“My Body,” Their Souls

Father Dwight (who seems to write more than Tim Keller) is back with a biblical justification for placing relics under the altar in Roman Catholic churches.

In Revelation 6:9 it is written: And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.

What does it mean “under the altar were the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God and the testimony they held.”?

In the early church, the remains of the martyrs were placed in above ground table tombs. Similar to the one shown here. During the times of persecution the church would gather in the catacombs for worship and the table tombs were used as the altar for Mass. Thus the remains of the martyrs were under the altar.

When they no longer had to worship in secret, the early Christians still wanted the presence of their martyrs to be near them so they opened the tombs, removed the bones and put them into jars which they then placed beneath the altar.

If you visit churches in Rome today you will often seen the jars with relics on display beneath the altar. More than that, you will often see the whole body of the saint on display beneath the altar. Here, for example is the altar beneath which is the relic of Pope St John XXIII.

Call me a literalist, but Rev 6:9 does not say “bodies.” It also says that the author was able to “see” something that is not visible. How do you see a soul?

So notice that when it comes to the body of Christ in the Mass, the bread becomes the very (true) body of Christ. After all, Christ said, “this is my body.” But when it comes to relics, the bones are memorials to the souls under the altar.

I’m confused. Maybe Zwingli can sort it out.

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An Argument that Bites Off More than It Can Chew

Bishop Robert Barron is traveling in Italy and recently came across the teeth of Ambrose of Milan. They were on display as relics at a basilica in Milan, and led the bishop to make this argument in defense of such sacred material:

[Cardinal Newman] had come to understand such pious gestures as a logical development of the doctrine of the Incarnation. In Jesus Christ, the Word of God truly became flesh. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took to himself a human mind and will and imagination, but also feet, hands, internal organs, muscles, veins, and bones. He lived, died, and rose in a real human body. Subsequently, in the mystical body of the Church, the Incarnation is extended through space and time, the Spirit of Jesus coming to dwell in the humanity of all the baptized and in a privileged way in the humanity of the saints. Paul acknowledged this truth when he cried exultantly, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” How wonderful, too, that this Christ-life is placed in the bodies of the faithful through the materiality of the sacraments: water, oil, imposed hands, transfigured bread and wine, etc. And this, Newman realized, is why the Church has, from the beginning, reverenced the bodies of the saints and treasured their relics. She has known that, as Paul put it, our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit, dwelling places of Christ.

So why not save the remains of all the deceased? Ara Parseghian seemed like a pretty decent man who, even though a Presbyterian, Notre Dame fans revered. Why not preserve his bones and teeth?

The reason is that only some believers in Rome achieve the status of sainthood. Only their remains are holy. The others? The incarnation only goes so far.

The Call's Fine Print

Still waiting for Jason and the Callers to weigh in on these matters:

In life, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was exceptional, a riveting Catholic preacher on radio who outpolled star comedian Milton Berle in the early days of television, winning two Emmys and a following that was the envy of Bible-thumping Protestants.

After his death in 1979, it was no surprise that Sheen would be pushed for sainthood. But now two bishops have clashed in an unusual public dispute over who holds claim to Sheen’s body: the New York archdiocese, where he is buried, or the diocese of Peoria, Ill., where he was raised and ordained.

The fight between Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York erupted into public view Wednesday, when Jenky issued a statement blasting the New York archdiocese for thwarting Sheen’s expected beatification next year by reneging on an agreement to return the late archbishop’s body to Peoria.

“Bishop Jenky was personally assured on several occasions by the Archdiocese of New York that the transfer of the body would take place at the appropriate time,” the Peoria diocese said in a statement.

The statement said that senior Vatican officials were set to approve a miracle attributed to Sheen’s intervention — the revival after an hour of a stillborn baby — clearing the way for him to be beatified in a few months, the final step before formal canonization, which would require a second miracle.

Rome expected that Sheen’s body would be transferred from the crypt under St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he is buried, to Peoria to collect relics from the body, the Illinois diocese said. Peoria has been in charge of Sheen’s cause for canonization since it was opened in 2002. In 2012, then-Pope Benedict XVI declared Sheen “venerable,” a requisite first step before beatification.

But the New York archdiocese denied Jenky’s request to move the body and “after further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now have to be relegated to the Congregation’s historic archive.”

The Callers’ spin? The veneration of relics is biblical:

I began to appreciate was just how biblical the practice really was. I realized that the veneration of relics, belief in their miraculous powers, and in the intercession of departed saints and angels was deeply Hebraic and Jewish.

Never mind how deeply political and messy and unedifying the making of saints is. Just set your mind on things above (except when you’re receiving notices from the Vatican and looking at maps on your way to the remains of your favorite saint).

Once A Bible Thumper . . .

News of the theft of John Paul II’s blood from a reliquary in Italy made me curious about what Jason and the Callers have said about relics. Turns out they aren’t shy in their religious affections for relics, veneration of the saints, and even magic. But the difference between the Callers and the bishops is that the latter chalk up reverence for things like vials of blood from deceased popes to popular piety. The Callers, as good logocentric former Protestants, claim biblical warrant.

