Elijahs mantle so he can strike some great sea, split the waters into two and then march his evil army through on dry ground to some poor unsuspecting neighboring country to attack, this is the world of science fiction.
God works through physical things because we are physical beings, not just spiritual. This is to be kept in mind as well. God works through relationships, not mechanisms.
We see more examples of this in the New Testament with Peter and Paul.
It would seem as though even Peters shadow healed people.
Acts 5:15-16 They even carried the sick out into the streets, and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. And also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits; and they were all being healed.
Paul, as well, had miraculous things happen through his handkerchief.
Acts 19:11-12 And God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.
What about the objection that this is just religious superstition and borders on idolatry.
While any legitimate devotion can be abused, usually what the objection entails is that God does not work through things anymore. Maybe He did at one time in those special circumstances, but He doesnt any more.
I would stick with a more consistent view of God and say that God did at times work through things and He still does.
It seems natural. That is why we have museums, to save important things. Relics, though, arent just important. They are holy because they belonged to holy people.
"The Saints have become according to grace that which the Lord Christ is according to nature. That is, they have become gods according to grace: pure and living habitations of God. For God says: 'I will dwell in them, walk in them, and I will be their God'. The Holy Scriptures likewise say: 'the souls of the righteous are in God's hand, and death cannot lay hold of them. For death is rather the sleep of Saints than their death. Further: 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints'. What, then, is more precious than to be in the hand of God? For God is life and light, and those who are in God's hand are in life and light. Further, that God dwells even in their bodies in a spiritual manner the all-divine Apostle attests: 'Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you?'. And, 'the Lord is Spirit'. Thus, the evangelical truth: 'If anyone destroy the temple of God, him will God destroyfor the temple of God is holy, and ye are that temple'. Surely, then, we must ascribe honor to the living temples of God, the living dwelling-places of God. These, while they lived, stood with boldness before God. The Lord Christ granted us the relics of the Saints to be fountains of salvation unto us, pouring forth manifold blessings and abounding in sweetly fragrant oil. Let no one disbelieve this! For if water burst in the desert from the steep and solid rock according to God's will, and from the jawbone of an ass to quench Samson's thirst, is it then unbelievable that fragrant oil should spring forth from relics of the holy Martyrs? By no means, at least to those who know the omnipotence of God and the honor which He accords to His Saints. According to the Old Testament law, everyone who touched a dead body was considered impure . However, the Saints are not dead. For from the time when He Who is Himself Life and the Author of life was counted among the dead, we do not call those dead who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and with faith in Him. For how could a dead body work miracles? And how, through the holy relics, are demons driven off, diseases dispelled, the sick made well, the blind restored to sight, lepers cleansed, temptations and tribulations overcome; and how does every good gift come down from the Father of lights to those who pray with sure faith?" +John of Damascus
And from the God bearing Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council:
"Our Lord Jesus Christ granted to us the relics of Saints as a salvation-bearing source which pours forth varied benefits on the infirm. Consequently, those who presume to abandon the relics of the Martyrs: if they be hierarchs, let them be deposed; if however monastics or laymen, let them merely be excommunicated."
Relics for most Lutheran Synods are not something considered. There are reasons for this, steaming from the Nuremberg relic fair and the fact that the relic trade and fraud of the times was so great (though today has vastly surpassed it).
However, many Northern synods such as the Finnish ones venerate relics. Much like icons, they are not viewed as bad or sinful, but something that can be used to bring us to meditate on God, and can also lead us astray if we use our baser instincts.
You are of course aware of the correspondence between Pat. Jeremias and the Lutheran Divines at Thubingen in the 1570s. There is one exchange, in 1579, when the Lutherans reject the veneration of relics to which the EP responded in May. 1579 with a strong defense of the Orthopraxia of the veneration of icons. They responded trying to finesse the issue. He wrote back telling them to stop writing!
If I remember right, he told them to stop writing unless it was just a friendly note, not about theological stuff.
And most Lutheran’s don’t venerate icons in that way that Catholics and Orthodox do. We don’t pray in front of them, or have them in processions.
They are often in Lutheran churches, but more as a teaching aid.
As an aside, I read something once from an Italian women who said that the Lutheran icons were their hymns. In many ways, I think she had that spot on. Most synods, at least in the past, would sing their theology.
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