So *That’s* Where They Are

One of the more curious aspects of our Age of Credulity is the complete and utter faith postmoderns put in the notion that antiquity set about a massive project of inventing twelve fictional apostles and then scattering their graves all over the Mediterranean and building shrines to them. There’s no need to even check to see if this far-fetched thesis is might be problematic. It’s. Just. True. And Christians are gullible fools if they think, even for a second, that the reason the shrine grew up is because somebody that mattered a lot to the early Christian community in that area is buried there.

Nobody does this with mummies buried in the Valley of the Kings. When the shrine inscriptions tell you Imhotep is buried there, people pretty much say, “Hey! Look! Imhotep’s mummy!” But for some weird reason, when you open a tomb beneath the high altar of St. Peter’s (inscribed “Peter is Within”) and find the bones of a crucified man, postmoderns say, “That could be *anybody*” and assume that it is, in fact, anybody but Peter, who many are not even sure existed. And, of course, from that amazingly credulous skepticism come the even more amazingly credulous skepticism that 12 fictional people invented the even more ficional Jesus of Nazareth.

We truly live in an age that will believe anything, except the obvious. Point out the tombs of the apostles, attested by a whole civilization and it’s all rubbish. Put a bone box in James Cameron’s hands and let him babble something about the Jesus Dynasty and the deeply rational postmodern mind will believe every word.

In case you are interested, James was actually the son (with Joses, Jude, and Simon (his successor to the See of Jerusalem) of Cleopas (the Emmaus disciple) and “Mary, the wife of Clopas). Not a sibling of Jesus.

  • Benjamin

    There’s a big gap between “they never existed” and “everything the Roman Catholic Church says about them is true”.

    The tombs could very well be phony. That’s been known to happen with relics before, has it not?

    • Mark Shea

      The Catholic Church says very little about most of the apostles for the very good reason that the tradition doesn’t preserve all that much. And indeed, even what the Church preserves is offered precisely in the form of small T traditions such as Andrew waa crucified on an X shaped cross. Nothing in particular to gain from such a tradition and no reason to invent it. Simply a historical memory from the early Church. The only people who find it absurd or crazy a priori are, well, people like you Benjamin, who are credulous skeptics assuming that anything pertaining to the historical memories of early Christians are to be rejected, not accepted as ordinary human testimony is, in all other cases, like to preserve something rather than nothing.

      • NoahLuck

        > The only people who find it absurd or crazy a priori are, well, people like you Benjamin, who are credulous skeptics assuming…

        Psychologizing away someone’s genuine critique is a poor substitute for thinking.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Gratuitous assertions constitute a genuine critique? There certainly is a poor substitute for thinking at work here …

    • Dan C

      One of the sources I recommend is Mary Karr’s essay “Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer” by Mary Karr. It is a sense of understanding the development of how one comes to this concept of faith.

      One of the witticisms of Mr. Shea is that “all faiths are equally superior to the Catholic faith.” It is a reflection of how often in common discourse and routine information sharing, one gives credence or at least passing respect and acknowledgement to the individual who says they were “listening to God in the wind” more than, “I spent lunch at Adoration at St. John’s.” It is just the bigotry of the day.

      So, should one feebly hand wave over minor superstitions or give routine respect to Native/First Nations traditions but dismiss pretty aggressively Catholic traditions shows more than minor imbalance in critiques.

      As Catholics, we routinely acknowledge our belief that Jesus was God fully, not an avatar as Lord Krishna, but fully God and fully human, that He died, that He was bodily raised in a way we all can look forward to, and that the Eucharist is this same Jesus, again fully God, come to us in the Divine Banquet and Holy Passover we call the Mass. Then we eat Him. This is what would be capital “t” Tradition.

      A few rare miracles and St. Thomas levitating, and St. Martin de Porres bilocating are really very small leaps after all the Jesus stuff above. Theses are all little “t” tradition and not binding and somewhat insignificant and should not be distracting from the focus of the capital “t” Tradition noted.

      I recommend Mary Karr’s essay in the journal Poetry. She is a compelling writer who, even if you disagree with her, you may find a “hook” to at least engage her. The essay begins:

      “To confess my unlikely Catholicism in Poetry—a journal founded in part on and for the godless, twentieth-century disillusionaries of J. Alfred Prufrock and his pals—feels like an act of perversion kinkier than any dildo-wielding dominatrix could manage on HBO’s “Real Sex Extra.” I can’t even blame it on my being a cradle Catholic, some brainwashed escapee of the pleated skirt and communion veil who—after a misspent youth and facing an Eleanor Rigby-like dotage—plodded back into the confession booth some rainy Saturday. ”

      That grabbed me.

