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Debate: Does it matter if relics are fake?

Is the ‘spiritual and emotive’ power of relics more important than their authenticity?

By on Friday, 24 June 2011

Archbishop Nichols views relics on show at the British Museum (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Archbishop Nichols views relics on show at the British Museum (Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

This week Archbishop Nichols suggested that it didn’t necessarily matter if a relic was authentic or not.

Speaking about the British Museum’s Treasures of Heaven exhibition, he said:

[R]elics are a very important part of the expression of religious faith, as well as of cultural importance in the way that people cling to a souvenir from a person they’ve loved or a place that they’ve been to. And what that conveys is the connecting of this moment with the treasured moment of the past. And if that connection is made through an object which maybe forensically won’t stand up to the test, that’s of secondary importance to the spiritual and emotive power that the object can contain, and does contain.

Relics are meant to aid devotion. If a relic has been venerated for many centuries, and helped inspire many, many Christians, then it has served its purpose, even if its origins are unclear. Pope Benedict XVI, visiting the Turin Shroud last year, did not address whether or not it was authentic, but spoke of its “intensity”: it was, he said, a symbol of the darkest, loneliest moments of Christ’s suffering, yet was also the brightest sign of hope.

On the other hand, the Church rests on truth; surely it must stick to what it knows to be true. Archbishop Nichols’s comment appears to overlook the objective nature of a particular relic: whether it really is, or is not, part of the True Cross.

So does it matter if relics are fake?

  • http://twitter.com/victorshannock Victor Weston

    Having recently visited the Basilica of St John nr Ephesus, and being informed there are no relics of the beloved disciple it was special to discover there is a relic – ie hair of St John (which does not disprove the tradition), it does make the difference: to have a certain confidence it’s not a fraud; does impress if a valid faith

  • Graeme J Jolly

    The Abp is right. The continuos veneration of an object by the faithful is what connects us to the person behind the object. Relics are sacramentals and not sacraments afterall

  • Jeannine

    Yes I think it makes a difference if the relic is a fake. Belonging to Catholic Church takes a alot of faith in the beliefs to be true. For some it can be a struggle. Any extraneous objects related to the faith that is not necessary to be a good & holy member, ought to be verified as real. Otherwise, it seems to contradict the idea of truth as stated in the article. 

    BTW, the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin is still being debated by the scientific community.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the relic in the above picture is definitely fake.

  • Connjdllm

    It matters! Just like it matters that Obama’s birth certificate is a fake and that he uses a stolen social security number.

  • Thoughtful Pug

    Yes it does matter. The church stands for truth. In this increasingly secular world how can we possibly expect people to believe in miracles and other things that we will present to them in their journey towards faith if it is demonstrated we are not necessarily concerned with the validity of ANY aspect of our devotion/faith*

    Where a relic has been faithfully believed to be genuine that does not take away anything from the faith and prayer over the years but where that relic is then proven to be ‘suspect’ it should be removed from public access and not used in devotions.

    *And yes in relation to the first paragraph I know it is the Holy Spirit who convinces and convicts people but he requires that their hearts be open to work in. I venture the opinion that anything with the appearance of dishonesty (whether intended or not) will not help people to open their hearts and recieve him.

    As to AVN “And if that connection is made through an object which maybe
    forensically won’t stand up to the test, that’s of secondary importance
    to the spiritual and emotive power that the object can contain, and does
    contain”… I can proclaim my toenail clippings to be a relic and donate them to Southwark Diocese if he would like. After all, in 500 years they may contain so much spiritual and emotive power that no one would care they came from a slightly cynical layman who’se closest connection with sainthood is the few moments of vague holiness between confession and the first idiot met on the road.

    Or perhaps not..?

  • Anonymous

    I think it does matter to some extent, but it’s not the most important thing. It’s ultimately a symbol and reminder, whether it’s real or not. That is, the devotion embodied by a relic is not to the relic itself (even if it is real) but ultimately a devotion to God. The relic is there to remind us of God, and, while it might help for it to be real, it’s not strictly necessary for it to serve its purpose. 

  • Parasum

    [R]elics are a very important part of the expression of religious faith,
    as well as of cultural importance in the way that people cling to a
    souvenir from a person they’ve loved or a place that they’ve been to.
    And what that conveys is the connecting of this moment with the
    treasured moment of the past. And if that connection is made through an
    object which maybe forensically won’t stand up to the test, that’s of
    secondary importance to the spiritual and emotive power that the object
    can contain, and does contain.

