Relics

Some people go to Cancun on their Spring Break; others go to Myrtle Beach.  We went to Baltimore.   My wife and I are both interested in medieval art, and the Walter Art Museum there is featuring a big exhibit of medieval reliquaries.  That is, containers for relics, bones and other remains of saints that played a big part in medieval spirituality, and, indeed, in Roman Catholicism to this day.

The containers ranged from mini-tombs to realistic statuary.  (The arm and hand pictured below used to contain an arm bone of a saint.  The priest would wield it to touch the sick and other worshippers, who considered that it was the equivalent of being touched by the late saint.)  They were quite well-crafted and beautiful, considered as works of art.  But the show made me intrigued with the whole practice of the veneration of relics.

What surprised me is that some of the reliquaries still contained relics!  I saw the tooth of John the Baptist!  Another tooth of Mary Magdalene!  And splinters from the True Cross displayed behind glass that was worked into an elaborate gold cross.  Other relics were tiny bits of bone that were wrapped in colored cloth, with a label identifying the saint they belonged to.   Even today Roman Catholic altars have to contain some relic of a saint, if not a fragment of his or her body, a “contact relic,” which is something that once touched the saint.  (A scrap of cloth from the saint’s clothing, or the like.)

Now a good many of these relics are obviously fake.  For example, I saw the sindarion, a cloth that supposedly wiped the face of Christ, leaving a miraculous image.   At the museum it was displayed in an ornate frame behind cloudy glass, and one could indeed see the face of Jesus, but instead of looking like a photograph, it was an image that conformed–surprise, surprise–to the style of late medieval paintings.  I learned that the sindarion was a very popular kind of icon, which meant that there must have been quite a few of them.  One question of my Catholic friends:  If an altar requires an icon, if the icon is spurious, does that invalidate the altar and its sacraments?  Surely not.  But why not?

According to the exhibit, the value of a relic is not just as a historical artifact to encourage one’s faith–as in, “wow, that saint really lived, and all this stuff really happened”–but rather, it is thought that these objects have some sort of spiritual power.  So surely an object that is not actually a relic cannot have that power.

Certainly some of the relics are authentic, particularly the remains of contemporary people who had been canonized.  Apparently, the practice is to dig up the grave of a person who has been named a saint, and to break up the body or the bones, distributing them as relics.  At the end of the exhibit we saw a modern reliquary containing the brown, desiccated finger of Elizabeth Seton, the 19th century American who was canonized not long ago.  I found that macabre.  Another question to my Catholic friends:  Why is it wrong to desecrate bodies in general, but that it is all right to do that to saints?  Is that what is in store for the body of Pope John Paul II?  It has been announced that it will be disinterred for the canonization ceremony.

Another modern relic on display was a bone from Francis X. Seelos, a 19th century priest with local ties, who served in the Baltimore area.  He has been beatified and awaits full canonization from the Pope, which is pretty much a done deal since two miracles have been attributed to him.  As I was marveling at this relic, an elderly woman with a European accent who was standing beside me asked if I were Catholic.  I said, no.  She said that she had prayed to Father Seelos, and he healed her son of cancer.  Then she caught herself and said, well, God healed him, but Father Seelos interceded for him.

I know quite a few evangelicals and Lutherans and others who have converted to Roman Catholicism.  I understand the appeal of the great intellectual tradition, the scholastic theology, the aesthetics, the ceremony, the history, and the like.  What I don’t get, though, is the popular piety.  Again, any of you Catholic readers, please explain it to me.

In the meantime, I have to say that the exhibit, fascinating as it was, brought out even more the Lutheran in me.

Treasures of Heaven · The Walters Art Museum.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    I was raised in the USA where the Irish missionaries made American Roman Catholicism very doctrinal and more of the scholastic flavor.

    Now I live in Brasil and there is alot of mysticism here, and there is also alot of sycretism with the old african religions that the slaves brought from nigeria and angola called candomble and the caucasianized version of that called Umbanda.

    Every church has a big thing next to it that looks like a huge bbq pit where people buy candles from the church store and light them and say prayers to the saints and departed loved ones.

    I think I get all that Dr Veith. What I don´t get is how one of those more irish and doctrinal catholics fold all this into their faith and what they make of it.

    Peter/Porcell. You are not Roman Catholic, but you tell us that you would convert to that if not for your personal circumstances. What do you make of all this? How would you fold this into your beliefs were you to convert to Roman Catholicism?

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    I was raised in the USA where the Irish missionaries made American Roman Catholicism very doctrinal and more of the scholastic flavor.

    Now I live in Brasil and there is alot of mysticism here, and there is also alot of sycretism with the old african religions that the slaves brought from nigeria and angola called candomble and the caucasianized version of that called Umbanda.

    Every church has a big thing next to it that looks like a huge bbq pit where people buy candles from the church store and light them and say prayers to the saints and departed loved ones.

    I think I get all that Dr Veith. What I don´t get is how one of those more irish and doctrinal catholics fold all this into their faith and what they make of it.

    Peter/Porcell. You are not Roman Catholic, but you tell us that you would convert to that if not for your personal circumstances. What do you make of all this? How would you fold this into your beliefs were you to convert to Roman Catholicism?

  • Dan Kempin

    In Israel I saw an excavated reliquary that was essentially a tomb, but the stone bed on which the saint’s entire remains would lay had channels in the stone leading to a small basin. Apparently the practice was for pilgrims to pour oil over the remains, collect it from the bottom, and take it home for annointing.

