The Power And Miracles Wrought By GOD Through The Relics Of Our Catholic Saints
One of the earliest sources that purports to show the efficacy of relics is found in 2 Kings 13:20–21: And Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites used to invade the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet. Also cited is the veneration of relics from the martyr and bishop Saint Polycarp of Smyrna recorded in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written sometime from 150 to 160 AD. With regard to relics that are objects, an often cited passage is Acts 19:11–12, which says that Paul the Apostle’s handkerchiefs were imbued by God with healing power. In the gospel accounts of Jesus healing the bleeding woman and again in the Gospel of Mark 6:56, those who touched Jesus’ garment were healed. The practice of venerating relics seems to have been taken for granted by writers like Augustine, St. Ambrose, Gregory of Nyssa, St. Chrysostom, and St. Gregory Nazianzen. Dom Bernardo Cignitti, O.S.B., wrote, “[T]he remains of certain dead are surrounded with special care and veneration. This is because the mortal remains of the deceased are associated in some manner with the holiness of their souls which await reunion with their bodies in the resurrection.” Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) pointed out that it was natural that people should treasure what is associated with the dead, much like the personal effects of a relative. In an interview with Catholic News Service, Fr. Mario Conte, executive editor of the Messenger of St. Anthony magazine in Padua, Italy, said, “Saints’ relics help people overcome the abstract and make a connection with the holy. … Saints do not perform miracles. Only God performs miracles, but saints are intercessors.” In the early Church the disturbance, let alone the division, of the remains of martyrs and other saints was not practiced. They were allowed to remain in their often unidentified resting places such as in cemeteries and the catacombs of Rome. These places were always outside the walls of the city, but martyriums began to be built over the site of the burial. Since it was considered beneficial to the soul to be buried close to the remains of saints, several large “funerary halls” were built over the sites of martyr’s graves, including Old Saint Peter’s Basilica. These were initially not regular churches, but “covered cemeteries” crammed with graves, wherein was celebrated funerary and memorial services. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, it may have been thought that when the souls of the martyrs went to heaven on resurrection day they would be accompanied by those interred nearby, who would thus gain favour with God. The Second Council of Nicaea in 787 drew on the teaching of St. John Damascene that homage or respect is not really paid to an inanimate object, but to the holy person, and indeed the veneration of a holy person is itself honour paid to God. The Council decreed that every altar should contain a relic, making it clear that this was already the norm, as it remains to the present day in Catholic and Orthodox churches. The veneration of the relics of the saints reflects a belief that the saints in heaven intercede for those on earth. A number of cures and miracles have been attributed to relics, not because of their own power, but because of the holiness of the saint they represent. Many tales of miracles and other marvels were attributed to relics beginning in the early centuries of the church. These became popular during the Middle Ages, and were collected in books of hagiography such as the Golden Legend or the works of Caesarius of Heisterbach. These miracle tales made relics much sought-after during the period. By the Late Middle Ages, the collecting of, and dealing in, relics had reached enormous proportions, and had spread from the church to royalty, and then to the nobility and merchant classes. The Council of Trent of 1563 enjoined bishops to instruct their flocks that “the holy bodies of holy martyrs … are to be venerated by the faithful, for through these [bodies] many benefits are bestowed by God on men”. The Council further insisted that “in the invocation of saints, the veneration of relics and the sacred use of images, every superstition shall be removed and all filthy lucre abolished.” There are also many relics attributed to Jesus, perhaps most famously the Shroud of Turin, said to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ.