Relics and Images

Continuing the “Top Ten” doctrines to which non-Catholics object. So far I’ve covered three:

Papal Universal Jurisdiction

Indulgences and Treasury of Merit

Purgatory and Prayers for the Dead

I’m going to follow the lead of some of the comments and add the topic of contraception. I’ll chalk up Papal Infallibility with my words on Universal Jurisdiction. Essentially, the argument is that Christ guards St Peter and his successors in the Papacy from officially proclaiming error with respect to Faith and Morals. I challenge anyone to demonstrate ONE instance in which the Papacy has proclaimed dogmatic error.

Moving along to the Catholic doctrine with respect to the Veneration of Relics and Images.

First, what is a relic? There are basically three kinds of relics:

First Class Relics: An actual body part of a Saint.
Second Class Relic: Something worn or used by the Saint during his life.
Third Class Relic (not truly a relic): Anything touched to a first or second class relic.

If it is right to venerate (not worship) relics just as we would venerate the US flag or the or the tomb of soldier. The Bible reveals that the relics of holy men and women can be and often are efficacious means by which God blesses people. We see this in Scripture with the following relics:

The mantle of Elijah divided a river. [2 King 2:8-14]

The dead bones of Elisha returned a dead man to life.

And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Eli’sha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Eli’sha, he revived, and stood on his feet. [2 King 13:21]

The hem of our Lord’s garment healed a woman. [Matt 9:20-21]

Paul’s handkerchiefs or aprons were used to heal diseases and drive out evil spirits.

So that from his (Paul) body were brought unto the sick, handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirit went out of them. Acts 19:12

So if God used objects and bones to work miracles in the Old and New Testament, why not now? And why would we not hold such things with honor? But the most important reasons why relics are held with esteem is because the actual bodies of Saints will one day be resurrected and even though dead, they remain in the Body of Christ. They continue to be members of Christ.

“Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image.”

If you look at the context of the commandment, you’ll see that it speaks to worshiping an image. This is wrong because God is invisible and without form. He is so transcendent that even His name is simply “I AM”.

So why do Catholics venerate images? Firstly, it should be said at the beginning that Catholics do not “worship” images. They worship and adore God alone. They venerate and honor saints, regular people (e.g. George Washington or their spouses), relics, altars, flags, etc. This is a very important distinction.

Things have changed since the Old Testament. The Word was made flesh. Christ is the image (Greek: icon) of the Father. God manifested Himself and once and for all in Christ.

The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the Son of God has ushered in a new “economy” of images. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1159)

Christ was a true man and able to be depicted. If you took a photo of Christ it would turn out like any other photo. Thus, we can depict Him. And we can depict Mary and the saints with pictures and statues just as we would depict Abraham Lincoln in a memorial or have a picture of our wife on our desk at work.

Moreover, we can show honor to these images – though we may not worship them, because they are no God. We can salute a flag of the USA. We can salute an image of Mary. Mary gave a body and blood to the Christ for our redemption. If we salute a flag that symbolizes the USA, why not salute a picture that symbolizes Mary? Same goes with the cross or even a Bible. We show honor, but we don’t worship. Worship is given to God alone.

The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone (Catechism of the Catholic Church #3132)

This “respectful veneraton” is what Catholics show to the physical signs of redemption in our midst.

God commanded images (two and three dimensional) to adorn His holy temple in the Old Testament. Catholics follow this Old Testament example and the earliest Christian worship places also were decorated with images.

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