    So if the Church exhibits the bones of a dog knowing they are the bones of a dog, saying they are the bones of an Apostle – that doesn’t matter ? God is glorified by our lies, is He ?

    What he is likely to mean is that if someone venerates as a human bone what is really a dog bone, that does not matter to the subjective value of the devotion shown. And that if it was innocently misidentified as human by those who decide what relics are exposed to be honoured, that does not matter either, as the mistake is a mistake and does not affect the good faith and devotion of the human beings involved.

    This second reading of his words is still problematic, because facts matter. If the Church starts – or continues – thinking that “not-X” will do as well as “X”, it is committing the sin of intellectual sloth, & this is bad for its abilty to think clearly & for its capacity to perceive truth. 

    One is reminded of those words of the Revd. Charles Kingsley to which J.H. Newman reacted so strongly:

    “Truth, for its own sake, had never been a virtue with the Roman
    clergy. Father Newman informs us that it need not, and, on the
    whole, ought not to be; that cunning is the weapon which Heaven
    has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male
    force of the wicked world which marries and is given in marriage.”
    This accusation I based upon a considerable number of passages
    in Dr. Newman’s writings, and especially on a sermon entitled
    “Wisdom and Innocence,” and preached by Dr. Newman as
    Vicar Of St. Mary’s, and published as No. XX of his ” Sermons
    on Subjects of the Day.””

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/newman/kingsley1.html

    Truth matters – if less than love, not much so. The Abp.’s remarks could be construed in an unfavourable sense, and it would be a great evil if even one person went off thinking the Church cared little or nothing for truth, honesty, probity and other excellent things like that. It may be absurd to miscontrue them in that sense – but it is not impossible.

  • Visiting Priest

    It is highly desirable that relics be authenticated as far as possible, but in the end they are not Sacraments, working ex opere operato. They “work” ex opere operantis, from the faith and charity of the believer, and this may be so even when, objectively, the relic is historically inauthentic. God looks at the sincerity of the heart, not the accuracy of the thought.

  • http://twitter.com/RCYouthWorker Jack Regan

    During World Youth Day 2005, our group visited the Cathedral in Trier, Germany where the garment which was taken form Christ before he was crucified is said to be housed and venerated. The reaction of most of us was ‘yah, right’ but it served a purpose. It helped us to reflect on that moment in our history and it brought thousands of people together to focus on Christ’s passion – most of whom probably didn’t believe in it’s authenticity without at least some reservations. So, no, it doesn’t matter all that much. But I would temper that with a slight concern…

    There are still people around who claim that the resurrection isn’t real and that it was just a symbol of hope bla bla bla… With some things, authenticity and literal truth really, truly does matter. With other things, not so much. As a youth worker I worry about the waters being muddied slightly and that line becoming unclear. In other words, when young people see hundreds venerating a relic that’s probably not authentic, do they also wonder how genuine the resurrection is? And whether that’s just a symbol which draws people together?

    So, basically, no… it doesn’t matter too much if a relic is genuine, but I think we need to make clear that there are some things whose authenticity matter far, far more!

  • Bwaj

    So scientists who serve the Devil and do his will have a right to lie about relics do they by saying they are fake?

  • Bwaj

    No relic is a fake. Only Satan deceived scientists and Protestant extremists claim relics are fakes when they are in the Bible and all relics are true. Equally disgusting is the Protestant obsession about Obama’s birth certificate just because they claim Obama is Muslim and that God gave the USA to Protestants which He didn’t. The American Revolution was caused by illuminized freemasons seeking to overthrow the Catholic Church and the British monarchy just as they did with the Catholic Church and the French monarchy in France. Before you claim the CofE is Protestant – it isn’t: that was a lie by Evangelicals.

  • Bwaj

    How do you know a relic is fake just because liars from Satan tell you it is? Do you serve God Who gives you the Church you are commanded to obey or false believers, athiests and scientists who serve Satan by lying to you and causing you to doubt the Church.

  • Bwaj

    No relic is a fake and anyone who tells you otherwise is deceived by the Devil and the AntiChrist.

  • Bwaj

    It does matter, however, all relics are real, only Satan says otherwise, relics convey divine grace (Acts:19.11-12) they are not mere symbols – those who say they are only symbols – are guilty of the post Vatican II heresy of pandering to the world. Read 1 Cor:6.19.

  • Bwaj

    Relics are the bodies of the faithful and temples of the Holy Spirit Who lives in them (1 Cor:6.19) and are not ‘mere’ symbols: post-Vatican II nonsense. Can a mere symbol convey blessings, cast out devils etc.,. which is why Satan wants you to reject relics (Acts:19.11-12).