      • Benjamin

        Dan,Middle Eastern Monotheism is a whole different kettle of fish from those other spiritual traditions, though–it is intolerant (in the sense that it insists it holds The Truth, and everyone else is deluded at best and literally Satanic at worst), and in its militant evangelism and insistence on influencing, and, ultimately seeking to dominate public life. Native American spiritual traditions or some nebulous stuff about “Finding God in the wind” is incredibly benign and harmless by comparison.

        • Dan C

          Ah…tolerance and the Truth vs. the truth.

          I am unclear that atheistic versions of the Truth hold any less a strangle hold on intolerance over the most intolerant hyperbolic image you have of The Holy Roman Empire.

          This isn’t an excuse, just that I think the difficulty is power and money not the ideology or religion.

          Also, the First Nations have an element of intolerance, as the Mayan, Aztec, and Incan imperial religio-politcal structures demonstrated. First Nations were oh so human, and less some proto-Eden for first world fantasists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

      • Benjamin

        But, in fairness, I do think Catholicism can be a lot less harmful than the other varieties of Middle Eastern Monotheism, mainly because its better at reigning in and controlling its loonies and fanatics (something others, especially Islam and the more extreme versions of Protestantism lack completely leading to all kinds of bad outcomes).

        • Dan C

          I am unclear as to how you perceive Hinduism, Confucianism, and militant Buddhism’s intolerance and agression. Those three religions alone, as state-religions, have a long history of either the cause or the stated cause of war, internal repression, and mass murder.

          • Bryan

            “…insistence on influencing, and, ultimately seeking to dominate public life.” You mean like in Tibet, which was an authoritarian Buddhist Theocratic state under the Dalai Llama?

            It’s funny how Tibet became a liberal hobbyhorse for some. Then again, Buddhism is an atheistic religion, so perhaps some people simply desire a totalitarian “Atheocratic” state, unilaterally ruled over by an “enlightened” Buddhist monarch.

            Personally, I don’t see the difference, except that I personally am not Asian or Buddhist, so I personally would rather live with a “Middle-Eastern Monotheist” theocracy than with an Asian “Atheocratic” one.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    The remains of St. Thomas were removed from the basilica in Madras-Mylapore by the Syrians a very long time ago. Where they took them, I don’t know. But India fell under the Patriarchate of Antioch and All Asia, so the Antiochenes asserted priority. The present basilica was built by the Portuguese and is standard basilica design. It houses the statue of the Infant of Prague before which St. Francis Xavier prayed before leaving for China. (Even Hindus come to the cathedral to pray before the statue.)

    Next to the cathedral is a museum and shrine leading down to the now-empty crypt. (Remove your shoes, please.) There is a mural of the martyrdom of St. Thomas and a statue subbing for the body.

    It was interesting to see the English lettering over the parish meeting hall referring to “Guru” Iesu.

    • Mark Shea

      Interesting. Do you know where they are now? Were some relics left in India?

      • Tom K.

        In the Basilica of St. Thomas the Apostle in Ortona, Italy, of course.

  • Benjamin

    Mark, do you really believe *everything*, all the pious legends, about all the saints? Do you really think, or example, that Thomas Aquinas magically levitated around a Cathedral?

    • Mark Shea

      No. But it certainly appears you really reflexively disbelieve all common sense for the special purpose of ignoring the obvious historical evidence of early Christianity?

      • Benjamin

        There’s really no such thing as a monolithic “early Christianity”. It’s more proper to speak of “Christianities” plural. I know it’s very important for the Roman Catholic Church to insist there was (and, how conveniently, that they were that one)–but it’s just plain false. There were many, many forms of Christianity early on. This is historical fact.

        • Mark Shea

          Yes. I know. And if that were germane to my point you’d really have something. However, *my* point is simply that it’s not super-hard to conceive of the possibility that close-knit little Mediterraean communities with a hugely strong sense of cohesiveness around the memory of their founders should, you know, revere the relics of their founders. Particularly when they themselves bear witness to this habit in their earliest documents.

          • Benjamin

            It’s also not crazy to think some of these may be totally phony and invented for economic reasons ( pilgrimage s are a lucrative business, ask anyone in Jerusalem or Mecca) and prestige reasons.

            • SteveK

              If you had reasons to think some were phony, then I would agree with you. What are your reasons? Speculation or the mere possibility that it could be phony are not reasons.

  • Bryan

    This was very interesting. Thanks, Mark.

  • Paul

    To Benjamin, why not believe the things said about St. Aquinas. It’s not like the story starts, “in a land far, far away, long long ago in a place unknown” There is more known about certain saints, and there is A LOT known of St Thomas Aquinas. We believe in the resurrection and the incorruptibility of the body. Why is levitating so crazy?

