On the Veneration of Relics, Images and the Cross


by Rev. Thomas Butler, D.D.

The Doctrine of the Catholic Church, regarding the veneration of relics, is thus defined by the Fathers of the Council of Trent. The Holy Synod decrees:

That the bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ, which were the members of Christ and the temples of the Holy Spirit, and which shall be raised by Him to eternal life and be glorified, are to be venerated by the faithful. Through them many benefits are bestowed on men by God; so that they who affirm that no veneration and honour are due to the relics of Saints, or that to honour them and other sacred monuments is useless, as likewise to celebrate the memories of Saints in order to obtain their aid, are absolutely to be condemned, as the Church has condemned and does condemn them. — Sess. xxv. de Invocat SS.

In these relics we Catholics do not imagine any inherent power, any supernatural and divine efficacy. But when we behold the Almighty God, who is so jealous of His own honour, evincing in a most singular manner His love to them by the miracles wrought by their means, we hesitate not to honour them, but by no means, or on no account, to adore them. These are our sentiments — we have never entertained any other. Hence, we emphatically declare with St. Jerom:

that we do not worship and adore, I do not say only the relics of the martyrs, but not even the sun and moon, not the angels and archangels, not the Cherubim nor Seraphim, nor any name that is named in this world or the world to come, lest we should serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever more. But we honour the relics of the martyrs, in order to adore Him whose martyrs they are. We honour the servants, that the honour of the servants may redound to the Lord, who says: “He that receiveth you, receiveth me.” — St. Hierom, Epist. 53, ad Ripar. Presb, adv. Vigilant.

After this clear and simple explanation of the doctrine of the Catholic Church on this point, it is obvious, that if men professing themselves ministers of Christ were guided by Christian charity, to act candidly, they would cease to reproach us with adoration (in the proper acceptation of the term) of the relics of the Saints. We adore but one God in three persons. To this God, the Creator, and the Lord of all things, we solemnly declare we pay divine worship; and we cheerfully subscribe to the declaration, which says, “Cursed is he who commits idolatry, who prays to images or relics, or worships them for God.”

Of this veneration paid to the relics and even to the garments of the Saints, and of the singular benefits obtained by their means, the Old and New Testament abound with many distinguished instances. Commencing from the very garments, I beg to refer my reader to:

Catholic Version, 4 Kings, 2:141 — And he (Eliseus or Elisha) struck the waters with the mantle of Elias, that had fallen from him, and they were not divided. And he said, Where is now the God of Elias? And he struck the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, and Elias passed over.

Protestant Version, 2 Kings, 2:14 — And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said. Where is the Lord God of Elijah? And when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither, and Elijah went over.

Here, then, a supernatural operation was achieved by means of the mantle of Elijah; for no sooner did Eliseus or Elisha touch the waters of the Jordan with it than they were divided, and permitted him a free passage; as took place when Elias or Elijah had once before used it for the same purpose, as we read:

Catholic Version, 4 Kings, 2:8 — And Elias took his mantle, and folded it together, and struck the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, and they both (Elias and Eliseus) passed over on dry ground.

Protestant Version, 2 Kings, 2:8 — And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.

To these instances may be added the miraculous effects performed by the rod of Moses (Exodus, 7), and the following miraculous interpositions of Providence in behalf of the Ark, by the accident which befell Dagon (1 Kings, alias Samuel, 5:4); by the punishment of those who looked curiously into it, when 50,000 and more perished (Ibid, 6:19); and by the destruction of Uzzah for his imprudent officiousness (2 Kings, alias Samuel, 6:6-7). If God, therefore, considered it proper to show such clear and evident tokens of his almighty power in the Old Law in honour of inanimate objects, what should prevent the Spouse of Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, from exhibiting respect and honour to the relics of the Saints in the New Law, whose souls dwell above, associated with the choirs of Angels?

Next (Matthew, 9:20-21, and 14:36) we read, that it was our beloved Redeemer’s pleasure that the woman troubled with the issue of blood, and several other sick, should be healed by the touch of his garment. I shall submit the two texts; but the latter is peculiarly striking:

Catholic Version, Matthew 9:20-21 — And behold a woman who was troubled with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment. For she said within herself, if I shall touch only his garment, I shall be healed.

Protestant Version, Matthew 9:20-21 — And behold, a woman which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment. For she said within herself. If I may but touch his garment, 1 shall be whole.

In consequence of this Scriptural and undeniable fact, I beg leave to put one plain question. Had this same woman, or any other labouring under a similar lingering disorder, when the blessed Jesus was raised up on the cross, or when His body was placed in the sepulchre (there being no access to His sacred person), had she, I say, said then, as she did oh the other occasion, “If I can but get to touch His garment, lying at the foot of the cross, or near the sepulchre, I doubt not but I shall be healed” would such an inward persuasion within herself have been more irregular, presumptuous, or reprovable in this, than it was in the first circumstance? In the former, we have heard pur blessed Saviour’s approbation of the woman’s faith, and rewarding it with a present cure, the faith in both cases would have been specifically the same, grounded on a steadfast belief of a divine virtue emanating from Christ’s person, although communicated by means of a bare touch of his garment; therefore, we must conclude, that the faith in both cases Would have been equally lawful and commendable. But to return. Again we read:

Catholic Version, Matthew 14:36 — And they besought him that they might touch the hem of his garment. And as many as touched were made whole.

Protestant Version, Matthew 14:36 — And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.