    The archaeologists said it was fairly common practice.

  • Dan Kempin

    In Israel I saw an excavated reliquary that was essentially a tomb, but the stone bed on which the saint’s entire remains would lay had channels in the stone leading to a small basin. Apparently the practice was for pilgrims to pour oil over the remains, collect it from the bottom, and take it home for annointing.

    The archaeologists said it was fairly common practice.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    This reminds me of a quote from the movie Luther: The bones of Eighteen of the twelve apostles are on display in Spain!

    (That’s a paraphrase, as I cannot recall the exact working at this moment).

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    This reminds me of a quote from the movie Luther: The bones of Eighteen of the twelve apostles are on display in Spain!

    (That’s a paraphrase, as I cannot recall the exact working at this moment).

  • Booklover

    LOL J. Dean.

  • Booklover

    LOL J. Dean.

  • Joe

    “But there are relics elsewhere in Christendom. Eighteen out of twelve apostles are buried in Spain.” per IMDb

  • Joe

    “But there are relics elsewhere in Christendom. Eighteen out of twelve apostles are buried in Spain.” per IMDb

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Thank you, Joe. I knew it was something like that.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Thank you, Joe. I knew it was something like that.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, Dan. The exhibit talked about that kind of “contact relic,” pouring oil or even water so that it drained through a tomb or reliquary. The liquid then became a relic because it touched the other relics. In the case of water, people would drink it, so as to heal diseases and to make their own bodies holy.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, Dan. The exhibit talked about that kind of “contact relic,” pouring oil or even water so that it drained through a tomb or reliquary. The liquid then became a relic because it touched the other relics. In the case of water, people would drink it, so as to heal diseases and to make their own bodies holy.

  • Dan Kempin

    “In the case of water, people would drink it,”

    Eww.

  • Dan Kempin

    “In the case of water, people would drink it,”

    Eww.

  • Louis

    To be fair, this is not just a Catholic/Orthodox phenomenon. Related religious phenomena are also found among the “weirder” Pentocostals (where it extends to snake handling and talisman peddling), and other Protestant sects – even IFB’s (Independant Fundamentalist Baptists). I’ll try and find the link, but some of the famous IFB pastors sometimes sell some of their personal effects. Bible signing is also common, and the differenc ebetween that and “bone collecting & revering” is a difference of degree, not kind.

    These phenomena is what you call “folk religion”. A Catholic acquintance of mine makes a bit of a pet study of these things – his blog is at http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/.

    In the Roman Church they would of course refer you to events regarding Elijah’s bones etc, recorded in Holy Scripture. While that might be true, I do think that these things are anthropologically more folk religion / superstition than anything else.

    Of course, all sorts of supersitions survive even in secular environments. It seems to be a common human folly.

  • Louis

    To be fair, this is not just a Catholic/Orthodox phenomenon. Related religious phenomena are also found among the “weirder” Pentocostals (where it extends to snake handling and talisman peddling), and other Protestant sects – even IFB’s (Independant Fundamentalist Baptists). I’ll try and find the link, but some of the famous IFB pastors sometimes sell some of their personal effects. Bible signing is also common, and the differenc ebetween that and “bone collecting & revering” is a difference of degree, not kind.

    These phenomena is what you call “folk religion”. A Catholic acquintance of mine makes a bit of a pet study of these things – his blog is at http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com/.

    In the Roman Church they would of course refer you to events regarding Elijah’s bones etc, recorded in Holy Scripture. While that might be true, I do think that these things are anthropologically more folk religion / superstition than anything else.

    Of course, all sorts of supersitions survive even in secular environments. It seems to be a common human folly.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan, Right. Drinking water??? Who ever heard of something so vile.
    They should have used beer, mead, or wine, and distilled drinks when those were available. But water? gross.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan, Right. Drinking water??? Who ever heard of something so vile.
    They should have used beer, mead, or wine, and distilled drinks when those were available. But water? gross.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I think I would embrace this sort of thinking if there was evidence of the Christians doing these sorts of things in the New Testament with the remains of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. Or if they dug up the baptist and did this in the book of Acts – and Jesus appeared and said, do this in my Name, for healing and for the forgiveness of sins.

    But none of that ever happened. There’s no Divine promise with these dead things and pieces of bodies. And that’s why I think Catholicism rather silly, superstitious, and as mentioned above inconsisternt (not to mention a bit gross) in this sphere.

    It seems to me to entirely appeal to some elemental spiritual voodoo. I really don’t get it at all.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    I think I would embrace this sort of thinking if there was evidence of the Christians doing these sorts of things in the New Testament with the remains of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. Or if they dug up the baptist and did this in the book of Acts – and Jesus appeared and said, do this in my Name, for healing and for the forgiveness of sins.

    But none of that ever happened. There’s no Divine promise with these dead things and pieces of bodies. And that’s why I think Catholicism rather silly, superstitious, and as mentioned above inconsisternt (not to mention a bit gross) in this sphere.

    It seems to me to entirely appeal to some elemental spiritual voodoo. I really don’t get it at all.

  • http://thecornerwithaview.blogspot.com Julie Robison

    I am not sure what you mean by “popular piety” of relics- are you curious why they still hold such an attraction to people? Because they are tangible! You can touch relics, feel them, hold them, have them. Yes, Catholicism does have a “great intellectual tradition, the scholastic theology, the aesthetics, the ceremony, the history, and the like” but it also continues to practice and uphold the seven very physical sacraments from the start of Christianity, which is what makes the Catholic Church different from the rest of Christendom. Relics are a small part of that heritage which helps assist in the faith, and are similar to the sacraments in the sense that they are physically there to assist in being open to God’s grace.