For instance, here is the church’s catechism on relics (the only mention according to the accompanying search engine of “relics”):

Popular piety

1674 Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals,180 etc. (2688, 2669, 2678)

1675 These expressions of piety extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it. They “should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.”181

1676 Pastoral discernment is needed to sustain and support popular piety and, if necessary, to purify and correct the religious sense which underlies these devotions so that the faithful may advance in knowledge of the mystery of Christ.182 Their exercise is subject to the care and judgment of the bishops and to the general norms of the Church. (426)

At its core the piety of the people is a storehouse of values that offers answers of Christian wisdom to the great questions of life. The Catholic wisdom of the people is capable of fashioning a vital synthesis…. It creatively combines the divine and the human, Christ and Mary, spirit and body, communion and institution, person and community, faith and homeland, intelligence and emotion. This wisdom is a Christian humanism that radically affirms the dignity of every person as a child of God, establishes a basic fraternity, teaches people to encounter nature and understand work, provides reasons for joy and humor even in the midst of a very hard life. For the people this wisdom is also a principle of discernment and an evangelical instinct through which they spontaneously sense when the Gospel is served in the Church and when it is emptied of its content and stifled by other interests.183

Now, hear the Call:

In the worldview presented to us by Sacred Scripture, we frequently see material objects take power from and serve as a connection to the person they came from—even the remains of those who have died. We see frequent examples of the importance of where remains lie and of marking the sites where those remains are laid.

In Acts 19:11-12, we see the following:

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

And in Acts 5:12-16:

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

And of course, miracles were also performed through Jesus’ own clothes, but lest foul be called on citing that this happened through the Godman uniquely, the examples above were performed through the agency of mere men and their clothes and shadows. So a biblical worldview must have room for inanimate objects as vessels of God’s power.

GOD OF THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
Now, my Protestant brothers may raise the objection that these examples happened through living persons, not dead ones as is often the case with Catholic relics. Not so fast.

In 2 Kings 13:20-21, we read:

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.

So now our Biblical worldview has to allow for healing through inanimate objects touched by holy people, as well as the healing power of the bones of the holy dead.

A WORLD SHOT THROUGH WITH MAGIC
We do not live in a world that is qualitatively different than the world in which these things took place. In fact, you could support the idea that we should still expect these things to take place by the same logic as Reformed Christians rightly argue that it would be strange if 1st century Christians didn’t baptize their children. The truly odd occurrence would be if miracles through the agency of the bones and belongings of God’s people stopped happening.

And then there is this on the affinity between relics and the Mass:

It is one thing to dismiss something as peripheral to the faith of the ancient Church, but to dismiss something that was ubiquitous and central to devotion and even to liturgy? G.J.C. Snoek had made just this point in his monograph Medieval Piety from Relics to the Eucharist: A Process of Mutual Interaction. Snoek showed just how much the Christian liturgy itself had been influenced by the ancient cult of relics. I began to realize that dismissing saints and relics was to dismiss the same Church that gave us the Ecumenical councils, Augustine’s doctrines of grace and justification, and the canon of Scripture. I needed to look into this more carefully.

Saints and Relics as Biblical

As I explored this conundrum, the first thing I began to appreciate was just how biblical the practice really was. I realized that the veneration of relics, belief in their miraculous powers, and in the intercession of departed saints and angels was deeply Hebraic and Jewish. We find testimony to it in such places as 2 Kings 13:20-21, 2 Maccabees 15:12-16, and Tobit 12:12-15, considered especially in comparison to Revelation 5:8. (At this point, it was immaterial to me whether Maccabees and Tobit should be considered canonical texts. It was enough that they expressed a historic Jewish belief in these concepts.)

Of course, as Bryan Cross will surely remind me, nothing presented here disproves the truth of the Callers’ assertions. But it sure does make it hard to believe that they ever heard and meditated on Protestant Christianity:

Question 94. What does God enjoin in the first commandment?

Answer: That I, as sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul, avoid and flee from all idolatry, (a) sorcery, soothsaying, superstition, (b) invocation of saints, or any other creatures; (c) and learn rightly to know the only true God; (d) trust in him alone, (e) with humility (f) and patience submit to him; (g) expect all good things from him only; (h) love, (i) fear, (j) and glorify him with my whole heart; (k) so that I renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit even the least thing contrary to his will. (l)

(a) 1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. 1 Cor.6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 1 Cor.6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Cor.10:7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 1 Cor.10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. (b) Lev.19:31 Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God. Deut.18:9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. Deut.18:10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Deut.18:11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. Deut.18:12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. (c) Matt.4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Rev.19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Rev.22:8 And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Rev.22:9 Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God. (d) John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (e) Jer.17:5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. Jer.17:7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. (f) 1 Pet.5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 1 Pet.5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: (g) Heb.10:36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. Col.1:11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Rom.5:3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; Rom.5:4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 1 Cor.10:10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Philip.2:14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: (h) Ps.104:27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. Ps.104:28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Ps.104:29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Ps.104:30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. Isa.45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (i) Deut.6:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. Matt.22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (j) Deut.6:2 That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. Ps.111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. Prov.1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Prov.9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. Matt.10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (k) Matt.4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Deut.10:20 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name. Deut.10:21 He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen. (l) Matt.5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Matt.5:30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Matt.10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

Question 95. What is idolatry?
Answer: Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God, who has manifested himself in his word, to contrive, or have any other object, in which men place their trust. (a)

(a) Eph.5:5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 1 Chron.16:26 For all the gods of the people are idols: but the LORD made the heavens. Philip.3:19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) Gal.4:8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. Eph.2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 1 John 2:23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. 2 John 1:9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. John 5:23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. (Heidelberg Catechism with proof texts)