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Issue 14 – Christmas 2022

Historia Ecclesiastica

Fonts of Salvation

On relics.


The veneration of relics is a part of our human nature. It reaches to the deepest part of our longing for physical connection on this earth, even though we know the vale of tears is not our final home. Grandmother’s pearls, Dad’s leather jacket—one can mention any number of treasured family heirlooms, and nearly everyone has some inclination to hold onto the belongings of a lost loved one or of a dear friend. To one unaware, these things are old, tired objects, but they take on a meaning and a history for those who know them. And the respect paid to the bodies and possessions of great men stretches back centuries. The Greeks went to the tombs of Theseus and Œdipus. Buddhist shrines house the relics of the Enlightened. Americans venerate the guitar used by Hendrix or the clothes worn by Elvis, the suit worn to the moon, a piece of the Berlin Wall. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—let us not forget—houses the bones of the honored fallen, and forms part of perhaps the most sacralized civil liturgy in the United States. 

Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, provides for this deep longing and elevates it. We are immortal souls, but we are also flesh and bone, and the sacramental economy of our Divine Savior permeates all created things. What is left behind (reliquia) by those we love gives us solace. And the things we hold onto tell us who we are. Let us not mistake the veneration of relics as mere sentimentalism; their veneration is, at its center, a biblical practice. The bones of the righteous and all that was theirs were means of grace even for the Jews. A dead man was hastily cast into the sepulcher of Saint Eliseus the Prophet andwhen it had touched the bones of Eliseus, the man came to life, and stood upon his feet.” The contents of the Ark, physical proof of all God had done for the Israelites, were always carried as they made their camp or marched into battle. These were not mere tokens or mementos; they carried with them the vim and holiness of the Living God.

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About the author

Sean Pilcher