    No one is forced to believe in relics and people are certainly allowed to doubt. However, many relics are very real.

    It should also be rightly understood that Catholics do NOT believe that the relic itself has any power to heal, ever. Like the sacraments, relics are common things that are another way people open up to receiving God’s grace. The physical relic does not possess any magical powers and we Catholics certainly do not worship relics. That indeed would be idoloatry; we only worship God, period. That being said, relics may be occasions for God’s miracles.

    Examples of relics in Scripture: the hemorraging woman who touches Jesus’ cloak (Matt. 9:20-22); as mentioned above, the use of the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life (2 Kgs. 13:20-21); sick people cured when Peter’s shadow passed over them (Acts 5:14-16); and, of course: “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12). In the Gospels, people would touch Jesus all the time. They didn’t just want to be near him- they wanted to feel his power for themselves, put the finger in the wound, so to speak.

    Relics were very common in the early Church as well (St. Jerome wrote a decent amount on it). My non-Catholic aunt even found comfort in water from Lourdes and a miraculous medal given to her by a Catholic friend in the few months before she died, so they are not for Catholic use only, obviously. They are just another tangible substance to help lead people to receive or respond to God’s grace. :)

  • http://thecornerwithaview.blogspot.com Julie Robison

    I am not sure what you mean by “popular piety” of relics- are you curious why they still hold such an attraction to people? Because they are tangible! You can touch relics, feel them, hold them, have them. Yes, Catholicism does have a “great intellectual tradition, the scholastic theology, the aesthetics, the ceremony, the history, and the like” but it also continues to practice and uphold the seven very physical sacraments from the start of Christianity, which is what makes the Catholic Church different from the rest of Christendom. Relics are a small part of that heritage which helps assist in the faith, and are similar to the sacraments in the sense that they are physically there to assist in being open to God’s grace.

    No one is forced to believe in relics and people are certainly allowed to doubt. However, many relics are very real.

    It should also be rightly understood that Catholics do NOT believe that the relic itself has any power to heal, ever. Like the sacraments, relics are common things that are another way people open up to receiving God’s grace. The physical relic does not possess any magical powers and we Catholics certainly do not worship relics. That indeed would be idoloatry; we only worship God, period. That being said, relics may be occasions for God’s miracles.

    Examples of relics in Scripture: the hemorraging woman who touches Jesus’ cloak (Matt. 9:20-22); as mentioned above, the use of the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life (2 Kgs. 13:20-21); sick people cured when Peter’s shadow passed over them (Acts 5:14-16); and, of course: “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12). In the Gospels, people would touch Jesus all the time. They didn’t just want to be near him- they wanted to feel his power for themselves, put the finger in the wound, so to speak.

    Relics were very common in the early Church as well (St. Jerome wrote a decent amount on it). My non-Catholic aunt even found comfort in water from Lourdes and a miraculous medal given to her by a Catholic friend in the few months before she died, so they are not for Catholic use only, obviously. They are just another tangible substance to help lead people to receive or respond to God’s grace. :)

  • Kelly

    I love, love, love the Walters Art Gallery, by the way! It was a prominent field trip location when I was in school. :o) The day before my husband and I got married (and I was to move away), we took a last little tour through Baltimore, mostly spent at the Walters. They have an amazing illuminated manuscript collection.

  • Kelly

    I love, love, love the Walters Art Gallery, by the way! It was a prominent field trip location when I was in school. :o) The day before my husband and I got married (and I was to move away), we took a last little tour through Baltimore, mostly spent at the Walters. They have an amazing illuminated manuscript collection.

  • Kelly

    Silly smiley faces. :)

  • Kelly

    Silly smiley faces. :)

  • Carl Vehse

    For the ultimate (?!?) relic one should check out the book, An Irreverent Curiosity by David Farley (Penguin Books Ltd, 2009).

    Martin Luther didn’t think much of relics, as portrayed in this scene from the 2003 movie, “Luther.”

  • Carl Vehse

    For the ultimate (?!?) relic one should check out the book, An Irreverent Curiosity by David Farley (Penguin Books Ltd, 2009).

    Martin Luther didn’t think much of relics, as portrayed in this scene from the 2003 movie, “Luther.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    At some logical level (which is clearly not a concern here), I’d expect this more among Christians who do not have sacraments — that is, who do not believe that God is present and works through the physical and mundane.

    Though I suppose I’m thinking more of what Louis referred to. Which reminds me of my growing up in Dallas during the time that Robert Tilton was (and it boggles my mind to complete this sentence) popular. He would frequently send out cheap little trinkets that supposedly possessed spiritual power (e.g. a “prayer cloth” — read: strip of flimsy fabric — that Robert Tilton had himself prayed over), and then, hey look, there’s a donation form and envelope for you to express your thanks. Point being, when you can’t look to the physical intervention that God did institute for your spiritual well-being, well, you’ll look to something like it … only stupid.

    But the Catholics? They believe in the Real Presence. They believe that their Savior comes to them in a very real sense, even feeding their bodies … and yet they clamor for something more? “Yes, the body of our Savior is all well and good, but I would really also like the assurance that comes from looking at this disinterred hand of someone who was, presumably, also saved by that same Savior that comes to me at the Lord’s Supper.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    At some logical level (which is clearly not a concern here), I’d expect this more among Christians who do not have sacraments — that is, who do not believe that God is present and works through the physical and mundane.