What is more mean than the latchet of a shoe? And yet St. John the Baptist professed himself unworthy to loosen that used by the Blessed Jesus. (John 1:27) Again, does not the Holy Scripture represent to us the faithful as showing respect to places which have been distinguished by God’s particular presence? “Put off the shoes from thy feet,” said God to Moses, “for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) “Loose,” said the Angel to Joshua, “thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy.” (Joshua 5:16 — 5:15 in the Protestant Bible) And the Holy Ghost commands like honour to be paid to the House of God: " Keep thy foot when thou goest into the House of God.” (Ecclesiastes 4:17 — 5:1 in the Protestant Bible) Respect, consequently, may be paid to the relics of the Saints, which Heaven has made frequent use of as instruments of Divine miracles.

But do not our Protestant brethren, to a man, without the least apprehension of superstition or idolatry, respectfully and gratefully preserve a lock of hair, a trinket, or some other thing that formerly belonged to a parent, a husband, a wife, a child, a benefactor, now deceased? Do they set little or no value on these things, though they are mere trifles? Do they mislay, abuse, or suffer any other person to do so by them? Do they not keep or preserve them carefully? Do they not keep them often in gold and silver cases, and place them near the heart? Suppose we Catholics ask them what they mean by all these different marks of respect? Is it to the lock of hair, the trinket, or any other thing they have as a keepsake, they pay respect? Or do they imagine that any of them or all contain any real and intrinsic virtue or value? No, by no means, they immediately reply; they tell us, they assure us, any one of these things is but a mere keepsake of a parent, husband, etc; a token of their remembrance of former love, affection, respect, gratitude, etc, towards the person now deceased, but who when living possessed it.

We Catholics believe them, because common sense, reason, religion, will not permit us to think otherwise. Yes, we give them credit. And why, let me ask, do they not believe us, when we assert the same and the very same, with respect to the relics of the Saints, seeing, I say, that we do no more, with this exception only, that the veneration we pay to the relics of the Saints, we show to those who, we have the strongest reasons to believe, are now happy souls in the Heavenly Jerusalem, and this the Protestant cannot assure, because the case on his side is dubious, at least not ascertained by any warranted testimony. Consequently, the honour and veneration paid by Catholics to the relics of the Saints is therefore more consistent with religion, and even with common sense and reason, than the veneration Protestants, or even Catholics, may pay to keepsakes of departed friends. For the Saints, whose relics we venerate, living here on earth, led virtuous, exemplary, edifying lives, and thereby were living examples of God, — “Always bearing about in their bodies the mortification of Jesus,” (II Corinthians 4:10) — sanctified by the abundance of grace, and loved and esteemed by all who knew them; and now crowned with heavenly glory, where they behold “God face to face, and know him even as they are known.” (I Corinthians 13:12)

Coming now to the Acts of the Apostles, we are told by the inspired writer, chapter 19, that the handkerchiefs and aprons which had touched the body of St. Paul removed diseases and expelled devils:

Catholic Version, Acts 19:12 — So that even there were brought from his body (Paul) to the sick handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the wicked spirits went out of them.

Protestant Version, Acts 19:12 — So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.

Here, with the learned Dr. Coombes (Essence of Controversy), let me ask the liberal Protestant:

If by an extraordinary combination of circumstances, any of these handkerchiefs or aprons which had touched the body of St. Paul had been preserved amidst the general wreck of ancient monuments, and should be in their possession, with what eyes they would view such relics? Would they deem it superstitious to retain them with reverence, to treat them with honour and respect, because they had been applied to the body of St. Paul, and because God had honoured them with such signal marks of approbation? The answer is too obvious to be waited for: they treat the tokens of regard left them by their frieids with affection and respect; and would their religious feelings be less awakened in the case here supposed? I am justified in saying that their conduct would rival the practice of the Catholic Church in reverencing whatever belongs to God and holy things; and that they would thus sanction the principle of the question under discussion.

Proceeding now to the Scriptural proofs for the benefits received by means of the relics of the Saints, I beg to call attention to a splendid miracle, the restoration of a dead man to life, performed the instant the dead body came in contact with the bones of Eliseus. The fact is related:

Catholic Version, 4 Kings 13:21 — And some that were burying a man saw the rovers, and cast the body into the sepulchre of Eliseus. And when it had touched the bones of Eliseus the man came to life and stood upon his feet.

Protestant Version, 2 Kings 13:21 — And it came to pass as they were burying a man, that behold they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha; and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood upon his feet.

And, in allusion to this fact, it is said that after death his body prophesied, as we read Ecclesiasticus 48:14.2

On the same miracle writes thus St. Cyril (Greek church, who flourished or wrote a full and very accurate abridgment of Christian doctrine in twenty-three Catechetical Discourses in 351):

I have passed by … Eliseus also, who twice raised persons to life, — in his lifetime, and after his death. When alive, indeed, he effected resurrection by his soul. But that not only the souls of the just might be honoured, but that power might be believed to reside in the bodies of the just also, the dead man, cast into the tomb of Eliseus, having come in contact with the dead body of the prophet, was raised to life. And the dead body of the prophet performed the work of the soul; and that which lay dead gave life to that which had been dead; and that which gave life remained in the same manner among the dead. Why was this? Lest if Eliseus had risen, the thing might have been attributed to the soul alone: and to show that in the absence of the soul there resides a certain virtue in the bodies of Saints, on account of the just souls which inhabited them so many years, and made use of their ministry. And let us not foolishly disbelieve this, as if it were not so. For if handkerchiefs and aprons worn outside, when applied to the bodies of the sick, raised up the infirm, how much more would the body itself of the prophet resuscitate the dead man? — S. Cyril. Hieros. Cat. 18 and 16.