  • Bwaj

    Relics work because they convey grace and blessings (Acts:19.11-12) because relics are the bodies of the faithful which are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor:6.19) the same as holy water works because it is blessed (Ex:23.25 Nbrs:5.17) so anything holy water is sprinkled on becomes holy (Ex:30.29). This has nothing to do with faith. We believe (faith) that God will do what the Church has requested in the Prayer of Blessing i.e. this is concerning holy water and other blessed objects, however, if you read ‘The Directory of Popular Piety’ it states: ‘relics and sacramentals’ not sacramentals including relics. Relics are not blessed by the Church – sacramentals are.

  • Bwaj

    I can proclaim my toenail clippings to be a relic and donate them to
    Southwark Diocese if he would like. After all, in 500 years they may
    contain so much spiritual and emotive power that no one would care they
    came from a slightly cynical layman who’se closest connection with
    sainthood is the few moments of vague holiness between confession and
    the first idiot met on the road.

    I doubt it. First of all you lack humility. Secondly, you would have to be beatified. Only those scientists – who do not come from God but Satan – claim relics are fake. They will receive their just punishment for their lies when they are sent to the eternal flames.

  • Bwaj

    Pope Benedict XVI did say the Turin Shroud was genuine – if you listened to what he said carefully – only one person suffered and died in the manner Our Saviour did and that was Our divine Redeemer. No-one else. The image of the Turin Shroud is identical to Our Lord’s Passion and Death. Are you therefore saying someone else was crucified and killed like Our Saviour to produce the Turin Shroud? Why don’t you study the history of the Mandylion or ‘Tetradiplon’ (‘folded in four’). When you fold the Shroud in four you can only see the image of Our Saviour’s face. The same time the mandylion disappeared from Jerusalem the Turin Shroud first appeared.

  • Joel Pinheiro

    Of course it matters. The REASON why a piece of cloth has been revered for centuries is because it was believed to be, say, from the clothes of a saint, or the shroud that covered our Lord’s body.

    If the piece of wood is not from the cross, but came from someone’s desire to make some money selling it as a piece of the cross, why should we continue to revere it after we know the truth? Great, it helped the Faith of many; the Holy Spirit indeed works through imperfect human means. But Faith must be grounded on truth. If we consciously accept pious lies and deceptions in the service of Faith, Faith itself will be doomed in the long run, as all the pious lies are revealed for what they are by the enemies of Faith, who will be ironically acting as the defenders of truth.

    The Shroud can even stand as a realistic and powerful piece of religious art, perhaps (IF it is shown to be false; I think there is evidence at least to consider that it might be real). But wooden pieces? Nails? Generic bones? That masses of peasants believed them to be sacred in the past does not mean we have to take the same stance, especially if we have good reason to doubt it.

  • Anonymous

    NORMALLY THE CHURCH  AUTHORITIES MAKES IT CERTAIN THAT THE RELICS ARE AUTHENTIC; IN FEW CASES IT MAY BE OTHERWISE DUE TO SOME REASON OR OTHER; HERE THE GOOD FAITH OF THE CHURCH TAKES OVER. IT IS AS SIMPLE AS THAT. THE FAITHFUL ARE NOT HARMED IN ANY WAY.

    BUT AT THE SAME TIME TO BE CAUGHT UP IN A MULTITUDE OF DEVOTIONS TO SAINTS AND RELICS CAN TAKE AWAY THE FOCUS ON  CHRIST THE SON OF GOD, THE ONLY SAVIOUR. OF ALL.

  • Pastizzi56

    Absolutely yes. If it is known that a relic is fake, it should never be exposed for the veneration of the faithful otherwise the church would be misleading the faithful.
    My opinion is that only authenticated relics should be exposed for veneration.

  • Mariano Barrientos

    How can we say that we are a Religion of truth when we cover so many lies, a lie is a lie so it anything in our cult is fake or any dought exist it must be remove until the veracity of the item is proofed, IT IS TIME to face reality. How can an organization that covers pedophiles and false reliques can be claimed that teaches Jesus GASOPEL

  • Barrientosca70

    That is your believe and is up to you not to me

  • Barrientosca70

    Resurection compared to a relique what are you smoking

  • Barrientosca70

    Memories are nice claiming that some thing is a relique is different when an organization has been protecting by lies so many things let the true come forward and face reality. IT IS TIME

  • Parasum

    There is a long history of fake relics – this does not neccessarily imply bad faith on anyone’s part; but  the Church is not preserved from error in such matters. For example, which of the several heads of St. John Baptist is the real one ? One assumes he was not like Kryten in “Red Dwarf”, with three or four spares to wear when needed.