    Though I suppose I’m thinking more of what Louis referred to. Which reminds me of my growing up in Dallas during the time that Robert Tilton was (and it boggles my mind to complete this sentence) popular. He would frequently send out cheap little trinkets that supposedly possessed spiritual power (e.g. a “prayer cloth” — read: strip of flimsy fabric — that Robert Tilton had himself prayed over), and then, hey look, there’s a donation form and envelope for you to express your thanks. Point being, when you can’t look to the physical intervention that God did institute for your spiritual well-being, well, you’ll look to something like it … only stupid.

    But the Catholics? They believe in the Real Presence. They believe that their Savior comes to them in a very real sense, even feeding their bodies … and yet they clamor for something more? “Yes, the body of our Savior is all well and good, but I would really also like the assurance that comes from looking at this disinterred hand of someone who was, presumably, also saved by that same Savior that comes to me at the Lord’s Supper.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Carl (@15), somehow I knew your first link was going to be about that. Wikipedia mentions that said relic and its container were stolen in 2006. Presumably, the book you mentioned discusses this.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Carl (@15), somehow I knew your first link was going to be about that. Wikipedia mentions that said relic and its container were stolen in 2006. Presumably, the book you mentioned discusses this.

  • http://evangelicaloutpost.com Rachel

    “For example, I saw the sindarion, a cloth that supposedly wiped the face of Christ, leaving a miraculous image. At the museum it was displayed in an ornate frame behind cloudy glass, and one could indeed see the face of Jesus, but instead of looking like a photograph, it was an image that conformed–surprise, surprise–to the style of late medieval paintings. ”

    I agree with the content of your post, but in this case I have to ask–couldn’t it be that those late medieval paintings look like the relic because they were based on it?

    No matter what you think of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, for instance, textual references confirm that it significantly predates the art on which many people assume it was based. It was viewed so frequently that it’s pretty safe to assume much medieval art was based on it, not the other way round. Perhaps the same is true of the sindarion?

  • http://evangelicaloutpost.com Rachel

    “For example, I saw the sindarion, a cloth that supposedly wiped the face of Christ, leaving a miraculous image. At the museum it was displayed in an ornate frame behind cloudy glass, and one could indeed see the face of Jesus, but instead of looking like a photograph, it was an image that conformed–surprise, surprise–to the style of late medieval paintings. ”

    I agree with the content of your post, but in this case I have to ask–couldn’t it be that those late medieval paintings look like the relic because they were based on it?

    No matter what you think of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, for instance, textual references confirm that it significantly predates the art on which many people assume it was based. It was viewed so frequently that it’s pretty safe to assume much medieval art was based on it, not the other way round. Perhaps the same is true of the sindarion?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Rachel, could be, but I think what our gracious host is getting at is that medieval art differs from an ordinary human form in various predictable ways–it is stylized and lacks certain hallmarks of real human physiology.

    So it would be a neat trick if the cloth somehow obtained the errors in physiology to make it look like medieval art.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Rachel, could be, but I think what our gracious host is getting at is that medieval art differs from an ordinary human form in various predictable ways–it is stylized and lacks certain hallmarks of real human physiology.

    So it would be a neat trick if the cloth somehow obtained the errors in physiology to make it look like medieval art.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Rachel, I’m intrigued by the Shroud of Turin, which does look like a photograph. The Sindarion has a different account behind it, according to the exhibit, having to do with someone wiping Christ’s face with a cloth. This is also distinct from St. Veronica’s handkerchief, which supposedly was the cloth that a woman wiped the face of Christ with as He was carrying His cross. Some say that the Shroud of Turin, folded just right, might have been a model for the various Sindarions (sindarii?) and Veronica’s handkerchiefs, which would then have been manufactured as opposed to miraculous. I’m open to actual artifacts, though I would be skeptical that they have a spiritual power beyond their witness to Biblical truth.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Rachel, I’m intrigued by the Shroud of Turin, which does look like a photograph. The Sindarion has a different account behind it, according to the exhibit, having to do with someone wiping Christ’s face with a cloth. This is also distinct from St. Veronica’s handkerchief, which supposedly was the cloth that a woman wiped the face of Christ with as He was carrying His cross. Some say that the Shroud of Turin, folded just right, might have been a model for the various Sindarions (sindarii?) and Veronica’s handkerchiefs, which would then have been manufactured as opposed to miraculous. I’m open to actual artifacts, though I would be skeptical that they have a spiritual power beyond their witness to Biblical truth.

  • erik

    Mr. GV,
    In your blog post you mentioned how you don’t get the popular piety of Roman Catholicism. And I’m right there with you.

    But it got me thinking of a good book or article you could do some time: The popular piety of Lutheranism.

    What do you think?

  • erik

    Mr. GV,
    In your blog post you mentioned how you don’t get the popular piety of Roman Catholicism. And I’m right there with you.

    But it got me thinking of a good book or article you could do some time: The popular piety of Lutheranism.

    What do you think?

  • Jonathan

    @12: Relics as a means of grace? Hmm. I don’t get it. There’s no promise of the forgiveness of sins there.

    Oh wait, I forgot that RC define ‘grace’ as that substance of infused stuff that allows you to cooperate with your salvation. And not that grace means, as Lutherans define it, as God’s unmerited favor toward us on account of Christ with the promise of sins forgiven.