Next, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 5:15-16, tells us, that the fervent disciples of the first fathers of Christianity brought forward their sick, that the shadow of Peter might relieve them; and, we are assured, that many of those persons, and others tormented with evil spirits, received benefit or were cured. I submit the texts to the calm and dispassionate attention of my Protestant reader:

Catholic Version, Acts 5:15-16 — they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that when Peter came, his shadow at the least might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities. And there came also together to Jerusalem a multitude out of the neighbouring cities, bringing sick persons, and such as were troubled with unclean spirits : who were healed.

Protestant Version, Acts 5:15-16 — they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by, might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.

I am aware it is objected against the last-mentioned proofs, especially that of Eliseus, that devout men, carried St. Stephen’s body to the burial, but no stir was made with his relics; great lamentation was only made over him. (Acts, 8:2) But, then, this is barely a negative argument, it by no means destroys, or in the slightest degree weakens, the force of the positive demonstration drawn from the miracles with which Almighty God was pleased to honour the bones of Eliseus, the shadow of Peter, or the aprons that had touched the body of Paul. Besides, though St. Luke is silent as to the precaution taken about the relics of St. Stephen, they were unquestionably honoured and preserved with care, for at a subsequent period they were discovered; and the great St. Augustine records many miracles performed by means of these relics, of some of which he was an ocular witness. (See the whole of the long chapter on this subject, c. 8, lib. 22, de civit. Dei.) However, I trust, that the Scriptural texts I have adduced are sufficient of themselves to confirm the truth of the declaration of the Fathers of the Council of Trent:

Considering, also, that any miracle wrought is by the sole will and power of Almighty God, it follows that, venerating their relics, so highly honoured by God, is no ways injurious nor offensive to God, nor lessens the honour due and paid to Him, but, on the contrary, agreeable and acceptable, seeing that the Catholic Church refers the whole to God himself, the source and author of all good, and the giver of all good gifts. Therefore, if the relics of the Saints are chiefly preserved in Churches, and set on the altars, or near them, it is done through respect and reverence to the Saints themselves, who, in Heaven, are near to God, and there glorify Him with the whole triumphant Church of blessed Angels and Spirits. Hence if a Catholic bear any relic about him, it is through devotion, love, and respect towards the Saint; a pious keepsake and memorandum to copy his virtuous life, by which he has attained eternal happiness; hoping his patronage by intercession; but not believing any intrinsic virtue in the relic itself. And surely if Almighty God was pleased to honour the relics of Saints, why may we not equally do so? For if Israel carefully preserved the bones of Joseph, and removed them into the land of Canaan, why may we not preserve and respect the bones and other remains of the illustrious Saints of the Christian dispensation?

“The affection,” says the immortal Bossuet, “which, in the cases of human friendship, a friend experiences for a friend, extends not only to the cherished individual, but to his children and relations; and not merely to those, but even to whatever represents him; to whatever once belonged to him, or that brings back to the mind the pleasing remembrance of him. This is the dictate of the instincts of nature. Did the Protestant again weigh this, then would he likewise understand how the progress of honour is similar to that of friendship; since honour is nothing else, in reality, than affection, united with fear, and mingled with respect. In short, did the Protestant consider that the whole exterior worship which the Catholic cultivates, derives its origin from God alone, and returns solely to God again, — did he consider this, then would he also conceive clearly that such worship, animated as it thus is, merely by the author of sanctity, cannot possibly be displeasing to any one of His divine perfections. He would, on the contrary, conceive, that if God, jealous as He is of the love of men, does yet permit them to love each other for the love of Him, nor deems such love the division of our affections, — just so jealous as He likewise is of the respect and veneration of the faithful, still does He allow them also — without looking upon such act, as any partition of the worship which is due to Him — to honour, for His sake, those happy beings whom himself has honoured so greatly.” (Exposition of the Doctrines of the Catholic Church, chap. 6, on Relics.)

Proceeding now to the veneration paid to Images, the Doctrine of the Catholic Church on this point is thus defined by the Fathers of the Council of Trent. The Holy Synod decrees:

That Images of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin, and of other Saints, are to be exposed and retained particularly in Churches, and that due honour and veneration are to be shewn to them; not as believing that any divinity or virtue is in them, for which they should be honoured, or that any thing is to be asked of them, or any trust be placed in them as the Gentiles once did in their idols; but because the honour given to pictures is referred to the prototypes, which they represent, so that through the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover our heads and kneel, we may learn to adore Christ and to venerate his Saints. — Sess. xxv. de Invocat. SS.

I hope my kind Protestant reader will have observed, that the Council of Trent does not decree that we are obliged to use Images; it only says, that it is wholesome to have them, and that they are to be treated with respect, that is, such as is shown to the portrait of a father or of any one whom we esteem and reverence. Again, in its directions to the Parochial Clergy, it expressly enjoins them to explain this doctrine to the faithful; it commands them to warn the people and make them understand, that these images are nothing but mere representations, that any honour paid to them is to be referred to the prototype, or being represented; but that the image itself cannot have any virtue, nor give them the slightest help. The learned Petavius says:

We must lay it down as a principle that images are reckoned among the adiaphora, which do not belong to the substance of religion, and which the Church may retain or take away as the best judge. (L. 15. dc. Incam.)