    I value relics, a lot – that’s one of the reasons I have no patience with fake ones. Of which there have been all too many, like the feather from the wing of St. Gabriel. Fakes belong on a bonfire, or in a museum, but not in a church for veneration.  

  • GFFM

    I saw the exhibit at issue and was struck by the lack of discussion about what a relic is and what kinds of relics the Church recognizes. Furthermore, the last parting shot of the exhibit is a bit self-serving. It equates the celebrity culture of our present day with the cult of saints and the Church’s teaching on relics. This was post-modern idiocy at its most ridiculous. We were treated to slides of Elvis and JPII and other pop personalities as the modern equivalent of the cult of saints. Utterly stupid.

  • Thoughtful Pug

    My apologies, perhaps I didn’t explain it clearly.

    I did NOT mean as a relic of myself. I am well aware I lack humility, amongst a number of other saintly qualities, but thank you for reminding me all the same.

    My argument was that something is represented as being a certain thing then it should *be* that thing. I was not arguing that we can create our own relics. I am making an argument for not misrepresenting items that turn out not to be genuine relics.

    I am concerned about your comments on scientists. Which relics are we talking about them claiming to be fake? If a scientist who is a Christian tests something presented as a relic – let us say a human bone – and finds out that it is in fact a dog bone (as in an example someone else posted) or perhaps a bone of the wrong sex to belong to the saint to which it is attributed does that mean that scientist was sent by Satan?

    Because they used their God-Given talents to determine that something was being misrepresented to the faithfull and which could have led them into error?

    Your post seems to imply that to be the case as, by inferance, you are saying that it is impossible for a scientist to be Christian and identify a fake relic.

    Now it may be that you meant the miraculous effects attributed to relics which scientists are looking to disprove and attribute to anything other than God – in which case I agree that they are wrong and have closed minds.

    Eternal Flames – could be… I’ll leave that decision to the Lord though. I may lack humility but there are limits to my presumtion in judging others.

  • Mental Health Worker

    I have read a number of your other posts with interest. It wasn’t
    however until I reached this one that I reached understanding on why you
    refuse to associate the application of logic and reason with God and
    will defend to the hilt the belief that all relics are real and none are
    fake (despite the excellent points made by Parasum above about the numerous fake relics in church history). Now after reading your insightful comments on the illuminati,
    freemasonary and the evangelical conspiracy to claim that the church
    split by Henry VIII and formed by Cranmer and Cromwell and cemented by
    Edward’s laws is protestant (when according to you it isn’t) I finally
    understand why you hold the views you do… And now that I understand the reasoning process that underpins your arguments I shall ignore them forthwith. There is no point in arguing with conspiracy theorists as anyone that isn’t for them is against them.

  • Inquisator

    ‘So does it matter if relics are fake?’  Only if you believe that the end justifies the means. For example, look at Megaforgery.

  • Guest

    It doesn´t matter that there is no good “evidence” for relics is. As a good catholic one is obligated to
    accept with the divine and Catholic faith all which the Church presents either
    as solemn decision or as general teaching and not just the few “infallible”
    teachings. (see Catholic Encylopedia)

    The church (bishops and popes. not laity) has said that many
    things are relics including the foreskin of Jesus and the Virgin Mary´s milk. A
    catholic has to accept this as true - no matter what history or science may say as
    these do not have the only system for finding truth.

    These relics are true until the church says otherwise.
    That is the basic religious definition of truth. Using your reason can lead to
    pride. One has to become as little children and just believe what church
    teachings without any reasons needing to be given unless the church wants to. This is called having FAITH (a belief
    based on spiritual conviction rather than proof). It may be nice to have
    additional proof but not a requirement.

    For example, the church taught for many years that
    certain persons were saints and could intercede with God for us. Later many were
    found out to be legends. That does not meet that the prayers were useless.

    It taught that the earth was flat, had four pillars,
    and began about 6,000 years ago. Catholics are now free to believe in a round
    earth located in a vast universe being no longer the center and that evolution
    is true.

    Until the church gives permission, scientific theories cannot be
    accepted as truth. We are not free to believe something contrary to current church teachings.

    Remember that Christ said that he did not come to
    bring peace upon earth but the sword. The church has been very diligent with
    the sword for those who do not accept church teaching but attempt to use reason
    and evidence to contradict.

     

     

  • Juan

    Well put.