    So I guess I can see how grace defined the RC way might make relics sort of quasi sacramental in their justification system; relics can give YOU the power to DO something.

    Silly me.

  • Jonathan

    @12: Relics as a means of grace? Hmm. I don’t get it. There’s no promise of the forgiveness of sins there.

    Oh wait, I forgot that RC define ‘grace’ as that substance of infused stuff that allows you to cooperate with your salvation. And not that grace means, as Lutherans define it, as God’s unmerited favor toward us on account of Christ with the promise of sins forgiven.

    So I guess I can see how grace defined the RC way might make relics sort of quasi sacramental in their justification system; relics can give YOU the power to DO something.

    Silly me.

  • Jonathan

    tODD @16- Real presence aside, I wonder if there isn’t something in the way RC view the sacrifice of the mass at work in this equation. Sacrfice of the mass again meaning part of their unique twist on what grace is and how it relates to justification by faith (not followed by “alone”).

    In other words, if the sacrament of the altar to RC is really partly something THEY DO, as opposed to how Lutherans see it totally something that Christ does for us, then I suppose I could see how they might get the same feeling about what a relic might perhaps be able to help them achieve within themself that is meritorious as well.

  • Jonathan

    tODD @16- Real presence aside, I wonder if there isn’t something in the way RC view the sacrifice of the mass at work in this equation. Sacrfice of the mass again meaning part of their unique twist on what grace is and how it relates to justification by faith (not followed by “alone”).

    In other words, if the sacrament of the altar to RC is really partly something THEY DO, as opposed to how Lutherans see it totally something that Christ does for us, then I suppose I could see how they might get the same feeling about what a relic might perhaps be able to help them achieve within themself that is meritorious as well.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Jonathan @ 23

    Might I suggest that the difference is not objective grace vs infused grace or even faith vs works.

    For Lutherans the right administration of holy word and blessed sacraments are all something that we do Jonathan. We do baptism and the holy supper as Law. God demands that we do it. This is all “flesh/body” stuff of romans ch 8. It is not “spirit” stuff.

    Baptism is a work of man. but attached to that good work is a Promise. Faith takes hold of that Promise and receives the Promised Mercy.

    That romans 8 “spirit” stuff is christ alone. And so where is it in Baptism? Is it in just in the ex opere operato? no. Is it in a moral-paint-by-the-numbers thing. as in God has it on a number list of dos and donts so if i follow the list I please God? no.

    We are saved by Baptism in the same way we are saved by our other Good Words that are also a sacrament to us. Invisible Faith trusts in the Promise that is in the Invisible Spoken Word that is in, with and under the act. And in that way faith receives the Promised Mercy.

    We do good works as new man in the promise, in with and under those sinful works by a sinful man, that 1) christ covers those sins and 2) God will work his goodness and mercy in, with and uner our works. And so that faith, in the Word of God that is in , with and under the works we do , trusts in God´s Promise of Christ covering our sin, and so we receive the Promised mercy that God has placed in, with and under our Good Works.

    Rome separates faith from the Good Works of baptism and changing diapers. Doing-by-going-through-the-motions they say can save us, if grace is added to that going through the motions.

    Lutherans say that faith in Christ must be added. That which is not of faith is sin. the opposite of sin is not goodness and virtue. It is faith.

    I hope that makes sense Jonathan

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Jonathan @ 23

    Might I suggest that the difference is not objective grace vs infused grace or even faith vs works.

    For Lutherans the right administration of holy word and blessed sacraments are all something that we do Jonathan. We do baptism and the holy supper as Law. God demands that we do it. This is all “flesh/body” stuff of romans ch 8. It is not “spirit” stuff.

    Baptism is a work of man. but attached to that good work is a Promise. Faith takes hold of that Promise and receives the Promised Mercy.

    That romans 8 “spirit” stuff is christ alone. And so where is it in Baptism? Is it in just in the ex opere operato? no. Is it in a moral-paint-by-the-numbers thing. as in God has it on a number list of dos and donts so if i follow the list I please God? no.

    We are saved by Baptism in the same way we are saved by our other Good Words that are also a sacrament to us. Invisible Faith trusts in the Promise that is in the Invisible Spoken Word that is in, with and under the act. And in that way faith receives the Promised Mercy.

    We do good works as new man in the promise, in with and under those sinful works by a sinful man, that 1) christ covers those sins and 2) God will work his goodness and mercy in, with and uner our works. And so that faith, in the Word of God that is in , with and under the works we do , trusts in God´s Promise of Christ covering our sin, and so we receive the Promised mercy that God has placed in, with and under our Good Works.

    Rome separates faith from the Good Works of baptism and changing diapers. Doing-by-going-through-the-motions they say can save us, if grace is added to that going through the motions.

    Lutherans say that faith in Christ must be added. That which is not of faith is sin. the opposite of sin is not goodness and virtue. It is faith.

    I hope that makes sense Jonathan

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Jonathan @ 23

    So then for rome it is all about obeying God in the actions. Faith is necessary in the sense of believing that what the creeds say are all true, which is also our action isn´t it? So there is no difference to Rome between faith and works. They are actions we do, and if we do them then God promises his Grace. This is true where God says to do something as in the sacraments and also where God says to do something in terms of indulgences and relics. Remember it is God speaking through the Roman Church.

    Lutherans say this separates works from faith. And faith is not historical or doctrinal or apologetic faith. It is not an intellectual assent, it is something that happens in one´s heart. This faith looks like fearing, loving and trusting in God. Not fleeing his judgement but agreeing with it, trusting in him for all good and not other things, seeing that he is not angry with us when he sends suffering and punishments.

