“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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