Hence Dr. Hawarden, on images, p. 853, teaches with Delphinus:

That, if, in any place, there is danger of real idolatry or superstition from pictures, they ought to be removed by the pastor.

Such is the explanation of our doctrine on this point by these venerable fathers, and, if but calmly and dispassionately examined, it will be found more than amply sufficient to remove all doubts from Protestant minds regarding it. The Holy Synod teaches, that the images of Christ and his Saints are to be retained particularly in Churches, and that due honour and veneration are to be paid to them. Surely this is agreeable to the light of nature, and to the dictates of common sense. To doubt the truth of it would be to question the received notions of all mankind. Hence, I must confess, it has at all times appeared difficult to me, to conceive on what grounds Protestants regard this veneration as unlawful. Do they not see daily families retaining, and holding in the highest respect, likenesses of their ancestors, parents, husbands, wives, intimate friends, and benefactors; of eminent persons formerly in life? Do they not only carefully preserve them, but hand them down with the most scrupulous care from generation to generation? Do they not occasionally look up to them and express by every outward token, their grateful remembrance of the person represented? Now, why do they do all this? Is it not in remembrance, respect, gratitude, and affection for the deceased? I never shall be of the opinion, they look upon the picture itself, which is nothing more than a painted piece of canvas, etc, as able to see or hear, or help them in the least manner. Why not, then, believe us Catholics, when we most solemnly declare that whatever respect or veneration we pay to the images or pictures of Christ and of the Saints, is on the same ground, and to the object thus trepresented. Only With the difference before mentioned as to the real object. Let it be also considered, that the images, in our temples of religion, are at the same time the most moving representations of all that is affecting in religion itself. They may be justly styled the volume of the simple and ignorant, who though unable to peruse learned treatises, may understand subjects exhibited in pictures. Finally, they contribute to preserve the minds of the learned equally as the unlearned from distractions during the time of prayer; they become the occasions of pious and fervent desires, and unquestionably tend to promote a holy and laudable emulation to follow those examples which are so affectingiy exhibited. But to the Scriptural proofs:

Catholic Version, Exodus 25:18-22 — God said to Moses, Thou shalt make also, two cherubims of beaten gold on the two sides of the oracle. Let one cherub be on one side, and the other on the other. Let them cover both sides of the propitiatory spreading their wings, and covering the oracle, and let them look one towards the other, their faces being turned towards the propitiatory wherewith the ark is to be covered. In which thou shalt put the testimony that I will give thee. Thence will I give orders, I will speak to thee over the propitiatory, and from the midst of the two cherubims, which shall be upon the ark of the testimony, all things which I will command the children of Israel by thee.

Protestant Version, Exodus 25:18-22 — And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be; and thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.

Behold in how many places cherubim are spoken of; in other words the Almighty God himself commands images to be made.

I might set down here the other sacred memorials mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. Joshua, for example, chose twelve persons by an express order of God, and commanded them to go before the ark and to take each a stone out of the Jordan, to set it in the place of the camp as a sign that when their children should ask their fathers what these stones meant, they should answer them that they had taken them from the bottom of the Jordan when it was dried up, at the passage of the ark. (Joshua 4:5) Now this memorial was nothing but an image of this miraculous event. Besides, the letters themselves that compose the Holy Scriptures are so many images of the things taught in them. Hence, if this species of imagery be permitted, and even necessary, why should the others be positively prohibited, since they are only for the same use, namely, to excite in our minds the memory of things past or of spiritual things? Besides, we see in the Sacred Writings that all the Prophets spoke of God as if he had eyes, ears, arms, etc. It is not then more criminal to form images in our imaginations by objects presented to our eyes, than to form them there by words resounded in our ears, both being designed to assist our minds by these material images, at which we do not stop, but raise them up to the spiritual objects which we respect.

Next. We have an order given to the high priest to have pomegranates of purple on his vestment:

Catholic Version, Exodus 28:33-35 — And beneath at the feet of the same tunick, round about, thou shalt make it as it were pomegranates, of violet, and purple, and scarlet, twice died, with little bells set between. So that there shall be a golden bell and a pomegranate, and again another golden bell and a pomegranate. And Aaron shall be vested with it in the office of his ministry, etc, etc.

Protestant Version, Exodus 28:33-35 — And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof: and bells of gold between them round about. A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about. And it shall be upon Aaron to minister, etc, etc.

Again, in the Temple a building raised by express command of God himself, in which he was pleased to declare through Solomon, “that his eyes would be open upon it day and night to his prayer, and the supplication of the people of Israel,” we read that the wise king placed oxen, lions, and cherubim, about the smaller bases:

Catholic Version, 3 Kings 7:23-25 — He Made also a molten sea, of ten cubits from brim to brim, round all about the height of it was five cubits, and a line of thirty cubits compassed it round about. And a graven work under the brim of it compassed it for ten cubits going about the sea: there were two rows cast of chamfered sculptures. And it stood upon the twelve oxen, etc, etc.

Protestant Version, 1 Kings 7:23-25 — And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other; It was round all about, and his height was five cubits; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about. And under the brim of it round about there were knops compassing it, ten in a cubit, compassing the sea round about; the knops were cast in two rows, when it was cast. It stood upon twelve oxen, etc, etc.

Catholic Version, 3 Kings 7:29 — And between the little crowns and the ledges were lions, and oxen, and cherubims; and in the joining likewise above; and under the lions and oxen as it were bands of brass hanging down.