    God cannot be an object of our love as long as we think he is angry with us. So we can only do those works of obedience and be resentful. This is not righeousness, this trusting in our works rather than in God with no love for either God or our neighbor. It is the smell of the bbq of human sacrifice.

    But that changes when God plants into our hearts the Image of God which is the Adamic Original Righeousness that is faith alone in Christ alone.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Jonathan @ 23

    So then for rome it is all about obeying God in the actions. Faith is necessary in the sense of believing that what the creeds say are all true, which is also our action isn´t it? So there is no difference to Rome between faith and works. They are actions we do, and if we do them then God promises his Grace. This is true where God says to do something as in the sacraments and also where God says to do something in terms of indulgences and relics. Remember it is God speaking through the Roman Church.

    Lutherans say this separates works from faith. And faith is not historical or doctrinal or apologetic faith. It is not an intellectual assent, it is something that happens in one´s heart. This faith looks like fearing, loving and trusting in God. Not fleeing his judgement but agreeing with it, trusting in him for all good and not other things, seeing that he is not angry with us when he sends suffering and punishments.

    God cannot be an object of our love as long as we think he is angry with us. So we can only do those works of obedience and be resentful. This is not righeousness, this trusting in our works rather than in God with no love for either God or our neighbor. It is the smell of the bbq of human sacrifice.

    But that changes when God plants into our hearts the Image of God which is the Adamic Original Righeousness that is faith alone in Christ alone.

  • Jonathan

    Fws, sorry, my question was rhetorical. I get Lutheran sacraments, means of grace, thanks. I do think the RC view of sacraments, justification, and definition of grace are all very much at play in RC piety as it creates a connection between the actions of man to earn salvation. That’s the logical answer to tODD’s question about why the Christ-given sacraments are not good enough that they have to turn to superstitions to merit more grace, hence more points for themselves.

  • Jonathan

    Fws, sorry, my question was rhetorical. I get Lutheran sacraments, means of grace, thanks. I do think the RC view of sacraments, justification, and definition of grace are all very much at play in RC piety as it creates a connection between the actions of man to earn salvation. That’s the logical answer to tODD’s question about why the Christ-given sacraments are not good enough that they have to turn to superstitions to merit more grace, hence more points for themselves.

  • ELB

    Could it be that the seeming discontinuity between the scholarly and mystical aspects of Romanism is the concept of implicit faith? My understanding is that it is necessary to “believe the church” as opposed to believing specific propositions of the church. It thus becomes easy to dwell in one or another conceptual compartment furnished according to one’s own taste – just so long as we affirm that “holy church is correct.”

  • ELB

    Could it be that the seeming discontinuity between the scholarly and mystical aspects of Romanism is the concept of implicit faith? My understanding is that it is necessary to “believe the church” as opposed to believing specific propositions of the church. It thus becomes easy to dwell in one or another conceptual compartment furnished according to one’s own taste – just so long as we affirm that “holy church is correct.”

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Elb @ 27

    The Lutheran confessions say that it is what I am expressing in 24,25.

    It is that rome considers faith a work and then separates works from the need for faith in Christ that is alone the Image of God that is faith alone in christ alone that is the adamic original righeousness.

    It is about going-through-the-motions , ex opere operato. God tells us in the bible or through mother church where God locates his Grace .

    We use those objects in an external ceremonial way and God and his church promise that God will give us grace by doing the action.

    This can be believing and memorizing the historical facts of the creed or the counsel of Trent. It can be performing the rituals of baptism or the mass. It can be parading the host about. It can be touching a relic. God promises his Indulgences and his Grace if we do these things. We know what those things are to do and where we can find them, because the Holy Church magisterially tells us. Isn´t that nice?

    So is that a trust in God, or the Church, or is it a trust in our doing.?

    This was what was argued over in the Lutheran Confessions.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Elb @ 27

    The Lutheran confessions say that it is what I am expressing in 24,25.

    It is that rome considers faith a work and then separates works from the need for faith in Christ that is alone the Image of God that is faith alone in christ alone that is the adamic original righeousness.

    It is about going-through-the-motions , ex opere operato. God tells us in the bible or through mother church where God locates his Grace .

    We use those objects in an external ceremonial way and God and his church promise that God will give us grace by doing the action.

    This can be believing and memorizing the historical facts of the creed or the counsel of Trent. It can be performing the rituals of baptism or the mass. It can be parading the host about. It can be touching a relic. God promises his Indulgences and his Grace if we do these things. We know what those things are to do and where we can find them, because the Holy Church magisterially tells us. Isn´t that nice?

    So is that a trust in God, or the Church, or is it a trust in our doing.?

    This was what was argued over in the Lutheran Confessions.

  • Louis

    Meanwhile, misuses and wrong folk religion aside, what do we do with the instances Julie quoted?

    “Examples of relics in Scripture: the hemorraging woman who touches Jesus’ cloak (Matt. 9:20-22); as mentioned above, the use of the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life (2 Kgs. 13:20-21); sick people cured when Peter’s shadow passed over them (Acts 5:14-16); and, of course: “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12). “

  • Louis

    Meanwhile, misuses and wrong folk religion aside, what do we do with the instances Julie quoted?

