St. Jerome: Honor the Relics of the Dead

St. Jerome: Honor the Relics of the Dead April 15, 2024

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Jason Engwer, the anti-Catholic Protestant apologist who runs the Tribalblogue site, put up a brief post called “Honoring the Dead” (4-14-24). In it he cited St. Jerome (c. 343-420):

“to me, the same religious duty applies to friends who are both present and absent, both men and women, who are now sleeping in Christ, that is, the love of souls, not of bodies.” (in Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Isaiah [Mahwah, New Jersey: The Newman Press, 2015], p. 820, section 18:1 in the commentary)

Unsurprisingly, he didn’t take note of Jerome’s espousal of relics, with regard to honoring the dead:

[W]e honour the relics of the martyrs, that we may adore Him whose martyrs they are. We honour the servants that their honour may be reflected upon their Lord who Himself says:— he that receives you receives me. [Matthew 10:40] I ask Vigilantius, Are the relics of Peter and of Paul unclean? Was the body of Moses unclean, of which we are told (according to the correct Hebrew text) that it was buried by the Lord Himself? [Deuteronomy 34:6] (Letter 109, To Riparius, section 1)

Was the Emperor Constantius I. guilty of sacrilege when he transferred the sacred relics of Andrew, Luke, and Timothy to Constantinople? . . . And at the present day is the Emperor Arcadius guilty of sacrilege, who after so long a time has conveyed the bones of the blessed Samuel from Judea to Thrace? Are all the bishops to be considered not only sacrilegious, but silly into the bargain, because they carried that most worthless thing, dust and ashes, wrapped in silk in golden vessel? Are the people of all the Churches fools, because they went to meet the sacred relics, . . .? . . . You show mistrust because you think only of the dead body, and therefore blaspheme. Read the Gospel— [Matthew 22:32] The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob: He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. If then they are alive, they are not, to use your expression, kept in honourable confinement. . . .

Does the bishop of Rome do wrong when he offers sacrifices to the Lord over the venerable bones of the dead men Peter and Paul, as we should say, but according to you, over a worthless bit of dust, and judges their tombs worthy to be Christ’s altars? And not only is the bishop of one city in error, but the bishops of the whole world, who, despite the tavern-keeper Vigilantius, enter the basilicas of the dead, in which a worthless bit of dust and ashes lies wrapped up in a cloth, defiled and defiling all else. Thus, according to you, the sacred buildings are like the sepulchres of the Pharisees, whitened without, while within they have filthy remains, and are full of foul smells and uncleanliness. . . . in maintaining that the relics of the martyrs are to be trodden under foot, you forbid the shedding of their blood as being worthy of no honour. (Against Vigilantius, 5, 8)

It’s the usual game that so many Protestant apologists play, of being highly selective in what they cite from the Church fathers: careful to avoid and keep their readers ignorant of any dreadful “Catholic” elements. No open-minded thinker or seeker of the truth is impressed by such tomfoolery. A half-truth is no better than an outright lie.

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Photo credit: Saint Jerome Writing (c. 1605–1606), by Caravaggio (1571-1610) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Summary: Anti-Catholic Protestant apologist Jason Engwer tried to leave a false impression that St. Jerome wanted to honor the dead without honoring their relics.

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