Protestant Version, 1 King 7:29 — And on the borders that were between the ledges were lions, oxen, and cherubims; and upon the ledges there was a base above; and beneath the lions and oxen were certain additions made of this work.

And in the preceding chapter, verse 29, we are told:

Catholic Version, 3 Kings 6:29 — All the walls of the temple round about he carved with divers figures and carvings; and he made in them cherubims and palm trees, and divers representations, as it were standing out, and coming forth from from the wall.

Protestant VErsion, 1 Kings 6:29 — And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.

Surely these texts speak volumes regarding the religious use of images; as to the civil use of them we read:

Catholic Version, 3 Kings, 10:19 — It (Solomon’s throne) had six steps; and the top of the throne was round behind: and there were two hands on either side, holding the seat; and two lions stood, one at each hand.

Protestant Version, 3 Kings, 10:19 — The throne had six steps, and the top of the throne was round behind; and there were stays on either side, on the place of the seat, and two lions stood behind the stays.

Also in Matthew 22:20, Mark 12:16, Luke 20:24, we read that our beloved Redeemer did not censure the Jews for making use of money with the imprint of Caesar.

Besides, Daniel 7:9, we read that Almighty God appeared to this Prophet under the figure of an old man, and to St. John (Apocalypse 5:3) with a face resembling the brightness of a jasper stone. Also the Holy Ghost was pleased to shew himself to men under the symbol of a dove at the baptism of Christ, (Matthew 3:16) and under the form of fiery tongues on the day of Pentecost, (Acts 2:3). Now are not these images, which God himself made use of to fix the human mind on those qualities to which he wanted most to draw attention? Why, then, should it be unlawful to represent these symbols which God himself hath made, and since he, so jealous as I have before remarked, has been pleased to do the same.

Again, in the prophecy of Osee (Hosea), we read the following remarkable passage:

Catholic Version, Osee 3:4 — For the children of Israel shall sit many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without altar, and without ephod, and without seraphim.

Protestant Version, Hosea 3:4 — For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without seraphim.

Now, I ask, could the Prophet have dared to bewail the absence of these things, unless they were right and lawful in themselves? We dare not say the Prophet was wrong. He was, when making this prophecy, inspired by the Holy Ghost, and guided by his immediate influence and vivifying spirit.

No Protestant will deny that external honour is to be paid to God in places of prayer erected to His divine honour, and that the good and pious, the beloved of God and man, always had most at heart their magnificence and beauty:

Catholic Version, Psalm, 25:8 — I have loved, O Lord, (said David) the beauty of thy house, and the place where thy glory dwelleth.

Protestant Version, Psalm 26:8 — Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.

Catholic Version, 2 Kings 7:2 — He (David) said to Nathan, the Prophet. Dost thou see that I dwell in a house of cedar, and the ark of God is lodged within skins? (The tabernacle made by Moses was covered with skins, and in many respects not equally magnificent for the service of God.)

Protestant Version, II Samuel 7:2 — the King (David) said unto Nathan the Prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains.

Catholic Version, Psalm 131:1-5 — O Lord, remember David, and all his meekness. How he swore to the Lord, he vowed a vow to the God of Jacob. If I shall enter into the tabernacle of my house: If I shall go up into the bed wherein I lie: If I shall give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids. Or rest to my temples: until I find out a place for the Lord, a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.

Protestant Version, Psalm 132:1-5 — Lord, remember David, and all his afflictions; How he sware unto the Lord, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob. Surely, I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids. Until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.

Now we know, that God accepted his will, but reserved the execution of it to his son Solomon. With what magnificence and cost Solomon executed it, together with a scrupulous detail of its ornamental appendages, we have also in the Sacred Writings. Surely, then, it is not only lawful, but obligatory, on man to embellish the houses of prayer — the temples of God among men, since the most magnificent temple erected in the old dispensation was this of Solomon.

But to return to my subject, I deem it necessary to request that our Protestant friends should bear in mind, that though God the Father and the Holy Ghost are represented in our temples of religion under the symbols in which they are represented in the Scriptures to have appeared, our intention is not to represent God himself; we believe that God is a pure spirit, and that it is impossible to represent him by corporeal images; our design is only to make imperfect symbols of his own perfections. And, except under the above-mentioned symbols, we have an unreserved abhorrence of representing God by images of any other kind. Images are, therefore, useful when they are designed to instruct men, or to recall to their minds mysteries in which they are instructed, or to animate and enliven their ideas in regard of those they reflect on.

Besides, does not the Scripture say:

Catholic Version, Numbers 21:8-9 — And the Lord said to him (Moses): Make a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: whosoever being struck shall look on it shall live. Moses therefore made a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign; which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed.

Protestant Version, Numbers 21:8-9 — And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

Here we see that Moses, in obedience to the command of God, who unquestionably would not encourage any person to commit an act of idolatry, makes an image of a serpent in brass; and in John 3:14 we read that Christ himself approves of the making and exalting it, and owns it to have been a type and figure of himself upon the cross. And why, let me ask, should we be called idolaters, for making images, and placing them in our Temples of Religion, that they may put us in remembrance that Christ was crucified for our sins? I see no disparity in the matter, but only that what they did was a sign of a thing to come to pass, and now what we do is a sign of that very thing which already came to pass.