  • quasimodo

    Er, um… isn’t the Infant of Prague in, uh, Prague? it was there when i saw it. or have I missed someting

  • quasimodo

    something besides an h, that is

    • enness

      You, sir, have just made my day.

  • Dan C

    I would be willing to challenge that the relics of Thomas, passing as they did from merchant to merchant, war lord to warlord from India to Italy, may not be, at this point, Thomas’s.

    Same for the history of James the Greater’s relics. And Benedict of Nursia for that matter, in which Monte Cassino and Fleury both claim his bones.

    • Dan C

      But, as Catholic, I am all for a dedicated shrine in Spain for St. James or a dedicated shrine to Thomas in India. The shrine and the dedication is no more or less holy by the possession of the relics of the Apostles. The smallest church Chapel possesses the Body of Christ in its Sanctuary. The bones of the dead, even the great Apostles, are nothing by comparison.

      • Suburbanbanshee

        Generally, when multiple churches claim a particular saint’s bones, you will find on investigation that they both only claim bits of said remains. And there’s usually a fair amount of paper trail, because King Bob and Count Bibbity are generally pretty anxious to tell people where they got their relics and how. The only thing that’s usually fudged is how willing the various churches were to give up various bones and/or reliquaries containing them, and even then people are pretty honest about what they did. Vagueness usually only occurs when there’s been serious records loss due to archives accidentally getting burned, etc. And even then, you can usually hunt up chronicles from surrounding monasteries, towns, bishops, etc. And if the big pilgrimage and fair for St. X suddenly shifts from town Z to town Y, there’s usually a good reason.

        But yes, usually it was a lot easier to get the relics of St. X to town Y if the former possessors, in town Z, got to keep a fingerbone or such.

        • Dan C

          St. James’ supposed remains were sold and sold and transported. If they were found to be from a 500 AD woman, my faith would not be shaken, nor would I rush to the battlements to declare a war on science. The history of the transport of these remains is extensive and fraught with likely and disputed fraud.

          Monte Cassino claims it has the remains of Benedict, even after destruction by the Lombards while Fleury can produce remains someone claimed were Benedict’s.

          Amd St. Thomas? The Church did not Even trust the faith that it rediscovered present in India when colonial powers took over Goa and Kerala. It crushed the local churches but it would trust that the remains transported out 800 years before were St. Thomas? Hmmm.

          For the examples you I provided, your explanation misses its mark.

  • Becca

    St. Joseph of Cupertino levitated all the time :)

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    Deluded at best?
    Try “every religion, being an expression of man’s religious sense, is neccessarily true, in varying degrees.

    It may hurt, but acknowledging one doesn’t know shit from shinola is the first step along the path to any kind of knowledge.

  • Zeke

    What? “postmoderns put in the notion that antiquity set about a massive project of inventing twelve fictional apostles and then scattering their graves all over the Mediterranean and building shrines to them”
    Who even claims that the apostles are fictional? C’mon Mark, talk about tilting at windmills.

  • Joseph

    Worse is the Dan Brown rampant and oft repeated theory that the aposltes were power-hungry, greedy misogynists vying to set up and illustrious and pampered life for themselves. Basic logic and understanding of human nature tells us that at least ONE of these men would admit their ulterior motives and renounce their faith in their fabricated God the minute they noticed all of their conspirators were dying bloody deaths to publicly witness to it. At least ONE would have said “Dude, what the hell. This isn’t working out so well. Screw this, I’m not dying for a lie!”.

    • The True Will
    • S. Murphy

      Not only dying for a lie, but suppressing the Gospel of Mary Magdalen, lest there appear, in 1900 years or so, suffragettes.

  • Sven

    I’ve read Dawkins and Hitchens and Sagan and Penn, I’ve been to all sorts of flaming anti-religion websites, and I’ve never seen anyone claim that the men known as the Apostles didn’t exist. Nobody’s really saying that anywhere.

    • Noel

      I’ve never come across the claim that the Apostles never existed, I would be interested if the author could point us to the direction of people who make such a claim.

  • Mike

    There would’ve have’to’ve been alot of fakery goin’ on for all of those to be fakes, and maybe even more for just some to be fakes.

    You can lead a horse to water…

  • TheodoreSeeber

    The skeptic is rarely skeptical about their own skepticism.

  • Sven2547

    I’ve read Dawkins, Hitchens, Sagan, and Penn. I’ve been to all sorts of flaming anti-religion websites, and I’ve never see anybody deny the existence of the men known as the Apostles. Nobody’s really making this claim anywhere.

    Also strange is that you tagged this post “we live in the age of utter credulity” when you are attacking people for their incredulity.

    • Garth Rose

      Funny, I’ve heard it several times. Perhaps you need to get out more.

      • Sven2547

        From whom? Where?