    “Examples of relics in Scripture: the hemorraging woman who touches Jesus’ cloak (Matt. 9:20-22); as mentioned above, the use of the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life (2 Kgs. 13:20-21); sick people cured when Peter’s shadow passed over them (Acts 5:14-16); and, of course: “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12). “

  • Jonathan

    @29: Take them as true. It is scripture after all, and not allegory. Could God use saint so and so’s fingernail relic to heal someone.? Sure, just like He could give someone faith after death.

    So, back to my point that there is no specific promise with relics. RCs ought to look only to Christ and where He put His promises. But the church points them back to themself and what they DO. It’s no wonder they look for help elsewhere if Christ is not sufficient.

  • Jonathan

    @29: Take them as true. It is scripture after all, and not allegory. Could God use saint so and so’s fingernail relic to heal someone.? Sure, just like He could give someone faith after death.

    So, back to my point that there is no specific promise with relics. RCs ought to look only to Christ and where He put His promises. But the church points them back to themself and what they DO. It’s no wonder they look for help elsewhere if Christ is not sufficient.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Louis @ 29

    We do the same thing with them as we do with Elisha telling naaman to wash in the jordan to cure leprosy. This is the same thing we do with Holy Baptism,

    God´s Word locates a Promise in with and under the work done by human hands. Faith trusts in that promise of the Word in with and under that work of human hands and the ordinary element of tap water commanded and where the Word locates the Promise. And by faith trusting in that word of God in with and under the element, faith then receives the Promised Mercy. We do the same thing with our own good works as being sacramental signs of our faith and an exercise of our faith. Faith trusts in the promise of Christ in with and under our sinful works that God will forgive our sin in that work and use it to produce his Goodness and mercy. But we are terrified when we look at only our works because we see they mean our death. But in them our faith does not die but is rather exercised by them and knows that faith is alive because faith clings to the Promise of Christ that he promises is in with and under them in a way that cannot be seen but only believed. So our works too are sacramental signs that faith is living in us.

    So then what do we do with the works of relics, the mass, baptisms of objects ? We do nothing with them. There is no promise of God´s Word located in those things. And to trust in those things as pleasing God according to a go-through-the motions sort of way or as an external thing that trusts in that thing the scriptures define as “lust”. “Lust” can be to trust in our perfect keeping of the external law . The pharisees were blameless in this external keeping yet this is why Christ called their works mortal sin.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Louis @ 29

    We do the same thing with them as we do with Elisha telling naaman to wash in the jordan to cure leprosy. This is the same thing we do with Holy Baptism,

    God´s Word locates a Promise in with and under the work done by human hands. Faith trusts in that promise of the Word in with and under that work of human hands and the ordinary element of tap water commanded and where the Word locates the Promise. And by faith trusting in that word of God in with and under the element, faith then receives the Promised Mercy. We do the same thing with our own good works as being sacramental signs of our faith and an exercise of our faith. Faith trusts in the promise of Christ in with and under our sinful works that God will forgive our sin in that work and use it to produce his Goodness and mercy. But we are terrified when we look at only our works because we see they mean our death. But in them our faith does not die but is rather exercised by them and knows that faith is alive because faith clings to the Promise of Christ that he promises is in with and under them in a way that cannot be seen but only believed. So our works too are sacramental signs that faith is living in us.

    So then what do we do with the works of relics, the mass, baptisms of objects ? We do nothing with them. There is no promise of God´s Word located in those things. And to trust in those things as pleasing God according to a go-through-the motions sort of way or as an external thing that trusts in that thing the scriptures define as “lust”. “Lust” can be to trust in our perfect keeping of the external law . The pharisees were blameless in this external keeping yet this is why Christ called their works mortal sin.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Louis (@29), good question. I can’t help but notice that all the “relics in Scripture” that Julie notes (@12) bring about physical healing (I suppose one could argue that Acts 19:11-12 depicts spiritual relief, but it does say “their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them”, implying that the evil spirits were the cause of the illnesses, and therefore, it’s still about physical healing).

    Now compare that to what Veith says:

    According to the exhibit, the value of a relic is not just as a historical artifact to encourage one’s faith … but rather, it is thought that these objects have some sort of spiritual power.

    Are these relics viewed as merely potential sources of physical healing? Is that all that’s meant by “spiritual power”? I honestly don’t know — I’m not a relics kind of guy. My understanding, though, was that these relics are usually valued for their spiritual benefit, not for their physical benefit. But the Scriptures don’t describe anything like that.

    Of course, all but one of the passages Julie mentions describe miraculous healing done by Jesus and his disciples that we already know they were capable of. In other words, the focus in these accounts is not on the particular methods or means through which God worked these miracles (or else laying out on top of people or spitting on people’s eyes would also have great spiritual benefit!), but on the working of the miracles.

    As for the Elisha passage, I’ll admit that I don’t know what to take from it. Of course, there’s no implication in any of those texts that we need to read any of these descriptions of healing as prescriptive.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Louis (@29), good question. I can’t help but notice that all the “relics in Scripture” that Julie notes (@12) bring about physical healing (I suppose one could argue that Acts 19:11-12 depicts spiritual relief, but it does say “their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them”, implying that the evil spirits were the cause of the illnesses, and therefore, it’s still about physical healing).

    Now compare that to what Veith says:

    According to the exhibit, the value of a relic is not just as a historical artifact to encourage one’s faith … but rather, it is thought that these objects have some sort of spiritual power.

    Are these relics viewed as merely potential sources of physical healing? Is that all that’s meant by “spiritual power”? I honestly don’t know — I’m not a relics kind of guy. My understanding, though, was that these relics are usually valued for their spiritual benefit, not for their physical benefit. But the Scriptures don’t describe anything like that.