Proceeding now to treat of the Veneration paid by Catholics to the cross,4 I regret it has been often and recently attempted to impress on Protestant minds “that we pay gross and direct adoration to it, and that the inanimate and senseless wood is not only regarded as our exclusive hope, but is actually supplicated to increase righteousness to the pious, and to grant pardon to the guilty.” I admit these words are to be found in the beautiful hymn Pange Lingua for Passion time: “Hail, O Cross, our only hope in this time of the passion, increase justice in the pious, and grant pardon to the guilty.” But, then, does it follow from these words that we do in reality pay adoration, in the proper acceptation of the term, to the material wood of the cross?

When we Catholics kneel before a crucifix, when we bow to it, or even salute it, or apply it to our hearts, we do all this internally to Christ himself, our Beloved Redeemer, once really hanging on the cross, and now presented to us in a representative which, reminding us of the great love of the Blessed Jesus, cannot but naturally stir us up to love and gratitude. Not that we imagine or believe that the material cross can see, hear, or help us. But, then, who is the Protestant that will not acknowledge how deeply he is indebted to Christ, our Redeemer, crucified for him? And let it be calmly replied to, whether the crucifix be not more powerful to excite pious and grateful sentiments of love, sorrow, etc, than the bare thought, without any external lively representative before the sight? It cannot, for example, be denied that the image of Christ Jesus crucified awakens in us, when we cast our eyes upon it, the lively remembrance of Him ‘who hath loved us so, as to lay down his life for our salvation.’ Whilst the contemplation of the image nourishes in the soul this usefol recollection, we are of course inclined naturally to declare by some external expression the tenderness of our gratitude, and by humbling ourselves before the representation to testify the willingness of our submission to the divine original.

But, it may be said, what need is there of that external show of the internal sentiment? Does not the great Searcher of the Heart see into its inmost recesses? Unquestionably God does see into the bottom of the human heart, and therefore there is no absolute need of it. But as man consists of soul and body, both dependent on God, so He, the Lord of both, requires our bounden acknowledgment from soul and body jointly; the soul internally and directively, and the body externally by service. For, as St. Chrysostom observes, if man were incorporeal only, God would have given him simple, abstracted, incorporeal gifts; but seeing that the soul is conjoined with the body He enables the body, and admits it to express by its outward operations the interior sentiments of the soul.

Thus, in baptism, though God could have forgiven man the guilt of original sin, without the necessity of external washing of the body with water, yet such was not his will, but that the internal and invisible effect should be signified by the external. Such, then, is the external veneration paid to a crucifix, image, picture, etc. by a Catholic, with this difference, that the veneration paid, whether internal or external, to a crucifix is unlimited, as it is paid to infinite majesty and sanctity — to Christ as Man God, the redeemer of mankind.5 And the veneration paid to the object represented by the picture of a Saint is greatly inferior and limited; yet this redounds to God as to the sole source, and is ultimately referred to Him, crowning his own gifts, when he crowns the merits of his Saints.

But to return to the objection made against our veneration of the cross. I beg to ask, did not St. Paul say (Galatians 6:14), “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross”? And who would dare charge the Apostle with making the senseless wood his exclusive glory? Would not every liberal Protestant exclaim that the Apostle is not here speaking of the material timber of the cross, as Faber has it (Diff. of Rom. Fint. Ed. p. 282), “by a very common figure of rhetoric, so far from blushing at the ignominious death of his Saviour, he professes himself even to glory in the despised circumstance of his crucifixion.”

So we Catholics by a like figure address the instrument, always directing our prayer in reality to him who suffered upon it, and the very next words express that we adore the blessed Trinity as the sole source of salvation: “Let every spirit praise Thee, O Trinity, fountain of salvation;” and that from God alone, and not from senseless wood, do we look for the recompense purchased for us by Him who died upon the cross — “To those to whom Thou grantest the victory of the cross add also its reward.” Thus has the Church, inspired by the Holy Ghost, studiously explained her own expressions, and I sincerely trust her explanations are not made in vain.

But why, let me ask, in conclusion of this remark regarding our veneration of the cross, should a man who professes the Bible to be his rule of faith, charge a Catholic with the unlawfulness of the veneration paid to it, when he recollects how scrupulously the Almighty God required a superior degree of religious respect to be paid to the ark, to the Holy of Holies, to the sacred vessels of the temple, aye, even to the mountain, whence he gave the ten commandments? Every one:

Catholic Version, Exodus 14:12 ­— That touched the mount, dying, he shall die.

Protestant Version, Exodus 14:12 — Whosoever toucheth the mount, shall be surely put to death.

Speaking only of the ark, every veneration was paid to it which we Catholics pay to the cross; even Joshua prostrated himself before it, and prayed before it — he and all the ancients of Israel. (Joshua 7:6) What will my kind Protestant reader say to this? Surely, he will not call it idolatrous worship. Yet where is the difference in principle or practice between this veneration and ours? The object in either case is a religious symbol. The ark was a symbol, or memorial, of God’s bounty to his people; and the cross is the precious memorial of the greatest of mercies and bounties, our redemption by his eternal Son. Yet the relative veneration of the Jews was a lawful act of religion, and that of Catholics must be branded as gross idolatry. Such injustice and uncharitableness are, however, put to shame by Bishop Montague, who does not hesitate to say “that learned Protestants do not deny that the cross has a power from God.”

