Where did the process of venerating relics come from? What is true worship?
|Religious veneration of artifacts of the saints has astounded many, even within the confines of the Catholic Church. How could the bones of saints and the objects they used be associated with miraculous powers? 2Kings 13:20-21 is said to be associated with some spiritual unction of the practice. A recently deceased man was thrown into a grave with the dead Elisha, the prophet, and he immediately stood upright and walked away.
My bias in writing this is there has to be more to life in God then venerating dead and lifeless things. You may wonder, how do these things get started? It is reasonably well known that Jesus would have been crucified with the use of four nails. One of these most certainly was found in the ossuary of Caiaphas, the high priest. To date, the number of nails found equals twenty-nine.
Everything on the planet has a history. The idea of parting out the dearly divinely departed precedes Jesus by centuries. Parts of the Buddha’s body were held for veneration shortly after his death.
In approximately 150 A.D., a beloved bishop named Polycarp was martyred for opposing giving oaths to Roman idols. After his martyrdom for his beliefs, he was venerated both in body parts and clothing after bribing a Roman official.
Probably when relics really take off is with the ascension of Constantine in 313 AD. He had an image of a cross in the sky and actually painted crosses on his soldier’s shields. How committed was he to the cause of Christ? He probably was not the most devout follower there has ever been.
Under Constantine’s leadership, the state sanctioned that a decision be made. One group, the Gnostics believer that Jesus was not truly human, but operated only in the divine realm. A charismatic preacher from Alexandria named Arius believed that Jesus was born of man and that Jesus was God-like, but not quite God. In the end, all but two of three hundred bishops would decree that Jesus was part of the godhead and the trinity.
Helena, Constantine’s pious mother became obsessed. At the age of eighty, she took off on a sanctioned shopping spree. Some say it was penance for the way Constantine had handled an affair between Constantine’s son and his wife. Helena sponsored a chapel in Rome where all the relics were housed.
This didn’t necessarily make relic collecting necessarily acceptable. Worshipping rotting corpses wasn’t just new and different; to Roman eyes, it was just plain weird. Bodies were buried far out of the city. Today, the Vatican is on the place of martyrdom and eventual burial of Peter. In his day, the place of Peter’s day was known as a place for snakes and bad wine.
In 787 AD, church leaders would pass a law that every church would have a holy relic in its alter. The punishment for disobedience was excommunication. Eighth century popes changed the laws of the dead allowing for bones to be examined from Roman catacombs. Booty hunters pillaging tombs really didn’t find much. It soon became impossible to know who was buried where.
Charlemagne, a French king, would also leave his mark on relic history. He insisted that all oaths would take place in a church with relics. In 800 AD he would be named Holy Roman emperor by then Pope Leo III. After Charlemagne’s death in 814, his effect would become that of legend. Monasteries would trace their roots back to him. Relics would be authenticated as being given by Charlemagne.
Things start to unravelel in 1511 when a young Augustine monk would be told to do penance for a dead grandfather by ascending twenty-eight marble steps on his knees. All the time there he was supposed to pray. About half way up, he realized that this isn’t going to get my grandfather or me closer to heaven. He got up and headed back to Germany. The monk’s name was Martin Luther; the reformation had begun.
German armies would eventually penetrate Roman walls. They were pretty rude with church tradition. The paraded a donkey in vestments through the streets. People and relics were treated with outright contempt. Saint’s heads were used for ball games in the streets.
John Calvin, another reformer, would rail against relics. “There is no scriptural evidence. Early church Fathers don ‘t mention them.”
The Catholic Church underwent reform. Jesuits, a militant band for Christ was formed as a band a Christian monks. The church itself underwent reforms. The most holy of artifacts, the foreskin of Christ was relegated to a backwater town outside of Rome. By 1900, the Pope would say we don’t want to hear about that relic anymore. In 1986, it mysteriously disappeared.
Protestants and Catholics have made massive attempts to win the world for Christ. Scripture says “Be holy as I am holy.” We try, with varying degrees of success.
What is the meaningful part of Christ? Can I put on the things of Christ and really know his love for us? I would say that most people would say no. Thousands do carry replicas of a cross on the Via Dolorosa and I cannot say that this is not meaningful for them. I think there is something deeper.
Scripture says, “We have the mind of Christ.” We, as believers, can think the thoughts that he does on Earth today. If I watch network television with its violence and sex, would he be thinking the same thoughts. Obviously we have a more superficial view of walking in Christ then he does. I think we use the world to prop us up, like toddlers do. It is what gives us meaning. He never meant for us to do that. We are to be free in him.
How do we interact with the people around us? How do we touch the meaning and the strength of the Lord? God loves and we are expected to have the same heart and do what he does. Before that happens, we have to see and feel the world as he does.
We are a generation of “Energizer-bunny Christians” The commercial says, “they keep going and going” but reality tell us, batteries eventually wear out. Paul in his epistles says that his external tent is being worn out, but he is made new every morning.
We have a choice. We can live magical Christianity the way folks say it is supposed to be or we can learn from God himself. God says love people. Use things as I provide them. He didn’t give us magical things. He gave us himself in exchange for all the heartless things we have done or will do.
Accept no substitute. There is no substitute for the love of God. We didn’t earn it. It is His undeserved touch on our lives.