    Of course, all but one of the passages Julie mentions describe miraculous healing done by Jesus and his disciples that we already know they were capable of. In other words, the focus in these accounts is not on the particular methods or means through which God worked these miracles (or else laying out on top of people or spitting on people’s eyes would also have great spiritual benefit!), but on the working of the miracles.

    As for the Elisha passage, I’ll admit that I don’t know what to take from it. Of course, there’s no implication in any of those texts that we need to read any of these descriptions of healing as prescriptive.

  • DrJoan

    Last summer we had to cancel a trip to Ireland because I needed emergency surgery. One place we had planned to visit was the parish church where my great-grandmother had been baptised. When my husband e-mailed the priest that we were not coming, he noted that the heart of St. Cammillus was coming to their church accompanied by the Archbishop of Ireland; he would have the Archbiship pray in front of that heart for my healing. While I do NOT believe in the value of relics, I was touched by the unifying power of that prayer aid for the Body of Christ and their concern for me in my need. It was truly a Christian experience that spanned 9 thousand miles!

  • DrJoan

    Last summer we had to cancel a trip to Ireland because I needed emergency surgery. One place we had planned to visit was the parish church where my great-grandmother had been baptised. When my husband e-mailed the priest that we were not coming, he noted that the heart of St. Cammillus was coming to their church accompanied by the Archbishop of Ireland; he would have the Archbiship pray in front of that heart for my healing. While I do NOT believe in the value of relics, I was touched by the unifying power of that prayer aid for the Body of Christ and their concern for me in my need. It was truly a Christian experience that spanned 9 thousand miles!

  • Louis

    Todd – it occurs to me that while there is no implication of prescription, there is (obviously) not a prohibition implied either.

    Maybe we need to think of these things along the lines of the copper snake – it’s original use certainly appars magical, but when the population started using it as such (much later), it was destroyed. Thus the objection to relics ought not to be NO!, but “Not in THIS way!” ?

    FWS – maybe my reply to Todd here is in keeping with your response?

    Of course, couldn’t this also be interpreted as God dealing with a pre-modern people in a pre-modern way? Or is that opening a can of worms…? :)

  • Louis

    Todd – it occurs to me that while there is no implication of prescription, there is (obviously) not a prohibition implied either.

    Maybe we need to think of these things along the lines of the copper snake – it’s original use certainly appars magical, but when the population started using it as such (much later), it was destroyed. Thus the objection to relics ought not to be NO!, but “Not in THIS way!” ?

    FWS – maybe my reply to Todd here is in keeping with your response?

    Of course, couldn’t this also be interpreted as God dealing with a pre-modern people in a pre-modern way? Or is that opening a can of worms…? :)

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Louis @ 34

    the Apology art III and IV have alot to say about faith and how it is always connected to a promise placed in with and under that outward form.

    In this way holy baptism and the Holy Supper are no different than the healing of naaman in I kings and the touching of christ´s garment et all.

    We don´t need then to explore a pre modern mode of God dealing with mankind if that is the case do we?

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    Louis @ 34

    the Apology art III and IV have alot to say about faith and how it is always connected to a promise placed in with and under that outward form.

    In this way holy baptism and the Holy Supper are no different than the healing of naaman in I kings and the touching of christ´s garment et all.

    We don´t need then to explore a pre modern mode of God dealing with mankind if that is the case do we?

  • http://blodskald.wordpress.com Colin

    Mr. Louis does speak truth re: Pentecostal “relics.” I still remember the purple and gold “anointed” handkerchiefs that proliferated around Bible Truth Ministries, where I spent much of my childhood, after one of the womens’ conferences.

    Dr. Veith, I heartily agree with your last point. On visiting the Basilica at Catholic University, I was reminded of why I can’t be Catholic when I saw everywhere statues and inscriptions dedicated to and venerating…Mary. Downstairs they had shrines to Francis Xavier and Elizabeth Seton, as well.
    As much as I appreciate the artwork, and as sacramental a Presbyterian as I am, I remain a (very sacramental) Presbyterian and am grateful for it.

  • http://blodskald.wordpress.com Colin

    Mr. Louis does speak truth re: Pentecostal “relics.” I still remember the purple and gold “anointed” handkerchiefs that proliferated around Bible Truth Ministries, where I spent much of my childhood, after one of the womens’ conferences.

    Dr. Veith, I heartily agree with your last point. On visiting the Basilica at Catholic University, I was reminded of why I can’t be Catholic when I saw everywhere statues and inscriptions dedicated to and venerating…Mary. Downstairs they had shrines to Francis Xavier and Elizabeth Seton, as well.
    As much as I appreciate the artwork, and as sacramental a Presbyterian as I am, I remain a (very sacramental) Presbyterian and am grateful for it.

  • Louis

    fws, true.

  • Louis

    fws, true.

  • Louis

    Colin, thanks for the “Mr”, but “Louis” will do fine. Unless you want to call me “His Sublime Highness”… :)

  • Louis

    Colin, thanks for the “Mr”, but “Louis” will do fine. Unless you want to call me “His Sublime Highness”… :)

  • http://blodskald.wordpress.com Colin

    “His Sublime Highness” it is, then! :-)

    Alright, Louis it shall be. Thanks much.

  • http://blodskald.wordpress.com Colin

    “His Sublime Highness” it is, then! :-)

    Alright, Louis it shall be. Thanks much.


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