I shall now proceed to call attention to the festivals of our Lord, Blessed Virgin, and the Saints. Many Protestants regard the distinction of particular days for festivals as a ceremony condemned by the Holy Scriptures. But so far from it, the word of God obliges us to approve of it. We see there that the blessed Jesus authorized, by his attendance, the festival which the Synagogue had instituted to thank God for the dedication oi the temple; a festival which, as was customary with the Jews, was celebrated during the space of eight days. (John 10:22, and II Maccabees 1:9) The Holy Ghost in several places commends those who sanctified particular times by retiring from worldly occupations to employ themselves in works of piety. (See Luke 2:26-27)

For the information of the reader, I beg to subjoin the principal feasts observed under the old law.

Here, then, we have three holy days instituted by the Church of the Jews, and observed by them with very great solemnity, besides several others of lesser note: all which, were instituted and kept to commemorate certain temporal benefits bestowed by God upon his people, and were figures of those more excellent holy days in the new law afterwards instituted by the Church of Christ in memory of the more important benefits conferred by our Saviour Jesus Christ on all mankind.

“Now who can call in question the authority of the Church of Christ — that Church with which He promised ‘to abide all days even to the consummation of the world’ — to institute holy days in the new law, while he must admit the same authority was exercised by the people of God in the old? And what Christian can refuse to keep holy such festivals as are commemorative of the great benefits of our redemption through Jesus Christ, who beholds, to his shame, the great solemnity with which holy days were kept by the Jewish people commemorative of far lesser benefits?” — (From a discourse lately delivered by Rev. Mr. Reed, Catholic Pastor of Dumfries)

Unquestionably, then, the Church of Christ has good grounds for consecrating particular days to meditate on the divine mysteries, to praise Almighty God for the favours he has conferred on us through Jesus Christ, or by the prayers of the Saints; and to beg His grace that we may improve in virtue, and profit by their examples. Nor are these festivals contrary to the commandment of God, which says, “six days shalt thou labour " (Exodus 20:9), for the commandment is not contained in these words but in the following:

Catholic Version, Exodus 20:10 — But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work on it, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.

Protestant Version, Exodus 20:10 — But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God, in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.

The law given to Moses was worded in similar terms:

Catholic Version, Genesis 2:16-17 — Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat. But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat.

Protestant Version, Genesis 2:16-17 — Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat. But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.

He was not, therefore, bound to eat of the fruit of all the trees, but only had permission to eat of them. And this is more clear from the Scriptures, for they teach us that God, who did not dispense, at least ordinarily, with the moral law, established several solemnities on these six days: namely, the first day of the seventh month and the day of expiations, besides the great Feasts of the Pasch, of Pentecost, and of Tabernacles; and that servile work was prohibited on two days of each of these three last solemnities.

The Church of Israel, as we are informed by the Sacred writers, likewise consecrated particular days of the week to be spent in holy exercises instead of labour, as it did in solemnizing the remembrance of Esther’s deliverance (Esther 9:17), and the dedication of the Temple (I Maccabees 4:59) Some pious enthusiasts, however, argue that if it were lawful to establish holidays in this manner, St. Paul would not have said to the Colossians:

Catholic Version, Colossians 2:16 — Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a festival day, or of the new moon or of the Sabbaths.

Protestant Version, Colossians 2:16 — Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holiday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.

But, it appears from the passage itself, which mentions the sabbaths and new moons which the Jews were accustomed to observe; from the verse that follows, where it is said, that these things are a shadow of things to come, and that Jesus Christ is the body; finally, from the preceding verses, that the Apostle expressly speaks of the Old Law, which our Beloved Redeemer abolished by his death on the Cross. This passage, then, is not against the observance of the Festivals of the Catholic Church. For it does not follow from our ceasing to observe the Festivals, that were intended to represent the future coming of Jesus Christ, that we ought not to keep the Christian Festivals, which represent him as now come, such as those of his Nativity, Death, Resurrection, and of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon his Apostles — the most distinguished and holy of his servants. On the contrary, it rather follows that we ought to observe them at present; for the Festivals that represented our Lord as about to come, were only abolished that we might observe the Festivals which represent that He is come, and has redeemed us.

Another objection is made from the passage of St. Paul to the Galatians, where he says:

Catholic Version, Galatians 4:9-11 — But now, after that you have known God, or rather, are known by God: how turn you again to the weak and needy elements, which you desire to serve again? You observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest perhaps I have laboured in vain among you.

Protestant Version, Galatians 4:9-11 — But now, after that ye have known God, or rather, are known by God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

But then, as St. Paul, two verses before, puts the Galatians in mind of the Paganism in which they had lived, it may be said that they had retained the superstitious observances of the Pagans, who looked on certain days as unlucky, in which they would not begin any affair of importance, and that the Apostle reprimands them on this account. However, it is more probable that as several of the Galtians, after their conversion, had been seduced by false teachers, who mixed Judaism with the Christian Religion, as St. Paul shows through this whole Epistle, he here reproaches them for observing the Jewish Festivals. For this reason he speaks in the verses I have quoted, not only of days, but likewise of months, of times, and of years. This distinction bears also a manifest relation to the different Festivals of the Jews; for they observed the Sabbaths and new moons, particular annual feasts, and particular years, as the seventh year of the Jubilee. This passage then to the Galatians, as likewise that to the Colossians, cannot be alleged against Christian Festivals, which have no connection with those of the Jews.

  1. This, which is the 4th Book of Kings in the Catholic Bible, is thus marked in the Protestant, “Second Book of Kings, commonly called the Fourth Book of Kings.” And the 3rd Book of Kings in the Catholic Bible is thus marked in the Protestant, “First Book of Kings, commonly called the Third Book of Kings.” Protestants in this follow the custom of the Hebrews; Catholics, on the contrary, the custom of the holy Fathers. It is the received opinion that Samuel composed the first book, so far as the 25th chapter; and that the Prophets Nathan and Gad finished the first, and wrote the second book. (See I Paralipomenon, alias I Chronicles, 19:19) With respect to the writer of the third and fourth books, it seems most probable they were not written by one man, nor at one time; but as there was all along a succession of prophets in Israel, who recorded by divine inspiration the most remarkable things that happened in those days, these books seem to have been written by these prophets. (See 2 Paralipomenon, alias II Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 15:22; 20:34; 26:22; 32:32) ↩︎
  2. This book is so called from a Greek word that signifies a preacher: because, like an excellent preacher, it gives admirable lessons of all virtues. The author was Jesus the Son of Sirach of Jerusalem, who flourished about two hundred years before Christ. As it was written after the time of Esdras, it is not in the Jewish canon: but is received as canonical and divine by the Catholic Church, instructed by Apostolical tradition, and directed by the Spirit of God. It was first wrote in the Hebrew, but afterwards translated into Greek by another Jesus, the grandson of the author. I beg to subjoin, for the present, a few of the Holy Fathers who have cited this book as Canonical Scripture. 1st Century: St. Clement (Epist. ad Corinthios, cap. 9) — 3rd Century: Origen (Contra Cels., 1, 6, and 1, 8), Tertullian (de Exhortat. Castit, cap. 2), St. Cyprian (de Mortal, No. 6) — 4th Century: Eusebius (de vita Constan., c. xi. Valesii. And Praepar. Evan. 1, 8, c. 2.), St. Athanasius (Contra Arian. Orat. 1, T. 1, p. 285), St. Ambrose (de bono mortis, cap. 8), St. Jerom (Epist. 34, ad Julianum), St. Chrysostom (Hom. 33, ad popul.) — 5th Century: St. Augustin (Lib. 11. de Doct. Christ, cap. 8, and in several other places) ↩︎
  3. Eusebius (Eccles. Hist. Lib. 7, c. 18,) informs us, that the chair of St. James, the public episcopal seat in which the Bishops of Jerusalem were regularly enthroned, was originally venerated and carefully preserved in his time, a splendid proof of the Apostolical origin of the pious honour paid to Holy relics. But this is not the only instance of such veneration paid to the chairs of Holy men. The Acts of St. Mark relate, that his chair of antique ivory was long preserved at Alexandria, and humbly honoured by every succeeding Bishop. (Act. Pass. S. Marci. in notis Valesii apud Euseb.) And the Acts of St. Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, who was martyred in 311, relate, that out of respect he would never sit in that Holy chair, but only on his footstool. (Act. S. Pet. Alex, apud Baron, ad an. 310.) There is a noted passage in Tertullian which seems plainly to indicate, the actual chairs of the Apostles were carefully preserved in the Apostolic Churches. “Run through the Apostolic Churches, in which the very seats of die Apostles still preside in their places, in Which the very authentic epistles are recited, sounding the voice, and bringing the face of each one again before us.” “Percurre Eccleslas Apostolicas apud quas ipsae adhuc cathedrae Apostolorum suis locis praesidentur, apud quas ipsae authenticae litterae eorum recitantur, sonantes vocem, et represesentantes faciem unius cujusque.” (Tertull. De Proescrip, cap,36.) As the learned Dr. Wiseman observes, (Remarks on Lady Morgan’s Statements regarding St. Peter’s Chair, preserved in the Vatican Basilic,) “it would not be in accordance with Tertullian’s usual terse reasoning to say, with so much emphasis, that the very sees of the Apostles were as yet preserved. The words ipsae and adhuc seem to imply something extraordinary, such as the preservation of their identical chairs.” Besides, as the reading of their Epistles would recall the very voices of the authors to the minds of the hearers, so Tertullian, by parity, remarks that the very figures of those venerable men were forcibly brought to the imagination by the presence of their identical chairs. It is difficult to understand any rational application of this latter phrase, without supposing it to refer to the very chairs themselves; ipsae Cathedrae….representantes faciem unius cujusque. Whoever weighs these observations impartially, will, I think, admit they afford no slight evidence of the veneration of Holy relics having descended from the age of the Apostles. ↩︎
  4. With regard to those things which appertained to Christ’s passion, as his clothes, or which have any relation to him, as the cross, nails, and other instruments of his passion; whether considered as the material cause of our redemption resulting from them, or as memorials of that infinite and ineffable mercy, no liberal-minded Protestant can deem it repugnant to good sense or reason to pay a relative honour to them under these considerations, and according to the explanations I have given. I trust it will be looked upon as agreeable to pious sense to set an inestimable value on them, since they were thus sanctified by Christ’s person at that ever memorable period. ↩︎
  5. No one can deny the devout and frequent use of the sign of the cross from the very cradle of Christianity. Let it be even regarded but as a bare symbol; still its constant use, and its introduction into the most solemn offices of religion, and the administration of every one of the sacraments, testify invincibly that it was regarded as a sacred sign, and used with pious veneration. Even the Protestant churches still retain it in one solitary ceremony — in administering baptism. Some pious enthusiasts may see, but I cannot, any difference between devoutly venerating the cross when simply signed, and the cross when formed more perfectly, and placed before us, or worn about our necks. The principle of veneration in each case is the same; and they who set themselves to oppose our veneration of the cross must therefore commit themselves in equal opposition to the indisputable veneration of the cross by the primitive Christians.